July 03, 2006

The Trench

Fractured thoughts for a fractured week:

- All set to crack wise about how Rob Schneider collapsed on the set of his new film due to some combination of heat stroke and food poisoning and, tragically, survived – what should I read but that Roger Ebert had been rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery to correct complications from his recent cancer procedure, and more, that Argentinian director Fabian Bielinsky had died of heart attack at the ridiculous age of 47. Nothing like a cold bucket of water to soothe the great white snark.

- Let me disclaim that the only thing that I really have against Schneider is that he, like buddy Adam Sandler, are almost single-handedly perpetuating the comic-Asian stereotypes in the mainstream (with assists from the Olsen twins and that idiot who directed Freaky Friday and Mean Girls) – and confess that I liked the first Deuce Bigalow film because of the way that it dealt (not entirely stupid and surprisingly sensitive) with female body image and disability. But that – and the full-page ad he took out in Variety to dimwittedly lambaste one of his critics (Uwe Boll/M. Night Shyamalan/Wayne Kramer-like) – is enough. (What, you think we don’t get pages of hate mail expressing the exact same idiot-think in what's often the same words? How proud you must be.) Oh, that and he’s not funny anymore, his suckling at Sandler’s teat becomes increasingly unseemly, and his The Hot Chick flick functions as an example – perhaps the example – of the theory that film doesn’t exist anymore as a phenomenon that’s not entirely dependent on itself for definition.

- And let me offer that for all that I come down on Mr. Ebert’s inaccuracies and critical condescension – it comes at least in some part from a place of sadness because without Ebert, I never would have gotten started on this path and then from a place of sympathy because I suspect that a lot of what’s been sanding off Ebert’s edge in the last decade or so has to do with his illness and the new lease on life that surviving cancer, so I’ve heard, offers the survivor. If he survives, we’ll blame it again more on other things. But I can’t resist barbing that it doesn’t explain his misogyny (getting more pronounced) – even as it might explain to some extent the venom with which he’s rejected the weaknesses demonstrated by Singer’s version of the Man of Steel.

- But Bielinsky’s death really hurts. I wasn’t a particular fan of Nine Queens (far less its English-language remake Criminal), but I was a big fan of Bielinsky’s. I interviewed him four years ago in Denver and had already made inquiries as to whether I could chat with him again upon the debut at the LA Film Festival of his new film El Aura. Hard to believe it’s been four years between films for him – when we talked, he had a lot of projects in the works, but he’d expressed a great deal of pessimism in regards to the direction in which the Argentinian film industry was headed. The last published line of our interview together haunts me now. I guess those fears were borne out by his absence, and the absence of Argentina as the film power that they seemed poised to become.

But Bielinsky. A bear of a man, we talked off-record and at length about the American ‘70s – I guess he was a film professor and his curricula often included Hackman, Sutherland, Pakula, Coppola – you look at his film and you see the influences but, more, you see them employed with knowledge if a little self-consciousness. His eyes shone when I broached The Conversation with him, if he was guarded a little to start with (battered by a morning and afternoon of journalist dickwads like myself asking him the same retinue of questions), he was warmth personified after. I wanted to recruit Bielinsky for our side because he liked the right things with the right amount of passion and for as frustrating as it can be writing out our words in dark rooms for largely anonymous readers – it can’t have been better butting up against an unsupportive industry shunting you into commercial work. Failing that, I wished for him prolificacy: the ability to tell as many stories as he could before his time was up. Maybe, even better, I hoped that he’d have the time to teach a few more classes so that this movie love of his wouldn’t die from the world. Maybe he did.

I pulled out the tape of our interview and listened to it again. If you’re in the right mood, there’s nothing sadder than the sound of a friend (as much of a friend as you make being one of a hundred, over a tape recorder, and with just one hour alone) you’ll never speak with again clearing his throat.

When we wrapped it up, he gave me his phone number and email which, out of embarrassment, I never used. What an asshole I am. I’ll miss you, Bielinsky – I’m looking forward to the new picture.

- Moderated a screening/discussion of Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey this week and was stricken again by how topical this seventy-year old film has remained. It alternates between screwball (Lombard is the quintessential screwball, of course, and my review of her six-flick set is on the horizon) and serious social commentary with William Powell never better as the titular hobo/butler/savior. The recent Criterion Collection release of the picture blows away my unlicensed transfer – it’s easily worth the upgrade as if there’s any question.

- Found a copy of Huston’s Beat the Devil on DVD in, of all places, the $3.99 bin of my local supermarket. This after my Huston/Bogie series this last Spring in which we couldn’t find an “official” copy of the flick to show. What a shame. Gina Lollabrigida is stunning as always – but my favorite film of hers remains Jules Dassin’s The Law (1959).

- Gave a two-hour lecture on Stanley Kubrick, tracing his major themes through three keystone films: The Killing, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Looking at the latter after Superman Returns revealed a lot to me about Singer’s film. I begin to wonder if Supes isn’t a straight homage – it’s worth considering if the Kryptonian hasn’t been imagined as a spiritual step in our development as a species. If he’s pure moral, then you’ve got to wonder if the picture, like 2001, can’t be divided into quarters. My main source material aside from the films themselves is Michael Ciment’s Kubrick: The Definitive Edition and, as it happens, Alex’s fascinating write-up of 2001.

If I’m ever in the position to do another Kubrick series – I think I’d go with Lolita, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket.

- Attended a filled screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 which left me with two words: Matrix Reloaded. But, err, not as good (?).

- Attended a press screening of Elisha Cuthbert’s The Quiet which left me with one onomatopoeia: ick.

- In other news, got a weekly fifteen-minute gig on the nationally syndicated Bill Press show on Sirius Satellite Radio. 8:45am EST. Tune in if you can – from what I understand, there are potentially 4.3 million listeners out there who might find out about FilmFreakCentral.net through this outlet.

- Hope to get quite a few DVD reviews logged in the next couple of weeks (I know Bill’s hoping so, too) as well as a new opinion piece for the upcoming Annual now that a tighter part of my speaking schedule has come and gone. Among the titles up to bat: Nanny McPhee, Magic, Running Scared, M.A.S.H., and several sci-fi television series including the new BBC “Dr. Who.”

Question of the week: tell me about a promising up-and-comer who either never had a chance to fulfill their potential or, worse, betrayed their debut/s with dud after dud. My first thought of the latter is Michael Lehmann who, after Heathers, began his decline with Meet the Applegates and then Hudson Hawk. Of the former: Steve DeJarnatt who gave us the exceptional Miracle Mile. . . and then what? Also, wherefore art thou Antonia Bird?



Scott said...

This may sound sort of, um, dumb, but I still think Sylvester Stallone never lived up to his potential. At the time of the first ROCKY, he was being hailed as the next Brando, Orson Welles, whatever. And whatever you may think of his acting, it is one hell of a script. With the one-two punch of RAMBO II and ROCKY IV he became the biggest movie star in the world, iconic even, but I always felt there was something more gnawing away at him. The urge to be respected as a writer, as a director. I still think ROCKY BALBOA has potential (featuring him as both writer and director again), if it's even a little bit honest about aging, and loss, and growth. The entire Rocky cycle can now be seen as one man's life in full, from failure to success to retirement to the inevitable comeback. (Hey, it's boxing -- they ALWAYS come back...) Not many film series have charted the growth of a major character like this, whatever you deem the merits of each particular film. (Rumor has it he's doing this and the next RAMBO in exchange for his long-developed Poe project.) As for the potential of RAMBO IV, well...

In VANITY FAIR back in '94, Tarantino hailed Kevin Reynolds as 'the Kubrick of the '90's'. No idea what that means, but FANDANGO was certainly a delicate, sensitive flick...

Mickey Rourke had it, lost it, and seems to be getting it back...

And, to reverse your question, has anybody redeemed himself more than George Clooney? As a kid who watched, full disclosure, THE FACTS OF LIFE, I always thought he was smarmy, unfunny ham. But gradually over the past decade, he has subverted his own cocky image, proved himself as a fine director, handled interesting themes in difficult movies.

Chad Evan said...

Lovely, touching piece, Walter.

I had the same luck in finding Beat the Devil in the $5 dollar bin--there is almost always a pearl to be found amongst the swine there (I also picked up at different times Welles' astonishing film of Kafka's The Trial and, amazingly, a used copy of the Criterion The Royal Tenenbaums, both of which mysteriously vanished. With friends like these...)

Anyway, do you agree with my pet theory that Beat the Devil had a big influence on Altman? I've never heard him mention it, but he has copped to being a Huston fan, and BTD is the first picture I thought of when he did, with its' shifty, offhand blocking, agile camera work, dense sound design, and parodic genre deconstruction.

Anonymous said...

Hey Walter, were you on the past week's Bill Press show, or does it start this week? You don't mention which day of the week the show is on..

Scott Weinberg said...

You think Schneider's bad? Over at our site, we've been peppered with unhappy emails from NICK SWARDSON.

For directors who started out cool and slowly semi-faded away, I offer Phil Joanou.

Didn't like POTC2? Arrrr. :(

Andrew said...

Taking a wild stab at the screen capture: Goldfinger.

Jack_Sommersby said...

Well, the background to the screenshot definitely looks like the decor during the opening-credit sequence to a Bond film, but I don't think Walter would choose something like that. A spoof of the Bond films, maybe?

As for the unfulfilled-potential directors, how about Bruce Robinson, who did Withnail & I, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, and the awesome serial-killer thriller Jennifer 8 yet who hasn't directed since 1992? A real shame, this, because this English chap is really, really talented.

Rich said...

Screencap: The Crow?

Jack_Sommersby said...

I just checked, and my man Robinson just can't catch a break: he was slated to direct an '04 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary with Johnny Deep starring in it, but now that production has been pushed back to '08. Gracious, I wish he'd just get himself some work on a director-for-hire project, because he's got one hell of a visual sense that would benefit any project.

Anonymous said...

Screenshot guess: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?

- David H.

Nate said...

I agree about Michael Lehmann, but I have to admit that I sorta kinda like Hudson Hawk - not because I think it's good (it's not), but because I saw it when I was 15 and seeing movies like that when you're 15 does strange things to you.

As for betrayals, after Life Aquatic (and finally catching Bottle Rocket - blech), I have a sneaking suspicion that I will never like another Wes Anderson movie.

Anonymous said...

Unfulfilled potential, eh? I'm tempted to say John Cazale. I don't know enough about him to know whether that's a legitimate statement, but I know he did a string of fantastic movies in the '70s (and gave generally fantastic performances in them) before he succumbed to illness shortly after. He's all I got right now.

@ Scott Weinberg - care to elaborate on the whole Nick Swardson thing? I have a couple of friends who are incurably smitten with him after the awful Grandma's Boy and I take a perverse glee in hearing that he's an asshole.

otto said...

Could it be Tarkovskys solaris? What a great movie, it still lingers in mind. The images of the flowing weed and the horse will never dissapear from my mind.

Walter_Chaw said...

Otto - congrats - it's Tarkovsky's Solaris, indeed.

On the Press show every Friday starting last week.

No doubt in my mind that Altman's heavily influenced by Beat the Devil.

Lots of other comments I need to respond to - will get them all in the next few days.


Paul Clarke said...

After Friedkin's To Live and Die in L.A. and Mann's Manhunter back in the '80s, I was convinced that William Petersen was going to be a major leading man in Hollywood. Alas, he slid out of view, occasionally appearing in mediocrities like Amazing Grace and Chuck and Fear. I always thought he had the chops to do major and interesting work.

Dave Gibson said...

Whit Stillman is perpetually MIA but—I think that’s mostly by design, so I can only say that I’d love to see more from him.

Keith Gordon seems to plug along reasonably well, but--Waking the Dead, The Chocolate War and The Singing Detective would suggest a much higher artistic profile—lack of a modest BO success seems to be his Achilles heel.

And, a world where Ratner and Bay get consistent work while Bernard Rose toils in relative obscurity...feh.

Also, I used to really like Eric Roberts—wha’ happened?

theoldboy said...

So The Pirates Reloaded isn't as good as The Matrix Reloaded? That makes me scared. I absolutely loved The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions the first two times I saw them. Then I found myself horrified to find that they weren't that good. I don't think i've recovered yet.

I don't like the first Pirates as much as I like the first Matrix, so perhaps this won't be too devastating to me.

Seattle Jeff said...

Sorry this is off-topic...but I have a question.

How in the world can Warren Beatty's "Reds" not be released on DVD yet? I haven't seen it before, but am interested..and it hasn't been released on DVD.

That's just as lame as "Bonnie and Clyde" not having an audio commentary.

Bill C said...

Reds is due out on DVD later this year, apparently.

rachel said...

Also, I used to really like Eric Roberts—wha’ happened?

It's damn cold in those MTV dungeons. Also, rumors are that to prisoners are snapped awake every night by ghostly wails said to be the echo of a '94 Mariah Carey melisma.

Kurt Halfyard said...

Bielinksy will be sorely missed. His El Aura is a fantically crafted back-woods noir with a fresh spin on the 'not quite how you wanted it, fulfilled fantasy' sub-genre.

His future 'unmade' films are a loss that already hurts.

jer fairall said...

Oh man, I miss Whit Stillman as well. Last I heard from him was his clever years-after-the-fact novelization of The Last Days of Disco. I just picked up (but haven't watched) the new Criterion of Metropolitan, the sudden existence of which I hope means...something.

Good early films by people who quickly crashed and burned? I was actually quite a fan of Nick Cassavettes' Unhook The Stars, for one. Don Roos is probably an even better example, moving from one of the best comedies of the 90's with The Opposite of Sex on to Bounce and Happy Endings. Big, big fan of L.A. Story, which was clearly more Steve Martin's baby than anything, but Mick Jackson's career has since spanned the likes of The Bodyguard, Clean Slate and Volcano before he returned to television. And despite really liking The Sixth Sense and outright loving Unbreakable, M. Night Shymalan feels completely lost to me now after the dreadful The Village.

And in the "Why Didn't They Ever Make Another Film?" file: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me) and, of course, Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter).

I need to watch The Life Aquatic again soon. I liked it when it was new, but I couldn't really give any reason for that beyond "I really like Wes Anderson."

Chris said...

Kenneth Lonergan's new movie "Margaret" is complete, I think, and doing the festival circuit, I think. It's got a great cast and story if you check out the IMDb.

I was with a bunch of people in a, like, rented vacation home earlier this year and all we had for entertainment was a deck of cards and a bunch of old VHS tapes owned by the house. We got out REDS for some reason... and it was riveting from start to finish. Even in its slow points, its lulls and ebbs, it was fantastic.

Bill C said...

Aye, ya beat me to it: Lonergan's Margaret, starring Anna (hubba hubba) Paquin, comes out in the fall. Seems a natural for the upcoming TIFF.

I loved Nick Cassavetes' She's So Lovely; it may even have my favourite Sean Penn performance. His decline has been painful to witness. Ditto that of the aforementioned Mick Jackson and someone I was fanatical about in the '90s, Michael Caton-Jones. Watch Rob Roy and then The Jackal--it's like somebody wiped his talent bank in-between.

Truthfully, though, I think every filmmaker loses "it" at some point. C'est la vie. We seem to impose a longer shelf life on directors than we do on other entertainers, but look at Rob Reiner: if he had never made another movie again after When Harry Met Sally..., I think we'd put him in a class with Lubitsch or at least Wilder, but the milk turned sour. He's physically incapable of generating good work now. I wonder if some filmmakers, like some novelists, only have one movie in them, but the lure of the klieg lights proves too irresistable.

Tarantino has an interesting theory that the drive to create cinema is linked to the libido, and so whatever your gifts naturally wither. Interestingly, he mentioned Kinji Fukasaku as someone whose work never radically declined, and wondered if it's because Fukasaku professed little interest in sex all his life, and therefore never had far to drop.

raphael said...

I´m thinking of Don Bluth and how The secret of NIMH was unlike anything disney had ever made up to that point...
There are still shades of greatness in Titan A.E. but it´s an wildly uneven affair.
Barry Sonenfeld was going places with the Adams family flicks and the wonderful Mib.
I expected great historical dramas from Shekhar Kapur after Elizabeth but the four feather is one dull obnoxious movie.I felt the urge to punch Kate Hudson character so bad!
I still wait for a James Cameron blockbuster like the seccond coming of Christ.
And i think you all agree with me when i say the biggest career fuck up in cinema history belongs to one George Lucas...

Ian Pugh said...

Ranking highly in my "I wish I knew where they were now" file is a strange little item that I just saw entitled Student Bodies; billed as "the world's first horror comedy movie," made in 1981, smack dab in the post-Halloween craze. You could call it a bridge between Scream and Scary Movie before either movie existed, containing an uncomfortable imbalance between postmodern satire and spoof. It gets pretty unbearable by the end, and pretends to be cleverer than it actually is -- keeping subtitled tallies of the body count and when characters leaves doors unlocked, which gets old pretty quickly.

Still, it manages a few hilarious moments of both satire and spoof. Somehow the film contains a scene where the killer "massacres" his victim with a paperclip, along with a scene where an announcer explains and exemplifies the rather tame film's successful attempt to attain an "R" rating -- along with a bigger box office draw. Of course, this was before "PG-13" existed. (If you don't want to track the film down, check IMDb's Quotes page.) It's only been released to VHS, so sift through some old '80s bargain bins.

Anyway, the film was written and directed by one Mickey Rose, who was Woody Allen's writing partner in the '60s and early '70s, their final collaboration apparently being the hilarious Bananas. Student Bodies was his only directorial effort, his first written film after a decade of Happy Days and Charlie's Angels; it seems he dropped off the face of the Earth after a few more TV series in '85. Not to say that, as a director, he was all that great -- pretty bad, in fact, even after recieving uncredited help from The Bad News Bears' Michael Ritchie. But considering his pedigree I'd like to see how he would have evolved.

Most of Rose's actors are pretty horrendous (whether that was an intentional move is debatable), and most never did another movie. However, there are a few names I'd love to catch up on; the film makes a pretty big deal out of introducing a fellow named Richard Brando, who plays the killer of the picture, "The Breather." Brando is fairly amusing in his throaty, Vincent Price-esque voice, making his lines that much funnier. You've really got to hear him as he describes the characters as "a girl who dresses like Prince Valiant in a plum sweater" and "a guy who sleeps with his nuts between two horsehead bookcase ends."

jer fairall said...

"Did you hang up?"
"Nope, I just said click!"

jer fairall said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Holy shit, was Pirates 2 bad. What the hell were they thinking? And why didn't I walk out?!

Dave Gibson said...

Cheers on calling out the director of "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday" for loathsome stereotyping-

Jeers for the "Kraut" reference in your "Bloodrayne" review...I'm just sayin...

Love, David

Walter_Chaw said...

Really David?

Because I thought "retarded surfer," "arbitrary meat puppet harem," "Brittany-Murphy sex," "probably lesbian, angry man-woman shtick," and the suggestion that anyone actually gets subscriptions to HEAVY METAL, were all more offensive than a WWII colloqualism suggesting that Germans eat a lot of saurkraut.

Is it just the ugly American thing?

Anonymous said...

Still laughing about the Kraut comment.

Er... I mean "LOL"

Dave Gibson said...

Yeah, I’ll give that “Kraut” occupies the netherworld of “Classic Bigotry”, probably not considered much more offensive than “Limey” or “Mick” (to use my own, personally applicable examples)—still, I’d use caution when busting it out at your town’s next Oktoberfest. (And I wouldn’t leave the door open too wide for regular use of many “WW2 colloquialisms”--yeech) However, if you ever have occasion to publicly introduce Werner Herzog or Tom Tykwer as “a couple of talented Krauts” I encourage you to do so, in order to see how much they like sauerkraut and all...Love WC. Don’t hate. Love (well not, Uwe Boll—but, you get the idea) ; ) ;) ;)

“Ugly American”? Half my family is American! Hell, one of my great-great etc....uncles was an original Texas Ranger (seriously) I get enough self-loathing from being a Canadian. (Did you know our movies suck?)