Boston impersonates no other city. There are rumors that it is the Florence of the U.S. -- more mystifyingly, the Bucharest, too. But those seem unsubstantiated. This place is more unlike than like. So how real-yet-surreal just how much like Los Angeles Boston seemed today, hazy with a kind of smog. It hung over some of the city and simply descended upon the rest with a kind of lazy ominousness. It didn't have the nerve to pose a true threat.
Still, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a safety alert open to interpretation ("stay inside," an official said, "and blow the smoke out"). But no one seemed all that alarmed. Boats turned the Charles into its usual boys bathtub. Along the river, runners jogged in mockery. It all merely enhanced the science-fiction misting the atmosphere. The city had been body-snatched, and so, perhaps, had we.
As it turns out, the smoke was second-hand. It had wafted in from Quebec, where forests burned by the dozen. (Stranger still, the Montreal Gazette ran a story today eagerly anticipating a series of concerts by the band Arcade Fire.) Locally, those people who thought it a quaint scrim of haze or a mild symptom of doom were surprised to learn that it was yet another stealth Canadian import, like, well, Arcade Fire or Shania Twain.
But, alas, it did sound alarms for Southern California and the pasty skies that greet you in the morning but then let up enough for the sun to do its thing. Movies that shoot in Los Angeles capture that without even trying. But present all day today were the altered atmospherics of "Gattaca" (not smoggy, per se, but logy, which in that film stands in for a smog of the soul, as pre-articulated by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni) and the way "Blade Runner" imagines the city as a futuristically underlit smoking room. Then there is "Safe," which is set in the subsuming San Fernando Valley and sprang to mind this afternoon while watching a chic woman pump gas with a scarf wrapped around her nose and mouth. It was a glamorously paranoid look only Julianne Moore in that movie would have understood.
Yet for those who didn't know better and were preoccupied with the world of non-soccer sport, it would stand to reason that the Lakers had arrived early and in the Hollywood spirit brought their own fog machine.
Dennis Hopper had the craziest eyes in show business, but he came by them honestly.
Some movie stars seem to arrive on the scene fully formed: John Wayne born on the half-saddle in 1939's "Stagecoach," for instance. Hopper, who died yesterday at 74 after a long battle with cancer, acquired his meaning by living it hard and full-out, the one actor of the '60s generation who went the chemical distance and almost never came back. He did return, though, retreating from the brink of self-immolation to turn in a run of performances in the 1980s that are frightening in their working knowledge of human extremes.
Hopper straddled the rise and fall of the counterculture, and over the years he came to mean many different things: Hollywood contract player, studio rebel, radical priest of the New Cinema, LSD-addled burnout, bum, nightmare, actor. That he ended his days as one of the film industry's more vocal Republicans was only the last kink of the tale, and Hopper undoubtedly appreciated the perversity more than anyone else.
Anything to go against the grain. The young Hopper worshipped at two altars, one labeled James Dean -- he acted alongside the star in "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant" -- and the other the New York Actors Studio. Acting teacher Lee Strasberg taught him that emotional truth was all that mattered and Dean's death in a 1955 car crash only proved that genius couldn't last in Hollywood. Hopper subsequently developed a reputation as the most difficult kid in town, and the story of his obdurately screwing up more than 80 takes of a scene in 1958's "From Hell to Texas" just to show director Henry Hathaway who was boss is legendary.
With 1969's "Easy Rider," which Hopper co-wrote, directed, and starred in, he showed the entire industry who was boss: the half of the country under 30. "Easy Rider" was shot for under a half-million dollars and grossed 40 times that; what the studio heads dismissed as a biker B-flick won a prize at Cannes and became a genuine pop touchstone that drew repeat crowds and ushered in a new era of filmmaking. More than that, the film spoke blearily to a mass discontent in a way that, for a pop moment, made incredible sense.
Seen today, without the aid of rhetoric or pharmaceuticals, "Easy Rider" is without question one of the worst important movies ever made, and Hopper's approach to filmmaking -- consume as many drugs as possible, get seriously paranoid, alienate your crew, burn your bridges -- doomed his follow-up, 1971's "The Last Movie." By the time he popped up as a photographer in 1979's "Apocalypse Now," playing Fool to Marlon Brando's Lear, Dennis Hopper was a cultural joke.
That makes his comeback in the 1980s all the more stunning. Starting with Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumblefish," Hopper worked hard and with gonzo intent, no more so than in the three films he made in 1986, his peak year as an actor. In "River's Edge," as a drug-dealing biker amputee, he's the amoral death of the hippie dream guiding the next generation to their ruin. In "Hoosiers," Hopper plays a town drunk who finds redemption as an assistant high school basketball coach, and he puts so much pain and hope into the part that your heart breaks.
And as Frank Booth in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" Hopper is simply the most evil man in the history of the cinema. Sucking nitrous from an oxygen mask, beating his lover (Isabella Rossellini) and calling her Mommy, terrorizing the film's teenage hero (Kyle MacLachlan), Frank seems capable of truly anything, and Hopper's performance is so mesmerizing, so unfathomably scary, that he turns a pro forma defense of his favorite beer -- "Pabst Blue RIBBON!!" -- into a howl from hell.
In the 25 years that followed, Hopper slowly evolved into a journeyman character actor, capable of enlivening good movies (1991's "Paris Trout" and bad ones (1995's "Waterworld"), taking jobs for the money and directing a few for the love or the fun of it. (1980's "Out of the Blue" may be his best and truest as a filmmaker, and 1988's "Colors" isn't shabby either.) Yet as younger and younger audiences appeared on the scene and the revolution faded in the rearview mirror, the anarchic glow in his eyes never dimmed.
If anything, it grew more insistent. In the end, Hopper was proof, if you wanted it, that the '60s really happened and that they were far more dangerous than you know.
As testimony to American audiences' deep interest in realistic portrayals of cultures other than our own, two Hollywood fantasy versions of the Middle East stand poised to rule the box office this weekend. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is the lesser of the two weevils, a dish-headed but diverting action-adventure that owes less to the videogame on which it's putatively based and more on a long line of noisy, unpretentious B-movie swashbucklers. Is it good? Not really. Is it decent dopey fun? You could do worse.
In fact, you could go see "Sex and the City 2," in which the witches of Endor -- sorry, Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda -- make you regret the early 2000s ever happened by bringing their whiny, coddled, status-obsessed girly-girl narcissism to Abu Dhabi, where it fits like a burqa on a cow. I'm hardly alone in piling on this sorry excuse for a good time, so culturally tone-deaf in so very many ways, and there's some curiosity as to whether all the critical ill-will will impact the box office. Probably not, but you never know: The last movie that gave off such toxic pop vibes was "Gigli."
Those of you who still worship at the shrine of Merchant Ivory will be glad to know that director James Ivory has at least one more left in him, even after the 2005 death of his producer and partner Ismail Merchant. "The City of Your Final Destination" plays like M-I Lite: Based on a novel, it concerns beautiful, intelligent people being discreetly mean to each other in gorgeous settings. What it lacks in urgency or even a reason for being it makes up in impeccable taste, and sometimes that's enough. Worth a look if only to see Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney, and Charlotte Gainsbourg mix it up, along with the lovely and scary Alexandra Maria Lara (in photo above).
The Somerville Theatre hosts the Reel Fest short film festival this weekend, and what local filmmaker Rod Webber's feature-length "Northern Comfort" is doing there, I don't know. Very slight in the Mumblecore, turn-on-the-camera-and-see-what-happens vein, but Webber and Greta Gerwig create some interesting, ornery sparks as a mismatched couple on the road to Canada. Good local action, too -- hello, Natick Pizza!
At the age of 70, George Romero is still pumping out socially-conscious zombie movies, bless him. "Survival of the Dead" is the latest and, per Tom Russo's review, it's a far cry from the good old days of "Dawn of the Dead."
Some mighty fine late-period John Ford at the Harvard Film Archive, including, on Sunday, "They Were Expendable," perhaps the bleakest WWII film made during the war and one of John Wayne's finest moments as an actor. The Sidney Lumet 70s festival continues at the MFA. The Brattle has tragically been forced to cancel its reunion-week audience-participation extravaganzas,the "Real Genius" Quote-Along and the "Ladies of the 80s" Sing-Along -- but they've still got "The Goonies" all weekend, for those of you who are pushing 40 and still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about the Fratellis.
For some of us, the biggest movie event of the season isn't "Iron Man 2" or "Toy Story 3" or even that Adam Sandler movie
where the little kids notice their dads trying to get away with
peeing in the swimming pool. It's the newly restored version of "Metropolis," which adds 30 minutes of footage previously thought to be lost (it was discovered in a Buenos Aires film archive in 2008).
Yes, "Metropolis," Fritz Lang's
1927 epic folly/masterpiece. It's great. It's ridiculous. It's
overwhelming. And it's about as influential as any movie ever made.
It's also the most expensive silent movie ever made, the "Avatar" of
its time. (The idea of Lang working with 3D and CGI is thrilling,
terrifying, and extremely intriguing.)
"Metropolis" opens at the Coolidge Corner -- the perfect place to
see such a vintage filmic spectacle -- for a one-week run starting
Friday, June 4. For that evening's 8 o'clock show, the movie will have
live accompaniment from the Alloy Orchestra. (All other screenings will have the movie's original orchestral score on the soundtrack.)
If you've never seen "Metropolis," you really owe it to yourself to do so. And if you've never seen it with the Alloys accompanying it with their magnificent metal machine music (Lou Reed, eat your eardrums out), you really owe it to yourself. Moviegoing experiences like this are few and very far between.
Tickets are $20. The Coolidge people report that sales are already brisk.
Not a bad way to spend a Friday night, right?
If there was consensus among the cinérati that the year was less than great, there was also agreement that the winners were more deserving than anticipated. Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" won the Palme d'Or, as was generally hoped and, in some corners, predicted. The movie is not a work of polemics, unless you hold strong political objections to non-narrative, wholly unclassifiable ghost stories set in the thick of the Thai jungle. But there was a sense (for some) that given the unrest in Thailand, where Apichatpong's humid astonishments are as much an acquired moviegoing taste as they are in other parts of the world, the jury would try to deliver the country some good news. Not that the film needs current events to bring it accolades. It's perfectly marvelous on its own.
There was the additional belief that the Palme would go to "Of Gods and Men," Xavier Beauvois's drama about a handful of oldish and ancient French monks who debate whether to pack up and leave during a stretch of the Algerian War. The movie, in its latter scenes, reduced a packed international house of sophisticates to a theater full of people who didn't know they needed to bring Kleenex. But the movie earns your tears with a blend of reason, philosophy, and strategically deployed "Swan Lake." It won the Grand Prize, which is like being chosen vice-movie.
The Jury Prize went to Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's "The Screaming Man," from Chad, a beautifully written, acted, and directed film that hinges on the dramatic ironies between a pool attendant and his son, amid civil war. It was one of the festival's best films, even though a lot of people didn't seem to think so until you reminded them they saw it. That pretty much sums up the Jury Prize: Oh yeah...
In the lobby of the Salle Lumière, where the awards ceremony is held, the minutes leading up to the start of the program felt dramatic in a routine way: gowns, tuxedos, stars, men with cords coiling from their ears who all look like Jason Statham. Can you feel the suspense? One of the complaints this year was that there wasn't enough glamour to spice up the red carpet. Film critics are supposed to be immune to that sort of crisis. But a movie critic on or near the red carpet can grasp the problem firsthand.FULL ENTRY
Earlier this week, I sketched a story from here about the national treasures moving up and down the Croisette. Martin Scorsese. Woody Allen. Roger Ebert. Not to mention all the local (French) auteurs. But few treasures got around Cannes this week as much as Frederick Wiseman, America's -- and Cambridge's! -- greatest documentary filmmaker. There he was at a crowded screening of Olivier Assayas's 333-minute Carlos the Jackal epic. There he was again gamboling along a hot hotel terrace as Mick Jagger was giving a jocular interview to an international handful of reporters. One night he was seated next to the French filmmaker Agnès Varda (more treasure). On another, he was seated, quite magically, next to me.
At 80, Wiseman is able to move around town with an anonymity that Varda or Allen or Ebert no longer have. Could this also be true when he runs errands around Porter Square where he lives? But the people who do recognize him or discover who is appear to be tastefully star-struck. His latest film, "Boxing Gym," had an ecstatically received premiere in the festival's Directors Fortnight on Thursday. (I recorded the video above a few minutes before the screening. It's sub-sub Wiseman in quality.)
Wiseman spent several weeks in Austin, Texas filming the members of "Lord's Gym," as they trained, sparred, worked out, and shot the breeze. He bestows upon this busy, gloriously overdecorated facility his usual contemplative eye, but, at a 91 minutes, in less time than usual. (At dinner the other night, a friend of Wiseman's said, "This is short for you, Fred." He responded by saying that it was as long as it needed to be.)FULL ENTRY
So as the festival's days wane, we continue to live in uncertainty about both the fate of the incarcerated Iranian director Jafar Panahi (alas, his hunger strike continues) and the fate of the main competition. Most of those in attendance agree it's been an especially weak year. While Tuesday there were stirrings of life, often characterized by days of vigorous discourse, we're still talking about those same films -- the Mike Leigh, the Iñárritu, the movie about the monks -- and it's almost Saturday. One of the most entertaining topics of conversation for the entire festival has been what on earth will win. There's only one film left to debut: Nikita Mikhalkov's sequel to "Burnt by the Sun," the runner-up here and the foreign-language Oscar-winner of 1994. It's called "Burnt by the Sun 2," and no one seems excited to see it, but who knows.
That sort of speculation is normal. This year people are especially curious given that Tim Burton is leading a jury with, among others, Benicio del Toro, Kate Beckinsale, and the composer Alexandre Desplat. And I must admit it's been interesting thinking about Burton watching most of these films, since his sensibility has so little to do with this festival's. But Cannes has been thrilled to have him, adorning the Palais with his sketches and using images from one of his Batman films as its pre-screening projected image. (I'm not aware of another jury president getting such treatment.)
It says a lot about how remote Burton has become as an artist that, despite his films being fixtures in our cultural consciousness, we can't get a read on what kind of person he is. Aside from his themes of banishment and inclusion, we don't know his cinematic politics. Amid all the computer-generated frippery that now encrusts his films, it's difficult connecting his filmmaking to the world. So it's fascinating to watch him here slip into screenings as both an exalted moviegoer and an arbiter of taste. His only reference point as a director appears to be himself. And those references often produce emotionally frozen box-office attractions. We want to know what in these films he will savor as a juror, what will move him and what will turn him off.FULL ENTRY
Honestly, the pickings are pretty slim this weekend. Do we really need a fourth "Shrek"? In craptastic 3D yet? Survey says nuh-uh. And the surprisingly warm-and-fuzzy early line on "MacGruber" mostly reflects the fact that it's not as scrape-your-shoe awful as the usual "SNL" spin-off. (Hiring Val Kilmer as the villain: Smart.)
Documentary "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" tries to make the Jack Abramoff scandal entertainingly/horrifyingly clear and mostly succeeds. "Looking for Eric" is a sweet, funny change of pace for British director Ken Loach, and if you want to run to see soccer great Eric Cantona play himself as a spirit guide to the film's schlubby hero, I can't really blame you.
Elsewhere, two directors get the spotlight treatment: Portugal's Cesar Monteiro at the Harvard Film Archive and Sidney Lumet, Hollywood's greatest proponent of '70s Manhattan grit, at the Museum of Fine Arts. The latter series offers the expected ("Murder on the Orient Express"; "Serpico," featuring Al Pacino when he still took it all seriously) but also includes the little-seen "The Offence" (1972), with Sean Connery (in photo above) in terrific if ultra-grim form as a British police detective who pops his cork after grilling one too many child molesters.You missed the Safdie brothers -- BU grads who made good at Cannes a few years back -- at the Brattle last night, but their latest scruffy, subtle character study, "Daddy Longlegs," is playing until the 27th. Apparently this portrait of a shiftless father to two young kids is based loosely on Benny and Josh's own dad, which does or doesn't explain a few things. And over at the Coolidge, you can still catch up with actor Bob Deveau tonight as he accompanies both of filmmaker Larry Blamire's latest post-Ed Wood oddities, "Dark and Stormy Night" and "The Lost Skeleton Returns Again." Good Robot Monster-style fun.
When you're invited to spend five hours and thirty-three minutes watching a notorious Marxist revolutionary do his thing, you're hoping for something, well, modestly extraordinary. So much for that. Olivier Assayas's "Carlos" gives us Carlos the Jackal as a decades-spanning, international epic, and while it's certainly good. It could have been just as effective in perhaps less than half its running time. To be fair, the movie was made as a miniseries for French television, which is why it was being screened outside the main competition. Cannes purists apparently went bananas over the possibility that some dumb old TV movie would dare tarnish their precious Palme D'or.
"Carlos" is hardly dumb. But it peaks early and never returns to the sharper ideas and sharper filmmaking of the second of its three sections. So a decent film about how a nice Venezuelan boy -- Ilich Ramírez Sánchez -- becomes an anti-capitlist, anti-imperialist, pro-Palestine Marxist revolutionary (and what that even means) gradually descends into gangster-film clichés that would make more sense in an actual gangster film. The intellectual (Nora Von Waldstätten) who'll become his wife proclaims her German-feminism while wearing a tiny robe (it's pink) that barely disguises her lady bits. Soon, the camera is peeking at the little black bow on her panties while she's bent over her groom to be. By the late 1970s, this version of Ramírez Sánchez, played by a fully committed Edgar Ramirez, is a womanizing, chauvinist partier, in love with his legacy.FULL ENTRY
Whenever I get a reader gripe about the number of stars I have (or haven't) given a movie, I think of that old Zen saw about how the hand pointing at the moon simply ain't the moon. Then I send them on to Movie Review Intelligence, a website that is to movie ratings what Sabermetrics are to baseball batting averages: Glorious, statistics-crazy overkill.
There are other rating-aggregate sites out there: Rotten Tomatoes is the one everyone knows about and it re-mulches each print and online critic's rating (stars, grades, little man, whatever) into a purely on/off proposition: red tomato good, splatty green tomato bad. I prefer another site, Metacritic.com, for a number of reasons: The 1 to 100 scale is literally 50 times more fine-grained than at Rotten Tomatoes, and the editors stick with the major newspaper/magazine/online reviewers, thus weeding out some real talents but also critics whose names it's impossible for me to take seriously. (I say this as someone who at least came by his own silly name honestly, having it foisted upon me in infancy.)
Movie Review Intelligence busts the entire rating-ology concept wide open. I have to make a confession: MRI founder David Gross and I worked together many, many years ago in the research department of HBO (it was my first job out of college, crunching and analyzing Nielsen ratings for movies), and while I have long since buried my inner R-squared-loving geek in the psychological basement, David has now come out of the closet with his. And good for him.
MRI collects all the major reviews and ratings for a movie and slices them into infinite pieces of pie. The site's page for "Robin Hood," for instance, assigns a 55.1% aggregate rating (out of 100 possible points overall), then breaks that number down among Broad National Press (56.2%), Local Newspapers (60.7%), Alternative/Indie (63.9%), Highbrow Press (35.0%), Movie Industry (43.5%), and major, semi-major, and mini-major urban markets.
The approach has its flaws (because Peter Travers in Rolling Stone hasn't been "alternative" in at least two decades, he skews the average for that category) but also yields the kind of wonky, borderline useless insights stat-freaks love. The "review mixture" scattergram -- a scattergram! -- for "Clash of the Titans" indicates that critics in smaller cities were more positive than those in mid-size cities. The "review timing" bar graph for "Date Night" shows that reviews that came out on the film's opening day were more positive than those that ran earlier.
What does this mean? To quote Pee-wee Herman, "I don't KNOW!" But
I'm really glad someone's doing it and that's he's got an iPhone app to
boot. For one thing, it takes the pressure off me when people bitch
that I gave "Robin Hood"
three stars rather than two and a half. (Sue me, it was two and
three-quarters; I like to grade upwards.) But that's only part of it.
It's one of the awful/great celebrity moments: Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday" to John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in 1962. MM! JFK! Peter Lawford, too. (He introduces Monroe with the in-hindsight deeply creepy words "The late Marilyn Monroe!," referring, of course, to her tardiness, not her fate.) Also there, at the keyboard, accompanying Monroe, was Hank Jones.
Jones died Sunday, at 91. You can barely hear his playing on the video of Monroe's performance, and even then only toward the end. Any jazz fan can tell you, though, that Jones's musicianship was a wondrous blend of tastefulness and tastiness -- swinging, harmonically inventive, equally at home as accompanist and leader. He made countless records in the former role (two of the best are "Ben and Sweets," with Ben Webster and Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Cannonball Adderley's "Somethin' Else"). Over the last three decades, he came into his own as a leader. "Steal Away," which consists of his interpretions of gospel songs, with bassist Charlie Haden, is a marvel: grave, lustrous, quietly exhilarating.
Accompanying Marilyn made Hank Jones a footnote to celebrity history (political history, too). Hank Jones's playing made him much more than a footnote to musical history.
Oh, and Samuel L. Jackson plays him in the movie.
Well, things have picked up, in terms of both true quality and in the arguments over how true that quality is. This morning it felt nearly unanimous that we'd just left Xavier Beauvois's "Of Men and Gods" having watched the winner of the Palme d 'Or. It's either too unlikely or too obvious to be true, and yet: Eight Trappist monks on a hilltop monastery overlooking an impoverished Algerian mountain village, during the country's civil war, debate whether to return to France after the local mujahideen make life dangerous both for them and the Arabs whose lives they improve with kindness and medical care.
Going in I feared guilty corniness. But the film doesn't take its title lightly. Beauvois, a directing actor who's remained under the radar, individuates each of the monks, while not completely demonizing the terrorists, who, ironically enough, want medical care, too. I watched six old men and two middle-aged ones think morally, philosophically, theologically, and personally about whether to let the terrorists win, and I found myself vacillating. "Don't be a wimp!" "Are you crazy? Go." "What would Jesus do?"
Needless to say, the right thing is done (the movie is based actual events) but not without a theater full of hundreds of people sobbing in the dark. The film doesn't change life or the movies. It's hardly the best thing I've seen this week. But Beauvois demonstrates a patience, restraint, and sense of higher purpose that emotionally elevates what could have been the sort of middlebrow heart-tugger that the French have been known to submit for foreign-language Oscar consideration. Le jurie de Tim Burton just might go for it.FULL ENTRY
This morning I arrived later than usual -- 8:20 -- to the 8:30 screening of the new Alejandro González Iñárritu main competition entry "Biutiful." The panic was obvious from two blocks away. The Lumiere, the festival's biggest theater, was almost full and there were scores of people pressing the barricades. Who enters in a moment like this this is strictly a matter of hierarchy. Only one type of badge was being permitted. The volunteers manning the gate were waiting for enough of these badge-holders to gather so they could pull the gate back to allow those people to enter, also letting in the potential deluge of shovers. I was lucky enough to have the proper badge. So did the American woman to my right.
Having seen me show the volunteer my badge and having heard him tell us all that we'd be permitted to come in, she insisted on shoving hers in his face -- over and over. "I have a white badge. You have to let me in. I need to be inside. What's wrong with you?" Her desperation was stressful. She had the tone of a woman trying to get out of a burning building -- or, as the case may be, appease an unfeeling editor. Either way, it's a classically unpleasant Cannes moment, where entitlement and fear can bring out the worst in a person. Eventually she tried to arm her way past me. I told her we were headed in the same direction and at the same time. This did little to mollify her.
The perverse (if obvious) upside of panic at a film festival is that you know what people would kill for or die for in order to see. It's the inverse movie equivalent of running for high ground before a disaster. "Biutiful" is a movie you should be proud to say you acted like a wild animal to see. Iñárritu has been an insufferable filmmaker, suffusing every frame of his movies -- "Amores Perros," "21 Grams," "Babel" -- with a sense of importance, which is not the same as achieving actual importance.FULL ENTRY
This place is a respite from the formulas of certain types of narrative moviemaking and the boxes of genre. Ideally, there are no rules. But when the movie that purports to be about life or behavior or ideas disappoints, it's easy to throw up your hands and say, "Nothing happened!" That could mean anything from nothing happened up there on the screen to nothing happened to me.
Either way, in a good movie, something always happens, whether you see it, feel it, or both. But I can honestly say that in David Verbeek's, "R U There?", nothing happened. A champion Dutch gamer, Jitze (Stijn Koomen), competes in a first-person shooter tournament in Taipei. He goes to the gym, develops a shoulder ailment, finds a local massage girl named Min Min (Huan-Ru Ke), whom it seems inaccurate to call a masseuse, develops a Second Life relationship with her online (he's a soldier; she's an Anglicized punk-fairy), then offers a lot of money for the pleasure of riding a bus to the country with her (she seems only mildly interested).
More than once, it threatens to go right -- the young Dutchman's need to make a tactile, earthy connection feels true. But the ideas about gamers' desensitization to the world around them go to only the most expected places. Verbeek has a good eye, but where is his imagination taking us? Jirst and Min Min's virtual relationship is presented as a computer game with the slow pace of some realism. It's just that the movie's second life is blander than the first.
Jia Zhangke is a master at taking his non-narrative time. "I Wish I Knew" continues, more or less, where last year's "24 City" left off, contemplating the personal side effects of modern China. The new film considers Cultural Revolution-era Shanghai -- its survivors and devastated diaspora. The movie is lush and, at times, moving, catching up with filmmakers (hey, its Hou Hsiao-hsien!) and offspring of assassinated officials, collapsing fiction and documentary, although with less mesmerizing flair than in "24 City."
Rajon Rondo has just made his movie debut. He's one of several NBA players appearing as themselves in the new Queen Latifah picture, "Just Wright." Others are Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Rarshard Lewis, and Elton Brand. During timeouts, will Rondo be comparing reviews with Howard and Lewis as the Celtics and Magic battle in the conference finals?
I'm not quite old enough to have seen Bob Cousy, but I've seen a lot of basketball since (a lot of other sports, too). I don't know that I've gotten such consistent pleasure watching an individual athlete's play as I have with Rondo over these past two playoff series. The best part of his game is how casual about it he seems. What he does on the court just sort of happens, or appears to: no gloating, no effort. He's as busy surprising himself as he is surprising us, except that Rondo's so confident it's only the specifics of what he does that surprise him, never the fact that he actually manages to do it.
It's not especially original to observe that athletes are artists in their own right. What's interesting is when they remind you of specific performers. It can be how they look (Robert Ryan, below right, for "The Ted Williams Story," Matt Damon ditto for Tom Brady). It can be how they carry themselves. The first time I saw Allen Iverson at the Garden I thought here was proof there must be a third Nicholas brother. Or, as with Rondo, it's nothing quite so obvious.
With Rondo, you feel as though you're seeing the equivalent of a great extended improvisation from a Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane. (In which case, think of the Big Three as the ultimate rhythm section.) Sonny and Trane are the godheads of the immense, ongoing solo: jazz's tutelary deities of the tenor. Except that Rondo, with his size, his quickness, has got to be an alto player. It can't be Charlie Parker, since basketball can have only one Bird. Rondo has the fluidity of a Cannonball Adderley, say -- but that leaves out his rebounding. No, it's the muscularity and ferocious swing of Jackie McLean on something like "Blues Inn" or "Tippin' the Scales," only done over and over again, that Rondo on the court reminds me of.
A storm is about to overtake the Riviera. It's not movie-related, but from the wide-screen widows of the press room, it's certainly cinematic. The lasers of sunlight and shaving-foam clouds are being chased off by ominously gauzy skies. The Czech journalist to my left just contracted a computer virus. And I still have not heard from my missing phone. That poor man's virus aside, however: Who cares! It's Stevie Wonder day! Yes, in all the corridors and every bathroom of the Palais, his songs are bouncing off the marble floors and ceramic sinks. Needless to say, I plan to spend the day refilling my bladder.
Between trips to the loo, the day began with two adored directors back to back: first Mike Leigh, whose "Another Year" is in the main competition, then Woody Allen, whose "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" was screening outside the competition. This festival loves both men, and increasingly they have a lot in common -- what, I'll explain in a later post or in the actual newspaper. Basically,though, both movies in different ways dramatize an almost pathological phobia of loneliness. But Leigh's film works, and Allen's, with his return to hookers and frustrated writers, doesn't for the usual reasons recent movies by both men respectively tend to succeed and tend not to.
A few days ago, a friend expressed a fear that she was seeing fewer American journalists to go along with the few American films. Her guess was that the economy and the general state of woe for the news business in the United States were keeping writers and critics home. Her concern didn't fully hit me until this afternoon at a screening for Charles Ferguson's documentary "Inside Job." As it was, the film was being shown in a relatively small house and still it was only three-quarters full -- compared to the Leigh and Allen films, which played in a giant auditorium not big enough for the scores of people praying to get in. Ferguson's movie, about the current financial collapse, seemed somewhat relevant to its mediocre attendance. (It seems unlikely that the premiere of a new Gregg Araki movie, which was showing at the same time, had siphoned everyone off. But I put very little past him.)
In any case, "Inside Job" is a masterpiece of investigative nonfiction moviemaking -- a scathing, outrageous, depressing, comical, horrifying walk through what brought on the crisis. In much the same way he did in his previous film, "No End in Sight," about the run-up to the Iraq war, Ferguson finds many of the key players of the crisis and many people -- economists, lobbyists, journalists, Eliot Spitzer -- who have special knowledge about how it happened. The use of footage from last month's instantly legendary Senate cross-examination of suits from Goldman Sachs (hello, C-SPAN Classics?) gives the movie a hot-off-the-hard drive feel.FULL ENTRY
First, apologies to anyone hoping to read a thoughtful assessment of where precisely Oliver Stone's filmmaking stands. I don't have one. His second installment of "Wall Street" premiered this morning. "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is the full title. And that may be true, but this morning I had to. My phone is missing. I stood up last night to ovate and photograph Manoel De Oliveira (no, I can't get enough of him; and were you here watching him pretend not to be ancient, it'd be just as hard for you). When I sat down, the phone was gone. I'm convinced the theater -- la salle Debussey -- has swallowed it whole or that it's lodged in my seat. I plan to call every night until someone is annoyed enough to answer. Feel free to do the same. But it's beginning to feel like a hopeless cause. In any case, I'd been using the phone as an alarm clock in addition to everything else. So today I had no one to say to me, "Dude, money never sleeps!"
I did manage to catch a little of the "Wall Street" press conference as well as the ongoing stress of the hardworking camermen: "Shy-uh! Shy-uh!" While it's true that Shia LaBeouf has the best crypto Judeo-French -- or is it Franco-Jewish?) name in the history of movies ("Monsieur Labuff, over here!"), today he had only the third best facial hair at his press event. Josh Brolin has great brownness growing big around his mouth. That only sounds unappetizing. It was the color of toast. Oliver Stone, meanwhile, was arrived with a sharp aqua suit and fetching grey mustache. It was simple, tasteful, and extremely elegant -- exactly what we don't want from his moviemaking.
Although, if "Money Never Sleeps" is half as good as what I was on my way to see before running into Shia and the family Stone, then hello, Ollie! Welcome back to form! If not, I urge him to see more Romanian movies, especially those by Cristi Puiu. Pure cinema is many things to many people. It's many things to me. This morning "pure cinema" was a reduction in which a filmmaker -- Puiu -- distilled a movie to its essential formal elements. The Romanians are superb reductionists. How pure is their cinema? There's very little shot-reverse shot business and zero-tolernance policy for hand-holding -- no soundtrack music, no narration, no frills or frippery. Only what is necessary to produce the most gratifying possible moviegoing experience.
What did I learn today? Lots. For one thing, when I overheard one journalist explain to another that a certain movie in the main competition could have been entered for reasons of national appeasement, that "it's French in a bad way," I assumed he was talking about Wang Xiaoshuai's "Chongqing Blues," which we had just left. It's a fine if unremarkable kind of mystery-noir about a deadbeat dad working backward to find out what led to his son's police murder. This particular person was actually talking about the quite lovely Mathieu Amalric strippers road-trip film from the previous night. He loved "Chongqing Blues."
To each his own, but his comment about bad French and national appeasement struck me because the film, as hard-working as Wang is, feels interchangeable with some French mysteries -- a little bit realist, very much muted (for some reason, Bruno Dumont comes to mind, although that's an unfairly inflammatory comparison). Wang, whose best film remains 2001's "Beijing Bicycle," zeroes in on what feels like a real generational sea change in Chinese mores and attitudes. But it didn't move or provoke me, and I wanted it to.
I also learned that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi makes a better dartboard than George W. Bush. The Italian satirist Sabina Guzzanti has taken a sledgehammer to Berlusconi's kneecaps (don't worry, they're made of titanium) to make "Draquila: Italy Trembles," 90 minutes of damning, but fairly deployed facts and footage arguing that Berlusconi and his administration's cronies were dazzlingly corrupt during reconstruction efforts after an earthquake seriously damaged the city of L'Aquila.FULL ENTRY
One meme making the rounds is that Internet piracy is to blame for the Best Picture winner taking in only $16 million during its theatrical release. If that's a factor -- which is conceivable, although college kids with Limewire don't strike me as this small, smart film's target demo -- it's a lesser one than Summit Entertainment's shocking ineptness at getting "Hurt Locker" into US theaters when interest was at its peak. From mid-November until early March, during the period when Kathryn Bigelow's little war flick was landing on one after another Best of 2009 list and critics' awards tally, you couldn't find the movie in a theater. I know, because I fielded dozens of emails from readers desperate to see it. That's three and a half months of box office that Summit left on the ground while the company tended to its cash cow, the "Twilight" series.
Gee, do you think that might have had anything to do with driving audiences to the Internet? For whatever reasons (and I'm guessing previously contracted on-demand and DVD availability windows had a lot to do with it), Summit said, look, we have this really great movie that everyone loves, but we won't let you see it. Meanwhile, over there in the alley was a truck unloading copies for free. I bet what many people would do in such a situation isn't going to be the same as what existing copyright law (or garden-variety ethics, take your pick) says they should do. The larger lessons are that the laws of supply and demand are extremely mutable in the Internet age and that if copyright holders don't want to get badly skunked, they need to think ahead of the curve. But don't tell that to Summit: They're too busy putting out junk like "Furry Vengeance" and "Letters to Juliet" to concern themselves with marketing a good movie to audiences willing to pay for it.
The first day of the world's greatest film festival usually entails a combination of sleep, orientation, and gawking. (Oh, look. Is that the red-headed dude from those last, miserable seasons of "ER"?) Sleep was harder to come by since I arrived half a day later than planned. (Thank you, Eyjafjallajoekull) Mercifully, it's a light movie day, in order for it to be a heavy day for rubber-necking. All eyes were on Ridley Scott's revisionist -- or make that "corrective" -- "Robin Hood." It's the festival's opening-night movie and, starting Friday, the world's second biggest commercial attraction (you try to stop "Iron Man 2"). Selecting "Robin Hood" means the people lining the Croissette outside the Palais get a little glamour to go with all the chainmail, beards, and arrows. It means the people get Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, who play Robin and Marion.
Their noonish arrival, first on the red carpet and later in the stifling pressroom, induced the year's first bout of pandemonium. From a paparazzo's perspective, Crowe might be lucrative, but he's a rather unremarkable star. Blanchett, by comparison, was utterly astral. She wore a pink dress that appeared to have several different parts, including histrionic shoulders that wouldn't have looked out of place on Jean Harlow if she played for the Oakland Raiders. It was sporty. It was chic.
The journalists gathered around the monitors in the corridors outside the pressroom were worried, since the conference itself seemed to start without anyone official making sure the sound worked. The actors' mouths moved while the television speakers just pumped out the dramatic pre-conference music. After some fretting, one of the volunteers managed to find the right audio channel. The solution produced the kind of sighing you expect to hear after someone defuses a bomb.FULL ENTRY
Imagine the possibilities...
Well, yes, of course "Iron Man 2" took the box office crown this weekend. But how big was the gap? Tony Stark's second appearance made $133 million in three days. The second-ranked movie of the weekend, "A Nightmare on Elm Street," made $9 million.
Which only proves, I guess, that studios are good at keeping out of the way of each other's behemoths. "Nightmare" opened a week ago and promptly fell off a cliff: Its second-weekend grosses were down 70 percent from the first. The only other new movie released last Friday was the self-explanatory documentary "Babies," which exploits possibly the only market demographic not devoured by "Iron Man 2": Grandmothers.
As for "IM2," that weekend bonanza represents a 36 percent leap over the original "Iron Man"'s $98.6 million opening in 2008 -- keep in mind that most sequels do worse, not better -- as well as the fifth-biggest opening weekend of all time. Debuting on 10,000 screens will do that for a fella.
Among limited releases, female-centric movies thrived, which makes sense given that all the men (and half the women) were watching Robert Downey Jr. strut his stuff. Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give" expanded from five theaters to 26 nicely, with a per-theater average of almost $10,000, and the estrogen-soaked "Mother and Child" opened at four theaters with an $11,100 PTA; it opens in Boston this Friday. The highest PTA of the weekend, though, went to a film that's only 83 years old: Fritz Lang's classic 1927 sci-fi epic "Metropolis," now almost fully restored to its original 153-minute running time, opened at New York's Film Forum to turn-away business and a $20,400 gross. "Iron Man," meet Iron Lady -- do I smell a sequel? It wouldn't really be much of a contest, of course: I'd put my money on the False Maria in three rounds.
More numbers at Box Office Mojo and from Leonard Klady.
Just about the final thing we see in the movie is a folder with the words "Avengers Initiative" stamped on it. This relates to the Marvel comic series. It also sets up "The Avengers" movie that's supposed to come out in 2012 (and which, depending on how you look at it, does or not qualify as "Iron Man 3" since Robert Downey Jr. is top billed as Tony Stark). Some of us, at least, might also like to see it as a nod to Dame Diana back in the day.
Although our heart belongs to Emma, it must be said that Natalie has it over her predecessor in at least one respect. Coiffure-wise, losing the flip is a major improvement.
The Boston LGBT Film Festival kicked off last night (Thursday) at the Museum of Fine Arts with a screening of "Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride" and runs until the 16th at the MFA and the Brattle. Tonight's double bill at the Museum is a winner: at 6:30 is "We Are the Mods" (photo), a drama hooked into the current L.A. revival of all things mid-60s British (you really should arrive on your Vespa if you can) and at 8:30 is "And Then Came Lola," a lesbian reworking of the 1998 art-house hit "Run, Lola, Run".
If you're around the Gloucester area over the weekend, you might want to look in on the "Womanimation!" mini-festival of work by global woman animators; The program's playing at the Cape Ann Community Cinema on Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Everyone else will probably be going to see "Iron Man 2" or, if the sight of metallic humanoids beating each other into the blacktop -- again -- is growing a little stale, to the deft moral comedy of Nicole Holofcener's "Please Give" at the Coolidge, the Kendall, or the Waltham Embassy. Actually, that's a little unfair to "Iron Man 2" -- all the stuff where Robert Downey Jr. is out of the suit and jabbering like the coolest maniac in America is as entertaining as ever, and Mickey Rourke comes on like a massive brutalist art object they found in the basement of the Kremlin. As I'm hardly the first to point out, it's the witty details and intelligent casting that make this franchise as good as it is, not the pro forma biffbamboom.
Colombian poet/filmmaker Victor Gaviria brings his stressed-out poetic realism to the Harvard Film Archive all weekend -- literally, since Gaviria will be present at the screenings for three of his films tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday. The one to catch is the Saturday showing of 2004's "Additions and Subtractions," a multi-character about life in the drug-wracked city of Medellin.
And for midnight-movie gorehounds, the Coolidge brings you "The Human Centipede," a delicate little fable about two women imprisoned by an insane surgeon who joins them front to back with a third victim. A throwback to 1970s grindhouse splatter anti-classics or a cheap attempt to raise/lower the vomit-bag bar? The general consensus seems to be the latter but if you're the kind of person who likes a date-movie dare, here's your bucket of rubber guts.
Hoo-lawdy, look at that cast: Alba, Rodriguez, Segal, Lohan. "Introducing" Don Johnson. It even looks like DeNiro's doing more than punching the clock in this one. And it's refreshing to see the neo-grindhouse mindset take an actual stand, however muy macho, on an issue. So I don't really understand the whining of Josh Tyler over at CinemaBlend, who complains the trailer's political commentary is harshing his little buzz and that he just wants his "blood, guts, and boobies." Oy. Fanboy, meet real world; real world, fanboy.
That's Romero at left. It's unclear exactly who, or what, might be behind him.
The rest of the box office wasn't so hot, with the only other major new entry, "Furry Vengeance," earning a pitiful $6.2 million thanks to a combination of withering reviews and audience indifference. JLo preggers comedy "The Back-Up Plan" is more or less toast its second week out with $7.2 million, but "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Date Night" are each holding nice and steady in their sixth and fourth weeks respectively. With its total grosses nearing the $200 million mark, "Dragon" has been a stealth smash, proving that craftsmanship still counts and that the words "3D family movie" don't automatically mean a crass, sold-out grab for your money. Yet.
Among limited releases, "Please Give" hit the NYC/LA art-houses with a bang -- a $25.6K per-theater-average at 5 theaters -- due to glowing reviews and upscale-audience goodwill left over from director Nicole Holofcener's earlier urban comedies "Walking and Talking" and "Lovely & Amazing". The movie comes to Boston this Friday.
Also arriving on Friday will be the opening gun of the summer season, "Iron Man 2," which opened on the rest of the planet this past weekend and which raked in over $100 million in 53 countries. Why do those folks get to see it and we don't? Because those folks care about the World Cup and we don't; Paramount wanted to give the movie a head start in foreign territories given the onset of the games on June 11.
More box office numbers and spin from Box Office Mojo and Leonard Klady.
About Movie Nation
ContributorsTy Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.
Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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