Monday, August 20, 2012

It Was A Busy Weekend

Actually, it was pretty laid back, which is good every once in a while you know? I was able to watch a few movies. On that note: I felt particularly movie nerdy on Saturday night (it's a thing-look it up).  Tina went out to see some friends so I was left alone to fend for myself. On Sunday we would talk about what other husbands might do with their time when their wives go out with their lady friends and your friends are all busy? She thought that it must have something to do with sports or porn (we were painting with a broad brush but still....) Me? I delved into some over 3 hour film epics from the early eighties, of course. Here is what I saw this weekend in chronological order of when they were released:

Heaven's Gate (1980) (45/50 movies)
 Is there another movie around that is as difficult talk about as an actual movie, separating it from the intendant baggage that comes along without it? There are very few that comes with as much baggage as Heaven's Gate. Everyone knows the old stories: how because of Michael Cimino's insanity with this picture it pretty much brought to end the filmmaking era of the 70's that was defined by the directors having as much control as possible in crafting their personal visions, while also pretty much bankrupting a movie studio. The movie was so infamous that it inspired it's own book, Final Cut which having finally watched the movie, I'd really like to see now. See? Now that I have all this off my chest and out of the way: the movie.
 You know I actually really liked Cimino's The Deer Hunter but it is unbelievable, after winning all those Oscars, how much leeway United Artists seemed to give him while making what is essentially an anti-Western. He pulled a lot of Kubrickian tantrums, like tearing down whole (and real) buildings that had been built as sets, with an insane addiction to realism at any cost. I'll have to read the book and report back but how he was allowed to do this is just baffling to me, because Stanley Kubrick he definitely was now. From the opening at Harvard (which was shot in England) you get the sense that this movie is groundlessly in love with itself. And to be honest, it's all a bit of a muddle, there is some intriguing ideas in here, overall it is about some wealthy landowners coming down hard on the immigrants moving out West, how the West was Won sort of thing, with a love triangle thrown in there. I dunno, he definitely wanted to make a Western that wasn't exactly a "Western" with the downbeat ending of many a 70's film. But, my goodness, I'm not sure how much this would have helped anything but one of the indulgences they couldn't wrest away from Cimino was the editing, and part of the reason this thing is so long is because he has say gun battles that are not interestingly filmed in the first place go on for way longer than they should have. It's interesting because the Criterion Collection is releasing a director's cut of this movie in December and I am wondering if they are 1) going to clean up the look, there are some lovely shots here but overall it looks muddy and 2) A director's cut? Does that mean it's going to be longer? I don't see how that would make things better. I mean ultimately I think it is an ambitious failure, which might mean something if it didn't come along with the rest.

A side note though, it is interesting watching this to see all these younger actors, or younger actors at the time: Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston have fairly substantial roles, but then Mickey Rourke shows up and so does Terry O'Quinn in his second movie role, and Brad Dourif, who I recognized but had to look up
The last thing I learned through this is that Jeff Bridges was/is a photographer, he would regularly take pictures on all his sets. The one above is from the set of Heaven's Gate. He actually has a whole book of his photographs out.

One last story about Jeff Bridges and this movie, like I said Michael Cimino had actual real, new buildings built out on the prairies or whatever, one of which was the whorehouse where Isabelle Huppert, the prostitute in the middle of the love triangle, lives and works with the rest of her women. At the end of shooting Michael Cimino offered this building to whomever wanted it and Jeff Bridges took it, dismantled it, got it driven somewhere South where his ranch was and set it back up again. So Bridges now owns that whorehouse on some piece of property. He says it has bullet holes in it from the making of the movie. I thought that, at least, was pretty great.

Reds (1981) (46/50 movies)
 Now here is a 3-hour plus epic I could really sink my teeth into. What's remarkable is that this is obviously a labor of love for Warren Beatty (and, from what I read about it, he had been trying to bring it to the screen for something like ten years) What's nuts about it is that he got it made (directed and co-wrote it) in the early 80's in Reagan's America of all places. It's about American journalist John Reed, the only American buried in the Kremlin, becoming involved in the Communist revolution in Russia and hoping to bring it's spirit and idealism to America. It's just as much about that as it is about labor politics and the fracturing of the labor parties/socialist parties in America, all seen by John Reed. But how do you make something that could be a dry history lesson to the average audience into something more interesting? Beatty seemed to find his hook with the love affair between Reed and Louise Bryant, played here by a really great Diane Keaton, and how in this tumultuous time they lose each other and get back together throughout. Them being reunited at a train station at one point is genuinely moving. The writing here is great from the little character moments to the big action scenes (seriously there are seens of Reed and Bryant trying to find each other by moving through the steppes through Finland and Russia and evading the authorities) It's all really interesting with some really good performances. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Jack Nicholson's performance as Eugene O' Neill might just be one of if NOT his best performance.

Never Let Me Go (2010) (47/50 movies)

 Based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, this movie takes place in an alternate history version of England where in the 50's they started perfecting the technology to clone people and then use the clones to harvest for their organs. In the process doing away with great many illnesses and disease. The movie focuses on three friends (Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, and Keira Knightley) as they slowly find out, from the mysterious boarding school they all attend together, what their actual, true purpose is and how they all cope with that reality, and how they put off the inevitable. Overall, it's a really sad movie, as you might be able to tell just from the premise, but is also very mannered in that specific English way, no Bruckheimerian "The Island", here. It's more like "Remains Of The Day" meets "The Island", it's definitely an interesting take on the material, even though I didn't feel quite so engaged the whole time. One thing is sure, it has some beautiful cinematography at times. Especially when they escape to try and find one of their former teachers from the school in this seaside area of England that looked pretty amazing. It's interesting also to see Andrew Garfield in a somewhat early role before he became Spider-Man, and Carey Mulligan is really good as usual.

The Campaign (2012) (48/50 movies)

A disappointment considering I like a lot of the people involved, and that includes Will Ferrell, Zach Galifiniakis and Adam McKay, who produced, but I wish had directed. This movie just could not have it's cake and eat it too, it wants to be both a McKay-esque crazy comedy with two nuts going at it, and a trenchant political commentary, and it fails at both. To be fair, there were SOME laughs, but they were few and far between, and maybe I was punchy but too many of those laughs came from dog reaction shots, so that pretty much sums that up.


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