Archive for September, 2009

The Loveless

the lovelessdafoeFor the past couple weeks I’ve been slowly working my way through the work of director Kathryn Bigelow, whose latest film, The Hurt Locker, has been garnering major praise (I haven’t seen it myself). To be honest, her work left me fairly underwhelmed, but it wasn’t for lack of variety; she’s definitely not a director who works exclusively in just one or two genres. Have a look around Acme and see for yourself: she has a film each in Horror, Sci-Fi, Indy, War, and Juvee, plus three more in thriller (those three are easily the worst of the bunch: Blue Steel is Jamie Lee Curtis doing the female cop thing, with a god-awful Ron Silver as her crazed lover/nemesis; K-19: The Widowmaker is Harrison Ford doing his best Russian accent in the face of one of the most expensive independent films ever made — over $100 million, of which it failed to recoup even half; and then there’s Point Break, which needs no synopsis). All that being said, y’all should really check out her first feature-length, The Loveless.

This was Willem Dafoe’s first film, playing the young leader of a biker gang on their way to Daytona who get waylaid in a small, Podunk southern town. I haven’t seen too many films — especially low-budget, independent films — that have gotten the ’50s biker-flick look so right, and Bigelow deserves major credit for that. The bikes, the cars, the costumes and the sets — everything looks exactly as it should, and it’s all topped off with a totally kickass rockabilly score with original stuff from Robert Gordon and John Lurie. But this isn’t just your typical biker-gang-wreaks-havoc flick, as Bigelow punctuates the film with all manner of disconcerting images: from the boredom and malaise on the faces of the local help, to the vaguely-illegal oil business run by town’s antagonistic alpha-male, to the punchy, nervous atmosphere of the bar in the film’s final scene. Working with just a few set pieces, the photography is thoughtful and consistently original, and Bigelow does a wonderful job of insinuating a great deal about the pain of characters’ lives without beating you over the head with any of it. Dafoe’s performance is the real stunner — and even more so given his age and inexperience. Watching him, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Brando’s early stuff, as he plays the role with a remarkable softness that belies the intensity of his character. Young ‘uns only familiar with the man from his Spiderman role would do well to seek this one out.

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The DQ

One of my all-time favorite cinematic moments.

Dalton Trumbo – Yes, The Brave Are Lonely

johnny-got-his-gun4Recently, the people at Shout!Factory, an independent releasing company on the fast track to greatness in the post-Rhino era, had the good sense to put out a special release of a long unavailable independent film. (Shout is continuing to release also the beloved Mystery Science Theater, which Rhino had the good sense to deliver for a while until they went broke because not a huge market exists apparently for indie products because people are so homogenized and blah blah).   Johnny Got His Gun, written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, is perhaps THE most inflammatory indictment not just of war, especially for the sake of “democracy”, but of any bureaucratic system led by those who would ignore individual determinism while claiming to represent the greater morality.  It is the story of a soldier in WWI named Joe Bonham who winds up in a bizarre predicament after surviving a mortar shell explosion. Armless, legless, blind, and unable to speak, he is trapped inside what remains of his physical  body, and at the mercy of those around him while he lies on a hospital table and tries to reckon with his despair and the idealism that led him down the road. Through memories and a few conversations with Jesus Christ, his life replays in his mind and for the audience.johnnygothisgun13

The thing about Trumbo is his language, very intelligent and written with a flair for meter, at times very poetic. The film retains little of this, so the book is a must read. The book came out in 1939, won the National Book Award for best original story, and was promptly squelched, pulled out of print for being “subversive”. What followed for Trumbo was a brief period of successful screenwriting for Hollywood films and then a long nightmare of persecution by HUAC, a jail sentence, and years of being blacklisted. Despite the merry turn of events, he continued to write screenplays for Hollywood films using fronts to take credit for his work, which allowed him to scrape by financially and raise his family. It would come out years later that he actually wrote some true classics like Gun Crazy, Roman Holiday, and The Brave One, for which he won an Oscar but never got credit until years later.JOHNNYGOTHISGUN_THUMBNAIL

In 1960, Otto Preminger made his screenplay for Exodus into a film and pushed to have his name credited as screenwriter. Next was Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, a supporter of Trumbo and his work. He continued to work and wrote several good stories and screenplays including Lonely Are The Brave, The Sandpiper, Hawaii, The Fixer, The Horsemen, Papillon, and Executive Action. In a sense, one could say he beat the odds of his situation and he acheived a lot. Certainly getting to make Johnny Got His Gun into an uncompromised film was a major acheivement, despite the lack of any commercial success for the film. It stands as a major independent work and perhaps as people get to see it on dvd and the new Magnolia documentary, Trumbo, a new generation can fully appreciate the work of an American artist whose life was adversity, while his work reflected the adversities faced by his fellow man and resonate as powerful contributions.trumbo_l200805221603

In the new documentary by Peter Askin, cast members of productions of Trumbo’s works including Donald Sutherland, Michael Douglas,Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and Joan Allen read Trumbo’s letters to family, friends and foes alike, bringing to life his language which was so eloquent and infusing the emotions he was going through. A fragile but passionate Kirk Douglas, always a champion of Trumbo, pays tribute even as he struggles to speak. It is a wonderfully warm documentary that leaves you disturbed by our nation’s capacity to get it wrong and at the same time feeling a sense of celebration for the human spirit and the concepts worth fighting for.

The Johnny Got His Gun release is packed with extras including interview material with Trumbo used in the new film.  Trumbo comes out this week, and has outtake footage of readings as added bonus features.

World Cinema – Coen Brothers’ Short Film

Back in 2007, an anthology of three-minute short films, called Chacun son cinéma, was commissioned to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. A number of big-name directors — Lars Von Trier, David Lynch, Gus Van Sant — participated, and many of their contributions were collected on the Chacun son cinéma DVD. Notably absent, however, was the Coen Brothers’ contribution, titled World Cinema, and staring Josh Brolin. Of course, today’s world being what it is, a film like that wasn’t going to sit in some studio storage closet for very long; you can now view it embedded below on the Acme Video Blog. Remember, this was the same year that the Coens’ No Country For Old Men was released (which, to my mind, still holds up as a remarkable return to form for them), and Josh Brolin doesn’t seem to have strayed too far from that movie’s Llewelyn Moss for this turn in World Cinema. Also, dig the shout-out to Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his (stunning) film Climates — I’ll have a post on him up sometime next week. Enjoy.

Your F*cking Telephone

Thanks to Olivia, who pointed this one out to me.