Movie City Indie Archive for September, 2005

All Shu Qi up: whose Times are these?

The Taipei Times offers a little recondite spice about local movie figures: “The onscreen and offscreen romance between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie while shooting Mr. and Mrs. Smith has been copied Chinese style. Shu Qi (舒淇) and Chang Chen (張震) of Three Times (最好的時光) by Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) reportedly moved in together during the shooting of the film. Both parties denied the rumor, but left a space for maneuver by saying they didn’t rule out the possibility of being together in the future. Gossipmongers view the news as a good example of the tried and tested publicity stunt. But for Hou, at least, it’s a giant step forward as now he knows entertainment gossip can add marketability to even arthouse films.”

Daniel Neman loved it: A History of Violence

Daniel Neman of the Richmond Times Dispatch saw a different A History of Violence than some of us did; he’s irritated to the max by the tasty minimalism. Neman reviews Cronenberg’s sleek stunner as “a cheap movie, cheaply filmed and cheaply made. And the editing leaves a lot to be desired, too… David Cronenberg ought to know better, but it is clear that he is working with too little money and too little script. [This] shows up plainest in the horrendous digital video photography, in which everyone is cast in a sickly light and looks nauseous. [Cinematographer Peter Suschitzky shot on film with a lovely, pale palette.] The problem with the story is clear when we consider all the filler used just to stretch the movie to an hour and a half… Cronenberg does not help matters by shooting the film so deadpan, so quietly, that it seems slow and uninteresting. The calm is punctuated by occasional bursts of violence and the disgusting special effects that follow them, but they don’t help… It is obvious where Cronenberg’s interest picks up, though it is only in a few places. A couple of sex scenes are raunchy, and it is unusual to see raunchy sex among married couples in the movies these days… He clearly revels in the scenes of blood and gore, though each one looks rather like the others… What doesn’t interest him or the writer is the ending. The [ending] feels like it was written by a committee that jettisoned logic and character motivation just for the sake of ending. The filmmakers want it to end, so it ends.” [For the record, Cronenberg has told interviewers, including yr. correspondent, that the final scene was one of his key demands to New Line, which readily acceded to his choice.]

6,500 words of Joss Whedon on Serenity

No quotes pop out at me, but for those so inclined, Oregonian freelancer M. E. Russell transcribes all 67 minutes of his gab-a-thon with Joss Whedon�.

Someday my prints will come: distrib on costs of Masculin Feminin

Upon the Criterion Collection release of Masculin-Feminin, here’s a patch from a Gothamist interview with Bruce Goldstein, partner in distrib Rialto Pictures and repertory director of New York’s indispensable Film Forum. Rialto distributed M/F and Goldstein says, “These prints are very expensive. The prints in a movie theater, like a Loews Cineplex—for example a film like Million Dollar Baby… they’re probably no more than $1500 a print because they mass produce them. They make something like 3000, and the prints are fairly cheap. The print of Masculin Feminin, I don’t mind telling you, is $6000. For a small company, that’s a huge investment. And if you make five prints that’s $30,000. If you make 10 it’s $60,000. Even these new studio restorations, they are not mass-produced. They make one or two. A big studio like Warner Bros. or Sony, they may make like five. The audience is still fairly niche-y. Although now all the studios have arms that deal with classic films, and that’s a great thing.” Of what movies he watches, Goldstein notes, “I watch more movies that I program than I ever did before because my memory of films is fading. And it’s always great to watch movies you haven’t seen in a long time — to see them again with a fresh more sophisticated eye. I do try to watch a lot of old films that I’m programming, but even more than that, I prescreen prints for quality. We send things back all the time.”

Dylan, unbugged: Bob vs. the press in No Direction Home

Greg Mitchell, editor of Editor & Publisher, examines Bob Dylan’s prickly relationship with reporters in Scorsese’s No Direction Home: “Dylan has always had a combative relationship with the media, and wrote one of the most scathing and, arguably, most influential attacks on the press in modern times, “Ballad of Thin Man.” That song holds that memorable refrain: “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?” … The Scorsese film shows plenty of evidence of why Dylan turned off to the press long ago. Along with many of his fans, they just didn’t “get” him… “You don’t sing protest songs anymore,” a reporter asks. “All my songs are protest songs,” Dylan replies evenly. “All I do is protest.”

The Squid finds its Voice: A Whale of a Tale

In the Voice, a week after a cover package touting David Cronenberg as the paper’s historically best-reviewed auteur father, Noam Baumbach, son of former Village Voice reviewer Georgia Brown (and Mr. Jennifer Jason Leigh) is anointed as the best kid on the block for his magnificent short story The Squid and the Whale. Former Voice intern Rob Nelson makes a case for mom’s critical savvy;
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Jim Hoberman offers a long caveat on
why he’s even reviewing the film: “Full disclosure: If I hadn’t liked The Squid and the Whale so much, I might have begged off reviewing. For, while I have only the slightest personal acquaintance with the filmmaker, I do know his brother, his father, and particularly, his mother, former Voice movie critic Georgia Brown. From this privileged position, the movie is, of course, additionally fascinating—albeit not so much for what the filmmaker reveals about his family but how he chooses to represent them. Janet Malcolm opened her infamous screed “The Journalist and the Murderer “by observing that “every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.” But isn’t this true of any writer who takes people’s lives as grist for her mill? I don’t necessarily recognize Baumbach’s actual family in [his movie] but I do recognize the artist’s ruthlessness—and the degree to which he’s been true to their aesthetic family values.” And Jessica Winter listens to Baumbach: “The director grew up in a household of voluble cinephiles. “My dad [Jonathan Baumbach] had been a film critic for the Partisan Review, but when I was younger and not aware of those kinds of things. Then my mom started reviewing around the time I was finishing high school and starting college, and I was so excited—I felt like the family finally had a mouthpiece, that she could write about all the stuff we’d been discussing for all these years. What interested me about my mom’s film criticism was that she really valued an emotional reaction to a movie… I feel that with this movie I learned the value of an emotional approach to filmmaking. I made an emotional movie about intellectuals.”

Your funeral, my reviews: Nick Cave on "dark"

The Age reports from the Aussie premiere of Nick Cave’s The Proposition: “Directed by John Hillcoat, [it’s] set in the 1880s in a fictional town and was shot in Winton in rural Queensland. The Australian western, starring Guy Pearce, Danny Huston, Ray Winstone and Emily Watson, tells the story of three brothers on the run from the law. Reviews have described the film as “dark and bloody”. “Is dark bad?” Cave asked. “It’s a sad film and it’s a violent film and I guess in some respects that’s what I do.” Cave indicated he would be keen to work with Hillcoat again, saying he had already written another script. “We have got another thing up and running But I can’t talk about that. If Johnny wants me to write more for him I will but I’m a musician. This is my kind of other job.”

Below 14th movie humor via Mr. Musto

A two-liner via the VVoice’s Michael Musto: “In a love-apalooza straight out of the art house circuit, MIKE MILLS (Thumbsucker‘s writer-director) is dating MIRANDA JULY (Me and You and Everyone We Know‘s writer-director-star). If there’s a baby, they should name it Angelika IFC Sunshine.”

An exorcism by any other name: pitching Emily Rose

Screenwriter Josh Friedman tells his version of the legendary Emily Rose pitch meeting: ” There’s only one pitch I’ve ever heard of that I wish I would have done. My friends Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose… The movie is based on a true case which occurred in Germany around 1970. While researching another project, Paul and Scott were given an audio tape by a NYC police detective who investigated the occult. When he gave it to them he said: “I don’t even know if I should give this to you. I truly believe playing this tape is dangerous.” And what’s on the tape? THE RECORDING OF THE REAL EMILY ROSE’S EXORCISM FROM 30 YEARS AGO. [This tape] inspired them to write the movie. And it was this tape that helped them sell the project. Because what did they do? …They did what you and I would hope we’d do if we were in their position. They’d take that scary-ass tape from studio to studio and play it for people. The way I understood it went…: Scott and Paul would go into the room, do their pitch, and then pull out the tape recorder and some headphones. One of them would say: “There are those that believe just playing this tape invites darkness into our lives.” Then the curious exec would put on the headphones, thus drowning out all other EARTHLY AND NORMAL noise.Then they’d press play… From what I understand the tape is ABSOLUTELY THE MOST TERRIFYING THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD and consists of a girl DYING while screaming in German at two priests attempting to pull SIX DEMONS from her body. Then Scott and Paul would leave.”

The penguin voyeurs' survival instincts: We huddled together for warmth

The NY Times has a long Paris dispatch on the perils of consorting with penguins: “The long journey to create and sell the film March of the Penguins was as pitiless as the ice-desert migration of the emperor penguins that waddled to cinematic triumph…
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The French company that produced the movie struggled to avoid bankruptcy while the film was being made and confronted near disaster when its 2 cameramen were trapped in a deadly Antarctic blizzard… “I always kept the image in my mind of the long march and the struggle to survive,” said Yves Darondeau, 40, one of three partners in Bonne Pioche. “Like the emperor penguin, we huddled together for warmth. It was extremely difficult, complicated, risky and full of anguish.” … The new-found popularity [of docs] has given filmmakers more confidence about the future, but financing remains elusive. One reason for optimism is the rapid development of new digital movie networks in many countries; they are intended to nurture specialty markets and slash film printing costs – an expense that has long stymied distributors and filmmakers. The networks, supported by a mix of public and private money, basically supply heavily subsidized digital projectors to theaters to entice exhibitors to show documentaries and non-Hollywood fare.” [More tick-and-tock at the link.]
[Publicity photo: Jérôme Maison/Bonne Pioche Productions/Alliance de Production Cinématographique]

Andrew Niccol wields Lord of War

There’s a belated interview with Andrew Niccol about research and politics, over at the Pride, Unprejudiced blog.

Aegean gracefully: the revamped Thessaloniki Film Festival

Athens News’ Angelike Contis reports on the revamped Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the November Greek event considered over the past decade by many observers to be one of Europe’s most important, in a new formation after a spring shake-up.
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At an Athens press conference, new director Despoina Mouzaki (replacing longtime head Michel Demopoulos) described the revamped event as “more condensed.” The important International Competition will continue, along with tributes to South Korea’s Kim Ji Woon (The Quiet Family) and Park Chan-wook (known for his “Vengeance” trilogy), as well as Taiwanese poetic minimalist Hou Hsiao Hsien Japan’s yakuza king Seijun Suzuki. The festival has retained its Balkan Survey, and there will be peeks at the Mexican film tradition and the latest Danish and Irish films. Honorees of those offering masterclasses include Michael Winterbottom, Patrice Chereau, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and production designer Alex McDowell. However, the vital New Horizons section founded by Dimitris Eipides will be replaced by a category called “Independence Days” for films from around the world. At the conference, Contis reports, “It’s a festival of new creators and new creations,” noted Greek-French actor Georges Corraface, the festival’s new president, who replaced Pantelis Voulgaris, who replaced Theo Angelopoulos, all in a matter of months….With regard to local film, Mouzaki (who is also a film producer) said, “A festival can’t solve the problems of a national cinema, but it can showcase talent.” (The dismissed Angeloupolos was out talking to students, Katherimerini reports: “The young filmmakers asked Angelopoulos [about digital and other new formats]. “We see a film through our own eyes, which are our internal gaze… If we manage to communicate, then that is a small miracle. That is the only reason I love movie theaters.” As for the Festival who no longer wanted him, the veteran director says, “I cannot accept the compromise that the Thessaloniki Film School has turned into. In my opinion it is a mistake, caused by the previous and the current governments.” [Photo of the Olympion Theatre interior by Ray Pride.]

Blogging the slog: Levy on the cricketical life

In the Oregonian, cricket Shawn Levy blogs the critical slog, being kind enough to omit meals, daydreams and tummyaches:
What Do You Do For a Living? Part I
So it’s about 5:15 pm on Monday and I’m slowing down a little. Here’s what I’ve done so far today in my capacity as film critic: 1) Written [2] items to run inside of the Living section during the week, one recapping [a] just-concluded… Festival, the other previewing a show… by local filmmakers Bill Daniel and Vanessa Renwick. About 600 words total. 2) Written two full-length film reviews for Friday… The Greatest Game Ever Played and Thumbsucker. About 1400 words total. 3) Began work on my Sunday feature story… About 800 words so far, with another 1500 or so to come. 4) Did planning for… issues of Oct. 7 and 14; answered e-mails and telephone calls from readers, publicists and colleagues; conferred with a couple of editors about the workload for the rest of the week and a few little problems that arose. 5) And, of course, produced a couple of entries for this blog. Right now, I’ve got about a half hour before I need to go across town for a screening of Serenity. I should be home by, I don’t know, 9:30 — on a day when I began writing at about 6:30 And tomorrow is the real crunch day this week….
What Do You Do For a Living? Part II
It’s Tuesday at 4-ish pm. Thus far today, I’ve 1) Finished my Sunday feature story… adding about 1600 words to yesterday’s 800. 2) Written the first half of a review of Serenity for Friday… About 400 words. 3) Transcribed the tapes of two interviews that I conducted back in January at the Sundance Film Festival with the star and director of Thumbsucker.” (I hate transcribing more than any other part of my job and maybe my life: not only is it time-consuming—about 75 minutes to transcribe 25 minutes of tape—but I have to listen to my own donkey voice asking questions in the most idiotic fashion and ignoring obvious follow-ups.) About 1500 words. 4) Seen the new Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. 5) The usual e-mails, phone calls and check-ins with publicists, freelancers, colleagues and editors. In about two hours, I’m off to see another adaptation of a nineteenth century classic, the new Oliver Twist, which was directed by Roman Polanski. Again, pretty much constantly going from 6:30 am to 9:30 pm.
Tomorrow I catch a break, though….”

Agee breaky heart: the life and death of a novelist and cricket

In the Boston Globe, English prof Alan Jacobs recaps the life of screenwriter and film cricket James Agee on the occasion of the publication of 2 volumes of his work in the Library of America, edited by Michael Sragow: “50 years ago… James Agee’s heart stopped in a Manhattan taxicab as he was on the way to a doctor’s office. He was only 44, but had already suffered several heart attacks. Despite his illness, he had managed to all but finish his novel, ”A Death in the Family,” in which he recreated the inner world of a 6-year-old boy whose father dies suddenly, just as Agee’s own had done. The book would be published in 1957; it won the Pulitzer Prize. Even among the remarkable characters of the New York intellectual scene of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, Agee’s energy and charm made him extraordinary. Not even the heart attacks had slowed the pace of his drinking, smoking, talking, or womanizing. Walker Evans, the photographer with whom Agee collaborated as a young man, would remember him as one who’worked in what looked like a rush and a rage, and as one whose ability to win the trust of others was worrying—or would have been, except that for Agee ”human beings were at least possibly immortal and literally sacred souls.” [More nice detail at the link.]

Cronenberg on choices: it's the middle of the winter, are you suicidal?

The Age has a histoire of David Cronenberg: “People are saying, are you feeling the love now for History of Violence, and I say, ‘Yeah,’ and that’s a scary thing, because it could get addictive… I don’t think it’s a good thing, really, for a filmmaker or an artist of any kind to only want to be appreciated or loved. It’s if you start chasing that, then I think you’ve destroyed yourself.” A larger budget, he says, “also meant I was going to get paid, which I wasn’t with Spider, so that was good… But that wouldn’t be enough. There were a lot of projects I could have done which I would have gotten paid for, but they just didn’t interest me. The rule of thumb is, OK, it’s the middle of winter, you’re either shooting or editing it. Are you exhilarated or are you going to be suicidal? If you’re going to be suicidal, don’t do it, because you’re going to have to live with it at least a year and a half, probably two years, so you better love it. You just better be passionate about it.”

Movie City Indie

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin