Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lumet on the Way of the Future...

... and he's not totally wrong either.  While I still would want to shoot on film, just on, you know, principle, he makes a lot of gorram sense here:

RIP Train: Sidney Lumet's PRINCE OF THE CITY

The RIP Train is back in function for the great Sidney Lumet.  And hey, what a way to get back on it with a near-classic police thriller: Prince of the City.

The first question one might have with a film from Sidney Lumet that is about a cop going against the people he works with in the police force and becoming a "rat" is that 'why bother'?  He certainly made THE cop-corruption film, if not ever than of its time, with Serpico.  But after seeing Prince of the City I could see why: it's not about a cop, like in Frank Serpico's case, who was kind of an outsider even when things were a little simpler, and when it came time to become a rat he was more concerned about his own well-being due to how much paranoia there was to be had about being killed.  Here, the main cop, Danny Ciello, is in a close-knit group with the cops he works with - or, as is said more than once in the film, his partners are "the only guys he can trust" - and when he turns informant he has a code at first: not to ever, ever rat on his partners, only on other dirty cops with drug dealings.

Of course, as these things go, it's never that simple, especially since unlike with Frank Serpico Danny is not a cop who is a clean guy and actually upstanding.  No, he's done some bad things, and not just the three that he mentions as his big upsets to the internal-affair investigators he talks with.  He's "given" out heroin before with people on the street who could give him back information, and he's taken money in other instances.  But he's got a moral dilemma as he genuinely wants to do the right thing, to absolve himself of the past bad shit he's been involved in.  The tipping point, when in the middle of the night he gets a call from a fellow strung-out junkie to come help him get some junk and he does in a rain-soaked nightmare of a chase, is quite staggering if not so much the event itself than being in the whole atmosphere of a junkie cesspool-dump.

It's an epic story, surprisingly enough, and actually best watched with the intermission placed in watching on two VHS tapes (though it's very out-of-date to do so, for me it was for convenience-sake as the only copy around the house).  Ciello goes through not so much a transformation but an acceptance gradually of what it is he's doing, and how eventually those he is closest with will go down, people like Levy and Mayo and Marino and those cops closest to him (and really, how could a cop not be close to Jerry Orbach, he was practically out-of-the-womb with a badge and .38 on his tiny trousers).  The question becomes really, how can I possibly, in any way, soften the blow?  Can they come in with me on this, the ratting, or am I all alone?  And what about family and, of course, the perjury on the stand for saying he did the "three" things instead of the many other (albeit minor) things?

For Lumet the reality of the scenes where they're set is crucial- like Serpico it is a full-blown NYC movie with the locations all over the place and all adding to the gritty character of the film, be it an Italian restaurant that's only slightly better lit than the one in The Godfather, or a brick-laden street where a couple of thuggish cops take Ciello at one point to possibly 'take-him-out' for suspecting he wears a wire (to which he plays it cool by actually saying "Yeah, sure, I got a wire, feel my balls, waddaya think ya fuck!" kind of talk to them).

 And so too is how the actors naturally act and react in a scene, sometimes with basic conventional close-up and medium shot cutting and other times letting a scene play out like on a stage play.  And hey, these are real life-or-death stakes going on, so why not make it as real as possible.  Sometimes tension is just there without knowing it till it pops.  When Danny and his wife are having a moment, while they're 'in hiding', in the Catskills, a gun goes off and everyone, them, the guards for Danny as he's a protected witness, all go for cover, and we wonder who it is.  Just a kid.  Ah, relax.  Really?

A scene so intense it needed to be folded in quarters

The other thing, of course for Lumet, is the acting.  At first I wasn't totally sold on Treat Williams, if I look back on it in full disclosure.  Forget even that he's playing an Italian, but just early on when he's talking with the two IA people in the room at night (not the first time the second time) and is going off on like "What the fuck do YOU know about the streets?!" and so on, and it didn't feel real enough.  Williams starts out good in this scene but is trying too hard to be believable as this torn cop.  But then he, like the character transforms pretty quickly into something that is believable and compelling and with a conscience that is wracked with guilt for doing the 'right' thing in a sense (not for all of the cops of course, it really first hits with Gino Mascone).  I ultimately really liked Williams in the film; maybe that was one of the first scenes shot or he didn't click with it, but after that it becomes a performance to rank with the best of them as far as good-but-confliced tough-guy cops go.

Supporting acting of course is also key here, and there's not one performance that feels slipped up, even with the black guy who takes the poli-graph lie detector to try and show that Ciello lied under oath about his further corruption (only a couple of scenes really but effective for everything called for).  In this film there are mostly gritty New York characters actors called for, and naturally for every minute he's on screen Jerry Orbach steals the show though not as an over-the-top guy (albeit the guy could flip a desk in rage like nobody's badass business) however through natural grace and good humor even.  But then there's also Bob Balaban, somewhat surprisingly, as a mousy federal pencil pusher who does such a great job as Santimassino of not being 'wrong' in what he talks about but being so prickish that you can't like him even as he says things that make sense.

Look into my eyes, you bastard... shit your pants?  Good, let's move on..

That's another thing about the film that's impressive, how Lumet shows quite simply this little group of the SIU people with Ciello and Gus and everyone and how they are a tight-knit group, a family, and one with honor despite being crooked in ways of ripping off drug dealers and making other deals with the mob or whatever.  The point is made, and not without some back-up in the film with some of the supporting characters, how at this same time the law is corrupted too with DA's and other lawyers getting bumped up as judges for money kickbacks.  Ciello then has to be a kind of different hero than Serpico, who was more like a lone-wolf kind of guy with a semi-unintentional Jesus complex.  He's more like a serious, less-fucked-up version of Mark Whitacre from The Informant! who is an unlikely guy to bring in people he's close to to justice.  But that's how it is sometimes, heroes in the most unlikely and possibly doomed places.

Prince of the City has a lot of greatness to it, and if it shoots short of it it's hard to pinpoint exactly where.  Maybe it is just a little too long, though where to cut I'd never tell the late Lumet.  And I mentioned Williams already.  Certainly the action, when it springs up, is taut and incredible, based more on the unpredictable like in the burst of violence that happens in the Italian restaurant.  It's a character study more than any kind of 'plot-driven film, and that's where it gains its strength most.  Lumet even has the balls to end the film on a note of 'No, hold on a second, if he is a hero, let's be clear: people definitely may not *like* this guy for what he did.'  Maybe not.  It's a brave little coda that comes at a point where the film could have ended and would've been acceptable.  With that, it gained a certain 'something' that came with Lumet's crime-melodramas. 

Prince of the City (Theatrical Trailer) by NakedBrotha2007

Sidney Lumet RIP

A moment of silence for a film legend....

... Okay had it, let's move on.

How do you define a 'film legend'?  Well, I usually look at the work ethic and the work produced.  In 50 years the man made... I don't know how many films, maybe 40, maybe more or less, but Woody Allen numbers really.  And he was always working, even if the films weren't that great (and to be fair he had a few true stinkers, one of which was one of my first exposures to him, the unnecessary remake of Cassavetes' Gloria starring Sharon Stone in 1999).  And how good was his work ethic?  Well, he wrote a book- nay one of THE essential movie books, in history:

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.  What about his accomplishments, what was it that he 'did' that would make me so riled up to rush to blog about it on a Saturday morning (now afternoon)?

Okay, here's a short-list of the *real* familiar ones: 12 Angry MenDog Day AfternoonNetworkMurder on the Orient Express (which, actually, I haven't seen yet...).  Motherfucking Serpico!.  The Pawnbroker (my personal favorite, despite how depressing it is).  The Verdict.  And his last film, the after-the-fact-ironically titled Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.  Classics.  Hard to dispute.

And he made other notable movies you might have heard of:  an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (just review on the Cinetarium back in... I think it was February).  Fail-SafeFind me Guilty (yes, the Vin Diesel can actually act movie).  The Wiz (yes, the goddamn Wiz, haha).  Equus, an underrated adaptation of the play with Richard Burton.  The Fugitive Kind with Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani(!)  Prince of the City, and Running on Empty, which gave River Phoenix his one Oscar nomination. 

And some you probably didn't hear of, and I've some of: The Anderson TapesThe OffenceThe Hill (or any really underrated acting jobs by Sean Connery).  Power.  Q&A (good lord).  Daniel (which... has anyone seen it?)  Family Business.  Chekhov's The Seagull The Morning After (reviewed, though certainly not loved, during the Netflix-a-Thon back in January).  And many more, like Night Falls on Manhattan.  I could go on, but shit, maybe I have gone on too long.  Here's his filmography for more.

"Hi Al, what was it like before you became a parody of yourself?"  ;)

What made his work so good?  Was it just the professionalism?  Sure, it was that, and that book up above is strong example of how dedicated he was to film craft and artistry.  And he didn't take quite every project offered to him, but he took enough that he had the variety in his work that he couldn't be totally pegged.  That's something that I responded to very much, though of course certain things - courtroom dramas especially - were a specialty he had after that first film, which was actually a behind-closed-doors chamber piece with Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb at each others throats.

He had real versatility, and tried a lot of things, especially in the 70's: he went from a police morality play (Serpico) to a whodunit on a train set in old-time garb and Hollywood stars and character actors (Express) to maybe the quintessential bank robbery-hostage-WTF movie (Dog-Day), to a film that is so prevalent in current discourse that it seems tame by comparison (Network), to a really weird and surreal but affecting horse-obsessive drama (Equus) to... Diana Ross and Michael Jackson prancing around a huge set singing Ease-on down the Road (The Wiz).

Perhaps that too was a little of his problem, that he wasn't exactly consistent in the way other great directors are.  He has some films some people just haven't seen, and won't see unless they seek them out, and some like The Seagull that are lost in time except for the very rare retrospective screening in a major city's art-house.  But his films carry such great moments, certainly for its actors.  People like Al Pacino, Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, William Holden, Sean Connery, and even Albert Finney had some of their brightest spots in their whole careers working under him, sometimes for only one film or more.  He had that work ethic also carried over from working in theater (also, I must to mention, being an actor in the Actor's Studio, as a child and then a little later too) AND live TV, the early days of the format, where he learned his craft of working with the camera and with actors little by little so that by the time he got to 12 Angry Men he was ready, and could have a career like that.

Sean Connery, *acting*!

But what also impresses me so much and pulls be back to his films is the obvious passion I can sense in what he's doing, how much he embraces melodrama head on (just look at his last film, maybe I'll find a link and post it at the bottom here, to show that) while also rejecting the usual sentimentality of films... usually (look away, Gloria, nothing to see here).  So many of the best moments of his films have that struggle of the human experience, to be good or be sane or figure shit out of how to live, that makes things so wonderful. 

Or when things are so bleak like with The Pawnbroker, a film that has a special place for me for first being introduced to me directly by my mother and then later, when it played at a retrospective of his career a few years back, was the film that before it started (ah, the Film Forum, tearing up a little as I write this) I proposed to my future wife for marriage.  I mean, hey, let's not get too excited about our lives together, I thought, there's worse things out there... like THE HOLOCAUST! He-he.

Seriously though, if you want to understand how great his work could be as a director challenging himself with shooting and editing, watch that film.  You see so much of his soul pour out in a story that is full of anguish and self-discovery (or rather self-WTF-ness of Rod Steiger's character, who also gives arguably his best performance in that film).  And sure, it's rough.  But in an odd way not as rough as the residue left from Network, which he and Paddy Chayefsky made into perhaps THE American comment of the 20th and into the 21st century.  I mean, Peter Finch in that film, and even moreso William Holden in a subtler way, they do such work that hits a nerve and doesn't quit.  And his choice to get brighter, just little by little, from a dark 70's look at the start to something "cheery" and "TV'-like by near the end of film was extraordinary.  Put that on a double-bill, by all means, and... don't be near any sharp objects by the time it ends.  Lol.

I'm sure that for years I'll still be discovering films he made, and rediscovering what I loved about the other ones.  Things like the opening of Dog Day Afternoon with its montage Elton John-scored opening of a hot a listless day in Brooklyn that turns into a tense pot-boiler with real heart and human beings later on.  Or that one sequence, for those two or three who've seen it, in his underrated The Hill with Sean Connery where soldiers in a prison have to go back and forth up a very steep hill over and over again, and done in a mostly unbroken shot(!) 

He's the kind of director that could have a frenetic pacing, or just leave a shot going for a while and see how the actor moves or reacts in it, like Paul Newman's monologue to the jury in The Verdict (he does so much and yet stays in the same spot) or how Philip Seymour Hoffman moves around in his drug dealer's apartment in 'Devil'.  Even some of the shit in his flawed work like The Morning After provides unexpected wonders from Jane Fonda.

One of the first directors to get a really great performance AND nudity out of Marisa Tomei. 

And, again, that book that I mentioned.  If you go into the film business, or just have a general interest in it, at least peruse the book if not devour it to the point of making the pages go all crease-like.  It details how a film should go from start to finish, it's making, the writing of it, and so on.  Admittedly the focus is on one of his (from what I've read) lesser efforts, A Stranger Among Us, but he writes about so much of what his career was like up until that point in the early 90's when he'd already accomplished so much.

Or, if you're too antsy for that, seek out some of his interviews from the 'Devil' tour, where he talks very lucidly about what HD can provide that film can't, a transition that he came to at the very end of his life like Bergman with Saraband.  The guy knew his shit as a director, how to try different things with the camera that might work great, or might not work, but at least they were attempted, and he found some wonderful stories along the way.

As I still ponder today things in his career that were so wonderful, moments and full films that made his work resonate so much and how he tries different dramas, comedies, even action and suspense and a 'soul' remake of the Wizard of Oz musical and remake of a John Cassavetes movie, I'll try and check out some films of his I've yet to see, like Fail Safe or Prince of the City or (yeah, sorry to admit) Murder on the Orient Express.  Being a film fan is one of the great adventures of my life, and Sidney Lumet is one of those people who made the second half of the twentieth century so interesting and entertaining.


Friday, April 8, 2011

David Gordon Green's YOUR HIGHNESS

Maybe it's due to how low my expectations were, as the case can be with any multiplex movie- the critics have basically savaged it with some exception (if anything Armond White's positive review made me *more* worried for it)- but Your Highness was surprising for how director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and company made something that was just... fun.  It is definitely a step down for the filmmaker, who gained his acclaim from dramas that are indie-classics (George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, Snow Angels being my favorite) and then really hit it out of the park with Pineapple Express, an insane action-riot that still had his improvisational chops showing (or rather letting his actors, including James Franco and McBride, go off in interesting directions) while making something for the "dumb" blockbuster movie crowd.

Certainly this film movie won't do him any favors with the fans of George Washington and Undertow, but hey, it says on the poster for 'Pineapple', so that is somewhat what to expect.  And the plot, from McBride and Ben Best, is ripped off of the sheets of ye ol' medieval tales of conventions: a prince (Franco) has to go and save his virginal bride-to-be (Zooey Deschanel, mostly put in corsets for cleavage-sake) from being deflowered and made the bearer of a Dark Lord's (hambone Justin Theroux) evil dragon baby that will take over the world and yada yada, oh and the prince has to take his brother (McBride) with him.  So it's simply a quest plot, with some of the usual double-crossing (guess who they are first time you see them, bet you can), and a surprise bad-ass/slightly-crazy chick in Natalie Portman's character.


It is very thin for a story, and Green knows it.  So as with 'Pineapple' he lets his cast go at it, and then some.  According to reports, there was never a 'full script' on set, just the outline and notes, which is a little startling for perfunctory scenes that should have some written dialog on a page, like in, you know, transitional scenes or ones with an actor like Toby Jones who I'd never think to be an improv actor.  It does show, for better and occasionally really for worse.  I don't mean entirely that every joke is bad that McBride makes up, but moreso in just some moments of behavior.  I have to wonder how much of Franco's performance was just made up as scenes went along (yet another in his amusingly brilliant run of experimental-career choices?), or with Theroux going so bat-shit in some of the dialog he has with Zooey Deschanel (then again she wavers from convincing to just her usual board-self).

And yet, dear reader, I'd be lying if I said I hated the film or felt cheated in some way.  Right from the poster it looked goofy and stupid, like one of those mid 90's crude comedies like from Chris Farley.  For Your Highness, the makers are all for the gross-out humor, if more to do with genital stuff... you know, that 'thing' you have between your legs, guys.  Some of the lines did have me rolling my eyes.  Other times, I was laughing, maybe against my better judgment but what the hell.  There was even a point in the movie that I had to just lay down and respect what was going on with the ideal of comedy: if you're going to do a dick-joke comedy movie, why not actually have a big floppy minotaur(?) dick swaying around from your neck as a prize trophy.  I'd call that a spoiler, but it comes at a point in the story that a spoiler is inconsequential.  Plus, you have to see it to believe it.

Matter of fact, that big floppy dick trophy is kind of a litmus test for people; if you see that scene and chuckle, you should continue on to the next scene; if you laugh out loud, you know what you came for and enjoy the fuck out of it anyway; if you groan, whatever, change the channel (if at home) or just duck out and take a shit for the duration of the screening.  I chuckled and sometimes had a laugh-out-loud at certain things, just for being as ridiculous yet self-knowing within the film of it.  At one point the brothers Franco and McBride visit some little-old-wizard in a tent on their quest (and it's an honest-to-goodness Muppet! some points for that) and the wizard gives some advice... and then gives a rather lurid demand involving a hand-job.  It was gross, disgusting, and in its own cheap B-comedy movie way, funny.

I can't quantify what will do it for you or not with this one.  And it is not at all a 'winner' of a comedy like "Pineapple", which was its own sort of low-brow genius.  This has talented actors like Franco and especially Portman, hot off her Oscar win and going from one Hollywood movie to another this year, getting to stretch a little bit while not quite phoning it in (she actually plays something we haven't quite seen her as before, a blood-hungry bad-ass!), and McBride has a hit or miss record in films that reflects itself throughout this one, his first he's co-written and produced and leads off on since The Foot-Fist Way.  Maybe his own legion of fans now from Eastbound and Down will eat it up like sugar.  Or for those out there who just like seeing knights of old and medieval ass-kicking and goblins and cool cgi-multi-headed demons and witches, it's a passable treat.

Okay, let's not get all Drew Struzan carried away here though.

Ultimately, it doesn't all work: not all the improv is as funny as it thinks it is, and there is some mugging.  But considering its hate, it's something to defend as a work that knows what it is and tries to be its own weird little action-comedy.  As far as supposed auteur-disappointments go, Zack Snyder still takes the cake for movies still in general release.  It's guilty pleasure central. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Yasujiro Ozu's LATE SPRING

Late Spring has a very unique place in cinema as a story of people who accept (or push) for change to come and lament it at the same time.  Like the change in seasons, Yasujiro Ozu might be saying, it is what it is and can't really be helped.  The central conflict in the film is that a father Shukichi (Chishu Ryu) and daughter Noriko (best-smile-in-the-world Setsuko Hara) live together, he a professor in his 50's and she in her 20's, and that she "needs" to get married.  By that it's meant mostly through pressure from Noriko's Aunt, who takes a marriage proposal to such a pressing matter the way a stockbroker would make a deal on wall street.  But it's not simply a question of it being an arranged marriage, though it certainly is that.  It's about the daughter liking the situation she has with her father, taking care of him, loving him, being there when he needs things, and about how she does, at some point, need to let go.  Circle of life kinda thing.

Ozu's film is gentle and peaceful about such dramatic changes of life, yet there's a vibrancy underneath what is very calm camerawork and editing.  This is a story brimming with tension about this decision, and yet Ozu being Ozu, and coming from the silent era, he can create so much going on for an audience to read into and to meet halfway about just by how the actors look in a scene.

There's one in particular, possibly the only one I wasn't immediately fond of, where the father and daughter are at a Noh play.  Maybe it was because it wasn't subtitled and didn't know what was going on (though always it's shot wonderfully) but I started to tune out of the scene... until Ozu pulled me back in by going closer in shot by shot on the father and daughter, the former totally caught up in the action of the play, the latter looking at someone else they both know at the play across the room and the sadness of this scene being so fleeting, that change is coming, is all on Hara's face. This is a film that is difficult to peg if one were to describe entirely what the 'tone' is, except to just see it (and Ozu being one of Japan's most recognizable auteurs, when you've seen one you've seen many others).

The story has the ingredients for melodrama, of the peace and fun times between a father and daughter (relatively anyway in post-war Japan) and how it comes apart by the realization that maybe, kind of, an arranged marriage is not always the best course.  But it doesn't raise tension so high and spill over like a Sirk or Visconti movie.  It being Ozu especially and Japanese in general, emotions are often suppressed or just under the surface - that is, except for Setsuko Hara, who is so naturally expressive when she makes Noriko happy or just generally engaged in a conversation (and it can be about anything in particular like sliced pickles on the beach with a guy she genuinely likes), or in personal turmoil when she's faced with this next-step-in-life issue.

Actually, I should take some of that back: Ozu was a *great* director of actors when it came to showing how they really feel.  Part of it is just the casting, of his regular players like Hara and Ryu and the Aunt played by Masa Taguchi (Sugimura, in a wonderfully smug performance for a character who is all about "I" in talking usually and has a funny bit with a stolen wallet).  And part of it is understanding how understatement and subtext, and just how to have two character walking in a scene can mean so much.  After the Noh play the father is still in contentment, but the daughter has much on her mind so she says she'll be 'going shopping' or other.  She walks to the other side of the street but does not walk fast so much to go away from Shukichi completely; Ozu emphasizes this by having a medium shot of the two walking on the street separated by grief and space.

Again, if you're expecting a drama with high tension, however, look elsewhere; Ozu's notion of showing anxiety is an insert shot (but a perfect one) of a magazine falling off of a stack of books on a chair.  Yet his filmmaking is so mature and assured that the passion comes through anyway, and he takes a pacing for certain shots like when Hara's character is on the train, all of those exterior shots of it moving along to that sweet, elegiac music by Senji Ito, that it creates a kind of trance-state for the viewer that is not too imposing (hence why Paul Schrader including Ozu in his book on Bresson and Dreyer and transcendental style, though I might think Ozu has the least heavy of these director's hands).  And sometimes he's just plain lucky in creating such visual poetry, like when the father and aunt are walking and talking in a square talking about Noriko's waiting on marriage, and they pass by a bunch of birds.  How they fly away should be too perfect in timing, but it's just perfect enough to be breathtaking.

Her smile can mean anything really....

I loved this film, for how it treats its subjects with love and affection, and how no one really wishes anyone ill will (well, maybe that one supporting character who is the divorcee for her ex-husband, a funny little moment but true all the same), and that near the end Late Spring takes on greater significance in the grand scheme of how people should live, or want to live.  A part of me was angry and saddened that Noriko was sort of pushed to do something she wasn't totally comfortable with - not that she doesn't 'like' the guy she is to ultimately marry, but *love* is a pretty heavy thing - and a part of me also recognizes the truth in what Sukichi tells his daughter, calmly but sternly, about how things must change, and how a marriage may be tough.  He believes what he's telling her, and she does finally accept it...

And yet, there's that final scene, cutting into the apple, and it calls so many emotions in one stroke.  It's bittersweet, and sad, and contemplative about impermanence with things, be it a daughter or marriage or an apple.  The final shots of the ocean should be, you know, 'pretentious', but it really works just as the right coda for this story, for this journey both characters take, in a land that clings to the old ways but is also in a place after a war that has changed so much already.  It's one of the great mid-20th century films, Japan or otherwise. 

And remember, drink Coca-Cola responsibly, especially in an arranged marriage

James Gunn's SUPER review @ Film-Forward

Do you like super-heroes?

Do you like crazy vigilante crime fighters "touched by God"?

Do you like Ellen Page getting sexually aroused in a super hero costume?

Or Kevin Bacon? (and seriously, who doesn't?)

Then you might dig this:


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


"Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness."- Werner Herzog

"Cash rules everything around me, C.R.E.A.M., get the money, dollar dollar bill, y'all!"- Wu Tang Clan

If you think it looks like a horror movie... you would be correct, semantically speaking

 Those two quotes are a couple of my favorites - one being from a legendary filmmaker who has seen the world and knows what is capable in the best and worst (usually the worst) in man, and the other being from a Wu-Tang Clan song in the usual rapper way of gettin rich or dyin' tryin' - and they both came up while watching the sobering and shocking documentary Collapse, which is essentially a one-man-show ala The Fog of War with a man who says that the world will come to end.  That is, the way that we know it.

The subject in question is Michael Ruppert, a man who started out as a Republican LAPD officer in the 1970's, and in the intervening thirty years was asked to join the CIA, sort of, and saw drug deals from South America coming in to the US under their supervision (whistle blower), and then became an investigative journalist who has written books, published a newsletter available to Congress, and has little by little (or in the past ten years especially quickly) seen through his research and in just having two brain cells to rub together that the human race is in deep, dark trouble.

But hey, nevermind all that - he's SMOKING! ahh!

He calls up those two quotes in his talk to the camera and director Chris Smith (of the great American Movie) - about how fragile civilization really is based around the world's dependency on oil, for everything really (not just the gas you put into your car but the car itself, the engine, the tires, etc), how we use energy, and for the second quote how much we are based around a really fucked system of money.  Nevermind that Ruppert predicted the financial crisis of 2008- he wasn't quite the only one, though he did have one of the clearest voices in it- but that he states, without a moment for BS or cynicism, that the system of money not just America practices (i.e the Fiat currency, or the other kind that has to do with gambling on money in the banks) but around the world will collapse.

And why not, one might think?  Based on how much money there is to borrow or take out, or even to print, money at some point will just stop dead in its tracks.  But this is based moreso around the more general thesis regarding energy: aside from Solar and Wind, according to Ruppert, who has his own reservations about how good those can work, no other energy ideal at present can work, and oil will, sooner rather than later, just run out despite what politicians say about oil reserves in Alaska or the Middle East or whathaveyou.  It's a system that is further broken, one recognizes (if not learns), from Ruppert since it's also put alongside population growth, which has skyrocketed since the industrial (OIL) revolution began over a hundred years ago.  So, depleting oil + mass populations going past 7 billion + a broken financial system that Bush and Cheney helped make and that Obama is prisoner to = The Horror.

Sorry, Plainview, there's less milkshake to come in the collapse of society

So, what to do about it?  Frankly, Ruppert says, not that much.  He doesn't give a specific date and time, only that it will be more gradual than one can expect.  One of the more terrifying prospects he states is that society, oddly enough, will collapse not all at once but gradually, as we lose resources like food ("You'll have water for a few years," he also states deadpan), and that people will have to figure out a new way to live.  It's nothing short of the end of civilization much the same way it came for the dinosaurs after a time, who when they roamed were their self-made "rulers" of the planet.  Maybe become a self-sufficient farmer, though don't count on the soil all the time, he says, and maybe look to Cuba(!) to understand how to really get by by using the land instead of companies and horribly-mass-made agriculture, which has further fucked the planet.

Some of this may sound crazy, the rantings of a guy on the fringe who writes a stupid column in a paper.  But there was only a few times that I sensed anything 'off' about Ruppert - once especially in a paranoid moment where he says that Cheney and Rumsfeld personally kept a close eye on him and followed him due to his research and writings - and that his arguments are based around facts that you and I know, or should know by this point anyway (oil has been a big issue for quite some time in this sense, and the financial system I don't have to expound on further), save perhaps for the stuff about agriculture.  And for a while he seems pretty clear and cold in his talk to the camera, sometimes done interrotron style like Errol Morris.  But what's so chilling is that Smith's questions back at him are answered, mostly with clarity and thought behind everything said.  And when Ruppert finally breaks down emotionally, we can see why.

Collapse fills one with imminent dread, and Ruppert's own comparison to civilizations and societies being like the three kinds of people on the Titanic - those who were 'deer-in-headlights' who won't know what to do, the sheeple if you will, the 'well, what can we do? let's make life-boats' crowd, and those who go back to the bar and go 'screw it, I don't care what you say, gimme a drink' as the boat sinks ever so quickly - and as well about the 5 stages of grief coming into play with societies, not just people.  This is one of the parts that made the most sense to me; over the past couple of years, maybe moreso since the election of Obama, it's become a nation that's angry about something, anything, even if it's not anything worth getting angry about or, of course, because of religion.  At the moment, he says, we're in the second stage of anger, which is a tough part to get through before finally reaching acceptance, the fifth stage.

Next summer, see Michael Ruppert in "Inception 2: CHAOS REIGNS" where he goes into the minds of as many people he can to try to tell them how fucked we all are in our dreams, planting the idea is all

Ruppert is a man kind of at a crossroads between anger (mostly at the assholes in charge who won't do shit to really change energy policy in a meaningful way, or those who just say he's nuts without listening to what he has to say) and acceptance (he now spends his days retired, listening and playing music, and walking his dog).  I have to wonder if he goes between states of Lewis Black-style "WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, CIVILIZATION!" and more serenity at the fact that, if nothing else to him, there's little else to do about it.

But one thing is for certain, I couldn't look away from him, or dismiss him.  Seeing and hearing him talk in this film is akin to that whole scene in JFK where Garrison meets with Sutherland's Mr. X - there's a lot of speculation, but a lot of truth put in there in the supposed nuttiness; a man who has gone through much in life, a lot of eye-opening consciousness expansion, to get to where he's at with, at least to him if not more, indisputable facts (hence why he doesn't debate in the media).  Even when he could come apart at the seams he pulls it back in with stuff that is hard to refute: energy, food, money, things that we need, things that will tear us down bit by bit. 

Bottom line, if you're not chilled to the bone by this film, or filled with an even deeper-than-Woody-Allen sense of 'the sky is falling' existentialism, I don't know what to do for you.  That the film, I almost neglected to mention, is shot with striking use of light and shadows, in what looks like a boiler room, and with excellent montage use of footage of cars, highways, the occasional chart and oil and industry, is another triumph of filmmaking for Smith as a documentarian.

Studios, VOD, movie theaters, and the sudden WTF of it all

This is, like, sooo, 2009 now
This morning I read an article that had me (somewhat) alarmed, from the Wrap by Anonymous (how Joe Klein of him), called "Studios Are Determined to Kill the Film Business."  The main gist of the article is that the studios are now pushing even further the window between a film's release in theaters and its at-home viewing form people.  While the window for release dates on video have been shortening over time (or VOD as it's now called, back in my day as I sit here in my rocking chair we called it 'Pay-Per-View', but I digress), this is a bold new step from the studios, and possibly quite dangerous on their end.

But at the same time that, sure, some people may want to stay at home watching the new movies that are out... albeit still two months after their initial release (ah, dear reader with your own personally made theater system, there's the rub), what will this do for theaters themselves?  I'll get to that in a minute, and what is already the retaliation coming about from that.

Want!  .... kinda

What about TV itself, that whole model?  I can mostly speak from personal experience and from people that I know, but staying at home and watching a film and going out - and I mentioned this a little before in a previous blog back in December about talkers in movies - are two different things.  Of course, yes, there is a comfort zone at staying home, but I might argue there can be distractions in that same space that might not be (in ideal conditions of course) at a theater, and also the space of the screen is not quite the same... unless, naturally, you happen to be lucky and have the fortunes for a gigantic big screen and/or digital projector and/or a room you can make your own studio.  With my current income that isn't quite a possibility for me, so the theater experience is still key for me, not to mention the whole thing of, you know, going to a theater itself.

Not to mention on the end of the creators of the work and distributors there's a difference.  As the Anonymous blogger writes in the shadows of his cinematic-bat-cave of blogging:

"The TV movie model does not support the economics of a major feature film.  It is the theatrical release that makes a movie a movie and builds the momentum and interest that enables it to gross over a billion dollars. For a major worldwide hit, it is also the largest contributor to the profits of a movie. Don’t be fooled by “retail” numbers.  Home video was a very big retail number but the share to the studios was around 35 vs. 60 percent for a major hit in the movie theater.

Further, a major theatrical hit has an unlimited upside while a major video hit is intrinsically limited. Video and television are great for catalog, but they do not fund a front line release schedule -- for that you need the movie theater with its higher per capita income and greater share to the studio."

Now, to be sure, this might be the same model for ALL movies.  Certainly the film I'm planning right now to shoot this year- decidedly "indie" in both its content and its making and potential distribution as a model product- would actually gain *more* in the VOD and DVD sales than in a theater, where it could have a good but limited run in cities and indie film markets.  But as far as Hollywood films fly, it's a model that I have to be somewhat skeptical about. 

Studios to audience: "Yeah, that's all well and good you're there in 3D, but what about at home?  Eh, eh?!
For one, people who want to go see a movie opening weekend or the weekend after or whatever (or even during a weeknight if one really wants to be a thrill-seeker), they'll go see them then.  This should go without saying that since movies have been bumped up little by little from their to-home release dates (it used to be six months when I was younger, now it's more like three-four months, five tops) it has probably encroached on the box-office figures anyway.  The logic isn't beyond me, and I'm sure I've practiced it with certain films even out right now - No Strings Attached, I'm lookin' at you - that 'why go out to see a movie that will cost 9, 10, even 13(!) bucks, when I can wait for it to rent on DVD or possibly stream on Netflix or - dun-dun-dun - REDBOX!

Yes, another thing I almost neglect to mention that the Anonymous writer didn't already is the "Coke-Machine" system that is basically killing off the film rental places like Blockbuster.  Fine, you might say, fuck em, serves Blockbuster right for having 20 copies of the latest Asylum DVD release and NO Criterion copies.  And sure, Redbox is an important factor here, but in reality one has to go right back to the theatrical film release thing, and what the SUPER-FAST VOD service means... a 10% drop in film attendance(?)

"The reality is that a 10 percent drop in total attendance, across the board and permanent, will cause 2/3 of all the theaters in the U.S. to close their doors and never open again.... The lack of knowledge of the economics of the theaters is stunning – but it pales in comparison to the lack of interest in hearing any point of view other than their own (re: the studios).  What is true is that the studios fucked up the video business deliberately and with full knowledge. They were told by every video store chain that $1/day Coke machines dispensing videos would kill the bricks and mortar video stores....

"When Hollywood and Blockbuster shut their stores studio revenue dropped immediately by $ billions.  The public’s demand didn't drop by that amount and in fact the volume of video rentals was increasing when this took place, but with increasing volume at 40 percent of the price the stores could not be profitable. The exigencies of a retail business dictate that when revenue drops below the break-even point the entire store closes, not 10 percent of it."

All I can see are millions of Theater-Zombies roaming the landscapes looking for flesh film print-meat

In other words, some heavy shit.  

In my years of just living and watching things happening around me, already I've seen theaters close, and only one significant new one open near me: the Garden State Plaza 16-Googolplex at the Paramus mall (when, of course, the *other* big cineplex, the Route 4 ten-plex, was too far from the other small Bergen Mall).  Over the years theaters have just closed - don't believe me, check out this ridiculously amazing site that features every movie theater that's ever existed past and present, though again I somewhat digress - and there have only been a handful that have been opened as new ones, mostly at malls.  And the crazy thing is that even if, arguably, people just aren't wanting to go out to the movies, what about rentals?  That's high, or even higher, than ever.

But, again, the writer stresses the 10% drop as being what will "CLOSE theaters."  It is basically a situation of the studios trying to strong-arm their way to do whatever they want, or for the nervous studio execs to say "ah, see see, technology, ah, people can stay at home, let's recoup that way."  And in the meantime theaters, which in some cases aren't doing moviegoers favors with concessions and sometimes crappy projection and 'sticky floors', are getting cut out by the people who will increasingly go "ah, it'll be out in two months, not three, fuck it, let's go bowling."

As Howard Hughes might say, "The wave of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future, the way of the future...."

But would this work for a big-fuck blockbuster like Transformers, or Pirates of the Caribbean?  So what if they're available two months after for $30, when it's more feasible, even if the costs don't quite align, to take the family to these movies when they're fresh out in theaters, or possibly in the summer-months while out on vacation or needing something to do.  When it comes to big bullshit roller coaster rides of movies, people want them right away and FAST.  And, to quote, "The main advantage movie theaters have in the marketplace is that movie-going remains the single cheapest thing a family or couple can do on a night out of the house."  At least, relatively, depends on the family really or what the movie-going entails. 

Thankfully, already as of this posting, the theaters are already strategizing to not give in to the studios and how quickly they want to fuck them out of money.  In an article written by Brett Lang and Daniel Frankel on the same site The Wrap:

"Among the retaliatory measures that exhibitors are weighing:
* Pulling the trailers of offending studios.
* Cutting in-theater signage for those studios’ movies.
* Renegotiating the split of box-office revenues for films that are released on VOD.

Theaters may even refuse to carry a studio's film, according to an individual with knowledge of exhibitors’ thinking."

Aha!  That will show the studio, trying to put out yet ANOTHER Fast and the Furious sequel.  We see what you're doing with The Rock and his evil goatee!

Like the end of LaMotta/Sugar Ray, Movie theaters to Studios: "You never got me down!" 

But yet, another opinion in the same article, with a cooler head and something that hasn't been considered yet as I write this: 

"Despite the rising tempers, analysts believe that abbreviating windows will have a minimal impact on box office. For instance, the top 25 biggest grossing 2010 theatrical releases had done 95 percent of their total box office by their sixtieth day in theaters, notes Marla Backer, a media analyst at Hudson Square Research.  "At this price point, [VOD] is not going to make much difference," Backer said."

So it goes, perhaps it is a little too fast to go riling up any pitchforks with this issue.  Unless a film is like Avatar- or in a more "indie" case The King's Speech (which has turned into another ball of wax I'd rather not pick apart here)- a film does what it does based on the current model of distribution with fast-fast-fast numbers.  Studios AND exhibitors are still, I would think, on the same page about how a film that's newly released and has tens-to-hundreds of millions of dollars behind it should recoup it's money.

Of course it might be nice if films could perform like they did in the "old" days, building more on word of mouth and steadily increasing their profits over months in release, though that can't be the case when NOW is YESTERDAY for a lot of movie studio execs and even exhibitors who have so many films coming at them (on multiple screens no less) that if a film doesn't perform well enough that it needs to get dumped faster than yesterday's breakfast.

The other thing I have to think regarding the issue is, really, how many people would even be aware of the $30 VOD service available 2 months after release?  And there is still, maybe, possibly a need for people to own a physical copy of the film, which would then be out just a month or so after the two-month VOD release at a cheaper price of $15.  The bigger issue here, which the Anonymous writer goes so passionately about, is that drop that will happen- there's no reversing this decision as a "point" one as the writer points out, whatever that means- and will affect so many movie theaters that are still struggling to get people in.

kinda see the difference now between watching on TV and a movie theater?

 Perhaps in a bigger-world way this is just leading people who like entertainment into their homes when they just want to go out and have a good time, perhaps in some part for the good and in some part (i.e. the reason to see a movie is to get out of the house for a couple of hours) not so good.  Whether that leads to a night of bullshit at a theater full of loud and obnoxious is not quite relevant to this discussion;n it's the principle of having the choice of a theater or a premium-VOD thing, and that's what the studios are encroaching on.  I would still go for the theater... but, again, the film in question would be a factor, not to mention $30 for a film on VOD premium.  Really?  When's the last time anyone paid that much for a single film, and with no special features no less?

All these questions and more continue on in The Tangential Film-Mind of Jack Gattanella, currently screening for one, which is... me.  But what do you think?


More about how this came out just during the CinemaCon convention last week... awkward