Three Sundance reviews, including "Person to Person," starring Michael Cera and Abbi Jacobson, and two World Cinema Dramatic titles.
Premieres, Midnights, Special Events and more have been announced for next month's Sundance Film Festival.
Jason Bateman talks about directing, working with kids, and shaking up his nice-guy image for an R-rated comedy.
Marie writes: I've been watching a lot of old movies lately, dissatisfied in general with the poverty of imagination currently on display at local cinemas. As anyone can blow something up with CGI - it takes no skill whatsoever and imo, is the default mode of every hack working in Hollywood these days. Whereas making a funny political satire in the United States about a Russian submarine running aground on a sandbank near a small island town off the coast of New England in 1966 during the height of the Cold War - and having local townsfolk help them escape in the end via a convoy of small boats, thereby protecting them from US Navy planes until they're safely out to sea? Now that's creative and in a wonderfully subversive way....
I apologize for the lack of postings the last few weeks. A recent flare-up of heart problems left me with little energy to write. But as the emaciated old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says: "I'm feeling much better!"
At one point well into Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" I thought that the movie was going to reveal itself as a story about the meaninglessness of human existence. But that notion was based on a single piece of aphoristic, potential-thesis-statement dialog that, like much else, wasn't developed in the rest of the movie. Which is not to say that "The Master" isn't about the meaninglessness of human life. The line, spoken by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the cult guru known to his acolytes as Master, is addressed to the younger man he considers his "protégé," a dissolute mentally ill drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and the gist of it is that the itinerant Freddie has as much to show for his life as somebody who has worked a regular 9-to-5 job for many years. The point being, I suppose, that for all Freddie's adventures, peculiarities and failures, he isn't all that much different from anybody else. Except, maybe, he's more effed-up.
There are two good films at Toronto about the same thing: Romance that begins during the last months of life for a person with cancer. I wrote earlier about Gus Van Sant's "Restless," and now here is "50/50" by Jonathan Levine, with a screenplay by Will Reiser that is said to be semi-autobiographical. As a person who has been in love while dealing with cancer, these films inspire introspection, and while I admire them I realize they are to some degree escapism--poised at the "Bargaining" position at the center of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief.
From Jason Haggstrom (haggie), Reel 3:
The opening shot of Robert Altman's "The Player" establishes the film as a self-reflexive deconstruction of the Hollywood system and those who run it. With its prolonged shot length, the take is also designed as a means to introduce the bevy of players who work on the lot and to setup the film's general plot--or at least its tone--as a thriller/murder mystery.
The first image in this extended opening shot is of a film set--a painting of one, to be precise. We hear the sounds of a film crew before a clapper pops into the frame. The (off-screen) director shouts "And... action" informing the audience that the film should be viewed as a construct, a film. The camera tracks back to reveal its location on a Hollywood studio lot where movies are described not in accolades of quality, but of quantity with an oversized sign that reads, "Movies, now more than ever."
The lot is filled with commotion. Writers come and go (some invited, some not) as do executives, pages, and assistants. The political hierarchy is highlighted through dialog and interactions that expose the value system of Hollywood. The most powerful arrive by car; high-end models pervade the mise-en-scène in all of the take's exterior moments. An assistant is made to run (literally, and in high heels) for the mail, and then -- before she even has a chance to catch her breath -- to park an executive's car.
In some Scanners comments this weekend, we've been discussing various comparisons between George W. Bush and Richard M. Nixon, seeing as how Oliver Stone has now made made both failed presidents the subjects of Major Motion Pictures. Matt Zoller Seitz and Kevin B. Lee, in a series of visual and print essays at Moving Image Source about Oliver Stone's political portraits ("Born on the Fourth of July," "JFK," "Nixon," "Alexander" -- leading up to "W.") have been re-examining these films as part of Stone's cinematic autobiography-in-process. (I think all these films, for better or worse, say more about their maker than they do about their subjects -- though there's nothing exceptional about that.)
Nixon is a key figure in my life -- the center of many of my political disputes with my late father, who would not find it unflattering to be described a "redneck" from Catawissa, MO, which I think is a pretty accurate description. When I was 10 and studied the 1968 presidential candidates in elementary school, I decided I was for Hubert Humphrey. My dad voted Nixon (though sometimes I suspected him of actually going for Wallace -- a racist gargoyle who could not have terrified this young Seattle white boy more if he had actually worn a gown and pointed hood). To me, Nixon's resignation in disgrace represented the triumph of my morality over my father's. To him, the only difference between Nixon and any other politician was that "he got caught."
Now that I'm older than he was then, I think we both have our points. At any rate, the president the country chooses unquestionably reflects and defines that period in its history.
Which leads me to something Matt writes about "Nixon" (the movie):
CANNES, France--The so-far disappointing 2003 Cannes Film Festival stirred from its torpor over the weekend with sex, violence and dogma. This being Cannes, dogma got the most attention, as Lars Von Trier, a founder of the minimalist Dogma movement, unveiled his three-hour "Dogville." This is one of the most confounding and exasperating films of the festival, and maybe it is brilliant, but I will not be able to determine that until I have recovered from the ordeal of sitting through it.
Q. I just read your review of "The Contender" with Jeff Bridges and Joan Allen. My wife and I had to laugh when we saw the trailer, because we just KNEW Gary Oldman's character was going to be an evil, mean and nasty Republican. As it turns out, we were right! "Random Hearts" is the only film I can recall where a Republican politician was treated as a sympathetic character in a Hollywood film. Can you think of any others? (Marc Giller, Tampa, FL)
Q. I saw "Titanic" a second time to be sure I heard correctly. During the scene where the crew is trying to avoid the iceberg, they shout, "Hard to starboard!" Since they were frantically trying to turn the ship to port, I didn't understand the command. The scene clearly shows the ship veering left, and all of the damage was subsequently done to the starboard side. If someone told me "hard to starboard," I would turn the ship to the right. Maybe we have just discovered the real reason the ship hit the iceberg that night ("Oops! I meant 'port!'"). (Denise Leder, Las Vegas).
Paul Thomas Anderson has made perhaps the best film of 1997, and at age 27 is getting the kind of attention no young director has had since Quentin Tarantino erupted. His "Boogie Nights," which follows a cast of colorful characters through six eventful years in the adult film industry, is the year's best-reviewed film - a hit at the Toronto and New York film festivals - and is now opening around the country.
You always know with a Robert Altman film that you'll get some kind of nudge, a dig in the ribs to wake you up and make you think differently. In the days when he was riding high with "M*A*S*H" and "Nashville," and now in these latter days when his eccentricity isn't fashionable, that hasn't changed. When you ask him why he's working in Paris or on Broadway or cable TV, Altman always grins and says, "I fiddle on the corner where they throw the coins." It's one of his favorite expressions. But he fiddles where he damn well pleases.