Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saturday Movie Madness! #2: John Milius' CONAN THE BARBARIAN

Is it safe to concede that Conan the Barbarian is one of the most "Manly-Men" Super-hero mythic figures in movies?  Arnold Schwarzenegger only appeared in this 1982 film, and its sequel (which, though unseen by me, is derided almost everywhere by critics and fans of Conan as an inferior follow-up).  But there is something about his appeal here that I can see.  Do I go for this kind of beefed-up kill-and-fuck-whatever's-in-my-way action hero?  Not always.  If the movie's directed by someone who knows what level of killing and fucking they want to go after, and the lead is dynamic enough, I'll be willing to go for the ride.  And let all ye who enter this early 80's bonanza of (near) senseless kills and (near) erotic-less sex know: this is John Milius as director, with a fiery young Oliver Stone as co-writer.  So as someone who wrote the Ride of the Valkyries attack in Apocalypse Now and made Red Dawn (a previous Saturday Movie Madness entry last month), you can imagine how he'd take to material about a man made of barbarism.

Plot?  Do you care really?  At the least it sounds better on paper than that of Conan the Destroyer.  Conan as a boy watches as his village is teared to shit by bandit-killers, led by James Earl Jones in a haircut similar to Uma Thurman's in Pulp Fiction.  He personally kills his mother, Conan is put in enslavement pushing a big goddamn wheel for twenty years, is freed, and seeks revenge in the process of rescuing the daughter of a King (Max von Sydow) who has been kidnapped by the now "Emptiness" cult-leader Jones.  Simple as that, you can see the blueprint for a lot of the action in your head if you've seen at least one or two of these fantasy epics where a character is faced with extraordinary challenges... That is, extraordinary for any of us out there. For Conan finding out that the hot piece of ass he's getting it on with is really a snake-cum-succubus isn't pleasant but pretty easy to put down.  Or, for that matter, being faced with a 40-foot snake that is like the 80's Muppet version of Anaconda.

Oh so much of this is campy.  That is, actually, when characters speak.  It's easy to tell that Milius and Stone, to their credit, are actually fans of the series of books and comics that had Conan and heroes like them, specifically those with the covers by the late Frank Frazetta.  You know the kind, like this one below:

It's juicy and big and brawny and you might want to blast Iron Maiden just for the duration of the two minutes to midnight staring at the cover.  To be sure Robert E. Howard created the character in a slightly less HOLY SHIT HE'LL KILL US ALL pose, such as the one to your left.

The filmmakers, far from being hacks and coming out of being serious screenwriters for hire, take the material so seriously in the style comparable to George Lucas with Star Wars.  That is to note that the actors mean to say the dialog like it's not over-the-top.  I imagine that's what they went for for some of the time, and then other times one has to realize it's Arnold Schwarzenegger before his eloquent days given dialog (to respond to "What is best in life?"): "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation pf their women."  Jones and Sydow especially go into such ham that there's barely any pig left by the end of it.  Ho-Ho.

And yet I can't even begrudge them the scenery chewing.  Milius does get one thing right above all else, which is to let the images speak for themselves and to not let too much dialog in the way of the cinematography (not great but far from shoddy), and for the rousing, wanting-to-be-timeless musical score by Basil Poledouris, which ramps up most scenes with the kind of heightened emotion that makes up for some scenes being dead-air.  The scenery is extravagant in a fun way and the special effects, dated to be sure, are fun to take in just by how much the actors know they're silly and part of the heightened mythical feel.

Now for other good things here: Arnold himself, never letting anyone in the audience think Conan can't do the shit he does, which includes such things as when crucified taking a bite out of a vulture trying to peck at his pectorals.  And Mako, the fiery little Asian man who would later voice Uncle Iro in Avatar the Last Airbender, who gives the kind of narration that young boys will never for a moment not buy as being God from on high.  And the women... oh the women.  One may lose a peek or two at Conan smothering them over with his 19293829 pound muscles, but it still works to the intended effect.

So get out your swords and sorcery, get rid of that emptiness and find some worth to your life in kicking ass and becoming king, and enjoy some Conan the Barbarian.  It's a sublime mix of low-brow action and tits and high-brow aspirations for lust and glory by two guy-guys writing and directing the hell out of a movie that is very much of its time.

All this said, I still prefer this Conan:

Saturday Movie Madness! #1: Claude Chabrol's HELL (L'Enfer)

And the RIP train continues on this lovely Saturday afternoon with the now late Claude Chabrol's 1994 not quiet mellow melodrama, L'Enfer - or, HELL (I should be playing Slayer when I type that)

What happens when you have everything so set in place?  What happens when a man, such as Paul (Francois Cluzet) gets married to the ridiculously attractive and young and nubile woman Nelly (the ridiculously attracting and 20-something and nubile Emmanuelle Beart), and has his own relatively successful hotel that he runs and a nice bouncing baby boy?  Well, what kind of conflict could arise from such bougeois peace and splendor?  Why, why not make the man little by little go completely insane?  And not just the garden-variety jealousy kind.  The jealousy meter in L'Enfer would make De Niro's Jake La Motta have second thoughts about his line of thinking.

Taken from an unfinished screenplay by Henri-Georges Cluzot (though that script made somewhat into a movie and released limited this year), this is Chabrol having fun.  And it's hard to see that at first as it looks to be in line with one of Chabrol's other infidelity dramas - and the man knows how to make them with arguably his best film being The Unfaithful Woman (later itself remade as Unfaithful in 2002).  But where one can have some sympathies with the characters in Unfaithful Woman to spread around. L'Enfer is trickier.  The instinct would be to be on Paul's side, as he our protagonist.  He's not an unattractive man but he has the kind of self-made low self-esteem that makes me wonder what he was like back in high school.  Early on Chabrol gives us an inkling to his madness as he stands by a pier and there's another, sinister voice heard (and one knows it's different as a chance to italics in the subtitles, like a devil on his shoulder).

But this isn't like with a Raging Bull story where the unlikely search for some small redemption is a concern of the filmmaker.  I don't think Chabrol wants us to really like this guy Paul at all.  He starts off seeming like a character out of a Woody Allen movie, spying on his woman, insecure, asking a lot of questions though not articulate always about his suspicions.  For the first half hour as he suspects Nelly and follows her, and while he doesn't appear totally reasonable we can still follow along with him.  This, and the confrontation and (spoiler) make-up sex seems to suggest a closed story... not so fast, Batman!  An amateur filmmaker who screens some of his shots taken of various people around the hotel, one of them Nelly in a skimpy bathing suit, sets Paul's visions of his wife having passionate sex with the (somewhat) hunky mechanic sends him again into a tizzy.  This time there is a slap, right in the middle of a screening, and it sends the film into its darkest areas... 

That is, until the last fifteen minutes.  It's around then, after so much time of Paul being as paranoid as Nixon on cocaine that he goes a step too far with Nelly, pummeling her to the ground.  I may have not described how Paul is during all of this - as played with an uncanny creepiness that doesn't show itself too soon by Cluzet - because he still tries to appear normal.  That is, when he's not having jealous visions and his jealous voice isn't telling him to go berserk.  There's a scene later in the film where hope seems to be on the horizon, that a psychiatric doctor might be able to "help" him by putting him away - that is, until it looks like he will put Nelly away instead (this scene is also tricky to peg as it could be taken, via Paul's disturbed point of view, that the doctor will put him away instead and is using code).  When it comes to that last night in their house in the hotel, it gets weird.  Not quite Shining weird, but close enough.

Some logical questions might come up from time to time, biggest of all why Nelly doesn't just get a divorce and go away from him with their son.  Maybe Chabrol is too clever, or doesn't think his female figure of adoration, is clever enough, and she even later on states she only is staying around as she doesn't have the money to leave.  This nagged me only in a few staggering moments, when one realizes this is the 1990's and not some by-gone era before divorce.  But, again, like a movie such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, the filmmaker's concern isn't logic so much as depicting a possessed mind, that is to say a mind possessed of its own worst devils and unable to let go.  The Hell of the title is what Paul makes for his family, his fellow hotel patrons, and it's a wonder how he goes through the first few reels without blowing his brains out.  Why he goes so far one can speculate, and it is in Chabrol's ever-so awesome storytelling hands, makes it so compelling.   

This doesn't make him a villain by the end.  Despite everything, despite how close Paul goes over the edge (or goes over and comes back up only to go over again like a bungee jump), he's not completely detestable.  It's easy to hate him for how straightforward Nelly is - not for a moment does Chabrol give a suggestion of her guilt until Paul goes so far as to make what she might do in retaliation sort of acceptable.  Paul becomes a warped but pathetic kind of madman that would get brushed off by Norman Bates.  Perhaps it's a little simpler, via the over-used Jean-Paul Sartre quote, put into context : Hell is other people.  But hey, isn't that fun?  And why not end it with this title card: Without End.  Cheers!

Friday, October 1, 2010


Hey, can you talk about this?

Hey, it's time for "The Facebook Movie", which would sound as ungainly and stupid as it does.  But in the hands of David Fincher, via Aaron Sorkin's snappy-as-hell screenplay, it becomes, very oddly enough, (somewhat) comparable to his previous cult-object Fight Club.  Here we have the story of an awkward guy who is an outsider (albeit here in Harvard, so he is already somewhat accepted, so let's say an outsider in the inside), and he doesn't really hit it off with the girl, and this affects everything else that will happen in the story.  

Mark Zuckerberg (played in a perfectly genius-cum-Asperger-syndrome-like affectation Jesse Eisenberg) goes back to his dorm, gets drunk, writes on his live-journal about his terrible night while also making a site called 'Facemash' where he gathers all of the pictures of girls he can that go to college in the immediate area and makes a "Yey" or "Ney" clicking system.  It gets huge in one night.  The Harvard computer system crashes.  Zuckerberg barely knows what he's started.

Next, thanks in some small part (or large depending on POV) to a couple of identical jock-twins, he gets the idea for a social networking system that collides the entire college experience, who you "are", you you're friends with, interests, and, naturally, your "relationship status".  Facebook becomes huge, really huge, and it spread out from Harvard to other schools in the area, then, thanks to Napster Playboy Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake who nearly steals the show), into other continents and with lots of bankroll behind it.  Facebook now has (practically) corporate sponsorship... and then Zuckerberg creates chaos by exploding buildings so that the credit all goes back to zero.

I am Jack's pj's

Ok, maybe not that last part.  Maybe I'm even reaching in trying to compare a scathing satire on consumerism and bad behavior to a sorta bio-pic of the rise and (sorta) fall of the people who came up with  But, as with most directors, it's hard not to posit the lagtest film in with the rest of the director's cannon.  And it's a bit of a change of pace for Fincher, who has characters speaking really tight patter that goes by at a mile a minute by smart people.  

This goes without saying it's an Aaron Sorkin script - who, as my father-in-law notes, writes his characters speaking "Sorkinese" as one character speaks very fast and the other(s) try to keep up - and that it's also a 160 page script shot as a two-hour movie.  Only The Gilmore Girls could getaway with so much dialog in such a short time.  Oh, and this movie doesn't end with the impending end of the world.  Only the conclusion of some lawsuits and the ambiguity of a friend request being constantly page-refreshed to The Beatles' "Baby You're a Rich Man."

You're gonna have to keep me up alll night.

But enough of the comparisons.  How does it work as a movie in and of itself?  Really, really well.  Yes, the character talk pretty fast, and they're all very intelligent.  The dumbest guy in the movie is really dumb, but he's just a one-scene character who doesn't notice Bill Gates was at a speaking engagement even as he was just there.  It's also a fact that many of the characters are set in and from Ivy league schools like Harvard and Stamford.  It's almost like they talk in big words- Zuckerberg especially has a Rain Man quality in having an easier job speaking in code than speaking with other people on the "social" level- and it's when things get down to the harder parts, like dealing with the BIG money coming their way, that it gets complicated.  Sorkin's wit once or twice gets to be so high-pitched that it flies over one's head.  Other times, it is just about right.  Many lines score effortlessly.

Fincher has his camera side of things down, exceptionally well.  If it doesn't get to the dark, grainy and curious-dangerous heights of Zodiac, then he and DP Jeff Cronenwith (also, btw, Fight Club) find just the right balance of having every shot look interesting, even when it's just two talking head in basic two shots and some creative use of an advanced stedicam.  It glides along into the party areas and school dorms, from room to room, student to student.  Is it showing off?  A little, but it's the kind that sticks to its own logic in presenting the story.  Nothing is so showy that you're pulled out of this plot, which is already complicated enough in Sorkin's riff (or rip) on Rashomon style narrative with the varying telling from a deposition.  In a way it is, as far as Fincher can get, graceful.. and still grainy and green-tinted.  

No relation to John Forbes Nash

In the tale of the Facebook-making-of, it's the characters that have to count.  This is what will count in the film's favor, for people who aren't expecting the most; that is, those few who aren't aware of the massive hype around the film (i.e. 98% rating on  Mark Zuckerberg is, for his faults at being just a relatively "normal" human being, totally fascinating.  We- or at least I- can relate to those faults, of being obsessed with something so much that the social skills required to function around people falter.  Others may see something like that as well, despite Zuckerberg as a character here being so unprepared for the world he's in.  He needs someone like Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), who is good with women and has connections.  The one thing in common, and makes it most captivating, is that they're really both in over their heads when they finally meet Sean Parker (Timberlake).  One is repelled, one is sucked in by the "forget millions - BILLIONS" mind-set.  

Eisenberg and Garfield are the break-out actors here.  This is not the first time they've done top-notch work; Eisenberg also surprised in Adventureland last year and, years before, The Squid and the Whale.  Garfield is just hitting his stride with Never Let Me Go and a small, respectable part in Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.  The two characters they play here are very far from alike but both sympathetic and, to a degree, empathetic.  They make people who should be pretty unlikable recognizable and deeply felt: Zuckerberg for his poor communication skills and his sense of grabbing on to someone's statement and tearing it apart (the line "You're not an asshole, you just try to be one" is most accurate), and Eduardo as a guy so in over his head but grabbing on to the 30% of power he has.  Garfield has more emotionally to do, but Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as if he's got a secret he may not know he has, and talks awkwardly not as a quirk but because it's who he is, with shifting eyes and a strangely confident demeanor.  

So I was in this group a while back you might've heard of...

Oh, and Timberlake steals the scenes he's in.  It's a grab for an Oscar nomination that will probably pay off in the kind of showy and showstopping turn.  His Sean Parker comes on like a rock star and knows it, and in the end pays hard for it, but enjoys the ride every minute.  In a way I could see a more conventional director and writer focusing on Parker's story (which is loaded much more with the label of celebrity from  Napster and other things) and Zuckerberg would be a supporting character.  The brilliance of The Social Network is to elevate a person who would rather be in a room all night typing away like zapped in on a sub-conscious level to a lap-top into the status of icon, or unintentional icon (based on a book "The Accidental Billionaires").  It's an articulate, savage drama that takes its characters as characters and not the usual "movie" people.  If it's not the most socially relevant movie of its time, it's got the theatrical chops, in craft and artistry, performance and photography, that most other American films this year haven't touched, or thought to touch.  

Only downside, the choir-version of Radiohead's "Creep" is nowhere to be found in the film.  Though on an aside iroicidence (yes, I made up that word just not, irony-coincidence), as soon as I got in my car and left the theater a 'rock-block' of Radiohead songs came on the radio.  Belongs there, I guess.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

And this week they come in 3's: TONY CURTIS (1925-2010)

Full details can be found here.

As I was probably least well-versed in Curtis' career compared to Sally Menke and Arthur Penn, here below is a reprint of two of my reviews of Curtis' crowning achievements as an actor (rather, one of the only films of his I've seen and really responded to, outside of Sweet Smell of Success which, ashamedly, I need to see again in order to review as I actually remember Lancaster more than Curtis from that).   Oh yeah, and he was in Spartacus, too.  Again, a re-watch is in order.

Ladies and Gentlemen.... The Defiant Ones:

It's hard to conceive that the same man who directed The Defiant Ones, Stanley Kramer, would direct Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. While both films are after some level of reaching racial equality, one deals with the issue in the context of a thriller and gives a powerful script based on believable characters, both in their present contexts and their past, while the other is turgid and so preachy that you can feel the pulpit crack from which Kramer stands. It's worrisome to go from that over-praised pablum that, oddly enough, also co-starred Sidney Poitier, to another work, but thankfully The Defiant Ones holds up as a mostly powerful film because it doesn't shove race and bigotry in your face at every moment. At least, not every one. But when it does come up its put around the characters first, not the premise, the progression of the characters in this situation proves compelling... again, for the most part.

Premise: two guys on a chain gang escape after the car holding them and the other prisoners crashes in the middle of a rainy night. The two together are Cullen, Poitier, and Johnny "Joker", Curtis. They don't like each other, as shown in the first scene where Joker very clearly drops the 'N' bomb due to Cullen continually singing a chain gang song. They'd much rather not be together, but without a chisel and hammer there's little to do but to keep running, scrounge for food, make sure the other doesn't die and/or kill the other first (not so much to help the other but to help himself such as when they're in river rapids), and naturally not get caught.

Things happen to them and around them in the story that get them, against their own judgment, bond with one another. Not exactly as friends but guys with a common goal: reach the train and get out of the sticks. What's remarkable is not exactly how Kramer directs them or creates tension - frankly I put most of the credit to the craftsmanship on Oscar winner DP Sam Leavitt - but how he lets the two stars play the characters their own way. They're not stereotypes, and while they may encounter some along on their journey, such as the white trash lynch mob or Billy's mother as a desperate farmer's ex-wife, they hold their own as people we can go along for the ride with. It is about the issue, sure, but it's a thriller that sends us along and tries to have us not know where it will go.

For a while, too, it threw me off. I wasn't sure if they would escape, or together at least, and it's what kept me hooked. Even with the sorta twist with the swamp getaway Kramer kept things moving along at a good pace. It's only around the end that things get a little too, well, of the period. The edge is lost a bit, even as one can see why the film as to end the way it does. If it only could stay truer to the rest of the story and how the characters progress then it would be great. As it stands though The Defiant Ones is fine work and only dated inasmuch that it's from 1958 and on the cusp of the civil rights movement. There's some smoke and fire, which is more than can be said of Kramer's later films.

And Ladies and Gentlemen... Some Like it Hot:

Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot is about what makes men different than women. It's funny, uproarious even, because men who are big womanizers (they're musicians in 1929 prohibition-era Chicago after all) have to go in disguise as women so they aren't recognized as the men they are by mobsters who want to rub them out for several hits they witnessed. I loved seeing how the actors worked off of one another, especially because they had such wonderful dialog to work with. That is one part of it, and how steady the story actually is (it really never falters from being a classically told story for all of its wackiness that ensues), but it's just the repore of the stars, the power they exude on screen (that is, that Marilyn Monroe exudes) and how funny they are in playing it both serious and fun in a single beat.

Now that that premise is out of the way, what else is funny about it? Where to start? For one thing just how Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis have their reactions to how they look or who they are as 'women' ("I'm more of a Daphnme", Lemmon's Jerry says), and how they both react in varied ways to Marilyn Monroe's Sugar. Her character admits that she's stupid, but is she really? She's playing this "girl' in other movies before, and yet it's a little varied this time around; she'd love to find a rich man on a yacht, sure, but she'd also just like to find a man who would treat her right. It's here that the fun, and some hidden depth and incredible sexual innuendo, comes out of the relationship between 'Cary Grant' Joe (a great-bad imitation) and Sugar, especially the scene between the two on the Yacht and their meeting on the beach... which is almost all of their scenes. They're quite brilliant.

Jack Lemmon also scores very highly here with his performance as Jerry/Daphne. Any moment he has to react to Osgood is so funny because of how he reacts and how Joe E. Brown so consistently reacts to Daphne's expressions. It's surely one of the classic moments in movies at the end, but I perhaps loved even more just seeing how the two actors were in the tango scene (and Lemmon's reaction to that to Tony Curtis, the "We're engaged!" bit is one of the funniest scenes of its time, or any time). We get to see by Wilder's script and direction how men and women (or men as women or men as men) portray each other or react when trying to court. It's a sex farce that was somehow acceptable (I'm surprised some of the innuendo and dress got by with the censors at the time), but also has stayed fresh, maybe fresher, because of how precise it is in its observations on sex and relationships. It sort of goes between the very dark comedy of love in Sunset Blvd. with the lighthearted Hollywood stuff of Sabrina.

The former may still be Wilder's best film, but Some Like it Hot finds him working at the peak of his powers with comic timing and sharp dialog for able and ready performers. Was Monroe ever funnier? Perhaps sexier in Seven Year Itch, or a technically better or deeper actress in Don't Bother to Knock. But she's on par with her male co-leads in delivering the goods as someone who gets how to do this comedy. It's rare for lightning to strike like this in comedy in general- The Producers, Duck Soup and His Girl Friday had it- and this is another example.

PS note: It didn't hit me until I finished posting the reviews, but I realize that two of Curtis' best performances (and, to add to it, Sweet Smell of Success) all come at being paired up with someone else either just as great or better than he is.  Somehow I guess he needed that back-up to be at full charge.

Anyway, RIP, to his daughters, Jamie Lee and Kelly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (or How to Stop Worrying and Make O'Brother, Where Art Thou?)

Something about Sullivan's Travels is different than most other comedies of its time.  Even more than other Preston Sturges comedies about life in America or politics or love.  It rings true about how people should be entertained, and how their condition in life responds to that.  The hero of Sturges' film, John Sullivan (Joel McCrea in a brave comic-dramatic performance), is out to find what it's like for the 'working man'.  No, worse off yet, those in the dregs of society, the poor, the bums, the derelicts, the ones waiting on line for the soup and bread and are stuck sleeping on the streets at night or hoping trains to who-knows-where.  He's out to find out what it's like since, you know, it's the depression and people need to see what the social consciousness is like out there.  He'll make John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath look like shallow in comparison.

Oh but what a tangled web John weaves when he goes off and deceives with not only his dirty clothes with holes and dirty face, but with lovely hot-number, uh, "The Girl" (as she's credited on IMDb), played by Veronica Lake, who should be the farthest thing removed from riding huddled in hay on a freight train.  But as it turns out, she's also poor, kind of, as she looks for work or that hopeful big letter that will be made out to Ernst Lubitsch.  At first John is pulling it off, and is knee-deep in the dregs of society.  But then he also gets robbed after being generous to the people he sees walking along and is left for dead - that is, in a humorous funny "ho-ho" not funny "ha-ha" twist, he's thought dead, and gets in a big fight with a train worker that lands him on the chain gang for six years.  But he's dead, you say?  So does he, folks.

A lot of what I've described could very well be made in the hands of a broad comedian.  Not Sturges.  His film, one of the wisest on not just the making of movies (albeit we're never on a movie set and only briefly in a screening room or in movie studio offices), is about something so vital not just to its period but any time period: how does one live?  This sounds like it should be so philosophical as to be excluded from a fun adventure comedy that does indeed feature a big chase scene early on where John tries to get away from the traveling caravan of movie people following him along on the road.  Sturges' method is to subvert expectations.  His film is dark and twisted, and yet with all of its comic twists and pratfalls, is believable in its own logic and scope.  It's like the tortured poet-cousin of Frank Capra who is just a little jaundiced in his outlook.  Even when characters have a light moment like when prisoners laugh during a Pluto cartoon it becomes like a great statement on the social condition of watching movies.

There's few movies about how a movie creator is inspired like this.  Maybe Adaptation. comes to mind as an example of a filmmaker trusting the audience- perhaps dangerously so- to leap off from one kind of movie into another.  My expectations were subverted as to what I thought would be a straightforward comedy.  It's so much more than that, and yet during some of the darkest moments of the film, there are some laughs to be had.  When John is sitting it out in the swamp doing hard labor, the scrawny guy keeps talking and tries to look on the upside of things, the sort of "don't get into any trouble, y'hear" kind of guy in these movies, and he's naturally (or unnaturally depending on the line) funny.  And other moments are so deadly serious, or just solemn, as to seem to be out of another movie.  John and The Girl walk along a river at night, and I could swear I saw the little boat carrying the boy and girl from The Night of the Hunter.  As the prisoners were being escorted into the church and the song was being sung by the black church group, there is not a trace of irony to be found.  Well, OK, maybe a little in the Pluto cartoon moment, but not much.

It's the kind of satire like Dr. Strangelove that is often bitingly, hysterically funny about its subject, but it carries with it the veneer of sincerity.  Sturges has a sense of how to keep the pace going with his two stars just right - the dialog is kind of a sophisticated form of screwball dialog, romantic-related but more about the stars charisma than reaching a point past their patter, which is sublime as it is - and how to keep the larger issues from poking their heads in just enough to reach full impact.  It's about us just as much as it is about John Sullivan putting together his movie of poverty.  Does he know it by the end?  Do we?  I'm suddenly reminded mid-paragraph about a quote from Tom Noonan: "I don't think you go to a play to forget, or to a movie to be distracted. I think life generally is a distraction and that going to a movie is a way to get back, not go away."  

I have to wonder now if that is a greater point Sturges is making past the rapid-witty dialog and the twisted situations that happen in the film.  I felt like I was getting somewhere back, even as it was pure escapism.  As a joyful film about the movies, Sullivan's Travels really is, though its a long hard road getting there.  Everything from the acting to the writing to the delicate and creative cinematography, and how the film ends so beautifully with full bitter-sweet style, it's really one of the best kinds of comedy-dramas you could ever see.....

Just don't take that poster as a means of what the film will be, except as an indication of Veronica Lake's "honey" status.  Then again, a movie advertisement lying?  No....

And another one bites the dust: Arthur Penn (1922-2010)

It's sad to see another superb filmmaking talent leave one after another (for some reason people from the movie business die in packs: Ingmar Bergman & Michelangelo Antonioni, or earlier this year Dennis Hopper and Gary Coleman).  Sadder still I was not as well-versed in the career of Arthur Penn before he passed as I was in my previous entrant on Sally Menke.  Penn came from a time in filmmaking where he broke rules, got some acceptance, and stayed on the edge of things.  He sometimes made some stinkers (a couple of them can be found in his 1980's output), but for the most part his career was pretty solid, as both a director of film and theater, and earlier on in the 1950's as one of the live TV pioneers.

In full disclosure, I've only seen completely four of his directed films - Bonnie and Clyde, The Left-Handed Gun, Alice's Restaurant, and Night Moves (I started The Chase but didn't get far due to a damaged DVD) - but each of them has something special to offer to a receptive audience.  For Bonnie and Clyde it's the de-mystification and re-invigoration of the crime genre (and also the sub-bank-robbery genre of movies), with its fresh characters, frank (for 1967) sexuality, and its notorious climactic shoot-out inspired by the blood-letting of Kurosawa samurai films.  For The Left-Handed Gun we got to see one of Paul Newman's best performances, actually out-doing James Dean in a character that was originally written for him, as a smart-ass and tortured Billy the Kid.  For Night Moves, we got a different kind of detective neo-noir with Gene Hackman as a real down-and-out Shamus who gets embroiled in a case that is way over his head (sort of a more modern, moody cousin of Chinatown).  For Alice's Restaurant... you can get anything you want, such as a surprisingly funny Arlo Guthrie.

His influence has been felt by many filmmakers, and he gave many fantastic actors- Hackman, Beatty, Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, which I did see in middle school but have little memory of save for some scenes with Helen Keller), Dustin Hoffman (Little Big Man), and even Penn & Teller in a concert movie from the late 80's, which I need to procure asap.  One can also read more in-depth about his work in the 1960's in the fantastic book Pictures at a Revolution, which is all about the behind-the-scenes in the five best picture nominees at the 1968 Oscars and is like reading the book about the making of Bonnie and Clyde, and the working relationship between Penn and Beatty. 

One more note here.  In 2007 (or was it 2008) I got to be more familiar than ever before with Penn almost by accident.  Though never personally meeting, it was by a sort of favor that I got a peek at Penn's process in interview form.  My wife Korey worked briefly as an intern for an online political-social-issues magazine called Logos, and part of her job was transcribing interviews that has a 50/50 chance of being printed.  One of these was an in-depth interview with Arthur Penn.  As she couldn't do it in time due to other academic concerns, I took over the transcribing.  The interview was never published, so what I may do later today is to post a blog featuring the full interview transcript (hey, you snooze you lose I say).  It's a fascinating lot of talk about Penn's career and how his films fit into a social-concern framework.

In the meantime, here are some reviews on IMDb of his films:

Night Moves
Alice's Restaurant
Bonnie and Clyde
The Left-Handed Gun 


AMMENDMENT:  Damnit!  i almost forgot The Missouri Breaks - Brando and Nicholson in the SAME MOVIE!  It's like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane with dudes (underrated, though short of greatness by just how fucking odd it is):

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

R.I.P. Editor Sally Menke (1953-2010)

Today in L.A. one of the superlative editors working in movies, - most notably for Quentin Tarantino - was found dead from heat exhaustion (or something similar as she was on a hike with her dog).  She was 56

Sally Menke has edited everything Tarantino has directed (yes, even The Man From Hollywood, though not his television episodes on ER and CSI and his first technically completed film My Best Friend's Birthday, all exceptions to a strong collaboration).  She edited other feature films as well, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (from 1990), Billy Bob Thornton's movies All the Pretty Horses and Daddy and Them, Oliver Stone's Heaven & Earth, Mulholland Falls, and Nightwatch.  But she'll be most remembered for her work with QT, specifically as she received two Oscar nominations (Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds) in the process.

Now, this is in some part news you can already read up on online, with some notations about her career.  But I would like to go in to what made her work with Tarantino- and, yes, on the Ninja Turtles movie - so important.

1) How to stay on a shot, and how to stage a showdown

For a while I may have underrated Menke's work on Tarantino's films.  It's a given that a director will be given the credit for when things go right - and, conversely, blame for when they go wrong - and it's only when it's really noticeable that one will point out more of the specific technical assets or letdowns.  One will credit the Coen brothers for how incredible their films turn out, and they should be for if nothing else the screenplays and casting.  But Roger Deakins and, oddly enough, the Coens themselves deserve credit for the photography and the editing.  In films, pacing is a colossal factor in how both an entire film and scenes/sequences play out.

Case in point, Pulp Fiction.  Earlier this month in an editing class I'm taking, I was asked to give an example of good editing, from anything, any movie would do.  The scene I chose perhaps had something to do with just seeing the film again at a midnight screening (seeing it on the big screen, as with many great films, enhances its finer and exceptional qualities), but it was a specific scene that I recalled in some large part because it's a scene that has no dialog at all, in a film that is loaded with the quotable one-liners we get from Tarantino circa mid-1990s.

This is the scene: Butch, going home to find the watch that his girlfriend left at his apartment, makes a couple of pop-tarts, feeling momentarily at ease by finding the watch and no one being there... that is until he looks at his kitchen's counter

In this confrontation, not a word is said, but look as to how Menke lingers on the shots.  Part of the inspiration for this scene, albeit without the standard Morricone music, is from spaghetti westerns.  The gun does not show up in the scene until it is revealed to us by Butch's eyes.  The entire scene is character driven.  There's a sense of distaste already there from an earlier scene between Butch and Vincent at the bar, but here it's taken to another level.  It's really more about the build-up than the actual violence itself.

When it does occur, it's with added shock in how fast it goes by, but then more-so because of how Menke and Tarantino stay on Butch's face, which is still very surprised but confident.  The editing in this scene takes its time, sets up the situation, and plays it out in a pace that is unpredictable and shocking.  Watching the scene in context with the rest of the film it still holds its value as giving a jolt to the system.  The addition of the smoke alarm and how Butch never reacts to it (which is never really acknowledged by anyone) is a bonus.


2) "You guys must have studied the abridged book of ninja fighting"

Before I even knew what an editor does, I was a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Specifically the original 1990 film, directed by Steven Barron

However I did know the art of a great title on screen
But lo and behold, years later, after becoming curious about various crew members working on QT movies, I came across this item in Menke's filmography.  The 'Turtles' movie is vehemently defended by its followers, even as a cult movie (which it is now that it's gone past its day as current 'family' entertainment, though kids today should see it over that bullshit TMNT 2007 movie), and I include myself in that group.  It takes very silly material, and I even admit that it is very silly subject matter, with mutant turtles who are aged in their teens separated by color-coordinated bandanas and with their own distinct personalities and equitable hunger for pizza (as long as it doesn't have penicillin on it, to which they will do a funeral song).

What sets it apart from other family movies at the time that were also silly and meant mostly (though not exclusively) for children, is how seriously it takes itself and its surroundings.  This is before it really got silly with Secret of the Ooze (Vanilla Ice anyone?) or got mentally disabled with the third movie (Shit Sandwich anyone?)  It's a beautiful film to look at  (Roger Ebert, who ultimately gave the film a thumbs down, conceded that it had the most breathtaking production design since, or comparable to, Metropolis), and it carries with it a film-noir aesthetic even as it sends up juvenile crime movies with Shredder's clan of teenage fighters and kung-fu movies.

And along with how the director and cinematographer and production designer, not to mention Jim Henson, get the details on screen right, Sally Menke made the film move and feel alive as an action movie and as a piece of camp.  It doesn't know it's camp, at least not always, and it's this that makes one take the editing seriously as well.

To demonstrate how much she was on the wavelength of everyone else, here are two examples of her contribution to the film:

First is this scene, which is a lead-up to a big fight sequence (I'll hold off on putting too much emphasis on fight sequences for the next portion of this blogpost).  The Foot-Clan, who have just pummeled the Ninja Turtle Raphael into unconsciousness come through every door-way and really any spot available to come through in the apartment.  Michelangelo's comment nails it:

Ain't that the truth, Mikey.

In the ensuing confrontation, we see a kind of showdown of skills between Michelangelo and a "fellow chucker". The pace here is fun and lively, and referential to Westerns with the move to pick up the nunchuk. And the comedy keeps being the real factor here, one topping the other in a match of skills. It should be a moment that breaks the tone of what came before it, which was dead-serious as they beat up the foot.

For a Ninja Turtles movie it perfectly lays out the attitude towards fighting: get some humor in there, make the supposedly stuff-shirted Foot Clan confused, and THEN kick the hell out of them. The violence in such a scene is off-set somewhat by the comic-timing, which is impecable. It's not Buster Keaton, but it's close enough to showcasing something exciting and, again, unexpected.

Another clip:

This is what I was referring to before regarding 'taking it seriously'.  If one were to start the film off without any prior knowledge of it as a Ninja Turtles movie, one would think it's a mid-80's crime movie, maybe starring Don Johnson or someone better.  Menke's pacing is that of a crime-wave movie; it makes more sense that the pacing is that of a wallet changing hands in crowded streets, but we're never lost as to where the wallet is going, only that there is some chaotic movement around it being moved.  Then we're let go of this tension as we see Danny (the boy walking and standing alongside the wall).  The next shot, a close-up of a hand with some kind of covering (metal?!) puts the viewer on guard all over again.

If one continues to watch, the scene where April O'Neill is walking along and is accosted by the thugs, the tension keeps peaking.  The edits are tight enough as to create the suspense, though there's enough in the shots so that super-fast montage isn't necessary.  Wisest of all (though one can give this to Barron more than Menke, to a point) is to keep on the shot of black as the Ninja Turtles come on the scene and tear up the thugs.

This should be a surreal scene, and it is in a way; the cutaway to Raphael peeking out of the manhole cover is the kind of indelible image that can stay in dreams.  Yet Barron and Menke keep the focus on how real everything is, or should be - that it's New York city circa 1990, when it was not corporate-covered in most parts and, you know, full of drug-crazy maniacs and actual gangs adds to the realism - and we believe everything in it.  It should almost, almost, be a disappointment then when the Turtles come up in the sewer, albeit in an introduction that makes the kid in me should "COWABUNGA!"  Everything that's carried with how it's cut together, leading up to it, in a neo-noir aesthetic, provides us to buy into all that will follow.


3) Commode Tricks Are For Kids

Menke's work with Tarantino has varied depending on the style the director is going after (which, being Taratino, can be as varied as spaghetti western to screwball to dark film-noir to heavy action and suspense).  But in two examples the editing plays a factor just as much, if not more, than the writing.  It is, as Tarantino himself has noted, why "editing a final cut of the film is like a final draft of the screenplay."  In this sense she (was) the director's closest collaborator, even more than Roger Avary in the early days.  Only the producers, Lawrence Bender and Harvey Weinstein, seem to have been closer than anyone in his camp.

In Reservoir Dogs, Mr. Orange (who is, spoiler, the "rat" in the bunch of criminals as a cop named Freddy Newendyke) has to infiltrate the group led by Lawrence Tierny and Harvey Keitel.  How to do this as an unknown?  Lay down a story that ties one in to the criminal element at large, though with something small.  This is the Commode Story (linked here since embedded wasn't allowed for the video).

While the entire sequence is, in fact, a monologue, the character takes on the qualities of an actor more than a cop infiltrating as a rat.  Or, "like Don Rickles, tell a joke" the cop says.  One can credit the idea of leaping off from describing the story to showing it to the filmmaker (the old 'show don't tell', however monkeyed with as Tarantino shows WHILE he tells, breaking a not-quiet sacred rule when done right).  Menke, however, is integral in how we get from the telling to the showing.  In the first scene in the apartment it's a static shot as Freddy just goes over the words over and over in his script.  It's a dull shot and its long length is reflected in how long Freddy takes in reciting the words, his own tenor of speech.  The next scene moves a little faster, the shot isn't so static, and we see the other cop in the scene as an active audience member for what is Freddy being more energized.  The cuts aren't so fast as to lose the pacing of the story, but the energy is what counts.

When it comes to the next, big-show scene, as Freddy (aka Mr. Orange soon to be) tells the story of the drugs in the bathroom, the camera moves a little, but not so much here except as to make it about the characters listening and watching Freddy's moves.  Freddy then transposes himself in the bathroom.  Believability is now completely in his grasp, and Menke's editing here is crucial.  How much time is spent on the dog's close-up as it barks.  How long the shot spins around Freddy as everything is freeze-framed around him as he talks about his "panic" (though Tim Roth looks far from panicked, more like 'method actor' cool really).  What is great too is how long the shot remains on the cops, one of whom is telling his own story about being the asshole he is pulling someone over.

Ultimately, Menke's style takes on the precise air of self-conscious reality.  Freddy turns on the air-machine to dry his hands, the sound of which overtakes the soundtrack, and all cops look on with stone-cold stares.  Even the dog is now over-powered to be heard.  What starts out as a very dry scene without any movement and only an actor dryly saying words turns into a full-blown performance piece.  It's believable as an anecdote, but inside Freddy's mind it takes on the air of opera, and Menke complements the actors by giving them enough time to be full-blown caricatures within Tarantino's own hard-edged, almost punk rock aesthetic (the push of the air-machine is like a big 'Fuck YOU' that hits a grand note).

This reveals Menke's talent at varying the movements of characters and compositions based on the necessity of story.  What about a full-blown action sequence, the likes of which could be compared to Ben-Hur?

This is a portion of the film Kill Bill Vol. 1 that could be considered a little more than subtle.  It's an extravaganza of violence and mayhem, all orchestrated by the "Bride" played by Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit ala Game of Death.  What's the point of all of this?  Simply, so that the Bride can exact revenge on the #1 on her list of people to kill, O-Ren Ishii, who has the "Crazy 88".  Are there 88?  In Vol. 2 Bill remarks that they call themselves that "to sound cool".  I would wager that Tarantino made them all up to be "cool".  Just, ultimately, not as cool as the Bride when it comes to killing hard and fast.

It's been said that it took Tarantino a full year alone to write this sequence.  I imagine less time was spent editing it, yet it's probably not off by much.  The number of shots here are many, and the angles are varied based on the intensity of the moment, the rapidity of the Bride's ability to kill, and how many are coming at her at once.  It's all a big homage to chop-socky, martial-arts-samurai movies and it holds its own when put up to those nothing-but-blood-and-carnage standards.

What's breathtaking about the scene, time and again, is that we're never lost or too confused in the chaos of the images.  The cuts are fast, but I would argue still stronger and with a level of depth and importance to nearly every shot than, say, the action in Christopher Nolan or Bourne movies.  It is chaotic, but the intention is not to feel disorientated by the action, or for it to be so choppy as to lose its momentum.  Even in moments where the actions lows in the House of Blue Leaves fight, such as when the one fighter throws the axes, or when the Bride does somersaults, the action is relentless but measured.  I always knew where everyone was in this fight, and this includes the many that were in the background.  Danger is around every step, and the mood takes into account, like music, rhythm, tempo, and emotion.  I laugh and gasp and hold on to something during this battle.  I can't say the same for most of Nolan's action or those in Bourne movies, but that's a discussion for another time.

This may be one of the pinaccles of modern film editing, nevermind Menke's career, as she finds every little moment that counts for the Bride, and how crucial every sword swipe, dismemberment and slapping on the ass and "GO HOME TO YOUR MOTHER!" adds up.  That this sequence is followed up by yet *another* fight, the big one between the Bride and O-Ren that is slower in pace and just as momentous in its intensity and scope is a credit to her as much as its director.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saturday Movie Madness w/ Ryan Reynolds + Woody Allen

And just when you thought these crazy kids wouldn't get together!

Actually, it's two separate films that are now in limited release and sure to open up a little bigger over the next few weeks.  One is Rodrigo Cortes' (to put it lightly) claustrophobic war-time thriller-sorta-horror movie Buried, and the other is Woody Allen's 39209412939th film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.  A fairly odd couple of movies to see, but they made for an entertaining (if not extraordinary) night of viewing at the Angelika theater in downtown Manhattan.


Being buried in a box under ground is nobody's idea of a good time, that should be a given, especially when one is actually alive and put there by someone else with a nefarious plan (one saw such a scenario play out in Quentin Tarantino's two-part episode/movie on CSI, Grave Danger, and to a smaller extent in Kill Bill Vol. 2).  It gives a damn-big obstacle for someone in a film to suddenly be trapped in one, but what about for the entire running time?   It's an experiment that would've tickled Alfred Hitchcock pink, and what it turns out to be is what the movie advertisements might call (though at the moment giving this quote to Catfish weirdly enough): "The Best Hitchcock Film Hitchcock Never Made."

They would make that claim, and I would want to say that about Buried when it's at its best.  It never reaches quite that high of an absurd-to-begin-with accolade, but it does provide a viewer with a sense of dread throughout.  And you'll know that it has a "message" to it, at least in some part, just by my describing the story in this next sentence: A truck driver working for a company in Iraq (not Blackwater, something less security-oriented) finds himself inside of a coffin buried under the sand after terrorists attacked the group he was in, and with only a cell phone and zippo lighter he has to find a way out from his captors.  Yes, it's set in Iraq (perhaps unwisely in 2006 it's set, as there weren't as many blackberries that recorded video, and youtube wasn't as huge as it is now).  Yes, it's about the dangers of being kidnapped and held for ransom in that foreign land, which happens more often than you think.  And yes, there are some moments when you realize that the message is very loud and clear.

Truth be told, I enjoyed that part of it, at least in this context.  This isn't a horror movie like Saw - that is, until for only one crucial moment, which one wants to try and forget about - where the villain is all high and mighty and there are all of these stupid/contrived traps in existential sheep's clothing.  It's one setting and one character, and there is a crucial moment where Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds) is put on the phone with his employer, and is basically set up in a recorded conversation.  What happens here I won't say except that it's a brilliant bit of misdirection on the filmmaker's part on what the audience is expecting at that moment, and it only gets darker from there.  There should be some hope for this guy; as Paul repeatedly tells his captors and the kidnapping expert he's on the phone with in Iraq that he's not a soldier, has no guns, has been working only as a truck driver, is innocent, wants to go home.  There are greater implications for him merely being there, but as far as characters in these thrillers go, we want to be on his side all the way.

I shouldn't go on too much further without mentioning how outstanding Ryan Reynolds is here.  For years he's made his mark as a comedy actor, usually in comedies (Van Wilder, Just Friends) that are not the greatest caliber of comedy, and sometimes in dramas and indie-experiments (The Nines) that get praise but are seen by few.  For an actor who is about to break even BIGGER with playing Hal Jordan in next year's Green Lantern comic-book movie, this is really the one that will get him "street-cred" as one might say among fans of honest-to-goodness bravura acting.  He has no choice, Reynolds has to command the screen here, and he does with a character who has no choice but to survive for as long as he can.  It doesn't help that Paul has anxiety issues and has medication for it.  Also that his wife and children's home location is known to the terrorists.  Not to mention a woman he knows is also held captive.  The pressure is on, not least of which being trapped inside of a fucking coffin, with the occasional odd snake coming around, lights flickering out, and breath being short.  Oh, and bombs going off aren't good structurally speaking for the integrity of the aforementioned coffin.  At any rate, Reynolds is on top of it every step of the way, making Paul conflicted, desperate, likable, and relatable.

In fact I might credit Reynolds just as much if not more on some level emotionally for keeping me hooked in with the film.  It's hard to pull off an act like Buried, since it is all in one location.  Like Hitchcock's Rope the director, Rodrigo Cortes, and his director of photography Eduard Grau, there is a kind of contract made between the filmmakers and the audience, that 'this is what we're going to do, you can either do your best to stick with us, or hop off the train.'  It's a stylistic gamble to have it inside of the coffin and not leave, albeit once or twice the director makes minor flights of fancy (for example showing the video on Paul's phone of the woman he knows being held hostage, and a couple of shots that fly high within the space of the wood crate).  But, again, the ingenuity of the camera angles, the claustrophobia that is captured with tension and (somehow) belief, and Reynolds caught right in the center of it, make it something special.  It's more than a gimmick: it's the precise and best way to tell a story like this, and I hope to watch it again if only to see certain shots and try to figure how they did this or that shot, or how the lit it in such a way with the minimal work they had.

Buried lies in such a fine area between being an experimental art film and Hollywood suspense, and I liked it that way.  Once or twice it does get close to being heavy-handed, and the Saw moment I mentioned earlier is annoying (I don't want to spoil it, but when you see it you'll know).  But it's successful at what it tries to do, which is make an audience squirm.  In that sense it'll do what it does better than most horror films coming out in the next month, even if it's not technically a horror-genre film.



To me, a Woody Allen movie is an event film.  How large or small the event may depend on how the film is received going on, what kind of buzz it might have, the actors, the change in locale (i.e. Match Point in England for first time), or just how good the movie is ultimately.  For a filmmaker who hasn't not had a film released every year since 1981 (if not, as in 1991 or 2007, then two films the following year), some of the events may even be lessor than others, and so Allen's catalog of work is like a big house loaded with great, good, and not-so-good films.  This one, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, is a good one.  My wife compared it to something like Scoop- also one of Allen's England-set films- as ultra-light, inconsequential fare, but I don't know if it's quite that minor.  Among the light-minor works where characters have only some consequence, it's one of the better ones.

It's a tale of a family, and their loves and loses.  The patriarch, Alfie (Anthony Hopkins), has split from his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones) of many many years and is soon hooking up with an "actress", Charmaine (Lucy Punch), while Helena reassembles the pieces of her life by, well, communicating with a fortune teller who feeds her a lot of baloney she eats up like pudding.  The child of the family, Sally (Naomi Watts), is an aspiring art dealer married to a (surprise) misanthropic doctor-turned-novelist Roy (Josh Brolin) who spends more time looking out his window to the naturally gorgeous girl across the street (Frieda Pinto, obviously naturally gorgeous), and has trouble with his latest book getting off the ground.  Sally meanwhile might, maybe have a thing for her boss art gallery-dealer (Antonio Banderas).

What to expect from this?  What one would expect from a lot of Woody Allen movies with characters entangled in neuroses, romance, and the ups and downs of life and naturally the impending force of death (in this case it's even in the title of the film, and referenced as such as Helena is told she will meet a "stranger").  In a way it's kind of like Husbands and Wives lite; the separation of the main couple leads off into their own "wacky" romantic tales, though Helena's much more normal ultimately than Alfie's, and about the other relationships and their trials and tribulations.  It is at times a very funny movie, mostly when it focuses on the obvious tainted-from-the-start bond between Alfie and Charmaine (say her name right!) and Hopkins, in his funniest dead-pan performance since I can't remember when, trying to keep up with her new beau's spending ways (I ain't saying she's a gold-digger but, well, you know the words).

There's some interest in what happens between Roy and Dia (Pinto, who can never have too many closeups), and there is one very good moment between Watts and Banderas in his car after a night at the opera that has so much sexual tension without either person doing anything.  And of course there's the if not religious than spiritual-cum-supernatural context of Helena and how her life becomes dictated by whatever her fortune teller tells her.  But ultimately, despite a very bittersweet ending for all involved (and, one might argue, unresolved in a sense for a few of the characters), and Allen's screenplay giving a lot of good actors some good characters and scenes the chew on, it ultimately doesn't amount to anything too deep.  Maybe Allen likes it that way; a story where characters try too hard and go against their best judgment, and don't win out in the end, while we laugh throughout (or, again, for the most part, some of it is dramatic hence the Husbands and Wives comparison).  But I also didn't connect with the characters the way I have in films where Allen tackles the creative and the upper-middle class getting by in all things existential in nature and importance.

But do see the film if you can come across it; it's the kind of "event" film that works best as a date night, where you can take the little lady and show her what it's like when Brolin does (yes) the typical 'Woody Allen' character.  He nails it better than most other actors playing the Woody role (I'm looking at you Kenneth Branaugh), and it's fun to see other actors get in on what makes their or other characters tic.

One more of these...

This is shorter, but in its own right just as cool.  It makes me think of a few things:

1) The iconic line from Tarantino's Death Proof, though I'll bastardize it a bit for this sake: This car is 100% death proof, but in order to get the benefit of it honey, you really need to be playing drums in the back at 140 mph!

2) Animal from the Muppets need to watch this and be in awe.  I don't think he's seen such competition since he played with Buddy Rich.

3) ... goddamn this is awesome.  The Blues Brothers could learn a thing or two from these guys.

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Noise (1 Apt 6 Drums)

(re: thanks Cyrus from

This is one of those creatively creative short films that makes me bewildered and want to boogie at the same time.  It also has some of the best sound editing I've come across since WALL-E.  And apparently there is a full theatrical film version of this somewhere out there.  This and the film played at Fantastic Fest this year and I can only hope they both become readily available to the public at large.

In short, Tom Waits would be proud of the percussion handiwork and inspiration on display.  Check it: