Film / 6 posts found

Blago! (The Musical)

by Tom Watson
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With the sensational success of Milk, an Oscar contender if ever one rolled on a projector, we have new project for Mssrs. Penn and Van Sant – another ode to a governmental folk hero in the making. For nothing captures these early Depression Era II days of strange municipal doings than a little side project I like to call Blago! (The Musical). Now, I’m not generally a fan of musicals – in my experience, people don’t generally break into elaborate song and dance routines during the grind of everyday life. But I’m thinking of something more along the lines of […]

I’m Not There? – I’m Not There, Man

by Tom Watson
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I'm Not ThereA lengthy and elegant mess of a film, Todd Haynes’ not-so-experimental I’m Not There is nonetheless a beauty of a wreck, a “non-biopic” about Bob Dylan that mainly ignores that facet of Dylan that always hides in plain site when analysts look for meaning in the minstrel poet’s own life – his music.

Oh, there are plenty of songs in it – originals and those recorded by a variety of artists for the inevitable soundtrack. Some interesting choices too. But the story never connects to the songs, the movie’s plot arc of Dylan’s life – told in six intertwined parables with six different actors portraying Dylan-like characters – doesn’t account for the music, for the brilliant synthesis of American music that makes Dylan the most important singer-songwriter of the last half century.

What we get, in amazing photography and some fine performances, is pretty much a glorified and well-shot episode of Behind the Music, the old hackneyed story of every star: the backstory, the self-invention, the rise, the drugs, the women, the fall, the comeback, the discovery of faith…and so on. At the end of it, we’re all wowed by the detail and the ambition of it, but we don’t know any more about Bob Dylan than we did going in – or about ourselves, for that matter.

Watching for Keira – Almost Nightly

by Tom Watson
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Keira Knightley

A pirate walked up to me in the mall this holiday weekend as I was loitering outside of Anthropologie, waiting with only moderatre patience for The Artist. “Hey big man, I’ve got Pirates and Shrek 3 on DVD. Twenty bucks.” I shooed him away with a suave “belay me buck-o, and be about yer business.” But I also found it strange to be offered a pirated Pirates of the Caribbean – for which I’d laid out considerable scratch at the local cineplex two nights previous. Then again, perhaps twenty bucks was a bargain. Why shouldn’t the Motion Picture Association endorse pirating a movie that glamorizes rapine plunder?

Pirates3 gets a sad thumbs down from this reviewer: it’s too long, too unemotional, and too driven by computer graphics and a thick and clumsy plot (if it can be called that at all) that had me trying to fathom the many competing pirate curses that seemed to spout up like stranded whales as excuses for some battle or swordfight. A huge Hollywood mess, in other words – one that will rake in tens of millions of dollars (a success!) and satisfy audiences’ desire for a big, sweeping epic. Problem is, this thing screams “big sweeping epic!” without actually providing the sweep. Or for that matter, a single convincing character…save one.

And I’m not talking about Keira Knightley, though her presence – all angular profile and Oxbridge enunciation – is one of the few reasons to sit through the flick.

Meeting Kirk Douglas

by Tom Watson
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Kirk DouglasYou don’t have to ask Kirk Douglas for his favorite film role – it’s already on his lips. “Van Gogh.” He’s referring to Lust for Life, the 1956 MGM movie about the life of the Dutch painter, based on the 1934 novel by Irving Stone, directed by Vincente Minnelli and George Cukor, and produced by John Houseman.

“Yes, Van Gogh. For the first time in my acting career, the part took me over. He took over. You know, I slept in the room where he committed suicide.”

I listened in something approaching open-mouthed awe to Douglas during his talk (an interview with Mort Zuckerman) at the 10th annual Milken Global Conference in Beverly Hills this week. I was there to cover the proceedings for onPhilanthropy, but for a few moments I allowed myself to play the fan, chatting briefly with him afterwards as he signed a book for my father. I couldn’t help it. Douglas is a living link – among the last – to a generation of actors, of real stars, of men and women who created the film industry.

The co-stars alone dazzle and tingle the nerves: Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Mitchum, Rosalind Russell, Michael Redgrave, Raymond Massey, Burt Lancaster, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Rudy Vallee, Anne Baxter, Cornel Wilde, Lauren Bacall. And that’s just the 1940s.

Kirk Douglas is 90 years old. He’s smaller, a littled crooked, but he moves with real determination. The eyes twinkle and laugh. His speech isn’t perfect ten years after the stroke, but no matter: he’ll talk your ear off, and with attitude and delivery. This nice little old gentleman is still Kirk Douglas.

A Bad TV Show About Good Movies

by Tom Watson
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David Niven and friendToday we focus on movies by way of a glitzy, Vegas-style revue show that has almost nothing to do with brilliant film-making. It’s Hoillywood celebrating Hollywood with schmaltz, and it’s evolved from a rather subdued black tie dinner at Sid Grauman’s theater to a megcast shown around the world and widely reviled for its length, its lack of pacing, and its tacky showbiz numbers. Through the years, there have been a number of “Oscar moments” by way of the television product – the streaker behind David Niven and Marlon Brando’s non-acceptance leap to mind. We’re celebrating the Academy Awards here on newcritics in words and commentary, but I thought we could use some video – at least as a preview of tonight’s madness. So I did some YouTube research and – after the jump – found some Oscar gold through the years. Enoy the preview!

London Calling

by Tom Watson
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I’m not a film completist; with three children and a limited window of screening opportunities outside of video-on-demand, my year’s best, non-kiddie category, is scant by definition. So my “best of” list in the cinematic arts is limited to exactly two pictures, the only two to really cut through the mist of over-production and bad popcorn, and to stick to my intellectual ribs like butter on a toasted corn muffin.

Both are deeply English, more so in language than in culture. Both have all their crucial action scenes in and around London. And both deal with government and with the power of perception in the masses, a crucial factor in self-governance and the source of legitimacy of power.

VqV for Vendetta caused one right-wing reviewer to rant that the film was “a vile, pro-terrorist piece of neo-Marxist, left-wing propaganda filled
with radical sexual politics and nasty attacks on religion and Christianity.” Others took it as a parable of neoconservatism run wild: its core story of America in ruins, and Britain run by a brutish totalitarian regime is filled with torture, secret imprisonment, the end of fair trials, and a government spying on its citizenry.