Movie City Indie Archive for December, 2006

Playing myself: Ben Sliney on United 93

Ben Sliney, FAA National Operations Manager on 9/11, tells the Guardian about playing himself in United 93. waiting.jpg “he way it happened was a surprise. I shot a 15-minute scene as a New York centre supervisor and they asked me to stick around as an adviser for the “Ben Sliney” scenes. All day Tuesday and Wednesday they shot with an actor, and then on Thursday morning I got a note under my door asking if I’d bring my suit and tie to the set. I never saw the actor again. It’s really not hard to play yourself… The camera doesn’t make me nervous. The subject matter wasn’t terrific – I wasn’t keen on reliving all that stuff – but it wasn’t difficult. The stimuli were presented chronologically to me and I had to react as I did on the day. There was no script, so I just had to improvise. The biggest problem on September 11 was that we weren’t prepared. If the film shows us looking perplexed or confused or trying to work out what was going on, then it’s because that’s what happened. At least three of the people in those scenes were with me on that day. The others were air traffic controllers from Boston and New York. There’s only one actor in that scene… I think there’s a good slice of reality here. I had many people saying to me they were glad to be air traffic controllers, and I was, too.” [Also: Julian Fellowes on what it’s like to win an Oscar and Mat Snow on why it’s great to have Nick Cave write a song about you called “Scum.”]

Spike Lee adds two hours to When the Levees Broke

A four-minute interview from CNN’s “This Morning.”

The green bunny: PayPal sez no to Gallo

107.jpgNY Post reports that PayPal’s pulled the plug on VIncent Gallo‘s latest offering. While his website has used PayPal to peddle memorabilia including records, magazines and posters, recent “offerings” as a male escort and sperm donor led to their cancellation. “Vincent offers an intimate evening in his company with any “naturally born female”… for $50,000 plus expenses, or a full weekend for $100,000. The cost of having Vincent’s baby is considerably larger at the princely sum of one million dollars… A representative for PayPal cited the company’s “policy against facilitating meetings for sexually oriented activities,” as their reason for terminating the account.” Vinnie? “They are really fascists. They should breathe some death gas or something,” NY Post claims he calumnied. “For them to say they have some sort of moral regard for their clients is incredible – they’re a penny-pinching, conniving company.” [The details of Gallo’s love-you-long-time offering are here.]

…as in olden days…

The Good Shepherd (2006, ****)

A WASP GODFATHER, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, directed with restraint by Robert De Niro from Eric Roth’s brilliant screenplay about the origins of modern spycraft, has a patience and command that accrues to a devastating conclusion. goodsherbert_32.jpg Drawing on a range of notorious incidents involving American spies, such as a Russian interrogation subject being given LSD as a truth serum, but primarily working in roman-a-clef territory, basing the story’s Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) on OSS man-turned-architect of CIA, James Jesus Angleton. Explicit also is the influence of Yale and its Skull & Crossbones secret society, to which George H. W. Bush and William F. Buckley, both later CIA agents; Henry Luce, George W. Bush, members of the Heinz family and John Kerry are also Bonesmen. (There’s a knowing subplot involving Nazi sympathizers that coincides with members who had companies confiscated in World World II for trading with the enemy.) Working in the density of the best spy novels, and criss-crossing almost twenty-five years of history, encompassing World War II, the reconstruction fo Europe and 1961’s Bay of Pigs fiasco, Roth is comfortable in LeCarre territory, and Damon’s performance is worthy of comparison to those of Alec Guinness in similar roles. While the near-autistic reserve of Wilson’s intent powers of observation may put off some viewers—Damon, often shielded behind large horn-rims, is playing the most passive of characters—yet the power of the central dilemma grows from the analysis of how power can emanate more from concealment than display. While he’s a star-crossed double in The Departed, in The Good Shepherd he is the cipher who will kill you withou hesitation. DeNiro’s film might have gained from a different approach to momentum as the picture moves past its second hour, but it’s still a fascinating, fully inhabited world, weaving a vision or our own and never descending to mere conspiracy theory. With John Turturro, William Hurt, Angelina Jolie, Michael Gambon, Billy Crudup, Timothy Hutton, Joe Pesci, the great Alec Baldwin and De Niro. Nicely designed by Jeannine Oppewall, shot by Robert Richardson (JFK); inventively scored by Marcelo Zarvos and Bruce Fowler. [Ray Pride]

Woo-woo Tang: China aGong at Li's bosom

curses!_573.jpgBBC reports that Gong Li‘s cleavage is the buzz of Beijing upon the opening weekend of Curse of the Golden Flower, Zhang Yimou‘s $45 million Tang Dynasty melodrama, which grossed a record-shattering 96 million yuan ($12,282,497). Mother Beeb clucks that Chinese bloggers are calling the movie Curse of the Golden Corset. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, pants thusly: “The most eye-popping role is played by Gong Li, the empress, whose breasts are so tightly wrapped that they appear ready to pop out of her costume.” “With costumes like that, you’d think China was more liberal than America,” said one unnamed web user. Another: “What I remember is not the fighting scenes or the acting, but the shiny white flesh.”

Cassandra's Dream: As a boy, Philip Glass was fascinated by ants

pg_contrary_2.jpgThere’s a buncha quotes on the eve of Woody Allen‘s Film Forum retro from New Yorkers mad about the boy born Konigsberg at The Reeler; consider Harvey Weinstein, Manohla Dargis, Phil Morrison, Ryan Fleck and Barbara Kopple, as well as Philip Glass, who emits the no-longer-secret title of Woody Allen Spring 2007: “I recently had the opportunity and pleasure of working with Woody Allen, scoring his new film, Cassandra’s Dream. Though I have been living in New York for 50 years, we had not met until now. I found him to be an excellent and sympathetic collaborator. He is clearly a master filmmaker, and though he knows what he wants in his film work, he was open to my suggestions and urged me to make my own contribution. This is a man who is completely sure of his art and sure of himself.”

Honeydripper: an instrument about to take over

At Emerging Pictures, producer Maggie Renzi starts a distribution blog: “We did it. John Sayles and I—SAYLES1.JPGalong with a crew of about 100 and the usual giant Sayles ensemble, plus 400 Alabama extras—just wrapped Honeydripper. It’s John’s sixteenth feature and my thirteenth. Lucky 13th, I think. We filmed it all on location in Alabama, based out of Greenville. Editing room opens in our garage… Jan 8. And I’m damned if after all this work we’re going to see another movie sacrificed to the Petty God of Bad Distribution. We’re working with Emerging Pictures to see if we can reach these two simple goals: see the movie reach its audiences, and see the filmmakers pocket the profits.” EARLIER: “Honeydripper takes place in a small, cotton-producing community in the 1950s, just before the outbreak of the Korean War, the title referring “to a struggling roadhouse owned by an aging piano player played by Danny Glover.” Glover’s character hires a young musician with an electric guitar he made himself. “It’s set right in 1950, when Ike Turner and Chuck Berry and those guys were starting to discover the electric guitar,” Sayles says. “That instrument, which had been in the background, is about to take over.” Honeydripper was inspired by the story “Keeping Time,” from Sayles’ short story collection, “Dillinger in Hollywood.”

Lucasphlegm Limited: the 5-minute Star Wars Holiday Special

Yes, this is why teh Internets were invented. (The 6-hour setting on VHS, too.)

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Artcatcher: Lynne Ramsay profiled

The Guardian surveys terrific Scots filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. Who’d play her in a movie of her life? “Jimmy Stewart, alternating with Dennis Hopper. Why does it necessarily have to be a woman? Also, I have a split personality: Jimmy is my good guy and Dennis is my demon” is among her memorable answers to Natalie Hanman. morvern-callar-270x210.jpg Ramsay cites three major influences, plus what she’s been up to. “Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren; Blue Velvet by David Lynch; and Fear Eats the Soul by Fassbinder… Hidden by Michael Haneke was the last film I saw that really affected me. Walking in the hills in Scotland, examining the funghi, is all I’ve been doing for the past three months, apart from writing.” These days, she says, “It’s harder to make bold, interesting, challenging and exciting work. Long live YouTube: one place where art is free, and all the ad creatives scour it to rip shit off.” [More coolness at said link.]

Pursuing Happyness: Chris Gardner, Chicago 2000

Videographer Len Davis, who worked for Chicago’s ambitious CITY2000 chronicle project, made a short video of a businessman in a cab talking about having been homeless, and how hard it is for a black man to get a cab in America. The man’s name? Chris Gardner, who is played by Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness. The true-life Mr. Gardner displays a slightly higher amount of race awareness than as portrayed by Mr. Smith. If you want to sample another Davis CITY2000 bit, how about Dead Cop in Trunk? [The Gardner clip contains profanity and other strong language.]

Crickets' Greatest generation? Koehler admires

Estimable cricket Robert Koehler surveys the elders of the tribe for Variety, suggesting that we are in the waning days of film crickets’ “greatest generation”. “While many still produce at a level that tinycricket.gif would put younger colleagues to shame, an elder generation of film critics that has held a powerful influence in the field is gradually, very gradually, passing from the international film scene.” Among those surveyed for whom “age seems to provide no barrier for critics with intellectual energy to burn”: WSJ cricket Joe Morgenstern (reviewing since 1959); in Japan, Shigehiko Hasumi (70), and Donald Richie (82); Brazil’s Jose Carlos Avellar; from France, Raymond Bellour, Michel Ciment (78), from the US, Roger Ebert (64), Molly Haskell (67), 50-year New Republic stalwart Stanley Kauffmann (91 in April), Italy’s Tullio Kezich (78), as well as Andrew Sarris (78) and Canada’s Robin Wood (76 in February), and living on the Internet, Jonathan Rosenbaum (64). [Koehler’s greatest heights at the link.]

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It's a Wonderful Counter-History: capsizing Capra

With Christmas and Christmas classics just around the corner, two takes on It’s a Wonderful Life. First, ever-pessimistic “The Long Emergency” author Jim Kunstler, at his “Clusterfuck Nation” blog, muses on “the fact that things sometimes end up the opposite of the way we expect.” _life_576.jpg It’s a Wonderful Life, he writes, is “a splendid, heartwarming movie in many ways… It was released a year after the awful ordeal of World War [II] ended, which itself had followed the decade-long tribulation of the Great Depression. America was weary but victorious. Democracy and decency had triumphed over manifest evil, but the memory of all that hardship lingered on. [But] the main business of Bailey Building and Loan was financing the first new suburban subdivisions of the automobile age. In one of the movie’s major set pieces, George Bailey opens Bailey Park, a tract of car-dependent cookie-cutter bungalows, and turns over the keys to the first house to the Italian immigrant Martini family. Had the story continued beyond 1946 into, say, the 1980s… we would have seen the American landscape ravaged by suburban development, and the main street towns like Bedford Falls gutted and left for dead. That was the perverse outcome of George Bailey’s good intentions. We also would have witnessed the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 1980s, when changes in federal regulation opened the door to an orgy of looting and grift (acted out largely in suburban development scams) so extravagant that a quarter-trillion dollar federal bail-out was eventually required… Clarence the guardian angel takes George Bailey on a tour of Bedford Falls as-if-George-had-never-been-born… Main Street is lined with gin mills, strip clubs, and dance halls instead of wholesome banks, groceries, and pharmacies. (Oddly, casinos are absent, because in 1946 we lacked the vision to see how truly demoralized our nation could get.) … wonderful-798019.jpgNow the weirdest thing is that Pottersville is depicted as a busy, bustling, lively place—the exact opposite of what main streets all over America really became, thanks to George Bailey’s efforts—a wilderness of surface parking, from sea to shining sea, with WalMart waiting on the edge of every town like Moloch poised to inhale the last remaining vapors of America’s morale… Most ironically, today America’s favorite main street town, Las Vegas, is Pottersville writ large, and most Americans see absolutely nothing wrong with it. How wonderful is that?” [Via James Wolcott.] And second, at DVD Savant, Glenn Erickson argues that the movie’s retrospective chronology was crafted in the editing suite: Most of the “elements of the flashback wraparound were relatively inexpensive to put together. Only actors’ voices were used, radio-style. We don’t see George’s neighbors or wife and children praying, we merely hear them. Heaven is represented by a little animation of blinking stars and planets. A blurry point of view is optically added to represent Clarence’s ‘learning’ to see the heavenly ‘rerun’ of scenes from George’s childhood. Later, the first time we see James Stewart as George Bailey, his gesture imagining a big suitcase is frozen-framed, so that time can be alotted for Clarence’s voiceover to assess the now grown-up boy whose life he has been watching.” [More heavy chawing at the link.]

Failed atmosphere casting: an example from CNN

An underappreciated skill is that of the assistant director or second A.D. on a movie or television show, keeping the extras, or “atmosphere” in the background from ever becoming a distraction from the principal activity in the foreground. Of course, in real life, sometimes it’s tough to give an insincere performance…

The autist theory: Mamet's H'wd syndrome

David Mamet‘s new book,” Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business,” gets previewed by NY Daily News’ Rush & Molloy. Mamet, they report, presents the daring theory that Hollywood’s creators suffered from a form of autism. Mamut Cartoon writerscleansize076.jpg“Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies… The symptoms of this developmental disorder include early precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate aways, ignorance of or indifference to social norms, high intelligence, and difficulty with transitions married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the minutiae of the task at hand… This sounds to me like a job description for a movie director. Let me also note that Asperger’s syndrome has its highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants.… This group constitutes… the bulk of America’s movie directors.” [Mamet doodle from Huffington Post.]

Movie City Indie

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“We’re all going to die so it makes it very easy. I haven’t always thought that way but I’ve realized it’s the truth. I think age gets you there, questioning your mortality… When you realize that, it’s so liberating, it’s so free, you can fly! There’s no need to hold on to anything. Like, think of the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you; it’s probably happened to 500 million people as well. Who gives a shit!”
~ Steve McQueen

“Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot, or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them—to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater—one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen—people he’s never known—with equal intensity—with equal venom. Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race—to despise an entire nation—to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill out hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God–a God who calls us ALL—His children.”
~ Stan Lee, 1965