Wednesday, November 28, 2007
* Reviewed on film babble blog 11/21/07
A lot of anachronisms in the movies are pretty forgivable - a car model not in line with the period portrayed can be overlooked, much use of music is more an artistic choice than a mistake per say (except when it blares from a radio like the 1971 song "American Pie" in a scene set in 1969 in BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY), and a lot of clothing and slang can be dismissed. However there are those moments where a blatant disregard for correctness and consistency can really mar a movie. So let's take a look at:
10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies
1. A Ms. PacMan Machine in MAN ON THE MOON (Dir. Milos Foreman, 1999) The IMDb says of this Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman misfire - "numerous anachronisms can be chalked up to artistic decisions; the film intentionally plays fast and loose with the timeline." Well that's fine and all but seeing a 1982 Ms. PacMan video game machine in a scene set in 1977 really took me out of the movie. I can accept the narrative decision to have the famous Carnegie Hall "milk and cookies" concert (pictured on the left) occur after Kaufman was diagnosed with cancer and presented as his big farewell but when an early 70's scene references "President Jimmy Carter" - odd jarring misplacements like that do this formulaic biopic no favors.
2. The Lake Wissota reference in TITANIC (Dir. James Cameron, 1997) Self proclaimed "king of the world" Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Rose (Kate Winslet) at their first meeting this little revealing tidbit - "once when I was a kid me and my father were ice-fishing out on Lake Wissota..." As five million websites will tell you, Lake Wissota is a man-made reservoir which wasn't created until five years after the Titanic sank. James Cameron apparently acknowledged this goof at one point but then proclaimed himself "KING OF THE WORLD!!!" Sorry, couldn't resist that.
3. The 70's Hippies in 50's Vegas in THE GODFATHER (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Very briefly and through a window behind Michael (Al Pacino) when he and his party get out of their car at the entrance to Fredo's (John Casale) hotel you can see a couple of young men with long hair and 70's attire. Coppola on the DVD commentary chimes in: "this was one of those really cheap second unit shots we did...I was very embarrassed by this because of in the background you see there's like hippie-looking guys that are not correct for period." Well played, Coppola. You win this round.
4. Post-it notes in ALMOST FAMOUS (Dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000) Actually there is a plethora of anachronisms in this movie that takes place in the early 70's - Chem-Lite glow sticks at concerts, albums that weren't released yet (like the Stones' "Get Your Ya-Ya's Out" and Joni Mitchell's "Blue") given prominent screen-time in a scene set in 1969 (pictured above), and 90's Pepsi cans abound but damnit the post-it note deal just irks me. They weren't around until the 80's and it just seemed too cute to have teenage Rolling Stone journalist William (Patrick Fuggit) surrounded by them in a hotel bathroom. Seems like this is pretty indicative of the liberties with his own life Crowe was talking in this semi-autobiography.
5. ANOTHER 48 HOURS Billboard in THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Since most of Stone's movies are set in the 60's and the 70's I could do a whole post about the inaccurate elements and out of place objects but I'll spare you that (for now). I'll just say that for all the work that went into the mood and tone of the era in this bombastic biopic of rock star/poet wannabe Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) the visibility of a billboard for a 1990 movie is just plain stupid. Actually truth be told most of what's in THE DOORS, accurate or not, is just plain stupid.
6. 1965 Canadian Flag Maple Leaf Logo in the 1930's in THE UNTOUCHABLES (Dir. Brian DePalma, 1987) As the site Whoops! Movie Goofs & Mistakes reports "The Canadians probably laughed their asses off when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) made his first unsuccessful bust: The movie takes place in the 1930s and you can see boxes decorated with maple leaf logos. That logo was first seen 1965 when Canada introduced its flag." Yeah, well considering the reaction to DePalma's REDACTED these days, this 20 year old blunder should be the least of his worries.
7. A Jet Crosses The Background of CLEOPATRA (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) This I've never seen - it's listed as a "goof" on IMDb's entry for the film. Likewise in their entry for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS they state: "Anachronism - Moses on top of the large rock with a watch on." Without a recent viewings of these films I can only say that these seem like an urban myths. No other source online collaborates either - in fact most sites only list that a crowd member in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS appears to be wearing a watch but this is disputed as well. I guess, in a BIG FISH kind of way, I'm siding with the myth on this one because I don't see either making my Netflix queue anytime soon.
8. 80's Geography imposed on 1936 Maps In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Dir. Steven Speilberg, 1981) In a nice almost comic book touch we are shown Indiana Jones's (Harrison Ford) plane routes with lines imposed on a screen filling map. Unfortunately it imposes the geography of the early 80's into a 30's world. Thailand, which was called Siam at the time, is seen as is Jordan which was known as Transjordan until 1949. There is also a globe in Indy's classroom that depicts various countries of Africa that didn't exist in 1936. Ah-ha! This undisputed action movie classic isn't historically accurate! Like anyone will care though - I mean even I admit this is nit-picking. Oh yeah, according to the IMDb "in 1936, no aircraft were able to travel such distances with having to stop for refueling." How about that nit I just picked?
9. A Rent-A-Center In BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Late in the film a "Rent-A-Center" is clearly visible in the background. Actually that's a pretty minor one - the film has lots of other anachronisms that are pretty forgivable and not really annoying but I wanted a excuse to bring up the brilliant BOOGIE NIGHTS and say I'm really looking forward to nit-picking Anderson's upcoming THERE WILL BE BLOOD for period piece mistakes so stay tuned.
10. Registered Paedophiles Weren't Required To Notify Neighbors In 1991 in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1997) This one kind of hurts - the law wasn't implemented in California until 1996 so for one of the most memorable bit part roles in a Coen Bros. movie, John Turturro as Jesus Quintana was going through inaccurate actions when he went door to door informing his neighbors. I guess I can let it slide - it is one of the all time great movies. No amount of incorrect for the period cars or bowling balls can change that.
Whew! Well that's enough nit picking for now. I know there's a lot of annoying anachronisms I missed so you know where you can put them! In the comments below, of course.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 2007)
After the solid yet fairly unremarkable FIND ME GUILTY (2006) many (including me) expected the 82 year old Lumet, with a career behind him that included such undisputed classics as FAIL-SAFE, NETWORK, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and SERPICO, to go gracefully into that good night. There's nothing graceful about the characters and their actions in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD though. With a economical pacing and frenetic fractured structure that youngsters like Tarentino and Soderbergh would kill for, this heist gone wrong parable is not only one of Lumet's best movies in possibly decades but is one of the year's best films. An emotionally detached Andy Hanson (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his twitching down-on-his-luck brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) decide to knock over a mom and pop jewelry store located in a New Jersey strip mall. Thing is - it's their actual Mom and Pop's (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) store - Hanson's Jewelry - and oh, Hawke is having an affair with Hoffman's wife (Marissa Tomei). I don't consider any of that plot info to be spoilers since all of that is revealed in the trailer but don't worry I won't spill any more - the build-up and juicy interlocking of vignettes here are so swift and satisfying that nobody needs further briefing.
Titles such as "The Robbery" and "Three Days Before The Robbery" assign sections of the film to the different players (Hawke, Hoffman, And Finney - seems like Oscar winner Tomei picked the short straw) and shifts our sympathies or animosities between them as the plot-lines pile up. There is a fair amount of humor but like in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN it hides in the darkness making audiences cringe at the same time they stifle a giggle. Hawke's Hank - a desperate dead-beat dad has such a cloud over his head and a wide-eyed puppy dog look (Finney says "he's still such a baby" at one point) that we are invited to laugh at him but there's nothing humorous about his older brother Andy. Hoffman's Andy - a jaded withdrawn real estate exec. with slicked back hair and fine tailored suits is disguising a desperation as deep and scarring as his brother's. Though Albert Finney, just a little younger than Lumet, appears pretty worse for wear (his mouth is always hanging open and he moves slowly and shakily) he can still bring the intensity as the most affecting character here - he alone may be the heart of this film (sorry again, Marissa). With Lumet's name attached as director to another project (GETTING OUT set for 2009) it looks like that good night will simply have to wait.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Joel Coen: Eh, it's just a damn rip-off.- Time Magazine Oct. 18th, 2007 (A Conversation Between Author Cormac McCarthy And The Coen Brothers)
It has been a while since Joel and Ethan Coen unleashed a movie that really made an impact. Their last offerings - THE LADYKILLERS (2004), INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003), and a personal favorite of mine - THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE (2001) all had their fair share of merits and moments but you'd have to reach back to O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU (2000) to cite any serious seismic blip on the pop culture radar. Even during this supposed down-time they never had a critically lambasted failure or did anything resembling "jumping the shark" so the held belief was they would check in with another masterpiece someday in the future. Well the day has now come with the instant classic that is:
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Dirs. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, 2007)
A more faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel could not be imagined. There are a few transitional dialogue and setting embellishments but the bulk of this film is directly, word for word, from the brilliant book. In the vast plains of Rio Grande, Texas in 1980, Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss - a poor Vietnam vet who one day when out hunting antelopes comes across a slew of dead bodies, a large surplus of heroin, and a satchel containing over 2 million dollars. He takes the satchel and returns to his wife (Kelly Macdonald) at his trailer park home but wakes in the middle of the night with what he himself recognizes as a "dumber than Hell" compulsion to return to the crime scene. Soon to be on his trail is what can only be described as a completely evil man - Chigurh (Javier Bardem). With an odd Prince Valiant-style haircut and a never ceasing confidence, Chigurh uses a cattle gun to kill just about anyone who gets in his way throughout the film (usually through the forehead) and it also comes in handy to blow out door locks. "What is this guy supposed to be, the ultimate bad-ass?" - Moss even asks Carson Wells (a smooth Woody Harrelson) - yet another man on the trail of the money.
As Sherriff Bell and a sort of narrator in his grizzled though still whimsical monologues Tommy Lee Jones tries to make sense of these new violent times. He never appears surprised by each new bloody development - he takes it all in with a jaded shrugging sigh. Though many of the stylistic devices have been used and reused by the Coen Brothers before (the roadside murders, the seedy hotels, etc.) amidst the shoot-outs, chases and scary darkness there are waves of fresh subtleties that they hadn't explored before. The quirky everyday folk that reside in little general stores out in the middle of nowhere might have provoked ridicule before in such Coen classics as RAISING ARIZONA, FARGO, and O BROTHER but this time out I found the audience around me were tittering around - almost afraid to laugh at these people. Like Chigurh - who one character refers to as a man "without a sense of humor" seems to know all too well is that their fates, whether by his hands or by natural destiny, aren't that funny.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
- Jude (CATE BLANCHETT)
I'M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) It's funny that the upcoming WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (the Judd Apatow written and produced comic mock epic with John C. Reilly as the lead) proposes to set fire to the tried and true clichés of modern music bio-pics because after the exciting experimental experience that is I'M NOT THERE those worn methods are already ashes. As most reading this know well by now Bob Dylan is portrayed by 6 different actors (Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw) who embody the man in different distinct eras and incarnations. Each has a different name, a different attitude, and of course, a different aesthetic. It may seem weird or even a bit pretentious in concept to cast a young black kid as a box-car hopping tall-tale telling pre-fame Dylan or an Australian Academy Award winning woman to play his Bobness at the height of his amphetamine-fueled rock star glory but the way it's played out here is mindboggling in its magnificence.
The finger-pointing protesting period provides the always up to the task Christian Bale with the Bob with most conscience through separate eras one - political and one intensely religious. Gere's Billy The Kid hiding from society persona seems to be the Dylan who is the most free - or at least pretending to be. Seemingly drawn from a tapestry woven from words spoken in every Dylan interview, every song in Dylan's catalogue being official or bootleg, and every single photograph or footage of the real man, some of the most affecting moments are the quietest. When Gere's Billy-variation-on-Bob surveys the vast unpopulated wilderness beneath him from a high mountain trail a notion of what Greil Marcus called the "Invisible Republic" can be sensed. That however is the musing of a Dylanologist like myself - someone who can't quote Bob chapter and verse may find that and other sequences slow and hard to decipher. Man, I pity those people.
Cate Blanchet as Jude has the most amusing and electric (yep, I went there) material and her presence in the black and white as-if-filmed-by-Fellini mid-60's montages never falters. As many have remarked she may look and act the most like Dylan - at that particular time that is. She has obviously studied DON'T LOOK BACK so she has every mannerism perfected -right down to the handling of a cigarette and the frantic on-stage flailing of arms. Blanchett's Jude is the most hostile and cornered of all the Dylans. If you've seen NO DIRECTION HOME or have at least heard the leering lyrical equivalent to acid being thrown into a former lover's face ditty "Positively 4th Street" - you may have an inkling why.Ben Whishaw as Arthur is the Bob with the least impact and screen-time. He simply recites carefully chosen media-taunting cryptic one liners from the public record. While the quotes are good - he's my vote for the weakest link here. Ledger's section (or sections as the structure gets broken up quite frequently) in which he plays an actor playing Bob (or actually Jack - Christian Bale's character) has a lot of merit with its discomforting domestic bliss breakdown and break-up intertwined with a Vietnam war time-frame but it's not as well visualized and vital as Blanchett's or even Gere's portions. Marcus Carl Franklin's bits are achingly sweet and for the youngest player here - his assured poise transcends any thought of gimmick casting. Other than the Dylans, the supporting cast is splendid - David Cross as Allen Ginsberg, Julianne Moore wonderfully mimics Joan Baez, and Bruce Greenword beautifully personifies the over-educated but still clueless interviewer / interrogator Mr. Jones from Dylan's classic "Ballad Of A Thin Man".
Filled with mostly Bob originals and a number of great sharp covers, the soundtrack * is spectacular but that's far from surprising. What is surprising is how this perverse take on the bio-pic formula works so damn well and how hypnotic its effect is. One shouldn't go see it to make sense of the myths or to put into any concrete cinematic context the life of Bob Dylan (director/writer Todd Haynes knew going in that that's impossible) but if one views it like a piece of modern art - where you have to squint to make certain parts focus and you have to open your eyes wide to see how distorted the details really are - they are certain to get more than just mere glimpses at greatness.
* As I suspected the bulk of the covers that make up the 2 disc so-called soundtrack (previously reviewed - Film Babble Blog 11/10/07 I'M NOT THERE Soundtrack Is Where It's At) are not featured in the movie. The amount of original Dylan recordings used could make up a nice alternate/actually accurate soundtrack - hey, now there's an idea for a great CDR comp!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
- Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) THE COOLER (Dir. Wayne Kramer, 2003)
The news is: BEE MOVIE just hit #1 over not just AMERICAN GANGSTER but even beating out movies that opened last Friday (LIONS FOR LAMBS and FRED CLAUSE). Well that kinda deflates my post from about a week ago. I wanted to see LIONS, which Tom Cruise is already bitchin' about flopping, but just about every critic is telling me not to - though I probably still will. Looks like the real prestige (or Oscar wannabe) picture season has not yet begun.
I thought I'd clean out my notebook and post a few documentary reviews - a couple of new release DVDs that deserve some words:
CRAZY LOVE (Dirs. Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens, 2007)
The saying "love is blind" has never been so chillingly played out than it is here. A tale torn from old New York Post headlines about prominent lawyer/mogul Bert Pugach's wooing gone wrong of young beauty Linda Riss is best described by veteran journalist Jimmy Breslin: "It was a big story...3 black guys throw acid in a white girl's face on behalf of her spurned boyfriend - a white lawyer in the Bronx ...sensational! The 3 blacks will go away forever, now we'll get the white lawyer - he'll go...and we'll sympathize with the woman forever." That sums up the first engrossing amusing half - the second half (which is just as engrossing) is where it gets weird. After 14 years in prison (the prison was Attica - where the titanically tumultuous 1971 riots occurred, mind you) Paguch is released and lo and behold, gets back together and actually marries the blinded bewigged Linda Riss! I can't say that this scandalous story, told in interviews with Pugach and Riss as well as a bunch of their old acquaintances - all in heavy make-up, is a "you've got to see to believe" spectacle because I've seen and still don't believe. Paguch is well spoken and has some charm but not enough charm to pull off this deal - most women would consider hired goons throwing lye in the face to be a deal breaker but what are you going to do? Woody Allen said something once about the heart being a resilient little muscle - I just never have seen it so blatantly displayed as something only about the size of the rock on Linda Riss's finger.
MANUFACTURING DISSENT (Dirs. Rick Caine & Debbie Melnyk, 2007)
A documentary about a documentarian. There have been many works that have criticized Michael Moore * and his methods, in books like "Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man", counter-point documentaries like CELSIUS 41.11, MICHAEL MOORE HATES AMERICA, MICHAEL AND ME and FAHRENHYPE 9/11 as well as numerous anti-Moore websites like Moorewatch (which was featured in SiCKO) so what's another? Well, this sober overview of Moore's career and the premise of what really is accountable in docu-journalism presented here is far above the before-mentioned mostly manufactured by the right wing product. Many who haved worked with Moore are interviewed and many reputable talking heads (including Roger Ebert, Errol Morris, and Christopher Hitchens) make pretty damning statements while at the same time praising his ideals and his piercing place in pop culture. In the spirit of ROGER AND ME, Debbie Melnyk tries futilely and exhaustingly to get an interview with Moore - she actually corners him a few times in 2004 but he's elusive, preoccupied with getting Bush out of office, and at one point he smarmingly gets her to hug him for a photo-op, which in her narration she regrets and is obviously embarrassed by. The background on Moore being fired from his Mother Jones magazine editor gig, his famous fudging of the getting a gun at the bank in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE timeframe, and his dissing of Ralph Nader are seriously things to ponder in this new light.
A lot I can excuse and laugh off because I believe Moore is fighting the good fight - idealistically he's got the goods but one thing that's increasingly hard to get over is the account of the backstory of ROGER AND ME. I've known since a Premiere Magazine article in 1990 that he actually spoke to Roger Smith (there's a full transcript of the interview) prior to the film but that he allegedly tried to talk friends into denying it had happened so he could retain the "I could never get to him" premise really gets to me. But then this is just another biased documentary that should be taken like a grain of salt as well. If I believe everything it says - Moore is a backstabbing asshole and I don't believe that's true. He seems not to be a film journalist at all - more like a comedian who hi-jacked the documentary format in order to stage his routines. MANUFACTORING DISSENT has many valid statements and necessary views on Moore and his oeuvre - some are revelatory and provoking as Hell - but it's not nearly as funny or as entertainingly in your face as Michael Moore's movies are. Therin lies the rub.
* As film babble readers know I've written quite a bit about Moore - like last summer's post The Evolution Of Michael Moore (June 26, 2007) and I went with my family to see him speak in person at the Carolina Theater in Durham - A Night With Michael Moore 4/3/2004 - so yeah, I admit I'm way biased.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I don't remember who I was or where I was bound."
- Bob Dylan (from "Brownsville Girl" - Knock Out Loaded, 1986)
So with less 2 weeks to go til one of the most anticipated movies of year (at least by me), I'M NOT THERE comes to my area (it's released here Nov. 21st) I thought I'd post a review of the spectacular soundtrack to this film which is largely known by the masses as the film in which Cate Blanchett plays Bob Dylan (see above pic). It seemingly has a lot more to offer than just that - from this soundtrack alone it appears to have something for everybody. So hey ho - let's go:
I'm Not There (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack produced by Randall Poster, Jim Dunbarm and Todd Haynes) Dylan covers (and collections of such) have been commonplace ever since the era when he first became a household name. Some are the product of a an artist or a band showing off their hipster literary chops (Judy Collins, Bryan Ferry, The Byrds, The Hollies, Odetta, etc.), some are of various artists under a genre categorization (Is It Rolling Bob?: – A Reggae Tribute, Tangled Up In Bluegrass: A Tribute To Dylan, and Dylan Country), and some are artists not content just to cover a single song – they cover full albums like Mary Lee’s Corvette’s version of Blood On The Tracks or they cover entire concerts – like Robyn Hitchcock’s faithful re-recreation of the incredible 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert. So what’s so special about the new soundtrack from I’M NOT THERE? Well, it has great new renditions of Bob classics from modern as well as old timey acts that form a narrative over the 2 disc collection seemingly inspired by the film, it has Bob’s approval, and most importantly it has Bob himself on the 40 year-old never before released title track. But more about that song later.
This new batch of Dylan interpretations features a veritable who’s-who of the recent respected rock scene - Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth, Calexico, Cat Power, Iron & Wine, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, the Black Keys, and so on. From the old guard – Roger McGuinn, Richie Havens, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and Willie Nelson show their hands on the table admirably and perform alongside their younger counter-parts fluidly (Nelson and McGuinn are backed by Calexico). John Doe from the legendary L.A. punk band X has one of the collection's most show-stopping numbers – “Pressing On”. One of Dylan’s most overlooked Gospel era songs is presented with such soulful gruff conviction that it is sure to elevate the scene in which Christian Bale lip-syncs it (I’ve seen the clip and it does).
Film babble favorites Yo La Tengo put in a rowdy blazing take on “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and a plantive pretty “Fourth Time Around” as well. Stephen Malkmus of Pavement has 3 songs (including the subtlety-on-fire “Ballad Of A Thin Man”) with the soundtrack house band ( The Million Dollar Bashers *) - all of which sound more relaxed and rocking than he has in years. Mason Jennings, a young folk singer from Bob’s home state of Minnesota, does 2 Bob songs, one of which has been covered to death – “The Times They Are A Changing” but it doesn’t seem so when he sings it. Just about everyone else (including Los Lobos, Mark Lanegen, Charlotte Gainesbourg, and The Hold Steady) clock in with nice Bob tributes. Only one or two miss the mark like Eddie Vedder’s “All Along The Watchtower” (talk about overdone !) which has him repeating the last lines over and over in such an unnecessary fashion - to be fair Neil Young and Chrissie Hynde have done the same thing in their covers of the song but it's just more obnoxious when Vedder does it!
* The Million Dollar Bashers feature Steve Shelley, Tony Ganier (long-time Dylan bassist), John Medeski, Tom Verlaine, Lee Ranaldo, Smokey Hormel, and Nels Cline.
What makes this disc worth buying alone is the original 1967 title track originally named “I’m Not There (1956)”. It has been available only to the connoisseurs of bootleg Dylan – it came from The Basement Tapes – the informal demos Bob made with the Band in Saugerties, NY while he was supposedly recovering from his alleged motorcycle accident. To be honest the sound quality on this first official release of the song is not that much better than the bootlegs I’ve heard over the years - seems like some of those hardcore Bob fanatics know a little about re-mastering. This is despite that this new mix comes from the master - long hoarded by Neil Young on his ranch since the time of tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming. It’s ballsy for Todd Haynes to title his unconventional biopic after an unreleased song only known to mostly hardcore Dylan fans - even ballsier to name it after such an unfinished unreleased song. That’s right – there are lines in which Bob hums or inserts what he later called “dummy lyrics” – line fillers until the real line was worked out but as history tells us - that never happened. It doesn’t matter though – the song, even unfinished, is as mystic and enveloping as any in his catalogue. A series of murky declarations set against a hazy bar-room organ background it seems at first listen to be impenetrable; every further listen renders it sublime.
It’s funny - Sonic Youth usually deconstruct musical norms, but here in their cover of the title track “I’m Not There” (yes, it appears twice here - in Dylan’s original and in this cover) they reconstruct an unfinished song as best as they can and like Malkmus’s tracks it’s one of their most recent likable efforts. As the booklet for the seminal Scorsese doc NO DIRECTION HOME said “this is not a soundtrack in the traditional sense” - this is an amazing amalgam of many diverse styles to form one big picture and that bodes very well for this reportedly grand but off kilter biopic. One of the only true to the soundtrack sense-of-being renderings is Marcus Carl Franklin’s (known among the 7 actors playing Dylan as the little black kid) magnificent “When The Ship Comes In.” Since by all reports the film is full of Bob originals this soundtrack appears to be more of a ‘inspired by’ compilation but I can’t vouch for that until I actually see it. When I do – you’ll be the first to know.
This post is dedicated to Norman Mailer (January 31, 1923-November 10, 2007). Yesterday on Wikipedia it said that among the literary highlights of his illustrious career he had co-written episodes of the 70's buddy cop show Starsky And Hutch. This is unconfirmed by IMDb and yeah, I know the changing nature of the Wiki-reliability. Turns out it was somebody's joke as that tidbit is gone today. Whew! That's a relief - the thought that the author of The Naked And The Dead wrote dialogue for Huggy Bear would take a lot to process.
Another funny thing recently removed from Wikipedia (on the grounds that it was too trivial) - "In the film SLEEPER Woody Allen is shown a picture of Mailer, Allen confirms his identity and states that Mailer donated his ego to the Harvard Medical School."
R.I.P. Mr. Mailer.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
AMERICAN GANGSTER (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2007) In this fictionalized account of real events Denzel Washington portrays Frank Lucas, a real life Harlem heroin kingpin in the late 60's to mid 70's who was originally from my home-state (he was born in Washington, North Carolina and there are scenes set in Greensboro). Lucas rules the streets by smuggling drugs from Vietnam in soldier's caskets therefore eliminating the middleman and turning a huge profit. Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe - not as good as in 3:10 TO YUMA but solid nonetheless) is hot on Lucas's trail and desperately trying to keep his "honest cop" status afloat in a sea of corruption. Rounding out the cast is one such corrupt cop played by a slicker than sin Josh Brolin, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lucas's brother, Cuba Gooding Jr. in a juicy bit-part, and Ruby Dee as Mama Lucas. Being that it's Ridley Scott you've got to expect at least one shining rain drenched street at night and it's there in a effective drive-by shooting scene.
There has been criticism of Crowe's character being given too large a part just so that he could function for audiences as a white counter point to Washington but I think that's too cynical. Roberts is a necessary real-life figure and he provides us with a lot of the inner-working background while relieving us of an entire movie dominated by Lucas's scary presence. Not that that would be so bad - Denzel Washington is excellent as ever; all polite power and laid-back cunning confidence but to be honest it's the kind of performance he could do in his sleep. AMERICAN GANGSTER is getting a lot of unfair comparisons to other mob movie classics such as THE GODFATHER, SCARFACE, and even Blaxploitation touchstone SUPER FLY (the New York Magazine article that the film was based in part on was entitled "The Return Of Superfly"). But these are easy cheap shots though I'll say as those films go this is more along the lines of DONNIE BRASCO than GOODFELLAS. I don't predict any Oscar nominations for this film and it most likely won't make my top ten films of 2007 (there's too much strong competition) but it's well crafted, extremely well acted, and offers lots to sink one's teeth into. So forget that silly Seinfeld-voiced animated bee flick and join your fellow Americans at the multiplex.
Monday, November 5, 2007
NO END IN SIGHT (Dir. Charles Ferguson, 2007) I was not the only one that missed this one in its brief limited release - from what I've heard it played to mostly empty theaters. Seems like most are tapped out when it comes to another liberal hatin' on Bush anti-war documentary so folks stayed away in droves. That's a damn shame because this is such a different animal than such staples as FAHRENHEIT 9/11 or WHY WE FIGHT in that it gives us much more of a precise and sobering overview of the war in Iraq from one horrible decision to the next. Campbell Scott's straight narration (some have called it flat but I think it has more gusto than that) lies over the many interviewees that this manifesto is mostly made of. The ones interviewed are so high up in there that it can't be denied - sorting out the good guys from the bad can be quite a game - I figure Colonel Paul Hughes who was director of strategic policy for the U.S. occupation in 2003 to be one of the good guys; Walter Slocombe (who comes across as a 'dumbfuck' as Natalie Maines would say) - senior advisor for National Security and Defense and head of CPA is, by my guess, one of the bad guys.
It's funny how the line - "refused to be interviewed for this film" is so dramatically used again and again but not so funny when it pertains to administrator of the CPA L. Paul Bremer (whose 3 central mistakes make up the bulk of this film's crux), Dick Cheney, Condolezza Rice and asshole golden boy Donald Rumsfeld whose glib remarks like "I don't do quagmires" will anger any reasonable human. Less a ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN than a All Satan's Men this documentary is the definition of 'incendiary'. As a blogger pretending to be a substantial film critic I would say this is a "must see" but as a guy watching this in an apartment sitting on a couch with a cat - I just can't help from tearing up.
MR. BROOKS (Dir. Bruce A Evans, 2007) Without a doubt the best Kevin Costner film in ages, yeah I know that's not saying a lot but hear (or read) me out. Costner plays Earl Brooks - a box company CEO who is in the dark of night a cold calculating serial killer. His murderous impulses are personified to him and us in the presence of Marshall (William Hurt) - an alter ego or better yet -an evil imaginary friend. After a murder of a young couple in the bed of their townhouse, Mr. Brooks finds himself being blackmailed by a voyeur played by Dane Cook who has compromising photographs (the curtains were left open in the couple's bedroom). Cook though wants to be a killer himself and wants Mr. Brooks to show him the ropes. This idea scares Brooks but amuses and challenges Marshall so on they go off into the night following a measured but still convoluted scheme. Meanwhile Demi Moore (who is far from believable but that may just be my own personal problem with Moore) as a beleaguered police detective suffering through a tortured and costly divorce is on their trail and Costner's daughter (Danielle Panabaker) is home from college under mysterious circumstances so the plot thickens. Maybe some would say it gets too thick - in more than one sense of the word.
I am reminded by the late Pauline Kael, several years after she retired from writing, speaking in a Newsweek interview about a little late 90's dog called THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (starring Al Pacino as the devil disguised as a big-time New York lawyer taunting up-start Keano Reeves). She said that that film had a "hambone quality" to it that she enjoyed. I strongly feel the same thing can be said about MR. BROOKS. It has a lot of meticulously plotted psychological edges but they all frame what is essentially pulp - highly entertaining but kitsch all the same. This is what makes it work though - you don't employ Dane Cook if you are not aware of the diciness of your material so director Evans and screenwriter partner Raynold Gideon (both collaborated on MADE IN HEAVEN, STARMAN, and STAND BY ME) know what they're doing to some degree. Costner with his charisma in check coupled with Hurt's smug leering sociopath repartee and a strangely sober yet almost satirical hold on the material makes MR. BROOKS resemble at more times than I'd like to admit a really good movie. Ham-boned as it is.THE HOAX (Dir. Lasse Hallström , 2006) Definitely the best Richard Gere film in like...forever! Yeah, I know I played that hand already above but it's really true. In this tasty tale of a man who lies his way into a major book deal Gere has just the right spin. The man was struggling novelist Clifford Irving and the lie was that he fabricated a book of interviews with Howard Hughes in the early 70's. Hughes had been reclusive and completely out of the public eye for well over a decade so Irving and proffesional partner Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina) speculate he would not come forward to denounce the project. They also figure that Hughes denies everything anyway so how could they go wrong? The how is a huge part of the fun as is Gere and Molina's camaradarie. Well cast as well - Marcia Gay Harden as Irving's exasperated wife and Julie Delphy as actress Nina Van Pallandt as his mistress. THE HOAX takes some truthiness liberties that at times turn towards the surreal - like the people at MacGraw Hill that Irving pitches to - we don't know what to believe at times especially when supposed Hughes' hired goons show up at Irving's door. These fatanstical touches though are carried off in a more successful manner than in George Clooney's CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND - a likewise questionable adaptation of 'real' events. Irving is credited as "technical advisor" on this film but reportedly he disowns it and has denied its accuracy. He really should get over himself! This may be the best thing he's ever had anything to do with.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Some were born to sing the blues.
Oh, the movie never ends -
it goes on and on and on and on.”
- From Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" (written by Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, and Neil Schon)
A few days ago I finally caught up with the 12 million Americans who watched the series finale of The Sopranos last July. It was hard to avoid hearing how it ended because it became a part of the National dialogue - I mean even Hillary Clinton spoofed it in a campaign ad! For those of you who like me don't have HBO and held out from downloading it from torrent sites and haven't gotten the DVD set that was released last week - don't worry. I won't give anything away about the controversial last scene except that Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) can't parallel park to save her life and the Soprano family (Tony, Carmella, and A.J.) devour their onion rings whole rather than taking small bites. No surprise there. What was surprising is how much the scene left on the table and angered a lot of people because of it. I loved it though - the beautiful manipulation of the cutting and the use of Journey (quoted above) were glorious touches.
It's well known that The Sopranos owes a lot (maybe everything) to Martin Scorsese's amazing mob movie classic GOODFELLAS (1990). Creator David Chase once said that "GOODFELLAS was the Qur'ān for me". Even the opening credits are done in the same style. Ray Liotta was reportedly offered the role of Tony Soprano but thankfully he turned it down. It's difficult to imagine anyone else but James Gandofini playing the part and that connection may have been too much. Still, the connection is too strong to deny especially with Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico and Vincent Pastore being just 4 out of the over 2 dozen actors who have been in both GOODFELLAS and The Sopranos (See below). Unlike THE GODFATHER series which is referred to so many times that the characters mention the movies by their Roman numerals (I, II, III obviously) and watch bootlegs of the series in the days before Paramount released it on DVD, The Sopranos appears to take place in the same universe as GOODFELLAS. This is despite the fact that the film is name-checked by Christopher (Michael Imperioli) who lists it as one of his screenwriting inspirations when he's taking a acting class. To my recollection that is the only time it's mentioned. If I'm wrong - that's what the Comments below are for.
If GOODFELLAS is the Qur'ān then Martin Scorsese is God which is what I've been saying on this blog the whole time! The second episode "46 Long" (1999) has Scorsese played by Anthony Caso (who was in GOODFELLAS as a truck hi-jacker) going into a club. From the crowd on the sidelines Christopher yells out "Hey! KUNDUN! I liked it!" One of all time favorite moments in the series. Christopher tries to show off that he's a hardcore fan by loudly acknowledging one of the man's least appreciated and little seen works. Kind of like if I saw Bob Dylan and yelled at him "Hey! "Knocked Out Loaded"! I didn't think it sucked!" Scorsese is mentioned usually by first name throughout the series as when Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) muses in one of the last episodes about Christopher's slasher movie-within-a-TV-show "Cleaver" - "Christopher was the last person I'd confuse with Marty but it wasn't bad."
So to really get a hold on this whole thing we gotta take a good look at the players -
The GOODFELLAS/Sopranos Master Crossover Cast List:
"GOODFELLAS spawned The Sopranos - you know, the Mob can be quirky and funny and real and accessible. If you look at the main cast of The Sopranos about half of those you can see in GOODFELLAS."
- Director Joe Carnahan (BLOOD, GUTS, BULLETS AND OCTANE) from the featurette MADE MEN - THE GOODFELLAS LEGACY on the GOODFELLAS Special Edition DVD - 2005.
Yep, there are a lot of familiar faces in said film/TV show though as you'll see many of them appear only in the background of nightclubs or in crowd scenes at receptions and restaurants.
Frank Adonis - (pictured on the left) A veteran of many Mob-related movies (KING OF NEW YORK, GHOST DOG, FIND ME GUILTY, etc.) usually playing a guy named Frank, Adonis played Anthony Stabile in GOODFELLAS (GF) and Guest #1 (see what I mean?) on the episode "House Arrest" (2000) of The Sopranos (TS).
Frank Albanese - Played Mob Lawyer in GF and Uncle Pat Bludetto in 4 episodes from 2004 to 2007 on TS.
Anthony Alessandro - This unlucky backgrounder was never given a name - he's just part of Henry's 60's crew in GF and a waiter in TS! Poor bastard.
Vito Antuofermo - Prizefighter in GF and Bobby Zanone on 2 TS episodes - 2000-2001.
Tobin Bell - Jigsaw from the SAW movies! Yep, this guy's credits are extensive and impressive - he's always the heavy or a crucial creep (He even played Ted Kaczynski in a TV movie!). He's a Parole Officer in GF and Major Zwingli on TS. I also fondly remember him as Ron - the record store owner who refuses Kramer and Newman's business on Seinfeld ("The Old Man" - 1993).
Lorraine Bracco - Like Liotta turned down the Role of Tony, Bracco turned down the part of Carmella Soprano because she felt it was too similar to the character of housewife Karen Hill in GF. She took instead Dr. Jennifer Melfi - the psychiatrist that attempts to treat Tony throughout the show's run. Though Dr. Melfi does very much have a different dynamic to Karen - the motions that she goes through - her dropping him and taking him back as a patient again and again seems definitely rooted in that seminal scene in GF in which Henry Hill hands Karen a bloody gun. Karen: "I know there are women, like my best friends, who would have gotten out the minute their boyfriend gave them a gun to hide. But I didn't. I've got to admit the truth. It turned me on."
Nicole Burdette - Carbone's girlfriend (that's her actual credit) in GF is given a name - Barbara Giglione and a nice 5 episode run on TS - 2000-2001.
Gene Canfield - Plays a prison guard in GF and a cop in TS. A look at his filmography on IMDb shows that "Detective" comes up the most. Nice that he stays on the right side of the law, isn't it?
Anthony Caso - Like I wrote above this guy oddly portrayed Scorsese on an early episode of TS. I thought it was Scorsese for years but from what I've read he's barely seen the show. Maybe he has too strong a "been there, done that" feeling.
Nancy Cassaro – Joanne Moltisanti was a incidental female family member (seen mostly only at occasions like weddings and funerals) on TS played by 2 different GOODFELLAS actresses. See also Marriane Leone.
John 'Cha Cha' Ciarcia - One of Batts' Crew (credited as #1 to be precise) in GF, Ciarcia played Albie Cianflone - Phil Leotardo's (Frank Vincent) 1st hand man in the last season of TS.
Victor Colicchio - Another guy on the sidelines - one more of Henry's 60's crew in GF and a guy named Joe in an early TS episode.
Daniel P. Conte - I gotta like this guy because he almost always plays characters named Dan - Dr. Dan in both GF and CASINO, and Danny in THE DELI. However on TS for 3 episodes in the final season he was Faustino 'Doc' Santoro.
Tony Darrow - (pictured on the right) As restauranter Sonny Bunz, Darrow has one of my favorite lines in GF - "he looked at me like I was half a fag or something!" He parlays that same kind of charm (or lack of it) into Larry Boy Barase on 14 episodes of TS (1999-2007).
Joseph Gannascoli - Uncredited but listed on IMDb as "Guy who walks downstairs at Paulie's house" in GF. Got a much more substantial role as Vito Spatafore in 40 episodes of TS 1999-2006.
Paul Herman - Just a Dealer in GF but got named as Beansie Gaeta in 5 episodes of TS - 2000-2007.
Michael Imperioli - (Pictured on the left) Probably the most connected cast member here because his small but piviotal part as young lackey 'Spider' is one of the most memorable characters in GF. Spider gets shot in the foot then later whacked by Tommy (Joe Pesci) in one of the most powerful scenes in the picture. As Christopher Moltisanti on TS, Imperioli is able to pay homage to his former personage - in an early episode he shoots a young guy at the bakery in the foot and the guy yells "you shot me in the foot!" Chris: "it happens."
Marianne Leone – see Nancy Cassaro.
Gaetano LoGiudice - Talk about incidental - yet another member of Henry's 60's crew in GF and only listed as Bada Bing Patron, Guest at Wake, and VIP Room Guest on TS.
Chuck Low - Annoying wig salesman Morrie Kessler in GF and Hasidic hotel owner Shlomo Teitlemann in TS.
Vincent Pastore - Credited as "Man w/Coatrack" in GF - Think I'll have to watch it again. Don't remember seeing him. As Salvatore 'Big Pussy' Bonpensiero in 30 episodes of TS, 1999-2007 he's unmissable.
Frank Pellegrino - Johnny Dio in GF, Agent Frank Cubitosi - 12 episodes, 1999-2004.
Angela Pietropinto - Paulie's Wife in GF, Helen Barone - 1 episode of TS (2006)
Suzanne Shepherd - Karen's mother in GF, Mary De Angelis in 20 episodes of TS - 2000-2007)
Tony Sirico - (Pictured on the right) Another major connection. Though he has a very small part only in the opening sequence as Tony Stacks in GF it's such a glaring smiling mug he has that it resonates through to his immaculate performance of Paulie 'Walnuts' Gualtieri in 82 eipsodes of TS. A real hood back in the day, Sirico has carved quite a career out of his post Wise guy life. Nobody can scowl quite like him.
Frank Vincent - As Billy Bats in GF he gave the world a great catch-phrase - "why don't you go home and get your shine-box!" in his tension-teasing taunting of Tommy (Pesci). His character of Phil Leotardo on TS seems rooted in Bats' ballsiness. Of course looking at his other gruff work in DO THE RIGHT THING, COP LAND, and other Scorsese works like CASINO and RAGING BULL (in which his character's name was Salvy Batts by the way) that may just be all Vincent.
I won't go into detail on the music angle because I wrote a piece last year on the use of music in the movies of Martin Scorsese - Exile On Mean Street (Oct. 22, 2006). It was mostly from a Stones angle but touched on the scorching soundtrack selections that enhance his ouvre overall. The Sopranos builds on this by also featuring impeccable taste with an amazing synching of situations with the most perfect song. From Nick Lowe's "The Beast In Me" in the pilot through the retro-lounge replayings of Sinatra and the moralizing of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" to the final cryptic but gorgeously overwrought Journey anthem quoted above every choice was dead on.
Ultimately, though I felt it would make a good blog post heading, to label The Sopranos as GOODFELLAS - The TV Show would be a gross simplification. While certainly built on Scorsese's blueprint it has established its own identity and presented sometimes a deeper context to the consequences and the mundanity of the daily routines - it certainly spent a lot more time in hospitals than the fast paced world of GOODFELLAS allowed. I'm just thankful to The Sopranos because it gave us room to spend more time with those themes and some of the same people whether at the breakfast table in the morning or at the clubs at night. Since like many I loved GOODFELLAS so much I was sorry to see it end and with The Sopranos it felt like it didn't have to. Now that we've got them both on the shelf - the special edition GOODFELLAS (have you heard the commentary the real Henry Hill did with former FBI Agent Edward McDonald? - It's awesome T!) and the 86 episodes of The Sopranos we can just focus on the good times and know it goes on and on and on and on. So don't stop... (cut to black)