If movie fans recall the 1983 sci-fi thriller "Brainstorm" at all, it's generally as a footnote in history. The movie marked the final screen appearance of Natalie Wood, whose mysterious and controversial death still remains hotly debated. Director Douglas Trumbulll, a special effects master, had introduced the concept of virtual reality many years before the concept would become real. He also assembled an impressive cast that, in addition to Wood, included three Oscar winning actors: Cliff Robertson, Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher. Things were proceeding very well and expectations were high for the MGM production. Trumbull's incredible special effects concepts were generating a good deal of buzz. However, with Wood's tragic death days before filming was to be completed, MGM got cold feet and tried to shut the production down in order to get reimbursed for all costs to date through Lloyds of London. Trumbull boldly resisted and tried to prove to MGM that the film was quite salvageable since Wood had completed all her major scenes. Just a bit of rewriting and tweaking would save the production. The studio resisted but Trumbull prevailed and the movie was released in 1983 to anemic reviews and weak boxoffice. However, in an excellent, in-depth article for Popular Mechanics, writers Ryan D'Agostino and Eleanor Hildebrandt provide the little-known back story to this troubled movie and interview Trumbull and Fletcher about their experiences. The bottom line: this underappreciated movie was extremely prescient about the technologies that would soon dominate our world. Click here to read.
filmmaker and stage director Ingmar Bergman famously said that he was “married
to the theatre,” but that “film was his mistress.” In a vintage interview in
Margarethe von Trotta’s new documentary on Bergman, the Swedish artist is asked
to define “film director.” Bergman’s brow wrinkles and he is lost in thought
for a moment… and then he replies that being a film director is “someone who has
so many problems to deal with he doesn’t have time to think.”
then, is a cruel mistress, indeed.
official selection of the New York Film Festival and released to U.S. theaters in
November in time to help celebrate Bergman’s centenary, Searching for Ingmar Bergman is a welcome and lovingly-made
examination of the filmmaker’s life and work. Director von Trotta, one of the
major figures of the New German Cinema movement of the 70s and 80s, shines a
light on this somewhat enigmatic and complicated man through a succession of
film clips from Bergman’s oeuvre,
interviews with various actors, crew, family, and other filmmakers, and scenic
tours of what was Bergman’s physical world.
with the help of author Stig Björkman (Bergman on Bergman), von Trotta traces
Bergman’s movements in Stockholm, Farö Island, and Munich
(where Bergman spent his voluntary banishment from Sweden after he was falsely
accused of tax evasion in the mid-70s). The portion of the documentary that
deals with the “German period” is enlightening and not typically recorded.
Bergman’s repertory company, Liv Ullmann is of course a top-billed
interviewee—a documentary on Bergman would not be complete without her. Gunnel
Lindblom, Rita Russek, and Julia Dufvenius also make appearances, but,
curiously, Max von Sydow and Harriet Andersson are missing. Sadly, most of the
actors associated with Bergman’s films—Erland Josephson, Gunnar Björnstrand,
Ingrid Thulin—are no longer with us, and Bibi Andersson is tragically incapacitated
by a stroke.
Ruben Östlund (The
Square), Olivier Assayas (Personal
Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria),
Mia Hansen-Løve (Maya,
Things to Come), and Carlos Saura (Carmen, Tango), screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière
(The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie),
and Bergman’s “script girl” for thirty years, Katinka Faragó,
all deliver poignant and insightful analyses of Bergman’s style and the themes
that run through his work.
interesting are the comments from Bergman’s sons, Daniel and Ingmar Jr., and
grandson Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel. Bergman was
married five times and had numerous love affairs. He fathered nine children,
but according to Daniel and Ingmar Jr., Bergman wasn’t close to his children.
One gets the impression that he loved his actors more than his immediate family,
and that he was only truly at “home” when he was in the theatre or on a film
set. At one point, an anecdote is told of how Bergman, sitting with some of his
grown children, once complained that he “missed his actors.” One of the
children snapped back, “What about your children?” Bergman shrugged and
replied, “I don’t miss you.”
Bergman may not have been the best father or family-man, but his dedication to
his art, his perception of the human condition, and especially his presentation of liberated women in his films, place
the filmmaker on any serious cinephile’s Greatest Directors list.
testament to Bergman’s standing in the world of cinema is the upcoming Blu-ray
39-film box set that will be released by The Criterion Collection on November
20. In the meantime, a good introductory course for Bergman-beginners might be
von Trotta’s new documentary. Search for it at an art-house near you.
"THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS IN THE
BY EVE GOLDBERG
The Night of the Iguana, Tennessee Williams’s last great
play, was turned into a 1964 movie which, in its day, was as famous for its
behind-the-scenes spectacle as for what actually appeared on screen.
Today, Iguana is rarely mentioned alongside the other
classic Tennessee Williams film adaptations: Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a
Hot Tin Roof, and Suddenly, Last Summer. Despite a tremendously talented cast,
compelling characters, and a can’t-look-away examination of our anguished,
redeemable humanity, Iguana is often neglected.
So, it’s high time for a fresh look at this movie — with
a focus on its journey from stage to screen.
"Shannon!" shouts Maxine Faulk from the veranda
of her run-down hotel on the coast of Mexico. Thus opens Tennessee Williams’
1961 play. The setting is 1940. Recently widowed Maxine greets her old friend,
Reverend Shannon, a disgraced minister who has been reduced to leading low-rent
bus tours. He is currently shepherding a group of middle-aged Baptist women
through Mexico. Shannon is in crisis. He has become sexually involved with
Charlotte, a 17-year-old girl on the tour, whose jealous, closeted chaperone,
Miss Fellows, is determined to get him fired. Already locked out of his church
for having an affair with a young Sunday School teacher, Shannon is at the end
of his rope. In a desperate attempt to stop Miss Fellows from phoning the
States and exposing him, he pockets the ignition key and strands his charges at
Maxine’s secluded hotel.
Vacationing at the hotel is a pro-Nazi German family who
stay glued to the radio throughout the play, gleefully reporting on Hitler’s
progress. Soon, another unexpected visitor arrives: the beautiful spinster artist,
Hannah Jelkes, escorting her 97-year-old grandfather, “the world’s oldest
practicing poet.” To eek out a living, Hannah sketches and her grandfather
recites poetry as they wander the globe. Right now they are broke. Shannon
convinces Maxine to let the pair spend the night at her hotel.
Earthy, sensual Maxine wants Shannon to stay on at the
hotel and fill her late husband’s shoes. Persistent Charlotte wants to seduce
him. Vengeful Miss Fellows wants to get him fired. Shannon wants some peace of
mind. As he fights against his own desires for both Charlotte and alcohol, he
becomes increasingly distraught and emotionally unstable. He finally falls to
pieces after the bus driver wrests the ignition key away from him and leaves
with the women to continue their tour. To prevent Shannon from running down to
the beach to take that “long swim to China,” Maxine ties him up in a hammock on
the verandah. During a stormy night of soul-searching (while strapped to the
hammock), Shannon connects deeply with the serene and understanding Hannah. He
admits to his “spooks,” she to her “blue devils.” Hannah, who has never had
sexual relations, describes to Shannon what she calls her “love experience”
with an underwear salesman. When Shannon asks whether she was disgusted by the
man’s request to hold a piece of her clothing, Hannah replies with the most
famous line of the play: “Nothing human disgusts me, unless it’s unkind,
As a result of the profound communication and connection
Shannon experiences with Hannah, his torment subsides. He frees himself from
the hammock. Then, at Hannah’s request, he cuts loose the iguana which is being
held captive under the verandah by Maxine’s houseboys. At the end of the play,
Hannah’s grandfather finishes his final poem and dies; Hannah leaves to travel
alone; and Shannon reluctantly agrees to stay on with Maxine and help her run
Night of the Iguana opened on Broadway with legendary
Bette Davis in the role of Maxine. The play was well-received, and ran for 361
performances. It won the New York Drama Critic’s Circle award for Best Play,
and was nominated for a Tony for Best Play. However, unhappy with the
production and her role, Davis left the show after a few months. According to
the actress, “There was no camaraderie, no sense of kinship, no attitude of
pulling together to make the play work.” According to Tennessee Williams, “If
she had ever truly had a command of her talent on the stage, she had lost it by
that time.” Davis was replaced by Shelley Winters. Still, Davis hoped to play
Maxine on screen. It was not to be.
When producer Ray Stark brought a screenplay for Night of
the Iguana to John Huston, the director was immediately interested in making
the movie. “I was a great admirer of Tennessee Williams,” said Huston. “I had
seen the play and liked it, with reservations.”
At that time, Huston was at the peak of a long and
illustrious career. His prior films included such popular and critical hits as
The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, and The
Asphalt Jungle. In the sexist vernacular of the day, Huston was known as a
“man’s man” — he was a former boxer, unrepentant boozer, and lover of women,
danger, and adventure — who enjoyed making his films in exotic, challenging
locations. He was also one of the most literate of American filmmakers. He had
been a contract writer at Warner Brothers, penning adaptations of great novels
including Moby Dick and Red Badge of Courage. In Iguana, he saw an opportunity
to explore Tennessee Williams’s meaty theme of “loose, random souls trying to
account for themselves and finally being able to do so through love.”
Huston hoped to cast his movie with big-time stars:
Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon.
Richard Burton was just coming off mega-movie Cleopatra,
where he met, co-starred, and began a torrid affair with Elizabeth Taylor. The
stunningly beautiful Taylor was the top female box office attraction in the
world. Burton, an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, had become a screen sensation
with starring roles in Look Back In Anger and Becket. Both Burton and Taylor
were married to others when they began their affair — Taylor to crooner Eddie
Fisher whom she infamously “stole” from girl-next-door actress Debbie Reynolds.
At a time in American culture when divorce, much less extra-marital affairs,
was still semi-taboo, the public couldn't get enough of "Liz and
Dick." Their scandalous relationship and glamorous lifestyle captivated
millions. Their photos and personal lives were constant fan mag fodder — solid
gold for the Hollywood publicity machine.
If anybody could rival Liz Taylor in both the beauty and
scandal departments it was Ava Gardner. Brought to Hollywood more for her looks
and legs than her acting ability — which, according to the actress herself, was
close to zilch — Gardner signed a contract with MGM at age 19. She then
progressed from pin-up girl, to small roles in B movies, to femme fatale icon.
She exuded a magnetic, sultry sex appeal. And she was gorgeous. According to Humphrey
Bogart, "Whatever it is, whether you're born with it, or catch it from a
public drinking cup, she's got it."
Gardner gained additional fame for three high-profile
marriages to three high-profile celebrities: actor Mickey Rooney, band leader
Artie Shaw, and no-introduction-needed Frank Sinatra. The tumultuous
Frank-and-Ava marriage was chronicled in the press as avidly as the
Liz-and-Dick affair. After six years of a passionately volatile relationship,
Gardner and Sinatra divorced in 1957. By the time Iguana came around, Ava
Gardner was 44 years old and living in Spain where she hung out with Ernest
Hemingway and a bevy of bullfighters. Huston decided that her unique blend of
beauty, maturity, and lusty sensuality made her ideally suited for the role of
hotel owner Maxine.
As for Bette Davis, who openly coveted the role she had
pioneered on Broadway, Huston decided she wasn’t right for the part. He felt
she came across as “too threatening” for the kind of Maxine he had in mind.
When 18-year-old Sue Lyon was cast in Iguana as seductive
teenager Charlotte, she had exactly one film credit to her name: the title role
in Lolita. 'Nuf said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Deborah Kerr already
had 42 films under her belt. She had played a troubled nun in Black Narcissus;
a neglected military wife in From Here to Eternity (iconic beach make-out scene
with Burt Lancaster!); a widowed school teacher in The King and I; and the
tragically romantic heroine in An Affair to Remember. She had been nominated for
an Academy Award as Best Actress six times. On screen and off, Kerr had gained
a reputation as a class act. Huston thought she'd be perfect as the chaste
"We went to see them, one after another" Huston
wrote in his memoir, Open Book. "Richard, in Switzerland, promptly
accepted; likewise Deborah in London. That took us to Madrid and Ava
Gardner." According to Huston, Gardner was unsure whether she had the
ability to do the part. However, after the requisite wooing, she agreed to be
in the film.
Now the stars were set. The press closed in. The fun was
about to begin.
"We've got more reporters up here than
iguanas." -- producer Ray Stark.
In 1964, when Iguana's cast and crew descended upon it,
Puerto Vallarta was still a small fishing town with a few hotels; 24-hour
electrical service had only recently arrived. Eight miles up the coast,
accessible only by boat, was an isolated rain forest peninsula called
Mismaloya. High atop the cliff at this lush, mosquito-infested spot is where Huston
decided to film Night of the Iguana. A strong believer in location shooting, he
thought the wild, sweaty atmosphere of Mismaloya would visually reflect the
inner tumult of the movie's characters. He also hoped that the challenging
environment would force the actors out of their comfort zones and enhance their
Up on this jungle mountaintop, a construction crew built
the movie's weathered hotel set. They also erected 40 bungalows to house the
125 cast and crew members who would live there for the entire 72-day shoot. In
addition to living quarters, the crew built an editing room; a large kitchen,
bar and restaurant; water tanks and an electrical plant; plus various paths and
roads. All materials and supplies had to be carried up 134 earthen steps from
the beach to the cliff-top location. It took 280 men and 80 burros to complete
As construction of the miniature city proceeded, Huston
and his co-writer, Anthony Veiller, worked on the script.
Finally, Iguana's cast arrived in Puerto Vallarta. As did
more than 100 members of the press and paparazzi. Fascinated by the
high-wattage gathering of filmdom glitterati, reporters expected plenty of
behind-the-scenes fireworks. Especially because Burton was accompanied by his
lover, Elizabeth Taylor. With sexy co-stars Ava Gardner and Sue Lyon roaming
the set, the press assumed that Taylor wanted to keep an eye on Burton. "I
trust Richard completely," she told reporters. "It's just that I
don't trust Fate. After all, Fate threw us together on Cleopatra."
And there was plenty more to feed the gossip-hungry
public: Burton brought along his publicist, Michael Wilding, who had been Liz
Taylor's second husband. Teenager Sue Lyon was visited on location by her
25-year-old fiancé, actor Hampton Fancher III. And Ava Gardner took up with
several hunky beach boys. Director Huston, married at the time, was accompanied
by his mistress, Zoe Sallis. Deborah Kerr brought along her husband, writer
Peter Viertel, who had once been Ava Gardner's lover. Viertel was the author of
White Hunter, Black Heart — a novel based on the making of The African Queen —
which featured an unflattering portrait of a Huston-like movie director.
Before filming began, Huston assembled his stars, plus
Taylor and Stark, and presented each one with a velvet-lined box. Inside the
box was a derringer pistol and five gold-plated bullets. Each bullet was
engraved with the name of one of the others. A photo from that moment shows the
assembled group examining their pistols and sharing a hearty laugh. The
atmosphere was loose and fun — regardless of what the press hoped for.
While most of the cast and crew lived at the Mismaloya
mini-city for the duration of the shoot, top stars Burton, Kerr, Gardner, and
Lyon stayed in Puerto Vallarta.
Wrote Kerr about their accommodations in town:
"Never have there been such raucous donkeys, such snuffling and screeching
pigs, such shrill and insistent roosters and babbling turkeys. Top this off
with a thick sauce of mariachi music, plus phonographs and radios at full
blast, season with firecrackers and rockets at all hours of the night, and you
have a fairly tasty idea of what the sleeping conditions are like in this
Early each morning, the stars boarded motor boats to make
the 25-minute ride to Mismaloya. Documentary footage shows Deborah Kerr being
carried by a crew member, who is waist-deep in the surf, and being placed in a
Lines were drawn on the first day of shooting when Kerr
and Lyon announced that they expected the set to be "dry." Burton, a
devout alcoholic, said this was "preposterous." He ordered a bar to
be set up at each end of the crude staircase which connected beach to
cliff-top. Huston and Gardner, both committed drinkers, did not object. Thus,
beer and tequila flowed freely during the shoot. Burton took his first drink
early each morning before the cameras rolled. Gardner had a personal icebox
stocked with her favorite Mexican beer. For her part, Elizabeth Taylor ordered
gourmet hamburgers imported daily from the U.S. and brought up to the set.
Despite prodigious alcohol consumption, filming
progressed fairly smoothly. While the press anticipated juicy sex scandal and
interpersonal catastrophe, the most serious mishap of the production was
actually due to the sub-standard materials used to construct the housing at
Mismaloya. One night, assistant director Tom Shaw was standing on his balcony
when it collapsed. Shaw broke his back and had to be flown back to the U.S. for
surgery. Fortunately, his injuries healed and he would work with Huston again.
The times they were a-changin’ in the
1960s. Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho did not feature a foreign monster (no
Dracula vampire with an Eastern European accent or Cold War alien creatures or
Japanese Godzilla.) The audience follows the main character (played by Janet
Leigh) to an American motel where the caretaker Norman Bates appears to be a
mild-mannered young man. Then he stabs the main character to death in a shower.
The camera slowly zooms out of the eye of the beautiful young woman’s corpse.
Norman Bates was inspired by the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who committed
two ghastly and grisly crimes in Wisconsin in the 1950s. The assassination of
President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 traumatized the nation and the
race riots in 1964 and 1965 showed a conflict and crisis in American society
that could no longer be ignored. After midnight, on August 1, 1966 in Austin,, twenty-five
year old Charles Whitman stabbed his mother and wife and then shortly before
high noon he climbed the stairs of the clock tower at the University of Texas
campus and murdered multiple victims by firing at them with his sniper rifle
until he was shot by police officers.
Twenty-eight year old Peter Bogdanovich
had been obsessed with cinema his entire life. He wrote film criticism for
various magazines and had also been a movie programmer at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York City. He had left NYC for L.A. because he no longer wanted to
only write about films. He wanted to be a director. Yet it was his writing that
gave him his first directing job. Roger Corman had read an article Peter
Bogdanovich had written for Esquire, and the two of them discussed
filmmaking when they met at a screening. Corman gave Bogdanovich complete
creative control over his directorial debut, with one exception. He had to use
the actor Boris Karloff and footage from the film The Terror.
Bogdanovich had been deeply disturbed by Charles Whitman’s mass shooting and
felt compelled to write a screenplay based on the event. How would he
incorporate Boris Karloff into this story? Karloff had been the iconic face of
horror in Hollywood history. His foreign facial features and voice had
frightened American audiences. The 1930s - 1950s was an era when America’s
deepest fears were of foreign enemies. The 1960s altered audiences’ views. Lee
Harvey Oswald was American. Charles Whitman was American. The enemy was no
longer foreign. The enemy was within American society.
Bogdanovich named his directorial debut
with the stark title Targets. He co-wrote the screenplay with his wife
Polly Platt. He was against his directorial debut being released by American
International Pictures. Bogdanovich wanted it to be distributed by a company
with historical significance. He sold the movie to Paramount. They had Boris
Karloff for five days and a shooting schedule of twenty-three days. They juxtaposed
two plotlines. In the first plotline, Boris Karloff plays Byron Orlok (a nod to
Nosferatu), an aging horror movie star who wants to retire, which
outrages the company who want him to make more films. Karloff was seventy-nine
years old when production on Targets started in 1967. He felt
rejuvenated by the opportunity to play a character that was a deviation from his
usual appearances in the horror genre. This was a character that had nuances
and was realistic. Karloff’s performance is wistful and wry, which fits his
character who is reflecting on the course of his career. Bogdanovich’s
performance is appropriately anxious and nervous as he plays himself, a cinephile
who has suddenly been thrown into the management position of his first major
motion picture. Bogdanovich plays (Sammy Michaels), a young director who is
both optimistic about Orlok (he believes the script he has written will be
Orlok’s best and most complex character) and skeptical about the state of the
movie business (“All the good movies have been made.”) Bogdanovich had a high
opinion of Karloff and was nostalgic for Old Hollywood. This becomes clear in
several scenes. Karloff and Bogdanovich watch a sinister scene together from The
Criminal Code and Bogdanovich praises his performance. Bogdanovich and the
hippie radio DJs (whom he satirizes as absolutely absurd in their lack of
serious questions for Karloff) gather around and listen to Karloff’s hypnotic, mesmerizing
voice as he recites the ancient fable of the Appointment in Samarra which symbolizes the inescapability of
death. This fable doubles as an epitaph for Karloff’s career (Targets was
his last major role in an American film) and as a commentary on the mass
shootings in American society. Bogdanovich also uses dialogue he wrote for
Karloff as a commentary on the changing attitude to the horror genre (“You know
what they call my films today? Camp! High camp!”) and on Bogdanovich’s own
perspective of Hollywood and L.A. in the 1960s (“what an ugly town this has
people represent their countries. In
music it seems, Elvis Presley was and is still, now more than ever, everything America represents. He optimized the
‘American Dream’ but the tale of the man who changed not only music but culture
forever, plays out more like a Greek tragedy than an American classic.
been many great documentaries on Elvis but few have matched the scope of “The King” mainly because its tapestry onto
which Elvis was sewn is America itself. Both follow similar paths.
moment when Ethan Hawke, one of the many key figures in this film says “when my
grandfather was alive, America’s greatest export was agriculture. By the time
my father grew up it was entertainment”. This one line sums up the entire
film. Elvis, like America, started off with humble beginnings and worked hard
to reap the harvest that the dry soils and endless toil could produce. When the Presleys lived in Tupelo
they didn’t have a cent to pay their bills and Elvis’s father was incarcerated
for changing the value of a check in the hope of buying a few weeks extra food. The analogy
of Elvis’s life and America’s own growth in the boom during the post-WW2 world
go hand in hand; from the lean to the bloated. Elvis grew up in Memphis, a
cultural melting pot and there is good reason to say that if the Presleys
hadn’t moved here, then the world would never have heard of Elvis and Rock ‘n
Roll as we know it would never have happened. When record mogul Sam Phillips
said “If I had a white boy that sounded black I could make a million dollars”
he wasn’t white-washing music as some people allude to here. What he was hoping
for was that he could find a singer who could break down barriers and introduce
the world to a new sound, based on old Delta blues, the definitive American musical heritage. In Elvis, Phillips found
the perfect mix of beauty and danger, sweat and cologne and more importantly,
black and white. The stars and indeed, the stripes, were aligned right
there in the tiny Sun studio in Memphis with Elvis simply tearing up the rule
book and playing the music he and Sam loved and admired. It changed music
another key figure in the documentary does his usual “Elvis stole from the
black artists” monologue but did he really? Did he not merely celebrate it and
introduce it to others as anyone wants to do when they fall in love with
something or someone? Would the world have even heard of Little Richard or
Chuck Berry or Fats Domino, great artists in their own right, if Elvis hadn’t
kicked down the doors that taste and indeed racial boundaries had kept
segregated up to that point? Elvis took the choice
to spend his childhood in Gospel churches and his teens in predominately black
areas such as Beale Street where BB King played. Thus, I find Chuck D’s diatribe
all a bit tiresome these days and think that he will be more famous for his
line “Elvis was a hero for some but meant shit to me” from Fight The Power rather than any of his other contributions to
music. If only James Brown or Jackie Wilson, who were there first hand and knew
Elvis, were still around to clarify it all. However, it’s the link between
Memphis and Elvis that again sums up the analogy that Presley was the spark
that lit the fuse, the plunger to the dynamite that enabled the great Memphis music
explosion that followed, both culturally and racially. Memphis was, like the
country itself, a place of extremes. Not only is it the birthplace of Sun and
Stax Records, two of the studios that made some of the greatest music the world
has ever heard, it was also the place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the
shining light who broke down political racial barriers in the way Elvis had
done musically, was assassinated. Memphis is America in a nutshell and when
Memphis burned in the riots of the 1960’s, both Sun & Stax were left
standing. There may have been war on the streets but the places where entertainment
emanated from still stood tall and unscathed, their neon still flickering and lighting
up the night long after the flames had turned to ash.
It is the
parallels between Elvis and America that make this such a fascinating
documentary and so it’s strange that Elvis seems to have lost himself to the
entertainment industry he optimized. He was the Dr. Frankenstein who couldn’t
control or gain the respect of the monster he’d help create. In parallel
worlds, while Elvis suffered through those ‘60’s movies, American youth
suffered to a far greater extent through Vietnam. The 1970s brought the soul-draining
Vegas years for the singer while America itself took a long hard look in the
mirror when the Watergate scandal broke. Both brought artist and country to
It was the
enormously ambitious and costly film project they said would spectacularly
flop; the 1937 feature length cartoon feature that even his own family tried to
talk him out of making; the realised dream of an all cartoon motion picture,
three years in the making, which broke new ground and cemented his place in
film history. It could have failed and it was a gargantuan gamble, but it paid
off handsomely and Walt Disney never looked back after the supremely seminal Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became a
global sensation and set him on his way to certain success with a succession of
captivating cartoon classics. Then came the parks, the publications, the
inevitable merchandise and the rest, as they say, is history. So much for this
being “Disney’s Folly” which Snow White was
unfortunately nicknamed - even during
its production! Indubitably, the film serves as a life lesson in believing in
yourself and following your dream. The visionary that was Walt Disney surely
deserved every cent of success for the wealth of wonder and excitement for
which he was responsible.
Picking up a copy
of “Disneyland” comic from a
selection of periodicals in the doctor’s surgery when I was a very young boy
was enough to captivate me and ordain me as a Disney devotee. It became a
weekly reading staple of mine from that point on, taking in “Mickey Mouse”
comics along the way. I never missed “Disney Time” on the Beeb and the first
big Disney movie for me at the cinema was Lady
and the Tramp. It completely blew me away and even at that tender age, I
knew that there was something extra special about this particular animation;
everything about it was so wonderfully lifelike (I then had no knowledge of
such animation processes and techniques such as rotoscoping). I eventually knew
all the Disney characters by heart and longed to see the other films on the big
screen. One by one, during school holidays and Easter weekends, I would get the
invaluable opportunity to thrill to these masterpieces: Pinocchio (1940), The Jungle Book (1967), One Hundred and One
Dalmatians (1961), The Rescuers (1977). However, the one Disney production
which never played at any of our local cinemas was the one film I wanted to see
most of all. And that was Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs, having adored the classic Grimms fairy tale as a nipper
and from which the film was adapted. Finally
that day came when I was in my early teenage years and I actually visited the
cinema to see it after all that time. I would have much preferred to have seen
it as a child, but it still cast its magic spell over me and delivered the
goods I had longed to see.
I think what
appealed to me most about the Disney films, especially Snow White, were the genuinely frightening moments in his films
that featured the villains of the piece. That stirred something deep inside me
and was instrumental in making me a horror film aficionado as I grew older.
So, back to Snow White. Disney did something quite
remarkable with the oft-told and much loved Grimms Brothers favourite Everyone
knows the story of how a young princess, forced to flee for her life when her
insanely jealous mother Queen demands she be killed because she is more
beautiful, encounters a cottage full of dwarfs, becomes a mother to them and
then is brought back from death by love’s first kiss, delivered by a handsome
prince for whom she always had the hots. After which, it goes without saying,
they all live happily ever after.
However, making a
short and sweet little story into a full length animated and consistently
entertaining film is no mean feat, but Disney knew exactly what he was doing
and his invention and attention to detail here is extraordinarily admirable. There
are no longeurs whatsoever and the
film is carefully and cleverly paced and crafted to ensure that there is no
extraneous material inserted to pad out the picture which has an the 83 minutes
running time. For a start, the dwarfs are imbued with their own personalities
and named accordingly; then there is that unmistakable anthropomorphic charm
with the woodland creatures who befriend the gentle and sweet-tempered Snow
White, help her with household chores but most importantly play a pivotal part
in the exciting climax; beautifully written songs are introduced into the story
along the way and could easily stand alone as classics in their own right. All
of this works wonderfully well and never looks out of place or appears poorly
Hard to believe it's been 25 years since the big screen version of the classic TV series "The Fugitive" hit theaters and became a sensation, marking one of the best small-to-big screen adaptations ever. Writing in the Atlantic, Soraya Roberts reflects on what made the film so special and why today's action movies are largely lacking in the same qualities.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of
the release of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo
and Juliet. The movie was a sensation when it came out in 1968, spurring
ticket sales in the millions and becoming one of the top-grossing features of
the decade. One reason the film made so much money was due to the number of
people who returned for a second or even fifth viewing. It seemed audiences
just couldn’t get enough of the story about those two star-crossed adolescent
lovers from old Verona. The movie’s memorable music score, composed by Nino
Rota, also became a best seller. The album quickly went gold and was later
repackaged in a beautiful deluxe box set that included the entire movie
soundtrack, along with two handsomely produced companion booklets.
was something about the film, for all its shortcomings, that many found almost hypnotic.
I’ll fess up and admit I was one of these people. I didn’t actually see it
until the 1970s when it was still being trotted out in theaters in order to
squeeze out extra profits for the studio. I was a teenager at the time and was
more into flicks like Billy Jack and
the Bond films than stories about people who lived hundreds of years ago and
spoke in rhyming couplets. The only Shakespeare I had read was in class, the
substance of which I found nearly indigestible.I did know something about the movie since one my English teachers had
once played a portion of the soundtrack for us in class. However, apparently
not having much else to do that summer evening, I decided to take a stroll down
the street to our local movie palace and buy a ticket.
The first thing I noticed about the film was
how rich in color it was. From the very beginning, following the smoky prologue
spoken by Laurence Olivier, everything is drenched in bright primary colors.
Things got off to a rousing start with the scene of the bloody brawl in the Verona
marketplace between those two wild and crazy families, the Montagues and the
Capulets. (I hadn’t realized until then that it was possible to be a real badass
and still wear red and yellow striped tights with pointy soft leather shoes.) Soon
the cops arrive (the prince and his soldiers) to break up the fracas and issue
a stern warning to all those who would disturb the civil peace in the future. Immediately
following this we get our first look at Romeo (Leonard Whiting), a handsome
love-sick youth with a shaggy haircut. He talks dreamily of some girl he’s got
a crush on, but then comes to his senses at seeing one of the wounded being
carried away. Meanwhile, back at the Capulet palace, Juliet’s father (Paul Hardwick) is coyly negotiating the
marriage of his daughter to a young man named Count Paris (Roberto Bisacco). The first time we see
Juliet (Olivia Hussey) she’s running through the house like a kid at play.
All this is interspersed between scenes of
Juliet and her bawdy, fun-loving nurse (Pat Heywood) talking to the girl’s mother
Lady Capulet (Natasha Parry)
about marriage and things, immediately followed by a night scene of Romeo and
his friends on a soliquious pub crawl through the deserted streets of Verona.
Later that same evening Romeo and his mates crash the Capulet masquerade ball. The ball scene is among the highlights of the film. It is here
Zeffirellireally shows his stuff,
combining visual pageantry with an almost obsessive attention to detail.
Everything about this sequence is highly choreographed, from the beautifully
composed dance scenes (“the moresca!”) right down to the fastidious arrangement
of the candles and platters of fruit (Zeffirelli had studied art and architecture in his student days). Absolutely nothing is left to chance. In the hands of a less gifted
visual director, and Zeffirelli was nothing if he wasn’t visual, all of this might
have come off as too showy and distracting. However, here the effect is just
the opposite. The viewer almost feels as if he or she is present in the scene,
seductively pulled in as we are by the sensuous whirl of warm colors, voices
and melodious music. All of it lovingly captured by the gifted eye of cinematographer
Pasqualino De Santi who was awarded an Oscar for his efforts on the project.
Clearly, the ocular accoutrements of this particular production are as
essential to its success as the words of Shakespeare himself.
sharks give you the willies?Does the
sight of a 12-foot Great White on the Discovery Channel make your heart skip
some beats?Then imagine a 75-foot super
shark, looking like a freight train with gills! Meet the villain of the new
Warner Bros. sci-fi thriller, The Meg
starring Jason Statham and Chinese star, Li Bingbing.
story concerns a Chinese-American exploration team penetrating the deepest
reaches of the Pacific, cut off beneath a thermal layer.The operation’s backer, a snarky billionaire
played by Rainn Wilson (TV’s The Office)
is hoping to exploit the sea bottom’s mineral wealth. Unfortunately this
untouched region is inhabited by a Megalodon, a gigantic prehistoric shark that
makes “Bruce” (the shark from Jaws)
look like a sardine.It can bend
submarines and implode research pods with ease… but it meets its match in a “washed
up but still heroic” rescue diver played by Jason Statham.
by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure)
and made with (lots of) Chinese money, there is an obvious Chinese influence
running throughout - with Chinese talent in key roles and the climax unfolding at
an exotic Chinese beach resort.(There,
several scenes such as a frantic mother searching for her child during the shark’s
attack, or the giant shark dragging swimming platforms like flotsam are truly
reminiscent of Jaws.)
the movie drags on the surface, it picks up speed underwater and the visual
effects of the enormous shark trashing whatever technology mankind throws at it
are superb.While Statham turns in his
usual rugged performance (and at 51, his physique remains a work of art), Li
Bingbing is lovely but a bit wooden. The dialogue tells us they’re inching
towards romance but their interaction has an odd formality, with nary a kiss to
be seen. Instead it falls to her
precocious daughter (the wonderful Sophia Cai) to tell Statham, “My mom likes
you.” As if an action movie icon like
Statham needs a romantic assist from an 8 year-old!
be fair, any shark movie made after 1975 will always be compared to the mother
of all summer tentpoles, Jaws, and
while The Meg does provide some
thrills, it’s not better… it’s just bigger. But maybe for the “global audience”
this movie is going after, that might be enough.
The Meg opens nationwide on
August 10th from Warner Bros.
EVE GOLDBERG looks back on a "can't miss" film production that fell short of expectations:
Blues could have been a hit.It could have been a game-changer.It could have become a classic.Starring Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as expatriate jazz musicians,
this 1961 movie was filmed in Paris, directed by Martin Ritt (Hud, Norma
Rae,) and written by Walter Bernstein (The
Front).All the ingredients for a
compelling, top-notch entertainment were in place.
But the movie misses.Despite strong performances, a fascinating
milieu, meaty subject matter, gorgeous cinematography, several unforgettable
set pieces, and a score by Duke Ellington, the whole is distinctly less than
the sum of its parts.
So, what went wrong?
The problem is the
script.How the script falters, and why, is perhaps the most intriguing aspect
of the film.
Blues is based on a 1957 same-titled novel by Harold
Flender.The book tells the story of
Eddie Cook, an African American jazz musician living and working in Paris in
The author draws on the
historical reality that throughout much of the 20th century, many
African American artists, writers, and musicians emigrated to Paris, where they
found the personal and creative freedom denied them back home.James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Josephine
Baker, Sidney Bechet, Lester Young, and Bud Powell all found refuge from racism
in the City of Light.In addition, jazz
musicians discovered that their artistry was more highly valued and appreciated
in Europe than in the United States.Miles Davis said that his time living and working in Paris was
life-altering.“It changed the way I
looked at things forever.Paris was
where I noticed that not all white people were prejudiced.”
The novel Paris Blues re-creates this vibrant
world of smoky clubs, outdoor cafes, and a creative community where the
“mixing” of everyone is the norm.In
terms of plot, saxophonist Eddie falls for an African American school teacher,
Connie, who is touring Europe with a group of educators.Eddie is torn between going back to the
racist United States with Connie or forgoing their love and staying in Paris
where he feels respected as a man and musician.
In a comedic sub-plot,
Connie’s 60-year-old white roommate, Lillian, and Eddie’s middle-aged Jewish
band mate, Benny, are thrown together for a booze-filled night on the town,
during which Lillian experiences the wild side of Paris and begins to question
her uptight, chaste lifestyle.
Some of the chapters are
written from Eddie’s point of view, others from Connie’s, so we get a nuanced
and in-depth look into both individuals.The author successfully creates a set of appealing characters with
complex emotions and conflicts.While
the novel goes flaccid in the last third — its themes have been exhausted and
now it’s a forced slog to the end of a thin plot — just the fact that a 1957
novel by a white American writer features two fully-developed black
protagonists who are dealing with important, real-life issues, is an
achievement in itself.
Then, somewhere between page
and screen, things happened.
First and most significant,
in the film version of Paris Blues,
Eddie and Connie, the book’s central characters, are relegated to the
B-story.They now take a backseat to a
pair of white folks.
In the film, Benny, who in
the book is Eddie’s middle-aged, paunchy, Jewish sidekick, has been transformed
into hunky trombonist, Paul “Ram Bowen” Newman.Ram is handsome, sexy, charming, and brooding.He yearns to be a serious composer, but fears
he may not have the chops.He is the
undisputed leader of the band and the central character of the movie, with
saxophonist Eddie now playing the lesser role of “best friend.”
In a parallel revision,
Connie’s old-maid roommate Lillian is converted into a young, attractive,
divorced mother who is amazingly uninhibited when it comes to sex.She is played by Paul Newman’s real-life
wife, Joanne Woodward.
Near the beginning of the
film, we get a taste of what this movie might have been.Ram is at the train station, waiting to greet
the famous jazz trumpeter, Wild Man Moore (played with gusto by Louis
Armstrong).While at the station, Ram
accidentally meets Connie (Diahann Carroll).He flirts with Connie who tells him she’s waiting for her traveling
“Is your girlfriend as pretty as you are?”
(pause)“She’s a white girl.”
“Might be hard to find.All you white
girls look alike.”
Connie shoots Ram a “Huh?”
look.She’s clearly taken aback that
this white guy is flirting with her….and what does he mean by that strange
comment?The audience, and Connie, know
that we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Although there is no
interracial romance among the main characters in the original novel, the
filmmakers seem to be flirting with creating one in the movie.But apparently, the powers that be in
Hollywood decided America wasn’t ready for an on-screen interracial romance —
that moment would come several years later with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? — so Ram predictably pairs off with
white Lillian, as Eddie and Connie fall in love.
Poitier later stated, “Cold
feet maneuvered to have it twisted around — lining up the colored guy with the
We recently reported on the trials and tribulations
everyone associated with “Gotti” experienced over the seven years expended in
attempting to bring the biopic to the big screen (the film has more producers
credited than the entire population of Lichtenstein.) . When the film did open,
it earned the rare distinction of being unanimously panned by the critics
surveyed on Rotten Tomatoes. So, I guess I’m out there on my own when I say I
found the film to be quite satisfying on any number of levels. Mind you, I’m
also a defender of Michael Cimino’s “Heaven’s Gate”, so you should take that
into consideration. To read the reviews of this troubled production, one would
think it was genuinely awful. It isn’t. In fact, there is much to recommend
here, not the least of which is the very effective performance by John Travolta
as the titular New York crime boss John Gotti. It’s a bold performance by
Travolta, as he ages on screen from a young, aspiring mob member to an older
man dying from throat cancer while locked in solitary confinement in a federal
penitentiary. Travolta looks the part and captures the swagger of Gotti. His
performance here represents his most ambitious and impressive work on screen in
The film, directed by Kevin Connolly, rather
superficially chronicles Gotti’s rise from lowly Mafia henchman to a mid-range
boss under the command of Gambino crime family cappo du tutti capo Paul Castellano (Donald John Volpenhein). Gotti
is displeased with “Big Paul” because he inherited his status in the mob as
opposed to having coming up from the streets and earned respect the
old-fashioned way. Worse, Castellano resides in a mansion on a hill and has
never developed personal friendships with his underlings. That’s not only a
job-killer if you’re in the Mafia, it’s also a trait that doesn’t bode well for
anyone looking forward to enjoying old age. The film depicts Gotti plotting to
use a team of confederates to assassinate “Big Paul”, with the tacit approval
of his immediate superior and mentor Neil Dellacroce (marvelously played by
Stacy Keach), who everyone believes should hold the position “Big Paul” now
enjoys. But Dellacroce is terminally ill and he gives his blessing for Gotti to
“off” him which infamously occurred when the target and his driver were dining
at Sparks Steak House in Manhattan. Gotti is then established as the boss of
the Gambino crime family.
The screenplay by Lem Dobbs and Leo Rossi is admirable on
several counts. The dialogue rings true to anyone who grew up in or around New
York City (yes, I know guys who still joke “I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick”) and there are some powerful
scenes that truly resonate from a dramatic standpoint. But the writers err by
failing to tell the tale in a linear manner. Instead, events hopscotch all over
the decades. In one scene Gotti is a young hood looking to impress his bosses
by performing a hit. Next we see him as a middle-aged man trying to cope with
domestic problems and grieving over the death of his young son in a traffic
accident. (Gotti’s wife Victoria is played by Travolta’s real-life wife Kelly
Preston in a fine and convincing performance.) Next we see an almost
unrecognizable Gotti as a bloated older man fighting terminal throat cancer in
prison. The constant intermixing of varying eras is befuddling and matters
aren’t helped by an over-abundance of chyrons identifying various minor
characters who don’t play a major part in the goings-on.
The movie accurately portrays Gotti’s reputation in
Queens as that of a folk hero among the local working class. His annual ad-hoc,
unauthorized Fourth of July street fair and fireworks show involved dispensing
free food and drinks to anyone who showed up. When the police tried to stop the
extravaganzas, Gotti accused them of being unpatriotic and he was allowed to
continue. This manipulation of the middle class was essential in maintaining
his grass roots support. He wasn’t the first authoritarian figure to realize he
could manipulate naïve people by tossing them some crumbs while obtaining
significant ill-gotten gains for himself. He also wasn’t the first dictatorial
personality to wrap himself in faux patriotism, and history has proven he wouldn’t
be the last. One would think that working class people would resent a man who
wore expensive suits and lived the high life, but the image of the swaggering,
unapologetic narcissist only endeared him to his supporters. Where Gotti erred
was in not following the tradition of the older mob bosses who kept a low
profile, never gave interviews and avoided being photographed. Gotti couldn’t
resist playing to his image and loved seeing his face on TV and in the New York
tabloids. He also wasn’t a criminal mastermind. He continued to plot crimes at
his inconspicuous “social club” despite knowing the place was thoroughly bugged
by the FBI. He wasn’t a great judge of character and was ultimately the
betrayals by some of his closest confidants such as Sammy “The Bull” Gravano
that resulted in the “The Teflon Don”’s luck running out. His years of fame and
fortune paled in comparison to his lonely, painful death in prison, largely
estranged from his family.
The date was Wednesday, March 27, 1974.
The film premiering that night at Radio City Music Hall was Mame. This first public screening of the
lavishly produced and choreographed story, which took Broadway by storm in the
1960s, was a laborious experience for everyone involved. With its much
anticipated release, cast and crew alike showed up to offer their support and
to delight in the audience’s appreciation. Even the star, Lucille Ball,
attended this highly publicized event. For the first time, fans got a different
glimpse of their favorite television personality. That evening, she arrived not
as the ravishing redhead people were used to seeing, but as a black-haired
beauty in a white dress, which was quite short and just happened to be featured
in the film. Moviegoers were getting a preview of what was to come.
And what an entertaining extravaganza
it was! The alluring ambiance in every scene, as well as the divine dancing and
sensational singing, kept viewers enthralled for the entire two hours and
twelve minutes of the picture. Everybody except the critics, of course.
For the most part, the reviewers did
not have nice things to say about Mame
or its featured players. Some noticed the sentimentality that came through
during certain moments, such as the scene in which the main character and
Patrick, her young nephew, sing “My Best Girl”. However, the majority of them
failed to properly acknowledge a movie that took two years to complete and cost
around $12,000,000 to produce. This was especially true with Lucille Ball’s
performance. Considering the faith Warner Brothers had in their chosen leading
lady, the negative notices were a major letdown to the studio and to the
Playing Mame meant so much to Lucille.
She saw the role as her last chance to prove to the world that she possessed
what it took to be a glamorous movie star. Never one to pass up an opportunity,
Lucille made it her ultimate goal to win the producers over. Indeed, they saw
something special in her that no other actress could radiate.
Once she nabbed the covered part,
Lucille put a lot of effort into creating her own interpretation of the
character. Unfortunately, all of this hard work came to a halt when she broke
her leg while skiing in Colorado. Lucille felt bad about holding up production.
When producers learned about her fear of being replaced, they quickly assured
her they would wait for her return.
With projects featuring such big names
as Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, Warner Brothers cranked out movies that
were popular among the younger crowds. When the company purchased the rights to
the musical version of Mame, they
envisioned it as a picture everyone could enjoy. Therefore, finding a seasoned
entertainer who had plenty of clout became necessary. At the time, Lucille was one
of the most influential women in Hollywood, due to her achievements behind the
scenes as much as on camera. This factor made it practically impossible for her
fellow contenders to be chosen over her.
All of the power in the world could not
prevent the barrage of crass comments made by the critics. They took aim at
everything from her gravelly voice to her extreme thinness. Despite the harsh
remarks, Lucille refused to let her anguish interfere with the promotional tour
she embarked on soon after filming wrapped. She willingly posed for
photographs, endured the mundane task of answering repetitive questions asked
by inquisitive reporters, and appeared on talk shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny
Carson and Phil Donahue.
Suddenly, the most recognizable female in the field of physical comedy was
popping up everywhere.
The cheerful facade occasionally
slipped, allowing her candor to reveal itself. Blaming photographers, Lucille
once admitted to a journalist that she felt old. Tired of seeing unflattering
images of herself every time she picked up a newspaper or magazine and the
press stomping on her already crushed ego, she vented her vexation at anyone
who would listen.
Having devoted such a huge chunk of
time to understanding the inner workings of an outspoken woman began affecting
what she said when discussing other topics as well. Always thought of as brash,
the ordeal that came with making and advertising Mame only hardened Lucille, solidifying her opinion of the changing
industry. Interviewers expecting her jocular side were shocked when she
unabashedly addressed her abhorrence for movies containing excessive nudity and
Those familiar with the bygone era of
the studio system comprehended Lucille’s belief that family friendly films had
the capability to restore traditional values that they felt had been tossed
aside for far too long. This wholesomeness started when she worked at MGM.
Louis B. Mayer prided himself on preserving the pristine illusion so
meticulously maintained by all who flourished under his supervision.
took on a deeper meaning for those who could remember that simpler, carefree
time in history. Just as they had done during the Great Depression, people
forgot about their worries and eagerly embraced the energy exuded on camera.
They listened with a gleam in their eyes and hope in their hearts as Lucille
sang the lyrics to “Open A New Window”.
Women related to her optimism. They
felt the movie catered to their tastes. In actuality, it was produced with them
in mind. When speaking about Mame,
Lucille expressed a strong urge to please the ladies who waited in line to see
the film. She wanted them to know it was their picture. Finally given the
respect they deserved, their gratitude poured out. If only Lucille Ball and Mame had received the same reverence.
(Considered highly knowledgeable in the vintage film
era, Barbara Irvin has written for Classic Images. Most recently, she wrote a
very detailed profile about Angela Lansbury and her husband, Peter Shaw. This
is her first article for Cinema Retro.)
EVE GOLDBERG presents an in-depth examination of the only film Marlon Brando ever directed: "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961)
"ONE-EYED JACKS: AMERICA AT THE CROSSROADS"
A new movie schedule arrived
every few months.A two-sided paper
treasure chest brimming over with promises of time travel, existential wisdom,
and singing in the rain. Wild
Strawberries, City Lights, Battle of Algiers, Belle de Jour.
We grabbed up the schedule
and studied it with care, taped it to the refrigerator door, marked our
calendars.The African Queen, Yojimbo,
Rules of the Game.
We made cinema voyages all
over town — to the Vista in Hollywood, the Nuart in West LA, the art deco Fox
Venice.Before VCRs, DVDs or streaming,
revival movie theaters were about the only place a film junkie could get a
fix.We might find an occasional nugget
on late night TV, John Ford’s Stagecoach,
perhaps, or Invasion of the Body
Snatchers, but for the most part, it was the revival house or nowhere.Citizen
Kane, La Dolce Vita, Alphaville.
There was rumor of a weird
Western called One-Eyed Jacks,
starring and directed by Marlon Brando.Nobody we knew had seen it.The
movie took on the aura of myth. Was there really a scene where Brando gets
whipped?What had the famously
iconoclastic actor done with the time-worn clichés of the horse opera?
Finally, I think it was
1974, One-Eyed Jacks arrived.We trooped down to the Fox Venice, waited in
a long line, found seats in the filled-to-capacity theatre, and settled in for
the ride.We were not disappointed.From the opening shot — Brando casually
eating a banana during a bank robbery — the film was like no Western we had
ever seen.Moody, psychological,
ambiguous, it was awash in sadomasochism, with a brooding Brando in nearly
every scene.And yes, the actor gets his
whipping in a scene of perverse cruelty which sears into memory.
Back in 1974, we knew we had
seen an odd, strangely subversive, one-of-a-kind film.We didn’t know, however, that this quirky
little revenge gem would someday be considered an important (if flawed)
masterpiece of cinema, and a fascinating link between two eras in Hollywood…and
The Western is a
quintessentially American film genre.From its earliest days, the cowboy drama was about good guys (white
lawmen) confronting bad (Indians, outlaws).Each movie was a tale of expansionist dreams and masculine
aggression.Each was a saga of
civilization triumphing over savagery.The Western was, to quote film critic J. Hoberman, “the way America used
to explain itself to itself.”
Edwin Porter’s 1903 film, The Great Train Robbery, was one of the
first Westerns.This 12-minute story in
which bandits rob a train, only to be pursued by a posse of lawmen,
revolutionized the art of cinema.Porter
used ground-breaking techniques such as cross-cutting and close-ups to create a
suspenseful, compelling narrative.The
basic elements of the genre were set.
The Western remains
instantly recognizable across more than a century of evolving media and
myth-making.Gunfights, holdups, and
massacres.Horses, trains, rustlers, and
stampedes, and six-shooters.
The Golden Age of the
Western is often considered to be the years 1946-1973.Following World War II, with the Cold War
blazing hot on the beaches of Korea, the U.S. declared itself the new global
sheriff in town.At home, the Eisenhower
Era earned a reputation as being a time of complacency and consumerism.But these were also the McCarthy years, when
right-wing witch hunts against political progressives were ruining lives and
careers.And, at the same time, the seeds
of change were taking root.A young
civil rights movement began asking America: What the hell are the good guys who
fought Hitler doing about racial discrimination and bigotry at home?
If you look
up the term osmosis in the dictionary you find the following description: “the
process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas and knowledge: i.e. “by
some strange political osmosis private reputations become public”. I hope this
will be the case for the wonderful Leon Vitali after the release of the new
documentary “Filmworker” from Tony Zierra and Dogwoof in regards to recognizing
the key role he played in bringing together the latter works of the great film
director Stanley Kubrick.
untold story of Leon Vitali, who gave up fame and fortune as a much respected
actor to serve for over three decades as Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man, is
told in this compelling documentary charting Vitali’s work with the maestro and
their unique relationship. To say Vitali was Kubrick’s right hand man doesn’t
really do him justice but the fact that Vitali himself would have given his
right arm to help his friend and icon in any way rings true. The obvious love
that Vitali has for Kubrick, no matter how others perceive his role, is
humbling and inspiring. We see Vitali move from his acting role in “Barry
Lyndon” to working behind the camera with Kubrick, whose intense eye seemed
glued to his viewfinder. When it came to set dressing, lighting, through to
casting and final print transfer, Vitali was there.
As with the scene in the recent “Blade Runner 2049 (a
film I’m sure Kubrick would have loved) where the hologram Joi melds with another
to truly feel an experience, so Vitali melded with Kubrick; working with him so
closely and for so long that he knew the exact way Kubrick wanted anything to
look, sound or be released. He wrote thousands of pages of notes that the
director would read word for word and act upon. This esteem Kubrick held for
Vitali says all that needs to be said about his own professionalism and eye for
detail- such as spending 24 hours looking at reels of actual film negatives in
order to extract the exact single image he knew Kubrick would concur with for
posters and stills usage. Vitali gave himself to the process of making ‘A Stanley
Kubrick Film’- perfectly illustrated when he says “as soon as I drove through
the gates at Stanley’s home I knew I wouldn’t see myself again until I passed
through them on the way out”.
very rare to find such dedication in any profession but to be the assistant to
one of the most demanding directors in history is even more impressive. Kubrick
was a man who screamed for perfection and Vitali’s ability to withstand these
demands indicates his own staying power was on par with that of the films
Kubrick created. The movies Vitali worked on include “The Shining”, “Full Metal
Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut”, in which he had two roles (the fact that we never
really get to see him is a perfect analogy to the reason why the documentary
intimate documentary should appear on every key Kubrick film that’s released on
home video from this point forward but I do urge you to see it on the big
screen if you have the opportunity, as this is a film about a larger than life
director whose canvas was the cinema screen itself. Just as importantly, it’s
about a less celebrated man whose heart is far bigger than his ego,who is happy
to represent and recall tales of his friend and mentor based on experiences no
one else shared. Vitali’s reverence for Kubrick is inspiring on different
levels, the most obvious being that he relates to him on personal terms rather
than as a cinematic icon. I would urge anyone with an interest in Kubrick, the
film industry or indeed friendship itself, to go and see this film when it’s
released in UK cinema’s on 18 May 2018 from Dogwoof,. The month also marks the 50th anniversary of
Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. This is a perfect companion piece to that
Cinema Retro was invited to the special preview screening
of the new documentary film My Generation, which is to be screened with a
Q&A with narrator Sir Michael Caine in selected cinemas throughout the UK on
March 14th 2018.
Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Harry Palmer, Jack
Carter, Charlie Croker and simply Alfie: these key names in British cinemaall have one thing in common- they all share
the iconic characteristics of one man and, bar Carter, all come from the latter
part of the era that defined him as one of the
“Faces” of the 60s, Sir Michael Caine. From A-Z, Alfie to Zulu, this is an
actor whose roles literally cover all the bases when it comes to memorable 60s cinema,
although, as Caine himself points out, “The 60s didn’t really end till 1971” so
that being the release date of Get Carter, we’ll happily include it in that
iconic “role call”.
There’s no better star to take us through a
documentary of what made the 60s the 60s than Caine. This is the era that
defined him and he knows all the other people who could easily have fronted
such an undertaking, many of whom feature in revealing conversations with the
once Maurice Micklewhite. Incidentally, he famously changed his name to Caine
after speaking to his agent from a phone box in Piccadilly and when asked for a
stage name, saw a sign for The Caine Mutiny starring his favourite actor Humphrey
Bogart and the rest is history- just like the documentary itself. “It’s a good
job I didn’t look up the other way” he says “As I don’t think Michael 101
Dalmatians has the same ring to it”.
The colleagues and friends I referred to whose
stories bring many of the still photographs of the time to life include David
Bailey, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Roger Daltrey, Sandi Shaw, Donovan,
Penelope Tree and Terry O’Neill to name just a few. The title of the film, once
vocalized so memorably by Daltrey when he fronted The Who, now takes on a
greater meaning; one of reflection rather than the youthful disdain it once did
when Daltrey sang “Hope I die before I get old”. The lyric took on a different
meaning to me after seeing this documentary. I’d always wondered if its writer,
Pete Townshend, had ever regretted singing it so often, especially when he got
into his sixties, but now I see it very differently. The fact that the talking
heads aren’t seen as they are now in 2018 but simply vocalize images of their
younger selves is a master stroke by director David Batty. The wiser words of
hindsight of those featured stars, looking back at themselves as well as the
era as a whole, gives the piece genuine pathos. What I gleaned from this is
that fact that they may have aged but none of them really did get old. There’s
still a fire and a sense of amusement as they divulge their stories over the
footage of their younger selves. They now look upon this time and its seismic
changes with the same wonder and disbelief as the viewer does in 2018. As Caine
himself re iterates “The 60s was and is a mindset, not just a number”.
Michael Caine was and is the face of 1996
rather than just 1966 to me. This is because he was seen by this next
generation of “lads” as the ultimate symbol of Cool Britannia, the granddaddy
of hip. His face adorned just as many magazines as it had 30 years earlier and
the reason for that is that these pictures, like the decade they were taken
from, were seen as iconic; the time when Britain was the epicenter of fashion,
film and music. Simon Fuller, the man behind the Spice Girls in those Cool
Britannia days, kept pushing the idea of this documentary film to Caine. It
took three years to complete due to Caine’s still incredibly busy acting
There were so many fine films released last year that it's difficult to call any clear cut favorite for the Oscars. Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" seems to have the momentum, but one should not underestimate "Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri", a British film that perfectly captures the look and feel of a small town American community. Like Guillermo's movie, "Billboards" presents a superlative role for a mature actress, this time in the form of Frances McDormand, who gives the performance of her career as Mildred, a no-nonsense independent woman who has recently divorced her philandering husband, who is carrying on with an air-headed beauty young enough to be his daughter. Mildred is trying to juggle her threadbare financial existence by working in a charity shop and scrounging to put food on the table for her teenage son. However, she is obsessed with a family tragedy that permeates every moment of her day. We learn that she had another teenage child, a daughter, who was killed seven months ago when she was accosted on a remote road, raped and horribly murdered. When we first meet Mildred, she is all-to-apparently carrying the weight of that incident on her broad shoulders and she is obsessed with finding her daughter's killer. She's fed up with what she feels is lack of progress on the part of local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who she suspects has let the case go cold. Willoughby maintains he and his small department are doing all they can but there are few clues to follow up on. Mildred decides to take drastic, if unorthodox, action by renting out three billboards that sit abandoned on a road rarely traveled by locals since a highway rendered it superfluous. She puts up insulting messages to the chief in the hope it might shame him into being more assertive in solving the case. The tactic unleashes a backlash of bad will in her direction. Willoughby is a popular figure in the town and any sympathy Mildred's tragic situation has elicited from her neighbors vanishes overnight. She becomes the object of everyone's anger and she can find solace only among a couple of loyal friends. Her main antagonist is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), one of Willoughby's deputies. He's an uncouth hard ass who is determined to defend the department's honor by taking on Mildred personally through harassment and insults. The end result is to bring the simmering tensions to a boil in a spectacular, if misguided, act of violence on the part of Mildred.
I don't want to divulge too much more about the plot because the main strength of writer/director Martin McDonagh's screenplay is its sheer unpredictability. Every time you think you know where the plot is heading, McDonagh takes you in a different direction. Friends become enemies, enemies become allies. McDormand is a cinematic force of nature in the leading role. She's not entirely sympathetic, as she uses her barbed-wire wit to attack friend and foe alike. We later learn there is an additional emotional burden on her that can never be resolved: she feels a sense of personal responsibility for her daughter's fate. Refreshingly, the three main characters are not presented as stereotypes. If Mildred is the protagonist we are rooting for, she is also a flawed human being who seems at times to be devoid of any feeling of rapprochement even when Willoughby offers her every imaginable olive branch. He's a decent man with his own family and he's also carrying his own secret burden. Dixon, however, is initially presented as a bumbling Deputy Barney Fife-like character but with a sadistic streak. The interactions between these characters make for some fascinating scenarios that are brought to life by three actors who give the performances of their careers. (McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell are all up for Oscars.) The film is also peppered with some truly remarkable performances by a supporting cast that seems cherry-picked to perfection. Among them is Peter Dinklage, who provides some much-needed humanity and gentleness.
I don't know how Three Billboards will fare at the Oscars, but it's my choice for Best Picture. Martin McDonagh has provided us with a highly original and compelling work (and it has a great soundtrack, too).
The year 2017 was a particularly gratifying one in terms of watching a virtual tidal wave of impressive young talent emerge both on screen and behind the cameras. It was also a year in which the major studios finally afforded a good number of talented females plum leading roles. The one constant, however, is that while the major studios became even more obsessed with tentpole franchise films based on comic book characters, it fell to the smaller, more creative independent films to remind us of just how wondrous cinema can still be. Case in point: "Lady Bird", which has received numerous major Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. If you think the movie is the biography of President Lyndon Johnson's wife, known affectionately by one and all as "Lady Bird", you're in for a rude awakening. The film marks the directorial debut of 34 year-old actress/writer Greta Gerwig, and she has come through with flying colors. The film is a bittersweet comedy/drama set in the early 2000s and centering on Christina McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), a senior in a Catholic high school who dreams of grand achievements that include leaving her hometown of Sacramento, California and heading east to the Big Apple where she wants to attend college and begin making her mark on society. She is fiercely independent, self-confidant (a bit too self-confidant), highly intelligent and in possession of a sarcastic wit that all too often strays into the realm of outright cynicism. So desperate is Christina to establish her own unique identity that she insists upon being called "Lady Bird", although the name doesn't seem to have any significant meaning beyond Christina thinking it has some sort of profound impact.
When we first meet Lady Bird, she is grappling with the challenges that senior year presents to most kids her age. She is eager to move into adulthood but not quite as well-equipped to do so as she might imagine. She's likeable, funny but also somewhat narcissistic. She is trying unsuccessfully to cope with the fractious relationship she has with her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf), a hardworking nurse who often seems tone deaf to her daughter's dreams and ambitions. At a time when a teenager's quests in life are usually encouraged by their family, Lady Bird gets a daily dose of reality tossed in her face. Her mother eschews her plans to apply to notable universities on the east coast, reminding her that they are literally living on the other side of the tracks from most of Lady Bird's more affluent friends. Indeed, the family is barely clinging to vestiges of the lower middle class. Lady Bird has a hands-off relationship with her brother (Jordan Rodrigues) and his girlfriend (Marielle Scott), who was invited to live with the family when she fell on hard times. Both indulge in the goth look that would make them seem at home in the Addams Family mansion. It puts a chasm between them and Lady Bird, who argues often with them and her mother. The only respite or sympathy she finds in the household is from her adoring dad, Larry (wonderfully portrayed by acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts). They share a gentle, humorous relationship that masks over the fact that he's got a world of trouble of his own, having just been fired from his job. (In one of the film's most disturbing scenes, the ever-desperate Larry goes on a long-shot job interview only to find himself competing with his own son). However, the core of the film focuses on the mother/daughter relationship and captures it in a way most mothers and daughters can relate to. They are both fundamentally decent people who care for and love each other but neither is particularly open to seeing life from the other's viewpoint. They spend most of their time caught up in emotionally-shattering debates and verbal duels. Lady Bird needs her dreams to be nurtured. Her mom understandably wants some recognition that she is working herself to death just to keep a roof over everyone's heads. At school, Lady Bird finds more frustrations. Her school adviser seems immune to reading her desires for higher education. Her frumpy but sweet girlfriend Jule (a marvelous Beanie Feldstein) is someone who has already thrown in the towel in terms of achieving her life's ambitions. Lady Bird angles for a good role in the senior class stage musical but finds nothing but irritants. She's determined to have sex before she graduates but her hunky first boyfriend turns out to be too good to be true. She latches on to a creepy intellectual (Timothee Chalamet, an Oscar nominee this year for "Call Me By Your Name") and ends up losing her virginity on the basis of his deception.
Greta Gerwig's script and direction are pitch perfect. One assumes the only logical reason that the film is set in the early 2000s is because that's when she attended high school. If that's the inspirational motive for the setting, fine with me. It allows us to revisit the last time period in which people still conversed with one another instead of gazed endlessly into a cell phone. Gerwig also gets a star-making performance from Saoirse Ronan, who won acclaim for her performance in "Brooklyn" a few years ago. However, it is this role at the tender age of 23 that stands to make her a major player in the film industry. She is matched by Laurie Metcalf, who has justifiably snared a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Even the minor roles are wonderful enacted. The film bristles with domestic tensions but ends on a beautiful and poignant note. "Lady Bird" is a film by women and about women, but it's appeal extends to anyone who appreciates great movie making.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Stephen Spielberg directs another winner with "The Post", which covers in spellbinding detail the legal and political intrigue leading up to the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Then, as now, the New York Times and the Washington Post were locked in a professional competition, as the two symbols of the gold standard of American newspapers. The film begins with a brief segment set in 1966 in the battle zones of Vietnam as we watch military analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) on a Pentagon mission to personally evaluate how the war is unfolding on the ground. Ellsberg is reporting to President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood). The U.S. military presence which began modestly under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy has been ratcheted up to new heights, with LBJ's administration pouring increasing numbers of troops and resources into beleaguered South Vietnam to thwart the invasion from the communist north. Ellsberg shares his findings with McNamara and they are not encouraging. He sees the U.S effort as stymied and incurring increasing costs in blood and treasure with only incremental, temporary gains on the battlefield. McNamara informs Ellsberg that he shares his conclusions but continues to assure the American public that things are going swimmingly and that victory is inevitable. Disillusioned, Ellsberg continues his services to the Pentagon while stateside and contributes to the massive study of the war that ultimately became known as the Pentagon Papers. He concluded that while the Johnson administration concurred the best America could hope for was a costly stalemate in Vietnam, the American public would continue to be mislead by the president and his key military personnel. Ultimately, Ellsberg- at great personal legal risk to himself- managed to photocopy the massive report and leak it to the New York Times, which began printing key aspects of the papers. The publication became an international sensation but the Times was served with an injunction by a judge to cease publication while the courts considered whether further aspects of the papers could be suppressed due to the fact that they were considered Top Secret documents by the Nixon administration.
With the Times fighting the administration in court, Washington Post editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) senses an opportunity to capitalize on his rivals' court-imposed inertia. The Post's assistant editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) suspects the leaker was Ellsberg, an old acquaintance. He gets Ellsberg to photocopy the papers he had originally given to the Times and turn them over to the Post- but this puts in play a legal and ethical dilemma. The Post is owned and run by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), a Washington socialite and heiress who inherited the newspaper from her revered late husband. The unspoken feeling among even her staffers is that a woman is not fully capable of running such a business. Indeed, the Post is facing financial hardships and Graham makes the difficult decision to raise capital by selling shares in the company. Bradlee imposes on her to take the moral initiative and allow the Post to print excerpts from the Pentagon Papers while the Times is precluded from doing so. The brilliant script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer follows in painstaking detail the risks that Graham had to evaluate by doing so. The threat of inevitable legal action by the Nixon administration to keep the Papers suppressed might scare away investors and lead the Post into insolvency. Against this is Bradlee's compelling argument that a free press must reveal the lies that the American people have continued to be told by the current president and his military brass. (Note: although Nixon wasn't president when the Pentagon Papers were completed, he had good reason to keep them under wraps because he was continuing to follow the same practices as Johnson's administration and had made a campaign promise that he had a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War when, in fact, he intended to keep escalating it).
Spielberg manages the difficult task of turning "The Post", which is enhanced by a typically fine score by John Williams, into a suspense-packed Cold War thriller despite the fact that we already know the outcome. It's no small feat and he's enabled by superb performances by Hanks and Streep, who plays Graham as a woman on the razor's edge of landmark historical decision. Ultimately, she decides to go for broke and defy the president by publishing the Papers in the hope that the Supreme Court will side with the Post on the basis that the American people have a right to know when they are being lied to by their elected officials. Nixon is only seen as distant figure through the White House windows but his presence looms large over the drama. When Graham finally gives permission to get the presses rolling with the story, it's the kind of rousing scene that draws cheers from audiences. Nixon would survive this scandal and go on to win a massive re-election victory the following year, but the publication of the Papers forced him to ultimately sue for peace and begin withdrawing American troops. Ironically, he would lock horns with the Post once again when the Watergate scandal unraveled in its pages- and lead to his political demise. It's all hinted at in the film's poignant epilogue.
At a time when the bastion of America's democracy- its free press- is once again under intense attack by politicians who may have a lot to hide, Spielberg's big wet kiss to the nation's "fourth estate" comes as a welcome reminder that real heroes aren't confined to battlefields but also can be found in the mundane settings of newsrooms.
"The Post" has been nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress (Meryl Streep).
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water illustrates just how far the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has evolved when it comes to recognizing major achievements in film genres that were once generally ignored when it came to Oscar recognition. The once-gentrified Academy would occasionally bow to popular sentiments and nominate blockbusters like The Exorcist, Jaws and The Exorcist for major awards but no one ever truly expected them to win. More often than not, horror and sci-fi-oriented movies were generally recognized in the categories of special effects to the exclusion of recognition for picture, director, screenplay, etc. As a new generation that was weaned on the artistic merits of these genres came of age, the Academy began to reflect their values and at last the artists who created great works in these areas were afforded attention. The Shape of Water is a cinematic oddity that is admittedly an acquired taste, so it speaks well for the Academy that del Toro has been nominated for Best Director and Original Screenplay (with Victoria Taylor) as well as Best Picture.
If you haven't seen it, do so, because the greatest asset of the movie is that you never know in what direction the script will veer. The film is set in the early 1960s with Sally Hawkins as the protagonist, Elisa, a cleaning lady who is employed at a top secret government facility that is dedicated to Cold War espionage research. Elisa lives a lonely existence and she is suffering from a severe handicap: she is a mute. She shares a modest apartment above an old world movie theater with Giles (Richard Jenkins), an aging gay graphic designer and artist who is living on the financial edge, having lost full time employment and trying to subsist on a decreasing number of freelance assignments. He and Elisa are the closest of friends and he acts as combination parental figure and intellectual companion who has learned to communicate with her with ease. Elisa's life takes a dramatic turn when she discovers that government agents have brought an extraordinary find into the facility: a creature that resembles a human in form but which has gills and lives underwater in a river in South America. The creature, which we will refer to as a merman (no, his name isn't Ethel), is being examined and routinely tortured by short-sighted government agents led by Richard Strickland (a mesmerizing Michael Shannon), a mean-spirited who quickly decides the creature has no real value in terms of helping to win the Cold War and advocates having him destroyed. Elisa secretly makes contact with the merman and takes pity on him, sneaking him food and helping to ease his pain. She realizes he is an intelligent creature who has human qualities and vulnerabilities. With his execution imminent, she organizes a daring rescue for the merman, assisted by Giles and her best friend and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). This unlikely trio of misfits orchestrates the plan in a manner that is both ingenious, amusing and very suspenseful. By now, Elisa is madly in love with the merman and thereby introduces perhaps the first inter-species romance seen in a major film. Call it Creature from the Black Lagoon by way of Hunchback of Notre Dame. I won't divulge much more except to say the performances are truly superb and Hawkins, Jenkins and Spencer have all been justifiably nominated for Oscars along with Alexandre Desplat for his impressive score.
There are a few nitpicks I can make, primarily that del Guillermo throws in some superfluous sex scenes. We know Elisa is a lonely soul, but is it necessary to demonstrate that by having scenes of her masturbating in the bathtub? Similarly, a scene of Strickland playing tyrannical husband to his obedient, attractive wife includes an out-of-left-field tidbit in which she plops out one of her breasts, thus leading to a scene in which he makes love to her in a manner that most women would consider to be sexual assault. Not to be a prude, but such gimmickry seems reek of crass commercialism rather than ingredients that add measurably to the story,
The Shape of Water is a moving and genuinely beguiling love story unlike anything the Academy would have considered honoring had it emerged decades ago. It's not for everyone but even those who don't warm to the premise will admire the outstanding performances and production values.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The most over-rated of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees is director Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread", a bizarre, off-putting drama that succeeds in presenting unusual characters in offbeat situations. It's a film saturated in atmosphere and intriguing plot scenarios that ultimately never delivers on presenting satisfactory conclusions to any of them. Daniel Day Lewis, in what is his self-described final screen appearance before entering retirement, is Reynolds Woodcock, a London dressmaker who has become a legend in his own time. The House of Woodcock designs top-line dresses for the international jet set as well as royals from around the globe. He prides himself on his obsession with his work and he runs the business with his humorless, equally dedicated sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their design house is run like a military base with discipline and dedication expected of their devoted, if not too happy, employees. The only vices Reynolds allows himself are short-term relationships with women, which he enters into with charm and intensity only to inevitably discard his lover when he tires of her. The film opens with the story's leading female character, Alma (Vicky Krieps) relating in flashbacks how she became the object of Reynolds' desires. He meets her in a small country bed and breakfast where she is working as a nondescript waitress who he finds charming. That evening, he takes her to a lavish dinner and then brings her back to his house where she understandably presumes he will attempt to bed her. Instead, the quirky Reynolds immediately orders her to stand for a fitting in order for him to make her an exquisite dress. More bizarrely, this promising first date is further detoured by the arrival of Cyril who begins to assist in the measurements of the dress, though it's clear she resents the younger, more attractive woman. Why? The implication is that she might have an unhealthy sexual interest in her own brother but, like so many of strands of this "Thread", nothing concrete is ever presented regarding the origins of Reynolds' and Cyril's strange relationship. It's one of several promising story scenarios that are presented in a confusing and sometimes incomprehensible manner, while others are hinted at but dropped altogether. At times it feels as though Anderson simply tore up the last twenty pages of his script during production.
Over their courtship, Reynolds proves to be a charming, highly intelligent beau. Alma is obviously from humble origins but the script fails to tell us anything about her life, background, or even nationality (she speaks with a rather exotic accent that is difficult to pin down). Soon, she moves into Reynolds' apartment building, which doubles as his design studio. She begins to learn the clothing trade from the bottom up, resenting after a while that her status as the boss's lover doesn't get her any perks. She's treated the same as the rest of the obedient staff. Soon, Alma begins to see disturbing personal traits in her lover. He has many eccentricities. He requires complete silence at breakfast while he contemplates his design work The slightest deviation from his standards can result in him erupting in anger. The film traces these outbursts and how Reynolds and Alma alternate between having a fractious and loving relationship. Ultimately, they marry- but that is only the beginning of the psychological agony they will both endure before finding a bizarre scenario that pleases them both, based on the "Munchausen syndrome by proxy" (Google it) that involves a peaceful coexistence established through poisoning by mushrooms. If it sounds weird, the premise seems even weirder when played out on screen.
Throughout most of "Phantom Thread" I was duly impressed by the superb production design (the film is set sometime in the 1950s but doesn't specify exactly when) along with the wonderful classical/original score provided by Johnny Greenwood. Then there are the mesmerizing performances. Lewis is predictably superb but the real find is Vicky Krieps, of whom much more should be heard in the near future. Like Woodcock's design creations, every aspect of the film looks perfect so it's disappointing that director/screenwriter Thomas never allows the plot to come together in a satisfying manner. The key plot point involving mushrooms is a bit wacky and doesn't fit in with the general tone of the movie. It's like having Godzilla appear at the finale of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and there's no getting around the fact that poisoned mushrooms makes this feel like a watered down premise of that seen in "The Beguiled".
There's much to admire in "Phantom Thread" including the lush cinematography (also provided by an uncredited Paul Thomas Anderson). Anderson enjoys a loyal following among critics and film fans who enjoy the quirkiness of his scripts and direction. Consequently, I wonder if that devotion extends to overlooking the obvious flaws and tangled, unsatisfying aspects of his work, of which there are plenty in "Phantom Thread". This may not be the case of the emperor having no clothes, but at a minimum, he is scantily clad.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
There was great trepidation in the film industry about whether director Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk" would be able to attract large enough audiences to recoup its considerable production costs. After all, most movie-goers are young people and the most popular kinds of features are superhero epics and gross-out comedies, not historical epics. To the surprise of many, "Dunkirk" did indeed prove to be a major hit, grossing over $500 million worldwide.This proves that the intelligence and taste of younger movie-goers should not be underestimated and also that Nolan himself enjoys the kind of loyal following that few directors can brag about. His name on a film will draw audiences that might be immune from a certain movies if not for his involvement. "Dunkirk" has also won critical acclaim and is nominated for numerous Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It's to Nolan's credit that he sought to bring this story to the screen during an era in which the average person is probably unacquainted with its historical significance, at least outside of Europe. That may be a sad reflection on society but it's all the more reason why Nolan should be commended for bringing the heroic saga to the spotlight.
"Dunkirk" relates the ominous period of time early in WWII when the British sent the bulk of its army as an expeditionary force into France to help stem the German invasion. At the time it was assumed that France had the strongest army in Europe. The recently -constructed heavily fortified Maginot Line was designed to be an impenetrable barrier to the German forces. Hitler decided to outflank the Allies by invading France through the back door in Belgium, plowing his tanks through the seemingly impassable Ardennes Forest, thus completely bypassing the Maginot Line and rendering its heavy artillery useless. The result was a rout for the Alllies and the bulk of the British army, along with French units, found itself trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk. German forces could have moved in for the kill but made a major mistake by giving their exhausted units some down time, feeling that the Allies had no way to escape. Churchill issued an edict that called up any available vessel to make a desperate journey across the Channel under heavy fire and air attacks to rescue as many soldiers as possible. These gallant civilians pulled off the impossible by doing just that and rescuing the bulk of the 300,000 British troops on the beaches. French troops also made it out and joined the Free French units stationed in England under the command of DeGaulle. All of this makes for a highly compelling story but only fragments of it end up in Nolan's often admirable film. He provides virtually no historic context to the action seen on screen, which covers the battle from the viewpoint of individual soldiers as well as a small boat captained by an every day middle-aged Brit (Mark Rylance, in excellent form), his teenage son and his good friend. Aside from an opening series of captions informing the audience of the bare bones facts, no other overview of the dramatic occurrences is provided.
The film presents the battle scenes in spectacular and intense detail. You can feel the fear and confusion among the stranded troops and individual soldiers who attempt to use any means necessary to hitch a ride on the few overcrowded British Navy vessels that were available prior to the arrival of the civilian "fleet". The scenes inside the cockpit of the British Spitfire, one of only a few available in the battle to combat the constant German air attacks, are especially riveting. When a pilot has to ditch his plane in the ocean, he finds his cockpit is jammed and he may well drown. It's this type of harrowing scene that allows Nolan to ratchet up the suspense. However, it's Nolan the scriptwriter who undercuts the production on numerous occasions by failing to provide any emotional core to the film, with the exception of the scenes involving Rylance, which are genuinely moving. The rest of the characters are just relatively anonymous combatants of which we know nothing about personally. We can relate to their dilemma but unlike the similarly-themed "The Longest Day", we have little emotional resonance in them beyond the fact that we simply want them to survive. Nolan also fails to capitalize on the arrival of the civilian fleet, one of the most inspiring moments in military history, as it not only spared 300,000 lives, but also saved England- and thus the world- by allowing its fighting men to be able to resist Hitler's aggression. Nolan provides only a few fleeting shots of numerous boats approaching the Dunkirk beaches but the type of soaring emotional moment you might expect is rather watered-down.
There's much to admire in "Dunkirk". It's a big, ambitious war movie the likes of which we rarely see today. The aerial combat scenes are extraordinarily exciting and frightening. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is outstanding and Hans Zimmer provides a thundering, impressive score. More importantly, it attempts to commemorate a battle in which the British people turned a massive defeat into a tremendous victory. It's good filmmaking, but it never soars as high as you might expect and want it to.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Director Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" has been winning plaudits from critics and has earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The lyrical love story between two closeted gay men is set in Italy in 1983.Timothée Chalamet plays Elio, a 17 year-old Jewish-American high school student who is also of Italian heritage. He lives a seemingly idyllic life in a villa located in rural Italy. He's a brilliant student, able to converse in multiple languages and also displays stunning musical talents.His father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor of archaeology who annually invites a graduate student to spend six weeks at the villa to assist in cataloging materials pertaining to excavations of historical finds. This year's student is Oliver (wonderfully played by Armie Hammer), a hunky, charismatic American who arrives at the villa and takes over Elio's bedroom, thus evicting Elio to an adjoining room. Whatever resentments Elio is feeling about being summarily moved from his own bedroom vanish when he lays eyes on Oliver. Elios, we learn, is hiding a secret: he's gay. Despite the fact that he is a popular figure in the small, intimate circle of his high school friends, he is actually a lonely, frustrated person with seemingly no outlet for romantic desires. He plays the game of acting straight and even has an attractive French girlfriend, Marzia (Esther Garrel) but he only has eyes for Oliver. Elios suspects Oliver may also be gay but ponders whether certain subtle gestures are actually acts of flirtation or just figments of his imagination. His doubts grow when Oliver predictably becomes the object of desire among local young women- and Oliver seems to be enthused about capitalizing on their intentions. Much of the early stages of the film concentrate on Elios trying to decipher Oliver's sexuality and whether he should make an overt pass at him. Ultimately, his question is answered when the two spend an afternoon together in the countryside. What follows is a carefully choreographed scenario in which the two try to maximize their time together without raising suspicions of those around them. Within a short time both realize that their relationship is one of genuine love, not just lust. They also realize that it is inevitably doomed as the clock ticks down to the day Oliver must return to America.
"Call Me by Your Name" (which boasts a grand total of twenty producers/executive producers) is a highly emotional love story that unspools over a leisurely running time of 132 minutes. That would ordinarily seem overlong but the laid back pace keeps in-synch with the lazy atmosphere of the Italian setting, where no one seems to be in a hurry and everyone is enjoying la dolce vita. The running time also allows director Guadagnino to fully develop not only the two main characters, but the supporting figures as well. It's a marvelous collection of diverse people, thanks to screenwriter James Ivory and source novelist Andre Aciman. The film succeeds on all levels. The acting is superb throughout with even minor roles expertly portrayed. The real triumph is that of Chalamet, who delivers a finely-tuned portrayal of a teenager who not only has to cope with the usual psychological challenges of being on the verge of adulthood, but who also must suppress his sexuality. Both his father and mother (Amira Casar) defy stereotypes in scenarios such as this by being progressive and sympathetic to their son. Both can instantly see the mutual attraction between Elios and Oliver and conspicuously try to afford them the maximum amount of time together. The film has numerous scenes that are highly moving and emotional, one of which is a long talk between father and son in which Elios's dad delivers a life-affirming talk to Elios that makes it clear he is accepted and loved for who he is. It's superbly enacted by Michael Stuhlbarg, who probably should have received a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. There is also a wonderful score that incorporates classically-styled works with contemporary rock. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is tantalizing enough to make you book the next flight to Italy. What is refreshing about the film is the lack of contrived crisis points one would expect to see pretentiously introduced into the story. Instead, everyone in the film is a good person. No artificial crisis is introduced aside from the inevitable parting of the lovers, which does pack a tremendous punch in a "Bridges of Madison County" kind of way. The film's haunting final image of Elios is extraordinary. You must stay through it and not leave the theater, even as the credits role over the image.
After decades of gay characters being either ignored completely in films or used as objects of ridicule or derision, it's satisfying to see we've finally reached a point where a same-sex love story can be presented in a mature, intelligent manner that will appeal to mainstream audiences. "Call Me by Your Name" is the epitome of an art house movie but with the strong reviews and word-of-mouth it is generating, the film is exhibiting significant cross-over appeal. Highly recommended.
A LOOK AT 2017 FILMS NOMINATED FOR PROMINENT OSCARS
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Who would have imagined that amid the debris of over-produced super hero movies, Winston Churchill would emerge as a major figure in films released in 2017? The woefully underrated "Churchill" (click here for review) was first out of the box, chronicling the British Prime minister's tumultuous inner-grappling with the pending D-Day invasion, which he supported but dissented from Eisenhower and Montgomery as to where and when the great armada should land. (History happily proved his instincts wrong.) Brian Cox gave a magnificent portrayal of Churchill that was largely overlooked by critics and the public. Churchill's specter also looms largely over Best Picture nominee "Dunkirk", as it was he who ordered the evacuation of stranded British troops by an improvised "fleet" of private vessels, small and large. The second Churchill biopic, "Darkest Hour", has won raves for Joe Wright's direction, Anthony McCarten's script and the towering performance of Gary Oldman as Churchill. The role is one that any fine actor would relish but there are dangers in portraying the man, as the line between accuracy and playing a cartoon version is a thin one. Oldman succeeds brilliantly, capturing Churchill's many character flaws as well as his strengths. The movie confines itself to Churchill's uneasy ascension to being Prime Minister, a lifelong dream achieved under less-than-optimum circumstances. His successor, Neville Chamberlain (a superb Ronald Pickup, who bears an astonishing resemblance to the man) has been removed from office for failing to adequately stand up to Hitler's advances through Europe. (It was Chamberlain who had met with Hitler and proudly waved a meaningless treaty that promised "Peace in our time.) Churchill is no one's first choice to lead the nation in the coming struggle. He's regarded by his peers as temperamental, eccentric and questionable in terms of wisdom, with his disastrous WWI campaign at Gallipoli still haunting the nation. Furthermore, King George VI had little confidence in the decision to elevate Churchill to PM, but relented and gave approval only when it became clear that there was little choice.
The film traces Churchill's dilemma in those early days of the war. Things looked grim, indeed. Churchill knew it was essential for America to enter the conflict but, prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation was in isolationist mode. In one of the most poignant scenes in "Darkest Hour", Churchill pleads over the phone with FDR for assistance, but the president explains his hands are tied by a congress that wants to remain neutral. The biggest crisis he faces is that France is rapidly falling to advancing German forces, leaving the cream of the British army stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk and awaiting annihilation. The movie painstakingly chronicles Churchill's inner struggles in dealing with the crisis. His first instincts are to resist until the end, giving his famous speech that the British people will fight on no matter where the enemy confronts them. However, he is under severe pressure from Chamberlain and Halifax to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler, an alternative that disgusts him but which seems practical to Parliament. The film gains tension even though we know how it all played out in the end. Churchill comes up with a desperate plan to enlist every available ship in the private sector to form a mini armada across the Channel to rescue the stranded troops. Before the operation can be completed, however, Churchill begins to cave and consider the option of a peace plan. This is where the script goes off kilter with a completely fictional scene in which Churchill gets a sudden desire to read the will of the people about their resolve to fight on. He jumps out of his limousine and makes an impromptu ride on the London Underground, chatting with astonished passengers and being reassured they support his strategy not to negotiate with Hitler. The scene is emotionally moving, but preposterous and more than a bit corny. Making matters worse, Churchill is only supposed to be on the train for a single stop but the journey seems longer than the one experienced by the people traveling to Siberia in "Doctor Zhivago". Bolstered by the resolve of the public, Churchill walks straight in to Parliament and gives an impassioned speech that rallies friends and foes alike. His judgment is ratified by the ultimate success of the Dunkirk operation, which turned a bitter defeat into a triumph.
The historical hokum presented in "Darkest Hour" is frustrating because it undermines the entire film. Why create a scene that so simplifies history when the real life scenario was even more dramatic? Nevertheless, there is much to admire in the film aside from Oldman's superb performance. Every supporting actor delivers the goods, with Ben Mendelsohn particularly good as King George. Unfortunately, Kristin Scott Thomas is largely reduced to a figurehead as Churchill's wife Clemmie. In "Churchill', the character, played by Miranda Richardson, engaged in constant contentious situations with her husband, which mirrored their real-life marriage. In "Darkest Hour", Clemmie simply smiles a lot and reassures ol' Winnie that things will be just fine. Despite the film's flaws, "Darkest Hour" is an engaging and admirable effort that should be seen. It has many virtues aside from the fact that it's probably sent the sale of cigars soaring.
("Darkest Hour" is nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture).
Our friends at Park Circus invited us to a preview
of The Shining, which is returning to
the big screen this Halloween for limited screening in 100 theatres. This is
where the film really should be seen.
I first saw The Shining, under age, in my local cinema where the kindly staff
used to let us watch X Cert films from the stalls which were closed to the
public. At the time The Shining really
didn’t have the impact of Friday The 13th
to my 13 year old self. Certain images did stay with me obviously, this was Kubrick
after all, but the one thing I do remember was that the image from the poster
of Jack Nicholson’s “Here’s Johnny” moment terrified my younger sister and I
used to put the poster up just to scare her. Boys, eh? Over the years I’ve re-watched The Shining several times and each time
it’s become more and more of a favourite. This is an adult film, dealing with
adult themes and it’s a lot different watching the terror of the young boy Doc as
a parent, rather than being closer in age to the character, as I was then. What
I also gleaned from this screening was how important sound is in this film and
this new print really does justice to the look and aural experience Kubrick
strove to achieve.
There were many points that stood out that
I’d missed on TV and DVD viewings, such as the aforementioned use of sound when
one of the protagonists is “Shining” or indeed the use of mirrors throughout
the film; whole scenes where the character’s reflections address the camera, T
shirt logo’s in reverse, which pre- empt the famous use of the words REDRUM
later in the film.
The film was trailered by the short but interesting new documentary Work & Play. This accompanying film
concentrates on the stories of the actual people involved with the production, whereas
other documentaries have concentrated of the enigma of Kubrick and the film
itself, such as Room 247. Here we
have interviews with the film’s iconic twins who are just as fascinating to
look at today and still talk in unison- obviously even off the camera, as well
as those who rightly intone that “95% of films are forgotten but the ones that
fall into that 5% are the great ones, the ones that remain”. So does The
Shining fall into that 5%? As far as horror movies go, yes. Like a great
wine, The Shining gets better with
age, both in look and standing. Although Jack Nicholson’s performance has been pastiched
many times, it still stands up as one of the best examples of a man falling
into madness ever to cross the silver screen. Although Steadycam camera shots
had been used in horror a couple of years earlier (i.e John Carpenter’s Halloween), they have never been utilized
better than the scenes of Danny or “Doc”, the boy who can shine, as he races
through the Overlook Hotel’s corridors. Again, this is another example of the
use of soundscape, as the child’s bike wheels jar from hard floor to carpet in
the same way a heartbeat quickens when you approach something dreadful.
The wonderful touches such as Doc wearing an Apollo
NASA T shirt alluding to the fact that Kubrick was supposed to have been the
director of the “faked” moon landings just add to the fascination of this film.
The documentary shows that the working title was “The Shine” and that is exactly what this film will continue to do.
I’d be interested to see what Stephen King thinks of the movie now after
famously disliking it for so many years. Whatever the case, this is a landmark
work and whatever one thinks of the finished product, it’s clear that King wrote
a timeless source novel and Kubrick developed it into a classic film. This is
the perfect time of year to see for yourself, thanks to Park Circus. Let it
CLICK HERE FOR LIST OF INTERNATIONAL CINEMAS SHOWING THE FILM
It’s taken 35 years for the often talked
about sequel to one of sci-fi cinema’s finest moments- Blade Runner- to actually appear in the form of Blade Runner 2049. Most
fans were against the idea of a sequel, pondering how you could improve on
perfection. Well, like the Replicants of the first film, although perfect in many
eyes, the original version underwent its own various modifications to improve
significant flaws over the years. We had the original “noir” version, the “director’s”
and the “final” cut before director Ridley Scott and most fans were happy. This
final cut also seemed to answer the conundrum relating to Deckard (Harrison Ford)
being a Replicant himself. Or so we thought. If, as I and many thought pre-screening,
Deckard was indeed a Replicant, how has he lived so long and aged? Did this
mean that the Replicants were given skin that would age, yet their strength
would remain? If so, then Harrison Ford
is still the perfect choice but I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything as director
Denis Villeneuve asked for reviewers to refrain from giving away any key
aspects from this special preview in London on Oct 2nd. Not only that,
I’m still not sure of the answer after
seeing this incredible continuation of the Blade Runner mythos. What I am sure
about is that this is, along with The Godfather Part II, one of the greatest sequels
in movie history.
The premise is thus: LAPD Officer K (Ryan
Gosling) is a Blade Runner in 2049. During an investigation, he unearths a long
hidden secret that, if true, would lead society into chaos. Once begun, his
quest leads to him tracking down the long missing Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford)
to find out the truth; but will he and, indeed, Deckard, like what they find?
Everything about Blade Runner 2049 works.
From the perfect casting to the sets which rise from the dust bowls of a
radioactive Vegas and the sodden Los Angeles like glistening tiers in the rain.
The cinematography by Roger Deakins is stunning while the screenplay by Hampton
Fancher and Michael Green is as subtle as the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin
Wallfisch in complementing, yet adding to, the mythos of the original. As a viewer,
you are like a feather on the breeze and have no choice but to be blown
in whichever direction Villeneuve and producer Scott decide to take you.
The film is like a spiral interior of a sea shell; whether it’s leading you out
or into its centre is the question you have to try and work out for yourself.
With a running time just short of three hours,
this film, like the beloved “spinners” which have replaced cars, simply flies
by and the fact that this screening took place on the eve of director
Villeneuve’s 50th birthday led me to think that this is a movie will
still be talked about 50 years from now. We may not have flying cars by then but I’m
sure we’ll still have neon advertising dominating our cities and climate change
affecting our lives.
This is a modern masterpiece that you really need to
see on the big screen, although I left there thinking I’d love to
see it in the “Elvis” room Deckard has. See it and you’ll know what I mean.
Until it goes off the rails, writer/director Taylor Sheridan's "Wind River" shapes up to be a compelling murder mystery. The film's opening scene shows a young woman desperately running through a remote, snowy landscapes, obviously trying to outpace whoever or whatever is pursuing her. Ultimately, we learn her fate when Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), a tracker who is assisting the police in the search for the missing girl, stumbles upon her body. Turns out she had been sexually abused prior to her death, which took place on the barren Wind River reservation for Native Americans in Wyoming. Cory has to deliver the bad news to the girl's father (Gil Birmingham), whose wife is already suffering from a mental disorder. Ironically, the victim, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), was the best friend of Cory's own daughter, who died under tragic and unsolved circumstances a few years prior. Both men are now forced to cope with staggering grief even as Cory continues to assist police in pursuing whoever killed Natalie. The FBI sends a single agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to head the investigation. She is given an arms-length reception by the local constable on the reservation (Graham Greene in an excellent performance) because she seems like an ill-equipped city slicker. It will come as no surprise to anyone that she proves to be a quick learner and earns everyone's respect with her courage and brainpower.
"Wind River" is an indie film getting an unusually wide release (it credits twenty-five people as producers/co-producers). It boasts outstanding cinematography by Ben Richardson, who makes the bleakness of the Wyoming winter landscape a truly foreboding place. Taylor Sheridan, who specializes in films about rugged individualism, has considerable skill with his actors, and gets top-notch performances from Renner, Olsen and every actor who appears even in the smallest role (kudos to casting directors Lauren and Jordan Bass.) In terms of acting and atmosphere, the film is commendable on every level. However, Sheridan the screenwriter lets down Sheridan the director with a script that meanders half-way through. Just as I was crediting him for avoiding gun battles and concentrating on character development, it devolves into a shocking act of violence that leads to a flashback sequence that depicts another despicable act of violence that brutally depicts the sexual abuse of a young woman. While the scene is designed to shock, it also becomes somewhat prurient and difficult to view. The script falls off a cliff as Cory gets closer to resolving the murder largely because there is no "Aha!" moment that every good mystery commands. Sheridan provides plenty of red herrings but an expected link to two key elements of the story that never materializes (I can't say more without issuing a "Spoiler Alert!") What's left is an ambitious and impressive effort that falls short of its possibilities. Renner makes a stalwart leading man but Olsen's character seems like needless window dressing; someone tossed into the mix to mitigate the otherwise all-male dominance of the story line. The film has its heart in the right place, demonstrating the shame of having Native Americans still living on remote reservations, but Sheridan can't make up his mind about whether he wants to tell a compelling mystery story or make a social commentary. The result is a mishmash of intelligent dialogue mingled with needlessly exploitive violence.
Winston Churchill may be the famous figure of the 20th century to be most-portrayed on film. Indeed, it's hard to sell a historically-themed British film or TV series that touches upon the WWII years without making Churchill a central character. For actors the role must seem irresistible. After all, Churchill's real-life mannerisms and eccentricities remain the stuff of legend. In an age when most people are seemingly uninterested and uninformed about history, Churchill Mania is very much in vogue in some quarters. In the new film independent film "Churchill", Brian Cox becomes the latest thespian to portray the larger-than-life statesman. He does a brilliant job of it, too, having gained over twenty pounds in the process. It may seem that Churchill is one of the easiest legends to be imitated. As with John Wayne, it seems any drunk with a lampshade on his head can knock out a reasonably effective impersonation. However, Cox delivers one of the more effective interpretations of the man, playing up his physical and emotional frailties. The film concerns itself only with the period of timing leading up to the D-Day invasion- and there lies the rub. It is known that Churchill had strong reservations about the audacity of the Allies launching an "all-or-nothing-at-all" gamble to liberate Occupied France. However, the extent of those reservations has long been debated by historians. Churchill apologists have argued that his concerns were relatively minor and that he ended up being an enthusiastic proponent of the plan. His critics say that he whitewashed history in his memoirs and believe that he was reluctantly dragged into supporting the invasion only when it became clear that his objections were being overruled. The screenplay for the film is firmly in the second camp, making Churchill a man who was vehemently opposed to D-Day to the point of making himself a nuisance to Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, who were hell-bent on taking the gamble. I don't proclaim to be an expert in Churchillian history so I can't address concerns cited by some other critics that the film exaggerates his objections to the invasion and the impact it had on the military and his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson). She is portrayed as a long-suffering spouse who must endure her husband's constant temper tantrums and self-centeredness. This isn't a minor point. The entire plot is basically centered on Churchill's position on the D-Day invasion. The film does acknowledge a known fact: Churchill did favor a massive invasion of Europe but wanted the Allies to land in Italy, where they already had a foothold. His ideas were dismissed by Eisenhower in favor of using Normandy as the landing point. Although the film doesn't specify why Eisenhower rejected Churchill's plan, historians say it was because the fighting going on in Italy was proving to be far worse than anyone had predicted and the feat of getting an entire invasion force over so many geographical obstacles would have greatly slowed or diminished the effort. Although some critics have said that "Churchill" is a bastardization of history, there are scholars who back up the representation that Churchill was vigorously opposed to Eisenhower's plans for the Normandy invasion. As indicated in the film, he was haunted by the battle at Gallipoli in WWI, which he had planned. It resulted in massive Allied losses and Churchill was obsessed with not having another major invasion result in such casualties. What the film undeniably presents in an accurate setting is Eisenhower's momentous decision to trust his weatherman and approve the launch of the D-Day invasion, taking advantage of a sliver of barely acceptable conditions at sea. Half of his advisers told him not to do it while the other half told him he must. It's a scene filled with drama and tension- and one in which Churchill finds himself relegated to the status of bystander.
At a packed symposium in Cannes where he received a three-minute standing ovation, Clint Eastwood discussed his philosophies of filmmaking along with the personal experience of growing up in the Depression. Eastwood said that he views movie-making as an emotional experience not an intellectual one and warns that when an emphasis on intellectual aspects of a film overrides trying to move the audience emotionally directors can find themselves in trouble. Eastwood addressed his long-standing complaints about what he perceives as political correctness in the film industry and warns that "We've lost our sense of humor." Ironically it was Eastwood's sense of humor that earned him rare bad press concerning his personal life. Traditionally Eastwood stayed out of commenting on national politics but in 2012 he appeared at the Republican convention to endorse Mitt Romney with a bit of improvised comedy that earned him a good deal of criticism because of barbs aimed at President Obama that many felt crossed the line in terms of being too distasteful. Eastwood was not overtly active in the 2016 presidential campaign and he did not address the current political situation in his appearance at Cannes. During his chat at Cannes he did acknowledge that he sometimes misses acting on screen. (He has not starred in a film since "Trouble with the Curve" in 2012). He says he will return to acting "someday", a vow that might seem overly-optimistic for a man of 86 years of age- but we wouldn't want to bet against him. For more click here.
among discriminating CR readers, there is NO doubt that Alien, Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi
masterpiece is truly terrifying. Jump
forward to 2017: technology is light years ahead and the world is counting down
towards Scott’s latest directing effort, Alien:
Covenant. One of the many new
technologies to emerge in the 38 years since the franchise chest-burst onto the
scene is Virtual Reality. VR vastly
expands the experience of a visual work by immersing the viewer in it. Like
feature films a century ago, VR content is starting out as short films, being
consumed by a growing audience. Kudos to
Twentieth Century Fox and RSA for giving their iconic franchise the VR
treatment with Alien: Covenant In Utero,
A Virtual Reality Experience. The two-minute
feature was unveiled at a special event held at Technicolor’s Experience
Center, the company’s VR incubator in Culver City.
can forget John Hurt curiously peering into the strange pod and getting
attacked by a face-hugger in the original Alien? Now you can be inside one of those very pods. “Consumers are being part of the story, not
just watching the story,” says Matthais Wittmann, VFX Supervisor for MPC, the
Technicolor company that worked on the project with Ridley Scott Associates,
Twentieth Century Fox and a host of other partners.
goal was to scare you,” said Ted Schilowitz, Futurist at 20th
Century Fox. Mission accomplished: The In
Utero experience immerses the viewer inside the birthing pod, complete with
sights (like blood or whatever alien fluids transverse the veins) and sounds
(heartbeats, a screaming victim outside the pod) as the Alien Neomorph finishes
developing and bursts out, fully lethal, towards its next victim.
hit the ground running,” says the project’s director, David Karlak, who rode
the buzz from his brilliant futuristic short Rise straight into Ridley Scott’s office. “It’s an example of how
you take all the different disciplines that make films look as good as they do
today and recalibrating them to deliver a VR experience that is unparalleled,”
the director adds. Obviously any young
filmmaker would jump at the chance to work with a legend like Ridley Scott, but
for Karlak, the project’s unique universe also had its attractions: “For me the inspiration was the concept… since
this was told from the point of view of a Neomorph, how would a creature that’s
designed to hunt perceive the world?” Well, like the old saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, pretty soon
everything starts to look like a nail.
Director David Karlak
Dennis, RSA’s Executive Producer of Branded Content & VR watched how her
boss immediately took to VR when a similar project was created for his 2015
hit, The Martian. “It’s very important to Ridley that these
pieces have a real filmic essence to them, they have to feel ‘filmic.’” In a nod to Karlak’s talent she said, “When
we saw Rise, we knew he was the right
person for this.”
the proper 360° look fell to Technicolor’s MPC VFX Supervisor, Matthais
Wittmann who had his hands full from the very first frame: “You need a really
high frame rate or you get sick,” he pointed out. Since there are no cuts in VR, “You can’t
save yourself with edits.”
fact that MPC was also handling visual effects for Alien: Covenant was a huge plus. “We knew very early on that there would be a VR component so our crew
went over to the sets to take photographs so we’d have them…” Wittmann says,
adding, “our team was there, they knew about the lighting, they’ve worked on
other Alien movies already so all
this information we can leverage.” And
then, of course, there was The Master: “Since this was a point of view that has
never been done before,” Wittmann continues, “it was also very helpful to have Ridley Scott close by so we could ask
him, ‘Is that how it would be?’” Director
Karlak echoed how invaluable Scott’s guidance was – suggesting he watch videos
of baby crocodiles hatching and endoscopic footage of a human womb, just to keep
the team on the right track. Now after
over five months of intense work, this alien baby has arrived, fangs and all…
Intrepid Cinema Retro scribe Mark Cerulli gets the full "Alien" VR treatment.
Alien: Covenant In
Virtual Reality Experience, is available on the Oculus platform on “Alien Day”,
April 26th and then on all mobile and tethered platforms like
Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream View, HTC Vice and PlayStation VR starting May
Alien: Covenant arrives in theaters
on May 19th from Twentieth Century Fox.
trailer tells you everything you need to know about “The Belko Experiment”,
writer James Gunn’s bloody trip to the dark side of the corporate
workspace.You know there’s going to be
a serious body count… you know there’s going to be some wicked humor… and you
know that somewhere you’re going to see Michael Rooker.But HOW things unfold is what makes Belko
such an entertaining ride.Think “Office
Space” meets “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”…
directed by Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”), “The Belko Experiment” chronicles a
(final) day in the life of the staff of a rather bland American company set up on
the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia. It’s
a typical workday until an anonymous intercom voice tells them they have two
hours to kill thirty of their co-workers or sixty of them will be “sacrificed”. The execs laugh it off as a prank - until the
back of a staffer’s head explodes, thanks to an “anti-kidnapping” locator they’ve
all had implanted. Soon Belko
descends into “Lord of the Flies”, for
real. Factions form, alliances are
made and friendships are erased by the basic urge to survive. The movie is
helped along by a terrific cast which blends relative newcomers with seasoned
pros: John Gallagher, Jr. plays a
workplace everyman trying to stop the carnage and protect his colleague/girlfriend
(lovely Adria Arjona). Tony Goldwyn is
outstanding as Belko’s COO who morphs from cool boss to killing machine so he
can make it home to his wife and kids. He doesn’t want to kill his direct reports…
he just has to. John C. McGinly
is deliciously evil as a leering workplace creep who methodically tries to
raise his “body count” using a meat cleaver. And yes, Michael Rooker is short but sweet as Belko’s stoic maintenance man
trying to find a way out of the hermetically sealed building.
a testament to writer/producer James Gunn’s growing power in Hollywood that
this film is getting a wide theatrical release in today’s megabuck franchise landscape. “The Belko Experiment “feels like a 1990s
action/horror film, which is a good thing: in the 1980s and 90s, small,
entertaining genre films routinely got theatrical releases – great movies like “Surviving
The Game”, “Trespass” and “Southern Comfort” all delivered the thrills
audiences wanted without costing tens of millions to produce. Most of them actually made a profit, unlike
today when almost every big budget release is a huge gamble - James Bond, Star Wars and Guardians
franchises excepted! Today those small 1980s/90s movies would be relegated to
streaming or other platforms if they found a distributor at all.
the special “Employee Appreciation Day” screening Cinema Retro attended in
Santa Monica, key cast and crewmembers talked about making the film. Fanboy favorite James Gunn said he wrote the
script in a “two week fugue state” of 18-hour days. John C. McGinley commented that what drew him
to the script was the fact that “the choices each character made determined their
survival.” He drew a parallel to 9-11 as
his brother worked in the Twin Towers and when an anonymous PA voice told his
floor to stay put after the first plane hit, he and other colleagues knew
enough to immediately take the stairs to safety. On a lighter note, Tony Goldwyn admitted that,
as an actor, he wanted in after reading a script that featured exploding heads!
person, Gunn is amiable and funny and managed to carve out a little time for
fans, many of who showed up with bits of “Guardians of the Galaxy” memorabilia
to be signed. Other cast members posed
with attendees and all the actors seemed genuinely happy to see each other for
the first time since their Bogota shoot. It made for a surprisingly happy ending after 90 minutes of onscreen carnage.
The Belko Experiment opens nationwide on
March 17th. Be prepared to never look at a tape dispenser the same
to believe it’s been five years since America’s worst environmental disaster,
the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which claimed 11 lives and allowed 50,000
barrels of oil per day to spew from
the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 87 heartbreaking days until the well was
finally capped. Since then the world has
moved on and the event remains relevant only for those who lived through
it. Director Peter Berg’s riveting new
film “Deepwater Horizon”, should snap people back to attention.
Horizon” is told through the eyes of blue-collar worker, Chief Electrician Mike Williams, played by Mark Wahlberg,
who leaves his loving wife (Kate Hudson) and arrives on the massive rig, 41
miles off the Louisiana coast. Costing $500,000 a day to run, the rig is weeks
behind schedule – which means a team of BP managers led by a creepy John
Malkovitch is breathing down the crew’s thick necks. In fact, they’ve just cut short some important
safety inspections to save time. When
seasoned rig manager Mr. Jimmy,
wonderfully played by Kurt Russell, demands a pressure test, the results are
troubling… and then all hell breaks loose! Flammable gas leaks from the well and the failsafe mechanisms –
including slicing through the main drilling pipe – fail and the rig explodes. From then on it’s a white-knuckle fight for
good as the actors are, and Wahlberg is at his best playing a workin’ man, the
real stars of “Deepwater Horizon” are
the visual effects. The film takes you
5000 feet below the surface to spot the beginnings of trouble – tiny gas
pockets leaking out, then inside the
well as the toxic gas races up, turning the rig into a raging fireball. To recreate the maritime disaster, the
filmmakers built one of the largest sets ever constructed – using over 3.2
million pounds of steel. Real life oil
workers (including Mike Williams) acted as technical advisers to give it all an
authentic look and feel right down to the control panels. The set even features a working helipad, used
onscreen. (Shades of “You Only Live
the movie shows the sheer terror facing the crew, it also spotlights true acts
of bravery as Wahlberg’s character rescues their beloved crew chief, Mr. Jimmy
from the burning bowels of the rig. When
he and the platform’s young Dynamic Positioning Operator (sort of like a pilot)
played by Gina Rodriguez find themselves trapped, with seemingly no way out, he
gets her to take a (real) leap of faith into the burning waters far below.
illuminating is the film’s ending crawl where we see the faces of the 11 lost
crewmembers and learn the fates of the survivors - several quit the oil
industry for good and the BP managers got off with a legal smack on the wrist
(although the company was forced to pay a massive $20 billionin fines.) “Deepwater Horizon” is a stark and thrilling
example of what happens when human greed and hubris meet Mother Nature.
Dazed and Confused, the first major
feature from director/writer Richard Linklater, was released in 1993. The
story, set in 1976, concerned one day in the life of a group of Texas high
school students on their last day of classes. The proceedings were so high on
nostalgia the film could very nearly be mistaken for a documentary. The movie
(which included the likes of Ben Affleck and Mathew McConaughey) was ignored in
theaters, but soon began flying off of video rental store shelves. Quickly it
achieved cult-hit status, and for the last twenty-some years fans have begged
for a sequel. Though Linklater had no desire to revisit that film’s characters,
he did occasionally remark about doing a quasi-follow-up set in college in the
1980s. Finally in 2015 the long gestating “sequel” began filming.
when Linklater shot Dazed and Confused
he was in his early thirties, with high school still fresh in his memory. It
could even be said he caught the perennial lightning in a bottle in capturing the
film’s perfect atmosphere. In his mid-fifties by 2015 when filming on Everybody Wants Some!! commenced, could
Linklater accomplish the same feat twice?
the answer is a resounding yes. However, to call Everybody Wants Some!! a sequel to Dazed and Confused isn’t 100% correct, as there are no continuity
ties to that film—at least none that anyone has spotted yet—though it’s still
reasonable to assume they take place in the same little world. And though some
call this the “1980s Dazed and Confused,”
it should be noted this movie only takes place in the late summer of 1980, well
before the decade of excess had managed to establish itself, so really the
period’s not too terribly different from the late 1970s. That being said, this
film doesn’t attempt to imitate its predecessor as much as one would expect.
For instance, in Dazed it’s difficult
to say just who the main character really is due to its large ensemble, whereas
Blake Jenner’s lead character Jake, a freshman college baseball player, is the
singular point of view in Everybody Wants
Some!! Nor does this story take place over the course of only one day,
which would have been a disservice to the character’s relationships. In the
case of Dazed, most of the characters
had established friendships/relationships as they had several years of high
school under their belt. But in Everybody
Wants Some!! Jake has no prior existing relationships with any of his new
roommates/teammates whom he is moving into a frat house with. As such the
storyline more or less chronicles Jake adapting to living on his own and bonding
with his new roommates over the course of one party-filled weekend, the film
ending with him starting his first day of college classes.
one can tell from the brief synopsis above, Everybody
Wants Some!! is not a high-concept film by any means. Like Boyhood and other Linklater films, the
focal point is human interaction itself, with a heavy dose of philosophizing—some
of which is naturally fueled by marijuana. Actually, aside from the “getting
high and having a strange conversation scene” Everybody Wants Some!! really isn’t too heavy on call-backs to Dazed and Confused. Other than the
aforementioned scene, only the hazing of the new players on a baseball field
and the climax involving an all-night party strongly harken back to Dazed. And like its predecessor, the
final scenes don’t consist of the typical movie deaths, explosions, fist fights
or first kisses. As a coming of age film, it naturally ends on the note of the
lead character firmly realizing he has entered a new phase of his life. (Beware of spoilers) The final scene,
where Jake attends his first class after having pulled off an all-nighter, sees
him tiredly watching his history teacher writing “Frontiers are where you find
them” on the chalkboard. Jake closes his eyes to sleep, and then smiles.
the joy of the film is found in the nostalgia factor in remembering back to
one’s college days and early youth. Much of this joy is found in the lengthy
conversations/interactions as Linklater proves he still reigns supreme as the
king of realistic movie dialogue. Ever watch a movie with bad dialogue? Of
course you have, and there’s absolutely nothing more distracting than bad
dialogue. Simply put, Linklater gets how people—specifically in this case
college guys—actually interact with each other. Every scene felt completely
natural, including Jake’s introduction to his roommates. For other
writers/directors these scenes can often come across as clunky or heavy on
exposition, but Linklater perfectly captured the awkward “first day of school” feeling
for Jake walking into the frat house for the first time. Credit also goes to
Jenner’s wide-eyed acting, taking in his new surroundings in believable
fashion. Likewise, all of his roommates are well balanced in that they manage
to entice plenty of laughter without losing their believability. The only
exception is the character of Jay, an arrogant loud mouthed pitcher portrayed
by Juston Street. While Street is hilarious in his part, his character is the
only one that’s perhaps too much of a caricature and upsets the near perfect
illusion of realism. Granted, wacky people like that do exist, but they’re
fairly rare in the real world.
speaking of humor, in a day and age where all the funniest bits are in the trailers
more often than not, Everybody Wants
Some!! is the exact opposite. There’s nothing particularly funny in the
trailers (at least not as far as this writer is concerned) but in the context
of the actual film the witty dialogue and gags are hilarious. Nor are they
set-up to the point that they feel forced, and they come quickly enough that
the viewer can’t see the punchline coming before it lands.
summary, Everybody Wants Some!! may
come from the same mold as Dazed and
Confused but still manages to be its own film, and is far more than just
“Dazed and Confused 2.” Its run in theaters is currently over, but it has just
been released on DVD/Blu-ray and is available for digital download now.
the years I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena among Star Trek fans which is that most of them love the television
series but seem only to tolerate the films. Maybe my perception is off, seeing
as how I fall into the category of a non-fan who greatly enjoys the films—namely
the ones from the 1980s starring the original cast—but not the TV series from
which they were based. For whatever reason, there seems to be a strange sort of
disconnect between fans of the TV series and mainstream audiences. Take for
example the films that deviated greatly from the series, such as the overly
comical Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
(1986) which soared at the box office, while films that most resembled episodes
of the TV series—namely the awful Star
Trek: Insurrection (1998)—performed below expectations. The rebooted Star Trek of 2009 was also pretty far
flung from the Original Series to a degree with its blaring of “Sabotage” on
the soundtrack among other elements, but was a big hit with mainstream
audiences. Now with this year’s Star Trek
Beyond (which also blares the Beastie Boys on the soundtrack) many critics
say this is finally the Star Trek
film that fans of the TV series and mainstream audiences can finally mutually
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) which
was perhaps too reverential of Star Trek
II:Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek Beyond is a completely
original tale that, if condensed, could almost seem like an episode from the Original
Series. Perhaps this is why I didn’t enjoy this one as much as 2009’s reboot,
but that being said, it’s still a highly enjoyable film with some excellent character
moments and set-pieces. I can’t say much more without getting into SPOILERS, so
if you prefer not to know about certain surprise elements (like the identity of
the “new” ship seen in the trailers) quit reading now.
the biggest difference between this film and its two predecessors is the
character dynamics. Mostly audiences had seen the crew together on the bridge
of the Enterprise, while in this film the characters are spilt into pairs on an
unexplored planet after the Enterprise gets destroyed by the new villain Krall
(Idris Elba). Kirk and Chekov have an excellent action scene amidst the ruins
of the Enterprise; Uhura and Sulu try to discover the villainous motivations
behind Krall in captivity; Scotty teams with an intriguing new alien warrior
named Jaylah, and McCoy must do his best to stabilize a wounded Spock. Not
surprisingly, the McCoy/Spock pairing makes for the film’s best character
moments and one-liners, with Scotty (Simon Pegg who also co-wrote the
screenplay) and Jaylah’s scenes in a fairly close second. And while on the
subject of Jaylah, portrayed by Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service), the alien warrior makes for an
excellent addition to the cast who will hopefully return for future
all being said, for me Star Trek Beyond
didn’t really take off until the third act when the cast regroups on a
long-lost federation ship that had crashed on the planet’s surface (this would
be the “new” ship spotted by eagle-eyed fans in trailers). Those hoping that this
ship is the NX-01 Enterprise from the 2001 prequel TV series Enterprise will be disappointed though.
While the new creation is the same class of ship from the same era, it is a heretofore
unknown ship called the Franklin. While it would have been fun to see the new
cast commandeer the Enterprise from the 2001 TV series, from a writer’s
standpoint the Franklin makes more sense for reasons I will soon reveal.
climax, wherein the crew utilizes the Franklin to save a massive space station
named Yorktown, actually reminded me of the climax for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Just like in that film, it’s great
fun seeing the cast adapt to and use a rickety unfamiliar ship to save the day
and then come crashing into the water with it. It was after said crash that the
film had me fooled into thinking that it was headed towards the obligatory
face-to-face showdown between Kirk and Krall. It instead took me by surprise
when it is revealed after the watery crash that Krall isn’t actually an alien,
but used to be a human—specifically the original captain of the Franklin. This
slightly resolved one issue I had with Krall in that he seemed to be too much
of a cookie-cutter alien menace. As to both his evil motivations and how he
went from a human Federation Captain to an alien menace, the explanation relies
perhaps a bit too much on last minute exposition but still works for the most
part. On top of the surprise reveal, the hand to hand duel between Krall and
Kirk—which I expected to be a boring paint-by-the-numbers fist fight—is made
fresh and exciting due to the fact that it took place in a zero gravity
atmosphere, allowing them both to the fly about the gigantic Yorktown space
station as they trade blows.
thing I found interesting in the marketing of the film was that the Limited
Edition poster for Star Trek Beyond
is a callback to the original Star Trek:
The Motion Picture poster. That film finds Kirk now an Admiral and Spock
having left Starfleet to return to Vulcan. Perhaps not coincidentally this film
seems to be setting up the same story elements for the “future” film as Kirk is
applying for an Admiral position and Spock is pondering leaving Star Fleet to
better serve his race. For Kirk, life in space is becoming monotonous, and he
laments that he is now older than his father ever lived to be over a birthday
drink with McCoy. Spock is likewise saddened to hear of the loss of his future
self, Ambassador Spock. This makes him question his relationship with Uhura, as
any children he has with her will only be 1/4th Vulcan leading him
to the conclusion that he should procreate with a full Vulcan to better further
his species. In the end both Kirk and Spock decide to stay with Star Fleet as
they witness the building of a new Enterprise. Spock’s reason for staying is actually
a touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy. The scene, and I would say this is a big
spoiler, has Zachary Quinto’s Spock discovering a certain photograph amongst
the deceased Ambassador Spock’s belongings. The photo is of Nimoy, William
Shatner, and the rest of the original cast (which looks to have been taken for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
on the bridge of the Enterprise. The realization dawns upon Spock that he is
meant to grow old with these people, and his place is on the bridge of the
Enterprise. It’s also obvious that Kirk’s toast “to absent friends” during the
end scene was initially meant as a nod to Nimoy, but sadly ended up
encompassing the late Anton Yelchin as well. Yelchin, who played Chekov in the
new series, was tragically killed in a car accident shortly before the film’s
Star Trek Beyond is projected by
analysts to have healthy grosses at the box office, and a sequel (which will see
Chris Hemsworth return as George Kirk) has already been announced.
many years Tarzan was a staple of cinema—in fact from its very onset. The first
Tarzan feature, Tarzan of the Apes,
came out in 1918 and was followed by close to 50 other adaptations in the last
century. His star started to fade in the late 1960s and there were no Tarzan
features in the 1970s save for one. The 1980s somewhat provided his last gasp
on the big screen with movies like the Bo Derek vehicle Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981) and- more impressively- the
well-received Greystoke: The Legend of
Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The 1990s saw only 1998’s Tarzan and the Lost City and
the 1999 Disney animated version. In fact, for all many “youngsters” know
Tarzan may as well have originated with the Disney cartoon. For the first time
in many years, we finally have a new big-budget live-action iteration of one of
the screen’s oldest icons in The Legend
of Tarzan from Warner Bros. Can it strike a balance between lovers of
vintage cinema who grew up on Tarzan and the new “iPhone generation”? Or will
it suffer the fate of that other recent Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation John Carter?
there is a lot of CGI vine swinging which will put some viewers off, but I for
one say it makes for very exciting action (and less risk for the stuntmen). And
secondly, would Tarzan’s journey through cinematic history be complete without
a little CGI? I think not. Though there is a lot of appreciation in watching
well-done stunt work, the CGI enabled Tarzan could well be the “purist”
representation of Burrough’s vision ever put on the screen. In fact, certain
shots of Tarzan swinging through the jungle with the apes look like a Frank
Frazetta painting come to life. A CGI-enable animal stampede unleashed during
the climax is also a scene straight from classic Burroughs, and would have been
impossible to pull off with real animals, as is Tarzan’s fight with a gorilla
midway through the picture.
he’s probably a little too far on the blonde side for Burroughs purists,
Alexander Skarsgard is pretty perfectly cast as Tarzan; and for more than just
his lithe physique. Playing Tarzan was usually a tough act to balance for most
actors. Mike Henry played him as though he were James Bond in Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966),
while Miles O’Keefe never even spoke in Tarzan,
the Ape Man opposite Bo Derek. Perhaps this is why the writers chose to set
this film ten years after he has left Africa for England, and Tarzan has become
acclimated to modern society as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton. Naturally in this
civilized period of his life the character is much easier to write and to
portray for Skarsgard. Therefore, this is probably one of the more relatable on
screen Tarzans, though I’d say Johnny Weissmuller is still safe as the all-time
for the rest of the cast, Margot Robbie is a knockout and does great as Jane.
However, it feels as though the production team felt a bit guilty about making
her a damsel in distress for most of the film and it shows in some of her
scenes in captivity. That being said, Jane’s kidnapping was a necessary
plot-device for this film’s story, not to mention something of a Tarzan
tradition, but perhaps in the future she can get a better subplot. As the
heavy, Christoph Waltz is his usual very watchable self. Though the story sets
up Waltz to look like a weakling in his first scene, he quickly proves to be
anything but in a nice twist. He even comes complete with a unique way of
killing his enemies that would be right at home in one of the older Bond
pictures. Samuel L. Jackson portrays Tarzan’s ally from the civilized world who
has to acclimate to the jungle, another Tarzan tradition of sorts. Rounding out
the rest of the big name actors is Djimon Hounsou who plays the leader of a
viscous tribe who has a vendetta with Tarzan, yet another series staple which
makes the film round all the usual bases (and I mean this in a positive
some respects, were I to ignore the CGI, I almost felt as though I was watching
some vintage cinema from a bygone era. Perhaps part of this feeling is due to
the period setting, since there are so few period piece blockbusters these
days. The film is also simply plotted, and is true to the Tarzan formula. An
evil white man is out to get the lost diamonds of Opar, and Jane naturally gets
kidnapped by him. Much like a Burroughs book, the action cuts back in forth
between Tarzan’s trek through the jungle and Jane’s efforts to escape captivity
from the villains. Coupled with this are flashback scenes to Tarzan’s origin
and first meetings with Jane, as this is more of a “sequel” than an origin
story. For purists who dislike CGI, have no fear at least when it comes to the
on-location shots of Africa, which are beautiful up on the big screen. Naturally,
there are of traces of the 21st Century filmmaking trends too. In
the wake of Marvel Studio’s success it seems every action film these days tries
to be a comedian, so to speak. The Legend
of Tarzan doesn’t try too hard, but I found most of its jokes fell flat
enough they should have been left on the cutting room floor.
overall I wouldn’t call it a fantastic film, in this day and age of obligatory
reboots I’d have to say The Legend of
Tarzan has more merit than most. As to how the new generations just being
introduced to Tarzan will react, who can say, but I have a feeling this film
will end up being embraced more so by the older crowd than the younger. But
just so long as it makes enough to produce a sequel, myself and many others
will be happy.
Bruce Willis will top-line a remake of the urban crime thriller "Death Wish", to be directed by Eli Roth. The original film was a sensation in 1974 and helped elevate Charles Bronson to major stardom in his native America, after having found success in European productions. In that film, Bronson played Paul Kersey, a liberal New York businessman whose wife and daughter are brutally raped. His wife dies in the incident and his daughter ends up brain-dead. Enraged by the inability of the police to catch the culprits, Kersey gradually takes the law into his own hands,making himself an easy target and then killing those who intend to do him harm. Within weeks, his anonymous vigilante becomes a populist hero in a city in which the citizenry is fed up with the break down in law and order. The film, directed by Michael Winner, spawned some sequels, all of which were repellent and cartoonish at the same time, but the original movie still retains its power. Director William Friedkin once told this writer that the audience reaction to Bronson's on-screen killings was visceral and frightening as people cheered with every pull of the trigger.
The new version of "Death Wish" may find an audience, but we're willing to bet it doesn't. Chances are it will fall into the realm of other remakes designed simply to make a fast buck. For one thing, history is against the concept. America's urban areas are in far better condition than they were in 1974. Although high profile mass killings are on the rise, everyday crime is generally far lower than it was back in the Seventies. New York City has routinely posted crime rates that are as low as they were in the early 1960s. It's doubtful that the film will resonate with audiences in the same way that Winner's original version did. It was made during a period when emerging from certain New York subway lines with your wallet intact was considered reason to celebrate. That no longer is the case. Winner was trying as much to make a social statement as he was making a profit. He succeeded with both goals. However, the new "Death Wish" has the odds stacked against it. Charles Bronson was a leading man on the rise at the time of the first version, whereas Bruce Willis works is arguably over-exposed. He will apparently appear in your home movies if the pay check was large enough. He also hasn't had a major hit as the leading man in quite some time and it seems doubtful that this would be the vehicle to reverse that trend. He and Eli Roth deserve the benefit of a doubt, but I'm betting the studio will mostly be counting on profits from the video and Netflix rights.
get it out of the way - 11:55 is derivative. It's a showdown
film. Showdown films have a simple plot device and story line: the protagonist
is threatened and driven by angst, "Should I stay or should I go?"
The antagonist is driven by rage and revenge and has clear intentions. The
characters' reasons vary from film to film but the premise is the same. You've
seen films like that hundreds of times. Welcome to 11:55.
no shame in dragging out an old chestnut. William Shakespeare never came up
with an original story
line either. Co-director Ben Snyder admitted to the fact that the film's title
was inspired by High Noon. But this film, which had its world
premiere recently at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is the first directorial
effort of Ari Issler and Snyder.
Sanchez (co-screenwriter Victor Almanzar) is a returning Afghan War veteran. We
first meet him as we silently ride the bus home to Newburgh, New York. His earlier- than -expected arrival threatens to throw big sister Angie's party
plans awry. Chased out of the house, he surprises his long time girlfriend
Livvy for some quality time before acting dutifully surprised at the party.
There we meet many of Nelson's friends, some of whom are guys he ran drugs with
before entering the service. Nelson is a troubled man with a troubled past. He
escaped the mean streets where he grew up by joining the military - after he
accidentally killed a dealer from rival gang. His former protégé on the
streets, Teyo, breaks the news to him at the party: Nicky Quinn is coming.
Quinn is the older brother of the gangbanger killed by Nelson and he is out for
revenge. He arrives in town on the, you know it, 11:55 bus.
happy homecoming day suddenly turns sour. His plans did not include dealing
with actions from his distant past. Whatever he experienced in the war has
changed him. His sister and girlfriend convince him to run, make a new life in
Boston. But when Nelson and Livvy run into a couple of Quinn's goons at the bus
station, Nelson takes a stand - he's not going to run away this time; he's
going to stay and face what's in store.
The city of Newburgh,
for Nelson Sanchez, turns out to be a lot like Gary Cooper's Hadleyville.
Although he has an abundance of friends, like Cooper’s beleaguered sheriff of High Noon, none will commit to stand
with him in his hour of need. His efforts exhausted, he does what any
knowledgeable sacrificial lamb would do: he gets a haircut. This
is a gritty, moving film filled with a terrific supporting cast. Newburgh
should get credit as well. It once ranked in the 20 most dangerous communities
in the US and has been plagued by gang violence and drugs for years. It
provides a solid backdrop for the film's authenticity.
Almanzar shines as Nelson Sanchez. There's not a doubt in the viewer's mind as
to what Sanchez is thinking at any given time and Almanzar makes the viewer empathize with his plight. He is soulful and deep and you care about what he's been
through and where he's going. Hopefully, Almanzar has a promising future in
film. Elizabeth Rodriguez is scary and soft, sexy and tough as Angie, especially when she
threatens the "Greek chorus" of Nelson's cowardly friends in the barbershop
with a razor. Livvy,
as portrayed by Shirley Rumierk, is the dutiful girlfriend. She's torn between
supporting her man's choice and saving his life.
veteran actors lend some great turns in character roles. David Zayas is
Maurice, Nelson's former "Godfather" from his drug dealing days who'd
rather feed his pigeons than lend a hand. John Leguizamo, as Nelson's
wheelchair-bound, former marine buddy, is the only one willing to stand with
him. Yes, pun intended. He and Julia Stiles, as Nicky Quinn's pregnant wife
bring some terrific comic relief into the film. Her brief rant at Quinn as he
ignores her wishes and resumes his gang persona in order to avenge his brother
is hysterical. It also teaches us the differences caused by the effects of
serotonin and dopamine on the human brain. Mike
Carlsen in his brief screen time as Nicky Quinn is a threatening presence, a
subtle villain whose motivation may not be what it seems. And I can't leave out
Smarlin Hernandez. As Daiza, Nelson's niece and Angie's daughter, she portrays,
with honesty, the warring emotions teenagers feel about the person they both
love and hate the most in their life.
"11:55" is a modern-day, East-coast
Western. I expect to see more great things from those involved in this
production. Film history tells us that America won the West a long time ago but
it is in our smaller cities, those impoverished, under-employed, landscapes and
vistas where today's stories lie. There, real battles continue to be fought on
a daily basis by residents who wish little more than to live safely, securely
and in peace. This film tells just one of those stories.
Film Institute is currently showing the Director’s Cut of “Close Encounters of
the Third Kind” as part of its on-going celebration of Steven Spielberg’s
films. Here is the official press release:
Pictures Entertainment's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut) will receive an exclusive
extended run at BFI Southbank from 27 May, screening from a new 35mm print.
This special presentation will lead the BFI's two month season dedicated to
Steven Spielberg - a celebration of one of the most influential and successful
filmmakers in the history of cinema that will screen more than 30 of the
director's films throughout June and July.Combining elements of both the 1977 original
version and the 1980 Special Edition, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut)
represents Steven Spielberg's definitive edit of his sci-fi masterpiece.
theatrical run of The Director's Cut from 35mm will form a fitting tribute to a
filmmaker now synonymous with the magic of film and the ritual of cinema-going;
returning his version of the story to its intended format and setting.
from a new 35mm print, Sony Pictures Entertainment's Close
Encounters of the Third Kind (Director's Cut) will receive an
exclusive extended run at BFI Southbank from 27 May.
Mark Mawston reflects on the personal impact the film had on him.
Of all of
Steven Spielberg’s classic films, probably the most truly magical, the one that
really lifts your spirits is Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Although this
is an incredibly important film, I consider it slightly down the pecking order
in the master’s great works although I, rather controversially I’m sure, would
always place it above Jaws in the auteur’s body of impressive films. The reason
is simple; whereas Jaws terrified me on my 10th birthday, Close Encounters
filled me with a sense of wonder. This
may have had something to do with the venue I first saw it in- The Queens in
Newcastle, which, when the film was released, was one of the few surviving
Cinerama theatres left. Its huge curved screen made any film shown seem like an
event but this one was simply made for it and had the most impact on me. I’ll
never forget the thrill of seeing twinkling stars begin to suddenly move from
the top left of the huge screen towards the events unfolding, especially in the
scene where the alien ships pay a visit to the remote farmhouse of the small
boy Barry and his terrified mother. The sheer impact that scene had on me will
never be forgotten and was one of the main reasons why I wanted to see this
film on the big screen again. I was not to be disappointed. I spotted many new
things that I’d missed when screening it on Blu-ray for my enraptured daughter and
from TV screenings and realised that the moving stars weren’t just limited to this
scene but appear specifically when Roy (Richard Dreyfuss- never better) is
sitting in his van at a remote crossing. It’s now easy to see so many things
that Spielberg drew upon, from shot for shot from North By Northwest to the
fact that When You Wish Upon a Star is playing when Barry’s toys “come alive”.
The one thing I hadn’t previously spotted that really stood out was that when
the alien visitor at the end of the film smiles after giving the famous hand gestures,
his smile and face are those of Barry’s. This is the kind of thing that you can
really notice on the big screen. Science fiction is the one of the genres most
suited to the big screen, with titles such as Blade Runner, Star Wars and 2001
made for this experience. However, it is Close Encounters that benefits from it most
and shows the sheer sense of scope that the young director brought to this
tale. Along with The Searchers, is there a more famous shot of a silhouette in
a doorway in movie history? To see this scene alone is worth the admission fee
and I urge you to see it on its BFI/Park Circus re-release. To paraphrase a
classic of the genre; For space, no one can beat a screen.
Spielberg always said that the added the
scene of the inside of the spaceship for the Special Edition of the film in
1980 was always a disappointment and I agree. What was on screen would always
pale in comparison to what you imagined and also took away for of the wonder. Spielberg
rightly exorcised this scene for this version of the film, which is easily the
best. This is still essential viewing to those who still watch the skies rather
than the “stars” of reality TV.
Variety reports that the family of the late director Sergio Leone is developing a six-episode Western TV series titled "Colt" based upon a concept that Leone had planned with his collaborators but which was never realized. His goal was to present the American West in a more realistic manner than had been seen in his classic "spaghetti Westerns". The focus would be on the handgun used by The Man With No Name, portrayed by Clint Eastwood in the classic "A Fistful of Dollars". The episodes would follow the trail of that gun as it passes from owner to owner. The first two episodes will be directed by Stefano Sollima, the high profile Italian filmmaker and son of Sergio Sollima, who directed Lee Van Cleef in the cult Italian Western "The Big Gundown". Stefano will also be writing the scripts for the series. Unlike Sergio Leone's Westerns, which were set in America but filmed in Spain, the Leone Film Group intends to shoot the series on location in the USA. Click here for more.
While doing press interviews at Cannes for his latest film "Cafe Society", Woody Allen was asked about his biggest boxoffice hit, "Midnight in Paris". Beyond confirming that the film's success surprised him greatly, Allen tells a fascinating tale about the origins of the story. Decades ago he was told by legendary Hollywood agent Swfity Lazar that Cary Grant, who was in self-imposed retirement, would return to films if he could be directed by Allen. Adding substance to the tale, Grant showed up one night at Michael's Pub, the New York jazz venue where Allen still plays with his band. Grant apparently loved the music and Allen was enthused about developing a film project for him. He devised a scenario in which Allen would play his usual nebbish character who, one night, finds himself whisked off in a limousine with Cary Grant. The two end up in the 1920s. However, when Allen approached Grant's office with the idea, he was told flat out that Grant would never return to making movies. He later learned that Swifty Lazar often passed around inaccurate rumors. Nevertheless, Allen kept the story concept tucked away until he used it as the basis for "Midnight in Paris". By then, Allen was too old to play the male lead so he cast Owen Wilson. Allen fashioned a superb film but the mind still reels at what could have been....For more click here.
gangster movies about mobs, molls, and ingenious but ill-fated heists enjoyed a
big vogue in Europe in the 1950s and early 1960s, especially after the success
of Jules Dassin’s stylish “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes” in 1955. Opening
here a year later in an edited, subtitled print as “Rififi,” Dassin’s picture
drew a small but appreciative audience of critics and foreign-film fans, and
became a perennial favorite in American art houses, repertory theaters, and
was a rare example of a “policier,” as French audiences called them, gaining
any critical and commercial notice on these shores even remotely comparable to
their popularity abroad. Although the genre owed a clear debt to classic
American crime films, it fell victim here, like nearly every other cinema
import from abroad, to a homegrown bias against dubbed or subtitled foreign
films in that more insular era of American popular culture. The vast
demographic of moviegoers in small-town America tended to be wary of movies
that they had to read as well as watch, or those in which stilted dialogue came out of unfamiliar actors’
mouths in interchangeable voices that didn’t match the movements of their
lips. If you were a crime-movie
enthusiast, you already had plenty of domestic product to choose from, anyway,
thanks to a wave of violent, “fact-based” programmers like “The Bonnie Parker
Story” (1958) and “Al Capone” (1959) that U.S. studios released in the wake of
high ratings for TV’s “The Untouchables.”
policiers that crossed the Atlantic, if they made it at all, were likely to be
relegated to marginal, second-run theaters, alongside nudies and exploitation
pictures. Newspaper ads and posters
played up the sexier, grittier aspects of the films as lurid entertainment “for adults only.” For example, the blurbs on the posters for
“Doulos, the Finger Man,” a subtitled 1964 edit of Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le
Doulos” (1963), proclaimed: “Raw, Savage, Shocking” -- “So ruthless, untamed
women would do anything for him . . . and did!” In these days of graphic
internet porn, what may have been “shocking” 50 years ago now looks quaintly
tame. Actual nude scenes in the original
European prints, which were modest to begin with by today’s standards, were
trimmed out of the American versions in deference to anti-obscenity laws. The sensual content that remained would
hardly cause a stir in today’s climate, but it was provocative for its era,
when married couples on TV had to be shown sleeping in modest PJs in twin beds,
if they were shown in the bedroom at all.
advertising strategy of implied sex turned a quick buck for distributors who
had little chance of seeing the policiers accepted by mainstream
ticket-buyers. However, the films’
reputation suffered in the larger court of public opinion. Middlebrow critics snubbed them as sordid
trash, almost beneath their notice. The
New York Times’ Bosley Crowther, for example, dismissed the Melville film as
“talkative and tiresome,” and seemed personally offended by the “mean and
disagreeable” title character portrayed by Jean-Paul Belmondo.
have changed greatly since then. Younger
generations of critics, less bothered by disagreeable characters than Crowther
was, have revisited the policiers and found them worthy of serious
discussion. Thanks to DVD, Blu-ray,
streaming video, and cable movie networks, a wider audience in middle America
has a chance to see the films in their original form, and they’re more likely
to be receptive to foreign productions than their grandparents in the Ike
era. Several policiers, including “Le
Doulos” and nearly all of Melville’s other pictures, are available in restored
DVD and Blu-ray editions with classy packaging. However, other policiers of arguably equal merit remain missing in
action on U.S. home video, even on the collector’s market, notably Alex Joffé’s
1959 production, “Du Rififi Chez Les Femmes” (1959).
the title suggests, Joffé’s film shares a bloodline with Jules Dassin’s better
known classic. Both were based on novels
by French crime writer Auguste Le Breton, who claimed that “rififi” was
criminal slang that he had picked up from real underworld acquaintances in the
hangouts of Montmartre and Pigalle, meaning something like “melee” or
“rumble.” Le Breton co-authored the
script for the Joffé movie.
critics have questioned whether Le Breton was telling the truth about his gangland
connections, and suspect that he coined the term “rififi” himself. Dassin said he was disturbed by racist
implications in the word, since Le Breton asserted that it referred to the
violent characteristics of Parisian gangs made up of North African immigrants
from the Rif area of Morocco. Accordingly, in the film version of “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes,” Dassin
downplayed the ethnicity of his characters. Sort of a Mickey Spillane of France, Le Breton became a popular
celebrity after the success of “Du Rififi chez Les Hommes” and made a lot of
money writing about hoods and tough guys. Many of his novels were branded with “rififi” in their titles, but aside
from certain shared themes and plot elements, the books were unrelated to each
“Du Rififi Chez Les Femmes” (in my rough English translation, “The Girls Mix It
Up”), underworld entrepreneur Vicky de Berlin (Nadja Tiller) owns a popular
floating nightclub, the “Ration K,” on the Senne River in Brussels. Characteristically for Le Breton’s criminal
figures, Vicky’s surname isn’t necessarily her real family name, just a
nickname referring to the city where she came from. (In “Du Rififi chez Les
Hommes,” the ringleader of the story’s audacious jewel robbery, played by Jean
Servais in the movie, was Tony Le Stéphanois: “Stéphanois” being a
colloquialism for someone from the French town of Saint
Etienne.) Vicky’s troubled past as a
displaced Berliner is suggested by a photograph of her father on the desk in
her private office, a German officer wearing the Iron Cross. The name of her club implies that she might
have made her first money dealing surplus or stolen U.S. Army rations on the
black market after World War II.
With this column we begin a new feature: showcasing original reviews from industry trade magazines from many years ago. It is interesting to see how classic and cult movies were received on the basis of these reviews which were presented to the movie theater trade prior to their general release. First up: Hammer Films' "Dracula A.D. 1972" starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This review appeared in the October/November 1972 issue of Film Bulletin.
The conventions of the gangster movie are rigidly defined,
critic Robert Warshow observed in a famous 1948 essay. At heart is the character arc of the socially
deviant protagonist, whether Rico Bandello, Tony Montana, or Michael Corleone:
“a steady upward progress followed by a very precipitate fall.”
In Brian Helgeland’s excellent biopic “Legend” (2015), currently
playing in limited theatrical release, the twin brothers Reggie and Ronnie Kray
(Tom Hardy, in a dual role) are already on the upward curve of Warshow’s
character arc in the 1960s London underworld as the film begins. “Reggie was a gangster prince of the East
End,” Reggie’s future wife Frances (Emily Browning) muses in voiceover. “Ronnie was a one-man mob.” In the first scene, the dapper Reggie
derisively brings tea to two rumpled detectives who are staking him out, the
senior of whom, Inspector Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston), is determined to
bring him down. The mentally disturbed
Ronnie is behind bars, but a prison psychiatrist is intimidated into clearing
his early release. The doctor’s honest
assessment when Reggie comes to escort his brother home: “Your brother Ron is
violent and psychopathic, and I suspect he’s paranoid schizophrenic. To put it
simply, he’s off his fucking rocker.”
The Krays control the run-down East End and wage sporadic turf
battles with their rivals, the Richardson brothers’ “Torture Gang” in South
London. When the Richardsons are sent up
the river, the Krays’ extortion-based empire expands to swallow their
territory. Reggie opens a posh
nightclub, Esmeralda’s Barn, whose clientele of slumming celebrities impresses
sheltered teenager Frances on their first date: “Oh look, is that Joan
Collins?” she asks breathlessly. It
is. Reggie’s financial advisor Leslie
Payne (David Thewlis) tries to convince him to move into legitimate business,
but the big money from the rackets is a powerful inducement to remain on the
other side of the law, especially when the twins seal a trans-Atlantic
partnership with Meyer Lansky through a Mafia intermediary (Chazz
Palminteri). The homosexual Ronnie hosts
orgies that attract a varied following, including a politically powerful Peer,
Lord Boothby (John Sessions). Scotland
Yard begins to close in, but the vested establishment pulls strings all the way
up through the Prime Minister to protect Boothby from public scandal, and
Read’s superiors order him to curtail his investigation. Ronnie murders a rival mobster in a pub, and
Read thinks he’s finally got a case, but the key witness refuses to identify
Kray in a lineup for fear of her family’s safety.
Hardy’s performance is a remarkable, Academy Award-worthy
achievement. Part of the credit goes to
the superior facial prosthetics that transform Hardy into the thuggish,
bespectacled Ronnie, but even more credit goes to Hardy’s own talent and
physicality. The actor gives each
brother a distinctive posture, gait, and voice. The tricks used to put both characters on the screen simultaneously are
seamless, notably in a long fight scene where the twins slug each other to a
pulp with fists and champagne bottles. At the same time, with one actor in the dual roles, Hardy and Helgeland
underscore the fact that beneath the surface, both brothers are very much alike
in their propensity for violence. Reggie
is simply better able to control himself. This shared volatility becomes more apparent in the second part of the
movie, the downward curve of Warshow’s arc, as Reggie becomes increasingly
unhinged because of a personal tragedy. When he bloodily stabs an underling, Jack “the Hat” McVitie (Sam
Spruell), to death, the murder unravels the Krays’ enterprise. As the closing credits note, the brothers
were sent to prison in 1968. The
real-life Ronnie died in 1995, Reggie in 2000.
Cinema Retro fans are likely to get a charge out of the movie’s
1960s costumes and cars, the stream of oldie hits on the soundtrack (when’s the
last time you heard “Soulful Strut” or “The ‘In’ Crowd”?), and the scenes of
music divas Timi Yuro (Duffy) and Shirley Bassey (Samantha Pearl) performing at
Reggie’s club. Pearl doesn’t sing
“Goldfinger” in her cameo as Bassey, but there’s still a one-degree association
between “Legend” and 007 that should interest Bond fans: Helgeland’s script was
based on a 1973 biography of the Krays by John Pearson, who also wrote two
superlative books in the Bond canon, “The Life of Ian Fleming” and “James Bond:
The Authorized Biography.” The film’s
supporting performances are outstanding, with Thewlis and Spruell in particular
nearly giving Hardy a run for his money. The movie suggests a host of comparisons with other gangland classics,
including the British productions “The Criminal” (Joseph Losey, 1960) and “Get
Carter” (Mike Hodges, 1971), which bookended the actual Kray era; Martin
Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” (1989), from which Helgeland clearly draws inspiration;
and Helgeland’s own “Payback” (1999); in that film, Mel Gibson’s character
Porter and Gregg Henry’s manic Val seem like early foreshadowings of the
Reg/Ron duality. If “Legend” inspires
you to watch or re-watch those pictures, all the better.
If I have a quibble with the film, it’s with the title “Legend,”
which isn’t very evocative of a gangster saga. Worse, it poses the risk of confusion with a very different movie,
Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy-adventure with Tom Cruise and Mia Sara. “The Krays” might have better done as a
title, except that -- in fairness to Helgeland, I should point out -- it was
already taken as the title of a 1990 movie by Peter Medak, with Gary and Martin
Kemp as Ronnie and Reggie. The Medak
version filled out the details about the twins’ early lives more thoroughly than
Helgeland does, and it’s not a bad film itself, if not as riveting and stylish
as “Legend.” It’s currently streaming on
Winston Churchill once said of the Soviet Union "It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". The same could be said of Marlon Brando, that most rebellious and unpredictable of acting legends. He could be selfish, nasty, charming, seductive and completely dismissive. If you have even a modicum of interest in Brando's life and career, don't miss director Stevan Riley's new documentary feature "Listen to Me Marlon". The offbeat title is meant to suggest the stream of consciousness that is based on the main premise of the film: audio tapes of Brando engaging in self-analysis. Ironically his intention was to use these recordings, which were made over decades, as the basis of an autobiographical documentary that was obviously designed to give his side of the story as it related to his life and career. As with many quixotic projects Brando became involved with, the film never became reality. However, director Riley (who helmed the acclaimed James Bond documentary "Everything or Nothing") received cooperation from the Brando estate to fulfill the actor's quest to refute certain urban legends about his life through his own words. The film is laid out in a fascinating manner. It is non-linear in the sense that it doesn't strictly adhere to the timetable of the momentous events of Brando's life. The movie zig-zags through the decades with photos and footage of his younger years with those from his final tortured days, beset by personal family tragedies. There was always a sense that Brando was consistently aloof and unconcerned about the public's perception of him. This proves not to be true. In the audio tape segments that define the premise of the movie (there is no narrator, only Brando himself), we find that this was a man who cared very much about being the target of bad press, especially when he was convinced the stories were not true. However, there is also an introspective admission that he considered himself to have major failings as a father and family man, a fact evidenced by the dramatic events in the latter part of his life that saw one of his sons, Christian, incarcerated for shooting to death his daughter Cheyenne's boyfriend and the subsequent suicide of Cheyenne several years later. It becomes clear through are photos and home movie footage that one aspect of Brando was that he truly loved his family, yet he was too self-absorbed with his own life and career to have been anything other than an occasional presence in their lives. In heartbreaking public trial footage, we see Brando, that most private of men, break down in tears as he bemoans his failings as a father. The movie shows that Brando himself was subjected to a strained relationship with his own father, a cold and unfeeling man who could never praise his son even after he had achieved international fame. In one awkward on-camera interview from the 1950s, the father is almost dismissive of his son's achievements. Brando later reflects compassion for his father, however, pointing out that he, too, had lived a very difficult life and was a product of those experiences.
Brando on the set of Last Tango in Paris with director Bernardo Bertolucci and co-star Maria Schneider, 1972.
The film provides no interviews with critics or colleaguesbut does present riveting vintage interviews in which we see Brando at his most playful. On a press junket (perhaps the only one he did in the 1960s) for the underrated WWII spy thriller "Morituri", Brando is far more concerned about seducing the attractive female journalists than he is in extolling the virtues of the film. The audio segments also indicate his bitterness over his experience on the 1962 remake of "Mutiny on the Bounty" which almost sank MGM. Brando took the lion's share of the blame for the film's enormous cost over-runs and was publicly chastised for selfish and irrational behavior on the set. His side of of the story is that they needed a scapegoat and he was it, pointing out he felt the film had major script problems from the beginning. The film also addresses the strained relationship between Brando and director Francis Ford Coppola, who resuscitated his career with "The Godfather". Brando laments that fact that Coppola bad-mouthed him for being unprepared on the set of "Apocalypse Now" and says he was hurt by this public flogging by a man he considered a friend. The documentary is peppered with film clips from key Brando movies, all of which are presented in gorgeous transfers, indicating Riley had a sizable budget for this film. (Many documentary film makers use VHS transfers of movie clips in order to get free usage under U.S. copyright laws.) There is also some truly rare color, on-set footage from "On the Waterfront" that left this viewer clamoring to see more. Brando's classics are represented and so are his bombs, so as the infamous "A Countess From Hong Kong", Charlie Chaplin's big screen comeback that landed with a thud. There are also the late career artistic triumphs such as "The Godfather" and "Last Tango in Paris", though on the latter Brando clearly resents his relationship with director Bernardo Bertolucci who he felt manipulated him into unveiling too many of his personal inner demons. Throughout the film, we see Brando represented by a digital 3D image of his head which he posed for in the 1980s and which fascinated him. He predicted that the future of film making would be revolutionized by digital technology- a predication that has come true. The statue-like, free-floating head of Brando serves as an anchor for his narration and perhaps, fittingly, reminds one of his appearance as Jor-El in "Superman". The movie also covers his social activism beginning with the civil rights movement of the 1960s. We see him among a Hollywood contingent in Washington D.C. as part of Martin Luther King's landmark protest. The film also traces his well-known devotion to equal rights for Native Americans. The movie includes the legendary Oscar ceremony footage of a mystery woman named Sacheen Littlefeather, in full tribal dress, refusing Brando's Best Actor statuette for "The Godfather" in protest of Hollywood's treatment of Indians on screen, much to the incredulity or perhaps amusement of presenters Liv Ullmann and Roger Moore. It was the kind of bold, in-your-face move that epitomized Brando as a rebel but it was also a missed opportunity. Why didn't he appear himself to make the speech? Laziness? Cowardliness? We'll never know. Like many of Brando's causes, however, these seemed to burn brightly but briefly.
The movie covers Brando's failed marriages and tempestuous relationships with women, none of which ended satisfactorily. Despite his late career fun appearances on Larry King's chat show, we get the feeling that he died feeling lonely and frustrated, haunted by what he perceived to be his own failures. If "Listen to Me Marlon" has a flaw is that it leaves us hungry for even more. Some key films and events are glossed over or ignored, perhaps for reasons of running time. Brando's "One Eyed Jacks", the only film he ever directed, is tantalizingly glimpsed in clips but not even identified by name. He created a fine movie after taking over from director Stanley Kubrick, who found he could not work with Brando. The film went far over-budget and caused angst at Paramount, adding to the growing belief that Brando might be more trouble than he was worth. However, we never hear a word about his views on directing or what happened on the set of the film. Perhaps he never addressed this in the audio recordings that Riley was given access to, but it will frustrate Brandophiles to not have the film covered in any detail. There are other snippets that also leave us desiring more: his dismissal of the first "Superman" movie, which he concedes he did strictly for money (but did he really think it was a bad movie?) Brando bragging that he rewrote the script for "Apocalypse Now", whereas others said he was just fudging because he was too lazy to read the script. The movie also covers Brando's increasing reliance on cue cards and other devices to remind him of his lines. Over clips from "The Formula", we hear him brag that he insisted that his character wear a hearing aid so that his lines could be fed to him. We see that the only place Brando truly feels at piece was in his beloved atoll in Tahiti. Home movies indicate this was a place where he could find peace and solace, away from studio executives, fawning fans and intrusive journalists.
"Listen to Me Marlon" is a remarkable film and is a fitting analysis of a man who personifies the old cliche "They don't make stars like that any more".
(The film opens July 29 for a two week run at the Film Forum in New York City.)
a cult favorite, actress Edwige Fenech
has numerous movie moments that are ingrained into the minds of many
Italian men who came of age in the 1970’s. Yet there is one particular moment, running topless in slow-motion
through a field of flowers, that is probably more memorable then the rest. Many words come to mind when trying to
describe this scene: Crude. Low-brow. Gratuitous. All of these are
excellent adjectives to use when trying to sum up 1973’s Ubalda, All Naked and Warm. Besides giving audiences an (extremely) intimate look at Ms.
Fenech, this was the film that famously
(or infamously) proved that the Italian “sexy comedies” could be commercially
viable. Although not a for
everyone, Ubalda is perfect for fans who wish to delve more deeply into the
overlooked cult titles of Italy’s yesteryear.
(Pippo Franco) is a hapless knight who has just returned home after a long and
brutal war. As can be expected, he wants
nothing more than to eat fresh food, have a nice bath, and find comfort in the
arms of his beautiful wife Fiamma (Karin Schubert). Before he had left, Olimpio had his wife
fitted with a chastity built in order to ensure that she remained faithful. Yet when he returns home, he finds that Fiamma
is less then eager to return his affections (even with the chastity belt, she
has numerous other suitors lined
up). After she steals the key to the
belt (a fact which delights her suitors), she informs Olimpio that she has
taken a vow of “chastity”, and suggests that her husband focus his energies
toward making peace with their neighbor instead of making love. Discouraged, Olimpio accepts his wife’s words
and heads over to the home of Master Oderisi (Umberto D’Orsi) in order to make
amends. Yet as soon as he sees Oderisi’s
new wife, he quickly has other ideas.
it turns out, Lady Ubalda (Edwige Fenech), is as equally unhappy in her
marriage as Fiamma is in hers. Initially, she is only too happy to add Olimpio to her list of secret
lovers, but quickly loses interest after his plan to bed her fails. Frustrated at home, both Olimpio and Oderisi
eventually agree to swap wives. Yet
their plan sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change their lives
in a very unexpected way. By the time
the film is over, neither man has to worry about the other ever trying to bed
their wife again.
with a budget of roughly $50,000, the
film grossed more than $400,000 at the box office, making it a huge success. (Although people under the age of 18 were not
admitted into the theaters, it is interesting to think of all the creative ways
that teenagers concocted in their attempts to sneak in). After Ubalda’s
stunning success, the Italian sex comedies (known in Italy as “commedia sexy
all’italiana”) became a huge sensation. Aside from the medieval setting, these films tended to center around
numerous other cliched subjects, such as: nurses, policewomen, and lady medics. Unsurprisingly, many of these films would
follow Ubalda’sexample and give top billing to Edwige Fenech.
Fenech was, beyond a doubt, the
break-out star of the movie. Already
known for her roles in the giallos, Ubalda
made Fenech an instant sex siren. It
is little wonder; gifted with natural beauty, she could light up any screen,
regardless of her role. (The fact that
the film featured her disrobing probably made the screen shine even brighter
for many in attendance). On top of her
more obvious attributes, Edwige Fenech also possessed a natural flair for
comedy. Throughout Ubalda, her
wry humor proves to be the perfect compliment to Franco's over the top antics.
Although her glamor and comedy would never grant her universal recognition,
Fenech would still make a decent career for herself.
Those of us of a certain age will recall that, while kooky religious cults have always been part of the American experience, in the mid-to-late 1970s there seemed to go through a boom period. Seemingly every week a new fringe fad movement would emerge, many of which were steeped in inexplicable psycho-babble about helping adherents "find oneself" and enrich their "inner beings". During this period I was approached in a Jersey City bowling alley, of all places, by a card-carrying member of one such cult/religion, the name of which I have happily forgotten. Upon being asked to sign up for the movement, I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment to prove a point to my girlfriend (now wife): that the gullible people associated with these groups are just vulnerable souls who can be easily manipulated by virtually any person possessed with a modicum of self-assurance, charisma and determination. I responded to my would-be savior that I could not join her movement because I was a devoted Hestonite. I made the term up on the spot because the evening before, ABC-TV had shown their annual telecast of "The Ten Commandments". I explained that Charlton Heston was my Lord and Savior because I had seen him perform so many miracles. The baffled young lady logically pointed out that he was simply an actor, but in the course of a five-minute conversation I had somehow to get her to take my position seriously and to discuss in some detail why I believed Charlton Heston was my Lord and Savior. I was thoroughly enjoying the experience and wanted to see if I could go "all the way" with her and make her convert to my new-found religion. However, my girlfriend was getting fidgety and felt I had already proven my point. Besides, I guess there were people waiting for us to bowl with them, which seemed to be the priority at the moment. I still believe to this day that, had I been graced with another fifteen minutes of time, I would have signed up the first member of the Hestonite religious movement.
With each succeeding generation, unquestioning belief in established religions declines. (A recent poll shows that one third of Americans under the age of 30 are not affiliated with any specific religion.) Yet, there is still no shortage of 70's style "self-help" religions, all eager, if not desperate, to attract new adherents. It's easy to ridicule adherents to these causes as naive whack-jobs but in my own experience, those who buy into them tend to be sympathetic souls who are often trying to overcome some kind of personal crisis. They find solace in being accepted among other true believers. Without a doubt, the most controversial non-mainstream religion is Scientology, which is very much in the news of late because of director Alex Gibney's high profile new documentary, "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief", based on the best-selling book by Lawrence Wright. The film premieres on March 29 on HBO and has been the subject of countless news stories. I saw the "Going Clear" several weeks ago at an advance screening at the HBO building in New York. To say it's a powerful, thought-provoking experience would be an understatement.
The film traces the origins of the Scientology movement, which was started by successful science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. The movement was originally known as a self-help program called Dianetics and it caught on in the post-WWII era. The "bible" of this movement was Hubbard's own best-selling book. Hubbard enjoyed the fruits of his success, charging devotees to attend self-help seminars. However, over time, Dianetics, like most such groups, began to fade in popularity. Always one to improvise, Hubbard reinvented the movement under the name Scientology. Instead of concentrating entirely on lost souls, Hubbard implemented a plan to appeal as well to the well-heeled and financially successful - with a very special effort to attract celebrities. Hubbard must have been astounded by his own success. By the 1970s, Scientology had taken off and continued to grow, attracting influential movie and TV stars along the way. Hubbard's books- works of inspiration to some, the ravings of a con man/mad man to others, topped the bestseller lists. But there were still problems. Hubbard, who is alleged to have started the movement as a tax dodge, never remitted payments to the IRS. For years, the agency dogged him to the extent that he literally took off to sea as part of a newly-found division of Scientology known as the Sea Org (which is characterized in "Going Clear" as a virtual slave labor operation.) Presumably, those who chose to sail with him and indulge in manual labor along the way, were primarily on a mission to sail the globe and extol the virtues of Scientology. Gibney's documentary says his goal was a bit less lofty: he put to see because the IRS was after him to pay back up to a billion in back taxes. In an audacious move, Hubbard took on the IRS by having his disciples file thousands of frivolous law suits against the agency. Eventually, they prevailed and the IRS- simply to get out of the legal quagmire- granted Hubbard what he always desired: protection from taxes by declaring Scientology as a genuine religion. With that key controversial ruling, Scientology kicked into high gear. The church invested heavily in properties around the world and its current wealth (largely in real estate) is estimated to be over $3 billion. Hubbard was secretive man who rarely gave interviews. The film presents an extremely rare exception, with a vintage interview Hubbard gave for a British documentary. He comes across as likable, avuncular and perpetually smiling and jolly. However, critics say he was attracting troubled people to his movement and systematically isolating them from the world outside of Scientology. According to "Going Clear", Hubbard became like a real-life Bond villain: living in seclusion amid palatial splendor and enjoying unquestioning loyalty from his followers. When he died in 1986, so great was the Scientology cult of personality, that his successor as leader of the church, David Miscavige, could not bring himself to admit to Scientologists that he was actually dead. In one of many fascinating video clips that Gibney secured, Miscavige spins Hubbard's death as a personal choice, saying that he succeeded in reaching such a higher form of life that he felt compelled to shed his now useless human form. The assembled masses cheer in support of their leader's "transition" to a higher plane.
his career, director Marco Bellocchio has been no stranger to controversy.A former supporter of militant left wing
politics, many of his films have strong socialistic and violent themes woven
throughout them.Although he has
somewhat mellowed with age, his younger years were still quite radical.Few of his films demonstrate this better than
1986’s Devil in the Flesh (Il Diavolo in Corpo), a sexually charged film
set during the terrorism and turmoil of Italy’s “Years of Lead”.Loosely based on Raymond Radiguet’s novel, this
Italian-French production stars Maruschka Detmers and Federico Pitzalis as two
lovers entrapped by the passion they have for one another. As they soon
discover, though, passion alone cannot sustain a healthy relationship,
especially when one person is engaged to a jailed terrorist. Although the plot
a bit clichéd, Devil stands out for being one of the first X rated films
to not only feature a mainstream actress, but also be released in the U.S. by a
(Pitzalis) is an eighteen year old student who, like many people in their final
years of high school, is quite bored with all the monotonous lectures in the
classroom. One day class is interrupted
by a commotion from a nearby rooftop. Looking around, the class discovers that a young woman is threatening to
jump, drawing a crowd of onlookers. One
of these onlookers is Giulia (Detmers), an older woman that Andrea sees and
immediately becomes infatuated with. Pursuing her, Andrea and Giulia eventually develop a friendship which
quickly becomes sexual and transforms into a torrid affair. Yet, complicating this affair is the fact that
Giulia is engaged to a man who is in prison for charges of terrorism. Also, Giulia’s soon to be mother-in-law becomes
quite suspicious and endeavors to find out who is sleeping with her son’s
fiancé. As if all this is not enough, Andrea discovers that Giulia is a rather
unstable woman who shows hints at the capacity of violence. All in all, these
factors make all the problems Romeo and Juliet faced seem quite tame in
be given to Pitzalis, who depicts the detached, devil-may-care attitude of a
disaffected teenager with great conviction. As the film progresses, it is clear that Andrea really has no ambitions,
no dreams, and no real concerns in the world. The only thing he actually cares about is Giulia, and the lust he feels
towards her. While his performance is
admirable, it is still undoubtedly Maruschka Detmers who steals the show with
her own dazzling skill. She doesn’t
simply portray a woman who is controlled by passion, but rather a woman who is
trapped by passion. It is readily apparent that for Giulia, passion is both her
savior and tormentor. The longer her
relationship with Andrea continues, the closer she is to being pushed over the
edge into outright madness. Happiness and misery come together hand and hand. Between Giulia’s hysterical laughs, longings
for Andrea, and sudden bursts of energy followed by crashing lows, the film
begs audiences to answer a specific question. Does Giulia truly love Andrea, or does she simply need/use him? Either way, it seems unlikely that “ happily
ever after” is in the cards for these two.
Devil is sexually explicit, and as such
it may make some viewers uncomfortable to watch. In today’s day and age, relations between
high school students and older adults are gravely serious matters. While numerous similar films have been made,
there still may be some viewers who may find the vivid subject matter in poor
taste, especially in a scene roughly halfway through the film. In one of the
more infamous moments in Bellocchio’s
film career, Devil in the Flesh features a scene of un-simulated sex between
Pitzalis and Detmers. Although brief and
done (for lack of a better word) tastefully, it is still unusual to see outside
adult films (although to be fair, many contemporary TV shows such as Game of
Thrones have come pretty close to approaching, and breaking down, that same
taboo). Understandably, Italian
producers wanted the scene to be cut, yet Bellocchio refused. Eventually, Italian Courts ruled in his
favor, and he was able to complete the film with his cinematic vision fully
made a bold career choice by agreeing to the scene, because she became one of
the first mainstream actresses to participate in an act of un-simulated sex.
Initially, she did defend her choice, saying that the scene had not been done
or portrayed in a vulgar manner. While she may be right, it became something
that would stand out in her resume and overshadow many of her other
day, critics are still divided about this infamous scene, although the majority
of opinions seem to be unfavorable. While some will argue that it captures the raw passion that exists
between Andrea and Giulia, many others argue that it trivializes the passion by
trading in for shock value. Even with the relaxation in standards today for
media (again, here’s looking at you Game of Thrones; Blue is the Warmest
Color) there is a fine that can’t be crossed without penalty. When Devil premiered in the United
States, it received an X rating and was confined to art house theaters. Still,
the fact that any major distributor (Orion Pictures) even chose to showcase the
film was pretty remarkable: it shows how times were changing, albeit slowly.
the Flesh was made
in the 1980s, during a period where the Italian film industry was in crisis.
While in previous decades the industry had been one of the most world renown,
the 80s saw a widening gap between mainstream and art house cinema. To this day many people, including Quentin
Tarantino, lament over the current state of Italian cinema. They feel that the industry has lost that
magic touch that helped produce some of the most iconic movies in years past. Agree or disagree, this particular movie is
clearly different from something that would have normally been shown in
NoShame Films and MYA Communications released fully restored versions of Devil
in the Flesh. Although both labels
are defunct, the DVDs are still readily available on sites such as Amazon for
decent prices. The NoShame edition does
have more special features, but both editions are uncut and feature gorgeously
re-mastered colors and crisp audio. Overall, lovers of Bellocchio and art house films might just want to
check this one out; highly recommended.
George A. Romero didn’t invent the concept of zombies.
They’ve had a spot in Haitian folklore for years (as explored in older films
like White Zombie and more
contemporary films like Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the
Rainbow ). There was also the French World War I reactionary J’Accuse(1919) by Abel Gance,
which featured actual footage from the battleground. Some horror enthusiasts
might even argue that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.P Lovecraft’s
story Herbert West: Re-Animator were also
significant early entries in the zombie canon.
What Romero can be credited with, however, as the recent
documentary Birth of the Living Dead examines, is the
mainstream popularity of zombies. It all began when he made the film Night of the Living
Dead (1968). It features a group of wayward strangers who’ve found
themselves stuck in an old farmhouse in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The
film is remembered for its poignant critique of the 60s, when the Vietnam war
was raging, home televisions were still new, and race relations were tenuous at
best (the film was notable for featuring African-American actor Duane Jones as
the male lead). The movie was filmed on a shoestring budget but didn’t stop it from
becoming a cult success that’s still beloved by countless legions of dedicated
A decade later, he came back and made Dawn of the Dead in 1978. It had a
similarly modest budget as his first movie. This film takes place during a
zombie outbreak and centers on a group of survivors who’ve taken up shelter in
the town’s shopping mall. Like the first, it’s full of a ton of symbolism and
was a timely commentary on the day’s rampant consumerism. Despite its highly
graphic content, it became a humongous success both financially and critically,
as it’s almost universally praised by all major movie critics, and it saw its
own re-make in 2004.
Day of the Dead came seven years
later in 1985 and featured a battle between the United States military and a
horde of zombies. Viewers weren’t sure exactly which side to take, as this
installment was pretty ambiguous and caused some watchers to root for the
zombies rather than their very military. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as big of a
commercial success as Dawn was, but it’s a much beloved cult film that
has become a staple of “Grindhouse
Fridays” on El Rey Network, is streamable through some websites, and not only was it remade a few
decades later on, but there is yet another remake in the works.
The trilogy garnered a humongous fan base and inspired many
subsequent movies, but George Romero himself kept quiet on the zombie front for
the rest of the 80s and all throughout the 90s. It was a bit of shock when he
released another zombie flick in the 2000s.
Land of the Dead was released in 2005
in the midst of the Bush administration and featured an opportunistic
politician who tries to use the zombie crisis outlined in the movie as a means
to achieve his own agenda. It was a modern day commentary on war and
xenophobia. Land of the Dead became a great success and grossed over
$46,000,000. It wasn’t considered as good as the movies Night or Dawn, but
critics thought it was an overall decent addition to the Romero library.
Diary of the Dead was the next step
for Romero in 2007. It’s a fictional documentary similar to other cult-hits
like Cannibal Holocaust or The Blair Witch
Project. The film was made to look like amateur footage and makes liberal
use of the shaky-cam technique. This movie strayed rather far from the original
trilogy through its heavy use of CGI but still enjoyed some positive reviews,
although it wasn’t quite as well received as Land.
The final Romero zombie-film was Survival of the
Dead, released in 2010. It took place on a zombie-infested island just
off the coast of North America. This film was both a box-office bust and a
critical failure. It was panned by critics and hardcore Romero fans alike as
being stale and an overall disappointment. This movie alone has likely caused Romero
to lose any future financial investments for a new zombie film down the road,
but luckily it wasn’t bad enough to tarnish the reputation that Romero gained
for his work in the original trilogy.
Apart from his own directorial work, Romero has had a positive and
lasting impact on today’s culture and has inspired a new generation of
directors and filmmakers who grow up enchanted by his work. Zombies have
infected every level of pop-culture from books, to television shows, to movies,
to art, and even to real world events like zombie walks and horror conventions.
He’s inspired many directors to create their own vision of the zombie
apocalypse in new and interesting ways. Danny Boyle, the creator of 28 Days Later, is one of the most
critically acclaimed new director of zombie flicks, and there have been a ton
of other successful zombie stories made that have spanned multiple genres and
George Romero is very much like a modern day Bram Stoker, who took
the old myth of vampires and turned it into a modern day cultural success, and,
like Stoker, his legacy will live on as his movies continues to inspire legions
of fans and newer work based on his original films.
("Casting By", the acclaimed documentary by director Tom Donahue, has been released on DVD by First Run Features. Below is our original review from November 2013 of the film's theatrical release.)
By Lee Pfeiffer
"Casting By" is an extraordinary new documentary by filmmaker Tom Donahue who spent years accumulating interviews and archival materials for this look at the contributions of casting directors to the motion picture business. Most people are well aware of the important roles that composers, costume designers, editors and production designers play in the creation of movies-- but if you say "casting directors", the average person's eyes glaze over. Sounds boring, doesn't it? Donahue's film sets the record straight, pointing out that casting directors are often responsible for bringing to life some of the film industry's most memorable characters. So important is their contributions that Donohue found enthusiasm among esteemed filmmakers and actors to participate in his documentary even among those individuals who are not prone to generally giving interviews. In the film Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, John Travolta, David V. Picker, Robert Redford, Al Pacino, Norman Jewison, Norman Lear, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Duvall and Robert Redford, to name just a few, all extol the virtues of casting directors. Woody Allen readily admits that he hates the process of casting because he can't bring himself to choose one actor over another...and that his instincts are often wrong. He credits his long-time casting director, Juliet Taylor, with force-feeding certain actors like Meryl Streep into Allen's films when he didn't see the wisdom of casting them. The film's genesis was as a tribute to Marion Dougherty, a woman whose name won't ring bells with most movie fans, but who was a legend in the industry. It was Dougherty who elevated the status of casting directors when she first went into the profession in 1949. Her keen eye and insightful instincts quickly made her the "go to" person for top directors and studio executives. Dougherty soon became indispensable and set up an office in New York City where she often nurtured talent such as "up and comers" Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. Soon, she had a virtual monopoly on high profile casting assignments for films. She acted as mentor for young women who would go on to become successful casting directors and inspired another legendary person in the profession, Lynn Stalmaster. It was Dougherty who fought to get Jon Voight the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy after it had been decided that the role should go to Michael Sarrazin. She gave many other future superstars their first major break when she was casting director for the hit TV show The Naked City in the early 1960s. These actors have never forgotten what they owed her. Dougherty is seen throughout the documentary through interviews Tom Donahue conducted with her in 2007. She passed away in 2011, not having seen the completed film- but her sassy nature and independent outlook on the role of women in the film industry come through loud and clear despite her advanced age.
The film is peppered with relevant film clips throughout and countless other prominent talking heads. The movie has set off a bit of a firestorm in the film industry because of its outright advocacy for the position that casting directors should receive recognition from the Academy at Oscar time. (It is the only single-card credit in the film industry to not have an Oscar category.) Clearly, the filmmakers seen here support such a move but there are some exceptions. Oscar winning director Taylor Hackford, who is President of the Directors Guild of America, vehemently argues against Academy recognition for casting directors because they are not really "directing" anything and that the final casting decisions always rest with the director themselves. Others argue that this in an invalid justification for his position because, in the end, every aspect of a movie needs the director's approval...so why give Oscars for editing, cinematography, costumes, etc? The film points out that casting directors are recognized by the Emmys so there is precedence for this idea. Yet, as far back as 1991, esteemed actors and directors pleaded with the Academy to at least grant a special Oscar to Marion Dougherty, but their efforts failed. As for Ms. Dougherty, she was elevated to VP levels at major studios only to be fired for the crime of having aged in a business in which seniority is frowned up. Other veteran casting directors lament the present state of the industry, saying that too many roles are awarded to flash-in-the-pan celebrities who are ill-suited to play the parts. There are exceptions, of course, and most of them can be found in acclaimed TV series where casting directors are proving to make all the difference when it comes to finding the right actor for the right role.
Casting By is a very unique look at the aspects of the film industry that are not widely discussed and it blows the lid off the dirty little battles that have been going on in terms of trying suppress a key branch of the business from receiving appropriate recognition. No matter where you stand on the subject, you'll be fascinated by this look at film history. The movie is superbly edited by Tom Donahue's wife Jill Schweitzer, who had the unenviable task of culling through 250 interviews with prominent people (only about 50 ended up in the final cut.) The movie is justifiably being touted for a nomination for Best Documentary. It deserves the honor- but one hopes that the criticisms of the very Academy that would make that decision won't render yet another shameless snub, this time because director Donahue has dared to go after some sacred cows.