Archive for August 2010

UK Box Office 27 -31 Aug

This week analysis is thin as I have very little time - here are the final numbers for the extended weekend:

1- TOY STORY 3 (£2,009,826)
2- GROWN UPS (£1,913,148)
3- THE EXPENDABLES (£1,666,139)
4- SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (£1,405,560)
5- SALT (£1,243,510)
6- PIRANHA 3D (£1,121,117)
7- INCEPTION (£898,519)
8- MARMADUKE (£750,163)
9- AVATAR 3D (£654,098)
10-DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (£577,433)

Venice Days 1 &2


I arrived in Venice yesterday for the CICAE Arthouse Cinema Training and was reunited with some of my colleagues from last year: Francesco, Maureen, Julie, Cathleen, Silvia and Sylvie. We spent most of the day organising things for the trainees, who all start arriving tomorrow: Mostra accreditation, and less glamourous things like their meal tickets. When collecting the accreditation earlier we took a tour behind the scenes of the industry offices in the Pallazzo, and even though we are 48 hours away from opening night, it feels like a war zone.

Last night while walking on the Bridge of Sighs, I was telling Sylvie all about the wonderful CINEVILLE network in Amsterdam, and I suddenly heard my name being called out: "Jon?" - it was Niels Bueller, the director of the Dutch network, who is in town for the festival, and who'd overheard the name of his Amsterdam scheme. Tomorrow Niels and 50 other arthouse cinema managers from all over Europe (and South Africa and Lebannon) will be joining us for a welcoming party called "One Nation, One Bottle" where, irresponsibly in my opinion (as a non drinker) we encourage each participant to bring a bottle of liquor from their country. As a multinational myself, I chose to represent England best with a bottle of Pimms....we'll see how it goes down.

The Man on Lincoln's Nose



A wonderful man passed away several weeks ago. Robert Boyle, one of the last of the great art directors, was 100 years young and held the honor or being the world's oldest living recipient of an Academy Award. Trained as an architect, he graduated from the University of Southern California and was eventually hired as a draftsmen in Paramount's art department in the thirties and moved on to art director at Universal in the forties. He was a true product of the Hollywood studio system.

Cary Grant, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

Perhaps he was best known for his collaborations with famed suspense director Alfred Hitchcock (Saboteur 1942, North by Northwest 1959, The Birds 1963 and Marnie 1964). He gave us some classic film moments -- Cary Grant being chased by a crop duster (Boyle combined a toy truck and toy airplane on a miniature field) and Grant and Eva Marie Saint running across the faces of Mount Rushmore.

Hitchcock wanted to film at the famed National Park but the idea was nixed by the Department of Interior after the director boasted of his stars on the monument. Boyle rappelled down the actual monuments,  took photographs from various angles and made scale-model plaster casts of the presidents back at the studio soundstage. The audience was none the wiser.


The Van Damm house (which Boyle described as a sort of "jungle gym for Grant") was influenced by
Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house in western Pennsylvania. The floor to ceiling windows and rooms dangling dangerously over a cliff were perfect plot devices for Hitchcock's drama. His work garnered him an Academy Award nomination.


Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water

North by Northwest


Hitchcock's Amusing Take on Mount Rushmore


Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren in Marnie



The Birds with Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor



Boyle's sketch of the climactic Statue of Liberty scene for Hitchcock's Saboteur

His varied resume ran the gamut from sets for The Wolfman, Gaily Gaily, In Cold Blood and Mame (Lucille Ball version) to The Thrill of It All and The Thomas Crown Affair.



The Thrill of It All with Doris Day


Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen play cat and mouse in Thomas Crown Affair 



Boyle was nominated four times for an Oscar for Best Art Direction but never won. He eventually received an Honorary Academy Award at the age of 98, making him the oldest recipient of an Academy Award. He started a production design program at the American film Institute and taught up until the time of his death. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon at his house, listening to stories and looking through a lifetime of images (his mind was sharp as a tack). He will be missed but thankfully his work lives on.


Robert Boyle 1909-2010

For more on the documentary The Man on Lincoln's Nose, go here. He is also featured in a  documentary on art direction called Something's Gonna Live, see more here.

Photo credits: Universal, MGM, 

Venezia 2010


On Saturday I depart for Venice for the annual CICAE (International Federation of Arthouse Cinemas) traning course. It's a unique event, in that it gathers around fifty arthouse cinema managers from all over Europe, from Lithuania to the UK, and proceeds to work, for ten days, through every aspect of the business of running an arthouse cinema (marketing, programming, management, etc).

Last year I attended as a student, and this year I return as part of the coordinating team, organising workshops, taking notes and 'entertaining' the lecturers. Amongst the group of returnees, we jokingly refer to San Servolo (the island off Venice where the course takes place) as Shutter Island, as it's a former mental institution and is a self-contained rock. It is certainly a magical and mysterious place, and it all runs parallel to the Mostra di Cinema, the Venice Film Festival.

My colleague Robert Beames (co-host of our podcast) will be there reporting for Obsessed with Film and the Picturehouse Blog, and we hope to be recording at least a couple of podcasts talking about the films on show at the festival. Check back here for blogging updates.

Ciao!

UK Box Office 20-22 Aug

This week the macho fest that is the EXPENDABLES opened, providing the testosterone that has been absent from the family-friendly charts. SALT also opened strong, and the TOY STORY 3 juggernaut carries on. INCEPTION is holding up, benefitting from repeat viewings. The real success story is THE ILLUSIONIST, which Warner/Pathe released on just 42 prints, with a nearly £4K screen average. The Dukes average was about twice that!

1- THE EXPENDABLES (£3,877,201) (New)
2- SALT (£2,142,841) (New)
3- TOY STORY 3 (£2,102,831) (5 weeks, Total £63,844,837) - Now the 5th biggest film of all time in the UK!
4- PIRANHA 3D (£1,490,348) (New)
5- INCEPTION (£996,591) (6 weeks, Total £30,056,496)
6- KNIGHT & DAY (£819,914) (3 weeks, Total £7,946,529)
7- MARMADUKE (£628,581)(New )
8- THE LAST AIRBENDER (£618,047) (2 weeks, Total £3,313,496)
9- STEP UP 3 (£510,985) (3 weeks, £6,639,658)
10- SORCERER'S APPRENTICE (£443,807) (2 week, Total £2,374,814)

The Stepford Wives Then and Now




I received a press release the other day about some of the new words added to the dictionary (Noah Webster must be rolling over in his grave) and for some reason I wondered if the term Stepford Wives was already included.

The Urban Dictionary describes the term as 1.).. servile, compliant, submissive, spineless wife who happily does her husband's bidding and serves his every whim dutifully. 2). ...a wife who is a cookie cutter  and bland in appearance and behavior. Subscribes to a popular look and dares not deviate...
I feel relatively certain I could fill Yankee Stadium with the many I have met in the past.


Barbie never looked this perfect

The actual term comes from Ira Levin's chilling novel of the same name based on a fictional town known as Stepford, Connecticut where the men replaced their wives as Barbie Doll robots, serving their every whim and absent of any thought in their pretty heads. It was later turned into an equally chilling film starring Katherine Ross in l975 (a role which almost went to Diane Keaton) and a not so wonderful yet star-studded remake in 2004 with Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.

Walken and Close in the remake....


Patrick O'Neal and Nanette Newman in the original

Katherine Ross and a Clairol Three Way Lighted Makeup Mirror -- an innovation in the seventies

While remakes seldom top the original, the interiors designed by Jack De Govia and Debra Schutt of the well ordered and well appointed Connecticut house were pitch perfect. (Schutt also recreated a different kind of antiseptic suburbia in Revolutionary Road as well as the tony Upper East Side penthouse in A Perfect Murder). Many of the scenes were shot in Darien, New Canaan and Norwalk as well as New York City.




The designers opted for a Martha Stewart/Architectural Digest world of perfection. "People in Stepford are living at the height of stylish luxury and they make no apologies for their lifestyle," notes De Govia. "No one questions whether they deserve the opulence. They simply have it and intend to take full advantage of it."






Interiors were shot at Kaufman Studios. Schutt used high end appliances and furnishings for the kitchen and great room above. Florist Christopher Barrett was brought in for the arrangements as seen below.




If you haven't seen it already, be sure to check out the original first! Better still, read the book. You can find it here on Amazon.



Photo credits: Paramount Pictures

We Need a Manager!


The Duke of York's Picturehouse is Britain's oldest cinema. Not only a cultural gem in Brighton, but one of the UK's most succesful and acclaimed arthouse cinemas too.

We're looking for a new Duty Manager.

We need a film-obsessed, self-motivated person, who loves to interact with customers.

Our ideal person will be a film buff, with management experience and top-notch customer service skills. You'll need to be full of energy and ideas. A genuine self-starter who can remain calm in a crisis.

On a day-to-day basis, you'll be responsible for running every aspect of the cinema's operations, from projection to stock control, from health & safety to maintenance, all the while delivering award-winning customer service.


Key skills:

- Customer Service experience
- Cinema or venue experience
- Management experience
- Extensive film knowledge

Bonus skills:

- Cafe/bar experience
- Administration/Health and Safety experience
- Projection experience

All CV's, along with a cover letter, should be sent to: jon.b@picturehouses.co.uk by the 8th of September.

Ed Vaizey Vs Dirty Harry


The announcement of the abolition of the UK Film Council has created a lot of heat for the new Culture Minister Ed Vaizey. Perhaps unsurprinsignly, actors, directors and producers on both sides of the Atlantic have written letters to the Governement protesting the move (including Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg), and a wide public campaign against the closure has swept Facebook and other social media platforms.

Ed Vaizey has reprimanded the UKFC for using public funds to lobby against its own closure, writing a letter to Chairman John Woodward. Apparently the UKFC PR machine has been briefing Hollwyood figures about the implications of the closure in terms that endanger future American productions in this country.

Whatever you think of the role of the UKFC, it would seem to this blogger that the UKFC is simply looking out to save its own jobs, and the Government got itself into a fight that it wasn't prepared for. You don't want Dirty Harry saying you've made a mistake.

The real questions should be about public funding, and where is it going? Will the BFI receive the cash once allocated to the UKFC? Will the 20% tax benefit remain in place (the biggest chunk of public funding for film comes from this tax credit)? The debate has gotten lost in the celebrity-driven furore and the clever press manipulation by the UKFC. Show us the money!

The Conversations #19: Todd Haynes


Another installment of The Conversations has been posted at The House Next Door. For the first time in a while, Jason Bellamy and I have turned our attention to a comprehensive director overview, the first one we've done since our two-part discussion of Quentin Tarantino a year ago. I'm very excited about this new conversation on director Todd Haynes, which covers his film work starting with his hard-to-see underground short Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, up until his latest feature, I'm Not There. It's a long and wide-ranging conversation, one I'm especially proud of and happy with. Check it out, and as always be sure to comment; Jason and I had a lot to say on this subject, and we hope you do too!

Continue reading at The House Next Door

UK Box Office 13-15 Aug

Two box office milestones were reached this week: INCEPTION reached $500 million worldwide and TOY STORY became the biggest animated feature of all time in the US and in the UK. For once, critical opinion is in step with popular taste. You'll notice from now on, I shall include the accumulated takings and week on release figures for a fuller perspective on the numbers.

1- TOY STORY 3 (£3,162,471) (4 weeks, Total £45, 758,989)
2- INCEPTION (£1,583,229) (5 weeks, Total £27,852,777)
3- KNIGHT AND DAY (£1,517,676) (2 weeks, Total £5,896,704)
4- THE LAST AIRBENDER (£1,293,472) (New)
5- STEP UP 3 (£1,078,100) (2 weeks, Total £4,946,688)
6- THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE (£851,380) (New)
7- KARATE KID (£736,667) (3 weeks, Total £10,599,042)
8- THE A-TEAM (£761,269) (3 weeks, Total £8,890,552)
9- TINKER BELL & THE GREAT FAIRY RESCUE (£761,269)(New)
10- CATS & DOGS 2 (£269,186) (2 weeks, Total £2,012,626)

Javier Bardem: One Serious Spaniard



If you are female and reading this, no doubt you saw Eat Pray Love over the weekend. Here is my cover story and interview with the film's star Javier Bardem for  Celebrated Living, American Airlines inflight magazine. Besides the fact he is an incredible actor (he won the Best Actor prize recently at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in Biuteful), he comes from a long line of actors in Spain. I also found it interesting the first time he met Julia Roberts (his leading lady in EPL) was in Bali. And the fact he does not drive a car....you can find this and other tidbits here. Enjoy!



You can also read my review of the film on The Huffington Post.

Photo Credits: Celebrated Living

UK Box Office 6-8 August

The box office is on fire as school's out and family-friendly films fill the multiplexes. The fight for 3D screens hurt the chances of new entries STEP UP 3 and CATS & DOGS 2 as TOY STORY 3 held on to most of its screens. Tom Cruise still has some pulling power, and if it weren't for the Pixar monster, he'd have had a respectable number one. GAINSBOURG hanging in the Top 10.

1- TOY STORY(£4,641,352)
2- KNIGHT & DAY (£2,388,240)
3- INCEPTION (£2,250,991)
4- STEP UP 3 (£2,000,887)
5- KARATE KID (£1,404,687)
6- THE A-TEAM (£1,370,832)
7- CATS & DOGS 2 (£739,861)
8- SHREK FOREVER AFTER (£357,341)
9- TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE (£321,163)
10- GAINSBOURG (£86,253)

Dawn of the Dead


Dawn of the Dead is the second of George Romero's "Dead" movies, made ten years after his powerful debut Night of the Living Dead, which established a world in which the dead were mysteriously and suddenly coming back to life as lumbering, flesh-eating monsters. Dawn picks up in the immediate aftermath of those events, as this horrible state of affairs continues to spread, terrorizing people everywhere. From the start, Romero signals that this is going to be a very different kind of movie from the slow-burning tension and suspense that characterized the dark, claustrophobic Night. The film opens abruptly, in mid-scene almost, as, while the credits slowly roll, a TV news broadcast degenerates into chaos and shouting. Two on-air announcers bicker over different interpretations of the zombie menace, while off-screen everyone's equally divided over what to do, what to think, where they can go next. Everything's falling apart, the usual institutions can offer little solace or help, and the familiar trappings of modern society, like TV itself, become absurd and even dangerous, leading viewers astray. This is the theme Romero is exploring here, in which the collapse of society reveals something of the absurdity of that society's conventions and ideas. It's an idea that will continue to resonate throughout this wild and frenetic film once the credits end and the real action kicks in.

The initial minutes of the film are a whirlwind of activity and fractured plotlines, as police storm a tenement — many of them spouting racist invective the whole time, since Romero's concept of satire is anything but subtle — and an employee at the news station, Francine (Gaylen Ross) plans to run away with her pilot boyfriend Stephen (David Emge). Eventually, after a tour of the chaotic countryside, where the army mingles with redneck posses to take potshots at hordes of zombies who look suspiciously like hippies, the film narrows its focus to a quartet of survivors fleeing in Stephen's helicopter; the couple is joined by SWAT team members Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger). This quartet eventually takes refuge in a mall that's swarmed with zombies, gradually clearing the place of the infestation and settling into a life of isolation and relative safety.

Over the course of the film, the zombies begin to seem less and less important, except as a symbol of mass conformity and mindless consumerism: the setting of a mall is not accidental, and the dialogue continually repeats the idea that the zombies are congregating at the mall because some impulse left over from their human days is telling them that this is a special place. The zombies are American consumers, shambling through the mall's bland corridors, rambling from shop to shop, staring wildly into the windows with uncomprehending hunger for what's inside. There's something eerily familiar about all the long, distancing shots of figures lumbering aimlessly through this antiseptic space, staggering about with blank expressions, going through the motions of a shopping expedition by rote, repeating mindlessly some faint echo of their old lives. When Romero archly stages a balletic sequence of lines of zombies parading across a skating ring, the satirical intent of the setting is solidified: middle America envisioned as a place of such deadening conformity that all these unthinking consumers might as well be dead, or undead.


Romero contrasts this mindless repetition against the uneasy new community formed by the four survivors. These four suggest a microcosm of society, and the issues they face with each other are as important to the film as their actual confrontations with the zombies. Francine's character provides a feminist archetype, as she fights to be considered equal with the three men, included in their decisions and debates, allowed to contribute to the group's efforts. Early on, she listens in as the three men try to decide, not only what to do about the zombies, but whether they should abort her three-month pregnancy in these terrible circumstances. Francine is forced to fight against a situation where she's assumed to have no input on anything, even as related to her own body, where she's treated as a helpless damsel in distress even though she shows every sign of being capable of handling herself. In contrast, Peter, as a black man, does not face these same pressures; in fact, in this small community he's accepted and respected on the basis of his intelligence and strength, without any of the prejudice that he presumably encountered as a police officer. At one point, after the zombies have been cleared out of the mall, Peter serves a romantic dinner for Francine and Stephen, acting as a waiter in a way that suggests servitude. But the important distinction is that here he's acting as a friend, doing something nice for these people who have fought and worked side by side with him. These are relationships forged in mutual respect, where anyone can be accepted if they work hard enough — including Stephen, who's initially weak and somewhat cowardly, but who soon becomes a valuable contributor to the group, earning the respect of the more experienced and stronger Peter and Roger.

Romero is exploring the possibilities for a society of equals, suggesting that under tremendous pressure the best qualities of people might come out — and also the worst qualities, as evidenced by the group's later apathy and restlessness, as well as the caricatured avarice and nastiness of a biker gang who storm the mall late in the film. The film is in a constant state of tension between chaos and order, human kindness and baseness, destruction and rebuilding, society and anarchy, thought and mindlessness. Romero sees human nature in terms of the opposition of these conflicting values, with individuals vacillating between the two poles at various times. And the zombies are far from the only representatives in this film of the baser values. By the end, as everything falls apart, the film has degenerated into a free-for-all of slapstick violence and dark comedy. The bikers assault the zombies with pies and spray-bottles, hit them with giant hammers, drop-kick them with movie karate moves, all while generic mall muzak plays its bouncy themes in the background. There's a dark absurdity to it all, the violence becoming comic and silly, an effect exacerbated by the profoundly unconvincing makeup effects on most of the zombies. Indeed, an occasional zombie here and there is slightly scary and creepy-looking, but most of them just look like humans with blue paint on their faces, which might be written off as sloppy effects work if Romero wasn't constantly emphasizing the connection between the zombies and the average unthinking consumer. In this respect, the lame makeup effects even become a virtue, making the zombies seem anything but inhuman except for their weird lunging walk.

In fact, the dominant characteristic of Dawn of the Dead is its unsettling mish-mash of tones and themes. Romero's debut, Night of the Living Dead, was a crisp, economical horror film, unerringly creepy and minimalist, presenting its ideas about society and humanity in stark black and white while exploring the tense horror of the zombie attacks. Dawn, in comparison, is loose and even messy, meandering about from one moment to the next with all the aimlessness of a zombie shopper. Its bold, colorful aesthetic and cheesy gore effects drain much of the horror from the premise, replacing it with bloody comedy, broad social satire and, at times, a surprisingly nuanced exploration of the relationships that arise between four very different people in a situation of great stress. In forsaking the simplicity and grittiness of Night of the Living Dead, Romero found enough compensating virtues to make his second zombie flick a fascinating, wild, not always coherent but multi-layered satire.

At Long Last -- A Labor of Love



I thought I would share with you a sneak peek at my new book Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction (Harper Collins) which will be in bookstores just in time for the holidays on December 7th. I have literally given my heart and soul  to this massive project (not to mention countless hours in the Oscar library and film studio archives as well as dozens of interviews) for the past several years and looking forward to its publication. For a film and design buff like me, the research was phenomenal and many thanks to my cohorts at the Art Directors Guild for their help.

Designs on Film will feature more than 400 photographs of films from every era and genre from the great silents of the twenties to films of the past decade. There is literally something for everyone whether you are an avid moviegoer or design aficionado (and particularly if you read Cinema Style).

For more on the book, see my new book website here. I will report on upcoming book events and lectures this fall so stay tuned!




Photo Credit: MGM, Harper Collins

London Film Festival - Opening Film


The London Film Festival announced its opening film today. NEVER LET ME GO, directed by Mark Romanek (ONE HOUR PHOTO), based on the bestselling novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The film stars Keira Knightley and everyone's favorite Brit girl right now Carey Mulligan, and the new Spider-man, Andrew Garfield.

This 54th edition of the Festival should be an interesting one, as its principal funder is the now dead-man-walking UKFC. It's also a strange festival as it has no market, no big prizes, just a lot of movie stars, but strangely none of the glamour associated with their presence, the way you get in Venice or Cannes. Kind of like the BAFTAs, it feels slightly superfluous.

Where Da White Women At?

That really should have been the title of this film. What do you say about a movie that bills itself as the "Black" version of Warren Beatty's "Shampoo", yet has nothing in common with it except that a hairdresser has sex with his clients? A lot of sex.

"Black Shampoo" stars John Daniels (a Black Lou Ferrigno doppelganger), as "Mr. Jonathan", who apparently owns an upscale hair salon by the same name on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, that supposedly caters to the elite. I say apparently and supposedly, because since this film seems to be made on about $26, we only see two rooms of this "upscale" salon that has a few chairs and a few ferns. And a couch in the back that would probably make a CSI black-light explode in disgust.


Mr. Jonathan must have been doing hair for a long time and had his fill, because we never see him actually styling one head. Oh, except in the opening credits, where it seems someone just washing your hair can give you the greatest orgasm you've ever had in your life.

Mr. Jonathan spends his day going from one white woman to the next, juking happily three to four times a day, either in the shop or making house calls. He does this while wearing his white hairstyling uniform, which looks like a gay male nurse's uniform, and never bothering to hit his peen with a lick of water in between trysts, not even with a moist baby wipe.


He hires a Black receptionist, and they go to dinner exactly one time, and decide they are completely and totally in love forever and ever. Well, I guess like they say, for Mr. Jonathan once you go Black, you never go back.

Turns out that said receptionist is Mr. Big's ho, and ran away, and Mr. Big kidnaps her back. It is unclear what exactly Mr. Big does, but he always carries a briefcase, even at the pool, and exclaims once loudly that he has to make "some goddamn speech at some goddamn dinner". To address what, heaven only knows.



The rest of the film shows Mr. Jonathan trying to get his Black Queen back, but that is genuinely just filler for the sex scenes. What this film is really is soft porn, and not very good soft porn at that. It is worth a look just to see how ridiculous some films of the period were, and how producers would put "Black" in front of everything and anything just to draw in an audience. It is also quite a sight to see Mr. Jonathan walk around like a baby gorilla in a two sizes too tight hairdresser uniform, and the awful, stunning, unbelievable 70's stereotypes of the gay male hairdressers he has working for him. Truly riveting....they make "Men On Film" from "In Living Color" look like Terry Crews and Tiny Lister.


Ms. Invisible says check it out.

Unfortunately, the movie trailer seems to have disappeared from the internets, but here is the radio commercial trailer for it...dripping with innuendos:

Gratitude...

If you look at the top of my right sidebar, you'll see a little ditty that will connect you to the Black Weblog Awards. Now, this honor of being a finalist (much less being nominated) came as a complete a total shock to me, as I never once asked anyone to nominate me...I felt that maybe I would try next year.

But then I found out that it was YOU, my readers, that put me in the final 5 of all the Black film blogs in the world. And no matter what happens with this, I am forever humbled and grateful for that.

I promise (for real this time) to write more, as this is probably the most encouragement I could ever get, besides you standing by me and consistently sending emails, even when I wasn't blogging that much.

I love talking with you and not at you, and you have been so engaging, so encouraging, and really feel like friends through these past 3 years.

I don't know why I would very much like to win this particular award, I think maybe because it would be a validation that I am moving in the direction of life I was meant to go in. I have been laying plans for a huge Black Cinema project for the past year--a plan to bring it to the masses both Black and non, and to put award winning Black film blogger on top of that too would be...well you know.

OK, I'll stop the sap now--just show me LOVE and vote for me on the Black Weblog Finalist Award badge! You have from today until I believe August 30th to vote, but the earlier the better. For THIS blog, lol. Thanks, I promise I won't bug you about it--it's always a pleasure to have you here. And like Butta said, you don't have to be Black to vote...


Back tonight with a review of "Black Shampoo".

The Sweet Hereafter


Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter is a bleak, melancholy film focused on a small, wintry mountain community where a school bus accident takes the lives of many of the town's children. It is a harrowing subject, a nightmare scenario that tears apart the lives of this town's families, of those left behind in its aftermath. And yet Egoyan's film does not truly do justice to this grief, does not truly develop this tragedy into something as deep or as powerful as it deserves. It is a tasteful, quiet treatment of tragedy, a film with many moments of devastating beauty, a film with an eye for telling details and small but suggestive moments. But, ultimately, it stays too close to the surface, gliding along superficially above the tragedy and the people it touches rather than trying to delve into their lives, their emotions, their characters. It is tragedy abstracted, nakedly hitting all the right tear-jerking buttons but only occasionally getting beyond such manipulations to a deeper core of human feeling.

Egoyan weaves together multiple time periods, blending the accident, the events leading up to it, and its aftermath, cutting between the time periods to explore the differences opened up when a school bus loaded with children slid off an icy road into a frozen lake, killing nearly everyone on board. Of the children, only Nicole (Sarah Polley) survives, albeit in a wheelchair, with no real memory of what had happened. The only other survivor is the driver, Dolores (Gabrielle Rose), a woman who had loved her job, who loved these children, and who, heartbreakingly, continues to refer to them in the present tense, as though they were all still alive. After the accident, a lawyer, Mitchell Stevens (Ian Holm), comes to town hoping to capitalize on these families' grief, insisting that what had seemed a simple and unavoidable accident was actually the result of someone's malfeasance: a flimsy guard rail, a badly maintained bus, cost-cutting measures at some school board or company. He convinces many of the families to join his suit, except for Billy (Bruce Greenwood), who's mourning his beloved twin children, and the wife he'd previously lost to cancer, but who refuses to take the easy way out and blame anyone for his grief.

The film introduces many characters as Stevens visits the town's grieving parents and recruits them into his lawsuit, but Egoyan hardly delves too deeply into anything. There are numerous subplots that percolate on the fringes of the film but never go anywhere. Bill was having an affair with Risa (Alberta Watson), whose husband is introduced in the opening scenes as a nasty redneck caricature, delivering painfully contrived dialogue meant to demonstrate, in bold-face and underlined type, that this formerly tight-knit town is going to be torn apart by the arrival of the exploitative lawyer. It's all so trite, so inorganic, as this jerk insults his neighbors and friends one by one, until Egoyan is sure that he's made his point. The script is filled with overwritten contrivances like this, moments when it becomes all too obvious that the film is going to be making its big point now; there's no subtlety, no attempt to develop such ideas organically through patient character development. There's hardly any character development at all, in fact, just a series of types. The incest subplot between Nicole and her father Sam (Tom McCamus) is similarly undeveloped and disconnected from everything else.


Although the film suffers from this lack of depth and subtlety, there's no doubt that Egoyan has an eye for compelling details and an ability to stage striking, even haunting images. There's something chilling about the scene of Nicole walking into a deserted barn with her father for what seems to be a romantic evening. Before she enters, she pauses outside, wrapped in a red shawl like Little Red Riding Hood — Egoyan continually connects her to fairy tales, both in her narration of the Pied Piper story as an allegory for the children's deaths and in her sad acknowledgment that, post-accident, she's no longer daddy's little princess. Moments like this linger in the imagination, and when Egoyan is able to touch upon such emotionally resonant moments, it's compelling, even if in the larger narrative the incest subplot is so undeveloped that it barely registers. (And even though the actual staging of the subsequent incest scene as a candlelit romantic moment is cringe-inducing.)

When Egoyan delves deeper into emotional territory, he comes away with stunning material, like Stevens' surprisingly touching account of how he'd once brought his daughter to the hospital for a life-threatening spider bite when she was a very young child. Egoyan hones in on a single moment, a single image: a closeup of the girl's expressionless face, cradled in her father's arms as he drives, with an open switchblade next to her face, her father's hand poised to perform a tracheotomy if her throat should close and her breathing choke off. It's a startling, emotionally fraught image, this juxtaposition of the child's innocent face and the hovering danger of the knife, a visual indication of this father's willingness to do anything to save his child.

Such moments are so emotionally rich, so suggestive of the depths of these characters, that one wishes Egoyan was able to cut so deeply all the time, that he was able to bring the same heft to the film as a whole. Unfortunately, too much of the film is shallow and mannered, and too many of the other characters seem to have no such depths to plumb. It's too often an approximation of grief rather than the real thing, a manipulative film that leans too hard on its central tragedy, relying on the horror of children dying to disguise the fact that Egoyan has little else to offer. Its supposed insights — small towns hide secrets, neighbors can easily turn on each other, lawyers are corrupt — are so shockingly obvious and time-worn that it's hard to believe Egoyan thinks he's revealing anything about the nature of grief or incest or parent/child relationships here. And at least one of its points, the idea that tragedy is often exploited, is merely ironic in light of the film's over-reliance on the tear-jerking aspects of its story. The Sweet Hereafter has moments of sad beauty, moments where some human spark shines through the contrivances of the script, but these moments are all too often overwhelmed by Egoyan's lite-tragic sensibility and the overstated simplicities that stand in for themes.

Uk Box Office 30 Jul - 1 Aug

Pixar rules the school holiday slot easily, with another £8 million for TOY STORY 3 in the bank for an astonishing £39.8 million in just two weeks. INCEPTION shows it has lots of legs as it holds on to the number two spot despite fierce competition from KARATE KID and THE A TEAM, which disappoint in their debuts. Yet another French film makes it to the Top 10, as GAINSBOURG manages a decent £2,196 screen average in a crowded marketplace.

1- TOY STORY 3 (£8,039,573)
2- INCEPTION (£3,199,047)
3- KARATE KID (£2,564,547)
4- THE A-TEAM (£2,481,325)
5- SHREK FOREVER AFTER (£891,844)
6- TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (£773,877)
7- THE REBOUND (£177,096)
8- GAINSBOURG (£152,313)
9- PREDATORS (£111,079)
10- ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAI (£53,068)

I Always Loved The Way She Said Mamuwalde...

I wanted to write this post last week, but alas, your favorite slacker was caught doing what she does best.

Vonetta McGee passed away July 9th, and hearing the news made me lament on not just her, but many Black actresses in the 70's. People like her, Judy Pace, Rosalind Cash, etc...so naturally beautiful, stylish, and full of vibrancy, only to be treated practically like furniture for the most part.

Vonetta was one that actually got to be featured in a way that required real acting, even though her main films were considered "Blaxploitation". Her breakout was in "Blacula", as the object of Blacula's affection. Even though dude wore a cape and was a vampire, she saw beneath that for the sexy, intelligent, manly piece of lovely chocolate that he was....when she called his name "Mamuwalde" she said it with such sweetness and reverence, and it made a ridiculous film less ridiculous.


She was in "Shaft in Africa", "Hammer", "Detroit 9000", and "The Eiger Sanction" with Clint Eastwood, with the very tragic name of "Jemima". It was major for a Black actress to make a crossover like that back then....she could have been a Zoe Saldana today if this were her time. She also did a tremendous amount of television, but doesn't have any credits since 1998.

One film I remember in particular was a film called "Thomasine And Bushrod", which was kinda sorta like a Black version of Bonnie and Clyde in the old west. It was directed by Gordon Parks Jr., who also directed "Superfly". It was really a thin film, filled in with an inordinate amount of montages, but she was something to look at. She co-starred with her real life lover, Max Julian (The Mack), who talked to her like a pimp to his 'ho. He was kinda scary with that, and every time I've seen that film I could truly imagine their relationship being like that in real life. I seem to have read somewhere that she never married, and after being with Max Julian, it isn't hard to process why.


But I digress....peaceful journey, Vonetta; your memory will always be kept alive here and the projects I work on, beautiful one.

The trailer from Blacula:




Sorry, I couldn't find a trailer of Thomasine And Bushrod, but here is a clip from the film:

Architects on Film


Hollywood has portrayed them as tortured, egomaniacal, adulterers, visionaries fighting against the establishment and primarily men -- in movie terms, it's just another day at the drafting board.

The following are a few of my favorite architects on film:

The Fountainhead (Warner Brothers, 1949)

Gary Cooper is superb as the maverick architect Howard Roark who rails against the New York architectural establishment unwilling to compromise his ideals.  Based on writer Ayn Rand's best selling 1943 novel, both the film and book are rumored to have shades of Frank Lloyd Wright -- true or not, the film's designers took their design cues from the famed architect's thirties and forties work as well as those from the International Style. (Warner Brothers asked Wright to design the film but his $250,000 fee was too steep so the duties went to set designer Edward Carrere).





While the design and architectural critics trashed Carrere's sets, his modernist designs for the Enright House (reflective floors, indoor terraces, unsupported staircases) were a futuristic look at things to come a decade later. And while many film critics cited the film as pure camp (even Roark's jack hammer became a phallic symbol in the presence of his suitor Dominique played by Patricia O'Neal), it's a great look at ego, genius and the power of the press.



Strangers When We Meet (Columbia Pictures, 1960)
Kirk Douglas as architect Larry Coe has a different problem of conscience when he meets and falls in love with his next door neighbor played by Kim Novak while juggling a plum architectural commission. The melodrama was one of the first to tackle adultery in the Kinsey Report era and very Mad Men.
Central to the movie is the Bel Air mountaintop/oceanfront view of the home that Coe is building for a novelist (played by Walter Matthau). The real life home was rumored to be the future love nest for Novak and director Richard Quine which only added to the on and off set soap opera.




Towering Inferno (Twentieth Century Fox, 1974):
This time it's Paul Newman as an architect of conscience who builds the world's tallest building in San Francisco which succumbs to fire in the definitive disaster flick of the seventies. He also has one of the best film lines about the building of these mammoth spectacles in sky -- "Maybe they just oughta leave it the way it is. Kind of a shrine to all the bull**** in the world."





Indecent Proposal  (Columbia, 1993)

Woody Harrelson as an architect who is struggling financially to save his beachfront dream home property and his answer is a million dollar role in the hay with a billionaire character played by Robert Redford with his wife Demi Moore. (Only at the movies). Despite his talent, he is overqualified for work at a firm and teaches at a local university, advocating students not to sell out.


The Belly of an Architect (Tangram Films, 1987)

This art-house flick went straight to DVD but interesting in its coverage of food (from director Peter Greenway who brought us The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover), sex, death and of course architecture. Belly follows Brian Dennehy as he travels to Rome with his young wife to curate an exhibit of an 18th century architect who is obsessed with (and of course he thinks his wife is poisoning him).




Other films to check out are Jeff Bridges as a plane crash survivor/architect in Fearless, Albert Finney in Two for the Road, Richard Gere in Intersection, Sam Waterston in Hannah and Her Sisters and Wesley Snipes in Jungle Fever. And with the exception of Finney, all are pretty tortured personally.

 One of my favorite books on the subject is author Mark Lamster's Architecture and Film (Princeton Architectural Press, 2000). The book examines the way architects are treated on screen through a wide array of contributor's features from an even wider range of disciplines. You can purchase the book on Amazon.


I also love Donald Albrecht's Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies (Hennessey and Ingalls, 2000) which literally became my bible for book research. He covers the modernist designs of films from the twenties and thirties and has some wonderful material on Metropolis, The Fountainhead along with Art Deco and the Bauhaus movements.


I did a piece for Architectural Digest and Turner Classic Movies several years ago on the subject. You can read it here. Enjoy!

Photo Credits: Twentieth Century Fox, IMDB, Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Peter Greenway.