Dec 22, 2012

ZD30 and the torture debate: why it matters

  "...when we go to war, our politicians will be guided by our popular will. And if we believe that torture “got” bin Laden, then we will be more prone to accept the view that a good “end” can justify brutal “means.”... Mark Boal has responded to critics by saying that, in the film, the actionable intelligence from Ammar, was obtained “over the civilized setting of a lunch.” But that’s disingenuous. Because the conversation occurs after brutal torture, the implication is that Ammar provides information because he doesn’t want to trade his hummus for a wet washcloth and a sojourn in a plywood box.... Over and over again, Maya watches DVDs of interrogations using waterboarding and other forms of torture as if these were useful techniques which provided actionable intelligence. She herself uses a fellow operative to be her “muscle,” punching a detainee when she does not get the answer she’s looking for. " — Alex Gibney      
Over a hundred suspects — not terrorists but suspects— were tortured to death by the CIA under Bush.  One suspect was beaten about his legs for such a long time the muscle tissue of his legs "pulpified." He died of his wounds and later turned out to be innocent (as documented in Gibney's film, Taxi to the Dark Side). In the last election, Republicans campaigned on their willingness to repeat Bush's policies, their one argument being the false one that "torture works."  Bigelow and Boal have transplanted that narrative into their film and increased, by a very small percentage point, the likelihood that people will be tortured by the US government again. That's why it matters. I am deeply impressed by Bigelow's movie — it's the best American film of 2012, in my opinion — but that doesn't remove the dismaying moral stain it bears. All those who think this has been cooked up by Harvey Weinstein are deserving of the deepest reserves of patience and understanding. 

Why ARGO might still win

From my Guardian column:—
'... A modernist condo in Beverly Hills. Early evening. A sixtysomething movie producer, let’s call him Sammie, stares at the pile of unwatched dvds next to his TV while his wife loads the dish-washer in the kitchen. Next to the dvds, his Oscar nomination ballot. He’s left it to the last minute just like he always does. 
He tries Lincoln first. Spielberg. A master.  Daniel Day-Lewis. Also a master. But Jesus. All this yakking in dark, smoke-filled rooms.  Could someone please open a window? They didn't have air conditioners back then? Guess not. 
When Sammie wakes up Tommy Lee Jones is in bed with some black woman. Whodjahowthathappen?  He resolves to vote for Daniel Day Lewis while fetching a cigar from his secret stash behind his Emmy. He knows he shouldn’t but still. It’s the film’s fault. All that smoke. 
He tries Zero Dark Thirty, watches 20 minutes of some Arab getting tortured, takes it out again. Holy crap. No way. 
“Are you smoking a cigar?” comes his wife’s voice from the kitchen. 
“No honey.” 
“If I come in there and find you smoking again….” 
Muttering under his breath, he wraps his bathrobe around him, collects his ashtray, rolls open the windows and steps out onto the pool. His wife has left all her magazines on the table. On the cover of all of them is Ben Affleck making goo-goo eyes at Jennifer Garner: “Why They Click: Ten Tips to a Successful Hollywood Marriage.” 
He knows it’s bullshit, but he tears up anyway. Kid took his knocks but he picked himself up, came back and turned out to be quite a director. Just like they used to make. Thrills. Laughs. That Alan Arkin, he was funny, what was it he said? Argofuckyourself.  
Heh. 
His mind returns to the others: Lincoln sequestered in his dark rooms. The hunt for Bin Laden. 
Tap, tap from the window. His wife. Sammie makes his puppy dog face. She swats him out of sight, returns to the kitchen. 
Argofuckyourself.  That’s what it’s all about. The secret of life right there. 
He takes a big long puff. 
Lincoln. Bin Laden. Lincoln. Bin Laden. 
Argofuckyourself.    

He’s going with the kid.'

Dec 20, 2012

QUOTE of the DAY: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

"Pursuant to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s recently-adopted Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program, Committee staff reviewed more than 6 million pages of records from the Intelligence Community. Based on that review, Senators Feinstein and Levin released the following information on April 30, 2012, regarding the Usama Bin Laden operation: 
  • The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the Usama Bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier’s identity from detainees subjected to coercive techniques. No detainee reported on the courier’s full name or specific whereabouts, and no detainee identified the compound in which Usama Bin Laden was hidden. Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.
  • Information to support this operation was obtained from a wide variety of intelligence sources and methods. CIA officers and their colleagues throughout the Intelligence Community sifted through massive amounts of information, identified possible leads, tracked them down, and made considered judgments based on all of the available intelligence.
  • The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
In addition to the information above, former CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote Senator McCain in May 2011, stating: 
“…no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.”  
We are fans of many of your movies, and we understand the special role that movies play in our lives, but the fundamental problem is that people who see Zero Dark Thirty will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. Recent public opinion polls suggest that a narrow majority of Americans believe that torture can be justified as an effective form of intelligence gathering. This is false. We know that cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners is an unreliable and highly ineffective means of gathering intelligence."  
— from a letter that Diane Feinstein, the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today sent to Sony Pictures’ Michael Lynton about the torture in Zero Dark Thirty

Dec 18, 2012

Muddying the waters


  "The abuse scenes are crucial to “Zero Dark Thirty” because they serve as a claim — one made cinematically rather than with speeches — that these interrogation methods are unreliable when it comes to producing actionable information. The second session ends with the screaming, babbling, weeping Ammar insisting that he doesn’t know about a coming attack as he is sealed in the box. The final moment is shot from his point of view, and what follows is a scene of a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. This juxtaposition of the abuse and the massacre suggests, in cinematic terms, that torture does not save lives. It is only later, when Dan and Maya lie to Ammar, sit across from him at a table, talk to him like a human being and give him food and a cigarette, that he offers them a potential lead." — Manohla Dargis
No. That is a factual misrepresentation, or at least a highly eccentric reading, at variance with 99% of the people who have seen the film, including admirers like myself and also including Mark Harris, David Edelstein, Frank Bruni, David Denby, Amy Sullivan, and Jane Mayer:—
The film also seems to accept almost without question that the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” played a key role in enabling the agency to identify the courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden....At one point, the film’s chief C.I.A. interrogator claims, without being challenged, that “everyone breaks in the end,” adding, “it’s biology.”
The torture is shown to work on two occasions. 1) In the scene Darghis talks about, it is only because Ammar is so disoriented by torture that the 'trick' works (he needs to believe that he muttered information while 'passed out'). As Emily Bazelon says:
Amar has short-term memory loss due to sleep deprivation (another form of torture) and of course has no access to news. Maya suggests leading him to believe that the Saudi bombing was thwarted because Amar had given up information about the plot. Plying Amar with food and playing on his mental weakness as a result of his torture Maya and her colleague make the subterfuge work. This is the way they get Amar to reveal the name of Bin Laden’s courier.
And 2) later, the bearded Pakistani talks to Maya immediately because he doesn’t "want to be tortured again". This leads to the courier. Moreover, the film portrays Obama's ban on torture as a catastrophic set-back to their intelligence effort. This has obviously delighted the right. Even the film's most ardent admirers have to deal with this uncomfortable falsehood. Dargis is the only one I've read who irons the wrinkle out entirely. You don't defend the film by sanitizing its version of events. You defend the film by saying that sympathy for the devil is legitimate artistic strategy. The above is an unforced error, muddying the waters still further. 

Great screen beauties register at 30 paces

From my pieces about physiognomy and cinema for Intelligent Life:- 
'Spielberg’s casting instincts have always tended to the Rockwellian/physiognomical. Remember the assortment of hillbillies who rounded out the cast of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind  — some whiskery, some round, some as beaker-thin as Walker Evans figures — or the Krakow jews in Schindler’s List, in which differentiation — a pair of jug ears here, a disappearing chin there — singled you out for salvation, according to the curious Darwinism of the movies. Faces are destiny in Hollywood. Nor is there anything shameful about this. “Too much is written about how actors feel, too little about how they look,” wrote Kenneth Tynan in his profile of Greta Garbo, finding in “the broad ivory yoke of her shoulders” the build of a javelin thrower. “She walked obliquely, seeming to sidle even when she strode,” and kissed “cupping her man’s head in both hands and seeming nearly to drink from it.”  Screen beauty is a very different beast from offscreen beauty. In photographs, Keira Knightley is a peach but in front of a movie camera, her face trips over its own angles; conversely Kristen Stewart can look a little drab in photographs but a movie camera reveals has as the classic screen beauty she is. The earliest stars were almost ideographic — Lillian Gish’s eyes, Mary Pickford’s curls, Douglas Fairbanks’ moustache all registered at 30 paces — which is why onscreen good looks are often so porously absorbent of their opposite. “She was ugly,” recalled James Baldwin of seeing Bette Davis in “20,000 Years in Sing Sing” (1932),“[her] skin had the dead-white greenish cast of something crawling from under a rock, but I was held, just the same, by the tense intelligence of the forehead the disaster of the lips.” Ungallant, but Davis’s pugnacity was sharpened in such headwinds. Audiences loved the flaws; they were the concavities in which character could flourish.' 

Dec 17, 2012

Most promising films of 2013




From top: Mia Wasikowska in Stoker; Leonardi DiCaprio in The Great GatsbyMarion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner in Lowlife; Rooney Mara in The Bitter Pill
January 11th
Gangster Squad (Penn, Gosling, Stone)
Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, Boal, Chastain)

February 8th
The Bitter Pill (Soderbergh, Mara)
March 1st
Stoker (Park, Kidman, Wasikowska)
March 8th
Oz The Great and Powerful (Raimi, Weisz)
March 15th
Carrie (Moretz, Peirce)
March 29th
The Place Beyond the Pines (Gosling, Cianfrance)
March
Trance (Boyle, McAvoy, Cassel)
April 12th
Oblivion (Cruise, Riseborough)
May 3rd
Iron Man 3 (Downey, Paltrow)
May 10th
The Great Gatsby (DiCaprio, Luhrmann, Mulligan)
May 17th
Star Trek 2 (Pine, Quinto, Cumberpatch)
June 21st
Monster University (Pixar)
World War Z (Pitt, Enos, Forster) 
July 3rd
The Lone Ranger (Depp, Verbinski, Hammer)
July 12th
Pacific Rim (del Torro)
August 9th
Elysium (Damon, Foster, Blomkamp)
October 11th
Captain Phillips (Hanks, Greengrass)
Oldboy (Olsen, Lee, Brolin) 
November 22
The Hunger Games; Catching Fire
December 20
Saving Mr Banks
December 25th
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Stiller) 
Inside Llewellyn Davis (Coens, Mulligan)
Robopocalypse (Spielberg, Hathaway)
Lowlife (Gray, Phoenix, Renner, Cotillard)
Gravity (Cuaron, Clooney, Bullock)
August: Osage County (Wells, Cumberpatch)
Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese, DiCaprio)
Labor Day (Reitman)
Foxcatcher (Miller)
The Counsellor (Scott)
12 Years A Slave (McQueen)
Before Midnight (Linklater)

Dec 16, 2012

“I got a .410 shotgun from Santa Claus last year.”Sarah Read, 10, at her father’s gun store. 
From Zed Nelson's collection of photographs, Gun Nation

Dec 15, 2012

QUOTE of the DAY: James Gray


'... the troubling disappearance of "the middle." Which is not to say the middlebrow -- that exists with flying colors. But there is tremendously interesting cinema being made that is very small, and there are very huge movies which have visually astounding material in them, but you know Truffaut said that great cinema was part truth, part spectacle, so what’s really missing is that. It’s what United Artists would have made in 1978 or something. Like "Raging Bull" could not be a low-budget movie, it just couldn’t, there’s a certain scale that’s involved in making it, and no one would make "Raging Bull" today. The last example of the industry doing this middle movie that I’m talking about, to me would be Michael Mann’s film “The Insider” which I really like. That has scale and also a bit of truth it. What I don’t see as part of the discourse is a discussion on the economic forces that have forced out the middle. There is some discussion, some awareness, but not enough, because to me that is the central crisis of American movies: the disappearing middle of the mainstream.' — James Gray, interviewed by Indiewire

Dec 14, 2012

Post Globes: and then there were three


"... major impetus to the late-breaking hopes of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchainedwhich grabbed five key nominations including Picture-Drama, Director and Screenplay for Tarantino and two supporting actor nods for Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, shaking up the supporting actor race in the process... leading 7 nominations, Lincoln is now certified at the top of the pack going into Oscar balloting, which begins Monday.... For two other Oscar-buzzed films, Silver Linings Playbook and Les Miserables, both the immediate front-runners for Best Picture — Musical or Comedy, the news was more of a mixed bag.... both films missed out in the crucial Best Director category...  Ang Li’s directing nod for Life Of Pi in addition to its recognition as Best Picture – Drama also keeps that technical triumph firmly in the race. For Flight, its showing at the Globes and in other contests this week really dampens whatever hopes Paramount may have had for its big contender, other than Denzel Washington’s lead performance...  The Master also appears now to be mainly in play in acting categories with the Globes (in addition to the supporting nod for Philip Seymour Hoffman) resuscitating chances for Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams after they were ignored by SAG yesterday.... The omission of Silver Linings Playbook’s Robert De Niro was among the most surprising snubs to me, but clearly those two Django co-stars DiCaprio and Waltz rode in and stole his thunder... Same goes forMagic Mike’s Matthew McConaughey." —  Deadline Hollywood
In terms of the Oscars you can safely ignore the Django Unchained hurrahs: it's not an Oscar contender, even in supporting actor. I think the most significant thing to come out of it, is the narrowing of the Best Picture race to three players: Lincoln, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. What's interesting about that trio is how much they encroach on each other's territory, Argo and ZDT in particular. What flavor of political history is the Academy in the mood for? Something monumental and mahogony-hued? Quick and caperish? Or tungsten-steel tough?

Dec 13, 2012

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Amy Adams

AwardsLine: You can play comedy and serious drama equally. Was achieving this dynamic something you and your talent reps planned or was it serendipity? 
Amy Adams: It wasn’t so much that we sat there and had a strategy meeting. I finished The Muppets and was looking for what I would be doing next, and The Master presented itself. 

BEST ALBUMS OF 2012


1. Home Again — Michael Kiwanuka
2. Some Nights — Fun.
3. Red — Taylor Swift
4. Port of Morrow — The Shins
5. The Lion's Roar – First Aid Kit
6. Boys and Girls — Alabama Shakes
7. Something — Chairlift
8. Sun— Cat Power
9. Mirage Rock — Band of Horses
10. There's No Leaving Now — Tallest Man on Earth

BEST SONGS OF 2012


1. I'm Getting Ready — Michael Kiwanuka
2. Manhattan — Cat Power
3. Hold On — Alabama Shakes
4. Take Care — Drake featuring Rihanna
5. Call Me Maybe —  Carly Rae Jepsen
6. State of Grace — Taylor Swift
7. Stars — Fun.
8. The Fall – Rhye
9. 
Treasure — Bruno Mars
10Kiss You — One Direction
12. No Other Plans — Sunny Levine
13. Garden — Miike Snow
14. Lullaby — Sia
15. Nancy From Now On — Father John Misty
16. The Veidt — Deadmau5
15. The Things You Do – Patrick Wilson
16. Holland — Cold Specks
17. Catching Feelings — Justin Bieber
18. Duquesne Whistle — Bob Dylan
19. Timebomb — Kylie Monogue
20. Miss Sunflower – Ryan Adams
21. Bait & Switch – The Shins
22. 
Take a Walk —Passion Pit
23. Criminals — The Tallest Man on Earth
24. I Belong In Your Arms — Chairlift 

Dec 12, 2012

The original fine-point Saul Bass sketches for Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining,' currently on are on view at LACMA's Stanley Kubrick exhibitionReportedly Bass showed Kubrick 300 different versions before the director settled on the original poster design (below). 

Is Zero Dark Thirty a fascist film?


'The word “fascistic” gets kicked around a little too much in connection with the arts. As a general rule, if something involves the purchase of a theatre ticket, rather than a jackboot pressing on your carotid, it’s probably not fascism. And I’m as bored as the next man by people telling me I must be made “uncomfortable” by a film — to have my moral certainties shaken, my ambivalence nursed and doubts explored and so on. Too often, it means merely a cross-hatching of symmetrically-opposed sympathies — a studied neutrality, as neat as the certainties it opposes. Confounding one’s certainties is such a routine part of our Liberal Arts diet that I can’t believe anyone is remotely confounded anymore. Rare is the film in possession of the real thing — deep, full-bore ambivalence — and the few that are happen to be masterpieces: Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, a film that pulls off the impossible feat of being both Pro- and Anti-Terrorist at the same time; or Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola’s Wagnerian epic about the Vietnam War that is also a Gonzo, gungo-ho classic thanks to the contributions of writer John Milius, a self-proclaimed Zen anarchist and NRA member, who hated all the hippies infesting Hollywood at the time, and who wanted to shoot the film in Vietnam while it was still going on in order to teach them all a lesson: — 
"We would have arrived in time for Tet probably ... and all these people who were in school with me, who had done all these terrible things like planning to go to Canada, and do something as drastic as getting married to avoid the war ... they were willing to go to Vietnam… They wanted to carry lights and sound equipment over mine fields, and I think Warner Bros. probably backed off because they figured most of us would probably be killed." 
 But Milius’s jingoism survives in the film — it’s there in the Ride-of-the-Valkyrie sequence, and the Surf’s-Up scene on the beach, with Robert Duvall, himself a GI kid who grew up in a military family and served two years in the US Army during the Korean War, squatting on his heels, bare-chested, taking in the “smell of napalm in the morning.” It is among the greatest of all war scenes, lyrical and barbaric in equal measure, and it couldn't have been made except by a filmmaker in two minds about war. How could anyone be otherwise? Why did Bigelow and Boal made up the stuff about torture getting Bin Laden in their film? Who knows. Maybe they wanted a dramatic opening. The word is that Boal went native at the CIA and fell in love with his sources. But as much as one might hate anything that adds to the self-justification of thugs like Cheney, Zero Dark Thirty would be a lesser film without those scenes. It’s Breughelian frieze of America’s secret history, would feel incomplete without them — artistically redacted.' 
— from my Guardian column

James Cameron's Xenogenesis

As part of a lawsuit to prove that Avatar is his idea, James Cameron's  Lightstorm Entertainment has released the short film he made in 1978 called Xenogenesis, the treatment and draft script for which they claim "contain material that was not used in the Avatar film but may be used in Avatar sequels." 

The film itself is fascinating, bearing more resemblance  perhaps to Cameron's Aliens and Terminator films: a duke out between two robots, a woman strapped inside a massive Exoskeleton, coming to the rescue of a man hanging over the edge of a vertiginous airlock. Fans of the director will of course know that this was the film Cameron made to throw hi shat into the ring after seeing  Star Wars and quitting his job as a truck driver.  Inspired by both Lucas's film and 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wrote a 10-minute script with two friends and then secured $20,000 in funding from  a group of Dentists seeking a tax write-off. Cameron co-wrote, directed, edited, shot, designed the sets, and created his own special effects. The dentists were disappointed in the resulting 35mm demo and pulled the funding, but it was enough to land Cameron his job with Roger Corman, where he built a "spaceship with tits", tormented maggots and got his directorial debut on Piranha Part Two: The Spawning.



The affadavit offers a fascinating look into Cameron's magpie-like way with pre-existing sci-fi tropes. His defense, in essence: it's all recycling. Here are some highlights, courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter:— 


  • Cameron says he has been pulling together elements of Avatar almost all his life. When he was in 11th grade, he did a pen drawing entitled "Spring on Planet Flora" which he says became the concept behind the alien jungle landscape on the moon Pandora, whereAvatar takes place. When he was in college, he co-authored a script about a wheelchair-bound man who elects to surgically remove all external sensory input, so that he can journey through his own mind. And in the late 1970s, he co-wrote a script entitled Xenogenesis, where characters encounter strange creatures on a planet.
  • Xenogenesis also deals with the idea of a sentience behind all nature, something that was also thematic in the great Polish author StanislawLem's Solaris. Cameron goes into detail about Xenogenesis, which became a stop motion film. The late 1970s work could indicate where Avatar is heading. Cameron writes that the treatment and draft script "contain material that was not used in the Avatar film but may be used in Avatarsequels."
  • In the early 1980s, Cameron worked on an unproduced project that was originally titled, "E.T.," but says he had to change the title to "Mother." Why? Cameron answers, "As I was writing it, I found out that Steven Spielberg was making a film called E.T. The Extraterrestrial, so I promptly changed the title of my story." The project was never produced, but Cameron says elements became incorporated into Avatar.
  • Cameron draws explicit direct connections between his works. He says the Paul Reiser character in Aliens was the direct prototype of the Giovanni Ribisi character in Avatar. He says some of the military gear of Rambo IIbecame inspiration for the heavily armed gunships in Avatar. He says the idea of a neural-net was first explored in his Terminator films. And so forth.
  • Cameron identifies nature as sentient being, colonization, corporate/military antagonists, valuable minerals in an alien land, a love story, protagonist as a military man, telepresence, a hostile planet and a female scientist as some of the central elements of Avatar and details his thoughts on each of these topics. He also traces inspirational reference points on the film to Lawrence of ArabiaThe Man Who Would Be KingThe Emerald ForestMedicine ManThe MissionThe Jungle BookFernGully, Edgar Rice Burroughs,Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard and more. He repeats what he has said in press interviews that Avatar is his "most personal film."

Dec 10, 2012

PROFILE: Michael Haneke

"Haneke’s interview technique owes more than a passing resemblance to Federer’s drop-shot: killing the speed on any question, refusing its underlying premise and gently rolling it back to your feet with a smile. He takes questions the same way he makes movies: by jamming expectations, if not waging all-out war on them.... The paradoxes of his cinema seem rooted in a knotty version of the introvert’s dilemma: an acute sensitivity to the brutality of others, that expressing itself under duress, risks its own form of violence." — from my Michael Haneke profile for New York magazine

Dec 9, 2012

Dept. of translation

NYT: Do you read poetry? 
Ian McEwan: We have many shelves of poetry at home, but still, it takes an effort to step out of the daily narrative of existence, draw that neglected cloak of stillness around you — and concentrate, if only for three or four minutes. Perhaps the greatest reading pleasure has an element of self-annihilation. To be so engrossed that you barely know you exist.
Translation: no. 

Dec 8, 2012

Emmanuelle Riva, photographed for the New York Times magazine
"There is a smattering of evidence to support the impression that they have, because 2012 was, all in all, a pretty good year for movies and also a pretty good year for female heroism. In addition to “Snow White and the Huntsman,” there was “Brave,” whose flame-haired heroine, Merida, combined Disney-princess pluck with Pixar’s visual ingenuity; “The Hunger Games,” which drew on young-adult literature to find, in the resourceful person of Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a new archetype of survivalist girl power; and perhaps best of all, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” in which a scrappy child of the Louisiana bayou named Hushpuppy (the amazing Quvenzhan√© Wallis) faced down hurricanes, monsters and the power of the state. And we should not forget the culmination of the “Twilight” saga, speaking of Kristen Stewart, whose Bella Swan, grown from a sulky, indecisive teenager into a fiercely protective vampire mother, fought alongside her in-laws against the supernatural forces of evil. Forget about Team Jacob and Team Edward: it was Team Renesmee that triumphed in the end." — A O Scott

Dec 7, 2012

Is Bill Murray God? In all seriousness


From my Guardian column:— 
"... There is another explanation. It’s a lot simpler: Bill Murray is, in fact, God.  I know, I know. These are cynical times. Faith is hard to come by in the era of partisan gridlock, turmoil in the Middle-East and that last episode of Homeland.  But remember 1992’s Groundhog Day, in which Murray played Phil Conners, a man cursed to relive the same day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, over and over again, until he is on first name terms with every waitress, can predict every dropped plate, and anticipate every line of dialogue while it’s still in everyone’s throat. The role was a perfect fit for Murray: the rumpled, mock-suave, hipster clown, whose flat disc of a face has always born the unshockable expression of a man who knows exactly what everyone is about to say seconds before they say it. That’s what deadpan is, essentially, a physiognomical register of omniscience. It is the face of God. Murray’s role in Groundhog Day was essentially that of a bored deity, trying to figure out how to wile away eternity. 
 

He wouldn’t be the first comedian to play God. So did George Burns in Oh God! (1977) and Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty (2003). Not for nothing did the philosopher Voltaire once compare God to a “comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” Comedians always have a loosely transcendent relationship with the dramas they are in, sharing space with the other characters, breathing the same air, but at the same time establishing a visceral lightning-connection with the audience that leaps over the heads of the other characters to punch a hole through the fourth wall. That’s why Murray, like so many comedians, was born to appear in flimsy films like Meatballs (1979) Caddyshack (1980) and Stripes (1981). The flimsier the film, the easier the punch. It’s also why he faced an uphill struggle in his initial attempt at dramatic roles in films The Razor's Edge (1984) and Mad Dog And Glory (1993). In each, the deck titled queasily beneath the audience’s feet as they tense for a punch-line that never came. We don’t like seeing our Gods made mortal."

Dec 6, 2012

BEST FILM OF 2012: Amour (dir. Haneke)


1. Amour
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild
5. Lincoln
6. The Grey
7. Life of Pi
8. Magic Mike
9. Flight
10. Frankenweenie

BEST PERFORMANCES OF 2012

1.Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson
2. Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
3. Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
4. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
5. Denzel Washington, Flight
6. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
7. Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
8. Matthew McConnaughey, Magic Mike
9. Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
10. Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour 

Dec 2, 2012

What Is Bill Murray Doing Right Now?

Regular readers of this blog know that we like to drop in on Bill Murray every now an again, to see what he's up to. The last we heard he was leading a 20-people-deep conga-line that included Tilda Swinton around a party at Cannes. Before that we heard that he had crashed a karaoke party at Karaoke One in New York to sing Elvis songs, along with his female companion from Amsterdam, buying everyone Chartreuse cocktails. Previously, we heard tell of the time he turned up at a party in St Andrews on the arm of a Scandinavian girl and started washing dishes. Other stories — including the time he drove a golf cart drunkaround Stockholm — are collected here. As the New York Times notes this week:— 

"Tracking his movements in the wild, as he crashes karaoke partiesand kickball games, has become an online pastime; Mr. Murray himself has become the folkloric equivalent of a leprechaun or fairy godparent, popping up at unpredictable yet opportune moments...." 
The Times story contains some new ones — including the interview itself, which took place in a variety of locations — hotel, limo, Florence Gould Hall, where the reporter found himself unexpectedly ushered onstage to take part in Murray's chat for the  Screen Actors Guild. Below are some excerpts:— 
The afternoon begins in a Midtown Manhattan hotel room, where a publicist warns that Mr. Murray, now in a plaid shirt and blue shorts, will soon have to change for his public appearance. 
Q. There’s a kind of joy you seem to bring out of people when they encounter you. Do you notice that? 
A. Some are more joyous than others. I’m of the habit that if there are people waiting outside the hotel, you don’t sign those autographs there. Because that means when you come back in the middle of the night, they’re still there. It’s usually a one-time thing. That’s it; that’s your one time. You try your hardest, but you can’t always be perfect. 
As he responds to this question, Mr. Murray brings me with him onto an elevator, guiding me through a backstage area and onto the stage, where the expectant audience applauds rapturously. Even though these plans were surely explained to me ahead of time, the effect is one of dreamlike disorientation, followed by a deep breath and a tacit decision to follow Mr. Murray’s lead 
Q. I found online that you recently gave a 10- or 12-minute extemporaneous speech to a minor-league baseball hall of fame. Even in a moment like that, are you playing a role or being your authentic self? 
A. Well, I think there’s an authentic self. Thank you for reminding me. [The audience laughs.] No, it’s true. You go on automatic sometimes, where you’re just reacting, as opposed to being your authentic self. Up here I can talk like a turkey and be funny, but it’s not necessarily my authentic self. Unless I’m watching myself.I spoke about the first time I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago, and I was a big Cubs fan, and I watched all the games on TV, but when I grew up, TV was in black and white. So when I was 7 years old, I was taken to my first Cubs games, and my brother Brian said, “Wait, Billy,” and he put his hands over my eyes, and he walked me up the stairs. And then he took his hands away. [He begins to get choked up.] And there was Wrigley Field, in green. There was this beautiful grass and this beautiful ivy. I’d only seen it in black and white. It was like I was a blind man made to see. It was something. 
Q. Are there days where you wake up and think: “Nothing good has come to me in a little while. I’d better prime the pump”? 
A. Well, who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation 
Q. Did you ever think that the lessons you first learned on the stage of an improv comedy theater in Chicago would pay off later in life? 
A. It pays off in your life when you’re in an elevator and people are uncomfortable. You can just say, “That’s a beautiful scarf.” It’s just thinking about making someone else feel comfortable. You don’t worry about yourself, because we’re vibrating together. If I can make yours just a little bit groovier, it’ll affect me. It comes back, somehow." — NYT

Dec 1, 2012

"Perhaps it is the era of cable news, with its permanent theater of politics, that has made it possible to engage more vigorously with the kind of historical detail in which Lincoln revels. An audience that has endured the protracted dramas surrounding the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the raising of the debt ceiling, and followed the statistics of political polling as if it were a new national pastime, is certainly ready to contemplate the overt and covert tactics involved in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment." — Geoffrey O'Brien
That feels dead on. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: David Lynch


"I’m walking down the street. There are people in the street. There is someone you fancy. And you turn a corner. And there she is. No two ways about it. She is the idea. You are in love. And she is the story." — David Lynch, The Hollywood Reporter