Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Everything that a fan could want from a Star Wars movie and then some.
Who plays Joseph McCarthy?
Someone over at MindValley Ecommerce Labs found a pirate DVD of "Good Night, and Good Luck." in (San Francisco's?) Chinatown that promises a different take, as it were, on the 1950s television showdown between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. If you look closely, you'll see this isn't a porn rip-off (that would be "Good Night, and Good F***") -- it's the Oscar-nominated George Clooney movie with, um, embellished packaging. (Patricia Clarkson's role has been enhanced, too.)
I wonder: Do you suppose that somebody enticed to buy this movie with that artwork might, perhaps, be disappointed in the black-and-white historical film inside? Might this person, then, be a bit wary of buying pirated DVDs in the future? Or does the sexed-up cover make for a delightful coffee-table conversation piece?
My favorite thing is the juxtaposition of the hot wet babe with the tag line: "We will not walk in fear of one another." I am convinced that she does not walk in fear -- of McCarthy or anybody. Rather, she walks in high humidity.
Kal-El descends to Earth in his Super Jesus Christ Pose
The figure responsible for last year's so-called Hollywood slump may just be be the savior of this year's summer grosses, according to some biz types. Yes, we're talking about Jesus Christ. Mel Gibson's blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ" attracted so many people who don't ordinarily go to the movies in the spring of 2004, that it made the revenues for 2005 look out of whack in comparison. But this year, JC helped inspire "The Da Vinci Code" to a miraculous opening (despite generally bad reviews -- a miserable 24% on the TomatoMeter). It's been the top grosser for five weeks overseas, where Box Office Jesus has trumped all the X-Men's superpowers combined. Next, the King of the Jews is poised to take on "Forrest Gump," making "The Da Vinci Code" the biggest Tom Hanks movie ever. Holy Fool!
(Second) Coming Soon: "Superman Returns." He's been away, but now he's back. Just like You Know Who....
Enlarge image: "It's... It's a f- flaw... in the iris."
At his excellent movie blog, girish (aka Girish Shambu) savors those all-important "cinephiliac moments": ...these are small, marginal moments that detonate an unforgettable little frisson in the viewer. The important thing to remember is that these are not moments carefully designed to exert great dramatic effect—not that there’s anything wrong with those—but instead they are fleeting "privileged" moments writ small that we find ourselves strongly attracted to, perhaps even disproportionately so given their scale and possible (lack of) intention. I daresay an appreciation (enthusiasm? passion?) for such ineffably or uncannily wonderful moments -- the kinds of serendipitous just right touches (gestures, expressions, line readings, camera movements, framings) that Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy used to celebrate in "Moments Out of Time" at the end of each year in Movietone News and Film Comment -- is what characterizes a real movie lover. It's the so-called "little" things that mean everything; they transform the mundane into the extraordinary.
OK, now they've done it. They've shown that they really can take performances from old movies and re-animate them to make new scenes the original actors never did. And make it look pretty convincing. Take a gander at this astonishing UK ad for the VW Golf GTI ("The original, updated."), in which Gene Kelly does a whole new kind of singin' and dancin' in the rain. Sacrilege or marvel? Whatever you make of it, at least it's a hell of a lot better made than the infamous 1997 Dirt Devil spot with Fred Astaire and the vacuum cleaner, based on the famous "dancing on the ceiling" bit from "Royal Wedding"...
Where did these cars go?
"To preserve our children's future, we have to waste every resource we've got."
No, that was not Dick Cheney. That was Stephen Colbert, endorsing General Motors' $1.99 gasoline promotion: Buy one of their guzzlers and they'll reimburse you for fuel costs at the end of one year so that you wind up paying no more than a buck ninety-nine a gallon. (If you remember to send in your receipts with that mail-in rebate form, that is!) Colbert heartily endorses the deal, using flawless logic: The only way we're going to get more efficient fuel technology is to use up all the oil we can, as fast as we can.
Oddly, this is much the same logic behind the death of GM's electric car, the EV1, in the mid-1990s. According to the new documentary (and technological murder-mystery) "Who Killed the Electric Car?," there was simply too much easy money remaining to be made from old technology and the remaining trillion gallons of crude oil beneath the Earth's crust. So, anti-free-market forces (oil companies, petro-politicians, automakers) killed off an existing, and quite successful, fuel cell vehicle that was already available in California and Arizona. Emissions: None. Speed: Up to 184 mph. Operating cost: The equivalent of buying gasoline at 60 cents a gallon.
Tony Kushner knows the difference. He responds to Clive James' playground insults (see How Not To Write About Film) in kind, with a scathingly funny (and totally accurate) letter to the New York Times. The Pulitzer-winning writer of "Angels in America" and co-screenwriter of "Munich" says: In his review of Phillip Lopate's anthology "American Movie Critics" (June 4), Clive James, wanting to demonstrate to critics how to "take down" a film they don't like, pans "Munich." He accuses the film's writers of not knowing "half enough about politics." No instances of our semi-ignorance are provided; not one line of the script is cited....
I, having been taken down, will run for cover in a moment, but first I would like to respond to James's devastating analysis. I do so know more than half enough!... Since "Munich" isn't mentioned in the anthology, his attack isn't merely vague, it's utterly gratuitous. After using up an awful lot of paper and ink sharing his opinions of real film critics, James exposes himself as the sort of writer who slags the people behind the art because he can't summon the substance or wit to articulate his unhappiness with the art itself — or, I suspect, in the case of "Munich," with the politics he feels the art expresses. That's the difference between a critic and a crank.
"Barry Lyndon" opens with a bang.
Any good movie -- heck, even the occasional bad one -- teaches you how to watch it. And that lesson usually starts with the very first image. I'm not talking necessarily about titles or opening sequences (they're worth discussing, too -- but that's another article); I'm talking about opening shots. As those who have been reading Scanners (and my Editor's Notes on RogerEbert.com) know, two of my cardinal rules for movie-watching are:
1) The movie is about what happens to you while you watch it. So, pay attention -- to both the movie and your response. If you have reactions to, or questions about, what you're seeing, chances are they'll tell you something about what the movie is doing. Be aware of your questions, emotions, apprehensions, expectations.
2) The opening shot (or opening sequence) is the most important part of the movie... at least until you get to the final shot. (And in good movies, the two are often related.)
The opening shot can tell us a lot about how to interpret what follows. It can even be the whole movie in miniature. I'm going to talk about some of my favorites, and how they work, and then request that you contribute your own favorites for possible publication in future Scanners columns.
My friend the film critic Richard T. Jameson made a clever and brilliant observation about Jonathan Glazer's "Birth," my favorite movie of 2004, before I'd even seen it. RTJ said he thought it was as if the Surrealist masterpiece "Un Chien Andalou" had been adapted into a narrative feature film. And so it is. I'd almost forgotten about this by the time I saw the movie, but there was something about that "Ten Years Later" title at the beginning that tweaked my movie-memory... (Titles like that always make me think of "Un Chien Andalou.") But by the time Danny Huston was pushing a piano across the room I was jumping out of my seat.
Robert C. Cumbow (former contributor to RTJ's Movietone News, a publication of the Seattle Film Society) and Dennis Cozzalio have both written eloquently and appreciatively about "Birth," and its Kubrickian connections in particular (and I'm working on something else in connection with the film for Scanners and RogerEbert.com -- stay browsed!). But I wanted to contribute a few observations (specifically visual ones) from the Andalusian Dog perspective, because echoes of Buñuel (particularly "Un Chien Andalou" and "Belle de Jour") reverberate throughout "Birth."... [SPOILERS AHEAD]
Satan bunks with Saddam.
At The Hot Blog, David Poland has somehow gotten ahold of an obscenely funny memo from "South Park"'s Matt Stone, sent to the MPAA Ratings Board during negotiations over the rating for 1999's "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut." (WARNING: Explicit language -- as if you couldn't have anticipated that.) Stone even misspells "Sadaam." Ah, those were such innocent times. It ends with one of the great kiss-offs in Hollywood studio correspondence history: "P.S. This is my favorite memo ever." One of mine, too.
Enlarge image: "Jaan Pehechaan Ho"
Terry Zwigoff ("Crumb," "Bad Santa," "Art School Confidential") said that as soon as he saw this musical number, "Jaan Pehechaan Ho," from the 1965 Bollywood production "Gumnaam," he knew he had to have it for the opening of his film "Ghost World." You can see why. It's mesmerizing -- one of the wildest, craziest musical numbers I've ever seen. The (Lynchian) energy is so frenetic the thing practically pops off the screen. And the way it's directed and choreographed for film is fantastic. The camera is always in the right place, and the shots of the necessary duration. You never feel like the director and editor are just cutting between different angles at random (as in the last few centuries of music videos, or Oliver Stone movies), chopping up and defusing the kinetic energy of the dancers and the dance. Every shot (mostly full shots, with a few mediums and only a few well-chosen close-ups for punctuation) seems to have been planned with the camera in mind, so that the whole dance only exists as assembled on film. That's the way a movie musical number is supposed to be. And there's something going on in just about every part of the frame -- and in the foreground, middle ground and background, too! (I think the opening of the first "Austen Powers" movie was the last time somebody did it right like this.)
The whole number is available on the "Ghost World" DVD, and on the web -- here as an .mpg download and here on YouTube.
Groovy frame grabs and more after the jump.