3 Films by Sergei Eisenstein
Ivan the Terrible, Strike, The Battleship Potemkin
“I can do that.”
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Director of Photography: Richard H. Kline
“Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up…Here is..”
What can you say about Mr. Ebert? There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t aware of him, usually on television with Gene Siskel. I loved to watch them argue, and yes, also agree, about the hundreds of films they discussed over the years. As I grew older, beginning to devour books about cinema, Roger’s reviews and essays were not just informative, but tons of fun and educational to read. He gave so much attention to what deserved it most, in print and on TV. The documentaries, foreign films, small pictures, and overlooked treasures most might never be aware of were it not for his advocacy of them. Being one of the world’s most identifiable writers (and far more famous than so many of the actors and filmmakers he admired) gave him a platform to help advance film as art.
I feel that we’re much better off as a community of movie lovers because of what Roger and Gene tirelessly contributed for decades. Now I’m feeling the same grief I did when Siskel passed away in 1999. Wanting their opinions on so many things, and realizing they’re both gone. It’s a terrible loss. Deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of both of these men. Hopefully they’re reunited as a team, somewhere. Laughing, talking, enjoying each other’s company again. Watching a film that makes them both awed by the magic of the movies.
Since ARGO is one of last year’s most acclaimed films, I decided to revisit something I wrote after seeing the second of that talented director’s trio of big screen efforts so far. From one lazy Sunday morning, on the 26th of September, 2010, based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince Of Thieves, The Town…
A big name actor who’s now not regarded as any kind of one trick pony behind the camera, Ben Affleck has directed his second film and taken on the additional burden of the male lead role as well. He has a brilliant cast around him again, with Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively and Pete Postlethwaite, to name just a few. The Town is a tough, relentless descent into what drives young and older men to ruin their lives and those of the ones they love through crime.
Ben’s performance as Doug, a former hockey prospect who blew his shot at the NHL, is very impressive and multidimensional. He’s never just a dumb thug with no hope or plans for a better future, but his closest friend, Jem, played by Jeremy Renner in his most menacing role ever, prefers to keep his best bud down in the spiritual gutter with him. The miserable love company, especially when entertaining the hard guy illusion that they’ll never be ratted out by each other. Precisely why Doug’s father, in a brief, but poignant appearance by Chris Cooper, has been incarcerated for many years and still has several left to serve. For keeping silent when rolling on his partners in crime would’ve guaranteed his quick release. This stubborn devotion to their take on ‘Omerta’, if you will, a creed of those who try to follow the old time street code, still has its tragic and ravaged devotees paying an enormous price.
Charlestown, Massachusetts is a close knit community full of good folks. Then there are the prison bound tough guys who give it a bad image, like these four (Owen Burke and Slaine, as Desmond and ‘Gloansy’ respectively, round out the criminal quartet), planning robberies that too often have innocents being brutally assaulted and frequently coda with very scary shootouts powered by automatic weapons. The poster shot of figures in nuns’ habits disguised by grotesque masks is a double whammy of an image that weirdly sums up the four’s past and future. This mostly Catholic neighbourhood produces lots of good boys that enlarged into barely recognizable adults who will commit murder for loot from banks or anywhere else they can plan a heist. The car chases through the narrow streets culminate with gunfire ringing out like evil bells from the bowels of hell. These men are so far from being the boys in Catholic school they once were, it’s not even remotely funny.
Rebecca Hall, as the bank staffer who’s now an emotional casualty of the film’s opening robbery, is at her best. She gives a totally believable turn as a woman whose vulnerability leads her down two less than ideal streets at the same time. Blake Lively is also first rate in the role of a young mother that would’ve been called a ‘fallen woman’ in the past, now looking too much like an increasingly common kind of directionless, barely out of her teens female. Both women think they love Doug, but their emotions are each rooted by a different kind of manipulated angle.
Jon Hamm gets a chance to be another powerful man, but this FBI agent isn’t screwing around in any sense of the term. He’s out for figurative (and eventually, real) blood, knowing the most likely way these armed thugs will be stopped once and for all is through a bullet in the head. His acting is grittily low key and his Special Agent Frawley operates at a good, slow burn, tying the loose ends together till someone will mess up and the whole sordid crime spree can finally be over.
Whereas Renner and Postlethwaite are simply terrifying. Jem is recently out of Walpole Penitentiary and he sees himself as entitled to call shots at Doug, finally letting his friend in on painfully personal knowledge of what led to him going away for killing a man. And Postlethwaite is perfect as the harder than nails, merciless local crime kingpin that dangles his cannon fodder worker bees like marionettes in a devilish scheme that eventually goes too far for all of them. Both deserve Oscar nominations for their work in The Town. Let’s hope they, as well as writer/director Affleck, receive them. This is a very entertaining film and one of 2010’s best.
Raging Bull, 1980
Portraying a real person in a biopic involves a great deal of emotional depth. Raging Bull: My Story (by Jake LaMotta, with Joseph Carter and Pete Savage) was the 1970 autobiography adapted by Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader into the warts and all screenplay this film is based on. Cathy Moriarty’s first screen role was as the long suffering wife of the Bronx born boxing legend and her performance earned her an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress opposite lead Robert De Niro (who won the Best Actor Oscar for his incredible transformation into the volatile middleweight champion).
Vikki LaMotta, born Beverly Thailer in 1930, was 16 when she became Jake’s second wife and the teenaged Moriarty’s delivery of the range of her experiences as his spouse provided a truly unsettling descent into the pathological jealousy of her celebrity husband and its destructive toll on their relationship. Their turbulent marriage (1946-1957) produced three children, two boys and a girl, and ended in divorce. (Vikki died after heart surgery at age 75 in 2005. Her sons with LaMotta, Joe and Jake Jr., both died in 1998.)
Raging Bull was a stark and brutal film the world wasn’t quite ready for, released to modest box office and several less than flattering reviews. Martin Scorsese himself has said he felt this dark period in his life might’ve marked the end of his directorial career. Today, the classic is widely acclaimed by many critics as the best American film of the 1980s.
“I thought, If I’m sitting in a movie theater, knowing that Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are chasing a serial killer, and that Kevin Spacey is in the movie and hasn’t shown up yet, I know he’s got to be the bad guy. I thought it would be much better if nobody knew who was playing the character. It would be much more of a surprise. It took two days to sell them on the idea. Later, they were very happy. The bonus was that I was in a movie that made more than $400 million worldwide and I didn’t have to do a single interview.”
- Kevin Spacey explaining his lack of PR for ‘Seven’ (1995) to Michael Fleming, Playboy (October 1999)
|—||Stanley Kubrick interviewed by Tim Cahill, Rolling Stone (#507 - August 27, 1987)|
“When it happened to me, my resistance was purely instinctual. The thing I don’t understand is being quiet. Or going down without a fight. No way, man. I may go down, but I’m taking some of you with me. Make no mistake.”
- Farrah Fawcett, discussing ‘Extremities’ (1986) with David A. Keeps, Details (‘Mondo Hollywood’, March 1998) & how the role of Marjorie contrasted with her experience.
Films I saw in theatres from January 1st, 2012 - just recently.
Chasing Ice, Detropia, The Fruit Hunters, Gerhard Richter - Painting, The Imposter, The Last Gladiators, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, Marley, Samsara, Searching For Sugar Man, Seven Up!, 7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up, 56 Up.
FANTASIA FESTIVAL (Documentaries noted with D, Revival with R):
The Ambassador (D), Bones Brigade (D), 11/25: The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate, The Haunting Of Julia/Full Circle (R), Killer Joe, The Mechanical Bride (D), My Amityville Horror (D), Under The Bed, V/H/S, We Are Legion: The Story Of The Hacktivists (D).
REVIVALS (includes Classic Film Series/Most Wanted Mondays in Canada):
The African Queen, Batman Returns, Blazing Saddles, Breathless, The Bridge On The River Kwai, A Clockwork Orange, Dracula, Frankenstein, Gladiator, Labyrinth, Lawrence Of Arabia, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Reservoir Dogs, The Running Man, The Shining, Singin’ In The Rain, A Streetcar Named Desire, Sunset Boulevard, To Kill A Mockingbird, True Romance, Vertigo.
AND (pretty much) ALL THE REST (representing theatrical views, not any recent dvd release watching experience):
The Amazing Spider-Man, Antiviral, Arbitrage, Argo, The Avengers, Bernie, The Bourne Legacy, The Cabin In The Woods, The Campaign, Chernobyl Diaries, Chronicle, Citizen Gangster, Cloud Atlas, Compliance, Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method, Darling Companion, Deadfall, The Dictator, Django Unchained, End Of Watch, Flight, Friends With Kids, Gone, Goon, Haywire, Headhunters, Hitchcock, Holy Motors, House At The End Of The Street, Hyde Park On Hudson, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Killing Them Softly, Looper, Magic Mike, Man On A Ledge, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Not Fade Away, The Paperboy, Prometheus, The Raid, Rampart, Safe House, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Sessions, Seven Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Sinister, Skyfall, Smashed, Take This Waltz, Ted, This Is 40, This Means War, To Rome With Love, 21 Jump Street, W.E., Zero Dark Thirty.
Who I’d nominate if I had Oscar ballot. And if I could change a few minds/rules, with my wish for the ‘winners’ named 1st, the rest listed in no particular order. All acting/screenplay categories, plus Best Director, are expanded here to include a sixth nominee, as I feel the academy should in real life:
BEST ACTOR: John Hawkes (The Sessions), Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained), Bill Murray (Hyde Park On Hudson), Denis Lavant (Holy Motors), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Jack Black (Bernie).
The fact Hawkes isn’t nominated is truly ridiculous. I KNOW he gave 2012’s best performance in any category! No Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe here, you say? Well, he doesn’t need MY hypothetical vote to get a nod for real and, frankly, I’d rather watch Murray as FDR any day! It wasn’t mere mimicry, but sensitive and beautiful acting that brought us a bit closer to understanding a very complicated historical figure!
BEST ACTRESS: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Laura Linney (Hyde Park On Hudson), Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz), Helen Mirren (Hitchcock).
Hard to choose only one here, as Winstead, Lawrence and Chastain are basically in a three-way tie for me, but I’d say Winstead if forced to choose. VERY tough choice!
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty), Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained), Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths), Javier Bardem (Skyfall).
2012 really was the best year yet for McConaughey. And perhaps the best he’ll ever have. He was terrific in FOUR different films, but his career best work in Killer Joe is so note perfect, it just kicked his trio of other turns’ cinemasses! TKO.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ann Dowd (Compliance), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook), Juno Temple (Killer Joe), Kerry Washington (Django Unchained), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Brit Marling (Arbitrage).
Seeing how Dowd handled a difficult assignment AND made it such a compelling piece of acting puts her above the other very talented ladies in this group. Major AMPAS misstep, another career best role getting shut out in a HUGE snub!
BEST PICTURE: Zero Dark Thirty, Moonrise Kingdom, Holy Motors, Argo, Seven Psychopaths, Django Unchained, Hyde Park On Hudson, The Sessions, The Cabin In The Woods, Silver Linings Playbook.
OKAY, let’s face it, the academy’s new rules about how Best Picture nominees are determined is more than a wee bit silly. Just make it the popular vote determines TEN choices, not a varying depending on some technical BS final number instead. I say let each voter nominate TEN films for more overall diversity and not such a predictable, PR campaign/showbiz politics oriented final list. ZD30 and Moonrise are practically tied for my #1 film of the year, but I feel ZD30 & Bigelow should both win. To give the finger to those in the industry who shun female directors AND this film’s depiction of what goes on in the deadly serious battle against modern terrorism around the globe.
Why didn’t I go to and ‘vote’ for Les Miserables and Lincoln, among many movies absent from my 2012 list? Several reasons. (A) I PAY to see all of these and do not get screeners, much less paid to review. (B) Because they have little/no interest for me and it’s barely conceivable to those with a modicum of knowledge about the publicity driven studio system that these films (and their big name performers) with huge industry muscle behind them wouldn’t get nominated. They don’t need MY hypothetical selections. The Best Picture list one chooses should be about what made you feel wonder at the filmgoing experience, not sticking to what people expect you to say out of conformity. (C) I’d rather see those I feel deserve to be honoured get honoured. Just because AMPAS members are used in a grand marketing scheme/trivia game, it doesn’t mean their opinions matter more than yours or mine. The public truly determines what is or isn’t a hit!
BEST DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Leos Carax (Holy Motors), Ben Affleck (Argo), Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths).
How THIS category got soooo fucked up this time around by actual directors voting for, um, the actual five nominees is mind boggling to me. Bigelow should be preparing her second acceptance speech right now instead of wondering WTF happened!
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Chris Terrio (Argo), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Ben Lewin (The Sessions), Tracy Letts (Killer Joe), Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowksi & Lana Wachowski (Cloud Atlas), David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis).
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty), Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom), Craig Zobel (Compliance), Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Leos Carax (Holy Motors), Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths).
Two films about Americans caught in the deadly serious realities of how foreigners see them on foreign soil. Two awesome scripts, Terrio and Boal both worthy of the prize in their respective categories!
I didn’t see enough documentaries to really get a better handle on last year’s batch, but the fact Detropia was eligible and failed to get nominated for Best Documentary Feature is very sad. It’s a necessary film that’s about a city’s past, present and future, showing how the economic devastation of a once grand industrial center is now frighteningly spreading beyond the automotive business to almost every aspect of US labour. See it!
“That’s right. And it’s dangerous, I’ve seen it happen: A talented, instinctual actor is fed a lot of baloney by a teacher about different techniques and methods - and he’s ruined. Everything that was good and fresh about this person is compromised - I won’t use that word again - everything is sacrificed to the altar of the acting teacher’s ego. The need to control. The need to have their little sheep. I think it’s a terrible profession. I think acting teachers are worthless. I learned so much more about acting from philosophy courses, psychology courses, history and anthropology than I ever learned in acting class. So I just don’t believe in it.”
- Tim Robbins, responding to “Those who can’t do, teach?”, interviewed by Marshall Fine, Playboy (February 1995)
|—||Paul Thomas Anderson interviewed by David Rensin, Playboy (February 1998)|
“I started watching a tape somebody sent me nine years ago. I watched the first half, and five years later, through an act of herculean strength, I watched the second half. It took that long to prepare to be subjected to these images again.” - Quentin Tarantino commenting on a “rancid slice of putrid pie out of Sweden”, in Rolling Stone, Issue #1014, November 30, 2006.