Does the man dream the machine or the machine dream the man? American-born director Stuart Cooper’s epic, stoic, willfully peculiar Overlord (1975) is a hybrid of fiction and fact, of the Futurist and the post-modern, tracking the preparations of one supremely ordinary 20-year-old soldier, Tom Beddow (Brian Stirner), one Tom among tummies, as he trains to become part of Operation Overlord, or D-Day. More soon about the DVD edition, but for now, in an ongoing Criterion Collection tradition, Cooper offers 10 personal Criterion favorites. One fave among the raves: “The Battle of Algiers, for its originality, objectivity, and political power. I studied it while I was preparing Overlord. I admired a quote of Pontecorvo’s: “Technically U.S. directors keep improving. But this technical expertise hides an emptiness that keeps getting bigger. They’re very good at saying nothing.”
Again, simplicity itself: a C-SPAN single position shot, medium-close on the human face. Jessica Lynch, a working class woman who joined the Army to gain the opportunities for an education that would allow her to make a career teaching children somewhere near her hometown Palestine, West Virginia, who was injured in battle in Iraq in 2003, the details of whose capture was fabricated by person or persons in the Department of Defense. I can hardly get past the first few seconds: that shy smile after she repositions the microphone in front of her is devastating. An all-American face. An all-American hero. It’s good she’s alive.
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If you pick up the Spring 2007 Filmmaker magazine, among the features you’ll get that you can’t get online is my interview with John Carney, the director of Once, and Glen Hansard, the star and co-composer of this lovely small film. I’ll have a different interview with them on Indie in late May when the picture’s released. Close to perfect, sez NY Times’ A. O. Scott? It may well be the best music film of our generation, sez ChiTrib’s Michael Philips? Getting warm, gentlemen. Getting warm.
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A PORTRAIT OF MENTAL ILLNESS BROUGHT TO THE FORE BY THE DEATH OF A LUMP OF A DOG NAMED “PENCIL,”The Year of the Dog stars Molly Shannon as Peggy, a drear crackpot, a bore with no life beyond office job and needy hound, a life wasted away between grande Starbucks. Writer-director Mike White, who wrote Chuck & Buck and starred as its gay stalker with reveries (and arias) of prehensile sexual exploration, expanded on his statement that his directorial debut is a “comedy that’s not funny” to Filmmaker magazine, “I find it funny, but it plays at such a deadpan level for so much of it that I feel like some of the comedy is missed” Or missing, perhaps? “And there are also so many minor keys in it. My preference for comedy is something that’s played so straight that, in a way, you’re wrong-footed. I think it’s a comedy; it definitely plays for laughs, but it plays with the audience. As somebody who sees a lot of movies, when something’s not pre-digested, it’s very pleasant because you’re like, ‘I don’t exactly know how to take this.’
Interminable, morally and psychologically incoherent, it is a soulless bore. Brightly lit, bluntly framed and criminally dim, The Year of the Dog is Todd Solondz light, as infuriating as a stone in a shoe on a 90 minute walk somewhere you wouldn’t want to go. This is a failure worthy of sustained contumely. It seems to go on for hours. Dog is more tedious than it is skin-crawling; it’s the kind of movie you’d expect the people who don’t just walk out would light up the room with the soft blue glow of their cell phones. You miss the steady yet soulful hand of director Richard Linklater on White’s script for School of Rock.
“Oh, yeah, Dumb and Dumber. Did all those fart jokes hurt your reputation?” Boris Kachka asks Jeff Daniels in New York Magazine. “You lose your membership in the serious-actors club, so it took me a long time to get over that.” Kachka suggests Daniels’ roles in The Lookout and on stage in Manhattan Theatre Club’s “Blackbird” are a “bit more challenging than Dumb and Dumber, I’d imagine.” Daniels: “Yeah, but I visited Walter Reed in February and met these vets with horrible injuries. And every single one of them knew Dumb and Dumber. It made them laugh. You can’t tell me it doesn’t matter when a guy with no legs and half a face is laughing through his painkillers, reenacting a scene from Dumb and Dumber. That’s art.”
I’ve got a couple of pieces coming up in the late Spring issue of Filmmaker, including a chat with John Carney and Glen Hansard, respectively, writer-director and male lead-co-composer of the marvelous musical Once; here, for the nonce, from Sundance 2007, is a snip of conversation with Red Road‘s writer-director Andrea Arnold and her remarkable lead, Kate Dickie. “It’s usually dangerous, and sometimes insulting to directors to talk about influences, but it is shorthand to get at the work. Certainly, Red Road is going to be aligned with Rear Window and movies by Michael Haneke, like Caché.” ARNOLD: Yeah, I’ve had that lots. [Find the homonymic error in the last graf and I have a shiny nickel for you.]
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“As a director, [Sarah] Polley is a rarity because of her youth,” writes Kira Cochrane in the Guardian, “but also because of her gender. She recounts the story of a friend, “an incredibly intelligent woman, who was making a film, and was meeting quite a famous actor about it. The actor eventually turned her down, saying, ‘I’m just used to working with people who are more like mad visionaries.’ I thought that was interesting, because, in fact, we’re still at a point where women aren’t allowed to be mad visionaries. We have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we’re responsible, that we can handle it, that we’ve got all our ducks in a row … most women who direct always come in on budget, always come in on schedule, and if they were wild and irresponsible it would not be put down to brilliance, but to a general flakiness.” In the extended profile, Polley mentions upcoming acting projects a couple of scripts. “Would she like to combine her interest in politics with her film-making? “I’d love to,” she says, but “I think it’s so rarely done well. It’s really hard to make a useful political film, and, at the same time, make a great film artistically – I feel like the Battle of Algiers did it, and a few Ken Loach movies … That would be my ideal, though, and one of the main reasons that I want to be a film-maker is to combine those things. But I think it’s one of the trickiest things to find a delicate and graceful way to do.”
THE NOTION OF SECRETING SOME CHEETOS PUFFS AND AN OIL CAN OF FOSTER’S INTO MY SHOULDER BAG into last week’s past-my-deadline all-media Grindhouse screening at Chicago’s AMC River East 21 held momentary allure, or perhaps packing a flask, in honor of the mid-adolescent shake-‘n’-bake tradition of drive-ins and dollar houses in decades past, but I resisted, yet still experienced the exchange of deliciously bitchy talk-out-louds from nearby audience members and the apposite spectacle of a late-coming, morbidly obese woman clumsily tramping on my feet and blocking the screen in the oversold auditorium and loudly dubbing me a “motherf–ing little white c—sucker.” (Free shit makes me stupid, too.) I could almost smell the scorched, foul carpets and seats of the Loop’s late and lamentable UA, McVickers, Woods and pre-civic-ized Chicago Theater venues. Other rancid things comprise the 191-minute spectacle, thrilling and dismaying in equal, vivid measure. Also of interest is writing about the film after its cataclysmic opening weekend, with mooted plans by distributor The Weinstein Company to perhaps pull the $90 million-plus investment from theaters and to release Robert Rodriguez’s twangy, frenetic Tex-Mex-neck zombie Planet Terror separately from Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, a sadistic, even nihilist, limb-scattering car-crash demolition derby opus and girl-gawking trash-talk epic (aka “Gone in 60 Footrubs”).
In honor of the completion of a new feature by Alex Cox, Searchers 2.0, Screengrab’s Faisal Qureshi digs up this sweet little video from 1990, as the duo cover Cole Porter’s “Well Did you Evah?” for the Red, White & Blue Aids project.
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Which is easier, writing or directing a film? Those are two totally different things. Writing is slightly easier because you can do it in bed.
~ Ben Wheatley To The BBC
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola