His new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, doesn’t drop until early October, but Hollywood Elsewhere nicely links and recaps a recent, illuminating Bill Moyers interview with Wendell Potter, the former vice president of corporate communications for CIGNA, and a current health care advocate with the Center for Media and Democracy, about how Michael Moore‘s 2007 documentary Sicko got the shaft, in the form of meticulously strategized undercutting by the health care industry. It’s from the same old slippery-slope, fear-the-government playbook that moneyed powers-that-be have used to forestall social progressivism for years if not decades, but I can tell you that this sort of shit sounds like white noise to a lot of the under-35 set.
Old-ish news, but Steve Carell is out and Mel Gibson is in for Kyle Killen’s dark comedy The Beaver, according to Variety. In addition to directing, Jodie Foster will also play the wife of Gibson’s screwy depressive, who finds solace in sporting a beaver hand puppet. Slightly weird pairing on the surface, but makes some sense given the Maverick history, I guess. Will Gibson fans — to the extent that they still constitute a mass worth considering, financially — really indulge an arty, non-vengeful side project, though?
Mark September 29 on your calendars. It could be the greatest title of any DVD sell-through collection this year. Or ever.
I was trolling Internet archives looking for an old review to reference, link and fold into a new piece I’m writing, and instead of success in that measure I instead came across this piece I wrote on Baise Moi, a gritty French film that saw limited metropolitan release in 2002, as best I can determine from my records. Its own outlier status seemed a thematic fit with some of the discourse swirling around in a recent web chat I moderated on the shock value of Brüno, so I figured I’d throw up this theatrical-pegged review, originally penned during my editorial stint at Entertainment Today. To wit:
The easy hybrid pitch on Baise Moi, a graphic road romp of feminist empowerment, is that it’s sort of a French version of Thelma & Louise meets Natural Born Killers. This isn’t a bad composite sketch by any stretch of the imagination, but the full truth is, naturally, much more complicated. If you’re at all turned off by the aforementioned description, now might be a good time to go ahead and stop reading, because there’s no way to sugarcoat either this film or the unpleasant issues it addresses in any legitimate dissemination of it.
But if you’re not dissuaded by, in fact if you’re even curious about, the above categorization, then you may (read: may) be more inclined to submit yourself to Baise Moi, a ballsy and provocative thrill-kill import of uncommon brutality (the film’s translation is Rape Me, a verb you probably didn’t conjugate much in high school French) that serves as a launching off point for a whole series of questions regarding men and women and sex and violence.
Early in the film, porn actress Manu (Rafaella Anderson, above left, given to wisenheimer chesire grins of eerily repressed malevolence) is violently and graphically sexually assaulted by two random thugs. But she casually dismisses both the attack and her attackers. “I leave nothing precious in my cunt for those jerks,” spits Manu to her fellow victim. Meanwhile, Nadine (Karen Lancaume, billed as Karen Bach, and summoning visions of an older Katie Holmes cast as a strung-out rocker) finds herself wrapped up in a sort of Southern Baptist triathlon of sin, spending most of her time smoking dope (or looking for it), masturbating and swapping sex for cash. United by chance, the two grrrrrrls, like combustible chemical agents brought together in a lab study gone wrong, ignite the subdued rage in one another, and embark on a twisted road trip of rapacious retribution, screwing men, robbing women and killing both.
Co-written and directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi (a former prostitute turned bestselling novelist and a one-time porn actress, respectively — though don’t let those descriptors impugn their credibility), Baise Moi means to willfully shock, and does. To actually see the degrading violence of a (staged, but unforgiving) rape is both sickening — exactly what it’s meant to be — and oddly… instructive? I don’t doubt for a second that if more people saw this harrowing scene (and others like it) instead of many of the flippant, inconsequential and otherwise candy-ass Hollywood representations of rape, from Showgirls to countless lame movies-of-the-week, sexual assault would decrease nationwide.
Coarse, roughhewn and rather unsophisticated, cinematically speaking, Baise Moi nonetheless succeeds largely on its gritty realism. It’s the ultimate deconstruction of a road movie (in one scene Manu and Nadine fret over the dearth of quality wisecracks with which they dispense victims), overcharged with a certain new wave abandon and coursing with a techno-fed, “Smack My Bitch Up” bravado. Still, the denouement of all this mayhem — both the literal ending and the third act as a whole, which finds the duo, on the run from police, relaxing briefly at a stranger’s house — seems a little contrived.
There’s no denying that Baise Moi is powerful, a cinematic jab to the solar plexus. To merely dismiss it as violent and depraved is to ignore the thought and philosophy behind the explicitness, the film’s true raison d’étre, if you will. But at just under 80 minutes, Baise Moi is a bit too truncated to fully address either the complexity of the quick-catch relationship between Manu and Nadine or the various larger questions of subjugated female sexuality that its narrative raises.(Remstar/FilmFixx, unrated, 77 minutes)
In advance of this week’s rather fetching and intriguing (500) Days of Summer, Movieline basically crushes on Zooey Deschanel, and tallies up her work as a long-lashed, eye-batting, idealized romantic counterpoint to a roster of mopey, quirky, vulnerable young men whose paths to self-actualization travel through her. Shared Darkness wholeheartedly endorses this crush; Deschanel is the bee’s knees.
Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Brüno topped the weekend box office, pulling in $30.6 million in its debut, including a $4 matinee ticket from my father, who apparently (somehow!) fell asleep, because he couldn’t remember any of the bits I queried him about when we spoke Sunday evening and he said he didn’t like the film. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen jostled for second place, with the former coming out on top; the third film in the animated series raked in $27.6 million, pushing its two-week total to $119.7 million. The clamorous Transformers sequel, meanwhile, rang up another $24.2 million in ticket sales, and has now grossed just over $339 million.
Rounding out the top 10 were Public Enemies ($13.8 million, $66.2 million overall); The Proposal ($10.6 million, $113.9 million overall); The Hangover ($9.9 million, $222.4 million cumulatively); weekend debut I Love You Beth Cooper ($4.9 million); Pixar’s Up ($4.7 million, $273.8 million in total); My Sister’s Keeper ($4.3 million, $35.9 million cumulatively); and The Taking of Pelham 123 ($1.5 million, $61.4 million overall).
In hard-nosed fashion, actor Alec Baldwin takes a swipe at CNN’s Jack Cafferty, who apparently previously questioned his credentials to ever run for public office. I generally love slap-fests like this, because it’s just baiting the societal trap for more political engagement, albeit in incremental fashion.
For those in the SoCal area, actress Mimi Kennedy will appear in person at a special advance screening of the crackling new war satire In the Loop on Wednesday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Aero Theatre. The Aero Theatre is located at 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
Frontline investigative correspondent Lowell Bergman examines the shadowy world of international bribery in this hour-long title from executive producer David Fanning, traipsing around the world and unraveling how conniving multinational banks and other such corporations create slush funds, set up front companies and dole out secret payments, all to help secure billions of dollars in business. It’s like the condensed soup version of the story of Enron, only more dispiriting, because you realize that systematic regulatory abuse and payola seems to be all part of (big) business as usual.
But is it necessarily so? Led by prosecutors at the U.S. Department of Justice and their allies abroad, and emboldened by a newly resurgent sense that corporate crime and bribery has an overdue beatdown coming, these nefarious practices are now facing new scrutiny, and an international crackdown that hasn’t been seen in decades. At the center of this, and Black Money, is a controversial ongoing investigation into the British-based BAE Systems, and allegations about bribes centered around its extremely lucrative defense, security and aerospace contracts.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a color cover picture of Benjamin Franklins that you won’t be able to photocopy and use as a template to make your own counterfeit loot, alas, Black Money comes to DVD presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, with a stereo English language audio track that more than adequately handles the meager aural demands of this talking-head title. Apart from some some typical PBS educational/promotional linkage, there are no other supplemental features, alas. To purchase the DVD, click here. B+ (Movie) C (Disc)
Mike Myers notably likes to meticulously workshop his characters in live, improvisatory settings, but then retreat to craft a story and script out of material that’s been vetted through laughter. For Sacha Baron Cohen, however, deep-in-character comedy is its own special type of high-wire act, in which often unsuspecting members of the public at large are lured into loosely worked-up scenarios, and then submitted to the warped worldviews, invasions of personal space and/or socio-cultural manglings of his outlandish characters. That was certainly the case with 2006’s wild, subversive Borat, and it remains true — if to a slightly less shocking degree — of Cohen’s new globe-trotting road film Brüno, a very funny mockumentary that yet again wrings laughter from much of what collectively unnerves us.
The film is built around Cohen’s title character (above), the gay, self-absorbed, and more than a bit deluded host of an Austrian TV fashion show. After he causes a scene on a runway, is air-quote fired and dumped, and then barred from other fashion events, Brüno decides that he needs to head to America to achieve the celebrity he so richly covets. With lovestruck second assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) in tow, Brüno hits Los Angeles, improbably lands an agent and, between anal bleaching appointments, manages to score small screen work as an extra on Medium. After a disastrous focus group session for his own show in which the subjects recoil at his dancing, full frontal nudity and talking urethra, Brüno strikes out in attempting to craft a sex tape with Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. It’s only then that Brüno comes to the conclusion that he needs to become famous by “solving a world problem,” and thus turns his attention to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace. If your head is spinning from the mere comedic potential of these set-ups, all this isn’t even mentioning Brüno’s mock-fellating of one of the members of Milli Vanilli at a seance, Paula Abdul using a Mexican day laborer as a chair, or footage from a real swingers’ party which ends with Brüno getting repeatedly belt-whipped by an angry, plastic-boobed dominatrix.
Owing to the fact that his modus operandi has effectively been outed on a much grander stage than his HBO work on Da Ali G Show ever afforded, Brüno isn’t quite as brilliantly transgressive as Borat, in sum; we more clearly sense the track upon which we’re traveling, in other words. Still, Cohen and director Larry Charles, also his collaborator on the aforementioned film, are masters in picking at the scabs of societal discomfort, whether it’s in the form of African-Americans confronting a gay (and admittedly wildly irresponsible) white man adopting a black baby, or gay conversion advisors being told they have “nice blowjob lips.” These bits are wild and funny, but also striking because they ask us to reflect on exactly why the unwitting participants feel so strongly the way they do, and whether we agree with their views.
While there are laughs to be had at the (good-natured, if raunchily delivered) expense of actual gay couplings, Cohen is mostly interested in using his character’s flamboyance to push buttons about reactions to homosexual men. Some of the movie’s humor is less sophisticated than this mission, though, revolving as it does around the breaking of rules or the breaching of simple interpersonal boundaries that have nothing to do with gay or straight. For all its emphasis on shock, however (and early on, Brüno pushes the envelope with respect to mainstream frames of flapping penis, only further underlining the gulf between studio fare and what independent movies can realistically get away within respect to nudity and sex), the movie also isn’t afraid to indulge in a couple moments of glorious slow burn, as when Brüno goes camping with a trio of good-ol’-boy hunters and remarks that “all the stars in the sky make one think of all the hot guys in the world.” The long uncomfortable silence that follows is hilarious, and speaks volumes.
The film’s two most jaw-dropping and completely anxiety-inducing moments are counterbalancing examples of Brüno‘s mixture of styles. The first, an evisceration of stage parents who will do anything to see their kids succeed as child models, has nothing whatsoever to do with Brüno’s sexuality. Auditioning babies for a photo shoot with O.J., his own adopted child, Brüno keeps upping the ante to see if the moms and dads will object to anything (mock crucifixions, Nazi uniforms, heavy equipment with a lack of safety harnesses, or just “working around lit phosphorus”). Errr… they don’t.
The movie’s amazing penultimate sequence — in this case a stain on the state of Arkansas specifically, but more tellingly and lastingly a statement on the short fuse of mob mentality — finds Cohen portraying the mustachioed ringmaster at “Straight Dave’s Man-Slammin’ Cage-Wrestling Event.” Whipping the crowd into a furor, and leading a chant of “Straight pride!” before the evening’s festivities are set to kick off, things take a turn for the worse when someone shouts an anti-gay slur at Dave. He challenges them to a fight, and then… Well, with Brüno, Cohen has again delivered a comedy with the capacity to both make you think and genuinely recoil. (Universal, R, 82 minutes)
There’s an unfortunate disconnect, or chasm, between art and those that are removed — in either geographical distance or, more often, income bracket and social standing — from its creation and most readily accessible exhibition. Megumi Sasaki’s Herb & Dorothy, though, shows that gap to be largely an artificial construct, telling the fascinating true story of a New York City couple who amassed an impressive private art collection despite their modest means.
In the early 1960s, Herb and Dorothy Vogel threw themselves into minimalist and conceptual art, at least partly because abstract expressionism and pop art — two other on-the-rise sub-genres of the time — were too expensive for their budget. She was a librarian and he a postal clerk, and their collecting — funded by his salary, since they lived in spartan fashion off hers alone — was guided by only two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and it had to be small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment, which they also shared over the years with a couple cats.
Within these simple limitations, they proved themselves curatorial visionaries. Now married for 45 years, the Vogels managed to accumulate over 2,000 pieces, and in 1992 decided to bequeath their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Weaving back and forward in time, and judiciously mixing archival footage with loads of new material, Herb & Dorothy tells the story of the pair’s unlikely rise to prominence in the art world, and how they came to be the most important benefactors of their era for many young artists who were at the time not receiving any other sort of attention elsewhere.
The movie’s roster of industry interviewees is a long and impressive one, including artists like Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close — who deems them “mascots of the art world” — James Siena, Lynda Benglis, Will Barnet and Robert and Sylvia Mangold. Their reminiscences are candid and most frequently warm; Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the married couple responsible for the breathtaking 2005 exhibition of The Gates in New York City’s Central Park, recall exchanging a piece of prep work art for several weeks of cat-sitting services. Most artists seem to regard the Vogels in an avuncular light, though there is some discussion of whether some of their lowball offers amounted to exploitation.
If there’s a big knock on Herb & Dorothy, though, it’s that Sasaki’s film lacks a stabilizing leg of sustained familial exploration; while some time is spent sketching Herb’s childhood and the couple’s meeting, it’s almost half an hour into the movie before Dorothy’s brother and sister-in-law are introduced, and their too-brief comments — which hint at a sort of understandable bafflement and separation that serves as a suitable stand-in for the confusion a lot of folks feel with respect to the endeavors, occupational and avocational alike, of their loved ones — about the couple’s wildly different lifestyle is never given full due. This is a naturally sweet story, but there should still be more of a pinch of friction, either in exploring how Herb and Dorothy’s collecting ostracized them from friends and family, or, honestly, how their pack-rat collecting extended far beyond critical mass, and fire safety regulations. This wouldn’t unduly demean the subjects, or diminish their collection, but it would further humanize them, and only to serve to underscore the passion for art that has shaped and driven their lives. (Arthouse, unrated, 87 minutes)
A Critical Moment’s Brad Schreiber has up a great piece on The Huffington Post, stemming from an interview with Errol Morris pegged to The Fog of War, about how that film helped shift his feelings and create a sort of sympathetic revulsion for the recently deceased former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.
A late-ish notice, but in the wake of David Carradine’s recent death, the May Blu-ray release for Circle of Iron — reportedly one of the films of which Carradine was most fond — is getting another push at major retailers, I’ve noticed.
A zany Danish spy comedy with plenty of sex and nudity tossed into the mix, 1978’s In the Sign of the Sagittarius represents a superb example of 1970s European erotica. Ole Soltoft plays Secret Agent Jensen, aka Agent 69, an affable if bumbling chap who’s charged with tripping between Russia, China, Tangiers and Albania, and tracking down sets of militarized rocket plans.
The farcical nature of the story (think a particularly randy episode of Get Smart) might seem hard to sustain amidst the half dozen breaks for bump-and-grind, but director Werner Hedman is abetted by a game cast who obviously have, individually and collectively, smart senses of comedic timing, and so the movie, part of a whole astrologically-themed series of discrete narratives, bops along amusingly enough, and not without a charged sense of libidinal engagement. Most notable is Soltoft, whose rubber-faced, loose-limbed work is like a forerunner to Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean — pure, goofy slapstick naivete.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, In the Sign of the Sagittarius comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Danish language 2.0 stereo audio track and optional English subtitles. Segmented into a dozen chapters and featuring an animated menu screen, the disc’s only supplemental extra comes by way of a two-and-a-half-minute slide slow/photo gallery, which rifles through the movie in more or less chronological order and includes plenty of NSFW screen caps, like the one above. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) D (Disc)
In a long and varied career studded with outrageous characters, Johnny Depp has played a puppet, a a pirate, a a poet, a pauper, a pawn and a (drug) king. So it stands to reason that, after dabbling in gangsterism in 1997’s excellent Donnie Brasco, as an undercover FBI agent infiltrating the New York Mafia, he’d finally go full hoodlum at some point. That’s the case with Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, in which Depp stars as charismatic gangster John Dillinger, a 1930s-era bank robber whose daring antics deeply embarrassed a young J. Edgar Hoover, and ironically helped shape federal law enforcement procedure for decades to come. Last week, Depp answered questions about the film — and, inevitably, some of his other high-profile projects — at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. Excerpts follow, below.
Question: Your costar, Christian Bale, said he responded positively to his first experience with shooting in digital. What are your feelings about digital cinema?
Johnny Depp: It’s definitely got its advantages, chiefly among them the idea that you can keep rolling for 52 minutes. It’s really cheap, I think roughly a grand for a 52-minute tape. But there are disadvantages, too. Me, I like the texture of crude, grimy cinema. I sort of prefer that.
Q: What do you make of Dillinger’s chivalrous side?
JD: I think he was just not unlike any other sort of Southern gentleman, in a way. The fact is that he made a relatively grave error in his youth in a fit of drunken ignorance — and I certainly remember a few of those — and got sent to prison for 10 years, where they dropped a ball-and-chain on him. Coming out of prison in 1933, from about 1923, suddenly the world was Technicolor — women were wearing tight clothes and skirts, it was a whole new world. So I think that there was that Southern gentleman in there, but also the almost supreme existentialist, who decided that this day and every day is mine.
Q: You’ve talked in the past about an affinity for quirky characters. Is John Dillinger quote-unquote normal?
JD: I think they’re all normal, (the characters I play). But with saying that, I think most people are pretty weird when you get right down to it. I’d say Dillinger is one of the more normal guys (I’ve played), in that he wasn’t much more than an Indiana farmboy who stepped in a pile of something unpleasant, ended up prison where he essentially was in criminal school for 10 years, and that was his college education. He became very good at what he learned. The fact that this guy became that sort of mythic Robin Hood figure is just because he really took the ball and ran with it. That’s pretty normal to me. Most people run with it when they get the ball.
Q: Did you watch and/or consciously avoid other portrayals of John Dillinger?
JD: There was no way not to remember Warren Oates as John Dillinger. I remember seeing that movie when I was a kid and just loving it. But I did stay away from it in regards to starting this film, because I didn’t want to accidentally steal anything from the guy, because he was so good. The one thing that stayed in my mind from the (1973) Oates version directed by John Milius was that I felt like at the time they did it there was a certain amount of colors available on that palette that they put on the canvas, and I feel like now with the new information that came out with regards to Dillinger’s personal life there were a few more colors available.
Q: How do you think the character will resonate now? Do you think people will start robbing banks?
JD: I don’t know if I’d go that far. People are different than they were back then. In 1933 there was some degree of innocence left, and today on some level we’ve really hit the digital wall, a kind of wall where everything is available if you can make your way to it. So I think people are radically different than John Dillinger, and I don’t know that you could have a similar type of folk hero as today. Maybe Subcomandante Marcos down in Chiapas, who’s trying to protect the Indians in Mexico — he might be the closest thing we can have to that, in terms of innocence and purity. Because in 1933, the banks were clearly the enemy, they foreclosed on homes and were taking people’s lives away from them. Although not that it’s all that different now. Here we are teetering on a similar kind of recession/depression, and… (pause) well, the banks are still the enemy, I guess you’re right. I don’t know, if someone starts robbing banks, as long as no one gets hurt… I may start robbing 7-Elevens.
Q: In Public Enemies, Dillinger is portrayed as practiced and cautious most of the time, but he also exhibits some psychotic or at least curious behavior, as when he walks into the police station. What did you make of his actual psyche?
JD: He actually did walk through what was called the Dillinger squad room in Chicago. He pulled his car up out front, walked into the headquarters all by himself and wandered through all these cops, even though his photograph was everywhere. That’s all true. He had an enormous amount of, for lack of a better word, chutzpah, you know? He had an incredible confidence. One of the things that I admire about him is… to have gotten so far and become an existentialist hero. Every day was his last, he’d made peace with that, he was fine with that: “Yesterday doesn’t exist, I’ll just keep moving forward.” There’s something admirable about that.
Q: Do you think Dillinger felt he was untouchable?
JD: I think he felt the clock was ticking. When you’re on an adrenaline high, you may feel like no one can get me. But I don’t think he was dumb. To really feel like he was completely untouchable would require a certain amount of ignorance. I think he just felt like, “I got that one, what happens next?”
Q: Dillinger also has some traits in common with an actor, in that he thrives in improvisation, and seems to yearn for immortality in people’s memories — did any of those parallels strike you while filming?
JD: Well, as I was saying before, if someone hands you the ball, depending on where you’ve been in your life — whether you’ve worked in sewers or pumped gas or worked in construction — you run with it, as far as they’ll let you. And that’s all I’ve been doing for 25 years, really. John Dillinger getting out of prison after 10 years is just like getting handed the ball, and I hate the idea of [people talking about] him manipulating the media, because I don’t think that he did. I think he just understood that there was a game to be played, and because of his savvy and the stuff he’d learned while inside, he learned how to play the game well. So there are some parallels. I also think Dillinger had somewhat of a semi-fascination with Hollywood and movies, and the idea of his legend and leaving his mark. I think most people feel like that.
Q: A lot of John and Billie’s relationship isn’t on the page, per se. What was it like working with Marion Cotillard, and establishing a quick rapport to sell the whirlwind passion of this relationship?
JD: Well, Marion’s simply great — she was there months before she even started shooting, just working. She went down to the Menominee Reservation and spent time with Billie Frechette’s family, and was deeply dedicated and worked so hard on her accent. I thought she was amazing, and perfect for the role. When you read about Dillinger and how he felt about that woman, they were oddly these uninvited, perfectly matched outsiders — her being half-French, half-Menominee Indian, and working as a hat-check girl in Chicago, him being this ex-con who’d never been able to keep a woman in his life, and had his mom die when he was little. When they met, it was absolute fireworks, and I honestly believe that Dillinger, had he not been sold out by Anna Sage, would have made one last hit and gone to South America and waited for her. I’m totally convinced of it.
Q: We’ve now seen the pictures of you as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. How was the movie?
JD: The Mad Hatter was awfully fun.
Doing something like John Dillinger — it’s a performance that is somewhat necessarily restrained because of the responsibility you have to that guy and his memory. The Mad Hatter was more like being fired out of a cannon. It was great fun, and it’s another one of those roles where I’m amazed I wasn’t fired. All I’ve seen is the bits and pieces, but Tim did a great job, and (the Mad Hatter) looks like exactly what I first thought he should look like.
Q: And what about The Lone Ranger and a fourth Pirates film?
JD: With The Lone Ranger we’re still in the super-early stages, so there are all kinds of possibilities, but I feel like I have some good ideas for the character that are interesting and haven’t been done all that much before. And with Pirates, call me a glutton. If we can get the screenplay right to Pirates 4… well, virtually no cinema is perfect. The first film had its own thing, and I suppose (parts) two and three had their own thing, and it got a little confusing here and there during the stories — not that I’ve seen the movies, but I hear tell. But for me, because I love the character so much, and enjoy playing him so much, and people seem to like it, if there’s an opportunity to try again, it’s like going up to bat — you want to get out there and try and see what you can do again. At this point what I’m trying to do is turn it into a Beckett play, let’s see how far we can take it. (laughs) Jack Sparrow could come out in some geisha clothing, we could really explore a lot of possibilities.
Q: Terry Gilliam has talked about remounting Don Quixote. Any interest there?
JD: We’ve talked about it. I love Terry and would do virtually anything the guy wants to do. The thing with Quixote is, my dance card is pretty nutty for the next couple years, so I’d hate to put him in a position, or ask him to be in a position, to wait for me. That would be wrong. But also, in a way, I feel like we went there and tried something and whatever it was, the elements and all the things that got up underneath us, were there and documented well in the film Lost in La Mancha. So I don’t know if it’s right to go back there.
Q: Terry Gilliam and Michael Mann both come across as very detail-oriented, but they do it in very different ways. How are they similar and/or different?
JD: Oh, boy, there’s almost no way to compare the two. The only thing you can say about Terry and Michael’s similarities comes in the form of their drive, or passion — an intense scratching out of the truth of the moment. But they’re very, very different. Terry giggles a lot.
Q: Dillinger is something of the first rock star, was he not?
JD: There was definitely an element of the common man standing up against the establishment and saying, “Oh no, I’ve had it up to here, and so now I’m going to get something back, whatever the cost.” And as far as the comparisons to Dillinger being the Robin Hood of the time, there is some truth to it — he did literally see farmers in the bank with their life savings, and hand it back to them, saying, “I don’t want your money, I’ve come for the bank’s money.” That’s not to say he was a saint, but he stood up against authority. At the time, certainly the government and J. Edgar Hoover were, at best, a bit slimy. So who were the criminals, really?
Los Angeles-based Maya Entertainment has signed a partnership deal with home entertainment giant Blockbuster to present groundbreaking Latin cinema from acclaimed filmmakers and star talent in major U.S. markets. The series launches on July 17 and runs through September 10; Maya Entertainment and Blockbuster will provide eight-city theatrical releases for a curated slate of eight Latino-themed films. “This alliance is the perfect extension of Maya’s mission,” said Moctesuma Esparza, founder of Maya Entertainment. “With Blockbuster as a partner in this venture, we will extend the reach of this program tenfold, and provide the national film-going audience with consistent, high-quality cinema from top Latino filmmakers and talent.”
The series, programmed by Maya’s acquisitions executives, Jose Martinez, Jr. and Tonantzin Esparza, kicks off mid-month with The Line, a Tijuana crime story centered around a veteran assassin as he tracks down the elusive head of the Salazar Crime Cartel; Andy Garcia, Ray Liotta, Armand Assante, Esai Morales and Danny Trejo all star. Other films include Vicious Circle, Bajo La Sal, Sultanes del Sur (Southern Sultans), Once Upon a Time in Rio, Crónicas Chilangas (Chilangas Chronicles), Bad Guys and Máncora. Featured actors in the movies include Paul Rodriguez, Quinceañera‘s Emily Rios, Robert Zepeda, Jordi Molla, Irene Azuela (who won an Ariel Award, Mexico’s Oscar equivalent, for her performance), Elsa Pataky and Danny Strong. Following the theatrical tour, the films will all be available exclusively for rental at Blockbuster stores, pegged to Hispanic Heritage Month in September. For more information, click here.
Porn Stars of the ’80s, part of a nostalgic series of DVD titles from distributor Blue Underground highlighting Screw publisher Al Goldstein’s old New York City cable-access talk show Midnight Blue, is a curious and fitfully engaging release, a sort of time capsule and reference guide of the adult industry all rolled into one, unfolding as it does in a time before the explosion of the Internet commodified, cataloged and celebrated pornographic performers, and particularly the starlets, as exhaustively as is the case now.
Consisting of clips from various shows strung together around tawdry phone sex ads and other low-rent commercials that ran with the programming at the time, Porn Stars of the ’80s runs just over two hours and includes interviews with Annette Haven (who narrowly lost out to Melanie Griffith for the starring role in Body Double), John Leslie, Vanessa Del Rio, Veronica Hart, Ron Jeremy, Nina Hartley, Krista Lane, Samantha Fox and others. Hartley’s chat is illuminating, and funny. Perhaps most interesting, though, is a talk with Paul Thomas, a porn actor turned convicted drug runner. While dated (Goldstein and Thomas spend some time talking about John Holmes, since the interview was conducted before his death, but during the time he was sick and dying), it provides all sorts of tangential highlights and insights into the adult biz, often as much for what isn’t explicitly said as for what is.
Sex therapist Jackie Park also sits in for a segment, and footage from a New York film premiere wherein the mysteries of female ejaculation are discussed by Annie Sprinkle also makes an appearance. What’s lacking, strangely, is the unifying force of Goldstein’s personality; while he was the abrasive on-air talent for most of Midnight Blue, as I understand it, this compilation cedes much screen time to other faces, and consequently feels disjointed and a bit slapdash.
Housed in a sort of light blue, opalescent plastic Amaray case with a cover featuring sketched cartoon representations of its host and subjects, Porn Stars of the ’80s
comes presented in 1.33:1 full frame, divided into 24 chapters,
with a Dolby digital audio track that doesn’t sound like it provides
much of a brush-up. The DVD’s most notable supplemental feature is a pop-up, VH-1-style commentary track that provides the title with its own snarky, built-in self-critique,
as well as all sorts of bizarre trivia. The only other
bonus material consists of a 16-minute appearance by Goldstein on a Los Angeles cable-access show, Hot Seat with Wally George, that quickly devolves into some sort of quasi-good-natured precursor for the sort of screaming showdowns that Morton Downey, Jr. later pioneered into uncomfortable, aggro-entertainment. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Show) B- (Disc)
A slight musical murder-mystery with style to spare, Dark Streets is a movie that recalls a blessed-with-height but beanpole-thin high school hoopster — all unmolded talent and potential. There’s a smoldering energy here that sustains vast stretches, and the film is gorgeously shot to boot, but its narrative frame also feels so underdeveloped and riddled with curiosities as to cause things to frequently bog down.
Music, passion, death and betrayal are Dark Streets‘ main ingredients. The movie centers around Chaz Davenport (Gabriel Mann), a dashing playboy who owns and operates a successful nightclub, even if he is swamped by gambling debts and hobbled by increasingly frequent power outages that doom his nightly gate, and thus his livelihood. Arriving on the scene, a mysterious police lieutenant (Elias Koteas) seems to offer assistance into both the rolling blackouts and the sinister circumstances surrounding the recent death of his father, but fobs off on Chaz a sultry, would-be singer, Madelaine Bondurant (Izabella Miko). Her arrival causes fits for club crooner Crystal (Bijou Phillips), a singer with whom Chaz has a complicated past. Against the backdrop of a soundtrack that includes 12 original songs featuring Solomon Burke, Natalie Cole,
Etta James, Dr. John, Aaron Neville, Richie Sambora and more, Chaz finds his life
spiralling dangerously out of control, even as he comes closer to learning the truth about his father’s demise.
Adapted by Wallace King from the stageplay City Club by Glenn M. Stewart, Dark Streets bills itself as a homage to great film noir mysteries of the 1930s, and while it’s undeniable that there’s both some stunning, budget-level costuming and other detail, as well as a white hot energy all its own, the mystery plot — a half-dash of Chinatown‘s murky intrigue, two cups of L.A. Confidential‘s corrupt city hall bureaucracy, and a pinch of Chicago‘s willful tawdriness — is too spare a frame to hold up to much scrutiny. Why is Chaz unplugged from his late father’s business, the local power company, and slow to either ask for special favors in helping stem the effects of the blackouts, or piece together the notion that there may be a connection between recent events? Why is he at one point thrown out of his own club? Why does he fall for the heavy-lidded Madelaine so easily? Narrative convenience is the across-the-board answer for all these questions.
Dark Streets is more about mood than clarity, really. Thankfully, director Rachel Samuels, who won a special jury prize for her work at the 2008 CineVegas International Film Festival, knows what she’s doing in this respect. Using swing-and-shift lenses that tilt the plane of focus — and thus blur compositional edges, or sometimes fully the outermost quarters of the screen — Samuels crafts a work that is woozy, evocative and alluring, kind of like the surly hipster adolescent outcast who beckons darkly to the preppy varsity athlete. Shooting in some of the beautiful abandoned movie palaces of Downtown Los Angeles, with filtered light streaming in to bathe the wood panelling and ornate ceilings, Samuels and her collaborators succeed in working up an intriguing backdrop — the “unreal world in the back of your mind,” as one self-aware character calls the movie’s setting. They just can’t quite breathe life into two-dimensional back stories, and plotting.
Housed in a regular Amaray case with carved-out spindles that use less plastic, Dark Streets comes to DVD in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital audio track. An auto-play red-band trailer for Gregor Jordan’s forthcoming adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers kicks things off, which means plenty of naked Amber Heard, set to A Flock of Seagulls. Jump-starting the slate of supplemental features is a feature-length audio commentary track from Samuels, Mann and Toledo Diamond, who portrays the film’s narrator. They joke about the ghosts that will haunt the condos of Downtown Los Angeles, discuss Mann’s mustache grooming (“Your face reminds me of a Dashiell Hammett novel,” deadpans Toledo), and give props to cinematographer Sharone Meir. Ever eager to share credit, Samuels also reveals that Toledo crafted his own poetic framing asides, with only loose input from her.
Next up is a collection of 11 deleted and alternate scenes that runs just under 10 minutes, and is heavy on kiss-related material, actually; a goon’s creepy/threatening kiss of Chaz, a smooch between Chaz and Madelaine, and a scene in which Chaz withholds liplock from a devastated Crystal. As much as the movie’s very interesting visual scheme is discussed and explained in the audio commentary, there’s no visual exploration of this, vis-a-vis a making-of featurette, and that’s a big, curious strike. Preview trailers for The Human Contract, Cadillac Records, Elegy, Fragments and 14 other Sony home video releases are also included. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here; to watch the trailer, click here. B- (Movie) B- (Disc)