Wednesday Round-Up: Stanley Kubrick Loved “Citizen Kane” … and “White Men Can’t Jump”

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There is something fascinating about what films were favorites of great filmmakers — especially when some of the selections are a surprise. In the past week, two lists for two major directors — Stanley Kubrick and Spike Lee — were released in different forms.

The late, great Stanley K.’s cinephile tendencies were the subject of a wonderful article by Nick Wrigley for the British Film Institute. As Wrigley writes:

“I count myself among the many admirers of Kubrick’s films and his remarkable aptitude for problem solving in all areas of life. I would argue that the only remaining unexplored area of Stanley’s life in film is his relationship with, and love of, other people’s films. In his later life he chose not to talk publicly about such things, giving only a couple of interviews to large publications when each new film was ready – but through his associates, friends, and fellow filmmakers it’s now possible to piece together a revealing jigsaw. I wanted to try and pull together all the verified information I could locate and have it looked over by a wise, authoritative eye.”

That eye belongs to Kubrick’s brother-in-law, Jan Harlan, who is interviewed by Wrigley in a separate story (see quotes below).

Wrigley points to a list Kubrick submitted to an American magazine named Cinema in 1963:

1. “I Vitelloni” (Fellini, 1953)

2. “Wild Strawberries” (Bergman, 1957)

3. “Citizen Kane” (Welles, 1941)

4. “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (Huston, 1948)

5. “City Lights (Chaplin, 1931)

6. “Henry V” (Olivier, 1944)

7. “La notte” (Antonioni, 1961)

8. “The Bank Dick” (Fields, 1940)

9. “Roxie Hart” (Wellman, 1942)

10. “Hell’s Angels” (Hughes, 1930)

Later, Wrigley mentions a list “that appeared in September 1999 on the alt.movies.kubrick Usenet newsgroup courtesy of his daughter Katharina Kubrick-Hobbs, a list of films she “happen to know that he liked:

“‘Closely Observed Trains’ (Menzel, 1966)
‘An American Werewolf in London’ (Landis, 1981)
‘The Fireman’s Ball’ (Forman, 1967)
‘Metropolis’ (Lang, 1927)
‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ (Erice, 1973)
‘White Men Can’t Jump’ (Shelton, 1992)
‘La Belle et la Bête’ (Cocteau, 1946)
‘The Godfather’ (Coppola, 1972)
‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ (Hooper, 1974)
‘Dog Day Afternoon’ (Lumet, 1975)
‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ (Forman, 1975)
‘Citizen Kane’ (Welles, 1941)
‘Abigail’s Party’ (Leigh, 1977)
‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (Demme, 1991)
and I know that he hated ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Ha Ha!”

Harlan points to others, including George Sluizer’s “The Vanishing” (1988): “Kubrick watched it three times and told Sluizer that it was ‘the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen.’ Sluizer asked: ‘Even moreso than The Shining?’ Kubrick replied that he thought it was.” As Harlan adds, “‘The Vanishing’ was real — ‘The Shining’ was a ghost film — a huge difference.” And the list also includes … “White Men Can’t Jump,” which is just awesome.

Wrigley asked Harlan for his thoughts on the undeniably enjoyable yet certainly silly documentary “Room 237”; Harlan’s thoughts.:

“I think it’s the silliest film ever. A complete rip-off. To say that hotel employees on the last day before closing — waiting with luggage for transport — is a reference to the Holocaust, is an insult to both Stanley and the victims of this greatest crime in human history. So are all other references to 1942. To go to the length of making drawings to prove that the large interiors of the hotel could never fit into the smallish place we see from the outside is a joke. Any schoolboy can see that! It’s a ghost film! Nothing [in ‘Room 237’] makes any logical sense.

I did not take the documentary that seriously — I thoroughly enjoyed it, yet never found any of the theories convincing. (It says a lot about how we read and interpret movies, sometimes illogically.) But it is unsurprising that someone close to Kubrick would have that reaction.

 

The rest of this week’s round-up, including a killer list from Spike Lee:

 

Image from BFI article. Stanley Kubrick, photographed by Dmitri Kasterine in 1969 on the set of A Clockwork Orange. Credit: Dmitri Kasterine: www.kasterine.com

Prepare to Go Retro at the Transit Drive-In

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A few weeks ago, I told you about “Going Attractions,” a documentary on drive-in movie theater history and culture that was screening at the Transit Drive-In. That was a very cool event, and the drive-in has something else special happening all summer long: Retro Movie Tuesdays.

Smaller movie theaters have realized the importance of special events, and this one is simple, and effective: classic movies on the drive-in screen every Tuesday of the summer. What I like about the lineup is that these films are, for the most part, REAL classics — not just recent summer blockbusters.

For example, tonight is a double bill of one film I love, and one I appreciate: Mel Brooks’s immortal comedy “Young Frankenstein” at 9:15 p.m., followed by the cult fave “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at 11:15.

I recently watched most of a PBS special on Mel Brooks, and it was a reminder of what a genius the director of “Blazing Saddles” is. And how fitting that “Young Frankenstein” will screen during the summer in which a very loose adaptation of his son Max’s “World War Z” is lighting up the box office.

Meanwhile, I have never been one of the “Rocky Horror” faithful, but its screenings look to be a blast — the one in “Perks of Being a Wallflower” certainly was.

August 6 brings two great family films, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” at 9 and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” at 11. Tell ’em Large Marge sent you.

Two of my most beloved films growing up show at 9 and 11:15 on August 13: the John Belushi classics “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” It’s gonna be pretty hard eating corn-on-the-cob with no — You probably know how that ends.

Mad Max and Snake Plissken take center stage on August 20, as “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” and “Escape From New York” screen at 9 and 11.

And the series comes to a close on Tuesday, August 27, with about as killer a double bill one could imagine: “Anchorman” at 9, and “The Big Lebowski” at 11.

Admission is $9 for ages 12 and older, $4 for children ages 5 to 11, and free for children under 4. Advance tickets can be purchased online.

Support your local drive-in, WNY — it’s the last one we’ve got.

Rent It: Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” is a Fresh, Moving Look at Reality TV Culture

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Here is what Matteo Garrone’s “Reality” is NOT: Yet another dull study of reality television, only this time set in Italy. No, “Reality” is something far more fresh, and infinitely more incisive. It is a film about reality culture from the outside looking in, and it is one of the most involving, moving, darkly funny films I’ve seen all year. (It’s a 3/12- or 4-star movie for me.)

When “Reality” premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, it garnered a respectful, if subdued reaction from critics. But the jury, led by Nanni Moretti, awarded the film the Grand Prix, essentially the runner-up to the Palme d’Or (Haneke’s mighty “Amour”).

This was, remember, the year that saw Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” shut out. I would have ranked “Motors” above “Reality,” but after finally seeing Garrone’s film, I can certainly understand its allure for the jurors.

Still, not all were satisfied, including The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw:

“Matteo Garrone’s ‘Reality’ won the Grand Prix, which really had me scratching my head. This is an amiable, but essentially sentimental and predictable satire about an ordinary guy from Naples who becomes obsessed with getting on to the Italian version of ‘Big Brother’ and becoming a big star. This film wasn’t anywhere near as good as his earlier ‘Gomorrah’: a more defensible choice, it seems to me, would have been for the jury to have given ‘Reality’ the best actor prize, for its lead, Aniello Arena, who gave a very good performance. However, as Arena is in fact a convicted criminal who is serving 20 years in prison — he was allowed out on day-release to shoot the picture, but not permitted to come to the festival – this might have created some diplomatic problems.”

Bradshaw’s point is legitimate — perhaps best actor would have made more sense, so believable is Arena. (The actor’s backstory, as indicated by Bradshaw, is almost unbelievable, yet true.)

I cannot disagree that the Grand Prix was a surprise, but, then again, Garrone said the same: “It’s a surprise. This award is more important than what I could have imagined before the ceremony. This Grand Prix will help the film to find a bigger audience.”

Oscilloscope picked up “Reality” for American distribution, and I’m thrilled they did. (It is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 13.) It is a subtle film, one that starts with a flourish — a stunningly garish horse-driven coach rides through Italy in one long shot — and utter confusion. But slowly, its story, of a good-natured fishmonger obsessed with the idea of appearing on “Big Brother,” comes into focus.

Various scenes here are as memorable as any in recent cinema, specifically a gorgeous sequence in which a previous “Big Brother” star, the beloved Enzo, flies above a club crowd, just out of reach. Arena’s Luciano watches him with wonder.

On paper, “Reality” is not dissimilar to films like “The King of Comedy,” yet it has a humanity, and a level of emotion, all its own. Bret Easton Ellis may have Tweeted it best: “Matteo Garrone’s ‘Reality’ is the funniest and most visually stunning film I’ve seen so far in 2013. A problem movie but also ravishing …” (The “American Psycho” author included it on his recent list of 2013 faves, along with Best of 2013 so far: “Before Midnight,” “Frances Ha,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Room 237,” “Like Someone In Love,” and “56 Up.”)

Garrone’s previous film, “Gomorrah,” was a somber blast of 21st-century gangster cinema. I reviewed it for the Buffalo News on March 27, 2009; my 4-star review was headlined “Street life Two young toughs run afoul of the mob and pay the price.”

As you read this, Italian journalist Roberto Salviano is likely in hiding. Since the 2006 publication of nonfiction masterpiece “Gomorrah,” a passionate, cry-in-the-night about the corrosive Mafia-like Naples organization known as Camorra, Salviano has received death threats, resulting in armed guards, hiding and a well-deserved reputation as a national hero.

Matteo Garrone’s film of “Gomorrah” is Salviano’s revenge, a grim intertwining of mob middlemen, couriers, upstarts and victims. It’s the finest street-level crime drama since “City of God,” another saga of the violent and disenfranchised. Yet “Gomorrah” packs an even stronger punch.

There has never been an organized-crime epic quite like this, a masterpiece that takes to heart the hollow core behind “Scarface’s” prophecy of selfish consumption: “The world is yours.” This line has spawned a thousand cocky wannabes, kids who seem to forget that Tony Montana was shot down in a hail of gunfire — kids like Marco and Ciro.

Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) could be any age between 15 and 25, but mentally are a couple guys intent on shooting guns, robbing arcades for cash and playing too tough with strippers. The undynamic duo — who feature in the film’s most oddly affecting scene, shooting machine guns in a dingy lake in their underwear and sneakers — see Al Pacino’s Montana as their hero.

Yet, they evidence their youth by trying to steal from the all-powerful Camorra, and they pay the price. So does Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo, in the film’s best performance), a sweet-natured haute couture tailor who secretly brings his designs to a Chinese factory, under Camorra’s nose.

We also meet Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese), a young grocery delivery boy in a Beckham jersey, who is recruited by drug dealers. There is the aging Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), a somber money-carrier. These are all sad, defeated people, and all are in Camorra’s web in one way or another.

Salviano and Garrone’s boldest step is in not only focusing on the guns and drug-running of organized crime, but also on its foothold in “legitimate” industries — fashion, shipping and waste management. How can an organization be brought down when its influence runs so deep? (The film’s ending tells us that Camorra is involved in funding the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.)

“Gomorrah” is not a gangster epic like “The Godfather” or, especially, “Scarface” — I hesitate to even recommend it to fans of “mob movies.” There is no one to root for, and no one can be called a lead character.

The cast is unknown on these shores. The settings are grungy, and the film quality is grainy. In its focus on the tense dreariness of criminal life, it could be called a very distant cousin of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” (Scorsese himself is “presenting” the film to American audiences), but even this is misleading. There are no real laughs or nostalgic soundtrack, or even hints of happiness — some will likely find it boring and hard to follow.

But its strength lies in its complexities. The same is true of Salviano’s stunning book. How many of the goods we own have passed through the bloody Naples docks? It’s a good question — and an answer we’d rather not hear.

Salviano co-wrote the screenplay with Garrone, and I imagine its international success is a stunning victory for him, a sign that perhaps the world is beginning to pay attention to the world he put under the microscope. He has helped develop a new style of crime epic, one in which the admittedly intoxicating milieu of “Scarface” is bludgeoned back into reality.

As “Gomorrah” aptly demonstrates, the world is not yours. In Naples, at least, it’s theirs. Everyone else is just in the way.

 

Photo: Aniello Arena and Giuseppina Cervizzi in “REALITY.” Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Review: James Wan’s “The Conjuring” is a Smart, Thrilling Horror Film

THE CONJURING

I was a bit petrified to attend a screening of James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” but I’m glad I did. It was a fresh, fun horror flick that has become one of the summer’s surprise hits. Here is my 3 ½ star review from the Buffalo News.

True story. I was a fan of the first grimy, ultra-violent “Saw” film, and a few years later made a trek to the multiplex to see one of its sequels. By this point, any real creative juice in the limb-loosening series had leaked out, and things grew increasingly foul.

The film’s most memorably icky sequence was a long brain surgery episode, and it was so visually revolting that I took my glasses off, happy to stare at the screen and see only moving shapes and colors with a dopey grin on my face.

That was gross horror, and it was cheap and ugly. But good horror — like “The Conjuring” — has the ability to involve an audience like no other genre. It’s so fun, so wonderfully goosebump-inducing, that you won’t even think about taking your glasses off.

James Wan’s film is a smart, thrilling reminder that there is no cinematic experience as cathartic as a real scare. A good laugh and a bit of blubbering might come close, but to be genuinely frightened amid a crowd of gleeful fear-mongers – that is some kind of bliss.

That is why a movie like “The Conjuring” deserves more respect from the critical establishment than it will likely get. Wan’s modern haunted-house tale is a wonderfully old-school creation, a “Don’t go in the basement!” treat that might be the best pure horror film in years.

It is the early 1970s, and the cash-strapped Roger (Ron Livingston) and Caroline Perron (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters are moving into a rickety old farmhouse they bought at auction. Within minutes, there is reason to be weary (why won’t the dog enter the house?) And how come all the clocks stop at 3:07 every night?

What follows is a slow, methodical build. Wan does not rush the chills, letting them develop with ease over the first 30 to 45 minutes. When they do, they hit hard. Enter Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The paranormal investigators are quasi-rock stars in their field, having handled everything from demonic possession to the creepiest doll this side of “Poltergeist.”

When Caroline finds them, she and her family are a bundle of nerves, forced to huddle together every night for support. Over the film’s final hour, Ed, Lorraine and their team must find a way to “cleanse” the house and save the Perrons from a grim fate.

There are many reasons why “The Conjuring” is so impactful, and one of the keys, believe it or not, is its charm. Wan plays off genre tropes with expert precision — the creaky doors, stories of murdered children, creepy old toys. The audience knows what’s coming, but the director succeeds in making these scares feel fresh.

The setting also maximizes the creepiness, and not just because the ’70s fashions look so silly, but because of the technology of the time. At one point, Wan shoots a scene through a camera filming the Warrens in the home’s (gulp) basement, and it is handled so expertly that it renders the recent cluster of found-footage horror films truly useless.

But just as important as the setting and style are the performances. As Ed and Lorraine — the real-life couple known for their involvement in the Amityville Horror case — Wilson and, especially, Farmiga, are passionate, driven, yet wounded. As Ed explains, each case “takes a bit” out of his clairvoyant wife, and we can see that in Farmiga’s eyes.

The supporting cast, too, makes an impression. All five daughters are believably spooked, and I especially liked two members of the Warrens’ team, the square-jawed Officer Brad (John Brotherton) and the wry Drew (Shannon Kook), perhaps the unsung hero.

“The Conjuring” solidifies Wan’s spot near the top of the modern horror filmmakers’ list; last year’s “Insidious” and the original “Saw” (the original still packs a punch) were certainly among the more memorable of the last decade.

In fact, next, Wan will bring us “Insidious 2.” Prepare for more horror catharsis. And prepare for me to contemplate taking my glasses off.

Photo from Buffalo News review

 

40 Days to Go: Highlights From TIFF’s First (Cumber)batch of Announcements

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE

The Toronto International Film Festival is the only major fest I am able to attend each year, so it’s a bit like my Super Bowl. Covering TIFF for Buffalo Spree has been an amazing experience—here is my post-festival analysis from last year—and each year seems to bring new pleasures. In many ways, the festival is an indicator of all the hits (and misses) audiences in Buffalo and beyond can expect for the remainder of the year.

I’m always thrilled to hear the first batch of announcements, and Tuesday morning’s press conference certainly included some films I was hoping would hit TO. Here are some thoughts that first appeared in a piece by me at BuffaloSpree.com.

  • 12 Years a Slave skips Venice for Toronto: This is big. Steve McQueen’s Shame was my favorite film of TIFF 2011—and of 2011, period—so I’m personally thrilled. Skipping Venice and debuting in TO is a major coup for Cameron Bailey and his fellow TIFF organizers.
  • The full Midnight Madness line-up is coming on July 30: It is always fun to see what’s in store here. Last year, I did not make it to any of them. Funny, I recall DESPERATELY wanting to attend the Seven Psychopaths midnight screening. Glad I waited …
  • TIFF’s 2013 MVPs: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, and Mia Wasikowska all appear in multiple films. Cumberbatch is in three (!), most notably opening night film The Fifth Estate, in which he plays Julian Assange.
  • Under the Skin finally arrives: Jonathan Glazer’s (Sexy Beast, Birth) Scarlett Johansson-starring quasi-sci-fi film has been in production for a lonnng time. Very exciting to see it here.
  • Lots of Cannes hits: The controversial Palme d’Or winner Blue is the Warmest Colour, Like Father Like Son, and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive were three of the most buzzed-about Cannes 2013 entries.
  • The return of Jason Reitman: The first movie I ever saw at TIFF was Reitman’s Juno, and Jared Mobarak and I had the privilege of shaking the director’s hand afterwards. (I’m sure he was thrilled.) Labor Day, starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet, seems like a perfect story for his typical blend of humor and drama.
  • Oscar buzz: August: Osage County, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Dallas Buyer’s Club, Rush, The Fifth Estate, and Gravity are already in the mix.
  • The return of hometown TIFF favorites: In addition to Reitman, Don McKellar and Atom Egoyan are back; the full Canadian lineup is coming soon.
  • Some films I did not even know were in production are screening here: I had no idea Jason Bateman was directing a film (Bad Words), that the late James Gandolfini was starring with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Nicole Holofcener’s next project (Enough Said), or that Kelly Reichardt’s follow-up to Meek’s Cutoff was finished (Night Moves).
  • Missing in action (so far): There is still lots of time for more announcements; TIFF maestro Cameron Bailey said the first batch only included about one-quarter of the complete lineup. But some I’m still hoping to see added are Spike Lee’s Oldboy, Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (it is playing Venice), and Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man. Also missing, so far, are three of the best-reviewed films at Cannes: the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Robert Redford in All Is Lost, and Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska.

I’ll be covering TIFF 2013 for Spree, on my site, FilmSwoon.com, and hopefully for some other outlets, too, so there is plenty more to come. It’s on, kids …

Photo from 12 Years a Slave courtesy of TIFF.net

Weekend Preview: Squeaky Wheel’s Fab Outdoor Animation Fest Turns 10

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Yes, one of the summer’s last blockbusters opens this weekend, as well as one of the year’s most acclaimed films, but I want to start with a Buffalo treasure: Squeaky Wheel.

This Saturday, July 27, is Squeaky Wheel’s 10th annual Outdoor Animation Festival in Days Park, and it is a perennial summer treat. The free event is a perfect opportunity to watch some great films under the stars; attendees can bring lawn chairs or blankets, and should arrive around 8:30 p.m. to grab a good seat, and have some fun with the Stop Motion Animation Station.

Among others, the festival will showcase two recent animations by local youth artist, Maria Ziaja; you can watch one of her videos here.

And afterwards, an after-party will be held at Allen Street Hardware featuring “exclusive screening that features animations too lewd, too wild and too crazy for the main screen!”

As I put it in a “Hot 5” entry for Buffalo Spree last year, “it is an outdoor event that is visually thrilling and thematically varied … and once again it highlights the work of internationally renowned experimental and underground filmmakers.” Of course, I explained, the animation fest is the tip of the Squeaky iceberg: There are workshops, kids camps, regular screenings, the acclaimed Buffalo Youth Media Institute, and much more. I had the honor of serving as Squeaky board member for several years, and I can say with confidence that every SW event is a blast — especially this one.

Note also that Squeaky will hold an encore presentation of the fest at Canalside on August 21.

After these cool films, this week’s major blockbuster offering, “The Wolverine,” seems a bit ho-hum … But perhaps I’m still wounded from the horrible “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Reviews have been mixed for this one, but I think X-Men fans are hopeful. Hugh Jackman is hard not to like, and his Wolverine is one of the most indelible onscreen comic book characters of recent years. Plus, setting the film in Japan seems very wise.

But who knows? It is difficult to predict how much the film will snag this weekend, but the buzz seems stronger for this one than, say, “Pacific Rim.” (I haven’t seen “PR” yet, but I’d bet money that it’s a more ambitious, interesting film than “Wolverine.” But buzz is buzz.) Let’s say $60 mill, which I’d call a great success.

Quite frankly, I’m more excited for the weekend’s other two main releases: “Fruitvale Station” and “The To-Do List.”

“Fruitvale Station” was one of the hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and lead Michael B. Jordan is being pegged as a breakout star. It’s a film that has drawn praise — and tears — from many, many major critics, and it is expected to be part of the Oscar conversation. I can’t wait to see it, and interestingly, it is opening wide in Buffalo, at the Dipson Amherst Theater, and also at every local Regal (Elmwood, Transit, Walden, Quaker Crossing, and Niagara Falls).

The trailer for “The To-Do List” looks devilishly hilarious, and with the great AubreyPlaza in the lead (“Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Parks and Recreation”), this could be a solid word-of-mouth earner.

“The Godfather” is still showing at The Screening Room — 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday — while Tuesday (July 30) sees 1948’s “Pitfall” and Thursday (August 1) sees the WNY premiere of the acclaimed Sundance 2013 selection “This is Martin Bonner.”

This week’s Bacchus  pick is a slightly odd: the Bradley Cooper-starrer “Limitless.” Meanwhile, the UB North Campus features two wildly different films: “X-Men: First Class” on Friday (July 26), and, thrillingly, “The Place Beyond the Pines” on Tuesday (July 30). The latter is one of my favorite films of 2013. (Big Bradley Cooper week in the Buffalo outdoor film world.) UB South Campus is also showing “Pines,” on Wednesday (July 31). The film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray on August 6, but these are cool opportunities to see it on the big screen.

Coming soon: Woody Allen’s fantastic “Blue Jasmine” should be opening here soon, while August 2 sees two films with the number “2” in the title — the similarities end there: “2 Guns” and “The Smurfs 2.”

Ugh. But do not despair, as the summer still has some offerings that COULD prove wonderful: “Elysium,” “The World’s End,” “The Spectacular Now,” “The Grandmaster,” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.”

Poster art courtesy of Squeaky Wheel

Guest Column: Anthony Chabala Shines a Light on Beady Eye’s Epic New Video

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FilmSwoon’s first-ever guest columnist Anthony Chabala and I once traveled to New York City and sat outside a Manhattan movie theater from about 2 a.m. until roughly 5 p.m. in order to see the premiere of the Oasis concert documentary “Lord, Don’t Slow Me Down.” (Interestingly, that screening warranted an entry on the film’s Wikipedia page: “A handful of fans-only private screenings took place around the world with the world premiere of the film at the Directors Guild Theater in New York City on 4 November 2006 as part of the CMJ Film Festival.” (Our long wait was memorably referenced in Britain’s New Musical Express, but I cannot find the link.)

It was a memorable weekend that was undoubtedly worth it. Why do I bring it up? To demonstrate the commitment Anthony has to Oasis, and now, to Liam Gallagher and Beady Eye. BDI released a new video this week, and it is the band’s finest to date. Here, Anthony takes a close look at Beady Eye’s “Shine a Light,” a single from the band’s second album, “BE.”

This week, British superpower Beady Eye released the official video for their latest single, “Shine a Light,” directed by Charlie Lightening, a Manchester native who is slated to be the next Spike Jonze. Both band and director created what I consider to be the one of the best music videos since the early 1990s, a time when music was awful but the videos were often beautifully filmed mini motion pictures. (Remember the videos for “November Rain” or “Estranged” by Guns N Roses?)

It seems that the good people writing the Beady Eye checks finally accepted the fact that in order to make money, you have to spend money. Unlike prior attempts, their latest video has extras, locations, wardrobe changes, effects, and most importantly, clarity — you can actually see the band. Ever since the days of the camera spinning above Liam Gallagher decked out in a full beard and Lennon glasses in the “Champagne Supernova” video, tried and true Oasis fans (and non-Oasis fans alike) have wanted to be Liam Gallagher. But with no equally memorable videos for more nearly two decades, this intense audience longing went seemingly cold … until this week, that is. Past Beady Eye videos were serviceable, to be sure, but they looked more like something an Andy Warhol wannabe made on a film-school budget rather than an actual piece of pristine promotion set out to advertise a band ready to take over the world.

Beady Eye are not only who I consider to be the best band in the world right now, they are undoubtedly the coolest looking. Liam Gallagher has always looked like he is ready to hit either the stage or the runway, and he still does. Guitarist Gem Archer resembles a young Paul McCartney, if McCartney were young in the year 3069. Bassist Andy Bell pulls off the nonchalant indie-rock star look that (with or without knowing) the Arctic Monkeys and all their offspring have taken credit for. New member Jay Mehler has that malnourished millionaire look we all hoped Ian Brown would end up with but never did. And the forever stylish Chris Sharrock … well, he drummed on “There She Goes,” so he could dress like Elton John during his Donald Duck hat phase and still be too cool for school. The point is, these are guys that you want to pretend to be when you are watching the “Shine a Light” video, and that feeling of audience intoxication has not only been lacking in Beady Eye videos, but music promotion in general.

“Shine a Light” features Liam Gallagher surrounded by beautiful, naked women. Why would you want Liam Gallagher surrounded by anything else but beautiful, naked women?! The video also has Liam dressed as both a devilish rock star heathen and then an innocent looking “man of the cloth.” His religious aura and momentary Christ-like pose while standing in front of a glimmering white light might not be subtle — you don’t have to be a character in a Dan Brown novel to decipher the symbols here — but they all make for great viewing.

My favorite part of the video is the highly elaborate and extremely well done “Last Supper”-like sequence. Here you have the band, a couple nuns, Liam the priest, and Liam the sinner, all at one table. A screenshot of this mad breaking of bread easily makes for album cover of the century. Plus, it has Beady Eye and Heavy Stereo legend Gem Archer, sitting at a table piled high with more charred meat than Donatella Versace’s tanning bed has ever seen … and he is a vegetarian.

This video brought me back to my youth. Back then, music videos were a way of knowing what my heroes looked like, and looking the part is just as important as sounding the part — paint no illusion. I was 15 years old when I stayed home all night to watch Liam in the “D’You Know What I Mean?” video, and I then had to go out and get the haircut, sunglasses, and green parka he wore. I was 16 when I first laid hands on Heavy Stereo’s Deja Voodoo LP, and to this day I am constantly searching eBay for the Indian Motorcycles shirt that Gem Archer dons in the studio photos. (I’ve come close sooo many times, but at least I ended up with the same Converse, and, at one time or another, have owned a near identical copy of every guitar he has ever been seen touching.) The image plays a crucial role in the overall product, and this video has the ingredients to act as a great promotional tool to gain new audiences and remind the Beady Eye faithful of why the members of this band are deserving of their place in music history.

Whether you loved Oasis or not, this is a video and a band worth checking out. If you are let down, I’m pretty sure Liam would say something along the lines of, “There’s something wrong with you, not us!”

Wednesday Round-Up: The Agony and the Ecstasy of “Only God Forgives”

only god

Has there been a recent film from a major director that’s drawn a reaction quite like the tidal wave that has greeted Nicholas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives”? From boos following its debut at Cannes to an award as best film of the Sydney Film Festival, it has been a wild, crazy, gleefully violent road.

Here is a film that many have called THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE, yet also received five stars from The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. I’d say the boos are outnumbering the cheers, but still — the praise section is not small.

The film finally opened last Friday, appearing in theaters, on pay-per-view, and on iTunes, one of the most high-profile VOD releases to date. It leaped to No. 2 on the iTunes chart, yet, says Indiewire, “[i]n 78 theaters, the film managed a $315,000 gross, averaging $4,038.” An adequate, but certainly not great, number.

Calum Marsh summed up the explosion of outrage that greeted the film over the weekend for Film.com:

“This past weekend, Nicolas Winding Refn and his blonde-haired muse returned with their latest endeavor to perplex the multiplexes, ‘Only God Forgives,’ and this time they’ve upped their game by making the oblique Thai ‘thriller’ molasses-slow and hyper-violent. It’s a combination that has already proven unbearable for the many hundreds of unsuspecting patrons who have happened to wander into — and then quickly out of — the film since Friday, at least if early reactions on social media are any indication. These experiences have been compounded by the film’s availability on VOD and iTunes, a distribution strategy which has opened the door to vast new groups of disgruntled viewers. … [I]t can’t be denied that, even with ‘Drive’ fresh in their minds, large swaths of viewers were simply not prepared for what Refn and Gosling had on offer this time around.”

(Incidentally, there are way too many interesting articles on the film and the responses it has garnered for me to catalog here.)

So why THIS movie? Why has “Only God Forgives” drawn such outrage? I think the answer is two-fold: First, the star is Ryan Gosling, an actor who has a fanbase as passionate as any young actor in filmdom. That he chose this movie — this stunningly violent, stylized, downright absurdist creation — is, I think, confounding to many of his fans. That’s probably part of what appealed to him. But he is playing a non-character; the role requires little of the actor short of getting physically pummeled. (Kristen Scott Thomas as Donatella Versace-meets-Cruella de Vil has the fun part; “fun” is perhaps the wrong word for it.)

Second, “Drive” was a film that divided audiences to a much-lesser degree, but those who loved it, LOVED it. “Only God Forgives” is NOT “Drive.” If “Drive” was meant to divide audiences, “Only God Forgives” was meant to divide, and then bludgeon.

Of course, there is another possibility: That the film itself is terrible. Whatever its quality, it may prove a game-changer for video-on-demand releases. This is an admittedly offbeat but highly visible movie with a major star, one that appeared at Cannes just two months ago. Releasing it in this way probably ensured a larger audience that it ever would have received at theaters only, so this is a win for Radius-TWC.

Note that I have not offered up my opinion yet, and with good reason: I have not decided. I rented the film from iTunes last weekend, and watched it on my iPad as a storm raged outside. Somehow, that seemed an ideal way to watch the film. Many of the scenes that may have drawn guffaws or near-vomit in a full theater seemed more effective when viewed solo. The film also did not feel as slow to me as many had said it was, perhaps another feeling lessened outside of the cinema.

But they weren’t kidding about the violence. I was particularly annoyed with a long torture sequence involving a relatively minor character. For the life of me, I cannot rationalize exactly what the point of this epic, eye-gouging sequence could be. It took me out of the movie, big-time.

Yet … I certainly did not hate “Only God Forgives.” In fact, I found almost every minute of it luridly fascinating. The look, the music (by Cliff Martinez), the utter strangeness of it all, it grabbed me. I don’t know whether or not I can say it is “good.” But I can say it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, even the films it is clearly alluding to.

I am quite certain that is exactly what Nicholas Winding Refn was hoping to hear. So for me, let’s say three stars out of four, but tomorrow, it could be two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half (or one, or four) …

The rest of our Wednesday round-up:

  • The AV Club looks at Academy Award winners that opened before fall Oscar season.
  • The strange, haunting “Possession” is a film I must watch again, and soon.
  • How great is it that Peter Bogdanovich is directing a new comedy starring Owen Wilson and produced by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach?
  • “Summer Box Office Casualties,” according to Variety.
  • Spike Lee turns to Kickstarter.
  • One of my most eagerly-awaited films still set to open this summer is “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”; here, director David Lowery discusses some of the film’s most important shots.
  • Paul Thomas Anderson and Fiona Apple dated, quite memorably, and they must have ended things on good terms: PTA has directed her latest video. 

Photo courtesy of TWC-Radius

Squid, McDonald’s, and Blueberry Nights: Talking Food and Film on “Eat It Up”

My Blueberry Nights 1

Recently, my old Target coworker Donnie Burtless, who has become one of Western New York’s top bloggers with his fantastic Buffalo Eats website, invited me onto his “Eat It Up” podcast to talk about food and film, and I was honored to be asked. We had a blast, touching on a wild mix of films and topics, everything from the infamous squid-eating scene in “Oldboy” to the great “How’s the Italian food in this restaurant?” sequence in “The Godfather.”

There were plenty of films I forgot to mention, such as “Ratatouille,” but I think we did a good job of covering a range of films.

Before going on, I did some serious thinking about the topic, and I realized how vitally important food is to the films of my favorite director, Wong Kar-wai. It was a thought that had never occurred to me … and then seemed forehead-slappingly obvious.

“Chunking Express,” of course, sets the majority of the action in its second tale in a rather dive-y Hong Kong restaurant; it is here where the characters played by the incandescent Faye Wong and the sweet-cool Tony Leung meet. And of course, there is the expired-pineapple-as-metaphor-for-dying-romance segment in the first tale.

As an incisive piece on the Hungry Donkeys blog pointed out, “Fallen Angels,” released shortly after “Chunking,” “is even more focused on food.” I love this take on the ubiquitous Golden Arches:

“Scenes include Leon Lai (Li Ming), playing a hit man, eating a burger and fries in an empty 24hr McDonald’s as Karen Mok, playing a half crazed woman with a blond wig, comes over, sits down and proceeds to pick him up. Not a word is spoken through the whole scene. This is by far the best advertisement for McDonald’s ever made.”

But the culmination of Wong’s food-adoration is surely “My Blueberry Nights,” a film that to me is without question the most underrated creation of his career. We see pie during the opening credits, we watch Norah Jones eat pie, we see Jude Law kiss away a dollop of ice cream on her lips — we are deep in a world of food and passion, and, Wong seems to be saying, it’s the world we live in.

Perhaps that’s why I hope foodies seek out “Blueberry”; it is hard to think of a film so focused on the art of eating. I reviewed the film for the Buffalo News back in May 2008, and I did not spend too much time on the food aspect. But I did, I believe, make my love for it clear.

Here — while we await the American release of the director’s latest, “The Grandmaster” — is that four-star review:

Wong Kar Wai is the world’s greatest living director, period.

OK, that’s one man’s opinion, but I have no doubt about it. His films — “Chunking Express,” “In the Mood for Love,” “2046” — have the passionate thrust of Scorsese and Bertolucci, the quirk of Woody Allen or Almodovar, and the kinetic sense of possibility that engulfs the finest moments of Spielberg or Coppola. He’s the man.

But even knowing all of this, there is reason to be wary of “My Blueberry Nights,” Wong’s first-ever English language work.

For starters, its main character, a soul-searcher named Elizabeth, is played, in her acting debut, by singer Norah Jones. Second, distributor the Weinstein Company sat on the film for months, releasing it only in a heavily edited version. It’s the director’s first film in years without his usual cinematographer, Christopher Doyle. And lastly, the critical response so far has been mostly blah, with many calling it the director’s weakest effort.

Consider mine an alternate view, one that’s admittedly colored by my outright fanaticism for his films: I think “My Blueberry Nights” is a heartfelt, lyrical wonder that is at once a fresh move for Wong, but also an ideal next step whose heart is directly in line with the unrequited lovers of “In the Mood for Love” and the shy romantics of “Chunking.”

Norah Jones — the Grammy-winning, smooth-voiced songstress — makes a fine debut here, although she plays a character who spends most of the film reacting: smiling, crying, thinking. The blank- slate aspect of this novice actress works ideally for the role, especially since the story takes a back seat to the mood.

Ah, the story. “My Blueberry Nights” is a romance, a modest little road movie without much in the way of plot. Jones’ Elizabeth (or later, Lizzie) is a recently jilted lover drawn into a New York City cafe run by Jeremy, played by Jude Law in what might be his most effective, likable performance to date. The two form a bond over heartbreak and, yes, blueberry pie.

But it’s not enough to keep Elizabeth in one place. She decides that it’s time to hit the road, and so she does, finding herself in Memphis, and beyond.

Here, she comes into contact with a varying group of somewhat shady characters, most notably Arnie (played with wounded grace by David Strathairn), his fiery ex (a boiling Rachel Weisz) and, finally, Leslie, a poker-mad gambler played with a sexy joie-de- vivre by a blond Natalie Portman.

And, well, that’s pretty much the plot. Elizabeth/Lizzie learns some lessons, Jude’s Jeremy searches for her in vain, the singer Cat Power (real name: Chan Marshall) makes a short cameo appearance and, through it all, Wong Kar Wai’s standard mood of unbridled romance surges through every character, word and shot.

Darius Khondji is the lensman this time, and he has big shoes to fill; Chris Doyle’s work on “Fallen Angels,” in particular, is time- capsule-quality. But the remarkably talented Khondji has a solid track record of his own, having shot “Se7en” and “Delicatessen.” Wong, viewing the vastness of America as an outsider, likely loved the idea of seeing his work with a new set of eyes, especially considering Doyle’s noted craziness.

If you allow yourself to be drawn into these characters’ shaggy- dog lives, and the Lizzie-Jeremy love story in particular, you’re in for a real treat, and you might wonder why exactly the critical response has been so negative.

Clearly, “My Blueberry Nights” is by no means a film for all viewers. But I can imagine that many who have never heard of Wong Kar Wai might attend the movie for its stars and find a sweet, simple tale.

For those of us who view the world of cinema through Wong’s ever- present shades, it’s another masterpiece.

“The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel” is the Definitive Dennis Hopper Bio

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Recently, I discussed a so-so new bio of the late Dennis Hopper, Tom Folsom’s “Hopper: A Journey Into the American Dream,” which I reviewed for the Buffalo News. It was an entertaining, rather obnoxiously put together book that succeeded in bringing to life the stories and drama of Hopper’s great failure, “The Last Movie,” but was, all in all, a tad disappointing.

A different chronicle of the late icon’s life, Peter L. Winkler’s “Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel” (2011), is the Hopper biography I was looking for, a serious, exhaustively researched effort that will stand, I think, as the definitive account of the life and work of the director-star of “Easy Rider.”

Unlike Folsom’s bio, nothing is left out – including every bit of his strange, messy, post-“Blue Velvet” output. This leads to some wonderfully incisive details, many of them quotes from the man himself. For example:

  • On 1990’s “Backtrack” (Hopper’s original title was “Catchfire”): “True to form, Hopper reportedly turned on a three-hour cut of ‘Catchfire,’ which Vestron [the film’s distributor] reedited to their liking, but not to his … ‘I did a beautiful f—— movie,’ Hopper said, ‘ Strange, intense, slow – not Antonionini, but with a lot of wonderful, unspoken behavior between Jodie and me. But Vestron, being a schlock outfit, totally reedited and rescored the movie to go for the meat, the action.'”
  • On 1990’s “The Hot Spot,” a hot, sticky, underrated Hopper-directed film starring Don Johnson, a sizzling Virginia Madsen, and a young Jennifer Connelly: “‘He [Johnson] walked onto the set every day with five people. This is all insecurity to me. I mean, who’s trying to kill him?'”
  • On 1993’s disastrous “Super Mario’s Bros.,” which saw Hopper give, says Winkler, “the worst performance of his career”: “My son … Was six or seven when I did that movie, and he came up to me after he saw it, and he said, ‘Daddy, I think you’re probably a really good actor, but why did you play King Koopa?’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Well, he’s such a bad guy, why did you want to play him?’ And I said, ‘Well, so you can have shoes.’ And he said, ‘I don’t need shoes. So that was my seven-year-old’s impression.'”

Winkler’s text is full of these moments; I am only focusing on a few from the tail end of Hopper’s career, but the book covers everything, from his childhood and his early days in Hollywood to “Easy Rider”‘s success and his wild personal excesses.

It’s an endlessly compelling read, a scholarly but always entertaining look at an immortal, inimitable figure. As David Lynch described him, “He was one of the world’s all-time cool guys. Dennis was the strongest rebel we had.”

“Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel” is the biography that rebel deserved, an invaluable distillation of an extraordinary, painful, incredible life.

You can buy the book on Amazon, or, for more info, visit Winkler’s website.