Earlier today Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet tapped out a sharp, open-hearted assessment of Jacques Tourneur‘s Out of the Past (’47), which he’s brave enough to admit he’d never seen until the Bluray came along. This is what younger film guys are supposed to do now and then. They’re supposed to say “oh, wow…there’s a whole realm of satisfaction to be had if you can get past the idea of only seeing the latest megaplex crap.” “Seeing films like Out of the Past [makes me] thankful for the position I have,” Brevet writes. “but it’s a matter of convincing others. Remember, if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you and if you’re interested you can own this film noir gem right now.”
Last night’s episode of The Leftovers (“The Garveys At Their Best”) was one of the most intriguing, although in the context of this show that almost means “it’s less irritating than the other episodes.” The whole thing was a flashback showing all the major characters living their normal lives and coping with their issues two or three days before the Big Departure, when 2% of the world’s population vaporized. It was certainly the best episode since “Guest”, which was strongly dominated by Carrie Coon‘s Nora Durst and pretty much put that actress on the map.
But I was also reminded last night what my big stumbling block with this series is, and the reason why I’m always half-frowning and sometimes even scowling when I watch it. I’m talking about Justin Theroux‘s Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s chief of police and easily the weakest, most unstable asshole I’ve ever come to know over the course of a dramatic series, especially given that he’s the central figure and, in Theroux’s own words, “the symbolic center of the town as far as trying to keep his arms around it and hold it together.”
Hold it together? Garvey is a wreck. He looks scared all the time, and when he’s not scared he looks befuddled. Everything throws him. That stupid two-week beard makes it look like he’s been on a bender. He’s always struggling to find words. He can’t hold his temper and is always swearing…”fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” He’s short. He can’t seem to hang on to his white cop shirts. That lost bagel…what was that about? Always banging into walls and stumbling around. Always going “whoa, I don’t get it…do you know what’s going on?” 90% of the time his mouth is hanging open. Whenever he’s outside you’re always expecting birdshit to land in his hair. He’s that kind of guy.
The politically correct brigade has struck again. This time it’s over an errant phrase in an 8.24 N.Y. Times profile of the late Michael Brown, the 18 year-old who was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th, which set off days of protesting in that city and torrents of anger nationwide. The inflammatory wrongo, in the eyes of vigilant watchdogs, is reporter John Eligon‘s description of Brown as “no angel” at the top of the fifth paragraph. To the goose-steppers this indicates a slightly racist undercurrent. To them it implies that Eligon is obliquely characterizing Brown as a kind of troublemaker who may have exacerbated matters and perhaps even hastened his own doom when he and a friend were told by Wilson to “get the fuck on the sidewalk.”
They’re basically saying that journalists aren’t allowed to describe an African-American victim of police violence as “no angel,” even if the victim had a somewhat checkered history. Eligon was required to portray Brown in more neutral-ish terms, even if the sum of the observations and anecdotes about Brown may have allowed for the use of that term. That’s a no-no, reporters, and if the rest of you slip into this attitudinal realm you’re going to get slammed on Twitter.
Eligon and his editors may be closet racists, but his piece struck me as a result of simple shoe-leather reporting. It offers a mixed but not unduly negative portrayal of Brown, who is described in roughly the same kind of terms that I could have been portrayed with when I was 18. Or that the young Robin Williams or Sam Kinison or Elvis Costello might have been described with. Or that almost any contrarian kid with any fire in his veins could have been described with.
In an 8.22 Grantland piece about the late Michael O’Donoghue, Tom Carson briefly mentions Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. This reminded me of an article about this vaguely funny anthology film that was included in the debut issue of the Thousand Eyes Cinema Guide, a Sid Geffen publication that I was the managing editor of in late ’79 or ’80. (I need to find some back issues.) The piece was basically about attempts to get it theatrically distributed, however marginally, and how the original 75-minute assembly was padded with extras (including a Mr. Bill sequence) to push the running time up to 90 minutes. Carson’s article also reminded me of O’Donoghue’s cat-swimming school sequence, which, when you get down to it, is pretty much the only thing I remember about Mr. Mikes’s Mondo Video. Here’s the whole thing. Oddly, it only runs 71 minutes and change, or a little less than four minutes shorter than the original version.
The well-liked, much-respected British actor-director Richard Attenborough has passed at the age of 90. Condolences to fans, family and friends but…well, it’s not like a tree fell on him at age 37. Attenborough lived on a long, industrious and apparently happy life. Accomplished, celebrated. We should all be so fortunate. I did a phoner with Attenborough in the ’90s, and he was almost all mirth, giggles and enthusiasm. Quite impossible to dislike, an excellent politician, almost joyful to a fault.
But I have to say (yes, here we go) that while he was obviously a talented actor who hit his marks and did the job every time, some of his performances drove me nuts. I know Attenborough’s “Big X” in The Great Escape was supposed to be the stalwart leader, but I found him a pill. (This may sound a bit harsh but there was a part of me that didn’t entirely mind when he got shot to death at the end.) I thought he was too emotionally pained and on-the-nose as “Frenchy” in The Sand Pebbles. And I’m sorry but I despised him in Jurassic Park…that glowing pink face and white beard, that look of ecstasy when discussing his dinosaurs, every emotion telegraphed, etc.
I hated the idea of Breaking Bad from the get-go. I didn’t want to know from the scurviness of it. Meth labs, low-life dealers, cancer-stricken protagonist, etc. Plus I’ve had this odd animal dislike for Aaron Paul all along. Have I finally watched all five seasons? No. Have I watched a couple of dozen episodes? No. But I did drop into most of the final season on Vudu. I respect Vince Gilligan‘s ablity to “sell” this repellent but absorbing world, if that makes any sense. This last portion of the final episode [below] is pretty damned effective. But I’m not going to live in realms that I don’t want to live in, and that’s my right as a free individual. I will not invest in characters who have to nowhere to go but down. I can invest in characters who aren’t going anywhere in particular (i.e., existential floaters) or who are determined to be the rebel or the asshole or the sociopath or the latest Tony Montana, but I can’t ride along with guys who are guaranteed to lose.
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For performed so poorly this weekend, landing in eighth place with a pathetic $6,477,000, that you have to wonder why. I was bored by it after five minutes but I figured, well, that’s me. I figured the public might give it a whirl but no. And it cost $60 to $70 million. The lesson, I suppose, is that if you’re going to crank out a sequel, do it within two or three years. Don’t wait fucking nine years, which is how long it’s been since the original, successful Sin City opened in ’05. I’d also like to think that audiences took a whiff of the trailer to the sequel and went, “Oh, God…this again? More of Miller’s misogynist old-dog sexual fantasies, which are rooted in noir cliches of the ’40s and ’50s?” My preferred fantasy is that Miller’s conservative-asshole karma, which reached its zenith when he posted that rat-ugly hate piece about the Occupy movement on his website, came back to bite him.
Either way Miller is done. For now, I mean. He doesn’t speak for the zeitgeist and the zeitgeist wants nothing to do with him. I just re-read a two-day-old Grantland profile of Miller by Alex Pappademas — it almost reads like an obit now. Nobody loves you when your movie’s a flop. Nobody makes eye contact, people stop calling, your assistant gives you neck rubs, etc. Awful. The best thing to do is to drive out to the desert and sulk.
Have I re-watched David Fincher‘s The Girl With Dragon Tattoo since watching it twice in late 2011? Due respect but no. I’ve watched The Social Network six or seven times; ditto Se7en and the Zodiac director’s cut Bluray. But I can let Tattoo go. And yet loved the opening credits, which came out of a collaboration between Fincher, Blur Studio’s Tim Miller and Kellerhouse, Inc.’s Neil Kellerhouse. (I’m presuming, by the way, that the opening credits for Fincher’s Gone Girl are going to be phenomenal.) I’m not saying that Tattoo is unfulfilling or unsuccessful — it’s somewhere between an entirely decent and very good paycheck thriller — but the titles exist on a higher aesthetic plane, largely because this sequence is the only completely original aspect.
Why am I mentioning this? To revive an old-saw topic, i.e., films that try but can’t compete with their opening-credit sequences.
The Saul Bass title sequence for the old Ocean’s Eleven (’60) is much, much better than the film; ditto the ending sequence with the downhearted Rat Pack strolling along the Strip to Sammy Davis, Jr. singing a slow, downbeat version of “Eeyo Elven”. No one’s ever cared that much for Clive Donner‘s inane, anarchic and not particularly funny What’s New, Pussycat? (’65) but the animated main-title sequence, designed by Richard Williams, is wonderfully silly and raucous and…what, champagne fizzy? In its own dopey way it gives you a faint idea of what it was like to repeatedly get lucky and have great sex, over and over and over, in ’65. (A Bluray version streets on Tuesday.)
It’s been so long since I saw and wrote about Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash (i.e., Sundance or seven months ago) that I need to re-immerse and somehow crank up again. Miles Teller‘s best performance ever so far. Pic is baity as far as J.K. Simmons‘ performance as a psychotic musical instructor (a loon in the tradition of R. Lee Ermey‘s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman) is concerned. The Sony Pictures Classics release wil play Toronto and then open on October 10th.
Some Blurays of older black-and-white films can look inauspiciously fine, i.e., good enough. Some pop out in a pristine, extra-textured way, like a brand-new print that hasn’t been touched. Criterion’s Foreign Correspondent or Sweet Smell of Success Blurays come to mind. Or they can look ghastly like Criterion’s Stagecoach. Or very faintly unsatisfying like Warner Home Video’s Notorious Bluray. Every so often a grain purist will claim that a black-and-white film looks a bit too DNR’ed (i.e., Universal’s Psycho Bluray or the original Casablanca Bluray as opposed to the grainy 70th anniversary edition). But Warner Archives’ recently-popped Bluray of Jacques Tourneur‘s Out of the Past (’47) is beautiful. It’s the stuff that Bluray nerd dreams are made of — rich and velvety and clean as a hound’s tooth. It has a noticable but unobtrusive grain structure that will satisfy all but the most neurotic monks. Just enough grain to make it look like film but never enough to make you say “fucking grain.” This puppy is how older black-and-white films should look. It’s as close to perfection as I can imagine, or have ever seen.
Late last September Variety‘s Scott Foundas wrote an appreciation of Thom Andersen‘s re-edited, digitally upgraded version of Los Angeles Plays Itself, which had shown a day or two earlier at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian theatre. (It premiered at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival, which is where I first saw it.) Before the L.A. screening, Foundas writes, Andersen told the audience that the 2013 version “is not an update…I didn’t see the need.”
“The way movies foreclose the possibility of emancipatory politics has not changed,” he explained to the crowd. Foundas reports that Andersen also said “the gulf between an impoverished working class and a wealthy one percent even more of a truism now” than it was in 2003.
Maybe so but for God’s sake, man…you think people are into your film so they can contemplate the socio-political stuff? Los Angeles Plays Itself is almost certainly the best film ever made about how Los Angeles has portrayed itself (or allowed itself to be captured) in movies, hands down. Watching it feels so stimulating on so many levels, like a combination bath and visual massage, and all of it delivered with a smart, socially astute hand. It gives you a nice, comforting academic contact high. It’s a kind of thinking cinefile’s amusement park. It “plays” in any corner of the globe, I’m sure, but, as critic David Fear once suggested, it also stokes the narcissism of Los Angelenos in a way that’s pretty much impossible to resist…the movie is about “our” realm, “our” history, “our” lives and back pages.