Wild horses leaping to their deaths rather than be captured and tamed. Thelma and Louise deciding it’s better to tromp on the pedal and drive off a Grand Canyon cliff rather than trim their sails. Kathleen pulling a gun and firing at approaching police, knowing they’ll send she and Johnny McQueen to eternity. The aging Wild Bunch deciding to shoot it out with Mexican troops who outnumber them 20 to 1, figuring it’s better to exit guns blazing than wither on the vine.
Kathleen Ryan, James Mason at the finale of Odd Man Out.
I don’t think Armageddon‘s Bruce Willis deciding to stay on the asteroid and sacrifice himself in order to save the world from destruction is the same kind of thing.
I’m asking myself two questions. I’m trying to get my wheels moving on this thing. One, has the culture evolved to a place in which opting for defiant death is not seen as some kind of honorable romantic gesture? Is “it’s better to burn out that fade away” a petered-out philosophy ? And if not, what major characters, if any, have opted to stamp their own ticket at the end of a film or a miniseries rather than surrender?
I’m not trusting that Juan Antonio Bayona is a superb director — I know he is, and I’ve been riding on that absolute certainty for several months in anticipation of seeing The Impossible, his tsunami survival drama. But this trailer is scaring me a bit because it’s suggesting that the film is only about a separated family (Ewan Macgregor, Naomi Watts and kids) wandering around in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and eventually finding each other again. I hope there’s more to it than that, but I’m officially worried. Plus: U2’s “One” feels cloying.
From Richard Rushfield: “It’s not that I have anything against Power of the Human Spirit Against Cruel Nature in Tropical Settings Films. Or against tearjerkers. I’m just aware as someone who is concerned with public health that extremely elevated glucose levels may make for a wild roller coaster ride of a filmgoing experience, but they can also result in diabetic shock. If our movie companies squeeze any more treacle into our trailers, theater ushers are going to have to be trained to administer insulin injections in the theater seats, and I’m not sure I trust those kids to stab me with a needle.”
I’ve been hinting for last couple of days that another West Coast screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master (following the one at the Aero a week or two ago) would happen soon. A screening at San Francisco’s Castro theatre, a benefit for The Film Foundation, was just announced. But after the reactions to that Music Box screening in Chicago…I can wait until Toronto.
If I’m going to spend $500 or $600 on air fare, hotel, transportation and food, I want more than just a fascinating film. I would drive to Santa Barbara or San Diego to see this, but San Francisco…? Nope.
Yesterday I ran a short piece that explained certain parallels between the plot of Terrence Malick‘s To The Wonder, which will be screened at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, and Malick’s romantic history as it unfolded from the early ’80s to late ’90s. The facts are in a 2011 Brett McCracken post called “39 facts About Terrence Malick,” but McCracken told me last night that he drew his information mostly from Peter Biskind‘s December 1998 Vanity Fair piece about Malick, called “The Runaway Genius.”
Yesterday’s article, titled “Wonder Based on Malick’s Romantic Past,” recounted a synopsis of To The Wonder as provided by the Venice Film Festival, and then compared it to basic Malick information supplied by McCracken via Biskind.
Venice Film Festival synopsis of To The Wonder: “After visiting Mont Saint-Michel — once known in France as the Wonder — at the height of their love, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) come to Oklahoma, where problems soon arise. Marina makes the acquaintance of a priest and fellow exile (Javier Bardem), who is struggling with his vocation, while Neil renews his ties with a childhood friend, Jane (Rachel McAdams). An exploration of love in its many forms.”
McCracken, Biskind and at least one other source report that in the early 80s, Malick, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, fell for Michele Morette, “a Parisienne who lived in his building in Paris and who had a daughter, Alex. After a few years the three of them moved to Austin, Texas. Malick married Michele in 1985, but they divorced in 1998.” That same year, McCracken writes, “Malick married Alexandra ‘Ecky’ Wallace, an alleged high school sweetheart from his days at St. Stephen’s school in Austin, Texas. They are still married and currently reside in Austin, Texas.”
Biskind’s piece is all based on first-hand sources, and the portrait he paints of Malick is in some ways that of a highly eccentric, almost paranoid obsessive with somewhat peculiar habits and a constant concern and/or suspicion about being watched or observed by strangers. A full reading of the Biskind piece is advised.
“In later years, Tony Scott‘s editing became downright experimental in films like Domino, Deja Vu and The Taking of Pelham 123. It didn’t always work, but you got the sense — and here’s where he proved himself the very opposite of a hack, something he was often accused of being — that Scott was constantly trying something new.” — from Bilge Ebiri‘s “They Live By Night” blog, posted this morning.
In his howling, most darkly self-doubting, four-in-the-morning convulsions of the soul, Steven Spielberg wishes he could be the kind of uptown “hack” that Tony Scott was. He dreams and then weeps, knowing that train left the station decades ago.
“What we like to think of today as the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer aesthetic was, in fact, originally the Tony Scott aesthetic (often deployed in films made for Bruckheimer and his late partner Don Simpson),” Ebiri goes on. “Only back then there was a lot more art to it. Scott famously cross-bred an amped up, high-stakes kineticism with a certain romantic quality: He liked to intercut frenzied scenes of violence with elegiac moments, often with dreamy music playing in the background. This guy made guy movies, or at least what boys liked to think of as guy movies: He shot gunfights and sports stadiums and cars and planes and machines the way other directors might shoot pastoral scenes.
“In so doing he also helped lay down the foundations of the boys-with-big-toys blockbuster style that we’re still contending with today. Along the way, sometimes his people stopped being people and became myths: His long lenses flattened and almost abstracted the characters, and his use of slow-motion and heroic silhouettes caught small, fleeting moments and stretched them until they felt monumental. Indeed, Tony Scott movies often hovered on the edge of abstraction.”
I was just speaking to a journalist-novelist friend, and I was saying I don’t think I’d have the nerve to jump off a high bridge. It’s just too scary and freaky, and then there’s the bone-shattering impact to look forward to. Give me a nice hotel room in the late fall with a fire in the hearth and some pills to go to sleep with. That or a sudden heart attack in Paris, on a side street in Montmartre on my way home from a beautiful dinner.
“I can confirm that Tony Scott has passed away,” says Scott’s publicist Simon Halls, “and that the family asks that their privacy [be] respected at this time.”
Boy and Bicycle was the first film made by Ridley Scott, and it’s significant today because the kid on the bike was Tony Scott, then about 18 years old. The 27-minute, 16mm monochrome short was lensed in 1962 while Scott was a photography student at the Royal College of Art in London. Shortened version with Badlands/True Romance music posted this morning by John C. Tassy.
I’ll bet that of all the critics, bloggers and columnists banging out Tony Scott tributes this morning, none of them ever stood up and urged that one of his films be handed a Best Picture nomination. Well, I did that nearly three years ago. The film was The Taking of Pelham 123. I didn’t care who agreed with me then and I surely don’t care now.
Within its own realm and by the demanding measuring stick of other classic New York-based action thrillers, Scott’s Pelham was damn near perfect.
Posted on 10.16.09: My London trip allowed me to see Tony Scott‘s The Taking of Pelham 123 twice — on the way over and the way back. And don’t laugh but I think it deserves to be one of the ten Best Picture nominees. The idea in nominating ten is to promote and celebrate a movie or two that guys like Scott Foundas and Dennis Lim don’t approve of, right? That Average Joes paid to see and actually enjoyed?
This is precisely the kind of shrewd, sharp-angled, deftly layered urban thriller that high-end Hollywood filmmakers like Scott are better at making than anyone else in the world. And I’m convinced after watching The Taking of Pelham 123 that it’s a damn near perfect film for what it is. The sucker never lags or falls into clicheville, it has a crafty plot with well-massaged characterization, it’s always psychologically complex or at least diverting, it delivers first-rate performances and just rocks out up and down.
And so somewhere over the Atlantic I began asking myself why a film as well-made and fully engaging as this one can’t be nominated for Best Picture? Because it’s a summer movie and summer movies don’t win awards? Of course they don’t, and of course this one can’t. The suggestion is to pop Pelham into the ranks of Best Picture contenders in order to round out the pack and toss a bone to the lowbrows and guilty-pleasure fixaters like myself.
What are the most likely ten Best Picture nominees at this stage? The Hurt Locker, An Education, Nine, Up In The Air, Invictus and A Serious Man. These are the six locks, in my view. Then you have Bright Star (maybe), Up (maybe but what’s the reason to lift it out of the Best Animated Feature category?), Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (probably but it’s so grim and dark, and isn’t it more of a performance film than a rock-solid cinematic achievement?), and possibly A Single Man.
I don’t think these last four are locks at all, and you can argue, I suppose, that A Serious Man might not be a given either. But any way you slice it there’s not a popcorn-muncher among these, and shouldn’t there be? At least one, I mean?
Early last June I wrote that The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is “an unquestionably better film — more rousing and flavorful, zippier and craftier — than the 1974 Joseph Sargent original. It’s a very satisfying summer-crime fuckall flick. A retread, yes, but with an attitude all its own…pow!
“Scott’s Pelham is first-rate crackerjack escapism because (a) it knows itself and is true to that, (b) it’s content to operate in its own realm (i.e., isn’t trying to top the chase sequences, effects and explosions in the last big urban actioner…it’s not playing that game) and (c) it’s just a solid all-around popcorn movie, full of focus and discipline.
“Scott exhibits the same precision and intelligent pizazz he used for Man on Fire and Crimson Tide. Is Pelham some kind of drop-to-your-knees golden fleece movie? No — just another urban slam-banger but smart, clever and muscle-car sweet.
“The New York subway-kidnap hostage thriller has more intricate plotting than the ’74 film, richer characterizations of the top MTA guy (Denzel Washington in the old Walter Matthau role) and top-dog hostage-taking badass (John Travolta in the Robert Shaw role) and a slew of supporting performances across the board that are much more vivid and interesting than those from the class of ’74, and at the same time less broad and farcical.
“Plus the Travolta and Washington characters are more psychologically layered; more work has put into their rationales and backstories. In hindsight Matthau’s performance seems humdrum and almost glib in comparison to Washington’s. And Travolta…my God, he’s a friggin’ madman in this thing! Fierce, irate, flying off the handle, lunging — his finest bad guy since the ‘ain’t it cool?’ guy in Broken Arrow.
“And James Gandolfini‘s New York Mayor isn’t the buffoon figure from the ’74 film — he’s playing a rationale, practical, somewhat full-of-shit politician, and he does so with an unforced attitude..
“The 2009 Pelham was made by a guy who understands and respects the original, and who sincerely wanted to make a better film — and he did! Integrating it very nicely and believably into a 2009 realm. And very grippingly and thrillingly. There’s no boredom to be had, and it never overcranks it. “