Collected Dailies 2

I was watching The Last of Sheila (1973) last night – an old-fashioned flick in which James Coburn and all his teeth gather a group of friends together on a yacht off the Italian coast, to discover which of them murdered his lover a year in the past. Along with Coburn, the group consists of actors of an earlier cinema generation: James Mason, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, Raquel Welch, and… Ian McShane. Where did he come from? I was just watching him in Nemesis Game (2003), but 1973? Checking out his credits, I see that they run all the way back to 1962. The man has been in episodes of Miami Vice, The West Wing, etc., etc. He didn’t just drop into Deadwood fully formed.

Meryl Streep ruined It’s Complicated (2009). The movie could have been a mildly diverting garden-variety romcom. All the necessary elements are present onscreen, except one: a bearable protagonist at the center of the film.

Streep could have played her character in so many different ways. She could have gone with a substrate of anger, angst, insanity, mild retardation, nymphmania, i am woman hear me roar, quiet desperation, Madison County – anything but what she chose, which was “normal,” or “natural,” or “boring.” And shame on director Nancy Meyers, too,  and on Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, for standing by and letting Streep, this national treasure, who can accomplish just about anything in front of the cameras, leave her chops at home and behave like Jessica Alba or my sister performing in a high-school drama.

I Do and I Don’t (2007) – I was reading a series of comments on another blog yesterday, whichwere  discussing whether that blog should clean up its language or not. The three basic arguments: (1) The blog was becoming more popular and therefore should gentrify its language in order to avoid injuring the sometimes-tender sensibilities of mainstream readers, or (2) Four-letter words have their place, but should be used only as le mot juste, not in a lazy way to avoid finding the absolutely awesome correct fucking word, or (3) It’s a free country, dude – say what your thinkin.

I was reminded of this debate as I watched “I Do and I Don’t,” because each of the points, (1) through (3), has its merits. Context is all. Jane Austen’s style did not require recourse to the vulgar. On the other hand, Deadwood was enriched immeasurably by Ian McShane’s over-the-top invocation of “cock sucker.” I for one enjoy the humor of overused profanity.

“I Do and I Don’t,” which one critic has labeled sitcom-grade filmmaking, indulges in the humor of inappropriate sexuality, beginning at point A (detailed prostate humor), jumping quickly to point B (crazed-married-but-unfaithful-horny-cougar humor) and thence in spritely fashion from point to point along a curve that traces the pubis of laughs. It’s an Argument-(3) movie. Well, until near the end when the writers get a hold of themselves and yeah, go sitcom on us.

I wrote a while ago that I had reached my Cuba-Gooding-Jr. limit (I’m still OK with Cuba Gooding Sr.). It might have been after watching the Cube in that peculiar Shadowboxer (2005) that Lee Daniels made before making Precious (2009). However, as I finished Hardwired (2009) last night, I realized that I had made it through the whole thing with nary a negative Gooding thought (unless you count the fact that the script provided him with one of those automatic handguns that contain 1,000 bullets in their clips). Is the man wearing me down through the sheer quantity of his output, or was this little B movie just good enough with him in it to satisfy me? That mug of his – the wrinkled brow, the twisted lips – he was becoming Cuba Badding, lost to me, but jeez, he and Val Kilmer, these guys must get up every morning, grab the script they find out on their front porch, delivered daily like a copy of the Times, and head off to the day’s shoot while perusing it for the first time.

Blaise Pascal (1972) -In the latter part of his career (1962), Roberto Rossellini announced that film was dead, or words to that effect, and turned to TV work, which he regarded as the medium of the future. As he was the first Italian neo-realist (correct me if I’m wrong) and one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, this came as rather a shock to many cineasts. Nonetheless, he made many fine biographical movies for TV in the next decade or so. Fortunately, Criterion has gathered three of them in a box set. “Blaise Pascal” is one of them.

I love historical movies, especially when they’re true to the facts. In making his, Rossellini skipped the usual dramatic trappings of arc and acts and laid out the facts of the subject at hand, as he understood them. Having watched the movie, I read the intro to Pascal’s wiki entry; it might have been a summary of the movie, the difference being that I’ll forget the wiki piece within hours, whereas I’ll remember the movie much longer. There is something a little strange about reading a few sentences packed with facts, bearing in mind the human drama that attended them onscreen.

It was ok, too, to turn from Pascal’s physical woes and the menace of mid-Seventeenth-Century Catholic physics, in which a vacuum could not exist, for theological reasons, and you believed otherwise at the risk of your life, to The Young Victoria (2009), in which Emily Blunt takes a little longer to man up than Cate Blanchett did in Elizabeth (1998).

Collected Dailies I

High Crimes (2002) – This is that movie where everything starts to go bad for the high-performance heroine because she has somehow neglected to notice that her lovable husband is a homicidal maniac.

The Losers (2010) – The chief bad guy (Jason Patric) walks along a beach on a tropical island with his principal henchman beside him. A beautiful woman walks with them, on the other side of the chief bad guy, holding a parasol over his head to keep the sun off him. The chief bad guy and the henchman argue and we sense that the chief bad guy, though ever cool, is getting steamed with the henchman. A gust of wind off the water causes the beautiful woman (in heels) to step backwards, exposing the chief bad guy to the sun for just a second, after which the woman recovers, steps forward again, and apologizes. Meanwhile the chief bad guy stares at his henchman and then asks the henchman for his sidearm, a big hunk of automatic weapon. The henchman shrugs and pulls the gun out of its shoulder holster and hands it over. The chief bad guy hefts it, points it to his left without looking, pulls the trigger, and blows away the woman. All we see is her hand holding the parasol suddenly jerk out of the frame as she is blasted back off her feet. With regard to the badness of the chief bad guy, this is an establishing shot.

Wolfhound (2007) – or “Volkodav iz roda Serykh Psov” to you. Some podcast expert whom I trust – maybe one of the dudes on /Filmcast – said that Wolfhound was good fun, so I gave it a look. Russian, dubbed. The movie rips off Conan the Barbarian at the beginning, though the filmmakers evidently had no James-Earl-Jones-caliber villian available to whack off the hero’s mom’s noggin when the moment to do so arrived… Now we jump ahead to see the orphaned  son as a grown man. What’s that on his shoulder? Your eyes do not deceive you. It is a bat (the mammal, not the Louisville Slugger). So as night falls, the bat can’t just hunker down on its master’s shoulder. It must choose between hanging upside down in the master’s armpit or jumping off the shoulder to hang from a dead branch nearby. That’s as far as I got.

Secret Honor (1984) -This Altman film reminds me what a pipsqueak George W. Bush was, what a pimple on the face of history, compared to Nixon. From the late 40s through the 70s, Nixon brought Shakespearean weight, for good and for evil, to the nation.

A Single Man (2010) – Spoilers. Is it ever ok to set up an individual’s problems at the beginning of a film, have him/her work on solving those problems with the result that they get better, get worse, stay the same, or change – whatever the film’s chosen arc, only to have all issues resolved in the end by the individual keeling over stone cold dead?

Why is this movie rated R? The only violence was the bloodied face of a car-crash victim. The only sex was… well, I don’t remember any. Mystifying.

Hung (2010) – What have I learned about sex, watching TV and movies? From Episodes 1-5, Season 1, of Hung, I am taught that size matters. This knowledge, if true, can be of no particular use to any male, since as far as I know, in all normal circumstances, you’ve got what you’ve got and it’s not going to change. So that if size matters, it doesn’t matter.

Moving on, the show teaches us that, the deed having been done, the participants continue their lives and perhaps their relationship according to interactive principles that have nothing to do with the deed itself. In this sense, sex is rendered minor, in not inconsequential. But then, contrariwise, sex can equal $$$ and the solution to life’s most difficult problems. In this sense, sex is rendered important, a life-saver.

Speaking of which, does anyone use the term “size queen” anymore? Seems like I haven’t heard it in years. Urban dictionary has an entry, of course, but no data on current use. Hmm, Wikipedia: “This article needs additional citations for verification.” How would that work?

I was thinking that maybe I’d take a quick informal poll at work to find out if size matters around here, but I’d better be careful. Many of the women that I would ask were born in countries other than the U.S. That might confuse the issue. What if in their country, the only size is “small”? I want to be politically correct here. Best to go check with HR first… Ok, I went to HR. Didn’t want to just come out and ask the lady there if she thought that size matters, so I played it smart. I told her that a female co-worker had asked me if I thought so and was it ok that she had asked me? The HR lady said why did my co-worker ever ask me that. I wasn’t expecting such a question right back at me so I told her that I had asked the co-worker whether if I was a lot larger than normal, would that make me more attractive to her – you know, just to get her thinking about the subject. The HR person got prissy when I told her that, even though I had come to her in the first place! It was my idea! She got me moved out to “L” wing, which I  thought had been closed. Nobody out here but me and Bud and Cletis. They were both allowed to stay with the company after winning their suits on the basis of mental disability. So, no in-house poll on whether the girls here think that size matters.

[to be continued]

Matrix 2 (2003) – I noticed Matrix 2 on the library shelf the other day (Matrix: The Something or Other) and felt a sudden craving for some. Same thing happened a while ago with Matrix 3 (Matrix: The Whatever). I knew, as I picked up the disk, that it wasn’t as good, not remotely as good, as Matrix 1 (Matrix: no subtitle necessary). But I wanted some anyway.

I began at the beginning with Matrix 2, but at some point I realized (probably knew this already) that what I really wanted was action in the city. Forget Zion and everybody in it. Boring! How could the Wachowski brothers not know that? How could they make 2 and 3 with all that Zion in there? Brother!

The plot is complicated, so it’s not like they were forced to go with the machines attacking the stupid humans. Keeps us in the damn city.

Anyway, I hit fast forward to the city scenes and got what I wanted, so I’ll move on. Just a wasted opportunity for the brothers, but sequels – they’re famously hard to get right.

The Book of Eli (2010) – Has there ever been a post-apocalyptic movie in which things are ok in the world and the whole deal is kinda upbeat? If so, this one isn’t it. I suppose the apocalypse is a bad thing, from which bad things come, but still, there must be one movie out there with an apocalypse of  apple blossums and lions gamboling with lambs…?

Suppose you’re the main bad guy and you confront a good guy using a whole lotta your guys with guns and this good guy just shoots everybody in sight, picking guys off rooftops at 100 yards with a .45? Wouldn’t you, the bad guy, say to yourself, ok, this guy is on a mission from God and I am not going to be able to take him down?

For me, silliest movie of the year.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) – The ghost (Rex Harrison) is a sea captain. Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) is typing up his memoirs in return for living in his house. At the typewriter, she tells him that she isn’t comfortable with some of the words he is using (which we haven’t heard). Then just use a different word for the same thing, he tells her. She looks down at the page. In this case, she says, I wouldn’t use any word. Then just use mine, he says, it’s a manly book. She sighs and then pecks out four letters: one with the left hand in the middle of the keyboard, one with the right hand in the middle of the keyboard, another with the left hand, middle but lower, another with the right hand, middle of the keyboard. And sighs. Unusual, for 1947 and The Code.

Shutter Island (2010) – I wondered, as I watched Shutter Island, what inspired, if that’s the word I want, Scorsese to make this movie. I haven’t listened to a commentary or any interview with him in which he has addressed this question, so my surmise, which follows, is no more than a surmise. Scorses is an older guy and I’m thinking that, famous as he is for following film doings, and casting about for a next step, his thoughts turned to Tarantino and Tarantino’s similar love of film and Tarantino’s habit – see Ingloreous Basterds – of paying homage to favorite films and filmmakers, and the fun that Tarantino seems to have as he creates a Death Proof, and Scorses thought, I could do that, I could make a fun movie with trops and tricks and references and the odd homage, as good or probably better than anything Tarantino could do. That’s my explanation for a film like this from a master.

Valdez Is Coming (!971) – For years, when asked to name my five favorite westerns, I included Valdez Is Coming in the list. When I saw it in the theater, I loved it. When I rewatched it, I still loved it. Years passed. The other day I noticed it at the library and checked it out. Started to watch it. Thought uh oh, this is Valdez Is Coming? A rookie director worked on it and it shows (Lancaster produced and wanted to see what a Broadway director could do with a movie). I paused it halfway through and put it aside – but then came back to it and finished it and by golly, if it isn’t in my top five, it’s still high on the list. The final scene, and Lancaster, and the score, and the cast, and the Elmore Leonard dialog make the movie for me.

Lancaster had made Lawman (1971) the same year. It was OK, but Valdez, and then Ulzana’s Raid (1972), those were some westerns.

Starship Troopers (1997) – Back when Starship Troopers came out, neither Ebert nor the NYT was happy with it, and rightly so, for this flick, which has lived on in spite of the downturned-mouth reviews, is beautifully and particularly made for one special demographic: the adult male who read and enjoyed the Heinlein book at the age of 14 when it was published in 1959 and now, at the age of 52 (this was in ’97, if you follow me), wants to sit back and take in the book again, realized onscreen but juiced up with the additional sex and violence (but not common sense) requisite for the fellow in his maturity. Ebert watched and reviewed the movie as if expecting it to have grown up like he had. It didn’t. Besides, Ebert was 17 when Heinlein published. Probably already too late for Roger to read it in the way that he claims he did in his review – as a true kid, that is. Paul Verhoeven, on the other hand, was 21 when the book arrived, so this isn’t a walk down memory lane for him either. I, on the other hand, was 14 when the book hit the rotating wire racks in the drugstore, so I’m among the select few who can truly appreciate the movie for what it is. 

Freetime Machos (2009) – Finally went to my first film festival movie – at the Provincetown International Film Festival. Yay. Thursday night, a community room with folding chairs. Four of us and four other individuals scattered about the room. Then, eight or ten others drifted in. Lakers/Celtics game 7 probably depressed attendance (we tivo’d the game and watched it later. Unfortunately.)  Kevin Smith and Tilda Swinton were given awards Saturday night down at the theater venue but we missed that. The movie was a Finnish documentary. I didn’t know it was a documentary until somebody told me later, and even then I found it hard to believe. It was o.k. About guys playing rugby.

Cypher (2002) – Kermode and Mayo were chatting with Vincenzo Natali on their show the other day, about Splice and his career, and Kermode happened to mention that he liked Cypher. I started but never finished Cube and had never heard of Cypher, but I Netflix’d it and just watched it and it isn’t half bad.

Hard Eight (aka Sydney) (1996) – Check out Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor, the 1984 Altman film, for a movie that befits his gravitas. I’d heard about Hard Eight for years without ever quite getting around to watching it. Expected a movie about an older man teaching a younger man the ropes in Las Vegas – that is, a movie about gambling. Hard Eight starts that way and got my hopes up, but quickly switched over to a young man’s concept screenplay that, while I enjoyed every minute of it, didn’t really work for me. Hall and a youthful John C. Reilly telling each other, tearfully, over the phone, betwixt Las Vegas and Missouri, that they love each other, the old hood and the kid who appears boarderline challenged, after a relationship between them that must have included significant interaction offscreen after the second and before the third acts – that rarest of all birds, the middle-of-the-movie unspoken backstory – is not a scene that you will see every day.

From Paris with Love (2010) Whatever the questionable merits of the movie, I enjoyed watching, and listening to, the shaven-headed, goateed, non-Travolta-sounding Travolta as he earned his paycheck. And while I’m thinking of it, Crank: High Voltage (2009) remains the hyperkinetic gold standard. And does Jonathan Rhys Meyers with a ‘stache have Johnny Depp’s mouth?

Bitch Slap (2009) – I was watching this Tarantino knockoff, which features three young women working to look hot while keeping it covered, 50s fashion, when it occurred to me that implants don’t work especially well in such a venue. There is something about  the grindhouse aesthetic that remains not just low-budget, but quintessentially natural, pre-silicone. Hard women, yes, but a little more pliant up front, back in the day.

Questions about Daybreakers (2009): The vampires smoke a lot. The top vamp likes cigars. Since they’re all asleep during the sunlight hours, and humans are rare and hunted, who grows the tobacco? Also, vampire Ethan Hawke doesn’t drink human blood cause it’s not ethical; yet the world of vampires is dying because of lack of blood. So why doesn’t everyone drink, or eat, what he does? And what does he eat and drink, anyway?

The New Daughter (2009) – I watch very few bad movies all the way through. That’s because if I watch a movie all the way through, it must have some redeeming qualities, at least for me. Here is an exception. I wasn’t permitted to turn it off, or leave.

Why  was Kevin Costner in this? Did one of his children make it? Did he lose a bet? Is he going senile.

One (of oh so many) inanities in “The New Daughter”: The plot is based on the notion that an ancient super race consisted of male workers and a queen. The males could not live without the queen and now they need a new one (Costner’s daughter). Ants and ant farms abound. Evidently no one told the writer that worker ants are all female.

Edge of Darkness (2010)

Items of interest:

  • Because a long and complicated miniseries is here shoe-horned into standard revenge format, (spoilers ahead), we have to settle for the violent deaths of the evil head of the corporation and three minions and one evil senator and two minions, as the proper wages of sin. The seven are proxy for some vast network of folks who must have known that they were perpetrating evil. But oh, I almost forgot: as is standard in this genre, the press at the end is fully appraised of the facts, so that we can rest assured that justice will be meted out in full.
  • Gibson is listed at 5′ 9 3/4″, although at his age he’s probably shorter. At least twice in the movie he allows himself to be filmed walking along with guys over six feet tall. Rarely do we get to see what a little dude he actually is.

The Devil’s Tomb (2009) – This film’s opening shot is of an automatic handgun in a hand. The hand grips the gun and slowly turns it toward the hand’s owner’s noggin – Cuba Gooding Jr. (as opposed to his father). Is Cuba turning the gun in the direction of his own head?!? I think, my God! he’s going to off himself because of his career – because of movies like this one!

Black Dynamite (2009)

“You’re one of those guys who thinks he can get by with a wink and a smile.”
He winks.
“What about the smile?”
“I am smiling.”

Surrogates (2009) – A leading contender for the It-makes-no-sense-but-what-the-hell Oscar. Will never catch Crank 2, though.

Message: It’s ok to get old without having any work done. Expect a flood of these as the boomers continue to age.