Monday, February 25, 2008
Certainly, though, there were several moments of interest which confirmed that, occasionally, sparks of originality do not go unrewarded. The victory of No Country for Old Men in the Best Picture category, and the accompanying wins of Joel and Ethan Coen for Best Director(s) and Javier Bardem for Best Supporting Actor, may have been enough to cleanse the lingering sense of disappointment and disdain from the recent Best Picture win of Crash two years ago. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, in winning for Best Song for "Falling Slowly" from their wonderful gem of a film "Once," illustrated that a tune need not originate from an animated film to win.
Why the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insists each year on allowing its president to make a presentation is still perplexing. With the erosion of viewers from the telecast and the perennial complaints of the program's length, no reason - other than vanity - remains to justify the presence of the Academy president, who no viewer knows or recognizes.
Viewers with a sense of the macabre look forward to the montage of actors, crew, and other various showmen who passed away during the year preceding the telecast. Typically, one can gauge the audience's fondness - or even familiarity - with the deceased by the level of applause accompanying the late performer's appearance in the montage. This year's level of applause was oddly subdued, and only the very recently deceased Suzanne Pleshette, Heath Ledger, and famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman received noticeable levels of applause. Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni, sadly, received little in the form of clapping. One cannot help but feel a pang of regret, or even sorrow, for those who lived just a bit too long and received little, if any, applause because no one else from their era remained in the audience to applaud them.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Competing Civil War Epics of 2003
HOLDEN But the worst movie, undoubtedly — and all the critics agree with me — was "Gods and Generals." And to sit through four hours of it! It was absolutely ludicrous in every way.Their cold assessment of Cold Mountain was hasty, but the critics could not be more correct in their dismissal of Gods & Generals. In the eyes of G&G director Ronald F. Maxwell, the Civil War was simply an event centering around the proud bluster and vainglorious speechifying of great men, all of whom were mere victims of historical happenstance. This was a film about rhetoricians who paused to bloviate as their troops, just props to them, were obliterated. As every gentrified gentleman is a honorable prisoner of fate, no one is a perpetrator of an evil institution, no one is a profiteer, no one is overly ambitious or reckless. Indeed, no one in the film -- on either side of the fight -- appears to be be motivated by malice or ill will. In an effort not to offend any who might harbor a nostalgia for the losing side, the film presented no one - certainly not a general - as a villain.
SCOTT And oddly, audiences didn't go for it.
HOLDEN They promoted it quite well——
SCOTT And it was still a bomb.
HOLDEN A total, total bomb. But if "Gods and Generals" tried to get the Civil War too literally — much, much, much too literally — "Cold Mountain" erred in the other direction, trying to make it into "Reds" or "Dr. Zhivago" or something like that. It didn't feel authentic. That's one of many things that bothered me about "Cold Mountain," which is also a disappointment in my book, but a noble one.
The facts, as presented in the film, also seemed a bit questionable. In much of G&G, the battlefields are portrayed as eerily silent -- the wounded do not cry out in pain for their mothers or sweethearts. There was no cacophony on the battlefields, which were littered with the mortally wounded. The few African American characters who appear were depicted mostly as sympathetic to the Confederacy or its partisans, which is curious indeed. While, of course, conversational stylings of the 1860s were likely far different than those of our postmodern 2000s, surely even then individuals spoke to each other, rather than speechifying at each other.
Spoke Joshua Lawrence Chamblerlain, played by Jeff Daniels, during the course of the film:
All these thousands of men. Many of the not much more than boys. Each one of them some mothers' son, some sisters' brother, some daughters father. Each one of them a whole person loved and cherished in some home far away. Many of them will never return. An army is power.Its entire purpose is to coherse others. This power can not be used carelessly or recklessly. This power can do great harm. We have seen more suffering than any man should ever see, and if there is going to be an end to it, it must be an end that justifies the cost. Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it Tom war is a scruge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic cohersion of one group of man over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis it exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right infront of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine,is part of the price to end this curse and free the negro, then let God's work be done.Yikes.
G&G lasts for an almost unendurable 231 minutes, a length that suggests an editor's outright timidity at the thought of confronting produce Ted Turner. Maxwell is also the perpetrator of the 1993 sequel/prequel Gettysburg, which came first in film but actually occurs after the events depicted in G&G. Interestingly, that means that in G&G the actors are ten years older in scenes that take place but a year before the events of the 1993 film. Maxwell's IMDB entry reveals that he had not directed a single film between 1993's Gettysburg and 2003's G&G.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Off Duty XIII
Sigh. An absolutely ridiculous amount of business travel this past week kept me from my duties as your resident Chronological Snob, and the past weekend was reserved for recuperation from same. Thus, after a week of radio silence, I must resort to an "Off Duty" post today. Never fear, though, as my stockpile of posts needing only a bit of tinkering to finalize remains intact. Regular posting will resume anon.
Friday, February 8, 2008
The Week That Was (2/4 - 2/8)
"I confess that, yes, a culturally jingoistic part of me pitied these folks for caring so much about Super Bowl hoopla instead of enthusing over the sorts of things that keep me riled up and entertained. Meandering through crowds, slurping syrupy margaritas and hogwash beer, cheering music so proletarian and awful that listening physically made me blush (including a Tom Petty cover band performing on a stage in the midway outside the stadium), greedily snatching up promotional trinkets, and devouring all the entertainments presented to them like famine refugees at a banquet . . . why was this fun? Hadn't they ever read a book so thought-provoking they could hardly stand not to tell someone about it or stared at a sculpture so beautiful it made them cry or . . . cared about what I care about? Didn't they know how much richer life could be than this? I wanted to lead them all off to see a Tarkovsky film, like some bleedingly self-righteous Pied Piper of Culture. I felt very adolescent for feeling this way, since I knew better," T.S.T., "(Another) Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: The Super Bowl Edition," Digest, (2/04/08). Who thought that winning free tickets to the Super Bowl would be such a moral and ethical dilemma?
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
J.D. Salinger and Two Films of 2002
Said the 2002 New York Times review of Igby:
What is it with "The Catcher in the Rye" these days? Is it just a coincidence that in a matter of months, the J. D. Salinger classic has rung two cinematic bells? (Three if you count "The Good Girl," in which Jennifer Aniston's character has an affair with a clinically depressed self-styled Holden Caulfield.) Nor should we forget the plaintively whimsical films of Wes Anderson, which flaunt a Salingeresque sense of their own rarefied sensibility.But this trend is not new. Even as far back as 1989's Field of Dreams has a connection through is source material according to the Internet Movie Database:
In the novel, the reclusive author whom Kinsella sought out was J.D. Salinger, whose novel "Catcher In The Rye" included a character named Richard Kinsella. The producers of the film adaptation were forced to create a fictional reclusive author (James Earl Jones' character, Terrence Mann), because of the threat of legal action by Salinger, who was reportedly incensed when the novel was published in 1982.
Click here for some photographs of Salinger's town, including one of his driveway.
So what is it that screenwriters, then, now, and everywhen heap worship upon Salinger? Is it because in high school, they, as the unappreciated and socially awkward writers, found solace in his works when their social oppressors were wooing cheerleaders and drinking cheap beer, activities they publicly held in disdain but secretly longed to join? Is it because Salinger captured the inarticulate social revulsion of adolescents and the maturation of those feelings of discomfort into more pronounced forms of adult awkwardness? Or is it because Salinger was cool and trendy in a way that John Grisham or other pop rubbish simply is not?
Perhaps the question is not why screenwriters or bloggers or journalists so adore Salinger. Might the inquiry best focus on why one would seek to translate that admiration into a theme or motif present in one's own work? By naming your protagonist after your own favorite protagonist, do you get to wink ever so slyly at yourself in the mirror and marvel at your own cleverness? Or are there other unforeseen rewards awaiting you, the writer of such things?
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Off Duty XII
With the sudden influx of quotidian toil at my office, I can relate to Harry Lime, depicted above and played by Orson Welles in the 1949 film, The Third Man (which, Wikipedia notes, was released on the second day of 1950 in the United States). If you've not seen it, you have been deprived of a fine cinematic experience. The film also starred Joseph Cotten, who had appeared with Welles eight years before in Welles' magnus opus, Citizen Kane. Rounding out the cast was the lovely Italian actress, Alida Valli, who had appeared in the early 1940s Italian films, Noi Vivi and Addio, Kira, both based upon "We The Living," the first novel of Ayn Rand.
Directed by Goffredo Alessandrini, "Noi Vivi" (later combined with its sequel into a single film decades later) was a bold anti-totalitarian work considering who was running Italy at the time. The film generally avoids the haughty certainty of its source material and its author, who most thinking people abandon after a literary fling during the first semester of their freshman year of college. Although Rand was fiercely anti-communist, a champion of individualism seems less credible when she runs her school of thought as an absolutist. Rand - like the totaliarians she held in such great disdain - refused to tolerate any dissent in her philosophical movement, Objectivism. Further, Rand's novels are vexing in that her characters are not human beings to whom the reader can relate so much as amalgams of Rand's various philosophical tenets. As such, these Objectivist archetypes do not feel, emote, or change, as they have already reached the Randian ideal and thus they are already perfect in their creator's eyes. The other characters, as polar opposites of Rand's darlings, are weak stereotypes of collectivists or traitors to the capitalist utopia for which Rand longed. But with Valli as the protagonist/Rand surrogate, such faults can be overlooked when translated to celluloid.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Dan Cortese as Burger King Spokesman (1992)
Time was, Dan Cortese of MTV Sports became the official spokesperson for Burger King's television advertisements. In so doing, Cortese, attempting hipness in the most goofy of ways, interacted with everyday customers and employees, all the while exclaiming, "I love this place!" If you watched television in the early 1990s, you could not escape this ad campaign.
Forgotten fact: Burger King offered popcorn to patrons waiting for their food.
Surprisingly, these commercials, once so ubiquitous, have little presence on the Internets. Nevertheless, Chronological Snobbery has cobbled together a few that do exist online to create this entry dedicated to a once annoying, now nostalgic consumer culture campaign.
Believe it or not, Burger King's advertising strategy in this campaign was a significant enough change of pace to warrant coverage in the paper of record, The New York Times. In late 1992, the NYT's Adam Bryant reported:
In Burger King's current marketing campaign, an MTV host, Dan Cortese, declares, "I love this place," as he mugs his way through a series of rapid-cut ads pitching the fast-food chain's new table service.
Now that Burger King has been running its "BK TeeVee" campaign for a couple of months, it seems fair to ask whether others are embracing Burger King and its table service as eagerly as Mr. Cortese, who in the ads elicits enthusiastic reviews from the customers and crew members he interviews in Burger King outlets.
Other than saying Burger King's dinner-time business has jumped and the dinner-basket promotion has exceeded expectations, [Burger King's marketing czar Sidney J. Feltenstein] is not sharing proof of how well the ads are playing in the hearts and stomachs of fast-food fans.
If nothing else, Mr. Feltenstein can pat himself on the back for working Burger King onto the radar screens of the late-night hosts David Letterman, who has chided the ads as annoying, and Jay Leno, who took a camera crew to a Burger King for a "Tonight Show" segment.
Some franchisees and industry watchers have criticized the BK TeeVee campaign as too focused on the younger set, thereby missing the slightly older crowd for whom table service might hold some appeal. But Mr. Feltenstein shrugs off the notion, saying Burger King is drawing customers of all ages. "Some people have perceived a weakness in this campaign that it is so focused" on MTV-age viewers, he added. "But one of the strengths is that it appeals to broader demographics."1
(See also here2 and here3 for additional NYT reporting on Burger King's early 1990s advertising).
In 1993, Cortese told Entertainment Weekly: "Burger King, that's not how I act in real life. Sometimes , people call out, 'Dan, Dan, the Whopper Man!' I go, 'Yeah, right, thank you.'''
So what is the former Burger King pitchman up to these days? Cortese was recently cast as the host of the new reality show, "My Dad is Better Than Your Dad." (Link courtesy of TV Tattle, which also linked one of the commercials above).1. Adam Bryant, "The Media Business; Advertising; Official Tries to Reverse Burger King's Marketing Record," New York Times, December 17, 1992.
2. Stuart Elliott, "The Media Business; Advertising; Once Again, Burger King Shops for an Agency," The New York Times, October 21, 1993.
3. Stuart Elliott, "The Media Business: Advertising; D.M.B&B. Promotes to Executives to Shore Up Basics," The New York Times, November 6, 1992.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Zero Effect: Behind The Scenes
As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect (released ten years ago this week), today's post, the final in the series, offers some behind the scenes perspective and features interviews with cast and crew members from the 1998 film.
Shot in Portland, Oregon from late April to early June of 1997, the film was helmed by Kasdan, then a twenty three year old first time director with a famous surname. Casting of some of the minor roles was done out of Portland; Chronological Snobbery tracked down a number of the supporting cast and interviewed them about their experiences working on the film. Rather than intersperse their memories with additional commentary and remarks, I've included their memories in the foregoing block quotes so that they can tell their stories themselves.
Galen B. Schrick, though uncredited in an unspeaking role, grabbed the audience's attention as the first suspicious character to catch Daryl Zero's gaze in the aftermath of a fire alarm pulled to divert attention from the pick-up of a blackmail pay-off. Of his part, Schrick recalls:
Once I was cast, my agent told me that it was a non-speaking role . . . . There was no preparation involved. I just had to show up and deal with whatever was asked of me. "Man with Bag" was only a red-herring suspicious character to divert Zero's attention from the real blackmailer.
I believe I only had two days work on that project, and only two locations. I only appeared in one scene in the final film that included several interior set-ups (in the NW Children's Theater lobby, and the bathroom interior was shot at the Convention Center near Jantzen Beach), and the one exterior shot at NW Children's Theater with all the police and ambulance vehicles and crowds of extras. Essentially I just had to hit my marks to be moving through the right place at the right time for the camera. My whole experience of that film was a very technical thing. That was the one film project where everything I shot was seen in the film. Jake was very efficient that way with his work; not too many takes, and a fairly controlled shooting environment even with all the extras. I remember being impressed with how well young Mr. Kasdan handled the whole cast and crew management issue.
. . . I really only worked around Ryan O'Neal, but Bill Pullman was on the set when I was working. (Ben Stiller did not spend all that much time on the film when I was called - a lot of his stuff was shot in LA.) I do remember that Mr. Pullman was fairly genial and open to the local people working on the film. He was very business-like and professional when working, but certainly did not "cop an attitude" around me.
Spending a little time with Mr. O'Neal was the big surprise for me. Like many people of my era, his Love Story breakout role was still reasonably fresh in most minds, but I was very favorably impressed with his work with Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon - a complete change from what we had previously seen. My time with him in Zero Effect had more to do with the mechanics of filmmaking than anything else. He and I had to enter and leave the bathroom where the blackmail payment was left. Well, "the bathroom" was really a fairly small closet in the lobby of the NW Children's Theater space, so he and I had some face time crammed in a closet waiting on the PA's call over the radio to exit on cue. That time allowed us time for him to talk with me about working with Stanley Kubrick, Ali McGraw, and I believe that Farrah Fawcett may have been mentioned as well.
The next day when we shot the bathroom interior at the Jantzen Beach Convention Center was memorable for Mr. O'Neal's antics on the empty, concrete-floored open space of the center. While the crew was setting up and lighting the large, many stalled bathroom - Ryan O'Neal was running all out, playing catch with a Frisbee. I remember several of the production folks being more than a little concerned that he might fall and damage himself on that dangerous surface, but he would hear nothing about it from them. I remember Bill Pullman making a few catches as well before begging off when some of the producers appeared very concerned about their shooting schedule and the potential for injury. I just remember how surprising and fun it was to see "name" stars acting like kids.
Margot Demeter played Clarissa Devereau, the former love interest of Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal), who whose subsequent murder by him becomes the basis of his being blackmailed.
Zero Effect was my first audition for a major feature film and I was thrilled to be cast as Clarissa in what I feel is some what of a cult classic film. Working with Jake Kasdan was such a great experience. He had such a clear vision of exactly how each scene was shot. For my first film, I believe that having the opportunity to work on a film with such amazing talent as Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller shaped my views on film as an art form.
Wendy Westerwelle played the clerk of the motel at which Zero stays while investigating the blackmail. In so doing, she shot a single scene with Ben Stiller, whose character Arlo appears:
We filmed at a Motel in Hillsboro Oregon which is a farming community that has many migrant workers living there and some great Mexican restaurants. The scene was very straight forward. I was behind the desk at a sleazy Motel and played the clerk and Ben's character was looking for [Zero].
I auditioned for Jake in Portland Ore. and he was a totally sweet boy. I liked him immediately. I could tell he wanted me because he was so warm and kind. I met Ryan in makeup and he was very friendly.
Veronica Rinard served as the assistant director of the Oregon Film and Video Office in 1997 at the time of the film's principal photography. A decade later, she recalls:
I scouted with Jake some-it was really fun to work with someone who was so enthusiastic about Portland. I took my step-daughter on the set-I think it was "take your daughter to work day"--and Ryan O'Neill had a nice conversation with her-he asked if she was interested in being an actress and said that it had been a very good life for him.
I thought it was a fun movie and deserved more attention than it got.
I thought it portrayed Portland well-again the quirkiness of the script kind of fit, and Jake wanted to show off some of what's cool about the city.
Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge played the exterior of the planetarium, and the interior was at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). They also used the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center.
"The script was written for Portland," Rinard told the Portland Oregonian in 1997.1 "They really want to show off the city."
David Doty played Officer Hagans, the police officer with whom Stiller's character consults in trying to obtain some records. (Doty also appeared in the ill-fated 2002 Zero Effect TV pilot, and was interviewed in yesterday's piece on that production.). He knew Kasdan for some time:
i first met jake when he was 17 or 18. he had just finished high school and had written a play that he also directed called, i think "losing sleep" he wanted an actor named jack kehler, a friend of mine, who was busy so he mentioned me. i read for jake and that was it. i did one more play with jake and then he called and said he was doing a film, would i like to be in it. i said sure. just give me a call time. iv'e been in every film he's done since i thought he was brilliant when he was 17 and still think so. didn't do too much prep for the role as it was pretty much all right there on the page. the scene, with ben stiller. who was great to work with, was slimmed down about 80%, but understood because the cut, off my reaction. to the next scene really worked.
Aleta Barthell played a health club staffer who directs patrons out of the building during the aforementioned fire alarm sequence. Looking back ten years, she remembers:
I was called in to audition for the part of "Staffer #2" for the film. I was told that it was a "quirky, detective story." When I read the part of a staff person evacuating a gym...I played it as an impudent worker, put-out with having to evacuate all of these people. Jake laughed, and I got the role.
When we filmed the evacuation scene at the gym, Jake had chosen two actors from the extras who had dressed outlandishly (one in a vibrant bow tie) to misdirect the suspicion of who had planted the item in the bathroom. We did a lot of takes with these characters...the two of them seeing one another, then moving away from each other, etc. Zero was watching all of this while the gym was being evacuated. In the end, these two characters were cut from the scene. I was still visually in the film, but they dubbed my voice and lines in afterward, because during the shoot, I kept referring to the guy as "Bow Tie" and telling him he had to go as I moved him out of the building.
I was very impressed with Jake as a director. Everyone had heard that he was "really young" (in his 20's) and was doing this big film. The Jake that I saw was calm, positive, very approachable and in the face of enormous pressure to keep things rolling and moving, he persisted in taking his time to experiment with different ideas during the shoot. I thought this was admirable, and it made the experience great for the actors. It really allowed everybody to play off of one another. I saw him and Bill Pullman have a tremendous time trying out new ideas.
I didn't interact with Bill Pullman directly, but remember that he sent for a stack of headshots and signed them in between takes for a line of little kids that kept calling him "Mr. President" and asking him about Independence Day.
The person I especially remember is Ryan O'Neal, who played Gregory Stark. It was the second film I had ever done, and the largest one. I was nervous, and he affably made me feel comfortable and explained what was happening at different points in the shoot. After seeing the final film, I thought that he really shined in his part.
When I initially read the script, I loved all of the twists and turns that the story had in it. I was especially impressed with the role of Gloria Sullivan. The role was cut down considerably in the final version, and I felt it missed the depth and zing that Jake had written into Gloria. She and Zero were much more of a match for each other in the original script that I read. I thought the film came out well, but was sad to see Gloria somewhat diminished.
J.W. Crawford played a convention employee in a scene that was ultimately cut from the film. Describing that sequence, he observes:
My agent called and said they had submitted me for a small speaking role in a little film with Ryan O'Neal. The casting director asked to read me for several "day player" roles. I was called back to read a funny little scene for Jake Kasdan as a "Convention Employee". It was a quick little bit with the Kim Dickens character showing up at a convention and confronting this creepy little employee at the registration table. She knew she was being tailed by Ben Stiller and was making it look like she was trying to track down the guy who was blackmailing Ryan O'Neal. Except that I couldn't find the person on the list and was about as motivated as someone on doggie downers. She was in a hurry and getting nowhere with me so she gave up but not without me hitting on her. She just kept walking away from me (and Stiller) as fast as she could. There was no real preparation for me....I guess playing creepy just comes natural!
I met Bill Pullman and Ryan O'Neal at my wardrobe fitting the day before we shot my scene. I didn't really do anything more than shake their hands. They seemed like nice guys. Ryan was on his cell phone the whole time talking to a friend in L.A. about the film. He was smaller in stature than I would have thought.
I was introduced to Ben Stiller by Kim Dickens who actually invited me to join them at their table for lunch after our scene together. That's not something that doesn't happen too often when you're a day player. They were absolutely down to earth and terrific people. Ben made my day...year...maybe lifetime when he told me that my work was "really funny stuff"! WOW! Jake Kasdan joined us at the table for a few minutes and he seemed happy with my work. He was a real actor's director! Later, the day of the Portland premier, Jake asked one of the producers to call me and let me know my scene had been cut. He said he wanted me to know that it had
nothing to do with my performance. Now that is real class!
These interviews conclude Chronological Snobbery's five part series on the tenth anniversary of the 1998 film, Zero Effect. All that is left to say is: "That spooky rumbling is a distant timpani," the curious phrase that Kasdan slowly reveals, word by word, on his commentary track to the DVD of the film. (He shared the phrase in that fashion just to ascertain whether or not anyone actually listened to the commentary.).
1. Kristi Turnquist, "Movie Cameras in Portland Roll again, Shooting 'Zero Effect'," The Oregonian, April 21, 1997.