Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free on Hulu: Two in the Wave

In 1959, critic-turned-filmmaker Francois Truffaut – whose incendiary reviews of the Cannes Film Festival had gotten him banned from that fest just one year earlier -- made his first big splash as an auteur at Cannes with his debut feature, The 400 Blows, his profoundly affecting and enduringly influential autobiographical drama.

One year later, Jean-Luc Godard – another outspoken firebrand who railed against the prevailing norms of cinéma de papa in the pages of the French magazine Cahiers du Cinema – plunged into feature filmmaking with Breathless, his stylistically audacious and exuberantly fatalistic neo-noir romantic melodrama.

Together, these two friends – destined, perhaps inevitably, to become competitive rivals, then bitter enemies – helped launch La Nouvelle Vague or, if you don’t parlez-vous français, the French New Wave, a loose-knit, deeply committed group of highly individualistic film directors who burst upon the international scene in general and the U.S. art-house circuit in particular during the heady days of the post-Eisenhower Era.

There were other notables in their ranks – including Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, Alain Resnais and Agnès Varda – but it was Truffaut and Godard who, then and now, defined in the minds of most critics, academics and cinephiles the revolutionary vitality of a filmmaking movement influenced in equal measures by Italian Neorealism, Hollywood Classicism and anything-goes youthful audacity. So it is altogether fitting that director Emmanuel Laurent has chosen to focus almost exclusively on the early careers of those two artists in Two in the Wave.

Written and narrated by film critic Antoine de Baecque, who has authored authoritative biographies of both men, this celebratory documentary is an ingeniously conceived and executed collage culled from newspaper and magazine clippings, newsreels and TV interviews and, of course, generous swaths of film clips. You can read more of what I had to say about it durng its 2010 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston debut here. And you see if for yourself up there. Or right here.

Killer sushi? Zombie outbreaks? Violent vigilantes? Must be time for Fantastic Fest

The eighth edition of Fantastic Fest -- the world's wildest genre-movie extravaganza -- is set for Sept. 20-27 in Austin, arguably the only place on the planet weird enough to handle its spectacular excess. And judging from Monday’s announcement of the first titles confirmed for the FF2012 schedule, I'd say festivalgoers are in for the usual smorgasbord of heavy artillery, sexual perversity, edgy sci-fi, scantily clad cuties, flesh-eating zombies and unrestrained ultra-violence.

But wait, there’s more: This year’s line-up also features eccentric animation, with the previously announced opening-night presentation of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, and vicious vigilantism, with the gala premiere of Peter Travis’ Dredd 3D.

For the benefit of those who tuned in late: The latter is an R-rated adaptation of the John Wagner/Carlos Ezquerra comic strip set in a futuristic society where relentless supercops like the eponymous Dredd (played by Karl Urban) serve as judges, juries – and instant executioners. You may recall there was an earlier attempt to bring this source material to the screen. You may also remember that it didn’t turn out too well. This one is supposed to be better. Or, at the very least, bloodier.

Among the other intriguing titles in this first wave of FF2012 offerings:

COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES -- When a badly planned bank robbery and a zombie outbreak collide, hilarity allegedly ensues in this  British comedy starring Michelle Ryan (star of the ill-fated Bionic Woman reboot) and Lee Asquith-Coe (soon to be seen in the direct-to-video Strippers vs. Werewolves – you think I’m making that up, don’t you? – and Kathryn Bigelow’s  Zero Dark Thirty).

DEAD SUSHI -- Japanese splatter-action comedy is served up raw when director Noboru Iguchi and karate girl Rina Takeda join forces to take on flying killer sushi monsters.

I DECLARE WAR Here’s the inside skinny from the Fantastic Fest press office:A group of exceptionally creative teens gets sucked into their own private Lord of the Flies scenario when an after-school game of ‘war’ turns into a test of loyalty, strategy and friendship.” Sounds like more fun than a Dungeons & Dragons tournament. And – gasp! – it’s from Canada.

ROOM 237Rodney Ascher’s provocative documentary examines bizarre theories about subtext and symbolism that can be found – if you look really, really hard – in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (which, not incidentally, also will be screened at FF2012).

SECRET CEREMONY – A textbook example of the jaw-dropping weirdness that often resulted back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s when Hollywood studios briefly indulged maverick auteurs by bankrolling eccentric (and, occasionally, incomprehensible) “art films.” In this case, the maverick was the late Joseph Losey (The Servant, Modesty Blaise), and the plot has something to do with a middle-aged prostitute (Elizabeth Taylor – yes, that Elizabeth Taylor) who’s despondent over the drowning death of her daughter, a disturbed young woman (Mia Farrow) in desperate need of a mother figure, and a creepy stepfather (Robert Mitchum) who does his damnedest to facilitate an unhappy ending. If you’ve ever seen this 1968 psychodrama on broadcast TV, you may be in for a few surprises, and no little befuddlement, if you catch it as part of FF2012’s “House of Psychotic Women” sidebar: Like many Universal Pictures releases of its time, it was trimmed of salacious content, and supplemented with newly shot footage (intended to “explain” the confusing goings-on) before being unleashed on unsuspecting viewers. Presumably, FF2012 will be screening the original version exhibited – fleetingly – in theaters.    

WRONG – French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux’s follow-up to his 2010 thriller Rubber – a.k.a, “The Killer Tire Movie” – is described as an “absurdist opus” about an everyman who goes to extremes when he awakens one morning to find his beloved dog is missing. Early reports indicate that homicidal wheels do not figure into the plot of this one.
YOUNG GUN IN THE TIME – From South Korean filmmaker Oh Young Doo, director of FF2011 offering Invasion of Alien Bikini, we get a time-travel confection involving sex shops, robot hands and Hawaiian shirts. In short, something for everyone.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Trailer Park: Cloud Atlas

I have just seen the trailer for Cloud Atlas. I want to see this film tomorrow. No, I want see it tonight. Hell, I want to see it right now. (Hat-tip to my student Vanessa Marin for alerting me to this wonderment.)

Dane Cook goes there, and steps in it

Speaking as someone who's actually had complimentary things to say about Dane Cook in the past -- who, indeed, thought My Best Friend's Girl wasn't without merit -- all I can say about his spectacularly tone-deaf attempt to make a joke about the recent Colorado shootings is: What. A. Jerk.

Update: Cook has apologized.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Christian Bale is a class act

A few days ago, Christian Bale said that his heart went out to the victims of the Aurora shootings. Today, he decided to bring his heart there. As my Aussie friends might say: Good on ya, mate.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Take Back the Knight (and Be Not Afraid)

Andrew Breznican of Entertainment Weekly is absolutely right: We should not let the Colorado shooter scare us. We should defy this terrorist’s attempt to intimidate us by doing the very thing that will minimalize any collateral damage he might cause. And we should take Breznican’s words to heart:  “[I]f you want to defy the theater-shooter and the terror he has created — go out this weekend to see a film and enjoy being with your fellow moviegoers.

But, really, why wait that long?

I propose that we designate this Thursday, July 26, as the night we collectively rally against the madman who murdered so many and tried, even if only as a secondary aim (after ensuring his own notoriety), to permanently despoil the communal pleasure of moviegoing. I propose we call this group endeavor Take Back the Knight – but hasten to add that if you’re not a Batman fan, or you’ve already seen The Dark Knight Rises, or you just don’t yet feel ready to see that particular movie at this particular time, then see something else.

Any movie, of any sort. At any theater, be it an IMAX auditorium or second-run house. Hell, go to a drive-in if there’s one operating within driving distance of your home.

Just go.

Want to go see a politically-themed documentary that criticizes President Obama? Go. Want to go see a summer blockbuster, or a box-office under-achiever? Go. Want to savor one of the year’s best documentaries – if you’re lucky enough to be living in a city where it’s screening? Go.
Just get out of your house, get in your car, ride your bike or board your preferred means of public transportation. And go. 

You see, the SOB who slaughtered the innocents in the Aurora megaplex obviously wants us to think of him and shudder – and, of course, reflexively recall his name -- every time we’re in a movie theater, at any point for the rest of our lives.

Well, to hell with him. Literally.

Ironically, I have first-hand knowledge of something like that paranoia. Back in 1961, while I was growing up in New Orleans, the ceiling collapsed at the second-run moviehouse in my Ninth Ward neighborhood, the aptly named NOLA Theatre. One person died during the disaster, dozens were injured – and the incident quickly attained the status of local legend. (Trust me: If you’re a New Orleans-born movie fan of a certain age, you instinctively wince whenever you hear any reference to “the NOLA cave-in.”) After extensive repairs, the NOLA re-opened, and remained in operation for more years than you might think. But I won’t lie: Every time I saw a movie there after the disaster, I spent almost as much time looking at the ceiling – steeling myself for the worst – as I did watching the screen. 

And not just because, on the night of the cave-in, my mom, my kid brother and I actually had planned to go to the NOLA -- but changed our plans when we saw Snow White and the Three Stooges had been replaced as the featured attraction by William Castle’s Homicidal.

But here’s the thing: I was an absolute wuss while I was growing up. Really. I got so freaked out by The Spider that when a humongous arachnid popped up in Have Rocket, Will Travel – yeah, another Three Stooges movie; are you detecting a pattern in my misspent youth? – my mom had to physically restrain me from running out of the theater.

And yet, wuss that I was, I mustered up the courage to go back to the NOLA within days of its re-opening.

So, come on: You know you’re more courageous than I was as a wuss back in the day, right?

I’m fully aware, of course, that some people might read this and blast me for being so churlish as to think about moviegoing at a time when we should be mourning the murdered. And, to be sure, I can sympathize with, if not share, that point of view. But consider this: During his achingly poignant and deeply heartfelt tribute to the fallen Sunday evening in Aurora, Pastor Robin Holland of the community’s Living Hope Baptist Church had this to say at a nationally telecast memorial service:

“Dear Lord, we need to comfort one another… Because the truth of the matter, Lord, is, our city is hurting. But one day, Lord, we know that our city will march back into that theater. And we’ll claim that theater back, Father God. Because it doesn’t belong to terrorists. It belongs to the city of Aurora.”

Damn right.

So do the right thing: Remember the names of the victims, do not cower when you think of their killer. And do not let that detestable wretch keep you from going out to a theater or drive-in near you Thursday evening. Twitter the message with #TakeBackTheKnight – or whichever other way you choose. But however you choose, spread the word.

And be not afraid. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Today's second shameless attempt to draw hits with a post that has The Dark Knight Rises in the headline

Back in the day, George Clooney (and director Joel Schumacher) wanted to give us a sunnier, funnier Batman. (And, while they were at it, a first look at a bad-ass Bane.) But, well, that didn't work out too well, did it?

Rush Limbaugh outs Dark Knight Rises as pro-Obama propaganda

And in today's edition of Stuff I Wouldn't Dare Make Up: Rush Limbaugh makes the Bain/Bane connection -- and is predictably (so very, very predictably) outraged. (Hat-tip to the blog poster known as Paul D.)

Sunday, July 08, 2012

R.I.P.: Ernest Borgnine (1917-2012)

If you want to see just how great Ernest Borgnine could be when working with the right material, and the right director, take a look at the above short, part of the 2002 anthology film September 11. Borgnine passed away Sunday at age 95. He'll be missed. You can read my CultureMap tribute to the legendary Oscar-winner here.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Rollerball Redux at the Tour de France?

During an on-stage Q&A with me at the 2007 Starz Denver Film Festival, director Norman Jewison recalled the time he was approached by a producer who wanted to turn Jewison's 1975 film Rollerball into a weekly game show ala American Gladiators.

 "I made a film about the insanity of violence for the entertainment of the masses," Jewison said. "Now that’s really an obscene thought, isn’t it? This goes back to the Roman gladiators: ‘Let’s all get together and watch somebody get snuffed! Let’s all get together and we’ll see the supreme sacrifice here, we’ll watch a lion eat somebody. Let’s all get together Saturday afternoon.’

 "And so I made Rollerball, this kind of violent, strange kind of film about the future. And it was about a world where all political systems had failed and we were in the hands of corporate entities, the corporations controlled the world. In Europe, it became a kind of a cult film, very political film, and one of my most popular films. But in America, everybody was talking about the game. And some nut called me up and said, ‘Can I get the franchise for Rollerball because I think it would be a great, great game?’

 "I couldn’t believe it. And I said, ‘You schmuck. It’s about the insanity of violence!'"

 All of which leads me to wonder: Is that same producer watching coverage of the Tour de France today, and thinking: "Hey, maybe that would be a great weekly series?"

Friday, July 06, 2012

My son knows when to hold them, and knows when to fold them...

George Leydon played his cards right at a World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas last week. Didn't win a fortune, to be sure, but didn't get the leg-breakers on his trail, either. Since this writing stuff doesn't seem to be working out for me as profitably as I once hoped, I am looking forward to the day when my son can finance a lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

What the devil?

I've heard from a reliable source that you should read Hunter Hauk's perceptive article about Satan is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers on the Cowboys & Indians magazine website, and then order a copy of the splendidly insightful documentary Charlie Louvin: Still Rattlin' The Devil's Cage (which premiered last spring at the Nashville Film Festival) right here. If you don't do either, well, don't blame me if you catch hell for it.

The Weight: A "Who's On First?" for a new generation?

Three years before the Sundance Film Festival premiere of his Arbitrage -- a smart, suspenseful and exceptionally well-acted drama set to open Sept. 14 at theaters and drive-ins everywhere -- Nicholas Jarecki directed and co-wrote The Weight, a slight but clever short that plays like a stoner version of a classic Abbott and Costello routine. The two movies have absolutely nothing whatsoever in common. Which, when you think about it, may be a promising sign that Jarecki is filmmaker worth keeping your eye on.