Monday, March 26, 2007

Being John Malkovich being Alan Conway being Stanley Kubrick, in colour

John Malkovich, now 54, is a favored American character actor. Imdb lists “Con Air” (1997) first after his name on the index page. With his bald pate and hairy body and sometimes affected, prissy or mincing manner, he represents the stereotype of masculinity that has folded back into itself. So, back in 1999, Spike Jonze and Gramercy Pictures distributed a delicious little satire of John, “Being John Malkovich” where a puppeteer finds a worm-hole, partly through a doll house apartment floor (hidden in a building with four foot ceiling) and a portal, dumping people on the NJ Turnpike, that enables one to find out what it is like to take over the identity of John Horatio Malkovich. If there was ever a film concept that challenges the legal concept of “right of publicity,” this one was it.

So wasn’t John the logical choice for another satire, “Colour Me Kubrick, A True…ish Story” (distributed ThinkFilm, produced by Europa Corp – a company named after Jupiter’s oceanic moon, directed by Brian W. Cook) where he plays the non-look-alike imposter Alan Conway mimicking Stanley Kubrick, in order to pick up attractive young men in London’s gay bars. Now this imposition occurred in 1998 or so while Stanley Kubrick was filming the super-secret and garish Eyes Wide Shut, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, where Dr. William Harford, played by Tom, goes on an odyssey in New York (filmed in London) after his masculinity is challenged. (Remember Harford’s last word in that film, after he gets himself back?) Now this Colour film names and refers to a number of other Kubrick films in the music score, most of all 2001: A Space Odyssey, when it plays the opening solar sunrise of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and follows with Johann Strauss Jr.’s The Blue Danube Waltz, and really lilts thinks up with the three-four time. There are other films mentioned Other controversial films, like A Clockwork Orange and Lolita, get mentioned. But Conway stumbles in front of a trick when he mentions Judgment at Nuremberg, which was really directed by Stanley Kramer. (So was High Noon.)

I watched Hallmark’s 2005 television miniseries rendition of Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island the other day. Netflix had mistakenly inserted this version in an envelope calling for the 1960 Columbia film of the same novel. But here Patrick Stewart played Captain Nemo, determined to save the world from war by inventing nuclear weapons in the 1860s. When he was giving his speech, I thought: who else could have played Nemo: John Malkovich, of course. I see on imdb that Malkovich plays Unferth in Robert Zemeckis ‘s English lit mythology classic Beowulf (adapted by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary), due out later this year from Warner Bros.

If I ever did whip-cream up the money for my own “Do Ask Do Tell”, who would be the obvious lead to play the adult me. Sad to say or good to say, it has to be John Malkovich. But Patrick Stewart, who narrates The Planets--Epoch 2000 (to the symphonic suite by English composer Gustav Holst) and plays Captain Picard in the Star Trek movies, could be a good choice. Or, sorry, maybe he should be Leonard Nimoy -- Spock, of ComputerMan, from the Star Trek saga.

Picture: (no relation): Sunken Garden at The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

French "Orchestra Seats" take up the slack from Everwood

Avenue Montaigne ("Fauteuils d'orchestre" (aka "Orchestra Seats", 2006, dir. Daniele Thompson, wr. with Christopher Thompson, ThinkFilm/Studio Canal, 107 min, PG-13, France). Many foreign films adopt USA titles that do not translate to the originals. I think the French title is better.

To discuss this movie, I digress back to the Everwood series that ran for four seasons, from fall of 2002 and ending in the spring of 2006. Review on blogger is here. In that series, there is a teenage boy Ephram (young “dual citizen US Canada” actor Gregory Smith) who is a piano prodigy and aspires to go to Julliard. In the forlorn attempt to prove, quite prematurely, his “manhood” he gets a college girl pregnant (that fact is kept a secret from him by his overbearing father) and winds up losing his chance to go to Julliard. He does become an informal music teacher back home in Everwood after finishing high school. At one point, Ephram “reads” the last movement of Beethoven’s f-minor Appassionata sonata, with all of its power and virtuosity. I had suggested on TheWB message boards that they have him play the Tempest, and sure enough, six months later, they had him start a scene with the liquid 3/8 theme of the d-minor Allegretto finale. He would also play Bach, Prokofiev, Schubert, Paganini-Liszt, and a flashy Chopin etude.

Now in this movie you have the converse. An established concert pianist Jean-Francois Lefort (Albert Dupontel) is tired of his concert life, with its formal dress, pressure, and artificial protocol, and his wife feels that it is wrecking their still childless marriage. He longs for a simpler, less pretentious career -- like teaching piano. The man looks quite virile and robust and out of stereotype; in a climactic scene, he is playing the last movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, when he slams the keyboard, and gets up and strips to his undershirt. He does enjoy playing for cancer patients (the Liszt Consolation #3). In a rehearsal scene, he plays an extended, very pianistic passage from that same wintry Allegretto finale of the Tempest. Someone – the movie’s writer Christopher Thompson (he plays the son of an art collector who is selling a life’s collection at auction)– must have gotten the inspiration from Everwood. His mother, Daniele, directs.

Now this whole movie is seen from the point of view of an ambitious girl who forces her way into the world of the rich and famous as a “waiter” in a “Pop Stop” cafĂ© on Montaigne. She meets a film director played by Sydney Pollack, who wants to approach a visible soap opera actress for a movie about Sartre, Simone de Bouvier, and existentialism, a topic that covers the whole moral question of duplicitous motives.

Now you can certainly make interesting movies about the lives of prima donnas in several leading areas of the arts (say the movies, theater, art collection, and concert classical music, as in this film – enough to fill the Kennedy Center any night).

But, still, the idea of what it takes a young performer to “make it” is even more interesting to me. That’s why I’ve experimented with this concept with my own screenplay script “Make the A-List”.

Since Everwood is off the air (the whole series was rerun this past fall on ABC Family), I think it would be time for Greg Berlanti and perhaps Warner Independent Pictures to come up with a 100-minute or so film sequel, for actual theatrical release (probably PG-13, even with the idea of Kyle being gay). The story could play with the idea of one of Ephram’s friends, Kyle (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of the famous actor), actually getting in to Julliard, while Ephram tries to get back to his art in the Colorado mountain resort scene as a jazz musician. Maybe I would take a stab at this, but of course TheWB owns the show mark and the characters. By the way, Chris Pratt (Bright in Everwood) went on to become a New Age Mentor in The O.C. (also now gone) and even took Seth (Adam Brody) on an initiatory night hike, another idea in another of my scripts.

I took nine years of piano myself, from ages 8 to 17, and got good enough to play some of the Rachmaninoff Op 32 preludes (I loved the final D-flat major prelude, that preps for the climax of the Third Piano Concerto). I had read the Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto pretty well, but not the Emperor. Why did I not pursue a career? I may have been chicken and failed to pay my dues. I was a creature of the Cold War and fear of the draft, where you majored in math and science and were more "worthy" of being protected from being used as cannon fodder. That's a big deal with me today.

For my own scripts, I would want to use certain orchestral music, including Schumann's Second Symphony (the symphony that talks to itself) and the bacchanale finale of Rachmaninoff's Second. If Everwood ever became a movie, a blowout choice for concert music (for Kyle to play at Julliard) would be the youthful b-minor first piano concerto by Eugen d'Albert, rather like Liszt, with a colossal fugue as a cadenza and majestic coda built on a theme that sounds like the Everwood theme music.

Also, check my blog link "Composing at 17".

Thursday, March 15, 2007

WB on Greek History: 300, Alexander, Troy

Warner Bros. likes to release these big epics about ancient history -- like people took it in school in the 20s -- except now they are big R-rated pictures -- and this time TheWB proves it can pack in the malls with an R-rated epic. It's 300, directed by Zack Snyder, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. The story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC is told with politico-moral overtones, looking almost like animation, with an almost comic-book spectacle for all the gore. This is a Sin City kind of rendition, and I would have expected to see Dimension Films and The Weinstein Company added to the credits. It's really an art movie, however many tens of millions it must have cost.

The history had been covered in a PBS documentary The Spartans in 2003. We know the history lessons of the contrast between Athens and Spara. In this film, the Athenians are called "b- lovers" (maybe they were), but Sparta makes claims of freedom and democracy. That is, male infants are hand-inspected at birth to see if they are worthy to live, and live out their whole lives in the military as warriors. There is no other way. Women in Sparta did enjoy relative freedom. But there is something a little perverse about the ideology -- that somehow freedom is supposed to nurture a future race of supermen. That is how it sounds -- and even looks. We all know what happened with this kind of idea in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. The Persians are the enemy, and Iran is supposedly offended by the film, although the history occurs a thousand years before Islam was founded.

Troy and Alexander were both big epics from Warner Brothers, more conventional, it seems, than this latest homage to comic book culture. We all know about the controversy about Oliver Stone's depcition of Alexander the Great as gay, and that WB issued a pseudo-director's cut on DVD without the gay theme. But the original theatrical release of Alexander was an interesting film, and probably reasonably representative of what its hero was really like.

Does anybody want to go back to all of those spectacles of the 50s? I remember the love-fest at the end of Spartacus. I remember that 20th Century Fox made a lot of them, even the first CinemaScope film, The Robe, based on Lloyd C. Douglas's novel. I cried at the end of that one at the age of 10. I read the novel in middle school.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Maxed Out

Film: Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders
Director: James Scurlock
Distributor: Truly Indie, Netflix
Technical: Digital Video
Date: 2007
Length: 90 min

The main point of this film seems to be, the financial institutions force you to play their game with credit, and then divide and conquer. The extreme profits made in interest, late penalties, and fees, all tied to FICO scores (supposedly a measure of how much "merit" you have financially) seem to be predicated on a business model that assumes people borrow too much because they don't make enough, so they become the news slaves, like sharecroppers or coal miners paying rent in the company town.

There is a scene showing debt collectors in Minneapolis. The managers claim that they can call neighbors, but that is not true. I worked for a while as a debt collector for Risk Management Alternatives (RMA) in 2003 in St. Paul, and mostly we followed the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) strictly. In most states you can't talk to anyone but the debtor or legal spouse -- not even children.

Elizabeth Warren (author of the book The Two Income Trap) provides a lot of commentary in interview mode.

Picture: Katrina damage near Love Canal, New Orleans, Feb. 2006.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Ultimate Gift from Fox Faith

The Ultimate Gift (2007, directed by Michael O. Sajbel, novel by Jim Stovall, screenplay by Cheryl McKay.

20th Century Fox has established a couple of other subsidiary distributors for specialty films besides Fox Searchlight, namely Fox Atomic, (which will distribute "The Hills Have Eyes 2" as well as Turistas) for horror, and, at the other end, Fox Faith, for religious films made by please faith-based (often evangelical Christian)production companies to send a faith-like message. This film is the first from that new distributor.

When I saw it in a National Amusements theater in Merrifield, VA, there were no previews, probably because the distributor does not want "inappropriate" preview clips associated with the film. That is just as well.

The film does with a less familiar literary theme, although well known in Victorian literature, the dead hand, where a recipeint of a will must perform certain tasks (or abstain from certain behavior) to receive or keep a bequest from a will. Here the young man Jason Stevens (played by Drew Fuller) has been a playboy, and his grandfather assigns him twelve tasks (called "gifts") on a DVD in order to receive his inheritance. In a sequence that sounds like an Apprentice series, they start with manual labor, and involve charity and friendship that winds up helping a little girl with leukemnia (Abigal Breslin, from Little Miss Sunshine). The film is set in Charlotte, NC, which looks very handsome. The film deals with service to others and is light on religious preaching for its own sake.

Drew Fuller plays the playboy Jason Stevens, who goes to a “reading of the will” (as per John Knowles) expecting an inheritance from his grandfather “Red: (James Garner).  (Actually, the film is based on a novel by John Stovall.)

No, he won’t follow his own nose anymore, but he may not have thought out any goals yet (like they would ask you thirty years ago in job interviews). But his grandfather has a moral twelve-step program of self-improvement that he must complete to “earn” the inheritance, and that doesn’t mean swallowing a fly.

The tasks play out like a treasure hunt, like some manual labor on a ranch, but the most challenging part may be incorporating a cancer patient (leukemia) into his life (Abigail Breslin). He also gets sent to Ecuador, to be kidnapped, but he escapes.

Physically, Jason’s bod goes through some tribunals, too.  

The "dead hand" theme has been used in comedy films before, as with The Bachelor (1999, New Line, dir. Gary Sinyor), and La Cage aux Folles III. Typically the requirement is intrusive and requires getting and staying (heterosexually) married, a requirement that gay people would find insulting. The concept really is not funny. "The Bachelor" is in fact quite a biting satire of the idea that a man would want to impose procreating his seed upon his heirs, and sees biological loyalty as a legitimate virtuous or moral requirement for obtaining an inheritance. In this film, the requirements after marriage (to live under one roof for at least ten years and produce at least one biological heir) are quite intrusive. But remember that marriage and procreation forged political alliances; remember the beginning of Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette, from Columbia.

Update: 12/30/2007

The Lifetime Movie Nora Roberts's Montana Sky (dir. Mike Robe, produced by Stephanie Germain, Mandalay) sets up a "dead hand" where three sisters at odds (two of them "prodigal") have to live and work on their deceased dad's ranch to get an inheritance.

(The second picture is actually from West Virginia, Saddle Mountain).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Number 23: A fable about confessional self-publishing

The Number 23 (2007, New Line Cinema, 95 min, director Joel Schumacher, R) opened in area theaters on Friday February 23, 2007 (when else?), and follows on to the theme, in the previous post, of thrillers dealing with the general problem of artistic people wanting to reveal the truth and publish it, even if the truth turns out to be their own misdeeds. Schumacher had already visited this area with a dark film about snuff "8 mm" in 1999, and again we have a film noir looking low tech although filmed in present day (actually in Florida). Here, a dogcatcher (Jim Carrey) has written a book, self-published and self-printed, and it even looks like a typewritten original, without computers. (Why doesn't his gifted teenage son played by Logan Lerman (from "Jack & Bobby") solve the mystery by surfing the Internet?) It turns out that the wrong man is in prison for a murder, and Sparrow (Carrey's character) doesn't remember writing his own book, which indeed is an evidentiary confession.

The concept of a film like this is interesting now, given all of the media coverage during the past eighteen months about the tendency for many young people to incriminate themselves on social networking sites and blogs.

I've noticed that more and more films list studio teachers in the closing credits. The kind of teens that play in the movies these days probably don't need any academic supervision, even though the law would require it.

The film offers a clever quote from Numbers 32:23 ".... Be sure your sin will find you out."

Monday, March 05, 2007

David Fincher connects the dots with Zodiac

Zodiac is a huge (160 minutes, with surprisingly brief end credits) new crime thriller as a combined effort of Paramount and Warner Brothers (we see more of that these days), and yet it is sometimes being shown in art houses (such as Landmark's Bethesda Row theaters in Bethesda, MD). The central story is the relentless, self-driven investigation of the Zodiac murders from 1969 into the 1980s by San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, played by the lanky Dutchman (by ancestry, at least), Jake Gyllenhaal . There is the sidekick journalist Avery played by Robert Downey Jr., and Jake doesn't meet his police counterpart David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo). Gyllenhaal never ages a day in the 15 years spanned by his part, while San Francisco takes on the look that we know it for today.

But in the movie Fincher makes other connections. The Zodiac, according to his notes, killed to recruit slaves in the afterlike. An earlier Fincher masterpiece, Se7en (aka Seven) (1995), has the cops chasing down a killer carrying out executions according to the Seven Deadly Sins, in a film that is in a fantasy noir style, compared to this film that is more grounded. But even more interesting is the connections that Fincher makes to the early action film (and Richard Connell story) The Most Dangerous Game, which has become known as a paradigm for the struggle between "brains" v. "brawn" as well as a riddle about who the most dangerous enemy may be.

Fincher's Se7en has inspired other crime mysteries following a similar paradigm: Joel Schumacher's 8 mm (about snuff films), and Philip Noyce's The Bone Collector.

Nice guy Lee Norris ("One Tree Hill") makes a cameo in the opening scene and you don't like to see a character like him "get it." It turns out that, however kneecapped, he survives.

There is an earlier film, "The Zodiac", 2005, distributed by ThinkFilm, directed by Alexander Bulkley. It had a USA working title of "In Control of All Things." It is being shown in mid March on TMC. I have not yet seen it. There is a fictional takeoff (2004) from director Ulli Lommel (maybe Australia) and Lions Gate.

Picture: Still of Prettyman Courthouse, used in The Bourne Ultimatum (previous post).

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Filming in DC of "The Bourne Ultimatum"; Hollywood Haze

Today I took the Metro to the shooting of a press conferences scene from Paul Greengrss 's new film "The Bourne Ultimatum" based on in Robert Ludlum novel, the third in the Bourne franchise, with Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, the amnesiac who sometimes plays superman.

They would not let the public get too close to the filming in front ot the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse at 3rd St and Constitution Ave NW in Washington DC. Nevertheless, I got some shots in. I thought my camera was on stills, and I was actually getting mpg's, so I let the camera go to my feet, not realizing that it was still filming. The last video shows a CSX track and train running near L'Enfant Plaza, with freight traffic getting media attention as a security hazard in populated areas.

The links are 1 through 11. I made thumbnails of these as 12, 13, 14. I'll have to see if I can get full-sized stop-motion thumbnails made.

I did find out, hanging out around the concessions, that the horror film "Mustang Sally" seems to have distribution (New Line and American World), although I can't find it on Netflix yet.

On the same day, CNN has a brief report called "Hollywood Haze", about the undesirable contribution that Hollywood film production makes toward greenhouse gasses, because of the enormous travel, transportation and materials resources needed for some shoots in large films. All of this in view of "An Incovenient Truth" or even "The Day After Tomorrow," whose production company tried to set a good example with a green planting project afterward.

Update: Aug 3, 2007

The theatrical release of "The Bourne Ultimatum" apparently does not show the Prettyman Courthouse exterior, despite the effort to film it. Review here.