Wednesday Round-Up: It’s Wong Kar-Wednesday!

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On certain days, “Chunking Express” is my favorite movie, and Wong Kar-wai is my favorite director. So the fact that his latest film, “The Grandmaster,” is opening in Buffalo next Friday (August 30) thrills me.

It has been a long-time coming. It feels like his last release, 2008’s “Ashes of Time Redux,” was a decade ago, and his last “real” film, “My Blueberry Nights,” seems like it came out two decades ago.

“The Grandmaster” has been talked about for several years, and its production was downright epic. But now it is here, and that means we are being flooded with interviews, appreciations, reviews, and more.

One example is a very good interview he did with Slant. One question in particular jumped out to me:

Slant: I’ve seen two different cuts of the film, and there was plenty of “exclusive” footage in each. If it weren’t for that lack of patience among audiences, would you like to release a version that comprises most of the footage, one that would be as long as most Leone movies? Or are the running times dictated by other things?

“Yeah, sadly, today, the distribution of films is very competitive, so in China we can afford to release this film at two hours and 10 minutes, but we have an obligation to release this film under two hours in the United States. But I don’t just want to do a shorter version, do some trimming, take out some scenes, because I think the structure of the Chinese version is very delicate, and very precise. So instead I want to do a new version, I want to tell this story in a different way. And in fact, American cinema, besides Chinese cinema, has the longest history with kung-fu films. So I think we can focus and go directly to the story. In the Chinese version, it’s really about time. And here [in the U.S.] it’s really about character. We follow the story of Ip Man and go through this world of martial arts.”

Hmm. I hope we have a chance to see both cuts here in the States, perhaps on DVD; methinks I’ll be buying an import copy. This is tricky, though. WKW seems pretty cool about it all above, but check out this breakdown of the crucial differences between the U.S. and Hong Kong edits on Film.com.

Let’s take a look at some cool articles etc. on WKW and his films.

 

Photo from Slant article: Wong Kar Wai on the set of “The Grandmaster.” [PHOTO: THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY]

Wednesday Round-Up: The Dissolve Kicks Off by Demonstrating Why “Innocence” is “Unmistakably Scorsese”

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I’m not sure why it took Pitchfork so longer to enter the film criticism realm, but taking its time may have been wise. Last week, The Dissolve finally launched, and it features a murderer’s row of cinema heavyweights: Keith Phipps, Scott Tobias, Nathan Rabin, Tasha Robinson, Matt Singer. These are some of my favorites, and the site that has brought them together, Avengers-style, is—so far, at least—a treat.

For example, check out the “Departures” column, explained thusly: “Departures looks at films by talents who defied expectations and tried something different. Are these films true anomalies, or not quite the left turns they appear to be?”

That’s a great idea, and Tobias’s first pick, Martin Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence,” is an ideal selection:

“It’s hard to compare the New York of ‘The Age of Innocence’ to the savage criminal underworlds of Scorseseland a century later, but only because the kills here don’t stain the hardwood. But Newland is rubbed out just as surely as the pileup of gangsters in ‘Goodfellas’—to a point, he’s responsible for pulling the trigger—and for the same reason: With the world outside threatening change, the mobs in both films have to close rank to survive.”

“Innocence” is, I think one of Scorsese’s least best films, and is deserving of such a close analysis. If this is where The Dissolve is going, I applaud it.

Or consider the column “Performance Review,” in which “each entry focuses on a specific category in a given year, in several different awards ceremonies, in an effort to determine the year’s most criminally overlooked performances. First stop: Bes Supporting Actor, 1991.

I love Mike D’Angelo’s appreciation of Samuel L. Jackson’s un-nominated—by Oscar—role as Gator in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever”; he was honored by the New York Film Critics Circle:

“[I]n his final confrontation with his father, his act of defiance takes the form of a silent, murderous hate-shimmy that conveys far more contempt than words ever could. It’s chilling to behold. One year earlier, Jackson was still playing roles like ‘Taxi Dispatcher’ in films like ‘Betsy’s Wedding’; Gator changed that, and it’s no surprise it was the New York critics who acknowledged it.”

The Dissolve seems a worthy entry in the crowded field of online movie criticism, and it will be interesting to watch it develop.

And the rest:

  • “Eyes Wide Shut” opened on July 16, 1999. To commemorate, The Film Stage offers a doc on symbolism in Kubrick’s swan song.
  • “Only God Forgives finally opens this Friday, and I am having an internal debate: theater, or home? Chances are I’ll opt for VOD. I’m very much looking forward to it, although it’s difficult not to go in expecting a major letdown. Here is one of the more interesting reviews I’ve come across so far.
  • A Tweet about the ending of Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” led me to this nice analysis of that film’s mysterious and controversial ending.
  • Two must-see trailers: The latest American preview for Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster,” and the first look at Spike Lee’s “Oldboy.” I did not spot a squid.
  • The great Indiewire is 15. Take a look at its “first issue.” Author Irvine Welsh made an appearance: “According to a story in this week’s issue of _New Yorker Magazine_ (July 15, 1996) the novelist who wrote TRAINSPOTTING spent a night in jail following ‘a recent four-day binge’ which featured ‘everything—everything you can imagine.’”
  • David Cronenberg’s latest has begun filming. “Map to the Stars” John Cusack, Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Olivia Williams, and Sarah Gadon.
  • The unrealized projects of Alan Resnais.
  • Guess what? Only 50 days until TIFF.

“The Age of Innocence” still is from a TIFF retrospective of the film

Coming Attraction: Aaa-hooooo! Werewolves of Wall Street, Scorsese-Style

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Seemingly during the middle of last night, the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” dropped, and it’s a good one.

This re-teaming of the filmmaker and his late-period De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, is the story of the rise and fall of a brash Wall Street stockbroker during the 1990s. Some thoughts on the “Wolf” trailer, which might features more cutting than any other released this year:

  • This thing MOVES, and feels a bit like the coke-fever segment of “Goodfellas” stretched to feature length. I’ve enjoyed every Scorsese movie post-“Goodfellas” to some degree, but “Wolf” feels more adrenalized than anything he’s done in ages.
  • It seems to revisit the dark comic tone of Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” and “After Hours.” As Jeffrey Wells puts it, “The cutting on this ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ trailer is brilliant. Accurately or otherwise, it persuades you that this … apparently is not a dramatic scolding exercise as much as a kind of dark existential comedy about living the life of madness when you can…go for it now, take the bust later.”
  • I attempted to read Jordan Belfort’s book, but found did not find it particularly gripping; I gave up, but vowed to try again before the movie is released. It seems to me that the film captures the book’s tone well, but also softens the snide a bit via the casting of the perennially likable DiCaprio. (It would not work with, say, Jeremy Piven in the lead. He can be a jerk, but he has to be a jerk with a dash of caddish likability.)
  • This looks like a return to “light Leo,” and not a moment too soon. (Yes, you could argue that “Django” featured an occasionally comic Leo, but it was comic Leo playing a slave owner …) Consider the films DiCaprio has starred in since his last real comedic role, in 2002’s “Catch Me If You Can”: “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed,” “Blood Diamond,” “Body of Lies,” “Revolutionary Road,” Shutter Island,” “Inception,” “J. Edgar,” “Django Unchained,” and “The Great Gatsby.” Pretty grim lot. (It is hard not to first think of Jay Gatsby when watching the trailer race along; Badass Digest Tweeted “How Gatsby got his dough.”)
  • Some interesting physical notes here: This is a slightly heavier Jonah Hill than we saw I “21 Jump Street,” and Matthew McConaughey appears to have begun his dramatic weight loss for “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” (According to the web, the sprawling cast includes Jean Dujardin, Kyle Chandler, Jon Favreau, Cristin Milioti, Rob Reiner, and, of course, Joanna Lumley and Spike Jonze.)
  • The soundtrack, Kanye Wests’s new song “Black Skinhead,” could NOT be more perfect.
  • Finally, I know Scorsese used Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” to memorable effect in “The Color of Money,” but I’m pulling for its usage here. Lyrically (“I’d like to meet his tailor,” “His hair was perfect”), the song is just right. I’m sure Zevon would approve.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” draws blood on November 15.

 

Photo from New York Daily News/Paramount Pictures

In “Goodfellas,” One Dog Goes One Way, One Dog Goes the Other Way, and I’m Watching Them Both

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It’s possible I’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” more than any other film in my last twenty or so years. And when I come upon it — on AMC, Spike, etc. — I have to watch it. It makes no difference to me whether it is edited for TV or not. Sure, it’s nice to hear Pesci’s poetic profanity, but I’ll take it either way.

So I was thrilled to recently write about a new Blu-ray box set that includes “Goodfellas,” “Heat,” “Mean Streets,” “The Departed,” and “The Untouchables” for buffalospree.com. Since it’s a rather busy day, I thought I’d post that piece, which also looks at some other cool recent releases. It’s all part of my occasional “Mondays With Schobie” segment for the Spree site.

Incidentally, a few years ago, my best friend Anthony surprised me with one of Henry Hill’s paintings, and a print of the famous “One dog goes one way, one dog goes the other way” painting pictured above. They adorned the walls of my Spree office for years.

Take it away, me (note that on the Spree site, titles are italicized; since I’m lazy, I generally put them in quotes here):

There are certain movies that I simply have to watch any time I stumble upon them on TV, and while the roster has changed periodically since I was a younger man (I’d no longer include the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, although I still love them dearly), there are a few that have sat there comfortably for the last few years.

  • Interestingly, five of them have been put together in a new Blu-ray set from Warner Home Video, and it’s almost as if they asked me what I’d like to see in a set called “Ultimate Gangster Collection.” There are actually two sets—“Contemporary” features Mean Streets, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, Heat, and The Departed, while “Classic” is comprised of Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, The Petrified Forest, and White Heat. And while I’m referring specifically to the former as my repeat viewing favorites, these are both must-owns (and smartly timed for release just before Father’s Day). The “Contemporary” set is ideal for a viewer like me who owns all of these films on DVD, but is ready to trade up for remastered Blu-ray versions. There are a number of special features for each film, but in each case, the movies themselves are what truly excite. The three Martin Scorsese crime classics — Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and The Departed—are fascinating to view together, coming at three distinct periods in the filmmaker’s career. Meanwhile, The Untouchables is both Brian De Palma’s most commercially successful and purely enjoyable film, and Heat is the quintessential Michael Mann epic. The films of the “Classic” set are, of course, legendary, with two of James Cagney’s finest performances (Public Enemy and White Heat), Edward G. Robinson’s immortal “Rico” (in Little Caesar), and Petrified Forest’s stunning trio of Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, and Leslie Howard. The subject matter might be tough, and the violence brutal, but both sets represent the peak of cop-robber-and-gangster cinema. (Warner Home Video, 2013)
  • Now for something completely different: Another of those if-it’s-on-I-gotta-watch-it is National Lampoon’s Vacation, and a new thirtieth anniversary Blu-ray of the Chevy Chase-starrer offers a chance to revisit the film minus the commercials and TV edits. (Until watching this new edition, I’m not sure I’d ever seen the film uncut.) What stands out most about the film today is how grounded in reality it was; even Randy Quaid’s immortal cousin Eddie is pretty darn believable. And it captures the often overwhelming stress of the family road trip in a way I’m not sure any other film has. Vacation looks better than it ever has, and the disc also features a well-made documentary. (Warner Home Video, 2013)
  • Several other recently released DVD/Blu-rays that benefit from a second viewing include: Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects (Open Road Films, 2013), featuring award-worthy performances from Rooney Mara and Jude Law; Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color (ERBP, 2013), a mind-F of a film that, literally, I watched twice in one sitting — this one demands it; and two recent Criterion releases, Godard’s Band of Outsiders and Alex Cox’s punk-sci-fi cult hit, Repo Man (Criterion Collection, 2013).

I also want to give a quick mention to a few books I’ve read since last I wrote this columns that fit here, sort of. When I finished all three, I had to dive back in to re-read some favorite parts, so there you go.

  • The Man from Primrose Lane: I came upon James Renner’s sci-fi-ish stunner when news broke that Bradley Cooper would star in a film adaptation. Considering Cooper’s ascension to the Hollywood A-list, that’s a good indicator a book could make some waves, and if Primose has not yet, it will, and soon. It’s the strange story of an old man (“the Man from Primrose Lane”), a sudden murder, a best-selling author whose wife has committed suicide, and an obsessive quest to discover the truth. It’s a book that, like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, is at times difficult, but always compulsively readable. (Macmillan/Sarah Crichton Books, 2012)
  • The Interestings: Meg Wolitzer is the author of nine novels, and her latest, The Interestings, is her most acclaimed yet. It’s a sprawling tale of five creative teenagers and their tangled adult lives, and I found it a story that seems ready-made for an HBO series. It’s sad, funny, and, for anyone who ever thought their destiny might lie in the art world, unmissable. (Penguin Publishing/Riverhead, 2013)
  • The Friedkin Connection—A Memoir: William Friedkin is one of those filmmakers whose highs could not be higher (Oscar wins for The French Connection, box-office glory for The Exorcist) and lows could not be lower (the flop of Sorcerer, the controversial Cruising, and, well, pretty much every movie he made between To Live and Die in L.A. and last year’s Killer Joe). His memoir is an honest, remarkably candid look at almost every one of his movies, and at his own failings as a person and filmmaker. It is especially insightful to hear him discuss Cruising, the gay serial killer film that ranks among the most fascinating, wildly flawed studio pictures of the last thirty years. (Harper, 2013)

All of these films and books have something common: I could sit down with them now and be just as contented as I was the first time I watched or read them.

Cannes Round-Up No. 1: Boos, Rifts, and Violence

 

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As I’ve mentioned, Cannes 2013 is in full swing. Part of the fun for those of us following from across the pond is keeping up with the tidal wave of articles, reviews, and announcements unleashed by the festival. Here are just a few of my faves from the last few days:

A handy list of 10 critics to follow on Twitter during Cannes.

Eric Kohn wrote a strong review of “A Separation” director Asghar Fargadi’s new film, “The Past.”

Nicholas Winding Refn talks violence and Gosling.

Is there a rift between Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee? They say no way

The Playlist looks at some films that were infamously booed at Cannes, including “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”

A party was held for Martin Scorsese’s finally-ready-to-shoot passion project, “Silence,” and Jeffrey Wells was there.

 

Photo from the Toronto Star/ANDREAS RENTZ / GETTY IMAGES