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Netflixed: Almost Famous

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“Almost Famous” (Cameron Crowe)

Held up better than expected on a second viewing, can this movie really be 10 years old?

Almost Famous is a 2000 comedy-drama film written and directed by Cameron Crowe and telling the fictional story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine while covering a rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published. The film is semi-autobiographical, as Crowe himself was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone.

The film is based on Crowe’s experiences touring with rock bands The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In a Rolling Stone article, he talks about how he lost his virginity, fell in love, and met his heroes, experiences that are shared by William, the main character in the film. Kate Hudson earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of band groupie Penny Lane, while Crowe won the Oscar for his original script. Jason Lee and Billy Crudup co-star.

[Click to Netflix Almost Famous]

Speaking of the joys of vinyl records, this film’s poignancy partially based on nostalgia for a different era, an era where a suitcase full of records1 can be a talisman. If the film were set in 2009, you could not hand off a loaded iPod with the same emotional resonance.

Some Cameron Crowe maudlin moments, but nothing that gets in the way of the film’s narrative flow. Helps, probably, if the lead character’s personality (outsider, unusual family life, passionate music lover) resonates with the viewer.

There is a director’s cut, called Untitled,2 which adds some 34 minutes of footage, but as far as I can tell, this is unavailable in the US. Perhaps Dreamworks is working on a re-release?

Ebert raves:

Oh, what a lovely film. I was almost hugging myself while I watched it. “Almost Famous” is funny and touching in so many different ways. It’s the story of a 15-year-old kid, smart and terrifyingly earnest, who through luck and pluck gets assigned by Rolling Stone magazine to do a profile of a rising rock band. The magazine has no idea he’s 15. Clutching his pencil and his notebook like talismans, phoning a veteran critic for advice, he plunges into the experience that will make and shape him. It’s as if Huckleberry Finn came back to life in the 1970s, and instead of taking a raft down the Mississippi, got on the bus with the band.

[Click to continue reading Almost Famous :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews]

as does the anonymous NYT reviewer:

The power of popular music — its ability to give shape, meaning and intensity to the inexpressible emotions of daily life — is something of a motif in Cameron Crowe’s career as a director. Think of John Cusack hoisting his boombox aloft outside Ione Skye’s window in “Say Anything” or Tom Cruise hurtling down the highway in “Jerry Maguire,” spinning the radio dial in search of a song to suit his mood and happening upon Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.” Mr. Crowe has always used rock not merely as soundtrack decoration but also as a window into the souls of his characters.

In “Almost Famous,” a loose, affectionate look back on his earlier career as a teenage music journalist, Mr. Crowe has devoted a whole movie to the love of rock ‘n’ roll. The soul he lays open — a sweet, forgiving and generous one — is his own. The movie follows the adventures of William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a San Diego 15- year-old whose fairy-tale ascendance from nerdy schoolboy to Rolling Stone reporter mirrors Mr. Crowe’s own life story. But Mr. Crowe is less interested in biographical or historical literalism — he freely mixes real and fictional characters and prefers period atmosphere to period detail — than in evoking the joyful, reckless, earnest energy of rock in the years between 60’s idealism and punk nihilism.

[Click to continue reading ´Almost Famous´: With Sympathy for the Devil, a Rock Writer Finds His Way – NYTimes.com]

Footnotes:
  1. IMDb: The old records William looks through at the beginning are actually Cameron Crowe’s, saved from his younger years. []
  2. Cameron Crowe wanted to call the movie this all along, but the studio balked []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 17th, 2009 at 11:18 am

Netflixed: Gomorrah

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“Gomorrah (The Criterion Collection)” (Criterion)

A non-glamourous look at the working class1 of the Naples crime organization. Documentary feel, and based in reality, this isn’t a film celebrating the life of crime.

The intertwining tales of a delivery boy, a tailor, a businessman and two cocky teenagers form the fabric of this gritty and lyrical examination of the influential Neapolitan mob known as the Camorra. Peering into a multitude of social strata within present-day Naples, director Matteo Garrone’s film — a hybrid of melodrama, crime and art-film genres — was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe and a Best Documentary Independent Spirit Award. [Click to Netflix Gomorrah]


“Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System” (Roberto Saviano)

I liked it a lot. I might even pick up a copy of the book, despite not usually veering into best seller territory

From Roger Ebert’s review:

Roberto Saviano, who wrote the best seller that inspired the movie, went undercover, used informants, even (I learn from John Powers on NPR) worked as a waiter at their weddings. His book named names and explained exactly how the Camorra operates. Now he lives under 24-hour guard, although as the Roman poet Juvenal asked, “Who will guard the guards?”

Matteo Garrone, the director, films in the cheerless housing projects around Naples. “See Naples and die” seems to be the inheritance of children born here. We follow five strands of the many that Saviano unraveled in his book, unread by me. There is an illegal business in the disposal of poisonous waste. A fashion industry that knocks off designer lines and works from sweatshops. Drugs, of course. And then we meet teenagers who think they’re tough and dream of taking over locally from the Camorra. And kids who want to be gangsters when they grow up.

None of these characters ever refer to “The Godfather.” The teenagers know De Palma’s “Scarface” by heart. Living a life of luxury, surrounded by drugs and women, is perhaps a bargain they are willing to make even if it costs their lives. The problem is that only death is guaranteed. No one in this movie at any time enjoys any luxury. One of them, who delivers stipends to the families of dead or jailed Camorra members, doesn’t even have a car and uses a bicycle. The families moan that they can’t make ends meet, just like Social Security beneficiaries.

[Click to continue reading Gomorrah :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews]

Terry Gross and John Powers piece on NPR from February, 2009:

“Gomorrah” is based on a powerful book by an ambitious, young Neapolitan journalist named Roberto Saviano who saw his own father badly beaten because he called an ambulance for one of the mob’s victims. Fueled by righteous anger, Saviano did undercover reporting on the docks at an illegal textile factory, and he even waited tables at Camorra weddings. The result was a passionate, highly personal expose whose visibility annoyed the mob’s bosses, who are evidently not avuncular old fellows like Marlon Brando. These dons issued their version of a fatwa back in 2006, and three years later, Saviano, just 29 years old, is still living a life of bodyguards, armored cars and safe houses.

While Saviano’s book burns hot, he’s implicitly his story’s crusading hero. Garrone’s approach is cool, detached and almost anthropological. He knows that in a movie, Saviano’s feverish style would make “Gomorrah” exciting in the wrong way, turn it into operatic melodrama or pulp fiction.

Featuring no heroes, Garrone’s movie is pointedly anti-mythological, never more so than in its treatment of murder. “Gomorrah” is actually far less violent than “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas,” but it seems more brutal for Garrone offers no cinematically cool deaths and nobody softens the blow with catchy lines about killing not being personal, only business.

[Click to continue reading The Gritty Gangsters Of ‘Gomorrah’ : NPR]

Manohla Dargis concludes the NYT review:

I don’t want to overplay the film’s violence — it has a lower body count than the average Hollywood action flick — or underplay Mr. Garrone’s artistry. But part of what’s bracing about “Gomorrah,” and makes it feel different from so many American crime movies, is both its deadly serious take on violence and its global understanding of how far and wide the mob’s tentacles reach, from high fashion to the very dirt. There’s a heaviness to the bloodletting here, which has pressed down on this world and emptied its faces, halls and apartments of life. This is a world in which no one laughs, populated by men who are so busy killing one another that they don’t realize they’re as good as dead already.

Though Mr. Garrone doesn’t point a finger at the audience, he doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Toward the end of the film, the tailor accidentally catches sight of Scarlett Johansson on television as she smilingly promenades on a red carpet in one of the gowns he helped to make. As the announcers chatter about the gown (“an apparent simplicity, but in reality, very elaborate”), and the paparazzi scream for the star, the tailor smiles wistfully at his creation, which he and a roomful of women painstakingly hand-sewed in a gloomy factory for too many hours and too little money. It’s a cream-colored dress with a nice drape and satiny sheen, and while you can’t see the blood that went into every stitch, it’s there.

[Click to continue reading Movie Review – Gomorrah – Lesser-Known Mobsters, as Brutal as the Old Ones – NYTimes.com]

Footnotes:
  1. for lack of a better term []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 1st, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Netflixed: God Grew Tired of Us

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“God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir” (John Bul Dau, Michael S. Sweeney)

[the book version]


“God Grew Tired of Us” (Christopher Quinn)

[Film]

After raising themselves in the desert along with thousands of other “lost boys,” Sudanese refugees John, Daniel and Panther have found their way to America, where they experience electricity, running water and supermarkets for the first time. Capturing their wonder at things Westerners take for granted, this documentary, an award winner at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, paints an intimate portrait of strangers in a strange land.

[Click to Netflix Netflix: God Grew Tired of Us]

Wow, what a moving film. Not treacle, but still caused us to weep a few times. Don’t expect the film to fill in much of the historical backdrop of the Sudan war, nor the Darfur refugee crisis, that is not contained in the scope of the movie. Instead, just marvel at the resiliency of the human spirit.

Stephen Holden of the New York Times:

“God Grew Tired of Us,” a sober, uplifting documentary that follows the resettlement in the United States of three young men uprooted as children by the civil war in Sudan, is the softer, Hollywood-sanctioned version of an earlier documentary, “The Lost Boys of Sudan.”1 A National Geographic production, directed by Christopher Quinn and narrated by Nicole Kidman in her loftiest A-student elocution, “God” won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. How could it not? Handsomely photographed and inspirational, but not cloyingly so, it is the rare contemporary documentary that doesn’t leave a residue of cynicism and outrage.

As it balances excruciating images of hardship, suffering and starvation with wry observations of newly arrived immigrants learning to use electric appliances and visiting their first supermarket, you are won over by the charm, good manners and nobility of its three subjects, John Bul Dau, Panther Bior and Daniel Abul Pach. Each is a member of the Dinka, the Christian, animist, agricultural people in southern Sudan driven from their land by Islamic government forces from the north. Except for a couple of sentences about the hasty British partition of Sudan, the film offers no historical background.

[Click to continue reading Movie Review – God Grew Tired of Us – After a Struggle to Escape Comes an Effort to Adjust – NYTimes.com]

Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com:

“Does Santa appear in the Bible?” wonders a recent Sudanese refugee, confronting the bewildering spectacle of Christmas shopping at a mall in Syracuse, N.Y. He knows what Christmas is; it was celebrated with rituals and dancing every December in the Kenyan relief camp where he has lived for the previous 10 years. But what is the connection, he wonders, between this fat man in a red suit and the birth of Jesus Christ?

For American viewers, moments like those may be the most pungent in Christopher Quinn and Tommy Walker’s documentary “God Grew Tired of Us,” which follows a small group of Sudan’s “lost boys” into their new American lives. The young men in the film have never operated an electrical appliance or a water faucet, never been inside a building of more than one story. On their first plane voyage, they clownishly stumble on and off escalators, eat the margarine and salad dressing out of their little plastic pouches, wander through the vast corridors of airports in Nairobi, Brussels and New York in single-file amazement.

But the comedy of their journey from one world to another is not cruel. Instead it is wrenching, pathetic and noble, and along the way the three men at the heart of “God Grew Tired of Us” come to stand for more than themselves. Like all of humanity, they have come out of a pre-industrial age and into a postmodern one rapidly. For most of us in the West, the process began with the birth of our grandparents or even great-grandparents. The lost boys made the journey in two days instead of 100 years or more, but their dislocation in the world of swimming pools, supermarkets and Santa Claus is nonetheless familiar to us.

Why is it, as one of them wonders aloud, that using Palmolive dishwashing liquid does not turn everything in your kitchen green? Why is it green at all? During a tour of an enormous Pennsylvania grocery store, they commit the phrase “hoagie rolls” to memory as an important element of American culture. One man peers dubiously at a mountainous pile of waxy, green cucumbers and inquires, “Is this edible?” Another comes to understand that Americans prefer potatoes that have been cooked, sliced into fine slivers, heavily salted and stored in a colorful plastic bag.

So much history and geography is covered in “God Grew Tired of Us,” and the human story it conveys is so moving and so charged with ambiguous moral lessons, that it seems almost irresponsible to complain about it on formal or historical grounds. Let’s put it this way: This is an important film. It’s amazing that it exists, and the events it recounts are still more amazing. Everybody should see it.

[Click to continue reading Beyond the Multiplex – Salon.com]

It isn’t relevant, really, but the Chicago Bulls starting small forward, Luol Deng, is also from the Dinka tribe of the Sudan. What a difference of circumstance from the Lost Boys of Sudan.

Wikipedia:

When he was young, his father Aldo, a member of the Sudanese parliament, moved the family to Egypt to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War. In Egypt, they met former NBA center Manute Bol, another Dinka, who taught Deng’s older brother, Ajou Deng, how to play basketball while also serving as a mentor for Luol himself. When they were granted political asylum, his family emigrated to South Norwood in London, England. Deng developed an interest in soccer and basketball, and was invited to join England’s 15-and-under teams in both sports. During this time, he began his career at Brixton Basketball Club. At the age of 13, he played for England’s squad in the European Junior Men’s Qualifying Tournament, averaging 40 points and 14 rebounds. He was named the MVP of the tournament. Next, he led England to the finals of the European Junior National Tournament, where he averaged 34 points and earned another MVP award.

Deng is involved in numerous charities. He has been noted for his work on behalf of the Lost Boys of Sudan and other refugees. During the summers of 2006 and 2007, Luol went to Africa, Asia and Europe with the NBA for their Basketball Without Borders Tour. He is also a spokesperson for the World Food Programme. “He really does epitomize everything I had hoped for as a person and a basketball player,” general manager John Paxson said. “I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve gotten to the level we’re at this year. I’m truly proud of him. I think the world of him as a person and as a player.”

[Click to continue reading Luol Deng – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Footnotes:
  1. available at Netflix []

Written by Seth Anderson

November 29th, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Film,Suggestions

Tagged with , , , , ,

Michael Nolan and his Batman-like plan foiled

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“The Dark Knight (Two-Disc Special Edition + Digital Copy)” (Warner Home Video)

Michael Nolan, brother of Dark Knight director, Christopher Nolan, planned escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center – a downtown Chicago jail – using 31 feet of sheets knotted as rope, a harness, a razor, and a metal clip for picking locks.

Metropolitan Correction Center
[Metropolitan Correctional Center – a Harry Weese joint]

Costa Rican authorities charged Nolan three years ago with murder and kidnapping in the 2005 torture and slaying of Florida accountant Robert Cohen, who allegedly was blamed for losing $7 million of a Florida businessman’s money.

“This is not a movie, it is real, you cannot give this number to anyone or I am dead,” Cohen allegedly told his daughter in a desperate phone call before he died.

Luis Alonso Douglas Mejia, a bellboy seen driving Nolan’s rented car, was convicted in Costa Rica of aggravated homicide.

In charging papers that read like a Hollywood script, Costa Rican authorities alleged Nolan posed as a wealthy Paris jewel dealer named McCall-Oppenheimer to lure Cohen to a meeting in an attempt to recover the $7 million. There was evidence the two men spent time together, attending an Andrea Bocelli concert, and ate breakfast together the day Cohen vanished, but nothing showed Nolan was directly involved in the slaying, a U.S. federal judge found in August.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason said Nolan could be extradited to Costa Rica — but only for using a fake British passport.

Nolan’s attorney, Zachary Fardon, called the charges “pure bunk hyperbole” at a June hearing, according to a transcript. Fardon did not return a call or e-mail seeking comment Thursday.

Though charges were never filed, Chicago police were investigating Nolan and a check-kiting scam that allegedly brought in nearly $1 million, a police source said.

The scam allegedly unfolded in 2007 when his brother was in Chicago filming “The Dark Knight,” the source said. Nolan allegedly used the connection to the blockbuster movie to cozy up to Chicago banks, sometimes bringing champagne to meetings about loans, the source said. He also allegedly promised rides or pictures in the Batmobile.

The investigation halted, though, when police learned of the federal inquiry.

A trim man who dressed casually, Nolan sometimes talked about ear and sinus problems that were supposedly the result of underwater and parachute training he said he performed as part of an elite British commando unit, said Tom Sedlacek, a suburban businessman who lent Nolan $600,000. Nolan told Sedlacek he now used his military skills running an international bank collection service and needed the loans to finish a job in Costa Rica.

[Click to continue reading Batman-like plan: Brother of ‘Dark Knight’ director planned escape from a Chicago jail, officials say — chicagotribune.com]

Metropolitan Correction Center Blues
[another view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center]

Related note, Dark Knight is still a lame movie, plotwise. The mise en scène was interesting, especially since so much was filmed in Chicago, but the film itself was a bit boring. Especially considering Memento is such a good film [Netflix], as is The Prestige [Netflix]. Insomnia [Netflix], a remake of a much better 1997 Norwegian film of the same name [Netflix], was ok, but since I had seen the original first, the remake didn’t make much of an impact.

Written by Seth Anderson

November 6th, 2009 at 10:19 am

Posted in Chicago-esque,Film

Tagged with , , ,

Netflixed: Burn After Reading

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“Burn After Reading” (Universal Studios)

Latest from Ethan and Joel Coen

In this darkly comic farce from Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, an ousted CIA official (John Malkovich) loses his penned memoir to a pair of moronic gym employees (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, in a Golden Globe-nominated role) who use it to try and turn a profit. George Clooney and Tilda Swinton round out the cast of this irreverent tale of poorly executed espionage, which also earned a Golden Globe nod for Best Picture (Comedy). [Click to continue reading Burn After Reading]

Enjoyable, not deep, not their best work, not their worst. Whew, could have just twittered this evaluation of the film. In fact, this isn’t my best review either. Not my worst, not very deep, not encouraging you to stampede to rent the damn thing. I blame the weather.

Roger Ebert concurred

This is not a great Coen brothers’ film. Nor is it one of their bewildering excursions off the deep end. It’s funny, sometimes delightful, sometimes a little sad, with dialogue that sounds perfectly logical until you listen a little more carefully and realize all of these people are mad. The movie is only 96 minutes long. That’s long enough for a movie, but this time, I dunno, I thought the end felt like it arrived a little arbitrarily. I must be wrong, because I can’t figure out what could have followed next. Not even the device in the basement would have been around for another chapter.

[Click to continue reading Burn After Reading :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews]

Written by Seth Anderson

November 1st, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Film

Tagged with , ,

Reading Around on September 29th

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Some additional reading September 29th from 11:32 to 20:54:

Written by swanksalot

September 29th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Netflixed: Idiocracy

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“Idiocracy” (Mike Judge)

A fun idea, that society is becoming dumber since the lower classes are having more children than the educated classes, but poorly executed. Would have worked better as a sketch comedy or something. Not sustainable for an entire 84 minutes.


To test its top secret Human Hibernation Project, the Pentagon picks the most average Americans it can find — an Army private (Luke Wilson) and a prostitute (Maya Rudolph) — and sends them to the year 2505 after a series of freak events. But when they arrive, they find a civilization so dumbed-down that they’re the smartest people around. Mike Judge and Etan Cohen (“Beavis and Butthead”) reteamed for this futuristic farce. [Netflix: Idiocracy]

We did sit through the whole film, so it isn’t utter shite, but Idiocracy is not something I’d care to see again in five years, much less five hundred years.


“C. M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary” (Mark Rich)

Apparently based, loosely, on a short short published in 1951 by C.M. Kornbluth.


“His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth” (C. M. Kornbluth)

Written by Seth Anderson

September 10th, 2009 at 7:28 am

Posted in Film

Tagged with , ,

Netflixed: Woman in the Dunes

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“Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara (Pitfall / Woman In The Dunes / The Face Of Another) (Criterion Collection)” (Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Don’t believe I’ve ever seen this film, though do remember discussing it in a film class, possibly with clips. Sounds odd and intriguing.

Hiroshi Teshigahara’s award-winning drama centers on a bug expert (Eiji Okada) conducting research who’s captured by locals. Held captive in a sandpit with a young widow, he struggles with his imprisonment — and his growing attraction to the woman (Kyôko Kishida). Based on Kobo Abe’s novel, the provocatively erotic allegorical film earned the Cannes Special Jury Prize and two Oscar nominations.

[Click to continue reading Netflix: Woman in the Dunes]

Ebert liked the film enough to add it to his Great Movies database:

More than almost any other film I can think of, “Woman in the Dunes” uses visuals to create a tangible texture–of sand, of skin, of water seeping into sand and changing its nature. It is not so much that the woman is seductive as that you sense, as you look at her, exactly how it would feel to touch her skin. The film’s sexuality is part of its overall reality: In this pit, life is reduced to work, sleep, food and sex, and when the woman wishes for a radio, “so we could keep up with the news,” she only underlines how meaningless that would be.

The screenplay is by Kobo Abe, based on his own novel, and it reveals the enormity of the situation slowly and deliberately–not rushing to announce the man’s dilemma, but revealing it in little hints and insights, while establishing the daily rhythm of life in the dunes. The pit-dwellers are serviced by villagers from above, who use pulleys to lower water and supplies, and haul up the sand. It is never clear whether the woman willingly descended into her pit or was placed there by the village; certainly she has accepted her fate, and would not escape if she could. She participates in the capture of the man because she must: Alone, she cannot shovel enough sand to stay ahead of the drifts, and her survival–her food and water–depend on her work. Besides, her husband and daughter were buried in a sandstorm, she tells the man, and “the bones are buried here.” So they are both captives–one accepting fate, the other trying to escape it.

The man tries everything he can to climb from the pit, and there is one shot, a wall of sand raining down, that is so smooth and sudden the heart leaps. As a naturalist, he grows interested in his situation, in the birds and insects that are visitors. He devises a trap to catch a crow, and catches no crows, but does discover by accident how to extract water from the sand, and this discovery may be the one tangible, useful, unchallenged accomplishment of his life. Everything else, as a narrative voice (his?) tells us, is contracts, licenses, deeds, ID cards– “paperwork to reassure one another.”

[Click to continue reading Woman in the Dunes :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies]

Written by Seth Anderson

September 10th, 2009 at 7:14 am

Mad Men Returns Soon

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“Mad Men – Season One” (Lionsgate)


“Mad Men: Season 2” (Matthew Weiner)

I recently watched both Season 1 and Season 2 of Mad Men on DVD [you should rent Netflix Season 1 and Season 2 ] in a marathon session. Am very happy that Season 3 is about to air.1

But, ah, television. Its great accomplishment over the past decade has been to give us the best of all movie worlds, to meld personal filmmaking, or series-making, with something like the craft and discipline, the crank-’em-out urgency, of the old studio system. I’m thinking first and foremost of The Sopranos, which debuted in 1999 and sadly departed in 2007. This strange and entertaining series, as individual a work as anything by Hitchcock or Scorsese, was the creation of David Chase, and it paved the way for The Wire, Deadwood, Rescue Me, Damages, and its successor as the best drama on television, the equally strange and entertaining Mad Men, which will launch its third season on AMC August 16.

Set in an advertising agency in the early 1960s, Mad Men debuted two summers ago and right off the bat earned itself two Golden Globes and a Peabody Award, and was nominated for 16 Emmys, becoming the first basic-cable series to win for outstanding drama. Its second season, no sophomore slump, has been nominated for another 16 Emmys, including best drama and four out of five possible writing nominations. A more interesting measure of the show’s impact is the fact that its title has become a kind of shorthand: you can now talk about a Mad Men skirt or lampshade or pickup line where once you might have used “space age” or “Kennedy era” or “Neanderthal.” But while the show, like its subject, has many surface pleasures—period design, period bad behavior (if you like high modernism, narrow lapels, bullet bras, smoking, heavy drinking at lunch, good hotel sex, and bad office sex, this is the series for you)—at its core Mad Men is a moving and sometimes profound meditation on the deceptive allure of surface, and on the deeper mysteries of identity. The dialogue is almost invariably witty, but the silences, of which there are many, speak loudest: Mad Men is a series in which an episode’s most memorable scene can be a single shot of a woman at the end of her day, rubbing the sore shoulder where a bra strap has been digging in. There’s really nothing else like it on television.

The central character is Don Draper, the cool and commanding creative director of the fictional Sterling Cooper agency. He’s a man in flight from his own past, a Gatsby-esque figure without the romance of a Daisy; or rather, he seems to be looking for a Daisy everywhere but his home in the suburbs, where his beautiful, bored, emotionally stunted wife, Betty, is stranded in what feels at times like an improbably compelling adaptation of The Feminine Mystique. Played in an instantly iconic performance by Jon Hamm, Don is a man whose emotions are in lockdown—a man as sleek and handsome and seemingly invulnerable as a hood ornament. But in the show’s central irony he is able to plumb human needs and desires with an artist’s intuition: if Mad Men ever approaches shtick, it’s when Don gets a faraway look in his eyes and somehow pulls a psychologically barbed selling point out of his own inner ether (a trope wonderfully parodied on Saturday Night Live last fall, when Hamm was hosting). In short, Don Draper is an advertising Mozart, or at least he’s the best Sterling Cooper has to offer, for another of the show’s ironies is that Don and his colleagues are dinosaurs not just in terms of the impending social revolutions of the 1960s but also in terms of the creative revolution that would roil advertising that decade. As in Hitchcock, the characters are unaware of shocks that the audience knows all too well lie ahead, whether they be the Kennedy assassination and women’s lib or long sideburns and the lasting influence of Doyle Dane Bernbach’s witty, self-deprecating “Lemon” ad for Volkswagen, which Don dismisses with the words “I don’t know what I hate about it the most.”

[Click to continue reading Bruce Handy on Mad Men | vanityfair.com]

Of course, it helps that the actors playing the Dan and Betty Draper2 are so damn good looking.

This is another:

One thing [Matt Weiner] quite consciously set out to do with Mad Men was to reclaim the 1950s and early 1960s from the condescension of “baby-boomer propaganda,” as he put it, the easy ironies with which the era has been caricatured in popular culture. “You know,” he continued, rattling off some cultural clichés, “Fun with Dick and Jane, the dad with the pipe, Ozzie & Harriet“—goofy and square and uptight and supposedly innocent, no one having sex, or good sex anyway, except for maybe Frank Sinatra. “We think everybody was walking around in corsets, but people are people,” Weiner said, and cited a 1968 episode of Firing Line he once saw in which a drunken Jack Kerouac was interviewed by William F. Buckley Jr. on the subject of “the hippie movement” and said to the younger generation, in essence, “You think you invented fucking?” Don Draper and his colleagues at Sterling Cooper, the women as well as the men, would seem to be asserting the same point.

Footnotes:
  1. I had seen a few of early season’s shows on television, but it was much more satisfying to take them in as a whole entity, without having to skip commercials []
  2. Jon Hamm and January Jones []

Written by Seth Anderson

August 6th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

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“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” (Bob Dylan)


“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Two-Disc Special Edition)” (Sam Peckinpah)

Finally got a chance to see this film a year or so ago. Watchable, not spectacular. The story behind the movie sounds more interesting. [Netflix / Wikipedia / IMDb

When Bob Dylan learned that Rudy Wurlitzer was penning a script focusing on the Bonney-Garrett legend, he tracked the writer down and requested a meeting.

“The script was already written when Bob came to see me in my apartment on the Lower East Side of New York,” Wurlitzer recalled earlier this month from his getaway home, a cabin in his beloved Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. “He said that he had always related to Billy the Kid as if he was some kind of reincarnation; it was clear that he was obsessed with the Billy the Kid myth,” a notion that was validated 34 years later in Todd Haynes’ multi-persona Dylan movie biography I’m Not There (2007). In the film Richard Gere assumes the Dylan shape-shifting persona of Billy, a bespectacled, enigmatic outlaw.

Initially, Wurlitzer suspected that the elusive singer wanted to contribute an original tune to the score of the film but Dylan had other plans – he wanted to be in the movie, despite having no acting experience whatsoever.

Wurlitzer continues: “I called the producer (Gordon Carroll) who was thrilled that Bob wanted to be in the movie and then I wrote the part for Bob off the cuff in New York. We flew down to Durango, Mexico, to see Peckinpah – who had no idea what was up – and we found him in his house, drunk and half-naked, shooting at an image of himself in the mirror. When I told him I had written a part for Bob Dylan and ‘here he is’, Peckinpah turned and after a long pause, said to Bob, ‘I’m a big Roger Miller fan myself’.”

From that moment on, the author remembers, “Dylan followed Sam around like he was one of the last real outlaws, which, who knows, he probably was, at least in my partial experience.”

[Click to continue reading Rudy Wurlitzer, Bob Dylan, Bloody Sam, and the Jornado del Muerto < Columns | PopMatters]

Making the film was a long, drawn out process:

In a 1982 feature for Rocky Mountain Magazine titled Last of the Desperadoes: Dueling with Sam Peckinpah, journalist and Elle magazine advice columnist (Ask E. Jean) E. Jean Carroll summed up the experience in a colorful and breathless single adrenaline-rushed paragraph that reads like a passage from a later Peckinpah film, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia:
Peckinpah wants to shoot in New Mexico for authenticity. Metro wants Mexico to cut costs. He loses. Peckinpah wants a Panavision repairman in Durango, Mexico, to fix the cameras. The studio says nothing doing. The first footage is sent to L.A. to be processed. The lab calls Peckinpah. Says the film’s out of focus. Panic in Durango.

Downtime. The camera is fixed and the paranoia sets in. The actors get sick. The crew gets sick. Peckinpah is puking every day. They fall behind schedule. James Aubrey, president of MGM, wants to save time and forbids Peckinpah to shoot a raft scene. Peckinpah shoots it. The scenarist, Rudy Wurlitzer, starts complaining. Says Peckinpah is rewriting the picture with the help of his old TV scripts. Jerry Fielding, Peckinpah’s music composer can’t work with Bob Dylan and quits.

Dylan’s unhappy. Kris Kristofferson (the Kid) says Rudy’s dialogue is corny. Rita Coolidge (Maria, the Kid’s lover) says all that remains of her role thanks to MGM is that of “a groupie.” James Coburn (Garrett) says Peckinpah is a creative paranoid who generates tension to give everyone the same experience to feed on during the film. A fight breaks out one Saturday night.

Two guys. One is on the phone ordering a couple of gunmen to Durango. Wants the other guy killed for threatening Peckinpah’s life. Whitey Hughes, Peckinpah’s stunt man, says they always have a good time, but on this film they aren’t having a good time. The hit is canceled at Peckinpah’s insistence. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is brought in 20 days over schedule and $1.5 million over budget.

MGM’s building a hotel in Vegas and needs cash. The studio moves the release date up and gives Peckinpah only two and a half months to edit. On the sly MGM duplicates the work print and employs another cutter. Peckinpah’s version runs between 122 and 126 minutes. The studio’s runs 106. The producer, Gordon Carroll, negotiates day and night. Gets nothing restored. The picture’s released. Peckinpah sues for $1.5 million. Orders all the cuts put back or his name taken off. Nada. Nada. Nada.

[Click to continue reading Rudy Wurlitzer, Bob Dylan, Bloody Sam, and the Jornado del Muerto < Columns | PopMatters]

And of course, the Bob Dylan song, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door becomes a big hit, and is oft covered by others, including Dylan1. Now that I think about it, I saw the original studio version of Pat Garrett, not the so-called Special Edition. Maybe I’ll watch it again, sometime.

The soundtrack was also haphazardly recorded:

As Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid neared completion, Dylan held a recording session on January 20 at Columbia’s recording studio in Mexico City. Filming had been so difficult, both of the film’s stars and Wurlitzer accompanied Dylan out of Durango. Wurlitzer said at the time, “Sam knows he’s losing to Dylan…but I don’t care, man. I’ve got to get away.”

Backed by local Mexican musicians and members of Kris Kristofferson’s band, Dylan had difficulty recording a satisfactory take of “Billy.” Eventually, he began paring down the arrangement, and by the last take, he was backed only by bassist Terry Paul. This final take was used for the film and later included on the soundtrack album as “Billy 4.” A brief instrumental, “Billy Surrenders,” would also be featured in the film. The session would continue until 4 a.m., but it would not produce anything else that would be considered usable.

Meanwhile, Peckinpah hired Jerry Fielding to advise Dylan on his work. Fielding was experienced in film scoring, but he held very conservative views regarding popular music. Dylan was fully aware of Fielding’s opinions regarding his work (“a lot of nonsense which is strictly for teenyboppers”), but he did not resist Fielding’s recommendations on how to score the film.

On Fielding’s advice, Dylan sang “a relevant verse” of the “Billy” ballad “as it fit the story at [four] separate points throughout the picture.” Fielding had also heard Dylan’s new composition, “Goodbye Holly,” which was written for an important scene involving the character, Holly. Fielding recommended dropping this song and writing a new one for a scene involving the death of Sheriff Baker.

“I set up two dubbing sessions,” recalls Fielding. “Dylan had this song [‘Billy’] he’d written for which he had a limitless number of verses that he would sing in random order…So I had to tape Dylan’s song, because he had nothing written down, and have it transcribed…At the same time I asked that he write at least one other piece of music because you cannot possibly hope to deal with an entire picture on the basis of that one ballad. So finally he brought to the dubbing session another piece of music – ‘Knock-Knock-Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.’ Everybody loved it. It was shit. That was the end for me.”

Dylan recorded the final version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” at a session in February, this time on Warner Bros. Records’ soundstage in Burbank, California. “It was very early in the morning,” recalls drummer Jim Keltner. “I think the session was 10 a.m. and again it all fell into place…There weren’t any overdubs on that, the singers were singing live, little pump organ, Roger McGuinn I think played [guitar]. This was for a particular scene in the movie when Slim Pickens is dying and that’s the first time I ever cried while I played. It was the combination of the words, Bob’s voice, the actual music itself, the changes, and seeing the screen…In those days you were on a big soundstage, and you had this massive screen that you can see on the wall, [with] the scene…running when you’re playing. I cried through that whole take.”

The sessions at Burbank lasted several days. Though they were much more relaxed and amiable than the Mexico City session, the process was still irritating to Dylan. At one point, he told producer Gordon Carroll that “this is the last time I work for anyone in a movie on the music. I’ll stick to acting.” Though Dylan would produce his own films and later contribute songs to other soundtracks, he would never take sole responsibility for an entire soundtrack again.[Click to continue reading Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (album) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Though of course, Dylan won an Oscar decades later for Things Have Changed. [YouTube of his acceptance speech]

Footnotes:
  1. when Dylan sings out of his vast songbook, he usually “covers” himself, i.e., makes new interpretations of the original song. Sometimes similar, more often radically different []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 31st, 2009 at 7:56 am

Netflixed: Xala

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A high-ranking official loses the respect of the community in Ousmane Sembene’s comedy. Set in a newly independent Senegal, the story centers on influential official El Hadji, who decides to take advantage of the rampant corruption by using government funds to marry his third wife. But on his wedding night, El Hadji discovers he has xala, the curse of impotence. With his virility in question, he tries a number of ridiculous and bizarre cures. [Netflix Xala]

Not sure how I heard of this 1975 film, but it looks interesting.

Roger Ebert wrote of it:

The white members of the local chamber of commerce have been ordered out of office, and now African businessmen take their places. But one of the whites returns to place attache cases in front of each seat. The Africans open the cases and nod solemnly, impressed by the neat stacks of bribe money inside. The old order has been replaced by the new, but it’s business as usual.

So begins “Xala,” the newest and most disturbing film by the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene. His story follows the decline and fall of one of the African businessmen, who sells rice on the black market to finance the addition of a third wife to his family. But in a larger sense, Sembene also is commenting on the failures of African capitalism and on the legacy of corruption inherited from colonial times.

This is new ground for Sembene, who is the best of the handful of African film directors.

[Click to continue Xala :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews]

While Richard Eder of the New York Times wrote:

Dancing and jubilation in the seaside African capital, where coconut-icing skyscrapers loom over the shanties, the trees are gray with dust and the bougainvillea is like a terminal illness.

Africans in bright-colored togas move into the big building in the main square, order out the white men and remove the busts of Napoleon. Next scene: the Africans, in expensive European suits, sit around the table, the white men stand importantly behind as “advisers” and pass them briefcases stuffed with money, the black soldiers push back black crowds and rid the streets of unsightly beggars.

In a way, therefore, Osmane Sembene’s cutting, radiant and hilarious film “Xala,” … is “Animal Farm” applied to Africa independence.

It is part fable and part satire, but it is much more: with the greatest fineness and delicacy, Mr. Sembene, the Senegalese writer and director who made this picture, has set out a portrait of the complex and conflicting mesh of traditions, aspirations and frustrations of a culture knocked askew by colonialism and distorting itself anew while climbing out.

[Click to continue Movie Review – Xala – Film Festival: Cutting, Radiant ‘Xala’ – NYTimes.com]

Written by Seth Anderson

June 10th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Film,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

Netflixed My Man Godfrey

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“My Man Godfrey – Criterion Collection” (Gregory La Cava)

William Powell cracks me up

A high-society scavenger hunt leads to levity when scatterbrained socialite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) stumbles upon an erudite vagabond named Godfrey (William Powell) living in the city dump and offers him a position as the Bullocks’ butler. As it happens, the seemingly bankrupt bum is, in fact, the heir of a well-to-do family. While Godfrey sets out to teach the pampered Bullocks a few lessons, Irene conspires to capture his heart. [From My Man Godfrey]

Netflix didn’t ship the Criterion Collection version because this print looks a little faded1, am still anticipating watching this film. I do wish that Netflix indicated whether a film was a Criterion version or not, makes such an enormous difference.

Director Gregory La Cava deftly balances satire, romance, and social comment in this 1936 classic, which echoes Frank Capra in its Depression-era subtext. The Bullocks are a well-heeled, harebrained Manhattan family genetically engineered for screwball collisions: father Alexander (Eugene Pallette, of the foghorn voice and thick-knit eyebrows) is the breadwinner at wit’s end, thanks to his spoiled daughters, the sultry Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and the sweet but scatterbrained Irene (a luminous Carole Lombard), his dizzy and doting wife, Angelica (Alice Brady), and her “protégé,” Italian freeloader Carlo (Mischa Auer). When Irene wins a society scavenger hunt (and atypically trumps her scheming sister) by producing a “lost man,” a seeming tramp named Godfrey (William Powell), all their lives are transformed. With the always suave, effortlessly funny Powell in the title role, this mystery man provides the film’s conscience and its model of decency; the giddy, passionate Lombard holds out its model for triumphant love. In a movie riddled with memorable comic highlights, the real miracle is the unapologetic romanticism that prevails.

Footnotes:
  1. I haven’t started watching, but popped the disk in to check if the scratches were too deep []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 4th, 2009 at 7:45 am

Scorsese Uses Internet to Distribute Restored Films

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Awesome news, actually.

Martin Scorsese, as ardent an advocate as there is for serving up film the old-fashioned way, has decided to embrace digital distribution for movies restored by his World Cinema Foundation.

The films that the organization restores every year — often obscure titles like “Dry Summer,” a Turkish picture from 1936 — will now be available online through theauteurs.com, a Web site that calls itself a “virtual cinematheque.”

Many will be free. And a partnership with B-Side Entertainment will soon bring the foundation’s films to Netflix and iTunes.

[Click to continue reading Scorsese Uses Internet to Distribute Restored Films – NYTimes.com]

9 great movies

If I’m not mistaken, The Auteurs is a joint venture with The Criterion Collection.

Four things that were on our minds when we first dreamt the Auteurs: Number one: why can’t you just watch In the Mood for Love in an airport lounge? Number two: why is it so hard to get hold of Antonioni’s complete filmography? Number three: Wouldn’t it be great to instantly send Tati’s Playtime to a friend if you think they need it (there’s nothing like film therapy)? Number Four: why do films on the Internet look just awful? And that was that. We simply couldn’t resist the idea of everyone having their own online film library… your little cinema, anytime, anywhere… after all not everyone can make it to the Cannes Film festival… less if you are a school teacher or you live in Winnipeg (or both)… but that doesn’t mean you can’t recite all of Kubrick’s films in reverse chronological order or that you are not desperate to watch the latest Kitano film that is definitely not going to be released in your local multiplex.

And that’s our point; popular doesn’t always mean good.

Our film library is brimming with visionary films that wouldn’t fill a single cinema in Australia for a week – not even a day… but say you searched the world (all of it), you might just find an audience of a thousand for this rare cinematic treat. And we don’t think a thousand people should be ignored just because they happen to live in different time zones or far away from Australia cinemas… if someone needed to make such a precise film, it means that, someone, somewhere needs to watch it. More importantly… that someone might be you. Or Scorsese (he happens to be a member too…)

[Click to continue reading About The Auteurs]

Written by Seth Anderson

May 16th, 2009 at 9:14 am

Netflix Queue is a battleground for some couples

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Some couples have different tastes in films, and thus cannot agree on what should be next on the Netflix queue.

Netflix Cracked

Michael Wilson writes:

For many couples, the queue — the computer list of which films will arrive next in the mail, after those at home are returned — is as important as everything else that spouses and other varieties of significant others share, from pet names to closet space to the bathroom. For some, this is fine. For others, the queue is the new toilet seat that somebody left up.

Back to that disc at the Marino residence, dug in like an old grudge.

“I had ‘English Patient’ for more than six months,” Mr. Marino confessed. “It was an insane amount of time.” He recalled starting the same discussion with his wife, night after night, as they flipped among the five DVDs from their Netflix subscription. “Do you want to watch this? Do you want to watch this? Do you want to watch ‘English Patient?’ ”

“No,” was the response he got.

[Click to continue reading Netflix Is the New Relationship Battleground – NYTimes.com]

We have a simpler solution, one not mentioned in the article: have two DVD players! My taste in movies runs more along the lines of a film-school dropout1, lots of Criterion Collection films, classic noir, Werner Herzog, etc., while her taste is decidedly less eclectic. She will sometimes watch a classic film with me, but often would rather watch a television drama instead, or a contemporary comedy. Luckily our place is big enough that we can each watch a television at the same time with minimal fuss.

Teeth

Portable DVD players are cheap, and many households have laptops. Why would this be such an insurmountable problem for couples? There is the issue of receiving Netflix films, and not wanting to watch them for a while, for whatever reason. I just watched Le Cercle Rouge [Netflix]2, after having the disc in my possession for nearly a month. The term for this phenomena is Notflix, I think.

Also, The English Patient SUCKS! Mr. Marino didn’t miss anything by not watching it. What a horrible movie3

Footnotes:
  1. which is one of my self-chosen epithets, perhaps in homage to the phrase, “Beauty School Dropout, ” from Grease. Bonus points, since it is sorta true: I took several film classes as an undergrad, but decided to graduate before changing my major, again. []
  2. a great film, glad I finally viewed it, perhaps to write something about it, or not, as my film review frequency has totally slackened []
  3. sorry, sis, I know you like it []

Written by Seth Anderson

March 29th, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Posted in Film

Tagged with , ,

Joseph Losey’s Boom!

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Elizabeth Taylor's Hat in Boom

With a reputation like this, of course I want to see the film now:

Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968) is one of the most famously criticized and misunderstood films from the late sixties. Its original $3.9 million dollar budget seemed to have ballooned into 10 million by the time shooting stopped and the money was mainly used to pay the million dollar salaries of the film’s two main stars (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton), dress Elizabeth Taylor in her amazing Tiziani costumes (many designed by Karl Lagerfeld) and Bulgari jewelery, build a fabulous set and keep the Bloody Marys’ and champagne flowing from dawn to dusk. Critics by and large despised Boom! and many viewers walked out of the theater before the film had ended utterly perplexed by what they had just seen.

Boom! was an uneven European art film masquerading as a mainstream Hollywood movie and the general public just wasn’t interested. They wanted to see Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in more easily defined roles such as “tenacious slut” (Taylor) or “troubled saint” (Burton), and they longed for simpler drama with a basic narrative that was easy to follow. But by 1968 both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had grown weary of the typical roles Hollywood was offering them and they wanted to make more challenging films together. Boom! would turn out to be one of the most challenging films that the actors ever worked on. But it would also receive the worst reviews of their careers and mark what many consider to be the decline of one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples. A shared addiction to alcohol and Taylor’s growing reliance on prescription drugs was starting to take its toll on the two actors and their very public marriage. The couple’s wealth, fame and glamorous lifestyle made Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton appear larger than life and at first glance unusual film projects like Doctor Faustus (1967) and Boom! appeared to be self-indulgent vanity projects made without much thought for the general movie-going audiences that had helped make them famous. Resentment seemed to be growing between the popular actors and their adoring fans. And critics were eager to take a swipe at Hollywood’s roy

Boom! was based on one of Tennessee Williams’ least accessible and most esoteric plays called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (originally published in 1963) [Google books] and Williams was also responsible for the film’s script. After two failed Broadway runs of the play Universal Studios still thought they could turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Both actors had appeared in financially successful film versions of other Tennessee Williams’ plays individually including, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks; 1956), Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 1959) and The Night of the Iguana (John Huston; 1964) so Universal assumed the couple could turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit with their double star power.

[Click to continue reading C I N E B E A T S :: Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968) :: March :: 2008]

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Netflix does not have Boom! for rental, meaning it was never released on DVD. Perhaps ripe for a Criterion Collection release? There is a Bittorrent (AVI) for the tech savvy

One four minute scene on YouTube

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vu7cje8nNXo

Elizabeth Taylor's Boom! Hat

[via Metafilter]

Written by Seth Anderson

February 18th, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Posted in Film

Tagged with , , ,