Dec 4, 2013
"What I've discovered making these three films is that you need to have the magic of the things you love — of the people you love or the restaurant you love or the neighborhood you love. You need to find that and put it in the movie. Otherwise it's just telling stories…. Ten years ago I would have not wanted to say that I was motivated by love. I'd have wanted to be thought of as darker, tougher, crueler. But life can make you feel plenty bad. Look, I can do things in cinema that will really fuck you up, that will really make you feel horrible. But it's much harder to do the opposite, to show not just pain and heartbreak but enchantment and romance and magic."
Dec 2, 2013
Dec 1, 2013
1. Crimson/Red – Prefab Sprout
2. Heartthrob – Tegan & Sara
3. Pale Green Ghosts — John Grant
4. Trouble Will Find Me — The National
5. Fossils — Aoife O'Donovan
6. Inside Lewyn Davis —Various
7. The Beast In Its Tracks — Josh Ritter
8. Impossible Truth — William Tyler
9. American Kid — Patty Griffin
10. Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
Nov 30, 2013
1. The Songs of Danny Galway – Prefab Sprout
2. Glowing Heart — Aoife O'Donovan
3. GMF— John Grant
4. For Now I Am Winter — Olafur Arnalds
5. Calling Cards — Neko Case
6. Human — Christina Perri
7. Do You Know Me? — David Sylvian
8. Annabel — Goldfrapp
9. Fare Thee Well— Oscar Isaac & Marcus Mumford
10. Shapeshifter — Laura Viers
Nov 29, 2013
From my Guardian review: —
'It’s that time of year again, when our guardians turn to the moral education of the nation’s young, raising vexed questions about the ideological agenda that drives their roles models, the benefits of their educational texts, and the acute balance that must be struck between pedagogical substance and the public’s eternal desire to see talking chipmunks. In other words: a new Disney movie. A really good one, too, whose humming industry and multi-pixillated craft come lit by a spark of something close to genuine enchantment. Loosely based on The Snow Queen, Frozen extracts from Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 tale the Nordic setting, some trolls and the basic idea of sub-zero sorcery but gives the powers of wintery transmogrification not to an evil queen, but to the elder of two sisters — blonde, brooding princess Elsa (Idina Mendel), who is born with the ability of turning anything she touches to ice. Her parents, the king and queen or Ardendelle, warn her against ever revealing her power, for fear it will be misunderstood. “Conceal, don’t feel,” she is taught to recite, thus placing her in a long line of shame-filled spellbinders from Edward Scissorhands to Rogue in Marvel’s X-Men, and putting the icing on the cake of any doctoral thesis with the title ‘Out of the Closet and into the Forest: Hidden Powers And Sublimated Self in the Films of Walt Disney.’
Here there is younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), a redhead who likes chocolate, boys, falling on her tush, and expresses herself via such well-known Norwegian colloquialisms and “you know” and “freaked out”, by which the film’s directors, Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, wish to designate her as Our Heroine, although for a while you're not sure — it would have been a brave move indeed to put the audience behind the witchier of the two girls. The Disney princess is such a tired trope that even the much-vaunted revisionism feels de trop, these days — find me a heroine who isn’t spunky, feisty, etc — but where the film scores points for originality is the tenderness and acuity with which the relationship between the two sisters is observed. If only Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren had been available for the voices… One of the great things about Frozen, in fact, is how well thought through the central theme is, on every level: Frozen is one on-message ice movie. The graphic possibilities of ice and snow are gorgeously realized in some of the most straightforwardly beautiful animation since those dalmation pups trotted through the snowdrifts in 101 Dalmations: make sure you catch the chase at sunset, with cool, mauve horizontal shadows cutting across the glittering tundra. Then there’s the possibilities for fans of the well-crafted action sequence: a fast, slippery, surface, perfect for high-speed tobogganing and downhill races if — for example — you are a humble woodsman trying to save your one true love from marriage to a dastardly prince, and the snow-lift happens to be jammed. We’re all headed for a big thaw, of course, not to mention a melting of all hearts within a 20- mile radius, but Lee and Buck know how to spring their big moments from within small jack-in-the-box surprises. Suffice to say that for once, sisterhood feels like an abiding interest of the filmmakers and not a tacked-on after-thought. Mapping the contours, twists, intimacies and estrangements of siblinghood — a surprisingly underexplored subject for Disney — Frozen hews to real, recognizable plumb-lines and casts a lingering spell. '
Nov 28, 2013
From my Guardian review:
Spike Lee’s Oldboy is as far from a Spike Lee Joint as could be imagined. It’s actually a Park Chan-Wook joint — a remake of Chan-Wook's 2003 South Korean cult classic about a man held in solitary confinement for 20 years before being loosing to wreak vengeance on his captors. Adapted from a manga comic-book, which was in turn adapted from an over-whelming desire to see what damage hammers do to foreheads, Chan-Wook’s film was a matte-black vengeance riff, decked out in playful camera angles, sicko violence, and one live octopus, which it’s hero ate, still wriggling, in one scene, although I like the think that afterwards, its cameo over, the octopus simply called “cut!” and resumed its position behind the camera.
What drew the maker of Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, and Clockers to resolving this Rubik’s cube is anyone’s guess. In Lee’s version, Josh Brolin plays Joe Doucette, a two-bit ad exec who wakes up after an alcoholic bender in a motel room, and remains locked up there for the next 20 years. He has no idea who is captors are, only that they feed him a thoughtful tray of dim-sum and vodka every day, and pay the cable bills on time, so that Joe can watch his wife’s murder being pinned on him in his absence, a succession of presidents being sworn in, and — as luck would have it — a series of martial arts programs, which come in very handy when one day, he wakes up in a field, sporting a new buzzcut, a newly toned body, an iPhone and a headful of vengeance. Game on.
Quite literally. Like Chan-Wook’s original, Lee’s film, with its vivid rendings of the flesh — by box cutter and hammer — and challenge-level plotting, has the maziness of a video game. Joe’s tormentor (Sharlto Copley), is with him every step of the way, helpfully phoning in clues that will enable him to solve the mystery — “Who I am and why did I imprison you?” — even throwing in an extra hostage for “a little added motivation,” when the plot needs a freshener. And if that sounds to you suspiciously like a screenwriter outsourcing his dramatic duties to his villain, then give yourself a gold star. I grew tired of these screenwriter-ex-machina bad guys, with their chummy phone manner and tedious riddles, around the time they first appeared: it’s been downhill since Speed, basically. Once a villain starts tailoring his plot so specifically to the dramatic needs of the film around him, you know it’s going to end in one of two ways, either 1) an “I-am-he-as-you-are-he-as-you-are-me” fudge, or 2) a vast import of new expository material.'
Nov 23, 2013
From my Guardian review:—
'Like all the best screen actors, Judi Dench’s face is a kind of pun, working on two levels at once, both twinkly and tart, like someone handing you a Christmas present while sucking on a lemon. Our first sight of her in Stephen Frears new film, Philomena, that face is lit by church candlelight, her eyes brimming, whether from an excess of human kindness or some private pain is hard to say. Best known in the UK as a sherry-dry sitcom comedienne before she starting playing crusty English monarchs in Shakespeare in Love and Mrs Brown, she here mixes it up a little for American audiences for the first time. Her Philomena is an ununflappable old dear who boasts of her titanium hips and recounts the plots of whatever bodice-ripper she happens to be reading with a comprehensiveness that rivals that of their author. Coogan’s reaction as he listens, sat in the back seat of an electric cart leading them towards a transatlantic flight — “Oh there’s a series of them” — is an unimprovable modulation of polite agony. It’s Coogan’s best dramatic role to date. Until now he’s had the kind of disjointed, slightly agonized career traditional for British comics trying to make it in the movie business — his haggard, death’s-door lugubriousness is an odd fit for Hollywood, and seemed most at home putting all dramatic pretense aside in Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, a mockumentary in which Coogan bantered his way around a series of restaurants in the British Midlands with comic Rob Brydon. If anything, Dench is an even better foil for Coogan than Brydon. Any worry that the role pushes the upper limits of her saintliness are offset by some of the unexpectedly salty dialogue she is given, happily detailing her sexual exploits in great detail to a dismayed Coogan, prompting him to mutter “fucking Catholics” — the zinger of the film, accurately summarizing both its back-story, and the vein of anti-clerical anger running through the script.'
Nov 20, 2013
2. Miller's Crossing
3. Raising Arizona
4. No Country For Old Men
5. Blood Simple
6. Inside Llewyn Davis
7. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
8. True Grit
9. Barton Fink
10. The Big Lebowski
Nov 14, 2013
"His ordeal over, he's being examined in the ship's hospital by Albert. She asks questions about his condition. Her protocol is designed to get answers from traumatized patients. It may be necessary, but her manner is distant, cold, clinical. And, that is the precise, perfect counterpoint to the stream of Hanks' emotional release. He no longer needs to bear the mantle of control. It's all fragmented speech, emotional associations, tears and blood — it is one of the most powerful conclusions of a film in recent memory. " — Michael Mann on Captain Phillips
Oct 17, 2013
From my Guardian review:—
'Working with Jane Campion’s cinematographer, Stuart Dryburgh, Stiller films himself small in the frame, frequently viewed from above, more mouse than man, scurrying through the vast modernist spaces of the Time-Life building like the long lost cousin of Jacques Tati in Playtime, whose sleek, slate-grey production design this movie meticulously evokes — a haunting talisman. Playtime was Tati’s last film, a ruinously expensive bid for respectability that gave off the empty rattle of perfectionism — pratfalls echoing tinnily through lavish, empty sets. Stiller’s film is certainly a looker — there are dissolves that would make Orson Welles blush — but how good-looking does comedy need to be exactly? As with his last film, Tropic Thunder, the production values sometimes appear to be the joke. There’s a battle on the streets of Manhattan involving man-hole covers and Stretch Armstrong — don't ask — whose special effects would be the envy of Michael Bay, but does the money make the sequence funnier? It doesn’t make it unfunnier, I suppose. It’s just expensive. After Mitty loses one of O Connell’s negatives on the eve of a corporate takeover, and jets off to Iceland for a high seas adventure battling sharks and volcanoes — so sudden is the pivot, in fact, that you were to take a toilet break at this point you would spend the rest of the film in a state of unending, head-scratching perplexity. There are two problems with this besides precipitousness. 1) With Mitty’s real life now as zoomily adventurous as his fantasy life, the laughs begin to dry up. In their place we get the usual rom-comish exhortations to break out of your shell, reach out, connect and whatnot, all of which would be more convincing were it not that 2) what we get in the second hour is basically a series of solo adventures, with Mitty skateboarding through Greenland’s mountain ranges to the sound of Jose Gonzales, alone, like someone rocking out to their Walkman, or hiking up he Himalayas, and confiding in his diary, “I’m alone.” It’s very odd. This has to be one of the loneliest odes to togetherness ever made.'
Oct 15, 2013
"The film was a bit of a risk for myself and more importantly for Redford, to put himself out there in the way that he did, because if it was ten degrees off in its execution, in any of its parts, the whole thing could almost have been a little boring, self important, and laughable. We both kind of knew that and almost said it to each other. Once I realized, whatever your thoughts of the film, at Cannes we got to learn that it worked. People watched it all the way through and had some sort of an emotional response. Its been a pretty fun ride since that reaction, obviously it was a little bit of a risk. Now I hope people go see it.”— J C Chandor, to this blogger, on his film All is Lost, which gets my first 'A' grade in many a year (Current top five: All is Lost, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips, Before Midnight. Still to see: Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Wolf of Wall Street).
Oct 14, 2013
From my Guardian review;—
'... It’s a pixel-era Pygmalion set in a not-too-distant Los Angeles, where everyone stalks the walkways murmuring into their earpieces, a vast solipsistic tide of humanity. At night the city lights sparkle and blur, like distant diodes on a giant computer chip. Needless to say, the film is half in love with the loneliness it diagnoses. The whole thing looks like the most expensive ad for urban anomie ever made — Antonioni for the artisanal cheese set — and for the first hour the conceit is unveiled beautifully, via a brisk series of gags, most of them in the periphery of the main plot... The closer we draw to the central romance, the straighter grows the film’s face. ”Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m gonna feel,” confides Theo to Samantha, finding in her precisely the sympathetic ear he failed to find in his wife. She is played by Rooney Mara thus confirming Mara’s position as the Ex most men would regret breaking up with, ideally through a Happier Times Montage involving cascades manes of hair and white sheets seen in chalky sunlight. She gets in the zingiest line in the film, delivered over an exchange of divorce papers — “He couldn't deal with me, tried to put me on Prozac and now he’s in love with his lap-top” — but it doesn't quite land. It’s like a zinger from one of Woody Allen’s comedies that has somehow drifted into one of his alienation-and-anomie numbers. The script wants things both way — an obvious outrage to Mara, Phoenix’s love for his computer is seen as entirely normal by others— a penchant for blur that starts with the film’s wispy compositions and seems to spread from there.
Phoenix is as sweet and soulful as we always suspected he might be. Ditching the trail of dysfunction and hiding his scarred lip behind a neat little moustache, spectacles and high-hitched pants, Theo is a portrait of the sad sack as saintly urban eunuch — a great listener and perfect empath whose less attractive attributes are discretely masked from view. An early mention of Theo’s anger issues is never followed up on. A session of phone sex leaves him the bemused victim. Even his consummation with Samantha is discretely blacked out, to spare us the lonely, masturbatory truth. That’s quite a burden of simplicity to put on a figure who must carry a two-hour film; you can detect the strain during some of the date scenes, where Phoenix is required to gurgle with happiness one too many times — he wears the fixed grin of a man on a visit to the dentist. Johansson has an easier time of it, having long taken over Demi Moore’s mantle as the owner of Hollywood’s Huskiest Tonsils. If anything she may pack too much punch for Theo, who remains a strangely chaste figure, too hung up on his ex-wife for sex, let alone a relationship. What he really seems to need is a therapist, and so it proves, as the script succumbs to the kind of well-intentioned maundering that ensnares the better kind of rom com: “Its in this endless space between the words that I’m trying to find myself right now,” says Samantha. How did such a sharply conceived movie end on such a woozy note? It’s almost as if the haze above Los Angeles descends to envelop the rest of the film.'
Oct 13, 2013
'There’s a great description of a gun by someone who has never held one before in Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. They find it eerily defamiliarised, with “a smooth density that blackly distorted the space around it like a drop of motor oil in a glass of water.” I like it so much, I bring it up over lunch with the author at Manhattan’s Union Square Café, a swanky downtown restaurant much frequent by the city’s publishers and literary types. Around us, waiters in crisp white shirts ferry plates to waiting diners, illuminated in tastefully-muted light.
“If someone put a gun on the table between us it would be very defamiliarised,” says Tartt, with undisguised glee at the thought. “Its one thing to see it on the screen but if someone really had one here” — her voice rises high with childish excitement — “ if our waiter pulled a gun on us it we would see it in an entirely different way. It’s about that tear in the fabric of reality.” For a second, the though occurs that maybe our waiter will pull a Beretta from the champagne box and, with two sharp retorts, leave small red round holes in our foreheads that leave us slumped on the table. But he doesn’t. Instead he lays our pasta dishes ceremoniously on the table, and departs without a word.
Such is lunch with Donna Tartt that one’s primary disappointment is not being shot. It has been 20 years since The Secret History, Tartt’s global mega-bestseller about a group of classics students committing murder in the name of art in upstate Vermont. Now 49, Tartt still wears her hair in a shiny Louise Brooks bob, and buttons her shirts to the top crocheted button. Her skin is white and clear, an emerald ring picking out the green of her eyes, with which alight on you with a beady, birdlike fixity that would be unsettling were it not for the perky Mississippi twang with which she engages you in conversation. Mordant, amused, chirpy, the overall effect is part Edith Sitwell, part Wednesday Addams, or Mrs Danvers’ prettier, perkier sister.'
Oct 6, 2013
"He offers point-of-view images that are imbued with no actual point of view. The movie, with its near-absolute absence of inner life, presents a material fantasy that flatters the studious humanism of critics who honor the attention to so-called reality—which they define in terms of physical phenomena and everyday people—as an aesthetic endowed with a quasi-political virtue." — Richard Brody, The New Yorker.“Imitation is praise," said John Updike, "Description expresses love." So what film is being so lovingly evoked here? You get three guesses.
Let's see. Point-of-view images. But no inner life. Hmm. Kind of 'I-am-a-camera' deadpan? It's not that Bret Easton Ellis film about pornos is it? A material fantasy. What does that mean? Not Girl in the Red Dress, not Pillow Talk — not that kind of material, dummy. He means "material" as in "material world" and "material girl." Doesn't that rather contradict "fantasy" ? A fantasy about the material world. Hmm.
Ooh, Ooh, Mr Peabody, I got it Mr Peabody! It's One of those afterlife comedies with Ed Burns! Sorry, I mean George Burns. That's it. George Burns in Oh God!
Or do I mean Warren Beatty in Heaven Can Wait?
No? Dagnabit. Okay two more guesses. Flatters the studious humanism of critics who honor the attention to so-called reality. Wow. We're picking a fight with "reality"? Not only that but "so-called reality"? That doesn't exactly narrow things down, fella. Can you help a brother out? studious humanism, studious humanism... Ghandi? Richard Attenborough? Schindler's List? No?
Fuck. This is hard.
I'm going to get it though. One more guess.
Let's go back to the "reality" thing. He does give us a definition: physical phenomena and everyday people. Oh for crying out loud. You cannot be serious. Really? Physical phenomena and everyday people. What does that mean when it's not frying kippers in the morning. I mean if you set aside the obvious: people and things. He can't mean that. I mean you can't hold that against a movie, can you? People and things? 'I liked your script enormously, thought your cinematography spectacular but ultimately I'm afraid to say it boiled down to just another flick about people and things.' Those old bores. I wouldn't know what to guess in that case. Lawrence of Arabia? The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer? Desperately Seeking Susan?
Okay I give up. What is it. It's what? Gravity? Wow. Well, at least I wouldn't have got that. Not in a million years. And to think that everyone else thought "George Clooney's dialogue sucked" and left it at that. The next time a friend says they want to see a quasi-political material fantasy which flatters the studious humanism of critics hot for pictures about people and things, though, I will know exactly where to turn.
Oct 3, 2013
No second doubts, no hesitation — my favorite interviewee in 20 years of interviewing people (I enjoyed meeting Philip Roth, too, but Miss Lawrence is, on balance, a greater force for the common good): -
"At 22, Jennifer Lawrence is a testament to the globe-conquering power that flows from her mixture of a) fame, b) raw talent and c) not giving too much of a hoot about either a) or b). She got $10 million to reprise the role of Katniss Everdeen in the second Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, enough money that her lawyers got her to write out a will — it all goes to her family and favorite charities. She hasn't had a chance to spend any of it. She used to have an apartment on Santa Monica but that got infested with paparazzi, so now it’s hotels and couch-surfing with friends. She spent last night managing to convince her best friend, Justine, that the elevator of the Casa del Mar was haunted. That’s her biggest fear: ghosts. Not acting opposite Robert De Niro. Or tripping over her dress in front of 40 million people. The undead. “I’ll lay in bed and hear a noise and imagine the scariest possible scenario, and then my adrenaline starts going and then I tell myself that because my adrenaline is going, the spirit is feeding off my adrenaline! Or if there’s a spider. I try to kill it and I miss it. Great. Now it knows what I look like. It can’t just be ‘ Oh no the spider’s still on the loose.’ No, it’s ‘that spider knows what you look like and knows you tried to kill it.” Psychopaths, on the other hand, not so much. “At least that makes sense. It’s here. I sleep with a bow and arrow under my bed. I have pink mace in my bag. I’m like: you just wait, you’re walking into a world of pain.”
Actually today her handbag has no mace — she has a bodyguard these days — but it does contain a bottle of perfume, an iPhone, some multi-vitamins (unopened), a silicon falsie from a recent photo-shoot, and her diary, the first entry of which reads: “Keeping journals always makes me nervous people are going to find it so if you’re reading this just stop. Don't be a journal reader. Those people suck.” The picture on her iPhone is of her nephew. “Are you in for a world of cute?” she asks, “Isn't he precious. Do you want to see him count really fast?” and shows me a video of a curly-haired toddler counting from one to ten.
Ten seconds also happens to be the rough amount of time it takes for an average human being to fall in with Jennifer Lawrence like she’s you’re sister. She’s very funny, with something of the compulsive honesty and room-temperature affect of the great comedians — Louis C K only prettier. When I ask her what she most likes about her new life, she doesn't miss a beat.
“The money,” she says in her husky, Bacall-esque voice.
“I’m joking. The work, the work…”
She puts so little store by the usual pieties that prop up the celebrity interview — the love of the work, the importance of craft, the dedication to one’s art, the method behind one’s madness — that at times the whole structure threatens to come crashing down with one push. She could be the most radical talent currently working in Hollywood — a pure natural, a slob genius in the tradition of great slob geniuses that included the young Liz Taylor and Elvis, with the same plush appeal on the audience’s emotions, the same ruby-like glint of trashiness in her soul. She never even intended to be an actress but got talent spotted on the streets of New York and figured an actress was a better thing to be than a model. She’s never had an acting lesson. She doesn’t rehearse or research her roles and only commits her lines to memory the night before. Before each take, she is normally to be found, eating potato chips, joking around with the crew.
“It’s normally chips. My bodyguard Gilbert, right before they call action, I’m like ‘If there aren’t Cheezits here by the time they call cut, just go home.’ And he’ll start running. It cracks me up how seriously he takes it. I’m just lazy. Whenever DPs are like “I’m so sorry to do this but ‘would you mind not saying that one line’, I’m like ‘Dude, I don't want to say any of it. Whatever is easiest. Believe me. It's not my performance that is motivating me. I want to get the on set catering.” And then, just when her director is starting to sweat a little, she knocks it out of the park. “She’s one of the least neurotic people I’ve ever met,” says David O Russell, who directed her to her Oscar in Silver Linings. “She came onto the set like some gee whiz kid, ‘what’s it like to have people ask for your autograph Mr De Niro?’ And then she jumped in and took over the whole scene from every actor in the room. De Niro turned to me and nodded, like ‘wow this kid is really bringing it.’ He loved it. She’s like Michael Jordan. Her jaw doesn't get set. That's how they can go in, under pressure and hit a 100mph fastball because they’re so loose.”From Harper's
Sep 6, 2013
My review for The Guardian:—
“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies,” declared Holden Caulfield. Not so his creator who nursed youthful dreams of being an actor and liked nothing better, later in life, than to curl up in front of John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, or his personal favorite Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, in which Ronald Colman crash-lands in the Himalayas and stumbles across the secret of eternal youth. The perfect Salinger combination: enlightenment plus milk shake.
Deciphering the famously retiring author’s lifelong pursuit of the same, in both his work and his women, is the task set by a new documentary, produced by Harvey Weinstein, and directed by Shane Salerno, the screenwriter who gave us Michael Bay’s Armageddon, Oliver Stone’s Savages, and other such Sylphine tributes to innocence lost. You don't know what would offend Salinger more, the invasion of his privacy, or the fact that he was so intruded upon by the man who authored the line, “The United States government just asked us to save the world — anyone wanna say no?”
Salinger (PG-13) packs something of the same irresistibility. Salinger fan will see it through it through a frown of disdain, emitting occasional whimpers of protest, but see it they will for its revelations, dropped at cunningly dispersed at intervals throughout an otherwise wearying 2-hour-and-15-minute running time. This is very much Salinger in the eyes of Hollywood, with lots of ambition, demons, plushly exaggerated love interest, a portentous score that never quite dispels the suspicion that Bruce Willis will soon arrive and start blasting asteroids, plus an array of talking heads plucked from Harvey’s rolodex: Martin Sheen, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ed Norton, even — God bless him — Judd Apatow, prompting the unbidden thought that Holden Caulfiled could easily have slipped into the cast-list of Freaks And Geeks, no question.
Of Salinger himself we see very little, of course, save for some re-enactments from a dynamic and swarthy young actor. See Salinger pounds away at his typewriter! Hefting logs up a mountains side! Running down a wrought-iron staircase (the same wrought-iron staircase, I believe, prowled by Jack Nicholson in Mike Nichols’s Wol) upon being rejected by Farrar-Strauss! And then just as you’re about to pelt the screen with peanuts for sheer phoniness, we get the real thing: the only known film footage of the actual Salinger, shot during the war, when he was at his most tall, dark and Clive Owenish, doffing his hat to Parisian women offering him flowers. He takes a single flower and tucks it into his hat brim — a piece of gallantry he nonetheless performs with ineffable and beguiling shyness.
Salinger’s war years have already been comprehensively detailed in Kenneth Slawenski’s 2010 biography, but here come fleshed out with some riveting archival footage. He had the kind of war that would make even Spielberg blush: storming the beaches of Normandy with 60 pages of Catcher in the Rye tucked under his uniform, surviving the Battle of the Bulge and “meat-grinder” of Hürtgen forest — they don’t say so here, but Salinger’s unit had a survival rate of one in four — before stumbling across the ashen horror of Dachau. Afterwards, Salinger promptly hospitalized himself for what the filmmakers call a “nervous breakdown”, from which proceeds their Big Idea — that, “the second world war made Salinger,” in the words of one of their countless talking heads, “it’s the ghost in the machine of all the stories.”
It’s certainly true that he saw enough combat — an astonishing 299 hours — to deprive a man of his wits, or that the voice that Salinger crafted for Holden Caulfield — marvelously intelligent, supple, quicksilver, only ever inches from a crack-up — can only have gained its fractured depth from his wartime experiences. It may even have something to do with the kamikaze arc of his work, which for all it’s pellucid brilliance and uncanny inner-ear, remains American literature’s most heartbreaking case of arrested development. He went straight from juveniles to eternal verities, without going via the thing that most of us would recognize as adulthood, both in his work and his life — stuck in a “a fantasy of innocence” in the words of Jean Miller, the 14-year-old he picked in Florida with the words “How’s Heathcliff?” when he saw what she was reading. “Troubled,” she replies. What follows is the film at its most winsomely naïve: seaside strolls, violin swells and lines like “he remained haunted by the love affair that never was.” Yeah right. Until he has sex with them, or they had babies, at which point the girls turn into women and Salinger runs for the hills.
The resulting portrait, for all Salinger’s peculiarity, seems horribly familiar. You don’t need the war to explain his relentless deforestation of friends and family. The technical term for this is “literary genius” — in Salinger’s case, a lightning strike of such force as to blacken anyone standing in the immediate vicinity — even, in the end, his readers, although Salinger’s famous retreat from the raucous din of publishing to pursue the zen-like purity of writing it’s own sake, turned out to be something of a feint. In the doc’s biggest coup, we find out that the fabled Salinger safe contains five unpublished works: two novels, one about his counter-intelligence work, and one a “love story” based on his first marriage to a German woman, a book about Salinger’s deloved Vedanta Hinduism (yawn), a reworked Holden Caulfield story Last and Best of the Peter Pans, and some new stories about Seymour Glass.
Most revealingly of all, each came with little green or red dot indicating which manuscripts required further work and which were ready for publication, and on what date. Shock, horror. He needed us after all.B-
Aug 30, 2013
'This first act of the picture finds Laura driving her truck around the urban areas of Scotland seducing men on the street. She coyly convinces them to come back to what they think is her apartment. Instead, Laura hypnotizes them like a Black Widow and they strip down only to walk into a merciless fate in what can only be described as a liquid prison.... Glazer may be the visionary behind "Under the Skin"s cinematic highs, but it must be noted that this film lives and dies on Johansson's incredible turn. Johansson's dialogue is mostly limited to her pickup lines as she scours the city for new meat. Even though a majority of her scenes are silent the 28-year-old actress still finds a way to bring a distinct dramatic arc to her character.' — Hitfix
I'm in. Glazer's Birth was one of the great films of the 2000s.
Aug 28, 2013
"At once the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space, Gravity is a thrillingly realized survival story spiked with interludes of breath-catching tension and startling surprise. Not at all a science fiction film in the conventional sense, Alfonso Cuaron's first feature in seven years has no aliens, space ship battles or dystopian societies, just the intimate spectacle of a man and a woman trying to cope in the most hostile possible environment across a very tight 90 minutes.... It's as if Max Ophuls were let loose in outer space, so elegant is the visual continuity, making for a film that will have buffs and casual fans alike gaping and wondering, “How did they do that?” and returning for multiple viewings just to imbibe the sheer virtuosity of it all." — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
"In Alfonso Cuaron’s astonishing Gravity, Sandra Bullock, playing a lost astronaut stranded 375 miles above Earth, seeks refuge in an abandoned spacecraft and curls into a floating fetal position, savoring a brief respite from her harrowing journey. Of the many sights to behold in this white-knuckle space odyssey, a work of great narrative simplicity and visual complexity, it’s this image that speaks most eloquently to Cuaron’s gifts as a filmmaker: He’s the rare virtuoso capable of steering us through vividly imagined worlds and into deep recesses of human feeling. Suspending viewers alongside Bullock for a taut, transporting 91 minutes (with George Clooney in a sly supporting turn), the director’s long-overdue follow-up to “Children of Men” is at once a nervy experiment in blockbuster minimalism and a film of robust movie-movie thrills, restoring a sense of wonder, terror and possibility to the bigscreen that should inspire awe among critics and audiences worldwide." — Justin Chang, Variety
Aug 20, 2013
Sad news. From Anthony Lane's appreciation:—
Oh, he was slippery, slippery, touchy, proud. I must hold him, I must be tactful, careful, gentle, firm, I must understand how. Everything, everything, I felt, now depended on Titus, he was the centre of the world, he was the KEY. I was filled with painful and joyful emotions and the absolute need to conceal them. I could so easily, here, alarm, offend, disgust.