July 1, 2013 | by Jason Z. Resnikoff
June 19, 2013, marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the release of The Thomas Crown Affair—the original version, directed by Norman Jewison and written by Alan Trustman. While for most of us the anniversary of a film might not seem like cause for celebration, I find that birthdays ending in zeros or fives have a momentous quality that welcomes grave rumination. And as we enter blockbuster season, a time of rich and disposable spectacle, it is amazing to revisit this high-gloss 1968 potboiler—what once passed for a summer blockbuster—and discover that not only is it still fresh, but, in the context of some of our most pressing contemporary anxieties, it is disconcertingly prophetic. In short, The Thomas Crown Affair is a paeon to the forces of globalization.
In The Thomas Crown Affair, globalization takes the literal form of a blank globe. Whenever I look at this production still—Steve McQueen in business attire resting a proprietary hand on this sphere of power, this atom of capital—I have the same reaction that Ralph Waldo Emerson had when he read Shakespeare: “I actually shade my eyes.” In this photograph, we see a perfect articulation of a deep, ideological commitment to the tenets of globalization: the world reduced to a single, borderless place; a compressed rendering of a new world order. Read More »
June 24, 2013 | by Pedro Almodóvar
Although we associate comedy with spontaneity, the comedies I’ve made to date—including this new one, I’m So Excited!—are rehearsed exhaustively during preproduction and afterward during shooting. Spontaneity is always the product of rehearsal.
A script isn’t finished until the film has opened. I rehearse a script as if it was a play. As it happens, both Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and I’m So Excited! are play-like, in the sense that the action takes place mainly on one set. I rehearse them like plays, but I don’t film them like plays (actually, I’ve never directed a play, so I don’t know what it’s like). They’re very verbal comedies: the action lies basically in the words and in the openness of the characters.
I usually improvise a lot in rehearsals, then I rewrite the scenes and rehearse them again, and so on, to the point of obsession. With improvisations, the scenes usually grow longer, but it’s the best way I know to find nuances and parallel situations that I would never discover if we stuck rigidly to the script. After stretching the scenes out and blowing them up, I rewrite them again, trying to synthesize what has been improvised. And then we rehearse again. Some of the actors, especially Carlos Areces, can’t bear you to cut a single one of their jokes, even if it has come up while the scene is looking for itself and hasn’t yet gelled. Everything that comes up and involves his character belongs to him. If it were up to him, the film would last three hours. (At times I shoot two versions of the same scene, and I admit that at times I edit the “improvised” one.) Lola Dueñas is another one who immediately appropriates all the antics that occur to me during the first rehearsals. Afterward, it’s heartrending to tell her that it was just a game, a way of stretching, of being crazy, of probing, of losing all sense of the ridiculous—above all losing respect for the script—and that it was all just an exercise. When Lola sees me improvising a scene with her character, however exaggerated it may be, if she likes it, she grabs on to it and it’s impossible to convince her that I was just fooling around. I admit that at times she’s managed to get her own way. When I had the idea for the mise-en-scène of the first time she goes into a trance in the cockpit, looking for sensations while groping the two pilots’ bodies, all those involved laughed, but I never thought about editing the scene like that—and yet that’s how it turned out in the film. After much insistence, Lola asked me at least to look at how she did it and then decide. The point was, I had to give her the chance to play the scene that way. She did it, and after seeing it, I had no choice but to include it. Lola is capable of breathing such truth into the most insane situations that she manages to make any craziness plausible. Read More »
May 23, 2013 | by Liz Brown
Sometimes there are things you didn’t know you wanted to see.
Like Michael Douglas, spangled and rouged, arms out in a white ostrich-trimmed cape, prancing sideways across a Vegas stage. This is barely two seconds of the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, about the relationship between Liberace and his younger lover, Scott Thorson, but those are two seconds I want to see over and over.
Usually I get cranky and snide about biopics. The last one I saw was Hitchcock. I went to have my prejudices against the genre affirmed, and they were. I kept watching Anthony Hopkins in his fat suit and thinking about his makeup, the boom just outside the frame, the camera rolling back on its track, the contrivance of the whole thing—and not in some provocative, Brechtian sense. I left full of scorn for the labored verisimilitude and regurgitated history—a petty way to go to the movies, but kind of satisfying, too, in the way that being petty can be.
Maybe it’s a good film if you weren’t aware Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for so-called icy blonds and that he got creepily obsessive when it came to his leading ladies. And if that’s not clear from watching Hopkins/Hitchcock skulk around dressing rooms, Jessica Biel/Vera Miles explains it to Scarlett Johansson/Janet Leigh and us in a scene that feels more like a DVD featurette about the “making of” than dialogue between two people. Read More »
February 15, 2013 | by Nick Antosca
My favorite movie of last year—the best movie of last year, I would argue—wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards. It wasn’t even part of the conversation. That’s because the movie is Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. You might think I’m just being ironic, that I’m taking pleasure in saying what no one else is saying. The latter may be true but the former is not. This movie is a secret masterpiece.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is a movie Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Shivers-era David Cronenberg might make if they teamed up to shoot a Bourne knockoff in Louisiana on a shoestring budget. This thought experiment works even better if we imagine Gaspar Noé dropping by the editing room later on.
The actual director, John Hyams, has a distinctive voice and style. He and his cinematographer, Yaron Levy, create a nightmare-scape of blighted semisuburbia through which the hero drifts like a damaged samurai, occasionally getting sucked into maelstroms of berserk, finger-hacking, foot-severing violence. The compositions are beautiful. The cheapness of the sets only enhances the lush and lurid atmosphere; everything seems hypnotic and dreamlike. Interiors look like Gregory Crewdson photographs and exteriors look like William Egglestons. This is not your standard VOD action movie. Read More »
February 6, 2013 | by Ben Parker
Shortly before Christmas, New York moviegoers could choose between seeing two Tom Cruise films that were screening simultaneously: Jerry Maguire at Lincoln Center (as part of a retrospective celebrating him), and Eyes Wide Shut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (as part of a Christmas movie series). Sorry I could not watch both and be one viewer, I opted for Eyes Wide Shut. “You had me at hello” and “Show me the money!” would have to wait for another day. Surely I was taking the cultural high road, the Guermantes Way, if you will, one that would certainly never meet up with any quippy, Tom Petty–inflected sports romance.
Since the bemused response to the release of Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, the film’s admirers have been increasingly winning out over its critics. But both camps agree that the film is a closed universe, meticulously arranged down to the smallest detail, the ne plus ultra of auteurist micromanagement. Kubrick was a famous hermit who refused to leave England to film Eyes Wide Shut, although it is set in New York. Instead he constructed an enormous studio replica of Greenwich Village, and everything was shot in this controlled environment. Tom Cruise, as though under Kubrick-ordered house arrest, didn’t make another movie for the entire duration of the project (from 1997 to 1999). If you didn’t like the movie, you saw the final product as hermetically sealed and emotionally sterile, a bad imitation of New York and the way that real people talk and feel. But if you liked the movie, it was because each of its frames could be subjected to exhaustive analysis in a thousand term papers, like a game of hidden pictures, mined for occult symbolism, motifs of consumerism, and every possible allegorical reading. Kubrick’s obsessively detailed vision seemed particularly to license a shot-by-shot deconstruction. (I invite you to google: “Eyes Wide Shut illuminati” for a good time.) Read More »
December 14, 2012 | by John Lingan
Three times George Bailey enters the water fully clothed, and each time it scrambles his world. The first dive occurs when he rescues his little brother Harry from a crack in the ice. He falls ill and loses hearing in his left ear, which will later prevent him from fighting in World War II. Then when George is twenty-one, he meets his future wife Mary at a high school dance and the two are so enamored of each other that they jitterbug their way into the gym pool.
And thirdly, of course, George leaps off a Bedford Falls bridge on Christmas Eve, trying to save the angel that will eventually renew his lost faith in himself. Read More »