Tuesday, May 30, 2006
A devoted Needtovent reader recently sent us an article appearing in "The Wall Street Journal" which began with the intriguing headline: "Film's Know-Nothings." The author of this essay, Joe Morgenstern, lamented the fact that "today's filmmakers know very little, and care less, about the real world. Their movies derive from other movies."
Morgenstern goes on to declare that "the shallow careerists of contemporary Hollywood, fixated by whatever seems to be selling at the moment and striving to sell more of it...ultimately produce and direct movies that are made of interchangeable, recyclable and utterly disposable parts."
This phenomenon is not all that new. Over the years I've personally run across scores of film projects being described along the lines of "This script is a cross between THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE" or "GODZILLA meets LOLITA". Another commonly used short-hand description is the verbal-pie-chart, i.e. "It'll be one-third BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and two-thirds WEDDING CRASHERS."
It is a shame. It is a damn shame.
While much of the blame must go to the recent spate of film school graduates who know their cinematic shorthand, but who haven't lived or experienced or learned much from real life vs. reel life, it should be pointed out that many studio heads are equally as guilty. Two examples follow; the actual names of the executives are withheld because I'm still trying to keep a career going. (Tsk, tsk, it isn't polite to laugh so loudly).
Example Number One -- Frank Q. Dobbs loved to tell about the time he pitched his script titled KLONDIKE to a very well known studio mogul. During the course of a full thirty or so minutes Frank described in detail how each of the central characters were lured to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush in an effort to strike it rich. The treacherous Chilkoot Trail was highlighted, along with many other references to the actual historical events which took place in 1897-1898. It wasn't until Frank mentioned a steam engine that the executive suddently stopped him and asked, "Is this a period piece? We don't do period pieces at this studio." Frank was promptly shown the door.
Example Number Two -- When I went in to pitch a project based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel, THE MAGICIAN, the studio guru opposite me asked in all seriousness, "Maugham, Somerset Maugham, should I know that name?" My meeting was fleeting to say the least...
Despite this myopic miasma, every once in awhile a truly unique, totally surprising film comes out of Tinseltown. My favorite example is THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI, the truly offbeat movie once described as "a silly film for smart people," starring Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin and Jeff Goldblum. How BUCKAROO BANZAI ever received the green light from a major studio defies all logic, even to this day.
Perhaps an even better example is the incredible body of work from Terry Gilliam, the only American-born member of Monty Python. In addition to that troupe's wonderful films, Mr. Gilliam has individually brought to the silver screen a number of non-traditional, creative, entertaining and thought-provoking cinematic triumphs including TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, THE FISHER KING and TWELVE MONKEYS, among others. Yes, this Python ex has given us a full monty of stunningly original movies. We should be thankful.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is an extremely well crafted motion picture that is worthy of almost all of the Oscar attention it received.
Director Ang Lee has mounted (no pun intended) a beautiful production. His directing is a marvelous example of telling a story straightforward (again, no pun intended) without the use of any annoying gimmicks or cinematic tricks. The music by Gustavo Santaolla is spot-on perfect; it is evocative and haunting and it will stay with you a long, long time without ever becoming too flashy or intrusive. Quite simply put, this is what film scoring should always strive to accomplish, yet so rarely even comes close. In addition, the screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana is a pure gem -- these writers took me to a place I have never been before. I don't mean geographically, but emotionally, and they accomplished this by creating two exquisitely-drawn characters whose shoes I will never walk in, but who I have come to better understand. Yes, there's no question that all four were deserving of the Academy Awards they received.
As for the Oscar Nominees, Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto's sumptuous cinematography is breathtaking, as are the performances of both Heath Ledger (nominated for Best Actor) and Jake Gyllenhaal (nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Only Michelle Williams' nomination for Best Actress seems to be a stretch.
And what about Randy Quaid? He has recently dropped his lawsuit seeking more money for his role as Joe Aguirre. In this reviewer's opinion, Randy's pathetic performance is the only flaw in an otherwise nearly perfect movie. Whatever he was paid, it was too damn much.
I know quite a few individuals who refuse to see this film because of its underlying subject matter. I understand and respect their decision. It is unfortunate, however, since BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is the best love story since BRIDE OF CHUCKY ("Chucky Gets Lucky" was that film's hip tagline -- one of my all-time favorites).
All kidding aside, I hereby award BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN 4 1/2 Dingleberries on a scale of 5. It doesn't get much better than that...
Monday, May 8, 2006
"There isn't enough Visine in the world!" -- Elitestv.com
Wes Craven's RED EYE isn't the worst thriller to come down the runway in recent years. It is, for example, a slightly better film than FLIGHTPLAN -- and it is considerably better than the recently released UNITED 93. Tepid praise, to be sure, but what else can one say when virtually all of today's Hollywood directors resort to a "paint-by-the-numbers" mentality. This adherence to formulaic filmmaking insures that today's movie audiences experience far more trill than thrill -- with obligatory music cues laden with the deepest of bass to heighten the suspense that should have been present due to a quality script. Bring on the timpany, cue the organ, let the subwoofer do what the screenwriter and the director can't...
An interesting comparison can be made if one watches LES DIABOLIQUE (THE DEVILS, 1955), directed by H. G. Clouzot. This acclaimed masterpiece is more frightening than waking up in bed with Leona Helmsley by your side. Here the suspense eminates from a terrific script performed by outstanding actors under the direction of someone who thoroughly understands all of the cinematic arts at his disposal. Unbearable suspense drives the 'killers' (and the audience) up the wall with a host of unexpected surprises and genuine terror. Cloying audio cues are not needed; they are not missed.
An aside: I do not know the record for "goofs" in a mainstream motion picture. RED EYE is riddled with them. Beginning with Rachel McAdams boarding a wide-body Boeing 757 cabin (incorporating 2-3-2 seating separated by two aisles) and then cutting to an exterior of this plane taking off (they filmed an Airbus A-310 -- a conventional one-aisle aircraft with three seats on each row separated by a single aisle just like a Boeing 737). Serious suspension of disbelief issues right off the tarmac, with at least another dozen or more continuity errors that follow.
And did I mention the name of the fictional airline? FRESH AIR -- sounds more like a feminine hygiene product than a company providing scheduled passenger service.
Sunday, May 7, 2006
I may have once been booted out of the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freepoint, Maine for complaining about the high price being charged for a Mepps Timberdoodle, but that will never happen again. You see, my life has changed forever as of yesterday when I was admitted into one of the most powerful families in America. As Aretha Franklin gloriously sings -- I now have "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" -- and the L.L. Beaners wouldn't dare lift a hand or a foot ever again.
In fact, I must turn to another women's anthem (also sung in English) to further articulate my euphoria: Helen Reddy's lyrics (slightly altered):
I am strong!
I am invincible!!
I am Nielson!!!
Yes, as of Saturday I am now an official member of the Nielson Family. I am no longer impotent; overnight I went from a faceless and voiceless non-entity to someone possessing meaningful, bona fide sway over television programming decisions. Unlike the local rigged elections held at the Comal County Reichstag, my vote will actually count, and it will count for something that impacts virtually every man, woman and child in this here U. S. of A. Television ratings will never be the same.
Actually, President George W. Bush describes my new empowerment best of all:
"I am a Decider!"
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
It is almost a full twenty-four hours since I left the Marketplace Theatre in New Braunfels after seeing UNITED 93.
I am still shaking.
Yes, I continue to shake uncontrollably from this intense experience -- but the cause is not for any of the reasons you might logically assume.
To begin with, my trembling has nothing to do with the inherent nature of the story. When it comes to a deeply visceral screening experience you can find about as much emotional intensity in an old SKY KING rerun.
Nor is my malady a result of witnessing once again just how inept and incompetent the US military, the FAA and this nation's government was on 9/11. For example, hours pass by and, ultimately, a grand total of four jet fighters are scrambled. Yes -- only four jets can even get into the air -- and two of these were unarmed. You'll normally find that many zipping past at the opening ceremonies of a NASCAR event each weekend. It's enough to make the average person quiver like an aspen leaf; but this is old news and it isn't the cause of my current woes either.
Finally, let me reassure you that my spasms are not a debilitating reaction to observing every passenger's cell phone working perfectly and without interruption as their Boeing 757 rockets along at over 550 miles per hour, across several states and at altitudes ranging from 33,000' down to 3,000' and less. This technological accomplishment is Cingularly unfathomable to me, but I have elected not to dwell on my personal cell phone experiences and so the cause of my present condition lies elsewhere.
You see, the real reason for my ongoing involuntary twitching lies solely with Director of Photography Barry Ackroyd's unrestrained cinema verite style of filming that has the camera shaking more violently than Nancy Pelosi's vibrator. Not even fans of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT could possibly appreciate the excessive jerkiness, in-your-face-but-out-of-focus cinematography found not only in the not-so-friendly skies, but also on the ground, in the terminal, even in the NORAD bunker. Ninety plus minutes of wide screen, uninterrupted visual chaos will leave you shaking, too.
I find it fitting that Cinematographer Ackroyd's next project will be an Irish/UK co-production titled THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY. What do you want to bet he wears a self-winding watch?
PS Whatever happened to Herkie Walls?