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March 01, 2010

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bill

I'm starting to think that with RED HARVEST Hammett hit on one of those "perfect ideas", like FRANKENSTEIN or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, that can be lifted (or stolen, depending on how you feel about it) by other writers and filmmakers for generations, and as long as their approach is fresh, and they actually have talent, the idea will never lose its power.

lazarus

I was just reading yesterday about Bertolucci trying to mount an adaptation of Red Harvest back in the late 70's-early 80's, and was talking with some pretty prominent Hollywood actors about it. A shame that never happened.

Jason M.

Bill - I'd add Solaris to that list as well. Would love to see 10 different filmmakers of various stripes re-adapt that. It would be fascinating.

James Keepnews

Jason -- In the closing hours of my life as a "regular" film critic, I reviewed awful Event Horizon, which to my amusement has a subplot concerning Sam Neill's character roughly corresponding to the Kelvin plot (Tarkovky's, mind you, not as much Lem's) in Solaris. So, there's your proof!

Quite eager to hear your thoughts about the Days of Heaven release, Glenn -- I saw it not long after it came out on cable, but was so young I wouldn't trust my memory of how well the jarring juxtapositions between the tragic plotline (thinking of the Sam Shepard character here primarily), ravishing cinematogaphy and, er, sui generis voiceover hold up. Per the latter, WEHT Linda Manz, anyway? Wasn't she in some H. Korine opus I'll never see? What a distinctive actress -- the sadistic/tragic girl in Satantango reminded me so much of Ms. Manz in Days.

Doug Pratt

It's the sound, not the picture, that is the most improved part of both Yojimbo and Sanjuro over the Criterion DVDs

tinsleyfilm.blogspot.com

I was pretty blown away by DVD Beaver's review of Yojimbo and Bigger Than Life. I saw a restored print of Yojimbo a few years back and I don't remember that level of clarity. Looking at the Blu-Ray captures makes me wonder how Kurosawa shot the film. Even in that frame above, everyone is in sharp focus, everyone, and they're faces are a few feet apart and the camera is right up next to them. Beyond looking great, these Blu-Rays seem to be opening up new dimensions to these movies.

Jason M.

James - Oddly enought, I was actually thinking about Event Horizon as being Paul "Not-The-Good-One" Anderson's godawful remake of Solaris when I wrote my earlier comment.

Was also thinking that I'd love to see Mamoru Oshii tackle Solaris.

lazarus

James, not only was Linda Manz in Korine's Gummo, but she also had a very brief appearance in Fincher's The Game. She's the roommate of the Deborah Kara Unger character, answering the door with a cigarette in hand. I didn't even recognize her while watching it, and wound up having to go back and find her after seeing her name in the credits.

Strange, spotty career, to say the least. But she has a place in my heart just for her work in Days of Heaven and Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue.

Jaime

I always think it's amusing that Paul W.S. Anderson is dismissed almost without a thought (or truly without any thought) because he works in a completely different mode than Paul Thomas Anderson. The former toils thanklessly in disreputable genres, the latter's every film screams, "AMBITION!!!!" Not to take anything away from PTA's work, which I value highly, but the fact is, the placement of one director over the other seems based on an archaic/merit badge system, as opposed to open-mindedness towards all kinds of images. Easier, I suppose, to simply do what we're told. But I say, we don't have an unlimited lifespan, so take everything you can get from every kind of film.

Anyway, PWS Anderson's films may have silly scripts, but I'll program EVENT HORIZON for viewing every Tuesday and Thursday evening for the next six weeks before revisiting a single reel of Soderbergh's SOLARIS remake.

I speak as someone who, on his top 10 of 2008, preferred DEATH RACE to BENJAMIN BUTTON (and SPEED RACER above all; SLUMDOG didn't even place); and I'm not the only mental patient who thinks RESIDENT EVIL is one of the better movies of 2002. (And more interesting than AVATAR.)

James Keepnews

From one Jamie to a Jaime: don't invite me over Tuesdays and Thursdays! Maybe I'll do a counter-program at my place -- actually, I have played Tarkovsky's Solaris at a party before. With the sound off (does anyone else do this with other, ahem, "art films"?). I made a point, as I always will when it's an option in NYC, of seeing Soderbergh's version on 42nd Street in a stadium-sized theater and walked away most impressed -- the horrified, deeply physical revulsion invoked by Clooney when his Harey shows up on the space station was something of a revelation for me, as was the rest of his work in the film. It could have been so horrible, espo. for such a Tarkovsky freak as myself, but it's "merely" a unique, hypnotic meta-meditation by SS that I value very highly.

Really, I can't speak to PWSA's strengths and weaknesses, beyond what he was incapable of achieving in Event Horizon, some unnerving "visions of hell" notwithstanding.

And way to call 'em, Laz! I adore Out of the Blue, the last gasp (belch?) of Dennis Hopper's bad old days, and Ms. Manz is unquestionably the best thing in the film, beyond the great live punk rock Hopper's ambling camera seemed to capture with such perfect offhand verve. Not bad for a dirty hippie. I missed her cameo in The Game, an underappreciated Fincher notably for Sean Penn's superb performance, adding the urban haute(ur) bourgeois to his quiver of expert portrayals.

Strange and spotty, certainly, but unusually distinctive, too -- I forgot about her being in The Wanderers, another underappreciated film around the same period. I return to my acronym: WEHT Linda? And why is Harmony Korine the only person with her cell number?

joel_gordon

Bill,
I just started reading an Italian crime novel called POISONVILLE, which I picked up solely for the title. I'm not sure how RED HARVEST-y the story gets, but I can't imagine that the title is the only allusion to Hammett.

bill

Joel, I've heard of POISONVILLE. At least, it sounds familiar. Is it any good? Also, I might assume it was an homage to RED HARVEST just based on that title.

Glenn Kenny

@ James: Re your first comment, I love "Days" more every time I see it. As great as Manz's narration is, the movie works as a silent film. I was reminded of its affinities to Murnau's "City Girl" on account of just having gotten the MOC Blu0ray of THAT film. A critic friend reminded me that Terry Curtis Fox had pointed this affinity out in Film Comment when "Days" was first released.

A great film, so much more than a collection of beautiful images.

The aural improvement on both "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro" that Doug alludes to, with the Perspecta 3-channel audio, is indeed noteworthy.

Absolutely agree with Bill on "Red Harvest." An archetype, a myth. If Hammett had written nothing else his reputation would still have been assured. For all the great films that have spun off from it, I would still love to see a "proper" film adapatation. The Bertolucci project, which was to have starred Nicholson, had the potential for awsomeness, at the time.

Jason M.

Jaime - Different tastes, I suppose. I really liked Soderbergh's Solaris. Saw it twice in theaters (the second time around, there were only 2 others people in the 300+ seat theater). That said, I have no problem whatsoever with "disreputable genres," as you put it. My dismissal of PWS Anderson has nothing to do with the mode he works in, and everything to do with the fact that I've seen three of his films (Event Horizon, AVP and Mortal Kombat), and disliked them all immensely. Admittedly, Nathan Lee's description of Death Race as "flaming metal ouch" made me somewhat interested in seeing it when it first came out, but since, as you say, we don't have an unlimited lifespan, I decided to spend those two hours of my life elsewhere.

Now, you're right that many "serious" filmmakers have been automatically placed above less serious or genre filmmakers, and sometimes this is undeserved. But as far as the relative placement of the other Paul Anderson, it again has nothing to do with any archaic merit badge system, and everything to do with the fact that out of the five movies of his I've seen, I've absolutely loved 3 of them (Magnolia, Punch-Drunk, and Blood), really liked one of them (Sydney), and the one I didn't care for as much (Boogie Nights) had ample evidence of both ambition and talent.

As a final aside, ambition in moviemaking isn't a bad thing at all. Frankly, there's precious little of it to go around in the film world. So if a filmmaker's movies scream "AMBITION!!!" I'm going to pay much closer attention to them, even if they can't always rise to the level of their ambitions.

Glenn Kenny

@ Jaime and Jason M.: I like any number of Paul W.S. Anderson pictures, and think "Event Horizon" is a hoot. I also very much like Soderbergh's "Solaris;" as Tarkovsky did, the director he took the Lem material and made it his own. Funnily enough (maybe not for S.S., though), Lem himself, a famous hater of the Tarkovsky film, hated the Soderbergh adaptation even more. Just no pleasing some people.

Jason M.

Eh, it was probably it was the slow pace. Lem should have seen Event Horizon, I guess.

As an aside, have I just watched the wrong Paul WS Anderson movies then? Should I have watched Soldier, Death Race and Resident Evil?

bill

It's my understanding that Lem hated pretty much everything, except Philip K. Dick.

To my knowledge, and based on my memory of the novel, the most faithful adaptation of RED HARVEST is MILLER'S CROSSING, and of course even that one isn't very faithful, mixing in Hammett's THE GLASS KEY and the Coens' own ideas pretty liberally. Of course, it's not an official adaptation anyway, but it at least has the genre and the general setting that Hammett used. Still, though, it's obviously not a "proper" adaptation, probably mainly for the tone -- Tom is too "warm", for one thing.

I'd be curious to know what other P. WS Anderson movies, outside of EVENT HORIZON, you liked, Glenn. I think EVENT HORIZON might be the only one I've seen all the way through.

bill

I sound very pedantic in that last comment. Sorry. Also, it probably sounds like MILLER'S CROSSING isn't one of my favorite movies, which it is. So...

Glenn Kenny

Jason M.: "Soldier" you can skip. Try "Resident Evil." If you like that, proceed to "Death Race."

bill

Oh yeah, DEATH RACE. I saw that. It wasn't that bad, you're right.

Bruce Reid

Glenn Kenny: ""Soldier" you can skip."

If you're hunting down the director, yeah, it's disappointingly flat and predictable compared to his fun stuff. But Russell does a damned good job with a nothing part, and as a David Webb Peoples fan the Blade Runner connections are fun.

I wonder if the brilliance of Hammett's conception in Red Harvest hasn't hurt its movie fortunes; it's so primal, copying it seems less a rip-off than dipping in to the same well.

Jaime

Well, Jason, let's just say it wasn't the first time I've heard the "the 'good' Paul Anderson" crack.  And anyway, I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to say:  "All right Jaime, you have me, well played sir."
 
Hey, you don't like PWS Anderson's films?  No problemo.  That's not my point.  My point is, the tendency to look down on genre pictures is a very, very old one, and we've no more escaped it than sprouted wings and become angels.  Which is why I'm always amused (hey, I get amused a lot -- just laughing at all the things I see on my way to the grave, you know?) when I hear discussions that (rightly) extol the work of Godard, Truffaut, Sarris, etc. as they risked ridicule by recognizing art in low places, typically with a tone of "I'm glad we've come such a long way since those primitive days of being unable to recognize Hawkses and Fords and Hitchcocks and Minnellis," etc.  (Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting PWS Anderson is a Hawks or a Hitchcock.  Not even a De Toth.  But he's at least a Gerd Oswald or a Phil Karlson.)  It's like watching those first 2-3 episodes of MAD MEN, which, setting aside their considerable virtues, convey a lot of "boy, you should be glad we're not sexist, classist, and racist like these people.  Phew!"
 
RESIDENT EVIL and DEATH RACE are his best.  Both are good, strong, nasty films.  EVENT HORIZON has problems but tons of haunted house atmosphere and yummy carnage - it shows up Boyle's SUNSHINE in almost every way.  I feel like going back to SOLDIER but I had a very bad reaction to it when I saw it in theaters.  And...um... I liked the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movie, but I don't expect anyone to join me there...

Jaime

Also, Jason Statham is a unique and powerful screen actor, whom I've learned to appreciate a great deal over the past ten-odd years. I am doing a piece on him that will help explain his ...... Stathamosity.

James Keepnews

"EVENT HORIZON ...shows up Boyle's SUNSHINE in almost every way." -- except in the single most important way: the presence of Michelle Yeoh in Birkenstocks. Mmmmmmmmmm, mm, mm.

And if I can put in a good word for PWSA's Anna Karina, I've always felt Milla J. was tremendously underrated as an actress, borne out by her performances in unlikely, disparate works ranging from The Claim to Dummy.

lazarus

Speaking of Hammett, there's a 6-hour, made-for-TV miniseries based on The Dain Curse from 1978 starring James Coburn, which also features Jason Miller and Jean Simmons. Has anyone seen this? Is it worth the time and the $15-$20 clams?

The reviews on Amazon seem to regard it pretty highly.

bill

I haven't seen the TV miniseries, but my paperback copy of the novel has a shitty miniseries tie-in cover, featuring a bad painting of Coburn.

Jaime

Could she be his Anna Karina if she's only got one movie by him? (Not including the one now in post - *salivate*.)

joel_gordon

Bill,

Since Tom's in love with Leo in the end (not playing the two sides against each other), MILLER'S CROSSING is definitely too soft for RED HARVEST. However, it's also partial homage to THE CONFORMIST, and Bertolucci wanted to make a RED HARVEST, so... there's gotta be something to this chain of allusions. I'll let you know how POISONVILLE is. Those Europa editions are hit-or-miss (ZEROVILLE being my favorite), but I've got high hopes for this one at p. 75.

Jason M.

Well, Jaime, apparently Milla's married to PWS, so that's definitely edging into Anna Karina territory, but yeah, she probably needs a few more movies to get the title. If, however, someone dies in Resident Evil: Afterlife by accidentally getting dynamite wrapped around their head in 3D, that would totally count too. Extra points for blueface.

bill

Joel - "there's gotta be something to this chain of allusions"

Plus, there's a rather large reference to THE GLASS KEY in BARTON FINK. The Coens mirror a pretty major plot turn from that novel in the film (although what precedes and follows that turn could not be more different). And they wrote FINK as a way of overcoming writer's block on MILLER'S CROSSING, so yeah...something.

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