Movie City Indie Archive for May, 2006

Paul T. Anderson: Note to self

PTA6291.jpgAt “Little Boston News,” Paul Thomas Anderson is “crypto-blogging” the pre-production of his new pic, There Will Be Blood, mostly with uncaptioned photos MobyPaul.jpgof his collaborators, in the office and on the set. There’s also a “note to self” about the voyage that is a film shoot, a passage underlined from a novel not by Sinclair Lewis, source of the movie’s script, but instead drawn from a little ditty popularly known as “Moby Dick.”

My blue haven: The New Yorker &#9829 Nora Ephron

The June 5 New Yorker has some lines to read between as Bewitched auteur Nora Ephron becomes the fulcrum of the issue. First, the 65-year-old scribe-turned-helmer reminisces about her price-stabilized apartment while bragging on her income, and subtly dropping in the name of her mate, Nick Pileggi, twitchthis1682a.jpgwho co-wrote Goodfellas for Scorsese. “When you give up your apartment in New York and move to another city, New York becomes the worst version of itself,” Ephron writes in gentle, only slightly condescending cliché. “Most people who don’t live in New York have no idea that New Yorkers have exactly the same sense of neighborhood that supposedly exists in small-town America.” Coy references to ex-husband Carl Bernstein are followed by mentions of “The man I was seeing, whom I eventually married, managed to tip his way to a lease on a top-floor apartment… My husband, Nick, and I were married there… It was a symbol of family.” The Sony (and Ephron) family are part of a fluff-and-fold profile of Sony chairman and CEO Sir Howard Stringer by Mark Singer. The 63-year-old Stringer, writes Singer, “seems a virtuoso of stealth ambition”—no reference to the failed movie Stealth, surely—and gets modest amounts of revelation from him: “They’d put five movies on [a] list [of 60 great Sony products] and I said, ‘I know two of those movies are going to be awful. So for God’s sake, don’t put ads in the paper saying, ‘Here are sixty great Sony products.’ It’s asking too much.” Singer offers up Bewitched as one of Sony Pictures’ “major disappointments” of 2005, kindly failing to cite Ephron as its director, but also offers testimony to Stringer’s acumen from… Nora Ephron‘s husband: “To this day, I still think of Howard as a journalist, the writer Nicholas Pileggi, who befriended Stringer more than 30 years ago… said. ‘Howard gets the overview. He can drop statistics and he knows the minutiae, but he gets the overview.”

Kicking ash: India huffs at onscreen puffs

Sarah's smoke(c)raypride.jpgIndia’s IBNLive reports that “all movies and TV programmes will be screened to ensure that they don’t contain smoking scenes don’t contain smoking scenes, said Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on World No-Tobacco Day, Wednesday. The Health Ministry and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry have agreed to ban smoking scenes in movies… The ministries will notify the Supreme Court, where the matter is pending, that they have reached a consensus on banning smoking and use of other tobacco products.” A million Indians are estimated to die each year from tobacco use. “A committee would screen every movie and TV programme to filter out smoking scenes. If the committee finds that a smoking scene is necessary from the ”artistic point of view,” then the film would carry an advisory. The actor shown smoking would need to state that smoking its injurious for health. Old movies containing smoking too would have to carry the advisory.”

Hollywood thought: why Poseidon's no Adventure

watery345.jpgIn “Backstory 3,” Poseidon Adventure scripter Stirling Silliphant offers some seafaring experience to Nat Segaloff: “The matter of making the characters [in The Poseidon Adventure] empathetic was not a problem, because I had a simple and central conflict going between Borgnine and Hackman. In their conflict, they exposed their own fears—and therefore their humanity—and as this [affected] several other characters, we inevitably had to see them as facets of ourselves. And how can you go wrong with an actress of the brilliance of Shelly Winters, whose chubby rump has to be pushed upwards, and her face of complaint at such a rude contact; and then when she has to dive and swim a hazardous course underwater in her bloomers and dies in the arms of her husband before than can get to Israel—come on, that’s really snatching candy from a baby.”

Shohei Imamura, 1926-2006

vengeance is mine.jpgBrilliant, contrarian Japanese director Shohei Imamura has died. “Imamura, a pioneer of his country’s New Wave movement, won the Cannes Film Festival’s [Palme d’Or] for The Ballad of Narayama in 1983 and The Eel in 1997,” writes the BBC. Other remarkable movies: Warm Water Under a Red Bridge, Eijanaika and the indelible Vengeance is Mine. “Imamura’s last work formed part of 11’09″01, a compilation of short films about events on 11 September 2001.” Agence France-Press’ Shigemi Sato quotes the great Japanese everyman actor Koji Yakusho, who starred in The Eel and Warm Water, “I feel so sad that we cannot see more Imamura movies that are original and powerful. He was a treasure of Japanese cinema.”[Notes from a retrospective here.]

Czech mate: video-on-demand in Prague

In Czech Business Weekly, a reminder that not every tech or marketing evolution comes from the U S of A: Pavla Kozáková reports on a local experiment in video-on-demand online, profiling Ivo Lukačovič, who may be the Czech Republic’s answer to Mark Cuban.Lukcovic200563.jpgThe Czech Republic’s domestic online portal Seznam.cz is the top search engine rivals, besting even Google. Late in June, “the Seznam.cz portal will launch video-on-demand service Kinomania.cz, where users can for Kč 45 download a copy of a movie… for one day.” [The Beta version is up now.] [T]he company’s strategy is to stay local, adapting innovations for the Czech market, and there are no plans for international expansion for the next five years.” Lukačovič founded Seznam in 1995, after admiring Yahoo. “Despite Internet penetration in the Czech Republic being around 2% at the time, and while mostly students were using the portal, it started making money from advertisements almost overnight… “We’re a very local company and we want to stay as local as possible”… adding that the company’s strategy for the next five years is to take the best services or innovations available and adapt them for local conditions… Seznam, in cooperation with software distributor Alef Nula [launches] Kinomania, and its pilot version, at kinomania.cz, was launched May 17. Based on BitTorrent technology, which is commonly used on peer-to-peer (P2P) sites and allows users to download not only from the original kept on the server but also from other users, the Kinomania project lets clients legally download a film for viewing on a one-day basis.

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Non-Hollywood thoughts: Victor Erice, Abbas Kiarostami

KiarostamiExhibition07.jpgFilm is not only dead but can represent death.” “It’s a funereal art!” Spanish director Victor Erice sighed. “It captures lives. Life disappears, but cinema shows it… When you see a film with an actor who has died, everyone lives again for us spectators, using the same words, doing the same movements as when they were alive.” Abbas Kiarostami, asked “why so many of his films were set in cars, he responded that he likes cars. “I spend at least three-four hours a day in my car. It’s a good place to concentrate and to communicate when you sit side by side with someone, not looking at each other’s eyes; you commune better.” [From an Ekathimerini report from the 2004 Thessaloniki International Film Festival; the photograph by Kiarostami is from here.]

Shunning the cricket and going paperless: Carr construes

In his Monday NY Times column, David Carr offers his take on Hollywood studios showing no love to the lowly film cricket, essentially rehashing dozens of recent recaps, tinycricket.giflikely pegged to the $231.8 million worldwide gross Sony leveraged out of The Da Vinci Code. Carr lists three other successes, When a Stranger Calls, Underworld: Evolution and Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion, that were not available for preview. afoxic204.jpgWhile the dozen movies not shown to critics this year (namechecked in a raft of articles), have partaken of one form of exploitation or another, Carr opines that “Some movies have been labeled critic-proof, but vast swaths of the industry now seem interested in heading to the market without being turned over with a pointy stick.” The shift from newsprint to the Internet is a large part of Carr’s case. “Even among adults, the time-honored practice of perusing large-print ads and then checking the fine print for listings has been replaced by clicking on the Web.” Along with the requisite nod in the general direction of Snakes on a Plane, and a keen appreciation of how the studios are cutting back on their print advertising budgets, here’s the starkest assertion Carr meanders into:

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Unkind cuts: Ed Norton on Fox and Kingdom of Heaven

30yearoldboy3457.gifMike Russell culturepulps Edward Norton, who knows a few things about recut movies. They’re chatting up Down in the Valley but Norton offers up a word or two about the release version of Kingdom of Heaven versus the cut released on DVD last week: “That should have been a much longer movie. If you want an example of fear-based decision-making in Hollywood… You know, Alexander is just this incomprehensible, turgid thing, and Fox looks at it and has the most incredible rationale: “Let’s look at someone else’s failure as the rationale for how we cut our film.” Instead of saying, “We’ve got Ridley Scott and a great script,” they say, “Well, ours can’t be 2 hours 45 minutes long”—which, in the case of Kingdom of Heaven, it really should have been. So they cut it down based on someone else’s failure, and ended up taking a really great director’s film down to a really pale shadow of itself.”

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Potshots at the messenger: another comparison of Al Gore to Adolf Hitler

it23470.jpgWhat’s a nice little documentary about saving the world got to do to get a little respect these days? Think Progress unearths a “leading climate skeptic” makes a direct comparison in the Washington Post magazine between Al Gore and Adolf Hitler. ah2398.jpg“[M]eteorologist Bill Gray – one of the most prominent climate skeptics” writes, bizarrely: “Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews.” Opines the site, “It’s telling that so many of the attacks on Al Gore and his movie are ad hominem, not substantive. There really is no credible scientific rebuttal to An Inconvenient Truth, so people are forced to attack the messenger.” Last week, an ExxonMobil consultant on Fox made a similar comparison, and now it’s in the pages of the Washington Post, no less. What next, geriatric columnists getting damp over Hilary Clinton’s “lemon-yellow pantsuit”? I know, I know. Unthinkable.

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Pride, Unprejudiced today

xmen4.jpgA heavy movie screening day before Memorial Day, so just this post: this week’s Pride, Unprejudiced looks at “The best film to incorporate Leonardo since Hudson Hawk; the mood of The Proposition—”Blood is a central force, blood that binds, blinds, sluices, spatters, gutters, gathers and bakes in the sun that makes alkali of the earth”; a Korean movie with ads “larded with quotes from Ain’t It Cool News’ house torture-phile, Harry Knowles”; and the perfectionism of X-Men: The Last Stand‘s Brett Ratner: “Any other director, honestly, you do thirty takes, I’d be done, I’d be over, I’d be so lost. I’d be frustrated and probably wouldn’t want to do it anymore. I’d just be, y’know, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do. But he’s very specific.”

Lions at the Lionsgate: an analyst says yes, Icahn

onoz_omg2.gifA multitude of emails in various inboxes this morning from “Richard Alan Incorporated Founder and CEO Richard A. Dorfman”‘s publicistas: he has strong opinions about investor Carl Icahn tearing down The House of SAW, after acquiring “4.1 million shares of Lions Gate [sic]Entertainment at a cost of just under $42 million. As a result, Icahn now owns a nearly 4% stake in the last remaining major independent film… and distribution company in the United States.” Specific analysis of Lionsgate’s valuation follows before Dorfman’s esteeming of the company’s many titles. his “Film Library For Dummies” explanation is a sturdy basic read, followed by this: “So, what is Lions Gate [sic] worth? … [I]t’s hard to say for sure other than that it’s going to be worth what the highest bidder is willing to pay for it in an arms length transaction. [We can] get some idea of its value based on [the fund controlled by] George Soros… stanley park.jpgone of the savviest investors in the world [acquiring] the DreamWorks library from Paramount for $900 million… [W]ith just 59 titles, it in no way comes close to having the breadth or depth of the 8,000 titles in Lions Gate’s [sicsic] would have to involve an auction to extract maximum value. This should be possible since there are likely to be plenty of potential bidders, including studios, cable operators and private equity players, all of whom could bid alone or… as part of a consortium. I suspect cable operators in particular will be eager to participate in the bidding since the Lions Gate [sic] library is well positioned to serve as the foundation for one or more new cable channels… “I would not be surprised to see Lions Gate [sic] bring $2 billion or more in a sale, which would translate into a stock price potentially in excess of $16 per share… [T]his conclusion is not based on any rigorous financial analysis. Instead, it reflects a common sense approach that takes into consideration the history and dynamics of recent transactions as well as the current state of the motion picture industry.”

Doyle a la carte: Chris is not dearly on Departed

In his New Yorker review of In the Mood for Love, David Denby averred that Christopher Doyle‘s cinematography abetted “a new form of perversion.” Grady Hendrix discovers a release date for The Departed, Martin Scorsese‘s remake of Infernal Affairs, on which Doyle had a Visual Consultant credit, and also the good old form of constructive Chris-ism on the topic. doyleviet_4957.jpg Hendrix quotes scribe and Light Sleeper mag majordomo, Saul Symonds, who offers up outtakes from a recent interview. “”I find it disappointing if not depressing to see someone of the integrity and scholarship of Marty: 1) apparently not knowing or caring where the original originates from (which I find insulting to our integrity and efforts…when of all the filmmakers in the world Marty is the one who pretends to celebrate excellence and integrity and vision in cinematography; )2) needing to suck box office, or studio, or whoever’s dick he feels he needs to suck…it can’t be for the money…it can’t be for the film (for the reasons above)…it must be just to work…which is mostly my motivation most of the time…but to have something fall into one’s lap because one is supposedly competent in a certain kind of filmmaking is exactly why we are moving on and accountants are making non-subtitled versions of what we do; .3) it makes me very sad to see Marty and so many others genre-fying and gentrifying himself into mediocrity. Granted, mediocre is not just a Western ailment…but it would seem the disease is malign and endemic.” [Early love from Chris to Marty can be found here.]

Baby Dragon Dynasty: Weinsteinco faces East

baby dragon49265.jpgNo word on what it means for the unreleased product from Miramax days such as Tears of the Black Dragon, or the recent acquisition of distrib rights to the Tartan USA Asian-themed catalog, QTpie-eyed237408.jpgbut Weinsteinco’s introduced at Cannes a whole new pile-up of a label they’re dubbing “Dragon Dynasty,” “the dynamic new label under which all The Weinstein Company’s Asian titles will be released,” Forty-three titles come from Fortune Star Entertainment, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation‘s STAR Group, “which owns the world’s largest contemporary Chinese language feature film library,” fifty Shaw Brothers productions, as well as John Woo’s The Killer, Hardboiled, Bullet in the Head, and A Better Tomorrow and A Better Tomorrow 2. And wouncha know? “Quentin Tarantino, who is well recognized for his passionate interest and broad knowledge of Asian cinema, will actively work with the Weinsteins in all aspects of brand development for Dragon Dynasty.” [A slightly edited version of the P.R. is below.]

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Scott-free: A.O. OKs Marie A.

marie.jpgAnd he has fine taste in musique, as he namechecks GO4 in the NYT: “The first sounds you hear in Marie Antoinette are the abrasive guitar chords of the great British post-punk band Gang of Four. The effect may be jarring; this is not the kind of thing you normally associate with the 18th century. But the song turns out to be bracingly apt. The first lines invoke “the problem of leisure/What to do for pleasure,” one of the chief problems the title character will face. And the name of the song is “Natural Is Not in It,” a fitting motto for a film that conjures a world of pure and extravagant artifice.” [Trailer.]

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