Where exactly did April go? Seriously, it seems like just yesterday we were talking about what was coming in April and now April has come and gone and we’re looking forward to a very busy May which includes a little something for everyone including Coleen, Dale (Letterboxd) and I (Letterboxd).
In what might be one of the stranger things I’ve seen recently, The Hollywood Reporter published an article detailing a deal with James Franco to direct an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian with Russell Crowe, Tye Sheridan, and Vincent D’Onofrio all in talks to join the cast.
By the time I made it home from work though, the story had changed significantly. According to Deadline:
The mooted Russell Crowe-James Franco collaboration on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridien has been shelved mere moments after details of it first became public after it emerged that the filmmakers had not yet secured the rights to the novel. … [I]n a situation that highlights the precariousness of conducting film business in a instantaneous online media climate, the breaking news reports about the project appear to have derailed the fragile discussions taking place with the rights owners and the cast. This is a deeply regrettable situation. No one ever wants a story to get in the way of deals being done.
Literature buffs are either letting out a collective groan… or a sigh of relief. Some call Blood Meridian simply unfilmable and considering Franco’s lack of success on two other adaptations of “unfilmable” novels–William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and McCarthy’s Child of God–his name being attached likely didn’t inspire much confidence from fans of McCarthy’s work, even if the idea of D’Onofrio as the Judge would be pretty damn exciting.
As for Blood Meridian, it’s had an interesting history. As far back as 2008, we wrote about the film being adapted by Ridley Scott and then later Todd Fields (and interestingly, I speculated in another article that Scott might try to bring on board Crowe). And another director bites the dust.
What say you, internet?
Okay, MCU, I quit*
The shark has been jumped, and in this case I may be the shark and Kevin Feige and his team of TV directors are the Fonz. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is the logical conclusion to – but unfortunately just the next phase of – this series of bloated, meaningless storytelling.
Following a series of disasters in both real American metropolises and fictional foreign nations, the less interesting Avengers (Thor and Hulk are elsewhere, as are the expensive big name love interests from previous films) find themselves subject to reckoning from the international community, demanding oversight to their actions, leading to a schism between those who idealistically see the negative implications and will not compromise, and those who see the path of least resistance and would like to keep a hand on the wheel.
After an hour or so of “good for basic cable but it ain’t HBO” style of drama which has earned Daredevil many fans (but man has that show also grown drab and tedious) we get the film’s centerpiece, a defining and damning moment – the big showcase battle royal – and in pro wrestling terms it is an indie spotfest that has all the weight of an arcade fighting game. For those uninitiated to the Sport of Kings, that means generic grapplers doing a lot of creative flipping with no selling (nothing hurts), no storytelling (are you working down a body part? do you have a strategy?), and no heat. And the “smart” indie fans lap it up in spite of knowing what actually makes a match any good.
Civil War has no heat. This is the movie that has divided up earth’s greatest heroes, telling us that a conflict has arisen where there is now no choice but to butt heads. And yet the process reveals no. goddamn. new. side. of. anyone. While Iron Man and Cap have their logical sides, and others have their loyalties, several others are there for no good reason at all, adding nothing to the shallow discussion, and damage their own characters in the process. Tom Holland makes a wonderful Peter Parker but a Spider-Man more eager to please new friends than do what’s right. Likewise Paul Rudd initially brings life with his fresh Ant-Man character but is quickly reduced to a bumbling fool showing none of the subtlety required in leading his own film. The time comes for battle, and there they go, and I buy their reasoning even less than Batman v Superman.
David Ehrlich summarizes the centerpiece better than I could have ever imagined when he writes:
“Watching “Civil War,” it’s easy to understand why the MCU is so hung up on the fight in New York — it’s the franchise’s only great action sequence. Joss Whedon’s visceral understanding of cinematic geometry and his symphonic flair for choreographing movement allowed that marquee set-piece to galvanize the separate threads of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a unified whole. On the contrary, every action beat in “Civil War” is such a discrete hodgepodge of close-ups and medium shots that they might as well exist in a vacuum — at times, this feels like the first movie ever made entirely out of gifs.”
And it’s not just the action in this scene that is so clumsily shot, choreographed, and considered. What the Russo’s are interested in this big moment… is quips! This big moment, planned for years over the course of several films, is upended by a pair of red and blue underoos. This scene is the big coming out party, and more thought seems to have been invested in putting butts in seats for Homecoming than paying anything off. And the quip-slinger is the other side of the mediocre coin. His material is good for an open mic, but ain’t no HBO Special. After a series of groan-worthy one-liners where Holland and Rudd ask for autographs from their friends and adversaries, they are sent off on his merry way and proven irrelevant.
May the 4th be with you! We’re joined by special guests Amberlee and Jeff to talk about the STAR WARS film we’ve all been waiting for, or not. Our reactions are pretty mixed. We make our special guests break down the film to hilarious results.
The famous Serenity Prayer of american theologian Reinhold Niebuhr is as follows: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Jay Cheel’s beautifully rendered How To Build A Time Machine tells the stories of two men who are on the verge of that wisdom, and in the act of telling, examines line between our boundless imagination and the rigorous nuts and bolts of acquiring the knowledge required to achieve some measure of it.
Shot over five years, the film follows former Pee Wee’s Playhouse animator Rob Niosi who has been building a replica prop of the time machine from George Pal’s 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. What started as a fun 3 month project has, through is own peculiar, yet charming, Sisyphean nature, has blown out to nearly a decade. This is a peak into the psyche of a stop-motion animator whose entire working day might yield only seconds of usable film. Rob’s father took him (and his brother) to see The Time Machine when he was a little boy, where they both became fascinated with the central machine. His father was instrumental in encouraging his son toward a career in animation, providing tools and encouragement and advice along the way. Implicit in Niosi’s recreation of the time machine is to recapture the pure impression he had of that perfect day at the cinema with his family.
The film juxtaposes magnificent montages of Niosi meticulously crafting each brass or mahogany part for the prop replicate together with the academics of Dr. Ronald Mallett, a physicist at the University of Connecticut whose scientific career has been a pursuit of the hard science of time travel.
Significant is the muse that drives these men, completely different relationships with their respective fathers, which gives the movie a surprising emotional resonance. If father-son stuff affects you as much as it does me, you might want to pack some tissue. Mallett lost his father to a heart attack when he was about the same age that Niosi was in rapture watching Morlocks fighting the Eloi at the movies. The core motivation of decades of complex theory and practical experimentation is the dream of the possibility to go back and warn his father of his weak heart, and the young boy, who idolized him, that would be left fatherless at such a young age. And yes, Mallett also idolized a comic book version of H.G. Well’s science fiction story which he believes put him on the circuitous path to a doctorate degree.
We do not often post music videos around these parts, but when they are as good as Radiohead’s latest, for their single, “Burn The Witch,” well, we can make an exception. The shadow of Robin Hardy’s 1973 film is a long one, turning up in things as far apart as Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz and Roger Avery’s The Rules of Attraction and Julian Gilbey’s A Lonely Place To Die.
And now here.
Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s feature length interview could have easily been called “De Palma on De Palma.” It features prolific director Brian De Palma, now in his late sixties, in front of a blueish coloured fireplace mantle for its entire duration as the man, in his own casual way, walks through his filmography in order. He offers stories and offers opinions, slags a few people and ideas, and expresses varied regrets, bon mots and tangents along the way.
The experience is delightfully simple, involving cutting away to film clips to underscore what is being discussed, with the editing offering only an occasional hint that there are two younger indie directors on the other side of the camera.
De Palma’s 40 year career, from shoe-string indie pictures to Hollywood blockbusters. De Palma discovered Robert De Niro in college (and made the noteworthy pre-cursor to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Hi Mom! in 1970 – it is noteworthy in that Hi Mom! is quite excellent! In his twenties he directed a late career, quite addled, Orson Welles along with a cantankerous Tommy Smothers in a film called Get To Know Your Rabbit and would go on to direct a slew of movies both big and small with many of the biggest actors of the day: Sissy Spacek, Cliff Robertson, Geneviève Bujold, John Travolta, Melanie Griffith, Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Tom Hanks, Jean Reno, Tom Cruise, and a music video with The Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen (yes, that music video, so you can thank De Palma or blame him for giving to the world, Courtney Cox.)
I don’t believe a lengthy review of this documentary is entirely necessary, as De Palma is a blunt man who does not mince words. Perhaps Hollywood’s most significant acolyte of Alfred Hitchcock, De Palma makes no bones about borrowing from the ‘Master of Suspense’ at every turn: from the macguffin concept, to doubles, lurid voyeurism, and a fascination with the ‘bomb that is about to go off’ style of storytelling. De Palma has always taken shots he loves (the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin for instance) and tried to build on them in modern stylish ways. It is no surprise that in kind, Quentin Tarantino happily and regularly pilfers from De Palma in a similar fashion. It is the nature of cinema, of art itself really. De Palma just did it with a bit more blood and sleaze and split screens.
Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches.
You can find more of my reviews at Always Good Movies.
Sing Street (2016)
Directed by: John Carney
Country: Ireland / UK / USA
Dedicated to brothers everywhere, “Sing Street” is an Irish comedy-drama, directed by John Carney (“Once”, “Begin Again”), which straddles the line between homage and romance. If he did great in regard to the former, a wonderful tribute to the pop-rock scene of the 80’s, he stepped into crowd-pleasing territory in the latter.
Nevertheless, he comfortably shapes compelling characters and give them appropriate dimension by placing them amidst realistic situations that combine daily life problems, relationships, and talents. Then, and in a smart way, all these aspects are even more enhanced through the addition of appealing pop-rock original songs that are played by one or more personas.
“Sing Street” employs this formula and goes even a little bit further by addressing themes such as family and school bullying.
» I can handle the truth...
The film, set in Dublin in 1985, opens by giving a perspective of the tense atmosphere lived at the Lalor’s. The catholic family is having some troubles in living peacefully together because the patriarch, Robert (Aidan Gillen), a broke architect, seems unsatisfied with his life while his wife, Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is having an affair. They have three children: Anne, who doesn’t have great expression in the story, Brendan (Jack Reynor), a depressed loser who doesn’t know what to do with his life, and the sensitive Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who at the age of 15 resolves to form a pop-rock band after meeting the beautiful Raphina (Lucy Boynton) whose dream is to become a model.
Enthusiastically, Conor, the vocalist, and his new friend Darren (Ben Carolan), the producer, make an important acquisition for the band: the multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna), who becomes his right hand in the composition process. The other three members arrive naturally, and they both agree on the name Sing Street for the band. Influenced by Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Spandau Ballet, The Cure, and many more, they record a first song entitled ‘The Riddle of the Model’, obviously inspired on Raphina who agrees to participate in the music video.
Despite having a cool dude as a boyfriend, Raphina becomes closer to Conor, giving him hope by responding affectively to his passionate impulses.
In the meantime, and besides the amorous frustrations, the brave Conor tries to find non-violent ways to deal with the frequent intimidations he’s been suffering at the new school. The villains are Barry (Ian Kenny), a troublesome boy, and Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the ridiculous school principal.
Carrying a strong, positive message, the film, so wonderfully captivating at times, ends up disappointing heavily in its finale.
The talented Mr. Carney blurs the painting with the ultimate stroke. An unlikely conclusion that was more impetuous and strategic than genius.
» ...Hide the truth
The Treasure (2015)
Directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu
Country: Romania / France
There’s a cynical ridiculousness in the low-key “The Treasure”, the fourth fictional feature from Corneliu Porumboiu, author of “12:08 East of Bucharest” and “Police, Adjective”.
I confess I expected more from the Romanian director/screenwriter, especially if we take into account the more valuable cinematic treasures mentioned above.
All the features that characterize Mr. Porumboiu’s directorial approach can be found in his new deadpan comedy, which starts in a curious way, becoming overdetailed in its midsection, only to resuscitate in its laughable final part.
Costi (Cuzin Toma) is a caring father, despite arriving late at school to pick up his son, Alin (played by Cuzin’s real-life son, Nicodim), a Peter Pan enthusiast who’s often beaten up by another kid.
When his neighbor, Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), pays him a visit with the intention of borrowing 800 Euros, he never imagined how his monotonous daily life would turn into a singular adventure with an authentic treasure hunt.
Adrian discloses he wants the money to rent a metal detector and hire someone professional to operate it, envisioning spotting an old treasure that was buried by his grand-grandfather in the garden of his propriety located in the countryside, province of Ostenia.
Even if financially unstable, the intrigued Costi manages to skip work and get the money, heading immediately to a company where he negotiates an acceptable price with Cornel (Corneliu Cozmei), a metal expert.
» I can handle the truth...
The neighbors set off to the country, eager to find and split a fortune in gold, but also aware of the necessity to report whatever they may find to the authorities, having the right to keep just 30% of its value. So, Adrian’s plan consists of selling the gold to the gypsies who would melt it, evaporating any trace of its provenience.
Once arrived at the place, they are joined by Cornel, whose character clashes with Adrian’s. An eternity goes by just to read the detector’s data and to discuss what are the chances of the beeps coming from the device refer to gold, silver, copper, or aluminum.
The plain, absurdist script contains a few wry commentaries on politics, economics, and history, keeping the film minimally interesting. However, the dragging excavation and the moments that preceded it were a bit discouraging in terms of fluidity, almost putting me to sleep before the ultimate stimulus.
» ...Hide the truth
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Directed by: Amy Berg
American filmmaker, Amy Berg, continues to do what she knows best: documentary films. Titles like “Delivers Us From Evil” (an Academy award nominated), “West of Memphis”, “An Open Secret” and “Prophet’s Prey” deserved every accolade they got. In 2014, “Every Secret Thing” probes fiction and mystery with disastrous results. Her new documentary about the iconic singer Janis Joplin, graciously entitled “Janis: Little Girl Blue”, is probably the less riveting but still properly built.
To let us know both the successes and defeats of this incredible talent of the blues-rock-soul scene of 60’s and 70’s, Ms. Berg uses the classical approach, interweaving archival footage, a strong narration by Cat Power, and interviews with many personalities close to Janis. From band mates to producers to former boyfriends and lovers, everyone gives a valuable contribution so we can better understand the sadness behind the contagious energy present in the performances of ‘Pearl’, as she was known among her friends.
» I can handle the truth...
After explaining why she likes music so much and how this was the perfect vehicle to express her feelings, we are faced with ugly realities that characterized her youth, especially the traumatic high school days, when angry boys pick on her to win a contest called ‘the ugliest man on Campus’. However, Janis never attempted to change her ways, embracing progressive ideas and a particular way of dressing with bold individuality.
In 1966, she literally fled from her conservative hometown, Port Arthur, Texas, and from her parents, who wanted her to become a teacher, to give wings to a creative freedom when singing in the clubs of San Francisco. There, she formed the successful Big Brother & The Holding Company whose highlight performance was in 67′ Monterey Festival. Her popularity turned out to be bigger than expected provoking some adverse reactions in her band mates, Peter Albin and James Gurley. The band didn’t last much longer and Janis, feeling guilty and depressed, started her solo career with a new band, carrying a constant interior conflict that found some delusive ease in alcohol and heroin, a problem that tended to aggravate.
She seemed to have the strength to kick the addiction when she met the love of her life in Brazil. According to her words, David Niehaus made her feel like a woman for the first time, not a pop star. However, he decided to proceed with his scheduled trip to Africa, leaving her in a grievous state that brought back the dependence on drugs.
Janis stepped into the famous Woodstock Festival bearing a visible emotional instability and counting on the support of her new friend and lover, Peggy Caserta, who wasn’t exactly the help she needed to get rid of her obstacles.
“Janis: Little Girl Blue” was competently directed and structured, but I was unable to feel a similar arresting empathy and vibrancy of other recent documentaries about musicians such as “Cobain: Montage of Heck” or “Amy”.
» ...Hide the truth
One of Werner Herzog’s many pieces of advice for filmmakers, documentary or otherwise, is to “carry bolt cutters everywhere.” With that in mind, Matt Johnson’s Operation Avalanche blurs a slew of ethical lines in the giddy cause of cinema-or-bust enthusiasm. He, quite convincingly, gets away with it too.
Set in 1967, as the US and Soviet space race phase of the cold war kicked into high gear, the faux 16mm doc follows two low level CIA agents, in the nascent A/V department of the spy organization, who are investigating whether or not Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove was a piece of Soviet propaganda. After ‘proving’ that Kubrick is indeed not a spy, they get pulled into (or rather browbeat their way onto) a mission looking for a mole in NASA. The plan is to pose as film students making a documentary about the Apollo missions, get inside and bug some key players’ phones.
In fact, the filmmakers play the two lead film students in Operation Avalanche. Johnson along with his The Dirties co-creator, Owen Williams, and their tiny crew, did exactly the same thing to make this film. This creates a rabbit hole of life-imitating-art-imitating-ciniphilia perpetual motion machine that powers the film. How Johnson and company managed to catch the right people wearing clothes close enough to pass as period dress, and edit them into the film without any permissions, well, that remains for Lionsgate, who acquired the film, to perhaps legally smooth out as the film makes its way through the festival circuit to commercial release. Suffice it to say, the logistics of a micro-budget film to get impressive period production value in ‘hot’ locations which include inside NASA’s Huston Mission Control, London’s Shepperton Studios and a couple Toronto back lots.
Through a convoluted series of events that put these two spy/cinephiles (and some their CIA handlers) way in over their head, they are eventually tasked with faking a moon landing for NASA in a way that recalls Peter Hyam’s Capricorn One as much as it does Orson Welles F For Fake (although Johnson prefers a Steenbeck to a Moviola). A signature scene in the film involves them sneaking onto the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey and ‘stealing’ Kubrick’s execution of front projection. The scene is constructed through a marvellous series of special effects involving body doubles, a shit-ton of high resolution archival photos, and shoe-string ingenuity. Things have come a long way in 20 years that a such tiny film such as Operation Avalanche can outdo the whiz-bang archival integrations of something like Forrest Gump. Along with persuasively low-key special effects, it also doubles a love letter to a particular era of delightfully analog industriousness (see also: Berberian Sound Studio.)