Before Midnight costar and cowriter Julie Delpy at last night’s after-party for A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III. In my Sundance 2013 review I said that Before Midnight, directed and cowritten by Richard Linklater, is “not only the finest film of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, but the crowning achievement of one of the richest and most ambitious filmed trilogies ever made….an all-but-guaranteed contender for writing and acting awards a year from now.”
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s “Best Job” commercial has been up since December, and I only just watched it today. AGI won a DGA award for the Procter and Gamble spot three nights ago. Parents supporting kids, Olympic victories, emotion pours out. I had heard it gets you and so I watched it skeptically. It does.
I sincerely apologize for posting a YouTube song with loathsome ’60s graphics, but I haven’t listened to the 16-minute version of the Chambers Brothers‘ “Love, Peace and Happiness” for centuries, but I just did and Brian Keenan‘s drumming is really amazing, especially starting at the 7-minute mark and especially if you listen with headphones with the volume way up. I like the primitive analog quality. It sounds so ancient it’s cool. I have an idea that Barack Obama has danced to this track alone in the Oval Office.
Last night I attended the L.A. premiere of Roman Coppola‘s A Glimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III (A24, limited on 2.8, VOD everywhere). I wish I could say it’s more than a mild little me-and-my-jaded-fantasies riff, but it really isn’t. I’d like to say it’s a half-decent tribute to the lore of Federico Fellini‘s 8 1/2, but I’m afraid of what Fellini’s ghost might do to me. I’d like to…I don’t know what I’d like. I don’t know anything. I’m lost.
Swan is an episodic diddly-doodle and a cherry-chocolate dingleberry, and I really don’t understand why Coppola made it to begin with. He has a lot of industry pallies and he definitely knows how to shoot and design but…why?
Design is clearly where Coppola’s passion lies. At times Swan is a slick-looking dessert film in a sort of retro glossy-Hollywood way. The bulk of it is jizz-whiz, but let’s at least acknowledge that the extended crane shot used for the finale — a fourth-wall breaker on the beach — is very smoothly composed. I honestly said to myself, “Hey, that wasn’t half bad…if only the rest of the film had the same pizazz.”
On the other hand Coppola has gone on record as saying he loves gold-toe socks, and that should tell you that something in the mechanism isn’t quite right.
Paul Mazursky‘s Alex in Wonderland (’70) was also inspired by 8 1/2. It was regarded as a failure when it opened, but Mazursky’s film is a stone masterpiece compared to A Gimpse Inside The Mind of Charles Swan III.
Swan gives you a feeling that Coppola and his friends probably had fun making it. But it’s basically a stiff and a wank, and all Coppola has accomplished in slapping it together is to inform the industry that he’s a gifted production designer who lacks the discipline and the drive to make a film (in either a narrative or impressionistic vein) that adds up to anything solid, and that he isn’t good enough to make another 8 and 1/2 so….why?
Set in either mid ’70s Los Angeles or a dream-realm version of same, Swan is about a smug, financially flush, poon-obsessed party hound (Charlie Sheen) who’s a successful designer and…you’re bored already, right? I wanted to duck this libertine smoothie from the get-go, and I didn’t give two shits about his being morose about having lost his girlfriend (Kathryn Winnick). If Sheen had been shot or stabbed to death halfway through I wouldn’t have blinked. In fact, I’m almost sorry this didn’t happen because if it had Swan would at least be a meditation about death and the after-realm.
I don’t want to open up a can of death beans, but Sheen playing a character based on his own private madness of sex-and-drugs-and-indulgence is ludicrous. I didn’t care for his alter-ego at all, and I don’t think Coppola does either.
The movie is about Swan wandering around inside his head, indulging in this and that memory or fantasy and sniffing some blah-dee-blah asswind.
“If you’ve ever been through a bad break-up, all you want to do is think about it and process,” Coppola has said about the film. “That’s kind of what the project is. A character study of a guy in this state of mind with Charlie as a very dynamic and imaginative character, so there’s a lot of fantasy sequences and crazy shit.”
The costars include Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Colleen Camp. They’ve all taken themselves down a notch or two.
I thought it was odd that Sheen didn’t even show up for his own premiere last night. He lives here, right?
As long as we’re talking about wank movies that are basically about drinking and sex and heartbreak, I would love to see a dark comedic farce about the day-to-day management of a New York singles bar called Dingleberry’s.
In the view of Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney, Peter Webber‘s Emperor (Roadside, 3.8) is “an earnest retelling of the deliberation over the fate of Emperor Hirohito following his country’s World War II surrender…honorably intentioned but stodgy, and padded out with a wan romantic subplot that struggles to generate emotional heat.”
All in all, says Rooney, it’s “a didactic compressed epic.”
Pic’s main draw “will be a wily depiction by Tommy Lee Jones of General Douglas MacArthur as a vainglorious tactician who tosses about the title of Supreme Commander with relish. Never one to miss a photo opportunity, his underlying political ambitions give the flinty character an intriguing veiled agenda while maintaining a core fiber of integrity.
“Not so interesting, unfortunately, is Matthew Fox‘s Gen. Fellers, a real-life military intelligence officer and Japanese specialist, saddled for too much of David Klass and Vera Blasi‘s plodding script with the onerous role of exposition bitch.
“The physical trappings often suggest an attempt to muster the old-fashioned sweep of, say, David Lean‘s historical dramas, with ceremonial grace notes that ape classic Japanese cinema. But slathered atop almost every scene, along with Alex Heffe’s solemn orchestral score, is [a] dour voiceover, a film-noirish device that stretches Emperor in one stylistic direction too many.
“With Washington still fuming over the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the people of American-occupied Japan living among death and rubble but fiercely loyal to Hirohito, the question of what to do with the country’s self-professed deity is a delicate one. Mindful of this, while overseeing the restoration of order to the devastated nation, MacArthur assigns Fellers to conduct an urgent investigation into the Emperor’s culpability.”
That 2.2 Bluray.com review of Criterion’s On The Waterfront Bluray (2.19) doesn’t exaggerate. It’s quite beautiful and detailed and appropriately raw and grainy and Hoboken-ish. I’ve never seen it look so robustly film-like. This movie was never intended to look pretty — it’s supposed to look grim and gritty and anti-Hollywood. This is what the Criterion Bluray looks like, and that’s the right way to go.
This is truly the gold standard, the finest version of this 1954 classic ever prepared for home viewing. If you care about this film, you have to buy it.
And yet — I’m sorry but this has to be said — it’s grainy as hell at times, especially in scenes with lots of natural sunlight and or any kind of brightness, really. (The courtroom testimony scene, for example, looks like a bug shitstorm flew in the window.) For better or worse this is a Criterion trait. You can see it on their Twelve Angry Men Bluray also. They always deliver the grain that comes with the natural constitution of any celluloid image, but they always deliver it big-time, and by that I mean in a fairly pronounced, in-your-face way that makes you more aware of the stuff than ever before.
I’ve seen Waterfront in many formats over many years. I’ve seen it via 35mm celluloid projection in theatres and digital projection in a Sony screening room, the 1.85 version on the iPad3, via numerous TV viewings, that 2001 special-edition DVD. And none of them look as grain-covered as the Criterion Bluray does from time to time.
I realize the completed film delivers all this grain on its own and it hasn’t been “added” by Criterion, but in a sense it has been. It’s an undisputed, incontestable fact that grain always looks more vivid and particular on Bluray, and I think — please don’t hate me for this — Criterion should have tastefully DNR’ed On The Waterfront just a little tiny bit in order to balance things out. They should have tweaked it just enough so that the grain would be suppressed to the extent that it wouldn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the film itself, at least to an extent that Marlon Brando wouldn’t look soulfully into Eva Marie Saint‘s eyes and say, “Edie, I’d like to help but there’s nothin’ I can do, and I mean especially with all these bugs which are drivin’ me nuts…almost as much as that conscience stuff.”
All I know is that now and then I’m watching the film and I’m thinking, “Wow, this is a new version, all right…it’s January or February in Hoboken and cold as a witch’s tit, and every now and then Brando appears to be engulfed by hundreds of billions of digital mosquitoes. Saint and Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb too, choking on billions and billions of the little buggers.”
And don’t give me any of that “turn your sharpness down” crap. I did turn it down, way down, and the grain is still intense every so often. Not always, not even frequently, but in this and that scene it’s almost oppressive. I felt as if I was swallowing mosquitoes and at times spitting them out. If you want to watch this movie without this feeling of being in an Egyptian mosquito storm, you’ll have get out your old 32″ analog TV and watch the 2001 DVD, which doesn’t deliver grain to any significant extent.
I want to be clear that I’m not complaining about the Criterion Bluray. I’m saying this is as exacting and particular a rendering of Elia Kazan‘s film as you’ll ever see, and most of it is truly wonderful. But you might want to keep a can of bug spray nearby and spray it around the room every so often. You’ll only need it occasionally so it’s not that bad.
Prior to yesterday afternoon’s Robert De Niro appearance at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre, Weinstein Co. honcho Harvey Weinstein introduced DeNiro to the packed house. They had just watched a 2 pm screening of Silver Linings Playbook, and just before I began recording Harvey asked how many had just seen David O. Russell‘s film for the first time. About 85% raised their hands. SLP is now expected to top $100 million, but sometimes it takes Joe Popcorn weeks and weeks to wake up and smell the coffee.
It’s been decades since the heyday of Reg Presley, the Troggs lead singer best known for his renditions of “Wild Thing”, “With A Girl Like You” and “Love Is All Around Me.” But I’ll never forget that raspy, spazzy, vaguely whining voice. It was almost irritating in a way, but at the same time eternally cool. I’m just offering a little respect for Presley, who has died of lung cancer at age 71. Done in by the fags.
It hit me about five years ago that the source of my Spielberg animosity was Spielberg disillusionment, and that the essence of this began with my turnaround on Close Encounters of the The Kind, which I loved and worshipped when I first saw it in 1977. And yet I can no longer stand to watch it. The basic lesson (which also applies to many of the films of John Ford from the late ’40s on) is that sentiment doesn’t age well. Here’s how I put it on 11.19.07:
“A 30th anniversary, 3-disc, triple-dip Close Encounters of the Third Kind DVD came out on 11.13. It’s a Blade Runner-style package with 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 creeps in 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 in the Sonoran desert looking for those pristine WW II planes without the pilots.
“That was probably Spielberg’s finest creative wow-stroke ever. 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.
“In my entire filmgoing life I have never experienced such a radical transformational arc — emotional ecstasy when I was young, aesthetic revulsion when I got older. No other film or filmmaker (except for Ford and Frank Capra) has brought this out in me.
“I saw CE3K 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.
“The bottom line is that 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 the window.
“My CE3 pet peeves, in no particular order:
“The way Bob Balaban wails to no one in particular during the Sonoran desert scene, “What’s happening? I don’t understaaahhhhnd!”
“That stupid mechanical monkey with the cymbals.
“The way those little screws on the floor heating vent unscrew themselves.
“The way the electricity comes back on in Muncie, Indiana, at the same moment that those three small UFOs drones disappear in the heavens. Ludicrous.
“The way those Indian guys all point heavenward at the the exact same moment when they’re asked where the sounds came from.
“Melinda Dillon stumbling around in the dark and going “Bahahahhahhree!”
“That older couple standing by the roadside with inexplicable beatific expressions, as if they’re regular UFO fans and they’ve come out for their nightly entertainment.
“That idiotic invisible poison gas scare around Devil’s Tower.
“That awful actor playing that senior Army officer who denies that the poison-gas evacuation a charade.
“The mule-like resistance of Teri Garr‘s character to believe even a little bit in Richard Dreyfuss‘s sightings.
“The awe-struck expressions of all those government guys as they stare at the mother ship under the shadow of Devil’s Tower. They all turn into four year-olds with those goo-goo, gah-gah eyes.
“The worst element of all is the way Spielberg has all those guys who are supposed to board the mother ship wearing the same red jumpsuits and sunglasses and acting like total expression-less robots. Why? No integrated or explained reason is offered whatsoever. Spielberg is just amused by the idea of them looking and acting that way.
“The bottom line is that CE3K is one unlikely, implausible, baldly manipulative cheap-seats move after another. Spielberg knows how to get you — he’s always been good at that — but there’s rarely anything under the “get.”
“The ending of No Country for Old Men is obviously irritating to some, but the thematic echoes and undercurrents from the last scene stay with you like some kind of sad back-porch symphony. Spielberg’s films have almost never accomplished anything close to this. I’m not sure they have even once.
“Has anyone tried watching the ‘little girl in red’ scene in Schindler’s List lately? I love most of that 1993 film, but this scene gets a little bit worse every time.”
February 2013 Update: Two or three weeks ago I ordered the new Bluray of Ford’s The Quiet Mann, mainly because of Ford’s splended sense of visual balance and because I wanted to savor the colors. It arrived during my time in Sundance/Santa Barbara but I haven’t watched it since I got home. Why? Because as beautiful as I know it will be, I know I’m going to be subjected to so much nauseating Irish blarney that my head will come close to exploding.
** Obviously Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Schinder’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln are very fine films, but he never delivered another single “moment” that was quite as thrilling or transportational as that music-crescendo crash at the start of CE3K.