There’s a strictly enforced system in Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (’55). Old-school mummies kill their victims by strangling them, but whenever Klaris the mummy (Eddie Parker) comes up behind Lou Costello, he can only stand 12 inches behind him with his arms out. When Costello takes a step, Klaris takes a step…but he can’t strangle Costello. He’s only allowed to give him a mummy bear hug. Then again Klaris couldn’t be too toothless. I’m presuming that director Charles Lamont told Parker to make a scary noise every so often. Parker: “What kind of noise?” Lamont: “I don’t know. Some kind of growl.” Parker: “A Wolfman growl?” Lamont: “Of course not. A dead man’s growl..filtered through tana leaves, whatever…the roar of dessicated centuries and ancient pyramids and dry-mouth.” Parker: “Dessicated?” Lamont: “Just don’t sound like the Wolfman.” And so Parker came up with “yaaawwwhrrrrr!”
The first and only time I saw Robert Bresson‘s L’Argent was inside one of those little shoebox theatres in the old Beverly Center. It was either during the fall of ’83 or the winter of ’84. Based on Leo Tolstoy‘s “The Forged Coupon”, and Bresson’s final film. Dry, subtle, precise. Bresson never faked anything — movie-pretend wasn’t in his vocabulary. When his protagonist (Christian Patey) killed a family with an axe near the end, Bresson only suggested the killings, and chastely at that. The Criterion Bluray pops on 7.11.17.
Later that month Criterion is also releasing a Bluray of Albert Brooks’ Lost in America (’85). Will Criterion’s 2K restoration deliver the necessary “bump”? Let’s hope so. I’ll buy it for (a) the conversation between Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide, (b) interviews with Julie Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas and director James L. Brooks, and (c) an essay on this seminal Reagan-era film by Scott Tobias.
Amazon’s HD streaming version of Don Siegel‘s Charley Varrick (’73) is one of the handsomest eye-orgasm ’70s movies I’ve ever beheld on my Sony 65-inch 4K. So much so that I own it outright. I realize that Blurays often deliver more information than HD streaming (which can sometimes be as low as 720p) so it would be reasonable to expect that the forthcoming French Bluray version, Tuez Charley Varrick! (out in early June), will look a bit better. And I mean only a teeny weeny bit. And at the cost of $20 or thereabouts. I’m thinking of getting it anyway.
Michael Ballhaus, the renowned visual composer best known for his long and fruitful partnerships with Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Martin Scorsese, has passed at age 81. His most famous accomplishment is the long Goodfellas tracking shot in which Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco slip into the Copacabana through the kitchen, but God, I loved so much of his work. Ballhaus knew from steam, smoke, shadows, reddish glows and sunlight piercing down through windows…all the impressionist tricks of the trade. And above all about gliding movement.
The headliners: Fassbinder‘s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Fox and His Friends, The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lili Marleen. Steve Kloves‘ The Fabulous Baker Boys. Nancy Meyers‘ Something’s Gotta Give. James L. Brooks‘ Broadcast News and I’ll Do Anything. Mike Nichols‘ Working Girl, Postcards From The Edge and Primary Colors. Wolfgang Petersen‘s Air Force One. Francis Coppola‘s Dracula. Scorsese’s After Hours, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Age of Innocence, Gangs of New York, The Departed.
Commentary from screenwriter William Goldman on the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Bluray, not transcribed but recalled: “We were lucky with Butch. We had a great director [George Roy Hill], and we had Connie Hall‘s phenomenal photography and a great crew and a solid script and a neat story and the casting was perfect. But if just one of these elements didn’t happen…it tells you that a good script and a good director and the right cast aren’t enough . The photography has to be right on, ditto the score and the editing…and if just one of these elements isn’t exactly right, you are dead. Nobody realizes how important the editing is, or how important the composer is…and there’s no reason for people outside the movie business to realize this, that movies are so fragile and anything can screw them up.” (Initially posted on 7.5.06.)
Entertainment journalist-critic Chris Willman caught three of the four highly ballyhooed nitrate screenings shown during last week’s TCM Classic Film Festival. These films were Otto Preminger‘s Laura, Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Man Who Knew Too Much and Mitchell Leisen‘s Lady in the Dark. (Willman missed Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger‘s Black Narcissus.)
Willman went each time with genuine eagerness, but he couldn’t quite see what the big deal was. Here’s his report:
“I saw three of the four nitrate screenings at the TCM Fest. I’ve been hesitant to publicly riff on them because I’m one of those non-audiophile people who would fail a vinyl/digital comparison test, so I may be equally blind when it comes to certain visual subtleties. That said, I was underwhelmed, at least after impossible expectations had been set up for how these prints would change our lives.
“Martin Scorsese introduced the first night and spoke in predictably entertaining terms about his own religious experiences with nitrate, dating back to seeing something at the old Melrose Theatre in the ‘80s. He and other speakers left the impression that we were about to see something that would be more vivid and startling than 3D, high frame rate and an acid trip combined.
“And then we saw the original The Man Who Knew Too Much, and it looked to me like a really good, albeit normal, 35mm print. I figured that might just be the limitations of 1930s photography and that Laura the following night would be the conversion experience. Again: I would not have thought it anything but a really strong 35mm print if I didn’t know any better. I missed Black Narcissus, which I think would have been the ultimate knockout of the four, if anything was going to be.
I don’t like buying Twilight Time Blurays because they’re always jacking up the price — TT always charges $30 for Blurays that should, according to God’s benevolent scheme, be priced at $20. Which is why I chose to purchase the recently popped British Bluray of Hal Ashby‘s The Last Detail for 15 pounds, or $18.72 U.S. I watched the movie a couple of weeks ago — definitely the best it’s ever looked or sounded. Then again I haven’t seen the UHD 4K streaming version, which you can actually buy via British Amazon.
Alexander Payne as he appears in Robert Fischer’s “About a Trip: Alexander Payne on Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail“
Last night I watched a supplementary Bluray video containing Alexander Payne‘s thoughts and ruminations — “About a Trip: Alexander Payne on Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail,” and it’s almost worth the price in itself. Charming, open-hearted, highly intelligent.
Here is an audio excerpt in which Payne (a) describes his favorite scenes in this 1973 film, (b) laments the absence of long, slow dissolves in today’s films (along with the use of zoom shots and voice-overs), (c) flat-out calls The Last Detail “a love story,” which of course it is, (d) mentions that he was very impressed with Daryl Ponicsan‘s script for Last Flag Flying, and was thinking about directing it back in ’10 or thereabouts, and (e) further mentions that the plot hangs on the three characters (Buddusky, Mulhall, Meadows), now in their 60s, getting together to deliver the body of Meadows’ son, killed in the Iraq War, to his mother or to a funeral service or something along those lines.
Richard Linklater wound up directing Last Flag Flying. It costars Bryan Cranston as Buddusky, Steve Carell as Larry Meadows and Laurence Fishburne as Mulhall. The Amazon release will probably open sometime in the fall.
Belief in man-made climate change (i.e., adverse effects from industry and technology) began to acquire mainstream acceptance around the beginning of the Clinton administration. A bit more than three decades earlier two popcorn movies, Val Guest‘s The Day Earth Caught Fire (I just bought the British Bluray) and Irwin Allen‘s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, used scenarios about the warming and possible destruction of the planet as a central plot hook. Only barking rightwing loons are questioning climate change today. One of those loons is the President of the United States. Donald Trump was 15 years old and very impressionable when the above films came out. Did he not see either of these films with his friends? They were just the kind of thing that teenagers liked in those days.
“..and one day fated to be remembered more for the Best Picture boo-boo episode of 2017 than for Rules Don’t Apply, my Howard Hughes film which won’t work out despite my intense devotion to it for several years. Given my astonishing ability to see far into the future, I’m thinking that Rules may not in fact be my directorial swan song, all things considered, and that I may rise and procreate again. We all want to go out with a bang, after all.”
We all know that the path to serenity is only accessible by forgiving your enemies and forsaking dreams of revenge, but what kind of movie would Shane have been if Alan Ladd and Van Heflin had forgiven the Ryker brothers and ignored the fact that Jack Palance had murdered Elisha Cook, Jr.? God help us if we can’t get past our real-life animosities, but drama is not, as a rule, advanced by characters showing mercy and forgiveness and offering olive branches.
Would The Godfather, Part II have felt satisfying if Al Pacino‘s Michael Corleone had decided to adopt a comme ci comme ca attitude about his enemies and maybe invite them over for Thanksgiving? How would it have been if High Noon‘s Gary Cooper had decided to greet the Frank Miller gang with open arms and an offer to sit down and hash things out?
Drama is about pressure, conflicts and choices, and sometimes about doing the hard but right thing, and surely a play or movie is nothing without a prevailing sense of justice at the end.
The interesting thing about The True American, a forthcoming Pablo Larrain film about a profound act of forgiveness on the part of Raisuddin Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh immigrant who was shot and nearly killed in Dallas by self-described “Arab slayer” Mark Stroman, is that it doesn’t deliver classic payback. And yet it ends on a note of both justice and compassion — a curious hybrid in movie terms.
Larrain’s film will be based on Anand Giridharadas‘ “The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas.” Tom Hardy will play Stroman. You know who should play Bhuyian? Definitely The Big Sick‘s Kumail Nanjiani. I’m surprised his casting wasn’t announced in the press release.
Recent e-mail from critic friend: Walter Hill‘s The Assignment (Saban, 4.7) is a real grindhouse sleeper. It deserves to find an audience. I know it’s taking heat from the LBGTQ community for ‘exploiting’ the issue of gender reassignment surgery etc. But I don’t recall the same complaints when Pedro Almodovar covered more or less the same territory, brilliantly and even more luridly, in The Skin I Live In. Michelle Rodriguez is terrific as the male gangland assassin transformed into a woman by Sigourney Weaver‘s mad scientist (Dr. Frankenstein meets Dr. Moreau) in full-throated Hannibal Lecter mode. It’s much better than anyone except for Todd McCarthy and a few others have let on.”
Posted on 9.17.16 from Toronto: “I just saw it, and it’s nowhere near as problematic as I’d been led to expect. Pulpy and crude, yes, but fairly intelligent, a little slow but far from ludicrous, and generally not bad. It’s way, way better than either of the Sin City flicks. Michelle Rodriguez with a beard looks like Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis. I suspect that those time & place title cards along with those animated freeze-frames were tacked on in post. It also seems as if those Tony Shalhoub-interviews-Sigourney Weaver exposition scenes might have been shot after principal photography. I’ve already mentioned that the plot bears a certain similarity to Pedro Almodovar‘s The Skin That I Live In. If Sam Fuller was still around he could’ve made something like this.”
Deadline‘s Mike Fleming reported earlier today that Catherine Hardwicke may direct a Sony-financed remake of Gerardo Naranjo‘s Miss Bala, which I went nuts over when I saw it at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Gina Rodriguez (the CW’s Jane The Virgin) will play the beauty contestant (Stephanie Sigman in Naranjo’s version) who gets dragged into the grotesque intrigues of a Mexican drug gang.
One, why did Hardwicke and Hollywood wait for six years to remake this thing? If a foreign film is adaptable for the U.S. market, producers knows this within days of its first festival screening and are usually all over it, and Miss Bala was highly praised, nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature. Two, Hardwicke is probably going to make it into something fairly different from Naranjo’s drug-dealer melodrama, which basically played like an early ’60s Michelangelo Antonioni film. And three, the Antonioni treatment is why Miss Bala felt like such a knockout. Remove the arthouse element and you just have a kidnapping action drama.
HE tweet from September 2011: “Naranjo has totally ignored the chaotic action aesthetic of Michael Bay and his acolytes, and delivered an action thriller with a truly elegant visual style. Long shots and almost no cut-cut-cut-cutting.”