Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cloud Atlas

A movie in six sections, three of which were directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, and three of which were directed by Tom Tykwer.  I loved the Tykwer portions of this film: "Letters from Zedelghem," "Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery," and "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish." Of the Wachowski sections, I liked the the very Matrix-y "An Orison of Sonmi-451," the most but, in general, I felt that the philosophical underpinnings of their sections took away from the storytelling. Basically, I liked this movie as cinema a lot more than I liked it as philosophy. It's worth seeing, though, even though there are portions that border on the worst excesses of the Matrix sequels. But it's not predictable, it's visually stunning, and it's ambitious. Jim Broadbent is perfect as Timothy Cavendish, and Halle Berry should always have 1970s hair and clothing. Good score, as well, also by Tykwer.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Poetry Monday


by Amy Lowell

How should I sing when buffeting salt waves
    And stung with bitter surges, in whose might
    I toss, a cockleshell? The dreadful night
Marshals its undefeated dark and raves
In brutal madness, reeling over graves
    Of vanquished men, long-sunken out of sight,
    Sent wailing down to glut the ghoulish sprite
Who haunts foul seaweed forests and their caves.
    No parting cloud reveals a watery star,
My cries are washed away upon the wind,
    My cramped and blistering hands can find no spar,
My eyes with hope o’erstrained, are growing blind.
    But painted on the sky great visions burn,
    My voice, oblation from a shattered urn!

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Well, it's now official. Ben Affleck, without a doubt, is a much better director than he is an actor. While Affleck is okay in this movie, as CIA agent Tony Perez, who pulled six Americans out of Iran during the hostage crisis, where he shines is in his direction of this film. It's beautifully paced, funny, suspenseful, artistic. My only real problem with this movie is the way it panders in the third act, attempting to make the removal of the Americans from Tehran artificially suspenseful. It's not necessary, the movie works great before it decides to insert a chase scene.

Double Indemnity

The book, by James M. Cain, like the movie, is close to perfection. If I were teaching a course on adapting novels into screenplays, I would use this book and the Billy Wilder film. There are a lot of similarities, especially the voice of Walter Huff, the murderous insurance salesman (Walter Neff in the film), but there are many differences as well. Co-writers Wilder and Raymond Chandler came up with a much more cinematic ending for the story, but there best addition was to beef up the friendship between Walter Neff and Keyes, the claims investigator played by Edward G. Robinson.

Where the book is better is the characterization of Phyllis Nirdlinger (Dietrichson in the film), especially toward the end, when her crazed psychotic side comes out. It wouldn't have fit in the original film version, but it was superbly creepy in the book. 

The copy I have, and the copy I read, is the Signet books version pictured above. It's from the 1950s, after the film came out, and what's funny about the cover art is that it is a scene that is taken from the movie that never happens in the book. Maybe the cover artist was like a kid who has to read The Great Gatsby for class and sees the movie instead. It's not a tie-in book, either, and if you look at the picture closely, it's clear that Keyes looks like a slimmer version of Edward G. Robinson, Walter looks like a red-headed version of Fred MacMurray, and Phyllis doesn't look remotely like Barbara Stanwyck.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Skyfall anticipation

I'd be excited for Skyfall even if I knew in advance it would be a mix of Quantum of Solace and Man with the Golden Gun, but the word is very good on this one. If anything, the trailer makes it seems as though this outing, like recent outings, will weigh a little heavily on the action scene. But then along comes this clip, in which Bond meets his new Q, and all bets are off. This might be one of the best bits of dialogue I've ever heard in a Bond film. Oh, the Adele song doesn't hurt either. Bring it on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

With the Lights Out

I'm very proud to have a story in the excellent e-zine Beat to a Pulp. Please click on over and take a look.

A note to my more sensitive readers (I'm looking at you, mom) that this story is a little on the gruesome side.

Happy birthday, Joan Fontaine

95 today. Do you think her older sister, Olivia de Havilland, will call and wish her a happy birthday? Two survivors of the golden age of Hollywood and, apparently, they haven't spoken in years. Anyway, happy birthday to Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland.

Poetry Monday


by Randall Jarrell

Did they send me away from my cat and my wife
To a doctor who poked me and counted my teeth,
To a line on a plain, to a stove in a tent?
Did I nod in the flies of the schools?
And the fighters rolled into the tracer like rabbits,
The blood froze over my splints like a scab --
Did I snore, all still and grey in the turret,
Till the palms rose out of the sea with my death?
And the world ends here, in the sand of a grave,
All my wars over? How easy it was to die!
Has my wife a pension of so many mice?
Did the medals go home to my cat? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Remakes ...

A trailer and poster just came out for Kimberly Peirce's upcoming remake of Carrie. Looks good, and I actually think the time is right for a new Carrie film.

But it got me thinking a little about remakes. Thing is: they don't really bother me the way they bother other people. First of all, remakes don't replace the films they remake, certainly not in today's day and age of on-demand entertainment. If you love the DePalma version you don't have to watch the new one, and and if you love the Stephen King novel you don't have to watch either films.

The problem is that a lot of remakes are terrible. It's true. There was obviously no reason for Gus Van Sant's Psycho, or the Sharon Stone version of Diabolique, or the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes. But none of those films took anything away from the original. And there have been good remakes. The 1939 The Wizard of Oz. The 1944 Gaslight. Truth is, I love the American version of Let the Right One In more than the Swedish one.

Just my two cents, for what's it worth. I'm pulling for the Carrie remake. I don't think it will be better than either the DePalma or the King novel, but how cool would it be if it was?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Poetry Monday


by John Ciardi

A boy came up the street and there was a girl.
"Hello," they said in passing, then didn't pass.
They bean to imagine. They imagined all night
and woke imagining what the other imagined.
Later they woke with no need to imagine.
They were together. They kept waking together.
Once they woke a daughter who got up
and went looking for something without looking back.
But they had another. Then one of them died.
It makes no difference which. Either. The other
tried to imagine dying, and couldn't really,
but died later, maybe to find out,
though probably not. Not everything that happens
is a learning experience. Maybe nothing is.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cloak and Dagger at the Brattle

Yes, I'm lucky to live close to The Brattle Theatre, one of the last repertory cinemas in the country. Last week, I caught four of the films in their Cloak and Dagger series, two of which I'd never seen.

The best was probably Carol Reed's brilliant film version of Graham Greene's satirical novel, Our Man in Havana. Alec Guinness plays a vacuum cleaner salesman who gets recruited by MI6. Its got great location photography in 1959 Cuba, and several juicy performances. An odd film, though, tonally. I loved it but I wasn't really into it, i.e. it was hard to root for any particular character, although it was brilliantly put together.

Well, North by Northwest was clearly the best, but I wasn't counting it, because I've seen it many, many times. Enjoyable as always. And a beautiful expression of modernism.

Ministry of Fear was a 1944 film directed by Fritz Lang. It was interesting to watch, although not a very good movie. Terrible dialogue, and some shaky acting dooms it. Ray Milland is decent as an innocent man caught up in a Nazi spy ring in wartime England. There are nice moments, but not enough to really recommend this for anyone but Lang completists.

The Ipcress File. I've actually seen this 1965 film before. I watched it with my father on television probably around 1978. It made a huge impression, especially the brutal torture scene that concludes the film. It's a very good movie, both the anti-Bond, and a film that is very close to Bond. It's got music by John Barry, set design by Ken Adams, and it's edited by Peter Hunt. Michael Caine's Harry Palmer is, of course, very different than Bond. A Cockney spy with an attitude. A good film.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Deep Blue Sea

Terence Davies' adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1955 play is a cross between a straight-ahead adaption of the final day of a doomed love affair in post-war London, and a more dreamlike evocation of that play. I greatly preferred the more straight-ahead portions, when the dialogue, and particularly the stunning performances of Rachel Weisz (swoon), Tom Hiddleston (swoon), and Simon Russell Beale, take over. Weisz, in particular, is perfection as a woman who has been driven mad by an all-consuming, obsessive love. What is particularly heartbreaking is how aware she is of what she's become. She's not self-deluded. She is all too aware that she loves a man more than he loves her, and she is doing everything she can to keep it alive, just for a short period of time.

This is not a pleasant film to watch. In some ways, it's too well done in presenting the existential grief of a love not returned. I will probably be the only person to compare this film to the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston "comedy" The Breakup, but there was a similarity: Why do we want to watch the end of relationship unfold? Haven't we all done that in real life? But I think Davies was shooting at bigger game. There's a sense of hope in the end (spoiler alert) when Hester supposedly survives, and Davies cuts to the still-bombed building next to where she lives. She is London, still staggering from the war, but not quite suicidal anymore. A powerful film. Maybe I'll check out the Vivien Leigh version from 1955.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Me, Guest Blogger

Check out The Film Experience, where I guest-blog about one of my all-time favorite horror movies, An American Werewolf in London, and its Academy Award for best makeup.

Best Transformation Scene Ever!

Poetry Monday

Love Poem

by Dora Malech

If by truth you mean hand then yes
I hold to be self-evident and hold you in the highest—
KO to my OT and bait to my switch, I crown
you one-trick pony to my one-horse town,
dub you my one-stop shopping, my space heater,
juke joint, tourist trap, my peep show, my meter reader,
you best batteries-not-included baring all or
nothing. Let me begin by saying if he hollers,
end with goes the weasel. In between,
cream filling. Get over it, meaning, the moon.
Tell me you’ll dismember this night forever,
you my punch-drunking bag, tar to my feather.
More than the sum of our private parts, we are some
peekaboo, some peak and valley, some
bright equation (if and then but, if er then uh).
My fruit bat, my gewgaw. You had me at no duh.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Top Ten Bonds

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary today, I present my ten favorite Bond films. They are roughly in order but subject to change. Yes, I know Goldfinger is better than Thunderball but I always get bored by all that running around Fort Knox and I never get bored with running around in the Bahamas.

Happy 50th to the greatest film franchise.