Friday, June 29, 2012

This is Not a Prometheus Thinkpiece

I’m enjoying reading all these Prometheus thinkpieces. (Indiewire collected some of the more notable ones here.) In a way, I’m getting more out of those pieces than I did out of Prometheus itself. Not to say I didn't like the film -- I did. But going in I was told to expect a Big Idea movie, that if I went in anticipating an Alien flick I might be let down – the way that had I gone into Blade Runner expecting a kick-ass Harrison Ford sci-fi movie, say, I might have been similarly disappointed 30 years ago. That the last thing I should expect from Prometheus was Alien 5. Except that what Prometheus presented me with was exactly that. And not in a bad way.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Men on the Bridge: An Interview with Asli Ozge

I first met Asli Ozge when we both showed our debut features at the Istanbul Film Festival in 2003. Since then Ozge has become one of Turkish cinema’s brightest young stars. Her award-winning film Koprudekiler (Men on the Bridge) is currently playing MoMA, after an intensely successful run on the international festival circuit and distribution around the world. It’s a remarkable hybrid of documentary and narrative, following the lives of several men who work on a bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul. We seem them both in their work and in their private lives – creating an intoxicatingly intimate atmosphere that nevertheless has broader resonances. Because, ultimately, we’re watching not just three men’s lives on one bridge, but an entire nation’s in-between existence -- one perched between East and West. Ozge was in town recently, and I sat down with her to discuss her new film, her unique method of working, and the Turkish film landscape in general.

Friday, June 22, 2012

When the Vampire Hunter Becomes the Vampire Hunted

From "Young Mr. Lincoln"

There is apparently a bit of a mini-debate going on about whether it's morally appropriate to make a movie in which Abraham Lincoln is cast as a remorseless hunter of the undead and in which the vampires aren't just vampires but very specifically Southern slave-trading vampires. Anyway, I didn't get into all that in my mixed-review of the film for Vulture, in part because I don't really have a moral compass, or for that matter even a moral sundial.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Plenty of better, smarter writers than I will have enough to say about the legacy of the now-late Andrew Sarris. (Here are Andrew O’Hehir at Salon and David Edelstein at Vulture, and David Poland at Movie City News. And Peter Labuza over at his blog, with a lovely anecdote. Oh, and the Times obit is pretty good, too.) For my part, I can note that, for all the times I’ve (literally) thrown The American Cinema across the room in frustration, I‘ve always picked it back up to check and see what Sarris had to say about the next filmmaker. (“John Sturges as ‘Strained Seriousness’? Screw this guy! Okay, what does he have to say about Robert Mulligan?”) Others have noted his erudition and generosity as a writer, as well as his willingness to change his mind. O’Hehir’s piece mentions Sarris’s famous change of heart on 2001: A Space Odyssey.*

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Woman in the Fifth: Literary Uncertainty

Pawel Pawlikowski’s The Woman in the Fifth is the kind of movie whose flaws might actually be an offshoot of its director’s talent. Pawlikowski tends to make touching mood pieces about loss and regret, but this film sets itself up as something of a thriller. Ethan Hawke plays Tom Ricks, a writer who is visiting Paris to be with his family. But he’s very quickly turned away by his wife, who does not want him anywhere near her or their daughter. (“Can we just talk like normal people?” he asks his wife. “You’re not normal,” she says and calls the cops.) There are some indications that he’s been in a hospital, or a prison. Robbed of his suitcase and money, Tom finagles himself into a room in a seedy bar-hotel. In exchange, he takes a somewhat thankless, no-questions-asked job where he has to sit behind a desk in a nondescript building and let in various shady looking characters who utter a cryptic password.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Extraterrestrial: Keep Watching the Lies

Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial is itself something of a foreign object from space: An ostensible sci-fi movie about an alien invasion that turns out to be, instead, a romantic comedy. Except that such a description does it no real justice. The sci-fi element is so incidental that even to mention it might set up unmet expectations. Vigalondo seems to specialize in this sort of bait and switch, though, as evidenced by his masterful previous film, Timecrimes. (For a fun chat with him, read my pal Simon Abrams’s interview here.) And Extraterrestrial, while very funny, is ultimately about a subject so deeply serious – the human capacity for love and deceit – that to call it a comedy doesn’t really feel right. It’s somewhere between a bedroom farce and a Biblical epic, with lies as its currency. Do I have your attention yet?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Colossus of New York: Fathers and Sons

Sometime when I was 9 or 10, I developed a brief obsession with Eugene Lourie’s The Colossus of New York. That may not sound so odd now, but it was quite odd at the time; I wasn’t particularly into schlocky sci-fi movies as a kid (though I did once watch Revenge of the Creature so I could catch a glimpse of young Clint Eastwood). For some reason, I’d seen a magazine article (possibly in Starlog) that featured a still from Colossus, and the image stuck with me. Soon enough, the film showed up on TV. I recorded it and basically couldn’t stop watching it for a few weeks. And then, I did stop. And I didn’t really think about the movie again* until recently, when a new, very nice-looking Blu-Ray of it arrived from Olive Films.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How They Move

From John Wayne's America, by Garry Wills:

"How an actor moves is obviously important in what are, after all, motion pictures -- but surprisingly little criticism has focused on this essential aspect of performance. Virginia Wright Wexman applied "kinesics" to Humphrey Bogart's body language -- more languorous as a Chandler hero, more nervous as a Hammett one. And perceptive critics have noticed the grace of particular performers. Graham Greene said that Cagney danced his gangster parts "on his light hoofer's feet, with his quick nervous hands." David Thomson saw signs of Burt Lancaster's acrobatic training in the way he moved. Alan Ladd liked to run in little cat-crouches, turning his low stature into a slithery form of energy. Henry Fonda had a stiff storklike walk that set him against the flow of things around him -- a sign of integrity in Young Mr. Lincoln or The Grapes of Wrath, of martinet irresponsiveness in Fort Apache, of detached inhumanity in Once Upon a Time in the West. What gives the dance in Ford's My Darling Clementine its impact is the way the rigid Fonda becomes more flexible. Cary Grant was trained as an acrobat, like Lancaster, and he can do more with less motion than any other screen actor. This is because of the way he angles his head away from what he is doing, as if it were a detached thing carried at a careful remove from what his limbs and torso are up to. (Buster Keaton has the same knack in his knockabout comedies.)"