Sep 30, 2007

Che boludos, give the Maestro back his laptop!

Thieves stole Francis Ford Coppola's laptop and his backup disk from his home in Buenos Aires.
Truly despicable and truly stupid, it you ask me. Hopefully, Francis (may I call you that, dude?) registered his newest script with the WGA and/or the copyright office of the US. He also has copies of the scripts stored elsewhere for he is not as dumb an ass as the people who robbed him. But he is very upset because his computer had family pictures and many years of work in it. He should not have offered a reward, because that is what these sorry idiots are hoping for, but one can't blame him for trying to recover his work. Nowadays our entire lives are in the computer, and if the contraptions malfunction or are lost it becomes a major issue.
It just seems stupid that thieves would target such a prominent artist, particularly when he bringing some major income to the country for shooting a film there.
It's very bad. I hope he gets his stuff back soon.

Sep 24, 2007

Toots: Review of A Film Few Will See

My friend Cathy alerted me to the existence of a wonderful documentary about the life and times of the legendary Toots Shor, a big Jewish guy who started out as a bouncer of speakeasies in the Prohibition and ended up having the most fabulous "saloon" in town, back in the 40's and 50's when glamour was for real, everybody smoked and had two martini lunches, and going out to nightclubs was fabulous, not the crass bullshit it is today.
It was sad and delightful to see footage of Times Square in those days, before the squalor of the drug addled sixties and seventies set in. Where is our El Morocco, where is our Stork Club? Gone the way of the dodo. Alas. I wish I had seen that New York. What he have today is a sad, pathetic shadow of what used to be.
As many famed, smart New York writers tell us in the film (Nick Pileggi, Pete Hamill, Guy Talese), it was a different time, and Toots was a genius at making connections, both kosher and very non kosher. But he was loyal to his famous friends and feigned ignorance of his mob connections.
The film was made by his granddaughter and it is a touching and lovely and sad portrait, but as sweet and real as New York itself: big hearted, smart and honest. Go see it.
It's playing at the Quad, which is a serious contender for most obnoxious arthouse theater in NY.
The people there make the smug nerds who work at the Film Forum seem like Florence Nightingale.

Sep 20, 2007

But what I really want to do is direct

The reason, darlings, why you have not heard from me lately, is I was ensconced in a grueling, week long, independent film conference from IFP and I just couldn't blog. I was busy listening to "industry" people offering all kinds of contradictory advice to the gazillion aspiring screenwriters and film directors like me, who dream of becoming the next Stanley Kubrick (sans weird antisocial quirks).
I learned a lot of things. Mainly that:
1. Nowadays everybody and their uncle wants to make a movie. And seemingly everybody and their uncle ARE making a movie. This includes yours truly. (Everybody and their cousin are busy making documentaries).
2. It's really about who you know (and if you have to pay money to learn this lesson, as I did, you are a bit of a putz). To the credit of the IFP, the money we paid to learn such obvious pearls of wisdom was quite reasonable. It also got me a free beer.
3. People who want to make films are angry at Hollywood for not caring about social issues. PUHLEEZE do try to get over it. As if.
4. You have to have a film festival strategy. This presents a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, all festivals want to discover the diamond in the rough, the next super original whatever. That sounds great, since everybody and their uncle think they are the next super original whatever (this includes yours truly). But, you can't be sending your puny little film to every festival because then you are a festival whore and nobody will touch you.
7. There is way too much cinematic offer and dwindling demand. This is a serious lesson. More movies get released than people have time to see. I see this as a major problem. Everybody and their uncle seemed unfazed by this predicament.
6. If I hear the phrases follow your dream, be passionate about your vision and do your homework one more time, I will kill someone.

In a nutshell: the main paradox in the quest for the moviemaking holy grail is as follows:
It's About Who You Know, But They Want To Find Someone They Haven't Heard Of.

I wish dear Bertie Russell was on hand so that he could help us wrap our minds around this one.

You can divide everybody and their uncle in two groups:
The pushy ones, who know it's all about who you know; and the ones that hate networking with all the fibers of their being and try as hard as they can to approach someone in the hopes of getting to the stage of "who you know" (which in this case basically means detaching someone from their business card). Sadly, I tend to belong to this last category. But not for long.

Stay tuned.

Adrift in Manhattan

This is a film by my ex-colleague Alfredo De Villa, a man I admire because he's had the cojones and the patience and what it takes to have made already four independent feature films. This last one has Heather Graham, the great Dominic Chianese, William Baldwin and the great, unsung, Elizabeth Peña, among others and it is a story about people who live and love in New York.
The film is opening tomorrow at the lovely Village East Cinemas on 12th st and 2nd Ave.
I hope lots of people show up this weekend and support the film.

Sep 16, 2007

Across the Universe

I was prepared to hate this movie. It has cheese written all over it. A musical with Beatles' songs directed by Julie Taymor, who did a pretty cheesy job with Frida. It is cool to have the lowest expectations and then be pleasantly surprised. I ended up hating it much less than I thought I would.
Then again, some of my movie companions expected to love it and were disappointed.
The movie is very uneven. It has some cool musical numbers and some real duds, but it does one thing wonderfully and that is, it reminds us of the absolute, pure beauty of the songs of the Beatles. To the credit of everyone involved in the music, the songs come through in their all pristine gorgeousness. The cast sings them guilelessly and far from this being some kind of let down, the way the songs are produced actually reflects how beautiful the music is. I wanted to burst out singing the entire movie.
The songs sound refreshed. I wonder if they are as powerful if you buy the soundtrack. Maybe not.
Julie Taymor borrows imagery from a bunch of artists like Joseph Cornell, Bill Viola, Michel Gondry, a bit of the Quay Brothers, you name it. Some visuals show a wonderful imagination, like the For the Benefit of Mr. Kite number with Eddie Izzard, or the use of I Want You for an army enlistment sequence. But the movie sways wildly between very imaginative (though mostly derivative) numbers and super pedestrian, obvious unfortunate choices. A Little Help From my Friends (which, with all due respect is not that great a song) is a major dud, as is Revolution (another not that great a song). But Happiness is a Warm Gun, I Want You, Strawberry Fields, and even Let it Be, predictably but powerfully sung as a gospel number, work really well.
The filmmakers are to be commended for choosing a very apt and broad variety of Beatles' songs that eschews some obvious choices, like Yesterday. The arrangements are for the most part effective and inobtrusive; mercifully, nobody tries to reinvent the wheel. The songs shine in all their lovely purity. Evan Rachel Wood turns out to be a better singer than an actor. This girl is very lovely, but she still has not learned not to strain in front of the camera. She is almost incapable of genuine feeling, yet she has a surprisingly lovely singing voice. The real discovery is Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude. Even though he is meant to resemble Paul McCartney, he comes across as far more passionate and ferocious and delivers a strong, credible performance. There is lots of fun in discovering some surprise performers like Bono and Joe Cocker and Eddie Izzard. The plot is quite basic, the pacing is slow, the writing is super obvious and quite lame, but all is bliss when the songs come alive. Whenever no one's singing, the movie seems to grind to a halt.
Luckily, there is a lot of music. Across the Universe is a light, not very demanding or provocative entertainment. It thoroughly lacks any kind of edge. It seems a work seeped in nostalgia, for a time when people stood up for what they believed in, and didn't take it in the ass from The Man, like we spinelessly do today.

Sep 14, 2007

Review of a Movie I Ain't Gonna See

The Brave One, with Jodie Foster, sounds like exactly the kind of movie nobody needs. Now that NY is the safest city on Earth, at least when it comes to crime, do we need a revenge fantasy movie a la Charles Bronson? I don't think so.
Horrible things happen to Jodie Foster in our beautiful town full of rodents and then she seeks revenge. Why would I want to see that?
My idea of a more realistic avenging movie in NYC goes like this:
Jodie Foster, playing me, is horribly annoyed by a number of things. Anytime those things cross her path, she blows them up.
• She vanquishes the entire rat population of NY singlehandedly by blowing up the infrastructure of the city, kinda like Con Edison. When the roaches see this, they decide to decamp by themselves.
• Every time a homeless person overturns a garbage can, Jodie makes sure, firepower in hand, that said homeless puts everything back and in the order in which they found it.
• As she walks into Bloomingdale's in Soho, she finishes off all the brain dead nubile idiots who love Juicy Couture, leaving bloodied, obscenely expensive schmattes in her wake.
• No taxi driver dares honk his horn any more, for fear of Jodie. Nobody honks and nobody blares his stupid music out his car windows. Jodie only allows blasters to live if they blast Mahler.
• Jodie has rounded up every SUV in town and dumped them all in the East River, drivers inside.
• Because she is a model citizen, she is helping Mayor Mike to get the congestion tax approved, by way of threatening a clean shot to the head to anyone that objects.
• She blows up Magnolia Bakery at the height of the inexplicable queue, just because. Next in her line of fire is the Meatpacking District (Only Bodum will be spared).
• New condos that promise wine cellars and pilates studios and screening rooms and zen gardens and a private fridge for your special gin, BAM!
• People who talk even during the previews at the movies are silenced -- with a silencer.
In fact, so many things annoy Jodie, that several sequels are in the works.

I have a theory about Jodie Foster. It goes like this. Since we all know she is gay, and since every attempt to cast her as the object of someone's affections has been historically disastrous (Nell. Sommersby. Maverick. Anna and the King: need I say more?), and since she does radiate intelligence and is a blonde and Hollywood does not quite know what to do when both converge, she is now a specialist in playing the tough, steely broad, alone against the world. Considering she is also in her mid-forties, it is a testament to her staying power that she is still working. Yet, like a Super Nun, no sex for her: Silence of the Lambs, Flightplan, Contact, Panic Room, Inside Man. You could pretty much take any male action star and substitute him for her and the movies would still work (except for Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs; Hannibal Lecter has a crush on her). She is, in the movies, like a man with breasts. Perhaps this is Hollywood's subconscious punishment for her gayness. Or perhaps I have too much time on my hands.

Sep 12, 2007

Vini, Vidi, Bardem

Yesterday night, O dear mortals, I had the privilege of attending a live interview with Javier Bardem, who is a magnificent actor and one of the most wonderful interview subjects I've ever seen. It is to his enormous credit that despite the very tepid, asskissing questioning and understandable but completely inappropriate flirtiness of Lynn Hirschberg, Bardem generously delivered very interesting information about his craft and his approach as an actor. She kept interrupting him with silly, giggly comments but he kept going back to his line of thought, gently bent on making the points he started out with. That he is one of the most effortlessly charming, intelligent, sensible and divine beings that ever graced this Earth also helped.
It has happened to me several times when attending this kind of events, that when otherwise fine reporters and intelligent journalists get to interview a famous subject in front of an audience, they become starstruck and squander everybody's time by fawning shamelessly. In Miss Hirschberg's case, she wasn't as terrible as that monster of brownosing, James Lipton, but she was gossipy and flirty and not serious enough. Bardem saved her from ridicule with his charm. People were saying she made him feel at ease, and it may be true to a certain point, but I think it was the other way around. Healthily acknowledging he has a huge ego, he was also charmingly self-deprecating. Utterly winning.
Now, it drives me crazy that she was obsessed with the fact that Bardem didn't speak English when he did Before Night Falls. It is an amazing feat, particularly since not only did he act flawlessly in a language he didn't master, but he used a pitch perfect Cuban accent on top of it, which she was too ignorant to even acknowledge. But how much time can one spend reminding the guy that he didn't speak English? She tried to save it with protestations that she can't speak Spanish (stupidly making him say things in Spanish so she could swoon) and that her French is bad, but it seemed childish and provincial. Get over it.
Bardem really spoke of his work as an actor with great openness and passion and he shared part of his approach. It struck me that either he is even a better actor than we all think, or he is not one of those actors who are tortured by their profession. He seems to enjoy it and respect it deeply, and his commitment is extremely serious. He spoke candidly about the envy actors of his caliber sometimes get in their countries of origin and was very generous, and seemingly totally sincere, with his praise for Antonio Banderas, who he claimed, correctly, paved the way for the international careers of people like him.
Thinking of his movies, it is worth pointing out that he has not yet sold himself out to stupid choices. His is a pretty solid resume and one can only hope he will not easily succumb to bad Hollywood temptations.

Spaghetti High Noon

I have been sternly taken to task by dear readers Barry and Katya for not mentioning Sergio Leone, the maker of Spaghetti Westerns, as the salvation of the Western.
Sadly, I'm not a fan of his either, although I will admit that he did much to revolutionize the genre; to actually make it fun, instead of as ponderous as La Ponderosa. His contribution is strictly aesthetic (as in bringing in Claudia Cardinale to the proceedings, certainly an improvement on the genre). Plus he is to blame for the stardom of El Clinto (Eastwood, to you), and he gave us some fantastic cowboy music from Ennio Morricone.
I find Leone's movies cheesy and cartoony and difficult to take seriously, although lots of film mavens adore them. Perhaps I just don't get it.
I'm the only person I know who h.a.t.e.s. Once Upon a Time in America, his gangster movie with Robert De Niro and James Woods.
Sorry, amigos.

Sep 10, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

I've never cared about Westerns. Could not be bothered about the sheriff, and the bad guy and the Indians and the saloon and the horsies. The few Westerns I saw growing up bored me to tears (except Red River with Montgomery Clift, I remember liking that one) so there is a big gaping hole in my exposure to the genre.
The 3:10 to Yuma
doesn't seem to be a great Western, but it is quite enjoyable, if a bit meandering, and well worth seeing because of the actors.
So who is better? My darling Christian Bale or Russell Crowe?
For my money, Mr. Bale wins by an inch. Russell Crowe is a wonderful actor and a bona fide movie star. He plays Ben Wade, a very evil man who is very charming and smart and somewhat sensitive, but ruthless. In between the mayhem he orchestrates, he draws artsy doodles (that's how we know he is sensitive, perhaps gay), he is courteous and irresistible to women, and his eyes radiate the wisdom and fake benevolence of the supremely arrogant. It is to Mr. Crowe's credit that he delivers a very understated performance, very quiet and still and compelling, instead of going for scenery chewing showboating. He seems almost too aware of his own stillness, and as such gives more of a movie star turn. Still, he is very good and he has in Christian Bale a great partner. Bale is super intense, you can feel the commitment of his character. He is totally credible as the man who feels he needs to bring Wade to justice so people stop taking him for a wimp. It is hard to think of him as a wimp, because he burns with an inner fire that is totally palpable, and that is what makes him so wonderful to watch. As in his amazing turn in Rescue Dawn, he makes the heroic human, which as far as I'm concerned, is an heroic feat for an actor. I am apeshit over Christian Bale, in case you haven't noticed. Had Martin Scorsese tapped him to play Howard Hughes in The Aviator, that would have been a much better movie.
Then there is Ben Foster, a guy I don't think I'd ever seen before, who plays Wade's extremely evil sidekick, who happens to be gay. Foster relishes his villainy and yet he seems to have a major crush on Wade. He is excellent. And Peter Fonda shows up as a grizzled self-righteous guy, not acting up a storm as usual, but making it work somehow, in his offhand way.
Yuma is above average because it tries quite hard not to make the meanie all that mean, while the good guy is a decent man who hovers perilously close to stupid. Both represent the worst and the best of the American psyche. The ruthless self-interest, always couched by a great deal of sophistry, and the impulse for decency and respect for the law and for others. The plot itself doesn't add up to scrutiny, but it is an extended metaphor on how can these two opposing sides of the national character be reconciled. Why insist on following the letter of the law in a lawless society? Why not take justice into your own hands? It's an interesting point to make today. Bale's stubborness almost begs you to scream, just shoot the bastard and get it over with, but the point is there is a law (and a reward, let's not forget) and it's there for something. Basically it boils down to whether you can thrive honestly or you are going to lie and cheat and steal and kill your way into riches. Story of this country.
Unfortunately, the movie is uneven. It has some great dialogue and then some silly lines that seemed pegged on (on torture: "that's immoral". DOH), and not all is pristinely staged.
For my taste, the first action sequence in Yuma is very confusing, the sound not always intelligible, and it takes a while for the movie to hit its stride. I don't know if it is the film or the sound system of the theater, but I could hear the bullets much more clearly than the dialogue.
I read that people were plotzing because digital effects were used in the big robbery sequence. What's the big deal? That's precisely what CGI should be used for, not so much for elves and trolls and aliens vs. predators, but for not blowing up a real horse if you can help it.
I'm glad Yuma did such great box office this weekend because it is not a stupid film, although it has a really stupid ending.

Sep 7, 2007

When is the next 3:10 to Yuma?

I can't wait! I have decided to skip the apparently killjoy (to judge from the headline) review by A.O. Scott and I am ready to take that train tonight. I'm not a fan of westerns, but if they happen to have both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, I'm so there.

Deep Water

A fascinating BBC documentary now showing at the Angelika, Deep Water chronicles a race to circumnavigate the globe singlehandedly on a sailboat and the conditions that led one of the contestants to a tragic end. The movie is not particularly suspenseful or gripping, but it provides a touching, troubling insight into the nature of failure. It's a film that investigates failure, which is sort of a breath of fresh air in a country where we seem to be incapable of admitting it.
Deep Water is less an adventure documentary than a meditation on the psychology and the human nature of failure. As usual, hindsight is always 20/20. As is the case with the other documentary about failure not showing at the multiplex near you, No End In Sight, about our debacle in Iraq, Deep Water calmly explains the accumulation of bad decisions, hubris, unrealistic optimism and undue pressure from sinister outside forces that hounded Donald Crowhurst, a guy who was way out of his league in even signing up for such a grueling race.
It also explores what it is for the mind to be alone at sea for months, most of it with fascinating footage of the men at sea.
They spent months and months of seeing only water; sometimes calm and infinite, sometimes furious and life-threatening. As a counterpart to the tragic figure in the film, the filmmakers present not the winner of the race, who doesn't seem to interest them in the least (a creative decision that's to be commended), but of another competitor, Bernard Moitissier, a Frenchman, who found in his solitude a transcendent, mystical experience. Before the race he said that any man who entered that contest wishing for fame and fortune was going to come to grief. Of course, he was totally right.
It is a terribly sad story and one of the most interesting visual aspects of it is to look at the difference between the footage of Mr. Moitissier, who turned the camera towards the sea, and showed splendid vistas, of glorious sunsets and also stormy waters; and the very crummy footage of Mr. Crowhurst, who was so overwhelmed and underprepared that he just turned inwards, towards madness.
It is a film that gives one much pause, a haunting meditation on character, hubris, the fragility or endurance of the human psyche, why we take risks, why men are always looking for crazy challenges, why some fail and others triumph.
It is about being human.