Ever since it was announced in the spring of 2007 (as I recall), I've been anticipating the film adaptation of Revolutionary Road with a mix of curiosity and dread. It's no secret I've been kind of mixed about the output of the obviously gifted director Sam Mendes. One of my first acts as film critic for Premiere magazine was to ridiculously over-rate American Beauty. The showy Road To Perdition did have its moments (including a spectacular turn from the then-unknown Daniel Craig—one of Mendes' signal strengths is that he knows from good acting, and good actors), but Jarhead was a complete whiff. Largely because, as it turns out, the material itself—the movie's based on a facile Army memoir—was no great shakes. But Mendes' snotty "the Americans don't get me" comments after the picture deservedly tanked stuck in my craw. Still, you can't judge an artist by his interviews, Lou Reed excepted.
The source material for Revolutionary Road is pretty great shakes, the 1961 debut novel by Richard Yates, one of the most acute purveyors of uncomfortable truths post-war American literature produced. The terribly sad tale of a discontented couple in '50s suburbia, the novel is less a piece of social commentary (its prescience on certain issues aside) than a tone poem of despair. Given the broadness of American Beauty, my fear was that Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe were going to turn the piece into some kind of satire. A treatment of "hopeless emptiness" as a societal condition rather than an existential one.
Which is not to say that "hopeless emptiness" isn't necessarily a societal condition. It's just that in Yates' novel, the stress lays elsewhere. In any case, such were my fears, and I am happy to report that when I saw Revolutionary Road some time back, none of those fears were realized. It's a pretty splendid film, far and away the best Mendes has made.
With everyone talkin' about Bond, I got to thinking about Connery. A look at one of the most rarely seen of the actor's five collaborations with director Sidney Lumet: the very grim The Offence, which is only available on Region 2 DVD. Which is why the review is over at The Auteurs', as this week's Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report.
UPDATE: The ever-astute Tony D. gets the post title reference right out of the gate. Gotta come up with harder ones...
Citing "strange, surrealist gags and bursts of anarchic violence," Dave Kehr, reviewing a new box set, taps in to some of the unusual appeal retained by the Hal-Roach-produced "Our Gang" shorts of the '20s and '30s. "Luis Bunuel might have approved of a film like Lazy Days," says Dave, and I agree—not just because of the whacked-out gag he cites. There's also the film's opening, which could just as well be titled Farina Talks To Animals, in which the youngster addresses a disturbingly-conked-out rooster. Roosters, of course, being among Bunuel's favorite "nightmare creatures."
As it happens, My Lovely Wife grew up in the late '70s-early ''80s, and the Gang—or the Little Rascals, as they were known in post-MGM/television incarnations—were not the local TV staples they were back in the '60s. Hence, she has only vague impressions of Spanky and Alfalfa and knows Buckwheat largely as an Eddie Murphy character. Of Wheezer, Farina, Jackie, et.al., she knows naught. In an effort to bridge a profound gap in her knowledge of Western Civilization, I broke out the aforementioned new Little Rascals set and threw on the 1930 classic Pups Is Pups.
"This is like watching someone else's fever dream," she said about five minutes in. It's true—early Gang shorts are weird.
So I see that the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, had the best opening of any Bond film ever, despite having the most whatchoo-talkin-bout-Willis title of any Bond film ever. I sincerely hope the franchise's producers take this as a dare w/r/t future Bond film titles.
Here are some suggestions:
Fistula of Execrescence
Die This Very Minute. No, We're Not Kidding—You, Buying The Ticket Right Now, Drop Dead
My Lovely Wife and I were watching the very nice Blu-ray of this tonight, and suddenly an apocryphal rock story came to mind. That being: one night in some anonymous dressing room in the '70s one Peter Grant spies one Bob Dylan, and approaches him. Mr. Grant introduces himself to Mr. Dylan thusly: "My name is Peter Grant. I manage Led Zeppelin." Without dropping a beat, Mr. Dylan replies, "I don't come to you with my problems."
Tropic Thunder works very hard to convey that Hollywood is filled with posers and pricks. First of all, no shit. Secondly, what does the film expect US to do about it?
I hope nobody takes this personally or anything, but I've got to admit it: I'm not crazy about memes, or being tagged for them, or whatnot. Now I certainly do enjoy the virtual-social aspect of blogging, on some levels. But maybe it's that old print mentality of mine at work—it tends to rebel against accepting what amounts to an assignment for no money. On the other end of it—and I know you might not expect such a brash individual as myself to say this—I feel kinda sheepish about "tagging" my fellow bloggers. Indeed, as I type this, I've only got two in mind to tag for this it-would-seem-self-explanatory-meme (it calls for the blogger to create an A-to-Z list of films, no thematic guidelines or limitations, just, whatever), and the rules of said meme require that I tag five. F**k me. (Normally I'd say "fuck me," but I understand this meme is intended for mass consumption.)
You think I sound pissy now? Keep reading. Initially my level of irritation upon being tagged was such that I contemplated limiting myself to a particular genre. Here's A to I, my friends: Amanda By Night, Behind the Green Door, Candy Stripers, The Devil In Miss Jones, Ecstasy Girls, Firestorm, A Girl's Best Friend (from the end credits: "Production Assistant: Glen [sic] Kenny"), Honey Pie, Insatiable.
Decisions, decisions: Behind The Green Door, or Belle de Jour?
But, finally, having resolved to just suck it up and get on with it, I adopted the old psych test word association game rule of only putting down the first film that came to mind. I diverged from this rule only once, and if you'd like to guess where, go ahead—I think it should be obvious to the logically inclined. Here goes.
Incidentally, have I mentioned that I really hate looking up dates for this kind of (I will say again: non-paying) enterprise?
Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, some year in the 20th century)
Belle de Jour (Bunuel, ditto)
Citizen Kane (Welles, ")
demonlover (Assayas, 2002)
Exodus (Preminger, 1960)
Four Nights of a Dreamer (Bresson, some time in the '70s around when Jonathan Rosenbaum was living in Paris)
The Golden Age (Bunuel, 1930)
A Hard Day's Night (Lester, back when the Beatles were big)
Ikiru (Kurosawa, between The Idiot and The Seven Samurai, well that's interesting)
The Jazz SInger (some dude, at the end or so of the silent era)
Kes (Ken Loach, a period of grey, dank weather in Great Britain)
The Leopard (Visconti, at Claudia Cardinale's peak of beauty)
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, before she dropped off the face of the earth)
Nosferatu (Murnau, before he moved to the U.S.)
Out One: Noli me Tangere (Rivette, most of the '70s, you'd think)
The Passenger (Antonioni, between "Seven Deadly Finns" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight")
Quiet City (Katz, couple of weeks ago, I think)
Raging Bull (Scorsese, around when DeNiro gained all that weight)
The Searchers (Ford, when VistaVision was the next big thing)
T-Men (Mann, when it was dark)
Unforgiven (Eastwood, after Don SIegel and Sergio Leone had died)
Videodrome (Cronenberg, before VHS became obsolete)
Weekend (Godard, at the end of cinema)
X: The Man WIth X-Ray Eyes (Corman, before Ray Milland lost his hair back when Ray Milland still rocked the toupee—thanks, Griff!)
You Only Live Twice (Gilbert, when Connery had just about had it)
Zardoz (Boorman, when such a thing could actually be backed by a major studio)
And here's the goddamn link back to where the meme originated: Blog Cabins.
UPDATE: I would be thoroughly remiss in not directing you to excellent lists from the likes of our friend Bill, who actually tagged me before I knew I'd been tagged, and our friend the Siren, who's a far better and more cheerful sport than I am. Their cinematic acuity aside, they make me feel like a churl. Because I am a churl. But go to them, read their lists, follow their links.
The movie star, just one component of a small society: Jacqueline Bissett in Day For Night.
The cult movie star, locus of irrational desire: Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep.
Zeitgeist's upcoming, and splendid, new DVD edition of Olivier Assayas' 1996 Irma Vep has a booklet that reprints an essay Kent Jones wrote about the film. There, Jones quotes Janet Maslin's New York Times review of the film, in which she dismisses Vep as "a flimsier Day for Night." "But it's far more frightening than Truffaut's film ever thought of being," Jones notes. And that's just for starters.
I'm not about to pile on Maslin for a misapprehension of a film in a review she wrote over a decade ago. (As it happens, I think Maslin was a valuable and underrated film critic, and I also think, based on my slight acquaintance with her, that she's a damn good egg.) But said misapprehension took me back to Truffaut's 1973 film, and got me thinking about just how different these two wonderful movies are.
From Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas, 1996. A near whip-pan across Maggie Cheung's hotel room before she goes on her midnight adventure.
You might believe that I despise certain individuals on the 45th floor of a prominent Times Square office building because they caused me a spot of inconvenience w/r/t making a living, but there's more to it than that. I really, truly loathe them because—well, apparently, it's not enough for them to have immolated a brand that over the years had managed to acquire a modicum of credibility and cool and other enviable qualities. No, they then have go and piss on its ashes.
Oh well. "They'll get theirs and we'll get ours, if we can just hold on," as that Big Star song goes. Still. A shame.