Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Greatest Movie Game You Will Ever Play, Ever, Really Really

My friend the Film Walrus has put his movie game online. This is cause for celebration. It is simpler, smarter, and funnier than any movie-themed game (board or otherwise) I have played; the only thing it's missing is a catchy name. The explanation is at the link, but I'd like to suggest that you play it as a party game, not just by yourself. Get your film geek friends together and do it.

Quick quote question. I heard this recently: "There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves." It's attributed in several places to Will Rogers, but I can't find a reliable source for it. Anyone got a clue?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Turn

Have you ever read those "My Turn" essays in Newsweek? They are these one-page pieces where a regular guy like yourself or someone with an interesting occupation shares their experiences, like the time they adopted a kid from Russia, or the time they went to college, or the time that their kid that they adopted from Russia tried to get into college. Often they're opinion pieces. It's like Reader's Digest. I love Reader's Digest. These "My Turn" pieces are pretty easy to relate to, unless they're written by, oh, Jane Birkin talking about her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg.

"After that we went off to Venice, and that’s where I fell head over heels. He took away all the pain of it having not worked with John Barry, and I think I helped him get over Brigitte Bardot and her leaving him."

I like putting random celebrities in that sentence. "He took away all the pain of it having not worked with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I think I helped him get over Madeleine Albright and her leaving him." "He took away all the pain of it having not worked with Sid Vicious, and I think I helped him get over Mariah Carey and her leaving him."


I have a list on McSweeney's website today, if that sort of thing is your sort of thing. Written under a pseudonym, of course. My true name, Scrooge McDuck, I share only with you, loyal readers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Guard

Go see The Guard, you guys, if a good sarcastic rural Irish cop comedy is your thing. I'm not sure how many of those there are, but here's a beautiful example. I'm tempted to compare writer-director John Michael McDonagh with his brother, writer-director-playwright Martin McDonagh, to do some really thorough point-by-point analysis, but how terrible is that? Who wants to be compared with their brother? I mean, it's not like he's listening, but I don't want to do it on principle. So let's leave it here: they have similar sensibilities even for brothers, but if you didn't like In Bruges that doesn't mean you won't like this.

Some poster has the film as Father Ted meets Bad Lieutenant, which is not at all bad. A friend who hasn't seen yet thought it looked like Rush Hour meets Hot Fuzz, which is not bad either, though it suggests, as the marketing for the film does, that Don Cheadle is Brendan Gleeson's equal. And he's not, really: I can see why they took that angle, because it's quite a coup to get Cheadle, but it's misleading. This is all Gleeson, all the time, though the supporting cast is uniformly fine. 

The plot here is paint-by-numbers crime movie stuff; there's not even a mystery to speak of. But it's just an excuse for a lot of wisecracks and good-humored foul-mouthery, and McDonagh proves himself a master. Gleeson's timing is sharp. You can tell from Calexico's charming soundtrack that the tone of the film is comic spaghetti western: self-aware but it doesn't trip over its own feet, and none of the violence is real. I'd gladly watch another movie like it. And for the American viewer, it's also a fun game of guess-the-accent. Good luck.

Because this post is Irish-themed already (though this isn't the least bit related): why hasn't anyone put out a full collection of the Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O'Brien) Irish Times columns? Has any brave archivist gathered all of them? This must either be one of literary history's great oversights or a near-impossible task. It's O'Brien's centennial this year, so I hope somebody's been at work on it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Directors Playing Darts (1)

There is a bar where all the movie directors go to play darts.

Woody Allen got his darts in 1971 and has used them ever since. They have served him well. Sometimes he has a duplicate set made in Europe and uses those instead, but no one can really tell the difference.

Stanley Kubrick's darts were hand-carved by a Japanese master and painted in ageless, gleaming black enamel. These darts are so unusual that the regulars in the back corner booths come out to look. Then Stanley stands in front of the dartboard for three hours, getting his throw just right. Everyone hates him.

David Lean practiced until he could play a perfect game. Then he played so many perfect games in classical style that he got on certain people's nerves. One time his aim was a little off and they never let him forget it. He went home and didn't play darts for fourteen years.

Behind the counter, off to the right of the dartboard, hangs a picture of Alfred Hitchcock. No one remembers when he first showed up, but received wisdom is that he is the master. There are stories of how everyone would stand spellbound as he threw. Occasionally the rotund English gentleman comes round and a hush settles over the place. He sits, orders a drink, and watches.

D.W. Griffith did not make the dartboard himself, but he brought it to the bar, and around here that counts for everything.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Greater Apes

How good was Rise of the Planet of the Apes? So good that when my filmgoing companion challenged me to name a similar film thematically, I said Tree of Life.

Which is not to say that it's as good as Tree of Life, or that it's at all fair to compare a several-decades-down-the-line-prequel/summer-movie-franchise-chapter with Malick's masterpiece. Only that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a movie worth thinking about.

At the moment I don't want to get into the film's plot or its implications; what I'm excited about is the character at its heart and the performance that gives him life. Reading reviews of Rise, I think it's telling that critics' disappointment or elation corresponds at least a little bit to whether they consider James Franco (the doctor) or Andy Serkis (the chimp) its star. The humans are serviceable enough, but it's hard to stop watching Caesar for even a moment, and the character has reignited the Gollum debate of how much a motion-capture performance belongs to the actor. What does it tell you that the same actor played both parts?

I'll answer my own rhetorical question: that Andy Serkis is a hell of a gifted actor, and it doesn't matter that the performance belongs as much to the folks in charge of the technology. Does any film performance belong solely to the actor? An incompetent editor can sabotage an actor's characterization and a good one can enhance it. If you get something this good, it doesn't matter how many people it took to put it together. You can debate the philosophy, but I'm going to keep watching.

One reason to be excited about motion capture involves looking backward rather than forward. The student of silent movies is always a little starved watching contemporary mainstream film, in love with polished patter and trailer-ready-one-liners as it is, for a cinema of gesture and nuance, a visual, physical cinema. And, by necessity, that's what performance capture is: for the actors and animators, it requires a great care with detail, and in Rise's best moments, in that one nearly silent performance, you can see it. In a scene midway through the film, Caesar is confronted by a barking leashed dog, his expression passing through rage and menace to recognition. He's the dog. The movie turns on that moment, and it happens entirely in Caesar's reaction. Perhaps it takes a mask to get you to look at a face.  

We'll get back to this movie at some point, I hope, but I want to leave you with two things:

a profile of Andy Serkis by David Thomson, that inveterate traditionalist, but a critic always astute enough not to miss a star on the horizon

a sketch from Not the Nine O'Clock News

Friday, August 12, 2011

Unintentionally amusing titles

I'm reminiscing about critic-baiting titles of years past. My all-time favorite might be Just Cause, because it sounds like an excuse:

"Why did you make this movie?"
"Just 'cause."

Another classic is Intolerable Cruelty, though, knowing the Coens, they might have done that on purpose. The past few years have brought gems like I Am Number Four, which sounds like a prediction of the film's box office success, and a dialogue of ineffectual romances:

"Definitely, Maybe?"
"He's Just Not That Into You."
"How Do You Know?"
"It's Complicated."

If you want your film to inspire enthusiasm, maybe your title shouldn't sound like a shrug.

"What do you want to see tonight?"
"Eh, Whatever Works."

"That is the stupidest premise for a movie I have ever heard. And Adam Sandler? Really?"
"Oh, Just Go With It!"