From the description at the dedicated YouTube channel: “I am debuting my new movie I Am King for my new fragrance “I Am King” which is available exclusively at Macy’s. This fragrance is dedicated to Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King and all you men out there who take care of your families and respect and treat yourself like the Kings that we are all. I would like to also announce that this is my audition tape for the next James Bond. There is a black president and it’s time for there to be a black Bond. God Bless… “
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In a piece about trends in smaller films in Australia, Margaret Pomeranz remembersa knowing remark by Focus Features’ James Schamus, which produces about 10 projects each year. “I asked him how many of those 10 films he regarded as successful. He replied “about three.” Pomeranz was dumbfounded. “But with all your skills, your expertise, your experience,” she stammered, “how come so few?” “Because it only takes one factor to be wrong,” he replied.”
Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien takes the occasion of a Ingmar Bergman retrospective in Taipei to reflect on young director’s work versus older director’s work: “When I was young I saw Bergman’s films on Beta videotapes. It was pretty much the same scenes and characters so you fell asleep, woke up and fell asleep again… To me, all directors are much more interesting in their early works. The older you get, the more mannered your films become as you find the earlier ‘you’ too immature and lean more toward abstractionism. This is why I think cinema belongs to the young—unlike words, images should be flesh-and-blood and visceral.”
From the director of F—ing Amal (Show Me Love) and Lilja 4-Ever: the burst of pop music at the end reminds you that Lukas Moodyson is very Swedish. Opening January on its home turf. [Via, obviously, Twitch.]
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ARNAUD DESPLECHIN’S HILARIOUS, BRAVURA, RESTLESSLY GENEROUS DARK COMEDY, A CHRISTMAS TALE, is of a piece with earlier work like the furiously engaged mega-talkathon My Sex Life… Or How I Got Into An Argument (1996) and the jaw-dropping Kings and Queen, (2005), which led me to write that “Sometimes too much is simply too much and other times, too much is bliss.” Of the same movie, critic Kent Jones wrote, “Arnaud Desplechin is a protean, mercurial, supremely gifted filmmaker in a depressingly linear and single-minded age. His generous, super-abundant films look and feel like no one else’s by contrast, almost everything else seems a little careful and self-contained.” All those words hold true still.
The French writer-director’s latest finds a splintered family coming together at Christmas because mother Junon (Catherine Deneuve) has fallen ill with leukemia, which had killed her eldest son. Father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) rounds up their three grown children: Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), a miserable playwright married to a mathematician (Hippolyte Girardot) and a troubled teenage son, Paul (Emile Berling); Henri (Mathieu Amalric), who was banished from the family by his sister several years earlier, and the conciliatory younger brother Ivan (Melvil Poupaud), who brings along Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) and has two quirky sons. Family members are tested to see if they’re possible donors, leading to the family whirl, which includes Henri’s girlfriend, Faunia, played by Desplechin regular, the brilliant Emmanuelle Devos. Christmas, and family, and battle, ensue. [An extended Q&A version of our conversation will run on MCN after Thanksgiving.] A Christmas Taleis the “home for the holidays” primal scene as primal scream: from the first moments, as we’re introduced to the characters, we realize they can be chilly and abrupt, capable of pettiness and outright cruelty. And that’s just the set-up. Individual scenes and transgressions and bouts of grief that unfold in the family home have led Desplechin to compare the house and the film to an Advent calendar, or a Joseph Cornell box, little corners filled with treats and tricks at every turn. When I suggest it’s also like a dollhouse, like a spiteful child would furiously demolish, he quickly agrees with a burst of generous laughter.
Desplechin likes to quote an observation that movies need to have four ideas each minute. “I think what Truffaut was saying was not a big philosophical concept. It could be very silly ideas. It could be small ideas. Very subtle things, which suddenly pop up in the middle of the movie. There are great directors who have deep, profound ideas for twenty minutes. I’m thinking of Tarkovsky, and I have great admiration for him but I wouldn’t be able to film that way. When Truffaut was giving this line, I think he was thinking about details, making storytelling a bit faster, a bit funnier.” Like putting a poster in the corner, or a funny hat, a piece of music coming from a car? “Yeah. Very practical things, like an odd way of answering a question. Or a surprising reaction or that everything is expressed by a gesture. Or something a character has in his pocket.”
WHAT CAN A DIRECTOR TELL YOU IN THREE MINUTES, 38 SECONDS? In the case of Danny Boyle, quite a bit. This interview began with both of us on our feet at a headlong rush, sitting only a few minutes into our conversation. [The other 41 minutes of this Q&A will be on MCN after Thanksgiving.]
The last time I talked to Boyle on his press tour for Sunshine, I’d only just read about the Slumdog project the night before, and it was only weeks before he began shooting. The idea of his working from a Beaufoy script with digital cameras hurtling through the back-alleys of Mumbai sounded propulsive with potential, and I’d told him so. “It’s funny, innit?” he says in his rapid Scots burr, laughing on the morning of his 52nd birthday. “I’d love to replay that now, if I could see myself talking about it. ‘Cos it’s weird, you go off and make these things. You’ve talked about them before. Luckily, this weird amnesia sets in about things. You do all these interviews and it does make you very self-conscious about stuff, about why you’re doing stuff, in a way that you never think about normally. And yet clearly, you forget it. Because when you come to make a film? I never think about what I’ve said to anybody about it. Some amnesiac drug sets in whereby you forget the self-consciousness and you go off on this trip of making a film.”
We still haven’t sat down. “Often when I talk to journalists, I sound coherent! You don’t think in that coherent way when you’re doing things; you make sense of them afterwards, don’t you? Patterns emerge about what sounds interesting and attractive. Some of it’s true and some of it is a bit of a fabrication, but basically you work out this way of talking about it, but it isn’t necessarily the way you’ve made the film at all. But fortunately the two are separate in a way. They don’t… My biggest worry, I’ve just been in Austin, where they gave me this award. I’m terrified of things like that, people start talking—”
Is it over, is that what youre thinking? “The start talking about the ooov-rah, y’know, about the connective tissue of the films.” Boyle cuts a huge grin. “Fuck! It’s like… ahhhh! But fortunately, it all seems to kind of blur away. You have amnesia when you read a script as well. People have been asking about ht script and my line on it, which is true, after about ten or fifteen pages, I knew I was going to make it, even though the prospect of reading it hadn’t been particularly attractive. I’ve been saying, the best way to make the decisions is in the middle not by the time you get to the end. It’s because you have amnesia when you’re reading a script, of actually what problems you’re going to ace making it. You forget the realities of filmmaking, money and stars and studios and distribution and locations.” He lets out his boisterous laugh. “You just forget all that, you just think, ‘Awww, this is fantastic! Wouldn’t this be great?’ And then you get on with it. That’s the amnesia thing that helps you. It’s like they say about women having children. They say hormones are released in women that makes them forget the pain. Otherwise women would only ever have one child! Otherwise no one would be insane enough to go back to that level of suffering!”
Now we sit on adjoining couches. He remembers I’d asked about the shooting. “Gather round, gather round. So we’re in the slums. We get a couple of little shacks to have the equipment in and it’s full, these rooms would be full of dry ice. This weird image! The hard drive, the Apple notebook that’s on the cameraman’s back was a MacBook Pro. It’s in a suitcase surrounded with dry ice to keep it cool. Not just because of the temperature of India, which, y’know, adds to it. But because they overheat. That’s one of the biggest technical problems we had with it. So you’d have this weird image full of dry ice, like some kind of rock concert! All these assistants handling dry ice with these gloves or with tweezers. We’d have three or four of these cameras, and they’d be resupplying them with dry ice. So that’s high-definition filming in the streets of Mumbai!” [To be continued.]
Ebert cracks wise over the bludgeoning banter between he and Gene Siskel through the years as a way of getting into his history of body image. Like many recent entries in his blog, there are zigs, zags and fruitful diversions, and the 2,500 words may be his most adventurous yet. The tone and mood vary, but a taste: “I am so much a movie lover that I can imagine a certain (very small) pleasure in looking like the Phantom. It is better than looking like the Elephant Man. I would describe my condition as falling about 17% of the way along a graph line between the handsome devil I was at the ripe tender age of 27, and the thing that jumps out of that guy’s intestines in Alien… I resemble the Phantom, but only to myself. I wear a bandage wrapping the general area of the Phantom’s 1925 troubles, although good doctor David Reisberg and his colleague David Rotter of the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital have just given me a test run of a handsome new prosthetic that will allow me to retire the Mummy look, and then Bob’s your uncle. So to return to my opening question, what does it feel like to resemble The Phantom of the Opera? Not like much of anything. I rather avoid mirrors. I do not dwell on my appearance. I have bigger fish to fry. Nor do I mope about fearing that my cancer might return. If it does, it does, and that’s what she wrote. At Pritikin they have a truism: “If you don’t die of anything else, sooner or later you will die of cancer.” We all nod thoughtfully.” [Rude jokes, video and myriad musings at the link; the self-portrait before Ebert’s surgery is from the entry.]
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
“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks