Would you believe I’d never seen the Steven Spielberg movie Duel until last night?
A real shame, huh? Especially considering the fact that I’ve seen a host of other films helmed by the master director.
Duel, the story of an average businessman’s encounter with a homicidal, unseen truck driver on the lonely roads of California, was very tense and suspenseful. Great editing and cinematography, making the most of a tight script that was only hindered by a few bursts of internal monologues here and there … which it didn’t need.
I liked this movie a lot, and it was interesting to see such a strong picture so early in Spielberg’s career (the movie debuted in 1971). I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again; it’s not clear how the suspense and thrills will hold up. But it remains a well-crafted movie.
What film will come next for me? Only the screen has the answer.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a good director. Thomas Pynchon is a good writer. But will the film based on his novel Inherent Vice be any good?
That’s what I’m wondering some days after seeing the trailer to the picture, which made the flick look like a bit of a mess. Possibly an amusing mess, but a mess all the same.
I’m not totally happy with those prospects.
I like my movies tight, not sprawling. Frankly, I’m a bit worried that “sprawling” will be a euphemistic description of this film. Other movies in this director’s canon, including Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, were sprawling in an interesting way, meandering with purpose, getting audiences to wonder what would happen next. What I’m concerned about with Inherent Vice is that it will be directionless, muddled – that we’ll be sick of predicting where it’s going by the time we get halfway through it. And that could be a cinematic problem.
Sure, it might be on a par with Anderson’s other projects, in which case I’ll be more than pleased. But I’m cautiously pessimistic here. Not sure that’ll be the case.
It’s hard to watch Errol Morris’ documentary Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., in part because its subject – the titular electric-chair specialist who became a champion of Holocaust deniers after testifying on behalf of one – is so deluded as to make listening to him an ordeal. But there’s something fascinating about the story behind this misguided individual, and Morris tells it in his usual compelling way. In revisiting the film last night, I was struck by a question I asked myself: Does Leuchter realize he comes off as being willfully ignorant?
Morris’ technique, which includes using incidental music and slow motion to comment on the proceedings, often seems tongue-in-cheek, as it does in another one of his documentaries I saw recently: Tabloid, whose subject also could be construed as being misguided. In some way, this strategy detracts from the idea of letting the viewers draw their own conclusions about the individuals appearing onscreen, but it also adds flavor, context, perspective.
I kinda like it.
Other good news: Morris peppers Mr. Death with views from, happily, intelligent people who document the evidence behind Auschwitz’s use as a location to gas Jews to death during the Holocaust, which Leuchter’s poorly generated findings argued against. Still, watching this guy talk is a trial, and it’s difficult not to get frustrated with what he and other Holocaust deniers interviewed onscreen (such as David Irving) have to say. It’s a testament to Morris’ skill that he lets them speak on camera, and I appreciate that. Because how else are we to know what kinds of people we’re dealing with?
A well-done film. Just not one I want to sit through again.
I’ve always been a bit bothered by the ending of David Lean’s otherwise masterful film of Great Expectations.
Pip winds up tearing the curtains off the windows to rescue Estella from a Miss Havisham-esque fate, and that just didn’t happen in the Charles Dickens novel.
The question is: Does it work in the context of the film? If so, maybe that’s not such a big problem after all.
I’m an advocate of that idea – that a scene need not be in the original source material to be warranted in a film version. Filmmakers change such content all the time in their adaptations of classic works for all kinds of reasons … sometimes, dare I say it, for the better. So why does it distress me so much in Lean’s version of GE?
It certainly makes a big impact at the end of the movie, and although I do find it somewhat melodramatic, the scene is very powerful. I think it’s also in line with the characters, as Estella was groomed by Miss Havisham to be … well, an awful person. Having her consider becoming her former mentor is an interesting way around the book’s ending, and Pip’s “rescue” ties her back to him in a romantic fashion.
Maybe I should watch this sequence again; sometimes, the more you get used to a film, the better it becomes. And I could definitely stand watching this great picture at least one more time. Especially if I’m looking to understand the ending better.
That just might happen.
If I had a dime for every movie that finishes up with some sort of awful song at the end, I’d be rich.
When did this trend in cinema start? It seems like every picture nowadays has some kind of rock tune playing over the final credits – and usually, they’re not that memorable. Once in a while, you get something along the lines of George Harrison’s “Dream Away,” which concluded Time Bandits. But it’s usually a noisy, guitar-heavy sound blast with screaming vocals. Not my cup of tea.
I like when filmmakers take the time to end their movies in interesting ways. A song can be appropriate, such as Simon & Garfunkel singing the “The Sound of Silence” in the remaining images of The Graduate. That ditty provided insight into the ways the main characters were feeling: lost and hopeful at the same time. I don’t see that kind of commentary, however, in most of the melodies ending films. And that should change. Directors can easily find songs that are germane. They don’t have to be just filler.
I don’t like watching filler onscreen. The credits can be just as much a part of a film as the dialogue; they can add something integral. Why can’t an ending song do the same?
Mundane melodies be damned. Let’s have topical tunes close more pictures … and more attention paid to these cinematic parts. A good, relevant ditty can keep fannies in the seats throughout the end of a movie. It would keep me in my place, for sure.
And that’s nothing to sneeze at. Or scream at, for that matter.
How much longer do you think we’ll wait for Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote to come to fruition?
This project has been in the works for a long, long time, and there’s scarce information available on progress, though IMDB shows that John Hurt has been cast as Quixote. That’s interesting news; Hurt is a terrific actor who’d be great in this role. I’ve been disappointed with Gilliam’s recent directorial efforts, but this project – should it ever get off the ground – could be an intriguing one.
Or it could be The Brothers Grimm. Yecch.
Gilliam’s a great talent, though his directing career has been mixed, to say the least. Still, he has a distinct look and style, which worked wonderfully in flicks such as Time Bandits. Hopefully, if his new Quixote movie ever comes to fruition, it will resemble his older work more than his later efforts.
I must have faith.
I like Errol Morris’ documentaries. He’s not my favorite director, but he picks interesting subjects and films them creatively.
Tabloid is no exception. A Morris-helmed documentary about the adventures of Joyce McKinney – a supposedly all-American gal who captured the loins of the British press in the 1970s by allegedly abducting and sexifying a Mormon boyfriend whilst in the United Kingdom – the film offers an intriguing, sometimes tongue-in-cheek look at a very smart, possibly disturbed woman and the bizarre life she once led. Interviewees include McKinney and a couple of British tabloiders who worked on the story back in the day, who provide a variety of opinions and perspectives. The movie does leave things relatively ambiguous as to who is the wronged party, and it’s a credit to Morris that it does so.
A few issues: Some of the edits aren’t seamless, leaving wide swaths of black screen before jumping to the next scene. And then there is the humorous commentary, consisting of certain words blown up to immense proportions on camera, as well as old footage meant to shed light on amusing or telling situations. I think the film would’ve worked better without these bells and whistles; it would’ve seemed more impartial, allowing us to draw our own conclusions.
Nevertheless, it’s an interesting documentary – another strange, beguiling piece of filmmaking by a very inventive director. He’s got quite a strong portfolio right now. I’d be curious to see what he adds to it.
I’m not a huge fan of Robert Altman’s movies, so I admit I went with trepidation to see his film 3 Women at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts last night. Fortunately, the evening was bolstered by the presence of composer Gerald Busby, who wrote the score to the picture and was slated to speak about it after the showing.
It was a good thing he did, because the film was very peculiar and not all that successful. The tale of a California nursing-home worker (Sissy Spacek) obsessed with her quirky colleague (Shelley Duvall), 3 Women at times was like watching the most intriguing, bizarrely colored paint dry. It had an off-the-cuff feeling that gave the impression it was made up as the shooting went along, and the characters’ motivations weren’t always believable. Busby’s score was the best thing about it: a dissonant, modern chamber piece replete with mournful, dread-filled horns and winds. Following the screening, he took the podium to talk a little about the movie, and it was quite a treat to listen to this dapper, elderly gentleman.
Busby spoke about Altman being “a Gershwin man” yet wanting something different and abstract for his film, as well as the process of showcasing his music to a room full of Altman staff and regulars stoned on marijuana. (According to Busby, he was one of a few composers to be considered for the film, and as part of the process, the compositions were played in the room to see how long people could go without speaking about them; people listened to his work the longest without saying something, which helped solidify the choice.)
All in all, it was quite a lovely evening, and I got to meet Busby as well, who lived in the same building as a good friend of ours. Plus, it was free, so that made watching the film all the more palatable. A not-so-typical New York night out, but a memorable one, nonetheless.
I have five things to say about Good Will Hunting, which I just saw for the first time a couple of days ago.
I. Did. Not. Like. It.
Part of me knew this would happen. The bad pun in the title gave my future cinema verdict away. I couldn’t appreciate something that didn’t take itself seriously enough to give itself a sharper moniker.
But there were other problems that rubbed me the wrong way. A script that was both sappy and abrasive. An unlikable lead performance. Schmaltzy music. And a plodding pace. All of which undermined several good performances, notably by Robin Williams as a therapist helping the title character.
Direction was also problematic. The film moved so slowly it was unbearable. I’m not a big fan of Gus Van Sant’s other films, including the dreadful To Die For and the frustrating Elephant. GWH is just another movie in his canon that I don’t care for.
I realize GWH is very popular. Once again, I’m in the minority on this. I don’t know why, though. To me, it just didn’t work.
What is it these days with cinema pyrotechnics?
I see it all the time, most recently in Darren Aronofsky’s nearly unwatchable Requiem for a Dream. Quick cuts, splashy close-ups of eyes and drug paraphernalia, sped-up photography and so on.
Couldn’t stand it. Had to turn it off.
No, I’m not going to blame this kind of filmmaking on MTV. Fast edits have been around for a long time. Rather, I think it’s a product of directors not trusting their audiences. It’s about adding flash to a recipe in the hopes of making it palatable.
I prefer a more traditional approach. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to see more irises and wipes, though. Instead, I’d like to see a focus more on story, on telling a tale in a linear manner, without blatant showmanship. That just calls attention to the filmmaking process, and enjoyment of a movie should be organic. It should immerse you, not alienate you. Too many flicks today do the latter.
I like Aronofsky; I think he’s very talented. But I believe RfaD isn’t a success. Too much demonstration of cinematic prowess, not enough straightforward storytelling. Can we have a little more of that, please, in the future? Special request, from me.