Monday, July 30, 2012

Pandora's Box

Pandora's Box
seen online via YouTube

I have a comic book which re-interprets the Pandora myth: basically, the "real" Pandora was a prostitute who gets hired by a wealthy Greek landowner in a revenge scheme against his male ex-lover. At the landowner's urging, she marries the ex-lover but cheats on him with his brother (though she doesn't have sex with either of them), sowing dissension between the two and setting them at war with each other as a result. The box element comes in later, through one of Pandora's clients, the poet Hesiod. She tells him the story of the landowner and the brothers while they're in bed. They get caught by his wife and he blames Pandora for tempting him. When he eventually writes her story (re-interpreted into a tale of the gods), he vilifies her, creating the concept of the box containing all the world's evils. The whole thing's actually played up for laughs and it's quite funny.

The underlying message here, as in the original myth, remains the same: women are man's scapegoats for everything bad in the world - which is why I found this a somewhat odd metaphor to use for the silent German film Pandora's Box, since so many men in the story are eager to do just about anything for Louise Brooks' character. She kills her insanely jealous, much older husband, though it could be argued that it was self-defense, given the unusual circumstances, but at her trial she escapes sentencing thanks to a diversion provided by her pals. Talk about devotion! She spends the second half of the film on the run with them, including her husband's son from a previous marriage, who, of course, is in love with her.

This one was melodramatic, but strangely compelling. Brooks keeps the whole thing watchable. She's not what I would call my type - too skinny, for one thing - but she has a certain glamor, a certain presence, accentuated by the clothes she wears and, of course, that Vulcan hairdo of hers. It's easy to see why she became so memorable.

When Norma Desmond says "We didn't need dialogue, we had faces!" in Sunset Boulevard, I didn't fully grasp the depth of her meaning when I first saw it, but now I believe I do. Silent movie stars had to convey their emotions, their character, with their faces - sometimes it was overwrought, but other times, like in Pandora, it's more subtle, and as a result, more magnetic. Many great actors say all the acting is done in the eyes, anyway. Combined with the right camerawork, a certain look can be iconic in a way that you rarely see in "talkies," and certainly less so in modern Hollywood movies, which pummel you into submission with frenetic imagery. No subtlety at all.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Samuel Fuller's 'Pulp Fiction' (1961)

The Great Recasting Blogathon is an event in which post-1965 films are re-cast with pre-1965 actors, hosted by In the Mood and Frankly, My Dear. For a complete listing of participating blogs, visit the links at both sites.

In the spring of 1960, Samuel Fuller was stuck. For a little over a year, he had been working on a screenplay about a middle-aged boxer who agrees to take a dive for a gangster for money, only to double-cross him. Fuller was interested in exploring the world of boxing, but he wasn't satisfied with what he had to that point, and for several months had put the unfinished screenplay on the shelf, returning instead to the script for what would eventually become Underworld USA

Then Fuller received an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival from his friend, writer Romain Gary. Fuller was reluctant to go at first; he was still bitter about the French reaction to his 1957 war film China Gate. However, Gary, the French Consul-General in Los Angeles at the time, claimed to be able to smooth things out with the right people if need be, and ultimately, Fuller agreed, choosing to keep a low profile while in Cannes.

Samuel Fuller
This was the year Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless debuted to a rapturous Cannes audience, and as Fuller watched it, he was amazed to see his influence in this young French director's work - for example, there was a clear visual homage to his Barbara Stanwyck Western Forty Guns. Fuller had heard inklings here and there about a recent resurgence in French cinema, but it wasn't until seeing Godard's film, with its use of hand-held cameras and of course, jump cuts, that he began to feel as if these techniques could be applied in his own work.

A meeting was arranged between the two filmmakers. Godard couldn't have been more excited to meet Fuller, one of his idols, and the two talked for hours. Eventually, Fuller mentioned his boxing screenplay and Godard offered a few suggestions, including the addition of a young female lead. Suddenly re-energized, Fuller brought in Gary to help him with the rewrite, spending an extra week in Cannes holed up in their hotel. Fuller returned to America while Gary remained in Europe.

Rod Steiger
Fuller envisioned Rod Steiger as Butch, his boxer character, ever since seeing him in the title role in Al Capone (1959), and approached him with the current draft of his screenplay. Steiger had been alternating between television and film for much of his career, and was eager for another showcase role on the big screen such as this. With both a leading man and a script - now retitled Pulp Fiction in an homage to his younger years as a pulp novelist - Fuller went to Columbia Pictures to set up a deal to produce and direct.

Fuller set up a screen test for Godard's Breathless star Jean Seberg with an eye towards getting her to play Mia, the moll character Fuller added after his initial conversations with the French filmmaker. Fuller had met her briefly at Cannes and was quite taken by her. Seberg was greatly trepidatious about returning to Hollywood, having struck out in her film debut, Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957) and not faring much better in her subsequent films, hence the move to France. Fuller informed her, however, that the part of Mia was written with her in mind. With Godard's encouragement, Seberg agreed to fly out to LA.

Gary, back in LA by now, also attended the screen test, which Seberg passed with flying colors. She even offered a couple of suggestions for the character which Fuller and Gary readily took to. Gary and Seberg began spending more time together during the production of Pulp, and a relationship formed between the two of them.

Jean Seberg
In Pulp, Mia is the kept girl of Marsellus Wallace, the small-time gangster who gets Butch to take a dive. She has a sub-plot all her own, in which she's watched over by a pair of Wallace's henchmen while Wallace is out of town, but gets excessively drunk at a nightclub and nearly dies. Fuller brought in journeyman actor John Dall, whom he admired from his turn in Gun Crazy, and Brock Peters, who had small but memorable parts in the black musicals Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess, as the henchmen Vincent and Jules.

For the part of Wallace, Fuller had in mind someone tall and imposing. Gary happened to remember the Gregory Peck war film Pork Chop Hill (1959) and seeing the 6'4" Woody Strode in a small part. Fuller liked the suggestion and brought the actor into the cast as well.

Post-production took longer than usual for a Fuller film, mostly due to the editing process, and as a result, he was not able to bring it to Cannes like he had hoped. Godard flew in to look at a rough cut and make a few suggestions here and there. Eventually, Pulp was released in the fall of 1961 to middling reviews. As much as Fuller tried to bring the French New Wave sensibility to his film, the American audiences of the day were less than receptive. The French received it more warmly, though, especially Seberg's performance. It would take another six years before that style would be successfully wedded with American cinema, in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde

Jean-Luc Godard
Fuller's relationship with Godard and the French New Wave would continue, however. Years later he would make cameo appearances in Godard's Pierrot le Fou and Brigitte et Brigitte, directed by another Fuller acolyte, Luc Moullet. Further in life, Fuller would move to France. Gary and Seberg, meanwhile, would get married in 1962 and have a son. He took up directing and made a pair of movies with Seberg, but their relationship grew sour and they divorced in 1970.

Quentin Tarantino's remake in 1994, ironically, did make it to Cannes and won the Palme D'Or as a result. His version is particularly notable, not only for the increased level of violence, but for the addition of the non-linear storytelling format, which has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). Indeed, it is more of a re-imagining than a straight remake (the henchmen Jules and Vincent are expanded upon, for instance), one which Fuller has said is truer to his original vision than his actual product turned out to be, hampered as he was by his attempts to make a French New Wave film.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


from my VHS collection

Maybe if I had grown up in the suburbs, I would've hung out at malls more. As it is, they never meant anything more to me than a place for one-stop shopping. The Queens Center Mall is no different from most indoor malls, and I can probably count the number of things I've bought there on one hand, not counting food. I once worked at a Tower Records which was part of a strip mall out on Long Island - not quite the same thing as an indoor mall. It was across the street from a more traditional indoor mall. I'd go there for lunch. 

The thing about most suburban, big-box, indoor malls that's truly insidious is the way they're usually set up: great big parking lot in front to encourage lots and lots of car traffic and little in the way of a safe place to walk for pedestrians. I remember reading somewhere once that all that parking space is meant to accommodate Christmas shoppers. If true, well, that's some ass-backward thinking.

The mall near where I live is a textbook example. First off, it's right next to a constantly-busy eight-lane highway that you have to be fleet-footed to cross (yes, there is a traffic light; I don't have to play Frogger with the traffic). Because the cars go by so fast on the highway, walking on the sidewalk can be a little unnerving, and indeed, there are always very few pedestrians on the sidewalks. The parking lot is huge. In recent years, they put up a stop sign in this one spot next to a Best Buy to let pedestrians cross the road leading to the main mall entrance, but it hardly provides one with much of a sense of security. And the sidewalk surrounding the mall proper is so small it's ridiculous, especially given the vast swaths of territory allotted to cars. There are buses that go to the mall, but none of them stop close to the main entrance, so when you get off the bus, you're forced to schlep for another five-to-ten minutes all the way to the nearest entrance. Tough noogies if you're carrying shopping bags.

In Columbus, the rise of suburban malls, a symptom of city-killing urban sprawl, led to the decline of the mall in the downtown area, one that was fairly popular for a long time. Recently they tore it down and put up a park. (Here's a City Mouse strip I did about it.) I remember walking around in it once before they took it down. It was eerie. There were empty storefronts almost everywhere, and it had a kind of haunted feel - there should have been people there, but there weren't.

And as for those suburban malls... Once I took a bus to the northern part of town, almost near the county border, just to see this one mall I was curious about. I was let out next to a wide street with cars everywhere and started walking in the direction of the mall, and as I walked, I remember thinking how peculiar it was that I was the only pedestrian around, even though it was the middle of the day. There was no shortage of cars on the street, though. This was when I first began to fully understand the consequences of sprawl. The mall itself was nothing special. I never went back there.

There's also a mall to the east of Columbus which, I have to admit, is really nice. There's the traditional big-box building to one side, but there are also areas that are done up like villages or small towns. The buildings are smaller, there are benches and fountains, the walking space is beautiful, comfortable and pleasing to the eye - and most importantly, it's separate from the parking space. At Christmas time, it's even better. This mall has a movie theater, so I took the bus there often, but I usually found other excuses to go there, such as actual shopping - I bought a jacket there once.

I don't believe malls are inherently bad; it's just the application of them that's the problem, especially when they're a contributing factor in sprawl. When sprawl happens, the population of a city is decentralized and gets spread out further, usually requiring more car travel, which leads to greater dependence on oil, which leads to less self-sustainability. That's a problem we gotta fix.

I passed on seeing Mallrats the first time it came out because I believed all the negative reviews about it. Eventually I bought it on VHS and to my surprise, discovered that I liked it a lot more than I expected, but by that time, I was already sold on Kevin Smith as a filmmaker. (There's your lesson for the day, kids: reviewers can be a guide to evaluating movies, but ultimately, you have to decide for yourself if a given movie's worth seeing or not.) The comic book-related humor helped, of course - strange that a character like Jason Lee's Brodie, presented as a typical geek outsider, can now be considered mainstream. Yes, it's unfortunate that Stan Lee failed to mention Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko when talking about his comics, but I suspect he knows better now. And as for those stupid optical-illusion images, I could never see a sailboat or anything else in them either! I think they were just a scam!

Monday, July 23, 2012


Life goes on. I had wondered for awhile whether or not I had overreacted to refunding my Dark Knight Rises ticket, since the Aurora massacre obviously wasn't stopping other people from seeing it. That in itself didn't surprise me. I was on vacation from my video store job when 9-11 happened, and when I came back, my co-workers told me the video store for the two or three days immediately afterward was packed. Movies are still a means to escape for many people, in spite of everything, and I think it's generally understood that the odds of another shooting happening so soon after the first one are very slim. Not that I believe it'll happen, of course, but I'd still rather wait. In the meantime...

I was gonna see the Singin' in the Rain re-release, but my plans changed, but that's okay - I'd rather read about first-timers Alan and Sarah describing it.

When Ryan did this shtick on Twitter, I thought he was just being funny (and he was). Now I know why he did it. (For the record, I agree with him. Too much nitpicking can be a pain after awhile.)

This was funnier before DKR came out, perhaps, but it's still worth reading. (NOT Aurora-related.)

Page applies her special brand of snark to a rare recent movie, Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer.

She calls herself Caftan Woman. Why? Cuz she wears a caftan, duh. Here she writes about silent short films.

Notable film critic Glenn Kenny on fanboy culture in general and comic book culture in specific.

Proof that the younger generation still cares about classic movies.

This guy does some sweet woodcuts of classic movie stars.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Some men just want to watch the world burn

I bought my ticket for The Dark Knight Rises yesterday, thinking it would be the best way to avoid getting sold out. Today, just a few minutes ago, I had it refunded, something I don't think I've ever done before in my life. I'm not ready to see it. Not today, not this weekend, not for awhile... and if you've seen the news, you know why.

I feel angry. Angry and deeply, deeply disappointed. It's still very early at this point, so we don't know if this was the work of a crazed Bat-fan who'd seen one too many movies (or read too many negative reviews of the film), or a political nut who believes everything Rush Limbaugh tells him, or what, but the result is still the same: what was shaping up to be the biggest celebration in the film world this year is now its greatest catastrophe. And the repercussions from this will be myriad, especially in this, an election year.

Will the Aurora massacre mean no more midnight premieres? Possibly, at least in the short term. My understanding is that the alleged shooter entered the theater through a fire exit, so he likely didn't pay a ticket and tried to enter through the front carrying a gun and tear gas and what not. (Tear gas? Really? Where did he think he was, Vietnam?) The fact remains, though, that this is far from a common occurrence at midnight premieres. It's not like there was a spree of shootings in theaters nationwide last night. That's something to keep in mind for the future, though it certainly would not surprise me if the studios put a temporary moratorium on the practice for awhile.

How will this impact the casual theater-going experience? Here in New York, security's getting beefed up at theaters for this weekend's screenings. Beyond that? The theatrical experience had already taken a beating in recent years - cellphone talkers, texters, screaming babies - and now this. I don't believe Aurora will be the final straw, and neither do others, but you can bet there'll be calls for changes of some sort in the days and weeks to come.

It's tempting to blame the overkill of 21st century pop culture media - the feeding frenzy of hype and marketing that makes everyone cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs over a movie, any movie. But what we all have to try to remember in the weeks to come is that the movies (and pop culture in general) don't create psycho-killers. People like that, whatever bad stuff in their heads causes them to go on a killing rampage was placed there long before the world ever heard of Christopher Nolan or Christian Bale.

I can't think of anything more to say right now. I'll see the movie in a few weeks. Maybe.

The Dark Knight Rises

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

New York, for better or for worse, is my home, the place that shaped who I am, but it's always been difficult for me to be fully attached to it. I'm not one of those types who crow about how it's the greatest city in the world and this and that, though there are, of course, lots of things about this city that are unique and spectacular. Without going into a laundry list of things I hate about it, though (not the point of this post), let me just say that I recognize and appreciate the advantages of living here, but that's still not quite enough for me to embrace it.

I wish it were. When I moved to Columbus, I fully believed it was for good. Circumstances forced me to return to New York, but for a moment, it was possible for me to imagine that Columbus could feel like home one day. Only for a moment, though.

My point is that it's hard (though not impossible) for me to imagine being so devoted to a place that I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, even if I were in danger of losing it. I call New York home, yet I was able to leave it so easily - and would do so again if I had the chance. So "home" must have a different connotation for me. I think perhaps it has to do with self-identity than with a specific location, although in recent years, I've taken it upon myself to re-discover Queens, the part of New York I live in, and as a result, I appreciate it more.

The denizens of "The Bathtub," the fictitious Southern Delta island community in Beasts of the Southern Wild, are threatened by a Hurricane Katrina-like storm, but a small group of them insist on staying and riding it out rather than evacuating to higher ground. These people don't have much to begin with - they live in ramshackle shacks with what looks like the bare minimum amount of modern amenities, yet as we see in the movie, they know how to have a good time and they revel in each other's company. This little world may not seem like much, but for them it's everything, and even in the face of catastrophe, they find a way to adapt, because for them, the alternative - leaving the Bathtub behind - is not an option.

When 9/11 happened, even during the darkest of the early days and weeks, I don't think I ever believed that New York would turn into Belfast or Kosovo - and except for the occasional scare now and then, it hasn't even come close to that. If it did, though, if I honestly believed that staying here was a greater danger than leaving, I feel fairly confident that I'd leave. The hard part would be leaving friends, and possibly family, behind. If spending a year living in another part of the world taught me anything, though, it's that it is possible to have the courage to leave the familiar behind and start over again someplace different.

But that's just me. While the actions of the Bathtub residents strike me as stubborn, even nonsensical on the face of it, Beasts made me understand, to a certain extent, why they choose to stay. No one wants to be forcibly removed from a place they've built their lives around, be it the result of acts of God or acts of man. And even the most dilapidated and run-down of areas can be home for somebody.

I mentioned this before when I wrote about Being Elmo, but it bears repeating: movie theaters in black neighborhoods really need to make more of an effort to screen films like Beasts. One look at the little girl in this movie (who is amazing) and you know all those middle-aged churchgoing women who still have family down home in South Carolina and Mississippi and Alabama will instantly fall in love with her. It's not right that movies like Beasts, Elmo, or Pariah should be limited to the art-house theaters, which - let's be honest - black people do not attend in large numbers. Ava DuVernay and AFFRM have made great strides at changing that, but they can't handle it all - and these days, it's more common to see giant multiplexes devoting a screen or two to an indie film, especially in big cities.

This is a tell-your-friends kinda movie. That's why I'm telling you.

Monday, July 16, 2012


The Cinematic World Tour Blogathon is an event in which participants use the movies to take virtual trips around the world, using settings and moments in movies to inform their writing approach, hosted by All Good Things. This blogathon lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day, so check back periodically at the host site for posts from participating blogs.

seen @ Films on the Green Festival @ Pier 1, Riverside Park, New York, NY

Greetings from Tehran!

An unusual vacation choice? Perhaps, but as an artist, I can't help but be attracted to Iranian architecture and religious iconography and paintings. It's quite beautiful. Unfortunately...

...I had a bit of a problem with my camera. All my photos came out looking similar to this. I hope you'll bear with me.

Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather
seen on TV @ TCM

I think I've talked about this before, but as much as I sincerely love classic movies, and always will, every now and again I'm reminded that they were all made during a period in American history when racial segregation was a normal, accepted practice. Therefore it seems to me that the incremental baby steps Hollywood took to present black people as more than just maids and porters, cheesy though they may be, are worth looking at from a historical perspective.

I have the wonderful Alex to thank for drawing my attention to Stormy Weather, a film which TCM apparently played for the first time ever last week. It's basically one huge showcase for some of the most talented singers and dancers, black or white, in the 20th century. (Story? Where we're going we don't need... story...)

Lena Horne might not be as well remembered a singer as, say, Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald, but she ranks right up there with them, and between this film and Cabin in the Sky, 1943 was an amazing year for her. She got her start at age sixteen, singing in Harlem's famous Cotton Club and hanging out with the likes of Duke Ellington and future Weather co-star Cab Calloway. From there it was on to Broadway and eventually Hollywood, but wouldn't you know it, MGM cut all of her movie scenes before showing them to Southern audiences. Maybe that's why she made Weather at Fox instead.

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was born in 1878, a mere 13 years after the end of the Civil War. His specialty was tap dancing, in particular tapping up and down flights of stairs. He took to tap at the early age of six. In his teens, he worked the vaudeville circuit, and like Horne, played the Cotton Club with Calloway and others before moving to Broadway and eventually Hollywood. In the 1930s, when he wasn't playing butlers, he was often paired with Shirley Temple - four times, in fact. He starred in the all-black production Harlem is Heaven from 1932, allegedly inspired by his life.


Cab Calloway started out studying law before getting his first singing gig in the late 1920s. He would go on to form his own orchestra which toured hotels, theaters and nightclubs nationwide, including, of course, the Cotton Club. Even if you've never seen The Blues Brothers, chances are you've heard the song "Minnie the Moocher"; it was the first jazz record to sell a million copies.

These and so many other black entertainers make up Weather, a movie where they don't have to do too much more than what they do best, and it's fun to watch (at least, whenever those annoying kids in the framing sequence aren't around). The music is mostly jazz/big band material, with elements of Southern blues, and the dancing ranges from tap to ballet - and I agree wholeheartedly with Alex in that the brief sequence from the acrobatic, breathtaking Nicholas Brothers is like nothing you've ever seen before, or will see, I imagine.

It kinda breaks your heart a little to know that all these incredible performers didn't go further in Hollywood, but I'd be willing to bet that they had few regrets. They made their mark with an earlier generation, played on all sorts of stages all around the country and earned the respect of their peers. In a time of segregation, you can't ask for much more than that.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Take This Waltz

Take This Waltz
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

One thing I've never understood about every "cheating" movie I've ever seen - from The Scarlet Letter to Brief Encounter to Fatal Attraction to The Bridge of Madison County and more - is how someone, anyone, can think a sexual relationship with a married party would be worth pursuing. Morality aside, even if the married party is unhappy in their marriage, which is usually the case, is a little bit of hot sex on the side worth the copious amounts of inevitable drama? 

Sure, it happens all the time in real life - some of the greatest romances in Hollywood history were the result of extramarital affairs - but it seems to me like it's asking for trouble more often than not. After all, what guarantee do you have that the married party will definitely leave their spouse? The spouse will likely linger in such a relationship, the elephant in the room you can't avoid, and you can never be truly free as long as they're still around. So what do you do?

If you're in a film noir, you could kill the spouse, but that never works out. There's always a betrayal or a double cross of some sort which you never see coming (even if the audience does). If you're in a horror movie, it won't even matter, because you'll wind up getting killed anyway through nothing more than fate - remember The Rules. No, you have to hope for being in a rom-com, in which a wacky third act climax will lead to some kind of happy resolution in which either (a) you discover you're meant to be together after all, or (b) you have to settle for an alternate pairing with the best friend - depending on whether you're the alpha or beta couple.

There's a married friend I have who, if she wasn't married, I would totally go after, but I have way too much respect for her husband to ever act on my feelings. He's a good guy and he's good for her. I may flirt here and there, but that's as far as it would ever go. In my case, however, it's simple morality at work. I know exactly how I'd feel if another man made a move on my girl.

Still, extramarital affairs always make for great drama, which is why they get made, and that's cool. I can't recall seeing such a movie in which the principals were all young (late 20s) before seeing Take This Waltz, and the more I think about it, the more I feel like it was a bit of an impediment. Writer-director Sarah Polley presents a very mature, very adult kind of story with a married couple who are all lovey-dovey and sickeningly cutesy with each other, like the honeymoon never ended. I wasn't entirely convinced that there was enough of a reason for Michelle Williams to step out on Seth Rogen other than boredom, which makes her seem like a bitch for cheating!

I tried, I really tried to find something about Margot's situation that could make me sympathize with her more, but I couldn't - yet I couldn't get as angry with her as I wanted to, probably because she is Michelle Williams, an actress I absolutely adore and am naturally inclined to like. For one thing, she's not as manipulative as, say, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Nor is she entirely passive. She enters this affair with her eyes open, but she doesn't seem to know what to do with it. She's not after some kind of shared relationship; while she has issues of some kind with her husband, she doesn't demand a divorce, and she doesn't seem guilty enough to want to reconsider her affair, so what's the point really? Thankfully, Sarah Silverman is there to eventually tell her what a bitch she's being, though not after going through some shit herself.

Williams, as usual, makes the whole thing watchable, and in more ways than one this time. Prior to last year's My Week with Marilyn, I had always found her beautiful, attractive, but not... sexy. Not in a Scarlet Johanssen-type of way. I had always thought of hers as a demure, down-to-earth kind of beauty, like Winona Ryder at the same age. Portraying an iconic sex goddess like Marilyn Monroe proved Williams could turn on the heat, but even that didn't prepare me for seeing her in this movie completely full-frontal naked. There's a brief but steamy sex scene near the end, but even before that, there's a shower scene about halfway through that's actually pretty important in a character-developing way.

I totally did not know she was gonna be naked in this movie, and while I certainly can't complain, at the same time she always struck me as the kind of actress who wouldn't do nude scenes. Not sure why; just a feeling. I imagine it's indicative of the level of trust Williams had in Polley - this is only the latter's second film as a director. For what it's worth, most of her nude scenes aren't necessarily prurient. They're like European films in which it's incidental.

I guess I'm finding that my perception of Williams as an actress is continuing to evolve, and that's cool. Like I said, I'm a big fan of hers. I've found the types of films and roles she's taken in the past few years to be exciting and unique. I'm even willing to see her in a big-budget Hollywood genre movie like next year's Oz: The Great and Powerful. I just hope she continues to make good decisions with her roles. Waltz didn't work for me as well as, say, Blue Valentine, but it does seem like part of the continuing path of progression Williams is on as an actress, and I like that much, at least.

(As an aside: I had no idea Toronto was so colorful! The colors in this movie really pop out.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Do You Like Hitchcock?

The Best Hitchcock Films Hitchcock Never Made Blogathon is exactly what it says on the tin. It is hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Classic Becky's Brain Food. For a complete listing of participating blogs, click on the links to either website.

Do You Like Hitchcock?
seen online via Hulu

This past spring, I wrote about Alfred Hitchcock and talked about his early career in England, before he crossed over to America and became a superstar filmmaker. According to IMDB, among the many directors over the years who have cited him as an influence on their work include some of the greatest names in film history: Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, William Friedkin, and Quentin Tarantino. A new film is currently in the works in which Anthony Hopkins will play the master of suspense himself. In the more-than-30 years since his death, Hitchcock remains a giant in the film world.

While many have tried, precious few have come close to capturing that which made Hitchcock special in their films. One prominent director who claims a debt to his work is the Italian filmmaker Dario Argento. The last time I wrote about him here, I didn't go too deeply into his career, which has spanned over forty years. Though he has never been a mainstream success in this country, those who know his work revere him and rank him among the great horror directors.

In Italy, the type of work Argento does is referred to as "giallo," which, like Hitchcock, refers to crime and suspense stories, though in English the word also implies horror. The word literally means yellow, a reference to the European equivalent of cheap horror fiction novels, characterized by yellow covers.

Some have called Argento the Italian Hitchcock, so perhaps it was inevitable that one day he would make a movie called Do You Like Hitchcock? It was an Italian TV movie that came out in 2005, and as a result, it's not as gory as some of his more popular theatrical releases. It's about this peeping-tom film student who witnesses a murder and is convinced that it was inspired by the Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train, in which two strangers conspire to commit murders for each other. The peeping-tom aspect, of course, also brings to mind Rear Window

A movie geek trying to solve a murder naturally brings to mind Scream, in particular the video store scene where Randy tries to examine the killings as if it were all happening in a horror movie, which, of course, it is. Though there is also a video store scene in Hitchcock, this movie is not quite as self-aware as Scream.

Hitchcock screened at the Brussels International Festival of Fantastic Film in 2005, and in an interview afterwards, Argento talked about, among other things, capturing the Hitchcock feel, in particular with the music:
I would like to remind you of something. When Brian De Palma was shooting one of his movies, Bernard Hermann died. Brian was desperately looking for someone that could compose like Hermann; he was mainly a violinist, a great one! [Composer Pino] Donaggio substituted for Hermann and wrote the music for De Palma. Since I wanted to make a film with musical influences from Bernard Hermann, Donaggio was the obvious choice because he was his heir. Pino Donaggio is a great musician and my friend and we worked together. But we don't work together that often because like I said before, I am an unfaithful director [Dario laughs] and I with musicians I feel there is a necessity for changes!

Argento also talked about working in television:
I want to shock the television audience! [Dario laughs] Yes, usually the stories you see on TV are the same, very stupid! Stupid! It is not enough! I want to do something. I come from the movies. I want to show you something! 
I know that despite the limited nudity, this movie is more constrained than Argento's usual fare. I thought it was just okay, but then, the only other Argento-directed film I've seen is Suspiria, so I can't say for sure how much different it is. I wouldn't mind seeing more of his films, though.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Thin Man

The Thin Man
seen on TV @ TCM

Awhile ago, I talked about my drinking habits, such as they are. Basically, I don't drink unless it's a special occasion, like a party. Last week, I was fortunate enough to have attended three different parties, and I drank at all of them, some to greater degree than others. It was what most people at these parties did and was no big deal.

Today, we're more aware of the dangers of drinking to excess, whether it's a celebrity being hauled off to rehab, or PSAs that emphasize having a designated driver.  I believe there was even a recent movie about the guy who founded AA. And this is as it should be. Alcohol is as easy to obtain as a trip to the supermarket or bodega, provided you're of legal age (and sometimes not even then), and it's even easier to abuse.

Back in the day, though, social drinking was looked on with much less of an eye towards responsibility. In watching The Thin Man yesterday, I was surprised to see William Powell's character, Nick Charles, depicted as such an unapologetic lush. I imagine Dashiell Hammett wrote him as such in the original book, but to see it in a movie is another thing.

It didn't spoil my enjoyment of the movie; indeed, it was kinda cool to see such an un-PC character. (One wonders if the remake will handle him the same way.) No, we don't see Nick suffer the painful effects of too much alcohol, but if you want that, you can always see The Lost Weekend, or better yet, The Days of Wine and Roses. This is not that kind of movie, and that's okay. Still, I did find it somewhat surprising. It had been a long time since I had seen The Thin Man and I had forgotten that aspect.

Does anyone else confuse William Powell with Melvyn Douglas, or is it just me? As I watched The Thin Man, I kept wondering whether or not Nick Charles was played by the guy from Ninotchka...

The Thin Man, of course, was one of the earliest Hollywood franchises, spawning a whole bunch of sequels, and in thinking about that now, this seems like an even more extraordinary thing when one considers the kinds of movies that spawn franchises these days. Seriously, can you imagine a franchise being built around a movie like this today - one that values witty dialogue and mature, sophisticated characters, without special effects of any kind?

Says a lot about the way tastes have changed, hasn't it?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Simple Plan

A Simple Plan
first seen in New York

Okay, so here's what I would do if I found a great big bag of money. Actually, scratch that; make it "might" instead of "would." It's one thing to speculate on what we would do in a given situation, another thing altogether when it actually happens, so I probably shouldn't be so sure of myself here. But here's what I like to think could happen if I were faced with the situation proposed in A Simple Plan:

Assuming I found the money, like in the movie, somewhere in the vicinity of where I live, say, a park or a vacant lot, I wouldn't take the money back home with me. I'd stash it someplace that couldn't be traced back to me, someplace that I could access in secret, at any time. I'd go to this place as little as possible, and only at night. I'd wear gloves at all times and wipe away any fingerprints I may have gotten on it initially.

If I found this bag with two other people, also as in the movie - well, actually, that's where the comparisons to the movie begin to break down. I don't have a sad-sack blood brother or an irresponsible, loudmouth friend. I have an older sister, but chances are she'd out-think me on this; indeed, I can see her in the Bill Paxton role more easily than myself!

So for the sake of argument, let's say I found the bag with two friends who I could control to a certain extent. I'd take control of the situation, arguing that the less they knew about where the money is, the safer it would be all around, like Paxton's character tries to do. I'd divide the money three ways, give each of them their share and get us all to agree to never see each other again.

Then, I'd take my share of the money, pay off any and all debts, and move out of town. If I have reason to believe that someone criminal may be looking for this money, it would be imperative for me to not only throw them off the trail, but to protect my loved ones.

Most importantly, I would not spend the money all at once in a big spree. That's something that tends to trip up a lot of people in movies like this; once they have big money, they can't wait to spend it on all the things they've been dreaming of all their lives. By doing so, they attract undue attention to themselves, and the next thing you know, BAM! - either the good guys or the bad guys catch up with them (depending on what kind of movie it is). 

I would spend the money at a slower pace, spread it out over a series of months, perhaps even years, and not make a big deal about it. In fact, I might even go to certain lengths to make myself look poorer than I actually am (not sure how, but given time, I bet I could think of something).

Basically, it would all come down to discretion. Having a lot of money can make people indulge in their worst excesses, especially when they've never had so much money before. It's understandable, but in a situation like this, it's the absolute wrong approach to take. It would make you a target, and in more than one way: if people know you have money, some would try to take advantage of you by hitting you up for some - playing on your sympathy, that sort of thing. People never think about stuff like that in stories like these, and it always comes back to bite them as a result.

In case it wasn't obvious, I love A Simple Plan. It's a fascinating character study with some rock-solid performances, and it's the kind of movie I could happily watch all the time precisely because it invites you to speculate on what you would do if it happened to you.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Star-spangled links

I'm back. Hope you had a better Fourth of July than I did. It wasn't terrible; I just went to a party I didn't like - although on the plus side, it was on the beach, at least. I've got something very special planned for my 500th post, which now looks like it won't be for another month or so at this rate, but it's something I know you're gonna like, so don't miss it! In the meantime...

Alex writes about a unique indie sci-fi film from the 80 called Born in Flames.

Ruth's partner-in-crime Ted writes about roads not taken for several popular films.

I miss old movie theater marquees. And so does Retrospace.

Go Retro is a nice little nostalgia blog that you should totally read. Here Pam writes at length about Steve McQueen.

Here's an interesting piece about how princess stories aren't what they used to be.

Whoopi Goldberg talks about using Kickstarter to fund her directing debut.

This New York Times article sums up many of my misgivings about superhero movies, and to an extent, superhero comics as well.