Movie City Indie Archive for April, 2006

Crashing in: Ebert at Northwestern

The Daily Northwestern’s Lauren Levy transcribes as Roger Ebert talks the cricket walk before a screening of Crash: roger857.jpg “Modern movie audiences are becoming increasingly apathetic in the way they view films… Ebert told a crowd of 179 people at Block Museum Wednesday night. “When I started in the ’60s, people would stand in the rain in November to see a film… Today’s movie-goers are much less curious, adventurous and informed… I have a background as an English student… I never took a film course in my life… Crash took us to the next level of racism in this country… The movie showed all kinds of people dealing with prejudices, not even knowing who they’re dealing with.”

Fatelessness: something that had never been written about

Lajos Koltai‘s adaptation of fellow Hungarian, Nobelist Imre Kertész‘s first novel, Fateless, about a feckless boyhood in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, is one of the year’s most criminally underappreciated in the U.S.. (For instance, Roger Ebert did not review it.) Kertész talks to the Guardian’s Julian Evans about inspiration and other matters. fateless23589.jpg “He does not discuss the details of his adaptation to peacetime and adulthood. [Kertész] has the profound charm and good humour of those who have seen life at its vilest and most absurd, but the disturbed pattern of his early years is painfully clear. Having found his life again, he felt he was losing it. “To my horror, I realised that 10 years after I had returned from the Nazi camps… all that remained of the experience were a few muddled impressions, a few anecdotes.” He was adrift into the 1950s. “What happened was that I got so deeply involved in these dictatorships, I was beginning to get lost in them. First, I had to recognise that I was stepping out of line, out of line with the masses.” He began to write “pieces of text and then more pieces of text. This was not the novel as you know it, but I tried to create a summary or a description of dictatorship.”… “[O]n a lovely spring day in 1955”, he realised there was only one reality, himself, his own life, “this fragile gift bestowed for an uncertain time, which had been seized, expro-priated by alien forces … and which I had to take back from ‘History’, this dreadful Moloch, because it was mine and mine alone.” … An advantage of conditions in Hungary was that “all the circumstances were there for you to become a cryptowriter, a hidden writer, because it was a cheap way of life, the outgoings were low, the cost of maintenance was low, there were no status symbols to wish for, and it was a reduced way of life and you could concentrate on your work” … “[I wanted] to write a scandalous book, a scandalous piece of text, some-thing that had never been written about before.”

Mystic praise: lovin' me some Julia!

A couple of gentlemen of Manhattan goo and gah over movie star Julia Roberts and her B’way debut in Richard Greenberg‘s “Three Days of Rain.” Ben Brantley‘s review is charming in its unabashed confessional quality: “[S]he’s stiff with self-consciousness… only glancingly acquainted with the two characters she plays and so deeply, disturbingly beautiful that you don’t want to let her out of your sight… I feel a strong need to confess something: My name is Ben, and I am a Juliaholic. Ms. Roberts, after all, is one of the few real movie stars—and I mean Movie Stars, like the kind MGM used to mint in the 1930’s—to have come out of Hollywood in the last several decades. Lord knows, she isn’t a versatile film actress… Her range onscreen runs from feisty but vulnerable… to vulnerable but feisty…. Her strength, as far as her public is concerned, is in her sameness, which magnifies everyday human traits to a level of radioactive intensity, and a feral beauty that is too unusual to be called pretty. juliarobertsp45780.jpgLike a down-home Garbo, she is an Everywoman who looks like nobody else. And while I blush to admit it, she is one of the few celebrities who occasionally show up (to my great annoyance) in cameo roles in my dreams.” Meanwhile, David Edelstein coughs up New York’s front cover furball: “The close-up is Julia Roberts’s voodoo. Critics and elite cineastes discuss Julia Roberts with a certain amount of condescension. No one claims she’s not a true movie star, but is she much of an actress?” Edelstein pours on the sop: “On the other hand, Roberts has inspired in this reviewer a fair amount of gush. During my tenure as film critic of Slate, readers made sport of my frequent application of the word “thoroughbred.” I stand by it. It’s not that she’s an icon of glamour. This is a woman who was once married in bare feet, and part of her charm is that she doesn’t move especially gracefully. It’s not that her features are refined, either. They’re outsize, even freaky: that friendly, unpatrician nose with its bumpy slope and large nostrils; that smile that’s wider than most people’s heads… It’s that somehow those clown-princess features coalesce into one of the best faces ever captured on the big screen. She’s plainly gorgeous in still photos, but it’s in motion that the real magic happens. She can entrance you with the tiniest shifts in expression.” But let’s leave it with James Wolcott over at his joint: “The reviews for [Roberts’] impersonation of an upright ironing board in ‘Three Days of Rain’ acknowledge that even as a stationary object she might have tried putting a little more oomph into it. But the same reviewers use the occasion of her Broadway debut to pay slave tribute to her plebian-royal majesty, swooning as if no pair of goggles devised by science is strong enough to shield the eyes from the solar radiance of her beauty whenever she parts those lush lips and gives us one of her heehaw grins.”

Eye Candy: what's Hard about defining art

One of the more compelling strands of subtext in Brian Nelson‘s script for Hard Candy, directed by David Slade, is the consideration that what is offensive in the eyes of one person—a 32-year-old man, a 14-year-old girl—may in fact be artful to another. While the “worst” of the male protagonist’s collection of images is never seen, several large photographs he’s shot are displayed on the walls of his home, commissioned by the production from photograher Ye Rin Mok; young Haley finds them troubling. Here are two.

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Canadian film? Sorry.

In Macleans, Brian D. Johnson puts it impolitely: Why does Canada keep making movies that no one wants to see? Here’s how he defines seven of spring’s “English Canadian movies”: “They contain flashes of eccentric brilliance, and some fine performances. But they seem smaller than life. They tend to be populated by desperate women and repressed, self-loathing men. And they plumb new depths of anti-heroism… blurryleafs.jpgIt’s hard to imagine these movies were designed with an audience in mind. So how do they get made? Welcome to the Byzantine world of English Canadian film financing—a surreal maze of auteur dreams, bureaucratic nightmares and ritualized failure. It’s a world where distributors routinely snap up publicly funded movies, flip the TV rights to broadcasters for an easy profit, then dump the films into a few theatres for a token release. A few bigger pictures get a better shot, and occasionally one breaks through. But our film culture has become conditioned to obscurity.” Johnson notes that in 2005, movies from Quebec counted for 26% of the French-language box; English Canada: one-point-one percent. More worries: “No country in the world has a film industry that can survive without government financing—with the robust exceptions of Hollywood, Bollywood, Hong Kong and (oddly) Nigeria.” [A survey of the ills at the link.]

I am a gossip addict: Mark Cuban on Rodman, Hilton, Zahedi

caveh_zahedi1485787.jpg Matt Dentler reports on a Mark Cuban masterclass at UTexas: “On the two celebrities who taught him a lot: Dennis Rodman and Paris Hilton. Simply because they are perfect examples of how individuals can use the media’s thirst for gossip to their advantage… “kinda like Caveh did in his blog.”

Blog suicide: blogging is fun, but my career is far more important

Is “inside baseball” too much of an inside-baseball term nowadays? An old phrase for information comprehensible only to the participants in an event, “inside baseball” could profitably be replaced by “inside blogging,” capturing the relentless outpouring of “what my job-my day-my dreams are like” writing that constitutes a lot of web-based reportage. My saturation point came at Sundance 2006, where I struggled to find a way to write about films and filmmakers and the swirl of events that wouldn’t sound like all the other shiny, whiny, solipsistic stuff getting pixilated by the virtual pound. ExecutiveBoxOfRocks.jpg(I wound up posting many more photographs than words.) Collating coverage for Movie City Indie, I find myself awash in procedurals of the daily routines of filmmakers, film crickets, and other Keepers of Word and Image. In a worthy instance, Caveh Zahedi‘s prickly indieWIRE-based postings about the pre- and post-release matters of I Am A Sex Addict have been unusually forthright, or foolhardy, depending on your perspective. On Sunday, Zahedi pointed out that the film’s gross had reached $43,600; on Monday, he reviews Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review: Lane, Zahedi says, “He has a slithery ease with the pen which is almost reptilian in its meanderingness. If one loves the intricacies of prose (and I, for one, do), then one can read his reviews with real enjoyment… The problem with Mr. Lane’s reviews is that they don’t tell one much about the film… He is like the court jester trying to spin everything into a joke, no matter its gravity or urgency or true import. This has, unfortunately, become the norm in film criticism… The ideal, it seems to me, would be a review in which content and form were one, but here content has been abandoned as too difficult, too demanding, and too much of a party pooper. So instead, critics don their party hats, and blow on their noisemakers, and act drunk. It’s alll fun… The breezy, ironic tone of most film critics (of whom Mr. Lane is only one of many, unfortunately), while arguably entertaining, in the end serves no one, but only contributes to the on-going debasement of public discourse. It makes one nostalgic for the film criticism of a James Agee, or a Jonathan Rosenbaum, whose reviews not only manage to avoid the showoffy fluffiness of a Mr. Lane, but are positively punctilious in their rigor and willingness to actually grapple with the moral and esthetic issues present in [films]. Mr. Lane’s review of my film is not negative, only irrelevant. He neither gets it nor addresses it. It is merely a pretext for him to wax eloquent about nothing whatsoever… You’re very funny, Mr. Lane. Keep up the great work.” tinycricket.gifDoes this help or hurt Zahedi’s cause as a filmmaker or polemicist? Writer Lee Goldberg recently identified a phrase for what seems the underlying urge beneath a strain of blogging among professionals: blog suicide.” Over at “A Writer’s Life, he considers the wages of suicide by blog. “Being too candid on your blog about the happenings in your professional life can have serious personal and financial consequences, which is why I don’t talk much about my current projects (beyond blatant self-promotion).

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The Notorious Tony Blair: when a PM-to-be dated a future director

The Independent reports on the college dalliances of spiky former film cricket Mary Harron and director of The Notorious Bettie Page, including with the Brit PM. Marie Woolf and Francis Elliott wrote in late February: notbettie2330-7.jpg“When Tony Blair was a long-haired undergraduate at Oxford, he dated the vivacious Canadian student and future film director Mary Harron, who observed she went out with the future prime minister because he was “good looking in a kind of sweet way, and wasn’t at all predatory”… By remarkable coincidence, she also went out with Chris Huhne, an Oxford contemporary of Blair, who last week was tipped in the polls as the most likely contender to take over from Charles Kennedy as Liberal Democrat leader…. Tony Blair, who resembled a Led Zeppelin roadie with his flares and long hair, was studying law and singing Rolling Stones covers with his band, the Ugly Rumours. In the audience of one of his college bar gigs may have been Chris Huhne, who drove an old yellow taxi and dressed head to toe in denim, when not politicking with the university Labour club.

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How do I, too, become a cricket? A pro replies

Lisa Nesselson, an established, Paris-based freelancer for Variety, helps answer the question, “How do I, too, become a film cricket?” on Roger Ebert’s website after having coffee with “a very nice 29-year-old” who freelances for the Village Voice. “People his age and younger who envy my position… want to know whether they’ll ever be able to make a living as film critics… tinycricket.gif[L]ately, like clockwork, I’ve been approached by bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Americans who claim they want to be me when they grow up. Some of them can write and some of them can merely hustle. In my experience, those who hustle make headway…. My definition of a good critic is somebody who communicates their enthusiasm for work they find of merit, without ruining the option of you, the reader, also discovering the film’s merits. … What I’ve never been able to reconcile is that when a movie is about some topics it’s “only a movie” but if it has a character or line of dialogue that some group objects to, then it allegedly becomes an incredibly powerful medium freighted with deeper and possibly harmful meaning… I’d say the privilege of being a critic really kicks in when I get to write “the Variety review” of an important film and I feel like I really, truly, am the “right” person for the job. I’m enormously proud of my reviews of Bowling for Columbine and Irreversible (both written on tight deadlines in the pressure cooker of Cannes) and I’ve been told that my review of Memento has helped other people understand the film. But I have colleagues who just crank out copy, figure one word is as good as another and everything they write will be glanced at at best and then discarded, so why knock yourself out?”

ViacomCBSMTVPar's Sumner Redstone: I would prefer to be a starved cat

pea798q70.jpgThe 82-year-old multibillionaire uberhoncho of the two Viacom entities offers up a smidge of self-regard to Newsweek’s Johnnie L. Roberts: “How do I look to you? I get up in the morning every day at 5 o’clock … I’m on a bike for 35 minutes, exercising. I then swim a number of laps. I’m very conscious of nutrition and exercise. I don’t remember a time in my life when I felt better. I’ve lost over 15 pounds recently. You know why? Starved cats live longer than fat cats, and I would prefer to be a starved cat. There’s no chance of me retiring.”

Not in my name: another Chris Doyle's gay karaoke (plus Chris Doyle)

doyleviet_4957.jpgTwo Chris Doyles, and at least one’s a genius. First up, In Ottawa, Bradley Turcotte of Capital Xtra reports on some Canadian Idols: “Dog & Pony’s song “bible” lists tunes as varied as the Jackass soundtrack and Disney standards. The bible also outlines karaoke tips and techniques to aid the singer, so your voice is the only way you’ll be made into a fool. Owner and operator Christopher Doyle is the “Dog” in their company name while his wife, Danni, is the “Pony.” “I’m the dirty dog who gets to ride the pony,” Doyle chuckles.” But what of the genius? Yes, cinematographer Christopher Doyle is doing the journo crawl and dog-and-pony drinks show once more, this time with Mathew Scott from The Australian: “It’s 5.30 on a Saturday afternoon, but acclaimed Australian cinematographer Christopher Doyle, a self-confessed “madman”, enters the Hong Kong Fringe Club looking as if he has only just greeted the day. He is wearing crushed cotton shorts, a loose, grubby T-shirt and running shoes. His hair is a wild mop and his fingernails look as though he has not been hitting the tiles but scraping them clean. He orders a beer,

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Being a cricket is hard work: some rules

In about 2,800 words,’s Mark Schannon lyricizes the cricket’s song, in a ditty titled “So You Want To Be A Critic.” “Being a critic is hard work” is one note. tinycricket.gifThe criteria that most reviewers use, Schannon writes, “are not completely objective nor are they totally subjective. They lie somewhere in between. But if you deny the criteria and claim that all opinions are subjective, why bother to review anything at all? Your opinion carries no more weight than a 3-year-old watching the same movie.” A summa of “standards used by professional critics” follow, including “The Hook,” “After the Hook,” “The Rest” and “The Close.” More to learn and sing: “Remember adjectives and adverbs are weak words; nouns and verbs are strong words.” Also: “avoid being cute and keep yourself out of the hook unless there’s a really, really, really good reason.” Conclusion? “If the point hasn’t been driven home by now, let’s make it simple: Being a critic is hard work, it requires study and analysis, but if you’re just starting out, this article should be consider[ed] inspirational rather than a foundation you have to build before you can proceed… Being a critic can be one of the most satisfying things you’ll ever do — but you’ll only succeed if you know what the hell you’re doing.”

Something a little brutal: Olivier Assayas goes Clean

In the NY Times, Charles Taylor admires Olivier Assayas admiring his own beautifully jumpy new movie, Clean and his ex, Maggie Cheung. Making with the odd metaphor, Taylor writes, “To watch Ms. Cheung’s performance is to see someone who, as Garbo did, uses the camera as though it were radio transmitter, trusting it to pick up the inchoate moods that move across her face. That talent dovetails with Mr. Assayas’s carefully chosen music… several songs composed by Dean Wareham, late of the band Luna and David Roback, late of Mazzy Star, and sung by Ms. Cheung in a style both wafting and grounded…. Mr. Assayas said that Clean was the closest he had come to the style he wishes for his films. maggiecleanpalm89679.jpg“In terms of camerawork, editing, in terms of the way they interact with the characters, in terms of closeness to the human material… but also, at the same time, in terms of brushstrokes, in terms of an abstract visual energy that would connect with the emotions, I really got hold of something I had been looking for in a couple of films.” A movie, Assayas tells Taylor, “has to leave things open up to a certain level so that somehow the viewer has some space within the film… I think that it’s important to understand, intuitively understand, what you are doing… But when you are doing it you must follow instinct. There has to be a certain level of risk, creating images, characters, emotions, it involves something a little brutal. You must be prepared to go in areas where you lose control… There’s such a broad way of representing the world, and specifically representing a world that has become so complex with totally different …articulations…. I like the adventure of making films… And the adventure of making films has to do with the capacity you have of listening to your guts.”

Men in movies in the black: Barry Sonnenfeld

Casual neurotic Barry Sonnenfeld adapts to the modern economies of Hollywood, writes LA Times’ John Horn. The 53-year-old director, writes Horn, “is a complex combination of insecurity and confidence, a tightly wound showman who wants to do well by Hollywood but is among its most refreshingly unguarded critics… There are people in Hollywood who are openly gay. There are people in Hollywood who are openly vegan. Sonnenfeld is openly neurotic.” After Men in Black II, “I had this fear I was never going to direct a movie again… So I thought I better find a TV show and hope it’s a home run and it’s my dowry.” mibii780457243958.jpg … 2002’s “Men in Black II,” grossed a strong $190.4 million in domestic theaters, it seems to have left pretty much everyone (Sonnenfeld, the studio, the producers, the audience) unhappy.” Sonnenfeld tells Horn that his one misfire as a director was not the incomprehensible Wild Wild West, but the second Men in Black. “It was a huge payday for me, but not really… Because that [movie] made me not work for the next 3 1/2 years, in many ways. So if you take the money I was paid on MIB II and divided it by four, it wasn’t all that brilliant of a move.” His newest, RV, cost a reported $50 million rather than the $150 million level he’d grown accustomed to. “I love my family,” Sonnenfeld tells Horn. “But I really like to work. I realized that over the last couple of years of not working how much I missed being in charge. Because when I’m home, I’m not in charge.”

Making good movies is as good as it gets: Denis Tanovic

Oscar-winning Danis Tanovic talks to the Telegraph’s SF Said about adapting Kieslowski‘s adaptation of Dante’s “Inferno”: “Tanovic emerged from the war as a fully formed filmmaker… “My documentaries won prizes, but nobody watched them, because they were documentaries,” the 37-year-old director tells Said. “I felt an urge to make movies that people would see, because I was angry about Bosnia. So I sat down and wrote. Ten days later, the script for No Man’s Land was written… lenferttanovic15623454.jpg“I think the basic difference between East and West… is that the West concentrates on form. Having too much money, you concentrate on how to do things. Not having money, you concentrate on content. For people in the East, it’s the story that counts more than anything.” Given this lineage, it’s fitting that Tanovic’s latest film, Hell, is based on Kieslowski’s final, unfinished project… [W]hen he died in 1996, he was developing another trilogy for young filmmakers to direct, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. “I think we live in terrible times. We lost the spiritual dimension of our lives; the world is messed up. We live in such an egoistic society. Nobody gives anything any more. The Spanish Civil War would be finished in two weeks today, because nobody would go to defend Spain—that’s what our world has become. It’s almost impossible to love and be loved in this world.” … Although Tanovic respects Kieslowski, if he has a role model, it would more likely be Milos Forman…. “When you watch Forman’s first works… compared with the movies he made when he came to America, or the films he is making today – they are all completely different. You never know what is coming next, but they are all great movies. That is what I wish for myself: to make good movies. That is as good as it gets.”

Movie City Indie

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon