The Director’s Club: SAM FULLER

I recently made a guest appearance on the Director’s Club Podcast talking at length with Patrick Ripoll about the career, craft and overall style of the great Sam Fuller. Over the course of a few hours we also talk about Do The Right Thing, the short films of Kenneth Anger, the bawdy polish mind-melt film, The Saragossa Manuscript, and many more tangents and such.

Specific Fuller films covered at length are The Naked Kiss, Shock Corridor and Pick Up On South Street, but we touch upon many others with the exception being his film and TV westerns.

You can find the full podcast over at The Director’s Club.

Is Woody Allen “Irrelevant?”

In a recent Cinecast Episode, the guys were asked where they would place Woody Allen amongst the elite directors of all time and the word irrelevant was thrown around.

So is Woody Allen an “irrelevant” director at this point in his career? Well first of all, what does it mean to be irrelevant? And what does “this point in career” encompass? For the latter, let’s just take the past ten years = past ten films = roughly 20% of filmography/career. For the former, that’s a little trickier. Webster defines relevant as “having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand; having social relevance“. The matter at hand would obviously be film direction. So does being demonstrable mean sheer output of film? It certainly could, but if that’s the case, obviously Allen would have no trouble passing the bar on this one as he releases about one film per year. So that isn’t it.

Does irrelevant correlate with number of tickets sold i.e. box office numbers? That makes a little more sense, so let’s lightly analyze…

TITLE
WORLDWIDE BO GROSS
Blue Jasmine N/A
Rome with Love $73,244,881
Midnight in Paris $151,119,219
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger $34,275,987
Whatever Works $35,097,815
Vicky Christina Barcelona $96,409,300
Cassandra’s Dream $22,658,532
Scoop $39,215,642
Match Point $85,306,374
Melinda and Melinda $20,085,825
ROUNDED AVERAGE $62,000,000

Now compared to Iron Man or Man of Steel (or any other movie about a man made of metal), the above graphic’s numbers might as well be in pennies. But in comparison to like-minded films, these are honestly pretty respectable numbers for low budget, indie dramedies/thrillers playing in less than 800 screens. Before Midnight isn’t done yet; but for a well respected, beloved franchise, why is it only at a measly $11 million and won’t come anywhere near Allen’s numbers – all the while playing on 900 screens? How about Mud? $21 million. Are Linklater and Nichols considered irrelevant? One is a highly established and extremely well received director and the other is an up and coming hot shot in indie cinema who is equally well-received critically. Don’t know/like those names? How about Joss Whedon and Steven Soderbergh? Their two films currently wrapping up semi-wide releases made a whopping $4,169,353 and $32,172,757 respectively. I would hardly call Whedon or Soderbergh irrelevant directors (putting aside Soderbergh is now done making movies). Hell, even 2 Guns starring arguably two of the most bankable stars in Hollywood right now barely make the same numbers Allen’s films do (on average) while playing on over 3,000 screens!

Looking at the above examples, I’d say box office is a poor decision maker on deciding a film maker’s “relevance.” Sure you could come up with counter-examples but that would only help in kind of proving my point. If our annual box office competition has taught us anything, it’s that numbers are unpredictable and don’t really tell us much about the quality of a film or it’s director, cast or crew. And even if they did, in terms of where Allen’s types of films play, how many screens they’re on and what their competition is, the numbers are relatively large.

Who is Allen’s audience? On the above mentioned Cinecast, it was brought to light that it’s only old people going to Woody Allen films. While I think that might be a bit of a sweeping generalization, it’s kind of hard to dismiss. *Personally speaking, the latest Allen film I saw in the theater (Blue Jasmine), was roughly 90% over the age of 65. And to take it further, probably 75% of those people were closer to 80 years of age. And I’m not kidding. But it was a packed house. So this begs the question: is relevance directly related to the demographic a film maker is shooting for?

As sad as it is, I think this might actually be the best argument for proclaiming Woody Allen irrelevant. My gut reaction to this statement was “poppycock.” I mean what does it matter who the people are sitting in the seats? Why does it matter that they’re old? Cinema isn’t just for the kids. It’s for everybody. Still, in terms of film making craft and new ideas, Allen is hardly the trendy, hip, ground breaking director he once was. Despite making quality pictures, he isn’t really pushing anything new – in fact it’s arguable he’s consistently retreading old territory. Wes Anderson is a favorite around these parts but he’s already being criticized in some circles for just doing the same old same old over and over again and he’s a director with only seven features under his belt. Seven. Allen has upwards of 45. But it’s his old territory; and like Allen, there will always be people wanting to play in that playground even if they’ve seen it before.

Still, doing something over and over again hardly makes a person relevant. Trying new things and striving for originality and breaking some new ground creatively is what keeps the buzz going. It’s why people continue talking about you and anticipating your next project.

But back-pedaling again even further, maybe one could argue that these types of films make him even more relevant for a particular niche/demographic. Is it fair to say Tyler Perry is irrelevant because he only makes movies aimed at the black audience? Is Almodóvar irrelevant because almost all of his films are about gender identity, women’s issues and/or homosexuality? These examples open a whole new can of worms that I’m not really interested in exploring at the moment, but they do help illustrate that just because someone is making films for a very specific audience (intended or otherwise), doesn’t necessarily make them irrelevant on the whole. Maybe irrelevant to teens. Maybe irrelevant to action fans. Maybe irrelevant to vulgarians. But certainly not irrelevant to an entire generation of film-goers who look extremely forward to each and every release and are going to miss the hell out of Woody Allen when he’s gone.

*As a side note, my theatrical screening of Blue Jasmine was a Tuesday matinee. This could help explain the age demographic of my particular screening. It might also explain slightly lower than average box office numbers as well. Since movie going numbers are inexplicably tethered to dollars rather than tickets sold, it would make sense the dollars shown are smaller since the majority of the film’s audience is going during the day. Ya know, because old people can’t stay up after 8pm. Again, another can of worms.

The last bit of input I could bring in would come from critical reception. Rotten Tomatoes can be a bit arbitrary and each individual is going to have different opinions on artistic work; but in general, really high numbers (above 85%) mean a fairly high quality film that is both entertaining and smart in what it’s trying to accomplish and in general most people really enjoy.

TITLE
RT SCORE
Blue Jasmine 89%
Rome with Love 43%
Midnight in Paris 93%
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 45%
Whatever Works 50%
Vicky Christina Barcelona 82%
Cassandra’s Dream 46%
Scoop 39%
Match Point 77%
Melinda and Melinda 53%
ROUNDED AVERAGE 62%

So of the last ten Woody Allen films, only one was outright horrible (Scoop), six of them fall into the mediocre or slightly less category, while four of them turned out to be pretty darn good – again, from critical standpoint. This is pretty all over the map. The guy isn’t making masterpieces time and again yet quite often he’s making highly successful, interesting and entertaining films. And it’s not only critics talking. The Academy (i.e. The Oscars, i.e. people in the industry) certainly takes note occasionally and adds to Woody Allen’s legacy as well.

TITLE
OSCAR NOMS/WINS
Blue Jasmine N/A
Rome with Love 0/0
Midnight in Paris 4/1
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 0/0
Whatever Works 0/0
Vicky Christina Barcelona 1/1
Cassandra’s Dream 0/0
Scoop 0/0
Match Point 1/0
Melinda and Melinda 0/0

If relevance is determined by your peers opinion of your output, Woody Allen might fail in this regard. A nom here and there is certainly better than most film makers and the highly acclaimed Midnight in Paris helps, but in general he isn’t the Spielberg of the 1980s and in this regard probably isn’t all that relevant in award land. Which also sort of compares him with other film makers of today.

Still, it does seem that big name actors and actresses are clamoring to work with him: Baldwin, Clarkson, Cruz, Bardem, Sarsgaard, Blanchett, Winslet, Watts, Page, Eisenberg, Hopkins, Banderas, Sheen, McAdams, Wilson, Hawkins, McGregor, Ferrell, Farrell, Gerwig and many more. Some of them giving the best output of their careers (Cruz, Johansson, Brolin). Possibly even Blanchett and that’s really really saying something!

Judging audience reaction is a bit trickier; particularly for Allen’s films. Basically all I have to go on is the internet and since the internet is mostly a youth game and since we’ve established that in all likelihood Allen’s key demographic is senior citizens it’s unlikely to find too many reactions online from this source. Again using Rotten Tomatoes as a guide, the audience ratings fall mostly in line with critics (slightly below in most cases) and one might surmise that this is because the old folks aren’t running home from the theater to blog about the movie they just saw or click a radio button on some ratings web site.

I did briefly look at the average ratings for some of Allen’s films over on LetterBoxd and they mostly seemed to generally fall in line with what I see on Rotten Tomatoes. Again, this doesn’t really tell us much as the average age of a LetterBoxd user is probably somewhere around 26 (just a guess).

So we’re still kind of stuck with the same question: what does “relevant” even mean? After all this digging I conclude it’s kind of a conglomerate of all these things mentioned above; with some things bearing more weight than others. Basically I think “relevant” is a little bit too broad of a term and too difficult to pin down an actual definition for in the case of an artist. Allen’s films may no longer be considered “event” pictures, but I lay that problem at the feet of the general audiences of today, not Allen. For the most part, people want and demand amazing CGI effects, 3D IMAX and explosions these days. If Kubrick were still alive and working today would he be putting up $100 million box office numbers? Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. Eyes Wide Shut did pretty well back in the summer of 1999 but it had a lot less to compete with and there was the X factor of Kubrick’s death and the last chance to see one of his new films on the big screen. So maybe a poor example I guess. But it does make me wonder if Kubrick was still around making awesome movies, would people go around calling him irrelevant if it was mostly just film snobs like you and me going to see them and only making $60 million?

My final gut reaction is this, if someone is calling Woody Allen an irrelevant director at this point, it could be true, but it’s their own damn fault, their own misgivings and their own short-sightedness. Though it’s true that not all of his films are always really kicking in the most efficient gear, about every other one is received very well both critically, financially (relatively speaking) and from the audience (as well as can be determined from the web tubes). They maybe don’t have quite the panache that modern film makers are exploiting today and anything remotely resembling experimentation is non-existent, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t solid films that many people are still talking about today.

Watch the 1993 masterpiece Super Mario Bros. in full!

supermariobros

Once or twice a year, something reminds me of that this movie happened. Today, I was reminded of it when I saw an original NES for sale on Craigslist.

I was only eight years old when I first saw the Super Mario Bros. movie. Imagine my excitement: not only were they making a movie about that awesome Mario game I spent so much time playing, the good guy from Roger Rabbit was playing Mario. As we first popped the movie into our VCR and the familiar NES music played over the opening credits, fading into whacky cartoon with talking dinosaurs narrated by Dan Castellaneta (aka Homer Simpson), I was immediately confused.

And that confusion never ceased during the entire 100 minute runtime.

I probably watched the film a dozen times as a kid. I never quite understood what it had to do with the video games that I loved so much, but I tolerated it – maybe even strangely enjoyed it. Now as an adult, I enjoy it for other reasons, mostly because I get a kick out of its campiness, how bizarre the entire script is, and the complete disaster that it turned out to be.

A meteorite somehow splitting the earth into two parallel universes. Dennis Hopper as an OCD, greasy-haired King Koopa. Giant “de-evolved” goombas. Fisher Stevens. The silly backstory for why Mario and Luigi were two Italian plumbers saving a princess.

Imagining the studio execs coming up with all of this as a means of capitalizing on Nintendo’s popularity is even more amusing.

Even more interesting are the almosts of this movie. Roland Joffé (The Mission, The Killing Fields) was the first to propose the film in a studio meeting. Danny DeVito and Harold Ramis were in talks to direct at one point. Tom Hanks was once on board to play Mario with Hoskins being brought on due to being a “more profitable” actor. Oh, the what-ifs.

As it would turn out, the film would bomb making less than $21 million back of its $45 million budget. Critics and gamers alike slammed it. And since then, Hoskins hasn’t spoke very kindly of it or its duo of directors. “The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers,” Hoskins said in a 2007 interview with Guardian. “It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots.”

You know what, though? The movie is right here for you to watch in its entirety. See if you can resist.

Happy 15th Birthday, BOOGIE NIGHTS

Hard to believe that P.T. Anderson’s Porn Industry opus Boogie Nights is celebrating the 15th Anniversary of its release today, in celebration, here we are running our Finite Focus post on one of the many classic scenes from the film.

From one of my absolute favorite films of all time, comes one of the best extended sequences in the film: the drug deal gone wrong. There are so many things going on in this scene all at once that should have the viewer holding their breath with anxiety. Before the scene even starts there is a tension in the air so thick that we know something bad is about to happen. We have three stupid guys about to do something really fucking stupid and they’re coked out of their minds to boot.

The two most glaring things that radiate in this scene are the aural cues. The overpowering, uncharacteristic soundtrack for a scene like this and the firecrackers exploding off screen. I love how the loud 80’s music is almost blasting out the dialogue and how the drug king (Alfred Molina) is totally oblivious to the obvious tension by the young visitors and meanwhile, in a David Lynchian sort of moment, he could care less about a Chinese kid, standing just out of frame lighting firecracker after firecracker, which is obviously getting nerves on edge (even more than they already are) of our young heroes.

Throw in a Marcelius Wallace type with a big frakkin gun who is just over their shoulder checking the bogus coke out while Molina’s character plays Russian Roulette for fun and talks about mixed tapes (a drug dealer’s version of Cusack’s talk in High Fidelity). Still the firecrackers continue.

Finally, Diggler (Wahlberg) just stares at the wall for what seem like forever while we listen to the mix tape, in full-blown, space-out mode before coming to his senses. Just as things look like we might get out of this little charade unscathed, Todd Parker does something really, REALLY stupid.

God, I love this scene…

 

Neil Armstrong 1930 – 2012

From the Earth to the Moon… and now the great beyond. A childhood (and adulthood) hero has today passed from our presence. A daring and courageous guy who captured the world’s attention and hearts with just a single step. If anyone on this Earth is to be remembered for something truly amazing, noteworthy and awe-inspiring, it is surely Neil Armstrong.

Go luck sir. And God speed.

What Makes a Cult Movie?

There’s something special about a good cult movie. Today, many of the films we may think of as having a cult following have in fact broken out of that distinction and become highly regarded, popular features. However, on first release these were the films that no one went to see in cinemas. They were overshadowed by other releases, overlooked because they were controversial, offbeat, or just downright strange. Yet over time people began to notice them, mainly when they were released onto home video. Small, niche groups began to adopt films like The Evil Dead, A Clockwork Orange, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show as representations of their culture. Over time this extended even further to a point where these films are now considered cult classics; disregarded at first, yet now known and loved, sometimes by a specific group of people and sometimes by film lovers worldwide.

Various genres of film have been deemed cult movies, ranging from westerns to sci-fi to teen comedy. Something that makes a film particularly likely to receive cult status is if it contains memorable characters and lots of quotable dialogue; although not a film, Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series gained cult status largely due to the excellent and humorous script. Cult films often fly under the radar on first release because they may be made on a smaller budget and feature relatively unknown actors and actresses, or even helmed by a first time director. Quentin Tarantino, for example, has become a mainstream film favourite even though he started his career with a deep love of cult movies and chose to make his own films in a similar style. Films such as his Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction performed well on release, but are still considered cult films by many because they appeal to a quite specific audience and were seen as controversial because of their violent content and portrayals of organized crime, drug use, and sexual abuse.

Although some more obscure films may be difficult to find on DVD or Blu-Ray, you can always watch cult classics online through a service such as LOVEFiLM. Their LOVEFiLM Player allows members to watch movies online for free without downloading, and many cult favourites such as those by Quentin Tarantino are included in the site’s extensive catalogue at www.lovefilm.com.

guest post brought to you by LOVEFiLM

Quote of the Day: Rosenbaum on what ‘Cult-Film’ means Today

“One of the problems inherent in using the term “cult” within a contemporary context relating to film, either as a noun or as an adjective, is that it refers to various social structures that no longer exist, at least not in the ways that they once did. When indiscriminate moviegoing (as opposed to going to see particular films) was a routine everyday activity, it was theoretically possible for cults to form around exceptional items — “sleepers,” as they were then called by film exhibitors — that were spontaneously adopted and anointed by audiences rather than generated by advertising. But once advertising started to anticipate and supersede such a selection process, the whole concept of the cult film became dubious at the same time it became more prominent, a marketing term rather than a self-generating social process.”

This is an excerpt from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s sharp little piece on Joe Dante, here.

Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaame.

An oddly compelling reason to never buy a Honda, but also an interesting commentary on how our ‘hero’ has gone from a stolen 1961 Ferrari to a leased 2012 CRV. Superbowl, I hate you even more than usual. I’m off to palette cleanse on the real Ferris Too, Alexander Payne’s Election (The last time Matthew Broderick didn’t phone it in.)

Blast from the Past – Rounders Movie Review

Since 2004, numerous movies have come out regarding the world of poker, but none have seemed to live up to the realism of the cult classic Rounders. Matt Damon as Mike McDermott and Ed Norton as “Worm” take you into the world of underground poker and gave you a inside look at a world not seen by many. The movie is also one of the factors in the rise of popularity of Texas Holdem poker among younger players in the last decade.

Mike McDermott is an up and coming rounder that thinks that he is good enough to take on the big boys of the underground poker world. He sits in a high roller game with KGB, played by John Malkovich, and winds up losing his entire bankroll on one hand of poker. Mike then jumps to the last resort on how to handle losing streaks in poker and decides to walk away from the game forever and focus on his law degree.

Forever did not last long as he soon reconnects with childhood friend Worm who was recently released from prison. Worm convinces Mike to go back to playing poker and
Mike is immediately successful. His success cuts into his law studies and even costs him
his girlfriend.

However, his friendship with Worm wins up costing him as Worm puts Mike several
thousand dollars in debt. Mike then finds out that Worm is in for $15,000 and mistakenly
vouches for Worm. The two then have to come up with the money in 5 days or it may
cost them their lives.

Mike almost makes the money in time, but Worm gets caught cheating at cards in a poker
game with a bunch of cops and they get beaten and robbed of their money. Mike then
discovers that Worm owes the $15,000 to KGB. Realizing that Worm has all but signed
his death warrant, Mike cuts his ties with Worm and seeks financial help.

Mike receives that help from his college professor who loans him $10,000. Mike then
takes that game and gambled in a heads-up match with KGB and wins. He could have
walked away with his debt paid and $5,000 richer, but KGB goads him into risking that
money to win back his bankroll.

At the climax of the movie, Mike picks up on KGB’s tell and stops himself from blowing
his stack to him. KGB goes “on tilt”, a term for getting mad at the tables, and winds up
blowing his stack to Mike.

Mike pays off his debt, his professor, his debt run up by Worm, and still has $30,000. He
then takes off for Vegas to play in the Texas Holdem poker championship at the World
Series of Poker.

Rounders is a almost a case study in the ups and downs of life in the poker world. For
true poker fans, the movie will ring true and may even remind them of their own lifestyle.
For other, this movie will give you a look into the world of poker that you will not see on ESPN or other poker shows.