Out of the Furnace
"Out of the Furnace," about two suffering brothers (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) in Pennsylvania steel country. hits some of the same notes as "The…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Brian De Palma talks about his new film "Passion," his long career and seeing one of his most famous films, "Carrie," get a remake.
Peter Sobczynski ranks 27 films by Brian De Palma.
A new video essay explores how Terrence Malick's distinctive voice-overs evolved and expanded over time
"Dear Mr. Spider;I am profoundly sorry to have taken you from your home in the woods, when I was picking Himalayan Blackberries on Monday afternoon. I didn't see you fall into my bucket and which was entirely my fault; I must have bumped into your web while reaching for a berry. Needless to say, I was surprised upon returning home with my bucket full, to suddenly see you there standing on a blackberry and looking up at me." - Marie
(photo recreation of incident)
Marie writes: Gone fishing...aka: in the past 48 hrs, Movable Type was down so I couldn't work, my friend Siri came over with belated birthday presents, and I built a custom mesh screen for my kitchen window in advance of expected hot weather. So this week's Newsletter is a bit lighter than usual.
"Troops of nomads swept over the country at harvest time like a visitation of locusts, reckless young fellows, handsome, profane, licentious, given to drink, powerful but inconstant workmen, quarrelsome and difficult to manage at all times. They came in the season when work was plenty and wages high. They dressed well, in their own peculiar fashion, and made much of their freedom to come and go.
"They told of the city, and sinister and poisonous jungles all cities seemed in their stories. They were scarred with battles. They came from the far-away and unknown, and passed on to the north, mysterious as the flight of locusts, leaving the people of Sun Prairie quite as ignorant of their real names and characters as upon the first day of their coming."
-- Hamlin Garland, "Boy Life on the Prairie" (1899), epigraph for Terrence Malick's screenplay for "Days of Heaven," revised June 2, 1976
At some point in 1976, "Days of Heaven" was a screenplay that contained conventionally discrete scenes, developed exchanges of dialog and a fairly straightforward (melo-)dramatic narrative structure. Principal photography took place that year in the plains of Alberta, Canada (standing in for the Texas panhandle shortly before World War I), and the movie that emerged in 1978, after two years of editing, did away almost all of it. What the movie became -- as everyone couldn't help but notice at the time of its original release -- is a film in which the "background" (nature, the landscape) moves into the foreground and the human characters recede into macrocosmic expanses of earth and sky, and microcosmic observations of flora and fauna. And bugs.
Terrence Malick's vision is reflected in his process, whereby an enormous amount of material -- scripted and unscripted, A-roll and B-roll -- is pared down, peeled back, opened up.¹ Camera operator John Bailey, in an interview on the Criterion Blu-Ray edition of "Days of Heaven," describes how the so-called "second unit" work. The close-ups of animals or plants, or the pastoral images of trees or streams are "very, very inserty-type shots, and yet they have the same kind of dramatic impact" as the spectacular wide shots -- or, for that matter, the scenes involving the lead actors. Some complained about that at the time -- that the film was gorgeous but insufficiently developed as human drama, that characters were cyphers, that the technique was "intolerably artsy" and "artificial."²
It starts in a girl's bedroom, the camera slowly retreating in a gentle arc around the bed where the girl lovingly pets and hugs her dog. A teenager's room is a private sanctuary, and this bed (with a blanket folded at the foot for the dog -- a bed upon a bed) is her own imaginary island.
Her name is Holly (Sissy Spacek), and her story (narrated in the first person) and her voice is as flat as Texas but colored with the awkward poetic aspirations of a teenage diarist who's writing her thoughts for herself, but also partly addressing them to some future fantasy reader. She begins:
My mother died of pneumonia when I was just a kid. My father had kept their wedding cake in the freezer for ten whole years. After the funeral he gave it to the yardman... He tried to act cheerful, but he could never be consoled by the little stranger he found in his house. [Fade to black.] Then, one day, hoping to begin a new life away from the scene of all his memories, he moved us from Texas to Ft. Dupree, South Dakota.
Marie writes: Ever since he was a boy, photographer John Hallmén has been fascinated by insects. And he's become well-known for photographing the creatures he finds in the Nackareservatet nature reserve not far from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. Hallmén uses various methods to capture his subjects and the results are remarkable. Bugs can be creepy, to be sure, but they can also be astonishingly beautiful...
Blue Damsel Fly [click to enlarge photos]
Welcome to a special Halloween edition of the Newsletter! Marie writes: the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, in addition to being the final resting place of many a famous name. From Édith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt and Chopin to Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Georges Méliès, the well-known sleep on the tree-lined avenues of the dead and which you can now explore in a virtual 360 degree tour...
The grand Poobah writes: I have been assured by many posters on my video games blog entry that it took decades for the cinema to gain recognition as an art form. Untrue. Among the first to admire it was Leo Tolstoy, and I reprinted his late 19th-century reaction in my Book of Film. In 1908, Tolstoy and his family appeared in an early motion picture, and if you saw The Last Station (2009) you may want to compare your memories with the real thing. Here is some information about those in the film.
The Last Station (2009) Director Michael Hoffman. Cast: James McAvoy, Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon."The Last Station" focuses on the last year of Count Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), a full-bearded Shakespearian figure presiding over a household of intrigues. The chief schemer is Chertkov (Giamatti), his intense follower, who idealistically believes Tolstoy should leave his literary fortune to the Russian people. It's just the sort of idea that Tolstoy might seize upon in his utopian zeal. Sofya (Helen Mirren), on behalf of herself and her children, is livid." - Ebert. You can read Roger's full review HERE.
Here's a question for you: Can a movie ruin a good review? Conversely, can a review actually improve upon a movie? Sure, good criticism (whether positive or negative) should encourage you to see a film in new ways you may not have recognized before. Just as cinema itself is a way of looking at the world through someone else's eyes, criticism is a way of looking at movies through someone else's eyes. Yet, the movies themselves don't change -- only our perceptions of them (we'll put aside William Friedkin's "French Connection" Blu-ray for the moment). On the one hand, a piece of film criticism is kind of like an adaptation. It offers an interpretation of the original, but does not replace it. Other "versions" still exist, just as they always did.
I can think of several examples of criticism that I think is superior to the work being criticized, in the sense that the critic is writing about an idealized version of what's on the screen -- the movie we might wish was on the screen, rather than (or in addition to) the one that's actually there. A clarification: This has nothing to do with whether the critic is divining the filmmaker's intentions or not. It has everything to do with what the critic is seeing in, and getting out of, the film.
Q. I recently came across a post on gawker.com which claimed to contain an excerpt from the worst movie review of all time. The review is for the new Paul Rudd comedy "Role Models" and was written by (name withheld) of FHMOnline.com. Could this be the worst review ever done by a "professional" writer? Also, the article claimed (name withheld) was paid handsomely for writing this drivel. What does that say about the state of film criticism in America when major critics are losing their jobs while rubbish like this is published and paid for?
My favorite documentary of 2007 (which I haven't had a chance to write about yet) is Gary Hustwit's "Helvetica," a look at a ubiquitous typeface. It's the kind of movie that helps you to see the world around you anew, freshly attuned to all the fonts in your world. Me, I'm a Helvetica guy. I hate fonts that call attention to themselves, and Helvetica is so clean and strong and elegant you can do almost anything with it just by varying sizes, colors, weights, spacing and placement. Our good friend Larry Adylette, the superlative movie and music and pop culture blogger formerly known as The Shamus (and, before that, That Little Round-Headed Boy), has a few words on Helvetica (and "Helvetica") over at his new blog, Welcome to L.A. -- which is also the title of Alan Rudolph's funny-peculiar 1976 debut feature, starring Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman, Harvey Keitel, Sissy Spacek, Lauren Hutton, Geraldine Chaplin, Viveca Lindfors and Richard Baskin. (A parenthetical time-out to say: "Hello, Larry!," as they used to remark on NBC for a very short time in 1979-80 after McLean Stevenson left "M*A*S*H," thus providing Garry Shandling with a great network-meeting joke in an early episode of "The Larry Sanders Show.") Larry writes: Just like film bloggers who parse every frame of "No Country For Old Men," these font fanatics have obsessed about every curve and dimension of Helvetica. To them, Helvetica is either a perfect, easily readable form of mass communication or something akin to Anton Chigurh with a coin and an air-tank gun. They are an argumentative, often hilarious bunch...I have no idea what he's talking about.
But that's not really the reason for this post. It's about an entirely different (serif) font, Trajan, which as Kirby Ferguson of Goodie Bag details in the above movie, has become the movie font. "Trajan is the movie font," he says -- and then goes on to show you so many examples your head will spin. In the end, though, like me, he's a Helvetica guy. Look at those end credits. Not Trajan. Helvetica. I'll write more about "Helvetica" later, because I'm fascinated with it (the font and the movie) and I already want to see it a third time.
(tip: Ali Arikan)
P.S. Karsten (in comments below) offers an explanation for the film-font phenomenon with a link to this animated murder mystery, "Etched in Stone." (link opens new browser tab/window)
View image Look back in Angora: An Ed Wood moment between Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson in Brian De Palma's "The Black Dahlia."
In anticipation of Brian DePalma's "The Black Dahlia," which premiered at the Venice Film Festival to bi-polar reviews and opens in the US September 15, a number of sites are celebrating the modern master of the rapturous moving camera. (See De Palma a la Mod for all the latest on De Palma and the Dahlia.) Dennis Cozzalio has an excellent round-up of who's doing what at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, and adds his own illuminating thoughts to the heady mix. (And don't forget to check out his Opening Shots submission for De Palma's "Femme Fatale" here at Scanners.)
Peet Gelderblom also has some good stuff about the "unofficial De Palma blogathon" at Lost in Negative Space. And I finally took the advice of That Little Round Headed Boy and caught up with De Palma's much-maligned "Mission to Mars," which has moments of astonishing beauty and suspense, despite being hobbled by a terrible script (original screenwriters joined by an ampersand; re-writer Graham "Speed" Yost tacked on with an "and") and one of the most lifeless performances I have ever seen from Connie Nielsen. (How could she not have been fired after the first day? She's heavier-than-leaden in almost every single moment she has on screen -- except the marvelous weightless dance sequence to [and you have to appreciate the humor] Van Halen. Other than that, like a Martian tornado she sucks.) De Palma is a terrific director of women (Margo Kidder, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Betty Buckley, Amy Irving, Carrie Snodgress, Nancy Allen, Angie Dickinson...) but Nielsen is really Not of This Earth. (TLRHB also features some informative comments about "Mission to Mars," including a link to Matt Zoller Seitz's round-up of reviews, from pans to raves.)
I've said this many times before about De Palma, but give this guy a decent screenplay and he can work wonders. Look what he can do even when he doesn't have one. So, give the guy a good script, already!
Whenever you watch a movie, you're also probably watching just about every other movie you've ever seen. The images that flash by trigger associations in your brain -- some of them deliberately planted by the filmmakers, others not. Still, you've got all these images and memories banging around in your head and they're going to connect with something no matter what.
As I wrote in my review of "The Descent" and subsequent postings, director Neil Marshall quite deliberately conjures up memories of other movies (especially, but not exclusively, horror movies) to evoke emotions and effects that have lingered in viewers' imaginations.
Take the "rebirth" of one character, who emerges from the ground coated in blood, like a baby from the womb. This image resonates with memories from a number of terrific movies. Before I get to a more detailed discussion, the usual **SPOILER ALERT** is in order -- not only for "The Descent," but several of its antecedents, including "Deliverance," "Carrie," "Evil Dead 2" and "The Third Man." OK, let's give these movies a hand!
Related story by Roger Ebert:
PARK CITY, Utah -- I took a day off to cover the Oscars, and I'm nine films behind. That's nine I've seen, not nine I've missed. They are so various and in many cases so good that the problem is to write about them without sounding like a crazed cinemaniac.
Ebert's Best Film Lists 1967 - present
SANTA MONICA, Calif.--But first for something completely different. The 2002 Independent Spirit Awards, or Oscars Unchained, were handed out here Saturday under a big top on the beach. Oscar nominees like Nicole Kidman, Ian McKellen and Sissy Spacek rubbed shoulders with indie legends like John Waters, Kasi Lemmons and Steve Buscemi, in a hip party atmosphere.
I approach this annual task with a sense of foreboding. The 2002 Oscar race rests on shifting sands. There are scarcely even any absolute front-runners, unless it is Jennifer Connolly as best supporting actress. I am sure of one category, then another. Then I change my mind.
PARK CITY, Utah -- This was an especially satisfying Sundance Film Festival. Day after day, clicking off three to four screenings, I became heartened by the good health of independent films. Of course, thanks to the dumbed-down movie distribution system and bookers with blinders, some of the films I liked most may never play in some cities (or states). But at least they exist, and thank God for cable and video stores.
PARK CITY, Utah "The Believer," a controversial film about a Jewish anti-Semite, won the Grand Jury Prize as best dramatic film at the 20th Sundance Film Festival here Saturday night. "Southern Comfort," about an extended family of transsexuals in rural Georgia, won the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries.
PARK CITY, Utah -- One day at Sundance, three wonderful films:
I wonder if Richard Farnsworth would mind if I called him a geezer. Maybe not if I provided my definition of a geezer: Anyone who can sing "I'm An Old Cowhand" and make you believe it. He wears jeans and a cowboy hat like working clothes, and although he's appeared in hundreds of movies and even been nominated for an Oscar, he describes himself as a rancher. You talk to him and sense he'd choke before he told a fib or uttered a four-letter word.