Thursday, June 30, 2016
LABYRINTH and John Carpenter’s all-holy BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA which wasn’t just a flop but a flat-out disaster, opening in 12th place at the box office on opening weekend. Some of the big hits of that summer now seem emblematic of the 80s rot that was really setting in by this time, away from what we think of as the comparatively simpler enjoyments of RAIDERS, E.T. and GREMLINS from earlier in the decade. TOP GUN. COBRA. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. Even the enjoyable RUTHLESS PEOPLE is deliberately about that ugliness. BEING THERE and THE THING is another stereotypical jerk in the D.A.’s office and Roscoe Lee Browne as the presiding judge offers some of the best comic timing in the film, making me wish it really were more of a courtroom movie. When he makes his entrance there’s such confidence in how he takes over the scene that I relax a little, happy to see him until I realize the character isn’t actually going to be around for very long. Elmer Bernstein composes the last of his four scores for Reitman and it plays like the composer knew all too well how much the film was depending on whatever excitement he could manage to bring to it. His music at least gets to make more of an impression here than in GHOSTBUSTERS where his work got buried by the pop songs--as anyone who was watching MTV at the time will remember, even if they don’t want to, Rod Stewart’s “Love Touch” was the one single for this movie and it plays over the end credits. PSYCHO III and HOWARD THE DUCK so I guess it wasn’t one of their better seasons but chalk that up to karma from not wanting to release BRAZIL the previous year, I suppose. But hey, it was the 80s. At least that decade is over with even though for me when I spot extras in front of the art gallery during the big climax or the shot of Debra Winger driving the wrong way into traffic it gives me a hit of nostalgia as I close my eyes and imagine a film being shot in NY back then. As for LEGAL EAGLES itself, it’s really only memorable in the sense that you remember movies you saw during the summer when you were 15. Which is better than not remembering it at all, I suppose.
Monday, June 27, 2016
FEDORA, to actually take a second look at ALOHA. To be totally honest, I didn’t have a strong dislike for the film a year ago—mostly what I remembered were the pleasant Crowe hangout vibes more than anything else. I didn’t think it was good but it seemed modest and amiable enough, nothing to get too upset over. So what I discovered on this revisit felt like a splash of cold water on the face within the first ten minutes, an unfortunate discovery where almost nothing seemed to work as if I was watching an abbreviated intermediate cut of material that was never correctly focused to begin with. There’s talk in ALOHA of what the past and the future can mean so when it comes to Cameron Crowe maybe those two things are what we should focus on as well. Maybe with this film we need more time for the present to become the past. Unfortunately, I’ve already started writing about it so I guess I have to continue.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
AVANTI! and FEDORA, have never been the most popular Wilder titles but putting aside how much I love them they made sense as a pairing—both from the 70s and set over in Europe, they each are rather wistful meditations on the past and what it means to us, what it can continue to mean for us. Essentially, they are Billy Wilder as Old Man. Both films have also been largely forgotten about and FEDORA, completed in 1978, never got much of a release at all. With issues that compounded its making, FEDORA is a problem film. Once the full scope of its plot has been revealed it’s easy to imagine how it might have worked better in its original literary form anyway. But along with the right amount of acidity within its story and compassion for its characters, FEDORA also has a power within the greater context of Wilder’s career. This is it, the film says, there are no other chances. This is the only opportunity you have to get everything right and, face it, you probably won’t. It’s a film that basically says ‘Fuck it’ to everything. Like many problem films, it’s rather beautiful in its freakishness. It’s also a reminder that most desperate conversations you have in bars late at night never result in anything you desire. APARTMENT films feel stifled by their strict plotting and maybe also a little too lumbering in how they’re paced (some more than others) FEDORA actually feels a little like he’s managed to break free of those old structural habits for the first time in years and found a new way to explore his preoccupations. Narratively speaking, it’s one of his most daring films with an intricate structure that almost shouldn’t work, essentially a plot that takes up the first hour followed by a flashback heavy second half in which everything gets explained a la Agatha Christie. I’m hardly the first to point out that just about anyone could guess where things are going within the first 30 minutes (in spite of this, I’ll try to keep the twists and revelations of the film under wraps) but for once the strict mechanics of the plot feel secondary to Wilder. FEDORA is not SUNSET BOULEVARD of course, few films ever can be, and it almost has no choice but to live in the earlier film’s shadow while still offering some intriguing differences to make it a distorted mirror image--the movie star in the earlier film has been forgotten about by the world, left to rot even if she is only a few miles away from Paramount. The title character of FEDORA, on the other hand, has traveled far away to live in exile and is still remembered but can’t return no matter how much people apparently long for the glamour that she represents. There’s a broken beauty to FEDORA which makes perfect sense since that’s much of what it’s about anyway. THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (I still watch that every now and then, desperately looking for the good film in it) from a decade earlier which contains more than a few similarities—it’s not too much of a stretch to call this the Wilder rewrite of that film’s concept but his particular point of view gives FEDORA both the satirical slant as well as the sadness. There’s no getting away from this in Wilder’s eye, there’s no way out but the death that, if one faces facts, is most likely not too far off. S.O.B. just a few years later, and his strength is what’s needed particularly since it doesn’t always come from Keller’s performance in spite of her valiant work. It needs to be the performance of a lifetime but, of course, Fedoras don’t come along every day and at least Hildegard Knef as the Countess does manage to find the weary tragedy in the story when it’s most needed. Jose Ferrer also brings the needed wit to his part as if his character is continually annoyed by the events of the movie and would much rather sit down with yet another bottle of cognac. Frances Sternhagen is Fedora’s loyal secretary/companion, Mario Adorf (who took part in one of the best car chases ever in Fernando Di Leo’s THE ITALIAN CONNECTION) is the friendly but ignored hotel manager assisting Holden in some of the material that most closely resembles AVANTI! and Stephen Collins is the young William Holden in flashback. Henry Fonda is President of the Academy Henry Fonda while Michael York appears in what has to be one of the strangest ‘as himself’ cameos ever (of course, making me wonder if Wilder ever actually sat through LOGAN’S RUN). Blu-ray released by Olive Films is also highly recommended. Either way, it meant was that long glorious weekend of the TCM Fest was finally, completely over. FEDORA was the perfect film to end it on, with William Holden’s last line sticking in my brain, a reminder of everything in the world, or maybe just in Hollywood, that doesn’t work out the way you want it to. There wasn’t a return to the Formosa that night. I had experienced enough late night cruelty there already and didn’t want to revisit the feeling at that time. Besides, as Holden’s Barry Detweiler quotes Samuel Goldwyn in this film, “In life, you have to take the bitter with the sour.” Since then I’ve gone back again to visit Billy Wilder as I’ve done before so at least I got him to talk to while continuing to look for answers. As for FEDORA, Billy Wilder actually said once that he’d like to remake the film then immediately contradicted himself to say there wasn’t much point in doing that adding, “I want to move ahead to new errors.” Which maybe in life is about as optimistic as you can ever get.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
mea culpa on Twitter about this but, hey, nobody’s perfect. The festival officially kicked off on Thursday, April 28 and I’m proud to say my team won Bruce Goldstein’s annual trivial contest—I’d like to think my input on a few answers was what pushed us over the top and I’ll stick with that. The big red carpet opening of ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN began across the street as the opening night party kicked off in the Roosevelt and gradually people began to make it over to the first films in the Chinese 6. The weekend had begun. THE LONG GOODBYE which, of course, I’ll gladly see any time. Life seems to change faster than I want these days and THE LONG GOODBYE seems to change with me but it still gives me joy like few other films in my life so I have no problem with saying that it’s probably my favorite (or at least close to it) right now. podcast with Miguel Rodriguez and Will McKinley. I fully get that there has to be a balance but it seemed that this year, maybe because projecting 35mm is becoming that much more of a specialized concept, the balance seemed slightly off.