Welcome to The Morning Read.
By far, the most entertaining thing going on out there this morning is Joseph Kahn versus Jim Emerson on the subject of "The Dark Knight." Here we are, three years down the road from the release of the movie, and look at the passion this one sequence seems to inspire.
Kahn, of course, is the director of "Torque," as well as the upcoming "Detention," which has been playing the festival circuit, and he's got a commercial and video resume a mile long. He's got an active Twitter presence, and he's fairly blunt about his work and his opinion. I like the guy, and that's a real evolution from my position when "Torque" was released. I also like that "Detention" fiercely divided people when it screened at SXSW, and critics I like and respect reacted in an absolutely opposite fashion than I did when reviewing it. Lately, he's been engaging a lot in the discussion of fight geography and the use of sound in cutting action and defending the work of Michael Bay at length, and well. This piece he published today is the culmination of a lot of conversations over the last week or so, it feels like.
Welcome to The Morning Read.
If I'm being honest, one of my very favorite films that played at the Toronto Film Festival this year is something I saw in May at Cannes. At the time, I did an impromptu interview with the director of the movie, Gerardo Naranjo. At the time, I didn't run it, so I thought this morning, I'd publish the interview for the first time, and then republish the review I wrote. Since I published it with another review, and since we weren't doing letter grades at the time, I thought I'd take the opportunity to assign it the one it deserves now.
The thing is, there's a limited release of this film supposedly set for October 14th, but there's no ads for it yet, and we're only a month out. This film needs some time to build a head of steam, and it needs the support of the critical community to convince audiences to give it a try. I hope Fox really tries with this one in the US, and that this isn't a cursory release. Here's my original review, and I think you'll see just how enthused I was when I saw it. Nothing's changed almost five months later:
Francis Ford Coppola has produced some of the finest movies of all time, and when he is gone, there is no doubt in my mind that his work will live on. As long as people are watching movies, they will be watching "The Conversation" and his "Godfather" films and "Apocalypse Now." No doubt about it.
Having said that, his latest film "Twixt" is so bad that it feels like a practical joke. It's so bad that I can't believe anyone who has ever seen "The Conversation" made this film, much less the person who actually made it.
I am still having trouble processing what I sat through at the film's first press screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. I've seen plenty of bad films by good filmmakers, and even in those bad films, I can still see the identity of the filmmaker. I can still see their fingerprints on the work. With films I haven't liked this week like "A Dangerous Method" or "Wuthering Heights," I can still have a conversation about how the filmmaker's craft is evident in what they do, and ultimately, my reactions boil down to how I feel about choices they made. I may not like those choices, but I can see the reasoning behind them.
The Duplass Brothers have somehow managed the nearly impossible trick of moving from the no-budget indie world of their first feature, "The Puffy Chair," to making movies with well-known movie stars without having to trade any of their independence and without subverting their voice at all. Their new film, "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," is the most accessible thing they've made, and it's also a bit of a marvel, a film without a single hint of cynicism in it.
Jeff is played by Jason Segel, and he's a 30 year old still living with his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). His older brother Pat (Ed Helms) is married to Linda (Judy Greer), and they're struggling with some pretty fundamental communication issues. They all live in Baton Rouge, and the easy version of this film would treat Jeff and his decidedly arrested adulthood as the source of the joke. Instead, the opening scene sets the stage for everything that follows, as Jeff dictates a long monologue into a recorder about the importance of the movie "Signs" in his life. He explains how the structure of the film and the way it eventually draws all of its story threads together changed the way he views the world, and now he's open to the voice of the universe, no matter how mysterious its method of communication.
Earlier today, I was at the press day for "50/50," shooting video interviews with the cast, and one of the people working at the event was a local. As we were talking about movies I'd seen at the fest, I mentioned Sarah Polley and "Take This Waltz," and immediately, she got defensive, before I even offered an opinion on the film. "Sarah Polley is one of our treasures," she said, a good Canadian protecting one of her own. Thing is, no one need to protect Polley, because she's carving out one hell of a career, and there's nothing to be defensive about.
We have very few women writing and directing personal work on a regular basis these days, and if you look at the percentages of women to men in those jobs, it's truly upsetting. I love all of my boy movies, certainly, and I know when a filmmaker is playing right to my interests or my worldview. I don't just go to the movies to have my perspective endlessly reinforced, though. I want to be challenged. I want to be knocked out of my comfort zone. I want to hear a voice I haven't heard before. I want to understand the world through other people's eyes.
Alexander Payne had one of the most promising starts of any of the filmmakers in the Class of '99, as I like to call them, and "Election" is one of those films that I find always rewarding to revisit. "Sideways" and "About Schmidt" are both strong, mature pieces of work, and they both demonstrate a clear sense of voice as well as a very strong sense of place. Locations play a major part in his work, helping to define who these people are and giving them a proper landscape in which to play out their issues.
And, yes, like his earlier films, "The Descendents" captures a character in crisis, someone facing a major life-changing event and having to redefine themselves as a result. And while it does not carry the same satiric sting that some of his work is noted for, I think it's warm and human and beautifully made, and it is one more triumph in a long list of recent triumphs for George Clooney as a movie star and an actor both.
It's one thing to make a film that plays to a horror audience, but it's much harder to make a film that can satisfy the hardcore genre fans while also playing to a broader audience that doesn't necessarily know and love the genre. When a filmmaker does that, they've got something special, something that distributors spend their year looking for. With the right trailer, "You're Next" could easily be that sort of breakout for the right distributor. It's a small film with a big hook, and it's very smart about the way it tweaks the audience as they take the ride.
Director Adam Wingard has been working on the fringes of the fringes for a while now. His movie "Pop Skull" is about as far from commercial formula as you can possibly imagine. I like Wingard's voice as a filmmaker precisely because it felt like he had to make these movies, like they were personal and essential to him and there was no thought at all of tailoring them for an audience. With his last film, though, working with screenwriter Simon Barrett, it felt like a different skill set snapped into focus, and "A Horrible Way To Die," while still difficult and dark and dangerous, felt more like a "real" movie than anything he'd done before.
Sugar Ray Leonard has been a legend as long as I've been conscious of pop culture. One of the reasons I am constantly amazed that I am paid actual money to do what I do is because so much of what I do involves satisfying deeply personal desires. The fact that I get paid is almost incidental.
When I was growing up in the '70s, boxing was very different in terms of the way it was handled by the media, and Sugar Ray Leonard was a superstar. When I was first told that he was involved in "Real Steel," that was the first reason I was willing to go to the set. I wanted to see what it meant to have someone like Leonard involved in a big-budget movie where CGI robots beat the crap out of each other. What I saw on-set was an ambitious new step in performance capture technology, and I ended up sitting down with Leonard to talk about his role in that process.
Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender are building a body of work together that is demanding, intellectually rigorous, and deeply felt, and if they continue, I feel like it will be a privilege to watch what they produce as collaborators. Their new film "Shame" is incredibly potent, a disturbing and visceral film about the ways we cope with the things that drive us, and the ways we destroy ourselves for who we are. It is one of the year's very best films, and a major artistic accomplishment.
Much of what drives the characters in the film is unspoken, and yet "Shame" manages to communicate volumes with its silence. McQueen is a master of subtext, and from the very beginning of the film, he's asking you to pay close attention, to connect the dots, and if you are willing to do that, it's a wrenching experience. I love that the film doesn't explain everything to you, because it's all in there. It is also a formally impressive piece of film craft, and I think McQueen is one of those guys we need to watch closely. He's building these films to endure, and they are rewarding because of just how much he's layered into them.
Paul Williams was at his most famous when I was still a little kid. I remember seeing him on variety shows, in "Smokey & The Bandit," as an orangutan in one of the "Planet Of The Apes" sequels, and above all, I remember his omnipresence as a singer/songwriter. Even if I didn't know those were his songs at the time, my childhood was largely underscored by the work of Paul Williams.
As I've gotten older, I've learned a great appreciation for his body of work, and there are some high points that mean quite a bit to me. I think "Phantom Of The Paradise" is fantastic, and the songs in that film are almost always on my iPod when I travel. His song for the original "Muppet Movie," the heartbreaking "The Rainbow Connection," is one of the first songs I learned to play on the piano as a kid. And well before its critical rehabilitation began, I was a huge fan of the work he did for "Ishtar," a hilarious goof on the very art of songwriting.