Christopher Nolan Said What?, IMAX, Apophenia, and the Shutting of the Piehole

In my experience ...

Say what you want, dude gives a good interview.  You may well be sick of hearing about Interstellar, the new nearly-three-hour opus from director Christopher Nolan that is, depending on whose critical take you favor, “a sweeping, futuristic adventure driven by grief, dread and regret” or “a spectacular, redundant puzzle.” This mostly flattering profile by Tom Shone in The Guardian is still worth a read for its colorful depiction of what I can only describe as breathtaking high-handedness. (I want to send flowers to Walter Volpatto, the DI colorist sitting on the wrong side of the computer from Nolan.) By the way, if you’re going to see Interstellar, you may as well drag your ass out to an actual IMAX theater running 15-perf 70mm, assuming there’s one near you. The picture quality is better than anything, and one day soon you know that one of these “real IMAX” releases is going to be the last one.

Apophenia. Thanks to Sam Adams (he runs the engaging Criticwire subsite at Indiewire) for the word of the day, a term I was unfamiliar with until he deployed it while defending Rodney Ascher’s The Shining interpretation documentary Room 237 from a dismissal by no less an authority than Stephen King* as “academic bullshit.” (The film is about interpretation, you see; representation does not equal endorsement; this seems as good a place as any to link to my own review, which set off a bit of a firestorm in the Film Freak Central comments section.)  The Wikipedia entry on apophenia is a story in itself, tracing the word’s origins to an untranslated monograph published in German back in 1958 before characterizing the term as “a misnomer that has taken on a bastardized meaning.” Take that, apophenia!

* I’m kidding. Stephen King is a lousy authority on visual media based in any way on his books.

 Piehole should be quiet. Here’s a street preacher getting served by an obnoxious little girl during Halloween season in Salem, MA.

Elsa Lanchester.

Elsa Lanchester on the set of Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Ms Elsa Lanchester - The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Elsa Lanchester on the set of The Bride of Frankenstein (Whale, 1935)
via Film Noir Photos

Gojira, Gilliam, and R.I.P. Gordon Willis

Elizabeth Olsen

Godzilla left me more or less cold. I could barely find enough to say about the latest Hollywood franchise reboot to fill up a Letterboxd diary entry. And yet smart people waxed rhapsodic over the damned thing. What am I missing? I see a film with a few exceptionally clever moments and technically brilliant CG work that never finds its narrative footing. Not as scary as War of the Worlds or as much fun as Jurassic Park, it doesn’t measure up to even second-tier Spielberg. And as gloomfests go, it doesn’t squeeze the cheer out of the room anywhere near as effectively as a Christopher Nolan pic.  I didn’t dislike it, exactly, largely because it does many things right. It even gets some of the hard stuff right. (Godzilla as hero was totally the way to go this time around.) But it gets some easy things wrong — first and foremost by putting the single blandest character in its homo sapiens line-up front and center — and never works up a real head of steam.

Mariel Hemingway and Woody Allen
Mariel Hemingway and Woody Allen in Manhattan

R.I.P. Gordon Willis, ASC. The cinematographer behind the camera for The Godfather, The Parallax View, Annie Hall, Manhattan, and more has passed. He got that dim, shadowy look for The Godfather by deliberately underexposing film and not pushing it quite enough in processing to make up the difference. (“A lot of cameramen work to increase the quality of the image,” he said at the time, “but in this specific case I’m working to decrease it.”) You can see much of his finest work on really good Blu-ray versions — the latest Godfather reissues and the Woody Allen films are top-drawer — but the indignity of a revisionist HD transfer of All the President’s Men that he described as “all fucked up” tarnishes his legacy. (“You call these [home video] guys, it’s like talking to a head on a stick,” he memorably told Jeffrey Wells.)

Terry Gilliam is making his Don Quixote movie again. This per Variety, which reports that casting has begun anew. (Robert Duvall and Ewan McGregor were set to star in the previous incarnation of this project, and of course Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp were attached once upon a time.) Good luck, old buddy.

Those Ennio Morricone concerts in New York and Los Angeles have been canceled.

Ullmann. Bergman.

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman
Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

Twin Peaks, Criterion, David O. Russell, etc.

Sheryl Lee and Kyle MacLachlan

Twin Peaks gets a Blu-ray release. I was kind of enraptured the first time I noticed that Netflix was offering HD transfers of old Twin Peaks episodes among the vintage trinkets on display in its junk shop of the cinematic mind. I kept myself from watching too much because I figured a proper spinning-disc release had to be in the works — and here it is. Crazy as it might sound, the assemblage of all 29 episodes of the original series (including the international version of the pilot, which wrapped the show’s central mystery up all tidy-like in the final few minutes of screen time) is not the real draw for Lynch diehards. Nore is the mere inclusion of the theatrically released prequel, Fire Walk with Me, that special. No, the siren’s-song of this overstuffed set is the arrival of an hour and a half of Fire Walk with Me deleted scenes. The existence of that footage was widely publicized before the film came out on DVD and, as I recall, New Line Home Video investigated the possibility of a massive special edition before crushing fan hopes with a relatively bare-bones release back in 2002. Well, it’s all coming now. The project seems to have been officially announced on Tumblr and Twitter (above). Of course. I remember this seemed like a pretty poor excuse for a movie when I saw it at what I remember as a pre-release midnight screening, but I’ve watched it since then and it has aged well. And if you buy Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery from Amazon, gets a kickback.

All That Jazz
All That Jazz

Criterion announces August titles. Will anyone have the money to buy them after shelling out for the Twin Peaks and Werner Herzog boxed sets in July? Anyway, here’s the line-up: Latter-day John Cassavetes picture Love Streams, Alfonso Cuaron’s NC-17 Y Tu Mamá También, Almodóvar’s NC-17 Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Átame!), Imamura’s Vengeance Is Mine (a longtime Criterion favorite dating to the days of laserdisc), and Bob Fosse’s lacerating self-portrait All That Jazz are all coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD. I haven’t seen the Imamura, and I’m sure I was too young and callow for Love Streams to make an impression when I saw it in the 1980s, but my clear favorite from that bunch is All That Jazz.

I’m not a big David O. Russell fan. Still, I always see his movies. And I find interviews with him pretty interesting since there is something genuine about him. I like the part most of the way through this one with Terrence Rafferty, for the DGA, where he seems to get bitchy and defensive — not so much about the questioning, I don’t think, but rather about what he thinks the questioning reveals about the way people think of him as a director.

Jezebel selects nine films that pass the Bechdel test in 2014.

Harrison Ford has been offered a role in the Blade Runner sequel. (Oh, how I choke on those words: Blade Runner sequel.)

Elizabeth Moss. Katharine Hepburn.

Elizabeth Moss
Elizabeth Moss

[via a dame like me]

Grace of Monaco, Missing Reels, etc.

So Grace of Monaco is apparently a big loser. In The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw’s takedown says it’s “so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire risk.” Other reviews are more kind; in Variety, Scott Foundas calls it a “cornball melodrama,” and for Vanity Fair, Jordan Hoffman allows that it’s “entertaining and watchable,” if ridiculous, which sounds like a grudging endorsement to me even though the subhead calls it “bad.” A writer for The Playlist, Jessica Kiang,  describes a screening punctuated by guffaws from the assembled critics. In Time, Richard Corliss at least defends Nicole Kidman’s titular performance (if only David Thomson were at Cannes this year!), but the bottom line is there are seven reviews at at this writing, and none of them are “fresh.”

James Gray on his influences. Man, director James Gray is a terrific interview. Intelligent, respectful, and fairly candid. On the occasion of the release of his The Immigrant, Steve Erickson talked him up about all the different films he swipes ideas from, from Rocco and His Brothers to A Short Film About Love. Stephanie Zacharek reviews The Immigrant, which is getting a very limited release: “In today’s movie-marketing climate, The Immigrant probably has too much feeling for its own good. But anyone who cares about movies, and about what movies can be, should try to see it on the big screen.”

Classic film specialist Farran Smith Nehme, aka The Siren, is publishing her first novel. Do you work at a bookstore or are you somehow otherwise engaged in bookselling? If you can figure out a way into Book Expo America, the annual industry trade show that takes place  at Manhattan’s unlovable Javits Center, why not show up on Thursday morning and pick up a signed galley of Missing Reels? It’s by New York Post film critic Farran Smith Nehme, perhaps better known online as blogger Self-Styled Siren, and it’s coming from a real publisher, film-friendly The Overlook Press. It’s set against the backdrop of the New York repertory movie-theater scene in the late 1980s; the synopsis reminds me a little of the Theodore Roszak classic cult-film yarn Flicker, but maybe with a happier ending! She says she’ll be signing books around 11:30 a.m. at the Overlook booth; in my experience you may or may not be able to get your hands on a galley if you miss the event.

Billy Wilder, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Lemmon.

Billy Wilder, Shirley MacLaine, and Jack Lemmon.
From Irma la Douce (Wilder, 1963).

[via chained and perfumed]


I’ve been aware for years of this movie’s reputation as “that X-rated Richard Dreyfuss film” but until I spun it up on a whim via Netflix — which is streaming a 720p encode of MGM’s surprisingly nice HD transfer — I didn’t realize that it was also a very early Bob Hoskins film, nor that Veronica Cartwright co-starred. Further, if you had told me that Jessica Harper (now of Suspiria fame) spent most of the film’s second half topless, well, I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken me this long to find time for it.

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The Woman


Didn’t want to miss this after hearing the stories from Sundance, but as it turns out I didn’t like this any better than McKee’s other films. Tarted up as a feminist parable, the film is a little too gleefully judgmental of a certain category of women that it believes are complicit in their own exploitation. At any rate, the patronizing gender studies mesh poorly with McKee’s slapdash directorial technique, and the slow-moving film is saddled with a jarring rock-and-roll song score and an ersatz 1970s editorial style that verges on self-parody. The best thing about McKee is the women he surrounds himself with, and the line-up of Angela Bettis, Carlee Baker, teenage Lauren Ashley Carter, and smoldering savage Pollyanna McIntosh, in a purely physical role, makes this easy enough to watch without quite dispelling the puerile didacticism of the whole affair. Sean Bridgers, too, playing a candidate for World’s Worst Dad, has some moments. The performances tug at the story’s more interesting undercurrents, trying to pull something up to the surface, and I kept imagining the myriad ways another director might have made something better and more urgent than McKee’s awkwardly sunlit mix of deadpan humor and grim endurance test. I’ll bet Rob Zombie’s The Woman would be something to see.

Apple, the iPhone, and the Forbidden Fruit of Adult Comics

This unpublished page by Reed Waller from Omaha the Cat Dancer is one of the images Apple doesn’t want on your iPhone.

I think my iPhone is a great piece of hardware, but here’s the kind of thing that makes me think twice about giving Apple my money. In this interview from Print magazine’s Imprint blog, Kim Munson talks about an iOS and Android app she developed called Comix Classics: Underground Comics based on Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix, a book and exhibition on the history of underground comic-book art. The Android version is complete; there is no review process for apps published in the Android marketplace. The iPad version, happily, is also complete. But the iPhone version is missing 16 specific images that Apple demanded be removed before the app could be approved.

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Rockstar Games and Red Dead Redemption in Pleasantville

The videogame community made an important outreach effort to movie nerds on Wednesday night, as representatives from Rockstar Games made the trek into Westchester County, New York, to demo their current release, the open-world Western adventure Red Dead Redemption, for the arthouse crowd. Presided over by erstwhile New York Times movie critic Janet Maslin, the game night was an unusual booking for the Burns Film Center, which is more inclined to host filmmaker chats with the likes of Werner Herzog and Jonathan Demme. Props to the powers that be at the Burns for recognizing that Red Dead Redemption is freaking awesome and giving Rockstar a venue for showing a bunch of hardcore film people (not to mention all the hip youngsters who brought hard copies of the game to be autographed by the Rockstar crew) what’s up in the increasingly expansive world of interactive entertainment.

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