Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hard and Soft: The American

I missed The American when it was in theaters. A shame, because I happened to be working near the Ziegfeld at the time, and I kept meaning to head over there after work – but I also kept hearing about how slow and deliberate and meditative it was, and it seemed fairly certain that I would fall asleep if I went. So I kept waiting for the right moment. And then it was gone. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"I Can Bring Everyone Back…”: Spielberg's Fantasies of Reversal

So apparently there’s a Spielberg Blogathon going on, starting today. I just found out about it, and wasn’t planning on writing anything, but then it occurred to me to discuss something I’ve always found intriguing about Spielberg’s films. Plus, it gets me to discuss what is one of the guy’s most underrated films, Empire of the Sun. Specifically, this above scene near the end, in which young Jim (young Christian Bale) finally loses it and begins to think that he can bring his dead Japanese kamikaze friend back to life. As he pumps away at the dead boy’s chest, Jim intones, “I can bring everyone back…everyone…”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Remember, Fabrizio, one can't live without Bertolucci..."

These are interesting times. A fantastic Bernardo Bertolucci retrospective started at MoMA yesterday, and Film Forum  is about to revive The Conformist for a week. So I will hopefully be finding myself in hog-heaven soon, provided I can find some time to actually attend some of these screenings. I'm also hoping to continue writing about some of his films as the retro proceeds. But first, there's some stuff to say.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This is Probably Not the Last Piece I'll Write About 'Inception'

Yes, I need to talk about Inception again. The Blu-Ray/DVD hits shelves this week and I’ve got a piece up at Vulture about some new “revelations” (not really) offered by the film’s home video iteration. And I wrote a lot about it earlier in the summer, when it came out, too. An earlier Vulture piece, "The Hidden Inception Within Inception," in which I offer my take on what might be the real twist at the end of the film, might be one of the most widely read things I’ve ever written. (I also wrote about when to take a bathroom break during the film. Oh, and this piece about how many times each character “dies” in the movie.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's Gonna Be Hard for Me to Keep My Mouth Shut About This Great Gatsby Adaptation

I’m finding it hard to not chime in on this whole Gatsby thing. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Baz Luhrmann is planning a Great Gatsby adaptation with Leonard DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and (probably) Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. And I guess Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, though I’m sure it’ll all change before cameras start rolling late next year or whenever the hell they finally do, if they do. Others have chimed in about how Gatsby adaptations never work properly -- everybody has their own reason why. I am about to share with you mine, but before I do that, I guess I should stick up a bit for the one party in this entire affair who always gets beaten up in these stories: Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby, starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy, and Sam Waterston as Nick, scripted by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by Robert Evans, utilizing the full faith and credit of Paramount Pictures at its dizzying 1970s height. (The original Daisy was going to be Evans’s wife Ali MacGraw, who had recently become a huge star thanks to Love Story; then she made a getaway [har har] with Steve McQueen and, naturally, lost the part.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why Clint Matters

Several weeks ago I wrote this snarky little piece for Vulture, creating a pseudo-mathematical formula that predicts whether a Clint Eastwood-directed film will be any good or not. It was fun to do, a lot of people read it, and I got a lot of good feedback about it, so I don’t regret writing it. (I also think that, as far as the breakdown of Clint’s films goes, it’s mostly accurate, especially near the top.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Things Not to Say to Dino De Laurentiis

The death of Dino De Laurentiis reminds me of many things, but my favorite has got to be this story about his attempt to collaborate on a film version of The Bible with the great Robert Bresson. The story comes via Bernardo Bertolucci (who himself knows a thing or two about domineering producers), who relates it in the Cinematheque Ontario’s monograph on Bresson, and concerns an encounter in the mid-60s. It’s actually more of a Bresson story than a De Laurentiis story (and it may also, for all I know, be apocryphal), but I still have to share it:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“The Men Died Splendidly”: Some Thoughts on Paths of Glory

“You've spoiled the keenness of your mind by wallowing in sentimentality.”
– Gen. Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) to Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas)

Paths of Glory, which debuted as an amazing-looking Criterion DVD/Blu-ray a couple of weeks ago, is one Stanley Kubrick film that even those sad few who don’t like Stanley Kubrick films can get behind. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the one most often cited is that Paths represents one of Kubrick’s more humanistic films, as opposed to allegedly cold (and to some even misanthropic or sadistic) works like 2001: A Space Odyssey or A Clockwork Orange. “Humanistic” is a loaded word, of course, but it certainly applies to Paths: It’d be hard for someone who believes Kubrick’s work to be cold to really say the same for this film, since it’s got some of the most emotionally wrenching scenes ever committed to celluloid.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why Is This Man Smiling?

Charlie Chaplin’s in the air these days – a Chaplin at Keystone DVD set just came out, a Modern Times Criterion is impending, and the retro that hit Film Forum this Summer is now at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, prompting this overview piece from yours truly. It kind of came together fairly quickly (the article, not the retro), and I wasn’t able to watch all of the films again, so forgive me if I made any silly mistakes. None of that should detract from my main point, which is that these movies are awesome, and residents of Nashville (and anyone else with a DVD player, really) should do whatever they can to see them (again, if necessary).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Some Recycled Thoughts on Bertolucci's "Luna" (R.I.P. Jill Clayburgh)

The passing of the great Jill Clayburgh prompted me to think back to what I consider to be her best film, Bernardo Bertolucci's much-maligned, little-seen Luna. I wrote about it some years ago, for a "Forgotten Films" series I did back when I was writing and editing Nerve's film blog The Screengrab. That blog isn't around anymore, and its archive doesn't seem to go too far back, so I hope they won't mind my repurposing my entry on Luna for this purpose. In truth, my piece is not so much about Clayburgh's (excellent) performance as it is about the film itself: But, well, there you go.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is This the Moment Modern Action Movies Were Born?

When Criterion’s new Blu-Ray of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai arrived the other day, shivers went up and down my spine as usual; we all have those films, the ones that have an immediate effect on us at the very mention of their name. In the case of Kurosawa’s film, this has to do with more than just its innate awesomeness (though said awesomeness is, in fact, considerable). Check out the above stills, taken from Adam Low’s 2001 documentary Kurosawa, in which the director’s long-time script supervisor and assistant Teruyo Nogami shows us her script for the film, its pages having been battered back in the day by relentless wind and rain and mud, the whole thing now looking like some ancient scroll. In other words, there’s something heroic about the film’s very existence, in the idea of Kurosawa and his cast and crew out there shooting for more than a year, running catastrophically over budget, braving the elements, and coming back with, well, Seven Samurai.

Much has been written about Seven Samurai, and much will continue to be. (Somewhat paradoxically, when I tackled Kurosawa’s oeuvre in two separate pieces earlier this year, I didn’t dwell much on it, despite the fact that it’s my favorite and probably his best-known film.) It’s hard to overstate the film’s importance, but it’s also the case that words don’t quite do it justice. The thing I keep coming back to is this scene right here, occurring less than half an hour into its 206-minute running time. It’s far from the most important or poignant or powerful or exciting scene in the film, but I’ve always found it hard to shake. Here’s the setup: A bandit has taken a young child hostage in a small shack. The film’s head bad-ass Kambei (Takashi Shimura), comes to help. And, well, you’ll see what happens.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Uncle Ingmar and Me

I suppose I should preface this by saying that this post does eventually wind its way towards a discussion of The Magician, now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. But before I get there, here are some rambling, mildly personal observations about my complicated relationship with the cinema of one Ingmar Bergman.

I saw my first Ingmar Bergman film so long ago that I don’t actually remember when I saw my first Ingmar Bergman film. Somewhere in the haze of movies I saw before the age of nine or so, I remember the one about the guy playing chess with Death; it’s even possible I saw it in Turkey, which would mean it was sometime before I was seven. I also watched Fanny and Alexander with my parents around the time it came out in the U.S. – so I must have seen it not too long after I made one of said parents stand in line for tickets the morning Return of the Jedi came out. (I should note, however, that I remember almost nothing of that Fanny and Alexander viewing, and I still remember every second of that Return of the Jedi viewing. I had my priorities straight.)

Flash forward a few years. Around the time my parents were splitting up, my mom developed a brief obsession with Bergman. I was 14 or 15, and, having become seriously possessed by the film bug, I welcomed this turn of events. So, we’d go to the video store and rent stuff like The Silence and The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries; I was also spending a lot of time in used bookstores, so I’d find books on Bergman for her (sample title: The Silence of God). It sounds vaguely pathetic, but it was actually a lot of fun. I don’t know to what extent the break-up affected mom’s movie viewing decisions at this time, though; my parents have always been film buffs and she’d seen plenty of Bergman films in her earlier years, so this wasn’t some weird psychological left turn. (There’s a difference between watching a Bergman movie and actually living in a Bergman movie.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Talking to "Let Me In" and "Cloverfield" Director Matt Reeves

I guess Jeff Wells and I have at least one thing in common, which is that we are both willing to try and help the awesome-but-financially struggling Let Me In stay alive in theaters a wee bit longer.  So, to that end, here is an interview I did with the film's director Matt Reeves about a month ago, originally for Vulture. Because we wound up running the slideshow of Reeves's favorite movie kills instead, the Q&A part itself wound up getting nuked. So, I'm running it here. Reeves was a fun guy to talk to -- "enthusiastic" is the word that comes to mind -- and I hope some of his energy comes through. Enjoy.

As the understated horror of Let Me In slowly builds and builds, it’s hard to think that the guy who made it is also the guy who directed the hand-held video-camera monster flick Cloverfield, about as hectic and in-your-face a movie as Hollywood has produced in recent years. And director Matt Reeves will freely admit that his latest, a remake of the hit Swedish adolescent vampire thriller Let the Right One In, is a lot closer to his preferred style than his 2008 J.J. Abrams-produced monster hit. Tell that, though, to the legions of fans of the original Swedish film, who are biting their nails in fear, anticipation, and in many cases anger over the fact that an American remake even exists, let alone one made by the Cloverfield guy. But Reeves’s Let Me In remains strikingly faithful to Let the Right One In’s grim, deliberate mood. It also manages to be heartbreaking in its own right – a horror movie that’s more about the painful longings and alienation of adolescence rather than intense kill scenes (though Let Me In definitely has a few of those as well). Reeves spoke to us recently about how he wound up making the movie, about his fears of doing a remake, and working with his remarkably talented young cast.

A lot of people were upset about the idea of an American remake of Let the Right One In. Did you ever have second thoughts?

Yes. Initially, all my better instincts were saying, “Don’t do this movie,” mainly because I loved the film so much. At the same time, it wouldn’t let me go.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Knock Knock: On Letting the Right “Me” In

People who know me already know that I really, really like Matt Reeves’s Let Me In, his somewhat Americanized remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, the Swedish adolescent vampire phenomenon from a couple of years ago. And I think a lot of other people will like it, too. There’s been a bit of an uproar over the past year or so, courtesy of fans of the original who dread the thought of Hollywood getting its grubby paws on such a distinctive and daring film. I think that once people see Let Me In, they’ll realize that their fears were misplaced. Reeves remains remarkably faithful to the original’s tone and style – indeed, some scenes seem to be almost identical.

That, of course, brings up a different concern: At what point does a remake become unnecessary? If Let Me In is going to be that faithful to the original, does it not undermine the case for its own existence to some extent? The answer to that is, for me, “No,” but more because Let Me In is actually quite different from the original in a couple of interesting ways, which I’ll get into below.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Noe Exit: Enter the Void

When I first saw Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void at Sundance earlier this year, I actually emailed someone immediately afterwards: “This is the greatest [expletive] movie I’ve ever seen.” (The message may have been all-caps; I choose not to remember.) I knew at the time that I was overstating the case a bit, but I can confidently say that the rush of seeing the film didn’t wear off for weeks afterwards. Anyway, it may not be the greatest film ever made, but it is still my favorite film of the year, and will probably be my favorite film of last year as well, once this year’s round of Top Ten Listing is over and it takes its rightful place among 2009 releases (which is when it actually premiered at Cannes).

So, you should see it. And you should also read my interview with Noe, now up on Vulture. I wish I could write more about this film, but the simple truth of the matter is that I don’t think I could do it justice after one viewing, especially one eight months ago. So, maybe I should see it again, too. In the meantime, I have two items to share:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Conservative Movies. Sort of.

I recently wrote a piece for Vulture about whether we need more (and better) right-wing movies. (Short summary: Yes, mainly because liberal movies need a good kick in the pants to make them better.) It was pegged specifically to the news of an “upcoming” Ronald Reagan biopic, but it had been percolating in my mind for some time. (BTW, I put “upcoming” in quotes because it currently has no directors or actors attached, and biopics of political figures have a notorious tendency to not happen – see also the Lincoln biopic, the Ataturk biopic, etc.)

It was a tough piece to write on some level, because it’s obviously hard to define what a “right-wing” film actually is. I cite things like Missing in Action and Red Dawn and Rambo, but of course those are specifically action movies – comparing them to, say, Goodnight and Good Luck doesn’t quite feel right. Some extracurricular discussion about what constitutes a serious right-wing film yielded The Lives of Others as an example – a fine film that many conservatives embrace, but in the post-Cold War era, skewering the East German police state doesn’t quite have the bite that it might have had in the 1970s and 80s. (Though, it must be noted that The Lives of Others did prompt some controversy in Germany, with many on the Left disputing its claims.)