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Review: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 28, 2008 • 1 Comment

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Old Man Jones is whipping up a storm!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the best Indy movie after the blessed original. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have taken the whip-snapping archaeologist out for a fourth time while retaining some of the most crucial elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) that without tarnished the past two sequels. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not a perfect movie. Far from it. There are quibbles galore, but it didn’t stop me from grinning throughout this popcorn entertainment. The fourth exceeding the original is impossible. Raiders is perfect.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), after twenty-seven years is still the best example of a character-driven action motion picture. There are no wasted moments and the exposition is told briskly so the adrenaline rush isn’t tempered. More importantly, the characters were larger than life, capable of nuance, and worth caring about. Watching Raiders in a revival theater last year was an uplifting experience. Spielberg and Lucas made the movie, one they personally would have liked to have seen, with great zeal and, more importantly, selfishness. Like a hyper-imaginative kid, he invented one exhilarating sequence after another and clocked in five minutes shy of two hours. When initially released, Raiders saved Hollywood at a time when ticket sales ebbed to a devastating low.

I approached the fourth one with trepidation after recalling how the sequels treated the fedora man so shamefully. “Docta Jones” anyone? Thankfully the fourth adventure is a hardy throwback that mostly succeeds in integrating the dashing 1930s rouge into the 1950s. The Indiana Jones saga now explores that decades’ hang ups: conspiracy theories, commies, and the stuff science-fiction magazines reveled in. Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, now in his fifties, is at a point in his life one of colleagues, Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent, Hot Fuzz, 2007), refers to as “where (it) stops giving you things and starts taking them away.” CONTINUE READING ►

Obituary: Sydney Pollock (1934-2008)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 26, 2008 • 1 Comment

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This evening it was announced that Hollywood maverick Sydney Pollack died from cancer at his home in Pacific Palisades. At 73, he is survived by his wife of 50 years, Claire Griswold, and daughters, Rachel and Rebecca. Steven, Pollock’s son, died 1993 in an airplane crash. Pollock served on the boards of KCET, public broadcasting of Los Angeles, and the Motion Picture Television Fund. He was also a founding member of the Sundance Institute and the Chairman Emeritus of the American Cinematheque.

pollock2Working around the camera as a film director, producer, and actor over the past 30 years, he has earned 46 Academy Award nominations. He was the Chief Executive Officer of Mirage Enterprises which also produced his films. His directorial resume includes Tootsie (1982), a comedy where Dustin Hoffman disguises as a woman to get acting gigs, Out of Africa (1985 – winning the Best Director and Best Picture Academy Awards) a romantic drama with Meryl Streep opposite Robert Redford, Sabrina (1995), a remake of the 1954 rom-com staring Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear, and the documentary Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005) about the fanciful architect’s working method.

As an actor, he has delivered thoughtful performances usually playing very knowing and cynical men who wield great power. He shined in films like his own Tootsie, Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (1992), Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Roger Michell’s Changing Lanes (2002) and Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton. Many of them he had produced. He also played Warren Feldman in the HBO series The Sopranos.

Sydney Pollock in “Tootsie”

Pollock died in the middle of his production The Reader, directed by Stephen Daldry, which is based on the excellent Bernhard Schlink novel (read by me) about a young man (David Kross, Adam and Eva, 2003) who discovers his past lover (Kate Winslet, Little Children, 2006), a thirtyish woman when he was 15 years old, is linked with Nazi crimes during the Holocaust.

Pollock once reflected about his work by saying, “I don’t value a film I’ve enjoyed making. If it’s good, it’s damned hard work.”

Amen.

Unique Trailers: NASHVILLE (1975)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 21, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Some great movies can’t be made into good trailers: Just look at the atrocious jobs done unto Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm or Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (watch the movie first, and then ridicule the trailer — the DVD doesn’t support the trailer either.). And sometimes there is an exception to this rule: Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975).

“The damndest thing you ever saw”.

The fast-paced introductions to the two dozen characters who appear in the movie is so involving and kinetic that your head is spinning with names and connections by the end of the trailer. The actual movie amazingly accomplishes the realization of these twenty-four characters as unforgettable and compelling individuals. Most movies get hung up on a quartet.

I saw this film again last week at a revival in an upscale cinema house (VIFC) in Vancouver. It was introduced by W.P. Kinsella, the Canadian novelist of Shoeless Joe, which was adapted into Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams (1989). Kinsella revealed his love for Coen Bros. Movies so I made a point to quiz him on Barton Fink (1990) after the screening.

nashville5Watching Nashville, bursting with irony and exuberance, in its 35mm glory was a great experience as much as doing the same with Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). I got chills again watching the main title sequence that features a panoramic J. William Myers Jr. painting of all the characters (featured above). Even while listening to the slow, shivery rendition of the schmaltzy folk song “We Must Be Doing Something Right To Last 200 Years” sung by a leery Henry Gibson (Magnolia, 1999). I’ve been punch-drunk in love with the film having seen it a half-dozen times. If I had attempted to single out every performer and storyline here, I’d be at the IMDB all night.

The director of Scarface (1932) and His Girl Friday (1940), Howard Hawks, once answered the question “what makes a good movie?”: Three great scenes. No bad scenes.” It’s true of Nashville, which has much more than three. Had I to choose three, I would single out a moment very late in the film where three great scenes came together in a row.

nashville1The scene is set in a tavern one night where Tom Frank, a handsome and monstrously hedonistic country singer, played by Keith Carradine (HBO’s Dexter, 2007), very gently sings, “I’m Easy” (the only won Academy Award out of five including Best Picture). Lily Tomblin (Flirting with Disaster, 1996) plays Linnea, a dissatisfied housewife and loving mother who sits in the shadows way back looking transfixed as though Tom were a siren. She thinks he’s singing to her (he is!). So does every woman in the audience who has already slept with him including Shelley Duvall, Cristina Raines, and the beautiful Geraldine Chaplin (“I’m Opal! I’m from the BBC!”). It’s such a bewitchingly vulnerable moment coated in hot tar.

“I’m Easy”

Cut to the second scene in another tavern populated by men who’ve turned up for a political fund raiser — Vote for Hal Philip Walker. Gwen Welles plays Sueleen Gay (“Let me be the… ONE!”), a waitress who dreams of becoming a major singer whose hired as the night’s entertainment. A pity she’s tone-deaf. Sueleen naively uses her sex appeal on stage, oblivious to her lack of talent, and the boorish crowd boos her performance and demands nudity. The political backhanders (Ned Beatty, Deliverance, 1972 and Michael Murphy, Tanner 88′, 1988) bribe Sueleen who is on the verge of tears that she’ll perform with superstar Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley, A Nightmare On Elm Street, 1984) if she shows skin. What follows is one of the most searingly sad stripteases right down to the taking the socks out of her bra.

nashville2The third scene takes place in Tom’s motel room where he’s in bed with Linnea. Having had sex, she teaches him some sign language (her adorable children are deaf) and he is so engaged with her, surprising considering how he callously treats other women who fawn over him. Linnea figures its time to go (unheard by Linnea, another song “For the Sake of the Children, We Must Say Goodbye” from before could have played over it — thankfully it didn’t). Heartbroken by her leaving, Tom cruelly calls up another girlfriend by phone while Linnea gets dressed. Linnea is not affected and she kisses Tom goodbye. Having failed to hurt her, Tom hangs up the phone. Pauline Kael noted in her review that “he’ll remember her forever.”

Nashville is a masterpiece, a staple to 1970s cinema and one of the quintessential films about America. Technically, it’s also a musical. The Nashville Music Industry were appalled that the movie didn’t use any existing music of their sour grapes. The actors wrote and sung their own songs. Even those who might have gone on to become country singers were denied by the heads of Nashville because their resentment was so great.

Before the showing of the feature I attended, the audience was posed this question: Which one out of the twenty-four characters does not show up at the concert near the end of the film. The answer to who it is: kcalb nerak. Listen much earlier in the film for why this is case by Haven Hamilton to Barnett (Allen Garfield, The Majestic, 2001).

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Baz Luhrmann’s “AUSTRALIA” Is Dinky-Di!

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 21, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Funny: Moulin Rogue! (2001) is playing in the background and lo and behold the first trailer for the new film by Baz Luhrmann, after seven years, is down under here.

“AUSTRALIA” Trailer

It looks like a cross between Tarsem’s The Fall (2008) and the Nicolas Roeg masterpiece Walkabout (1971).

“Just about the most different movie you’ll ever see.”

Throw in some sensational romance with Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, 2006) and Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm, 1989), add operatic music, shake, don’t stir and I’m there!

“We should be lovers!”
“We can’t do that…”

AUSTRALIA opens November 14th.

Isabella Rossellini Does “Green Porno”

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 20, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

greenpornoThe Sundance Channel is releasing Green Porno sex-pisodes (available in the US and will be made available elsewhere in July), a collection of short films starring, co-directed, produced, conceived and written by Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet, 1984). Rossellini, she of the sexy bottom lip, is so joyfully perverse here. Against purposefully small-scale sets that are simple, colorful and textured, she is dressed as an insect and describes what her sex life would be like as an insect. Yes, you just read that. Watch these two naughty, albeit very sweet episodes. They’re also educational!

Green Porno | “Earthworm” Episode

Green Porno | “Snail” Episode

And the circle of life continues.

UPDATE: January 5, 2009

Green Porno has two seasons worth of fourteen two-minute episodes. The first deals with more insects like the “Mantis”, the “Spider” and the “Dragonfly”. Titles for the second sesaon, which focuses on creatures of the sea, include the “Angelfish” (“B is for…” “Butterfly.”), the “Barnacle” and the “Whale”. The most provoking title in the bunch is “Why Vagina?” Many men, however, are prone to ask “Why, Vagina?” Rossellini, bless her soul, has been hanging around David Lynch (Inland Empire, 2007) and Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, 2002) too much. Lucky bums!