Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Jean-Luc Godard? Jack Palance wasn’t impressed.

So there I was in my hometown of New Orleans in 1991, attending the junket for City Slickers and seated at a table with Jack Palance. I wanted to ask a question I figured that he hadn’t been asked a zillion times before, so I tossed him this one: What was it like to work with Jean-Luc Godard in the 1963 international co-production Contempt?

Palance smiled at me — indeed, almost winked at me — and replied.

“Godard, I thought, was a good filmmaker, but he was so… Well, I remember, we had a question about a scene that we were doing, and I thought maybe there was something I should be doing, and he said, blatantly, ‘You know, of course, that I am considered one of the great filmmakers today.’ And I said, ‘No, I didn’t know that. Why don’t you tell me about it?’ And so he goes on like this.

 “He was one of those guys, one of those directors — I’ve worked with a few of them, and my God, they’re infuriating! Because suddenly he’s walking out there, and he’s throwing things, saying, ‘And then you will do this! And then you will do that!’ And you stop and say, ‘Hey! I'm not going to do what you’re showing me anyway. So don’t show me!’

“See, he was doing that with all the actors. Like, ‘And now, I think if you touch the glass on the table…’ And you know you’re not going to touch the glass after he’s shown you something like that.”

And yet, for all that, Palance said Contempt had its funny moments. Sort of.

“I think one of the most memorable things for me in that film was doing a scene with Brigitte Bardot. We were in that red car, a little red car, and we had a scene where she and I just drive away. We’re going off to something. No dialogue. And we’re set up somewhere in Italy, and Godard’s got his camera way over there. He’s sitting on a box, hunched over, and he wore a hat, looking like a very, very artistic picture of a director.

“And so, we start to drive. We drove by, and we could hear his voice saying, ‘All right, we will do an encore. We will do it again, please.’ So you come back — there’s no explanation of what went wrong — and you do it again. And then you do it again. And do it seven, eight times — just driving by the camera, nothing else. And nobody says, ‘Faster,’ or ‘You're looking at the wrong direction,’ or some goddamn thing.

“So, as we got back this time, I said to Bridget, ‘Look, if he says we’re going to do it again, you and I are going to lunch.’ And as we drove by, we heard the voice saying, ‘Tell them we will do it again’ — well, we just kept driving.

“It’s true. We went off into the mountains, had a nice lunch, came back — and so help me God, he had not moved! He was sitting there, and as we approached, he said, ‘Tell them we will do it again!’

“And that was Jean-Luc Godard…”

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Must-See TV for Me: Netflix’s Clusterf**k: Woodstock ‘99

Yes, I will be watching when Netflix premieres the docuseries Clusterf**k: Woodstock ’99 on Aug. 3. My son probably will be watching, too. Because, well, back in 1999, we were there. And on the final evening, I was very sacred.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022

First Look: The Last Out Follows Cuban Hopefuls on Trail to MLB Glory

 

Talk about savvy timing: On the day of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, filmmakers Sami Khan and Michael Gassert have released the poster and trailer for their award-winning documentary The Last Out, an up-close look at three Cuban hopefuls who dream of taking part in The Great American Pastime.

Specifically, the film, set to open theatrically on Aug. 19, focuses on Happy Oliveros, Carlos O. González, and Victor Baró — as well Gus Dominguez, the Cuban-American recruiter who, in the words of Moneyball author Michael Lewis,  “invented the market for Cuban baseball players.”

According to the press release announcement: “Set amidst the dark side of professional sports and the migrant trail, The Last Out tells the inspiring story of Oliveros, González, and Baró, three Cuban baseball players who risk exile to train in Central America with Dominguez as they chase their dreams of playing in the Major Leagues… Filmed over more than four years, The Last Out focuses on people caught between countries who want nothing more than to make a better life for their families.”

In the interest of full disclosure: Houston's Minute Maid Park looms large in the trailer. So, to paraphrase Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained, the press release aroused my curiosity — but this trailer grabbed my attention.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Something about abortion

I have posted this before, and if you don't care to read it again, I won't be offended if you scroll by.
While I was in college, a girl I was dating told me she was pregnant — and that I had to be the father. This was in the early 1970s, the pre-Roe era, when abortion was illegal in most places – especially in New Orleans, one of the most Catholic cities in America, where we were living at the time. Still, with relatively little difficulty, we found out about a legit doctor in town who routinely performed abortions for $200. I borrowed the money, and the problem was solved.
Years later, I discovered, well, there’s no lead in my pencil, and I could not have been the father. I should have suspected something was amiss when the girl more or less vanished from my life soon after the procedure. But I never blamed the girl, because at the time I was so traumatized by the episode that the campus shrink wrote me a letter to bring to my draft board, saying I should never be in the military. (Believe it or not: I actually got my draft notice the day of the abortion.) I would joke afterwards that I probably was the only person you’d ever meet who beat the draft by fucking. But a gay friend corrected me: “Well, by fucking a WOMAN, maybe.” LOL.
Now I look back, however, and I suspect — no, make that, I KNOW — that no Supreme Court ruling, no law passed by a state legislature, will ever completely end abortions, or prevent doctors from performing them. All you have to do is know the right people, and have enough money. If you don’t, however, you really are fucked. And that shouldn't happen to anyone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

First Look: Alex Winter’s The YouTube Effect


In his other life, actor Alex Winter of Bill and Ted fame is an accomplished documentarian. Among his credits: Downloaded (2013), a fascinating study of Napster and the filesharing revolution; Deep Web (2015), an illuminating overview of the Internet’s non-indexed substratum, with special attention paid to the (alleged) Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht; and Zappa (2020), the definitive cinematic biography of maverick musician and Mothers of Invention founder Frank Zappa.

And now Winter has a new one: The YouTube Effect, which will have its world premiere June 11 at New York’s prestigious Tribeca Film Festival.

What’s it all about? According to the PR announcement:

“The feature documentary takes viewers on a timely and gripping journey inside the cloistered world of YouTube and its parent company Google; investigating YouTube's rise from humble beginnings in the attic of a pizzeria to its explosion onto the world stage, becoming the largest media platform in history and sparking a cultural revolution, while creating massive controversy in the age of disinformation. In the fourth quarter of 2021 alone, YouTube brought in 8.6 billion dollars in advertising revenue, a 25 percent increase in its year to year results. While traditional media is struggling, YouTube is thriving.

The You Tube Effect examines how the platform has become a lightning rod for online radicalization, surveillance, algorithmic capitalism, the proliferation of misinformation, and of course, influencers and cat videos.

 “The feature doc is thrilling, shocking and hilarious, but always highly compelling, and above all, entertaining. YouTube is a world populated by some of the most brilliant minds in tech, business, media and politics, as well as pranksters, trolls and conspiracy theorists. The YouTube Effect gives viewers exclusive access to all of the key players.”

 And speaking of cat videos on YouTube: 



Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Power of the Dog Takes a Big Bite Out of the Houston Film Critics Awards

This just in: The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s sweeping study of family dynamics set against a background of the American West, has swept the top honors given this year by the Houston Film Critics Society. (Full disclosure: I am a founding — and voting — member of this group.) 

In addition naming Dog the Best Picture of 2021, HFCS has honored Campion for Best Director and Screenplay; Benedict Cumberbatch as Best Actor; and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Best Supporting Actor.

But wait, there’s more: In the Original Score category, Jonny Greenwood’s score for Campion’s drama tied with Hans Zimmer’s score for Dune.

“As a year of uncertainty in movies concludes,” HFCS president Doug Harris said while announcing winners of the organization’s 15th annual awards, “one sure thing is how quality and creativity create screen magic at any time. No matter how we savor film, creative movies that portray people confronting challenge and change will continue to find an audience that appreciates them.”

Among the other winners: Jessica Chastain was voted Best Actress for recreating Tammy Faye Baker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, while Ann Dowd was rewarded with the Best Supporting Actress prize for her heart-wrenching portrayal of a grieving mother in Mass. That film also received the first HFCS award for Best Ensemble Cast.

The winner of the Texas Independent Film Award – for the best film made in Texas – is Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, which was filmed in and around Texas City, Kemah, and Galveston. The HFC’s Cinematic Achievement Award, given to the person, enterprise, or Texas-based operation that the group feels has contributed the most to film culture in Texas, goes to Well Go USA. Releases in 2021 by this Plano-based company included Escape from Mogadishu and Raging Fire

 “Each year,” Harris said, “the Society presents our awards after thoroughly reviewing the year’s films. We select our nominees in December before casting final votes early in the new year. As professional journalists who believe in the power of film, we are thrilled with the range and substance of this year’s winners.”

Here is a full list of winners for the 15th annual Houston Film Critics Society Awards. 

Picture: The Power of the Dog. 

Director: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog. 

Actor: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog. 

Actress: Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. 

Supporting Actor: Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog.

Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, Mass. 

Screenplay: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog.

Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Dune.

Animated Feature: The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

Original Score: (tie) Hans Zimmer, Dune; Jonny Greenwood, The Power of the Dog. 

Original Song: “Wherever I Fall – Part I,” Cyrano: music by Bryce Dessner and Asron Dessner; lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser .

Foreign Language Film: Drive My Car. 

Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul. 

Texas Independent Film Award: Red Rocket. 

Visual Effects: Dune: Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer. 

Stunt Coordination Team: No Time to Die.

Ensemble Cast: Mass: Reed Birney, Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, and Martha Plimpton; Breeda Wool, Michelle N. Carter, Campbell Spoor, Kagen Albright, Michael White.

 Cinematic Achievement Award: Well Go USA.