Every year Envelope/Gold Derby columnist Tom O’Neil guest curates an exhibit called “And the Winner Is …” at the Hollywood Museum (1600 No. Highland, just down the street from the Kodak). It’s a celebration of the remnants of several films old and new. There are costumes and items from impressionable-Eloi films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Twilight: New Moon (“yes, a Taylor Lautner costume in addition ones worn by Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart,” O’Neil says) as well as The Hurt Locker, The Blind Side, Inglourious Basterds, Julie & Julia, The Young Victoria, Bright Star, (500) Days of Summer and Star Trek mixed in artifacts from Gone With the Wind, Ben-Hur, Gladiator, etc.
I caught a screening last night of Paramount’s finely restored version of John Huston‘s The African Queen (1951), which will be issued on DVD and Blu-ray on 3.23. I was happy to see it, happy to see a short doc that explains how the restoration came about, and happy to meet Paramount’s vp of restoration Ron Smith — the guy who saw the project through from start to finish.
How much better looking is this new Queen than the version that gets shown on Turner Classic Movies now and then? A lot better, I’d say. Some of it looks amazing — sharper focus, smoother textures, no blotchy colors. There are portions that look only slightly or somewhat better because they were matte shots or African location footage to begin with, and therefore were never as clean and well lighted as the sound stage work Huston shot in London, but they still look better than they ever have. And the sound has been nicely enhanced (i.e., the usual scratches, hisses and pops removed).
And Katharine Hepburn looks a bit prettier or glammier, even, than she has before in this film. (Her cheekbones were quite amazing.) And Humphrey Bogart‘s beard looks more specifically scruffy, his facial color is more tanned, and the stains on his shirt and pants and grubby little hat are more noticable.
Nobody has to be sold on The African Queen being a must-own classic, except that it obviously hasn’t been ownable until now. It looks as good as it’s ever going to look, or significantly richer and fresher than before…however you want to put it.
The screening happened at Viacom screening room at Broadway and 44th. Some Came Running‘s Glenn Kenny and New York Post critic Lou Lumenick also attended. Delicious cupcakes and other things that are quite bad for you were served after the screening.
Paramount’s restoration vp Ron Smith prior to last evening’s screening — Thursday, 3.4, 5:55 pm.
I spoke to Smith about the restoration particulars, and about other large-format (i.e., mostly VistaVision) films in the Paramount library that he’s been remastering for high-definition broadcast and eventual Blu-ray. (Like The Ten Commandments, To Catch A Thief, etc.) I was particularly interested in the fate of Marlon Brando‘s One-Eyed Jacks, for which the copyright expired in 1988 and which is now a public domain title. The bottom line is that Paramount has all the primary materials, but unless they can arrange to protect some portion of the copyright (like the literary rights, let’s say) there’s nothing to legally prevent other companies from ripping off their upgrade and putting out their own version.
Smith arranged to get access to The African Queen‘s original three-strip Technicolor negative in England, and then had it scanned and sent via a high-end server to Motion Picture Imaging in Burbank to be restored and recombined. Smith has noted that “this was probably the first restoration [in which] we never touched or even saw the actual film.”
Smith’s restoration produced an unfortunate by-product. An actor was hired to double for Robert Morley during African location footage, and he appears in two shots — one in which Morley’s minister character is leading the natives in the singing of a choir, and another in which he’s gardneing. In both shots you can now tell that this guy — his features looking much sharper — doesn’t look a bit like Morley. Not even like his cousin, I mean. It’s a little embarassing. If I’d been in Smith’s shoes I would have CG-pasted Morley’s face on top of the stand-in’s.
I couldn’t help but snicker at Bogart’s line about his “boys” — a pair of ebony-skinned African natives — “moanin’ and rollin’ their eyes” when they sensed danger from the sounds of the oncoming German army. I’m sorry but this description sounds only a step or two removed from one of the boys saying “feets, don’t fail me now!”
In a NY Times piece set to appear in Sunday’s (3.7) edition, A.O. Scott dismisses the David-versus-Goliath analogy that everyone has applied to the Hurt Locker vs. Avatar Best Picture showdown. “It is really, melodrama and rooting interests aside, a contest between the mega-blockbuster and the long tail,” he writes.
“That last phrase, the title of a 2006 book by Chris Anderson, already has a bit of an anachronistic sound, but Mr. Anderson’s idea, shorn of some of its revolutionary overstatement, is still compelling. As digital culture makes more and more stuff available and spills it faster and faster into an already swollen marketplace, some works will establish themselves slowly, by word or mouth, social networking and serendipitous rediscovery.
“That hypothesis is likely to be tested more strenuously than before in the movie world. The money to produce and publicize the kind of middle-size movie that has dominated the Oscar slates in recent years is drying up. Cheap acquisitions can be turned into hits — last year’s best picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, being the most recent long-shot example — but there are likely to be fewer luxury goods for the prestige market.
“Only one of the current crop of best picture candidates, Up in the Air, fits that description: it has a polished look, an established star, a literary pedigree and a medium-size budget. And it looks — all of a sudden, after a strong start in Toronto and in spite of perfectly good box office numbers — like an outlier, a throwback.
“Which is to say nothing about its quality. The Oscars are never about that anyway. They are about how the American film industry thinks about itself, its future, its desires and ideals. Right now it is thinking big and small, trying to figure out how to split the difference, and hoping we will keep watching. Wherever and however we do watch.”
2010 is, like, already one-sixth gone. In less one month’s time it will 25% gone. If 2010 was a day in which you woke up at 6 am and went to bed at midnight, right now it would be 10:30 am. Before you know it it’ll be lunch hour. So we may as well take stock of the best and worst so far. Herewith the Hollywood Elsewhere 2010 Excellence, Exceptions & Errata Movie Awards.
The two finest commercially-released motion pictures of 2010 so far are — no question, no disputes — Roman Polanski‘s The Ghost Writer and Jacques Audiard‘s A Prophet. Signed, sealed, chiselled in stone. Now watch everyone blow off the Polanski when they start tallying their best of lists next November and December.
The finest high-tension suspense drama of the year thus far is the German-produced, mountain-climbing drama North Face, from director Philipp Stolzl. I saw it at the Sunshine Cinemas four or five weeks ago, liked it, and then forget to write about it. I don’t have a decent explanation for this except for my reaction to the ending, which isn’t at all like Touching The Void‘s. But I know it’s a highly engaging piece of realism, and without any discernible use of CGI.
Most Nihilistic Indie-level Character Study of the Year: Andrea Arnold‘s Fish Tank.
The most over-rated and unintelligible indie film by a country mile is The Red Riding Trilogy. The year’s most absurd claim by a venerated film critic was David Thomson‘s remark that Red Riding Trilogy was either in the realm of or even better than The Godfather…good God. And Ridley Scott’s notion of remaking it as a stand-alone, North American-set feature is the worst remake idea in eons.
The most over-praised big-studio film, in a walk, is Martin Scorsese‘s Shutter Island, which contains Leonardo DiCaprio‘s least interesting performance of all time, despite all the anxiety and the sweating, etc. At least it provided an opportunity to discuss the friends-of-Marty syndrome among big-name critics.
The worst big-studio horror film so far is Joe Johnston‘s The Wolfman, which featured the worst performance ever given by Benicio del Toro, bar none. I didn’t think Benicio was even capable of this.
2010’s most unfairly dismissed low-budget scare-thriller is, I feel, Frozen, which I saw at Sundance and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t half bad.
Best Docs So Far: Don Argott’s Art of the Steal; Spike Jonze and Lance Bang‘s Tell Them Anything You Want (put on DVD last Tuesday); The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
Worst Chick Flicks of the Year: Valentine’s Day, When In Rome.
Most Underwhelming & Inconsequential Youth Comedy: Miguel Arteta‘s Youth in Revolt.
Intended To See It, Never Did, Waiting for the DVD, No Hurry: Martin Campbell‘s Edge of Darkness.
Most Original & Under-appreciated Vampire Movie of the Year: Daybreakers.
Least Engaging Dramas of the Year: Creation, Extraordinary Measures.
Apocalypse Nothing: The Book of Eli.
A simply stated counter view to Armond White‘s vitriolic rant appears in a New York Times discussion forum called “Do The Oscars Undermine Authority?” The author is Christopher Rosen, who writes about television and movies for the New York Observer, and who has a personal blog called “42 Inch Television.”
“No matter how meaningless you think the Oscars are, one thing is abundantly clear: their existence promotes film like no other platform.
“There was much consternation after the Academy Awards expanded their Best Picture roster from five nominees to 10. But whether it was done so studios could make more money or so the Oscars could get more viewers (after all, the decision seemed solely based on the exclusion of The Dark Knight from last year’s Best Picture race), the end result has been overwhelmingly positive. Would barely seen films like An Education or A Serious Man be in the national conversation right now if they weren’t included among the 10 nominees?
“And then there’s The Hurt Locker. With a domestic box office total of just over $12 million, Kathryn Bigelow‘s film grossed less than the 14th weekend of James Cameron’s Avatar. Heck, it even grossed less than the opening weekend of The Crazies. But here it is, one of the two most talked about movies of the year (oddly enough, in competition with the biggest movie ever, James Cameron’s behemoth, Avatar).
“The Oscars are the reason this is even possible. A better celebration of film artistry has yet to be discovered.”
Not only has NY Press critic Armond White written that “Oscar punditry has become a branch of journalism” — he has gone one better. Oscarology is “no longer on a par with criticism, but has taken the place of criticism,” he writes. The piece is called “Wake Up and Smell the Oscars — They Stink!”
The idea that a knowledgable guy like White would even jest that Tom O’Neil, Sasha Stone, Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, David Poland and Pete Hammond (to name a few colleagues in the Oscar go-go racket) are 21st Century manifestations of Stanley Kaufman, Andrew Sarris, Dwight McDonald, Judith Crist, Brendan Gill, Penelope Gilliatt and Pauline Kael is a holy-shit thought, and at the very least something to smirk about and reflect upon.
“Every year [Oscar] insanity turns the public into suckers,” White continues, “subject to the whims of how publicity mavens who decide which millionaire client will command popular attention. Oscared films become important for not a second longer than the exploitable moment. Movies released during award season for the awards crush don’t even have time to enter the culture, and we forsake our cultural right to claim — and acclaim — what is meaningful to us spiritually or aesthetically by following this whole rigged process.
“Think about it: Does anyone care anymore about The English Patient? Shakespeare in Love? American Beauty? Chicago? A Beautiful Mind? Million Dollar Baby? Slumdog Millionaire? None of these films are artistic landmarks.They didn’t mean much even while watching them. But the further you get away from the first impression or from the marketing, they mean nothing.They’re just…Oscar winners.”
I think about and greatly admire American Beauty because of Kevin Spacey‘s performance, Conrad Hall‘s cinematography and the film’s central idea — i.e., we’re all too caught up in the hurlyburly to stop and smell the roses, get high and watch wind-whipped plastic bags float around.
And I’ll always have a soft spot for A Beautiful Mind because of Russell Crowe‘s performance (and that hand gesture he came up that conveyed the act of a thought flying out of his head), the third-act pens scene and James Horner‘s musical score.
The title of this piece is the second-to-last line in a certain Oscar-winning film from the mid ’50s. Name it?
This blue state ribbon icon used to sit on the front page of Hollywood Elsewhere. It was hatched in the wake of the 2004 election (i.e., when HE was only three months old), and then it went away Brian Walker‘s latest re-design. I’m not trying to put it back or anything. It’s emblematic of the pre-teabagger, pre-Palin Bush administration aughts, and you can’t go home again. I accept that.
I don’t understand why DVD Beaver’s Gary Tooze has listed his review of the 2007 Blu-ray of Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind as one of his latest, since the 30th anniversary edition came out two and one-third years ago.
I read it anyway, and looking it over recalled a piece I wrote on 11.19.07 that attempted to explain why I can never watch this film again, ever. Because it drives me crazy. Because the human activity/behavior in the film is relentlessly idiotic or dumbfounding or manic or cloying (except for that African-American air-traffic controller at the very beginning — a cool dude). Because I wanted to jump off a 20-story building after seeing CE the last time, which was maybe twelve years ago.
But at least this hatched a good reader-feedback idea. Which bad or annoying films have most often inspired home-video viewers to never again watch them under any circumstance? Movies that project such a forbidding after-vibe that you actually feel a bit nauseous when you see them on a shelf or online somewhere? Movies so bad that you would refuse to see them even if a guy promised to add 1000 American Air Lines air-miles to your tally.
Here’s the original CE article:
“A 30th anniversary, 3-disc, triple-dip Close Encounters of the Third Kind DVD came out on 11.13. It’s a Blade Runner package in that it has the original ’77 version, that awful extra-footage, inside-the-mother-ship version that came out in ’80, and the director’s cut that came out in ’98 or thereabouts. Reading about it reminded me to never, ever see this film again.
“I’ll always love the opening seconds of Steven Spielberg‘s once-legendary film, which I saw on opening day at Manhattan’s Zeigfeld theatre on 11.16.77. (I wasn’t a journalist or even a New Yorker at that stage — I took the train in from Connecticut that morning.) I still get chills thinking about that black-screen silence as the main credits fade in and out. And then John Williams‘ organish space-music sounding faintly, and then a bit more…slowly building, louder and louder. And then that huge orchestral CRASH! at the exact split second that the screen turns the color of warm desert sand, and we’re suddenly in the Sonoran desert looking for those pristine WW II planes without the pilots.
“That was probably Spielberg’s finest creative wow-stroke. He never delivered a more thrilling moment after that, and sometimes I think it may have been all downhill from then on, even during the unfolding of Close Encounters itself.
“I saw it three times during the initial run, but when I saw it again on laser disc in the early ’90s I began to realize how consistently irritating and assaultive it is from beginning to end. There are so many moments that are either stylistically affected or irritating or impossible to swallow, I’m starting to conclude that there isn’t a single scene in that film that doesn’t offend in some way. I could write 100 pages on all the things that irk me about Close Encounters. I can’t watch it now without gritting my teeth. Everything about that film that seemed delightful or stunning or even breathtaking in ’77 (excepting those first few seconds and the mothership arrival at the end) now makes me want to jump out of a window.
Melinda Dillon going “Bahahahhahhreee!” That idiotic invisible poison gas scare around Devil’s Tower. That awful actor playing that senior Army officer who denies it’s a charade. The way the electricity comes back on in Muncie, Indiana, at the same moment that those three small UFOs drones disappear in the heavens. The mule-like resistance of Teri Garr‘s character to believe even a little bit in Richard Dreyfuss‘s sightings.
“It’s one unlikely, implausible, baldly manipulative Spielbergian crap move after another. I’ve come to despise those looks of awe on this government guys’ faces at the end, and yet these and other Close Encounters brushstrokes blissed me out 33 years ago — go figure.
“If only Spielberg had the talent to blend his fertile imaginings with a semblance of half-believable realism…but he doesn’t. Or didn’t back then.
“The worst element of all is the way Spielberg has those guys who are supposed to board the mother ship wearing the same red jumpsuits and sunglasses and acting like total robots. Why? No reason. Spielberg just liked the idea of them looking and acting that way. This is a prime example of why his considerable gifts don’t overcome the fact that he’s a hack. He knows how to get you but there’s never anything under the ‘get’.”
To hear it from N.Y. Press critic Armond White, the Oscar-nominated Irish animated film The Secret of Kells conveys “the brilliance of pure inspiration” and is “one of the most beautiful works of animation ever…always aesthetically thrilling…the movie glows.”
And yet Marshall Fine has written the following: “I seldom walk out on movies, [but] I ankled after a half-hour of The Secret of Kells. I’d decided to attend the screening in the first place because I happen to be a sucker for animation and wanted to see the film that aced out , Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and a couple of others for one of the animated-feature Oscar nominations.
“I’m still wondering why the walkout happened.
“The Secret of Kells looked like a ’70s throwback, with limited animation, ersatz psychedelia and an earnest story about early Christians furthering the written tradition. They do it in the face of invading heathen Viking hordes and with the assistance of the spirits of nature and the creatures of the forest (or so I’m guessing, based on what I saw).
“What I saw was so lifeless and flat that I fled into the winter afternoon, invoking the life-is-too-short-for-this-shit clause in my contract. It’s something I really ought to do more often.”