Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I'm shocked! Shocked! (Not really.)

Gaspar Noé’s new film, “Love,” has attached to it the phrase “taboo-busting” because, one can only presume, it has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival and it has scenes of hardcore, unsimulated sex. (The reviews have not been great.) It’s also shot in 3D.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Orson Welles: Born, May 6, 1915

Orson Welles would have turned 100 years old this week.

An object lesson to anyone who wants to make it in Hollywood is to note that the first three pictures Welles directed, "Citizen Kane," "The Magnificent Amberson's" and "The Stranger" were, combined, nominated for 14 Academy Awards. Fourteen! Including two Best Picture nominations.

Now the point is this, one would be hard pressed to name another writer or director whose first three movies received a total of 14 Oscar nominations and then was effectively thrown out of town. And — "The Stranger" made money. It was a hit! ("Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Amberson's" lost a total of $800,000.)

Welles' next-to-last Hollywood picture was "The Lady From Shangai," which was a critical and financial disaster, and then, of course, he was out of Hollywood for the next 12 years. He directed, wrote, and starred in "Touch of Evil," now considered a classic, in 1958.

But Welles wasn't done yet. In 1973, he released the film essay "F For Fake," which (although few will admit it) revolutionized film editing. No one paid attention in 1973; everyone just stole his techniques shamelessly after he died.

On Oct. 9, 1985, Welles appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, and spoke about his life and career, including his regrets. A day later he was dead, slumped over his typewriter. He was 70.

— Lars Trodson

Pick up our celebrated anthology of articles on Orson Welles here:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What the...?

By Lars Trodson

I didn’t expect to hear a little bit of history while watching a restored version of John Ford's “The Grapes of Wrath” on DVD the other night, but I did. Well, maybe history is too strong a word. But it was certainly different, new and in its own way oddly exciting.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Block Island Photo Album

Apropos of nothing, we offer a Block Island photo album that we will update on occasion. — Lars Trodson

A little color on Ocean Avenue. Freshly cut lawn, flag flying in the background, and you can smell the lilacs from all the way down the street.
After several days of fog, and a day that was overcast, the sky cleared and the light at the end of the day was extraordinary. I took a chance and drove up Corn Neck Road to the North Light to see what the sea looked like under the slanting light of the late-day sun. I wasn't the only one who had that idea; there were a few cars parked at Settler's Rock, which overlooks the bay and the mainland. My instinct proved to be correct, but my organizational skills failed me. I had my camera case, but not my camera, so this was taken by my Samsung Galaxy. The pennant of light behind the lighthouse is just wonderful.
There is not a lot of fun in taking pictures of low-hanging clouds full of water. But that's the situation we find ourselves in. Yesterday, Block Island was a unique combination of cool temperatures and humidity, and today the fog rolled in early and never left. The forecasts said it would be gone by noon, but here we are, at about 5:45 p.m., walking through Mott Park. Even though it is still a picture of fog, this image seemed to be particularly arresting:

And then there was this tree, just a few days past its full bloom — there were tiny pinkish petals, in a ring, on the ground below — that had a sweet, sweet scent. I wondered briefly how many individual blooms there were on this tree.
Memorial Day is this weekend. Block Island will be busy. The boats are running, all of the shops, restaurants and hotels are open. It's not too hot, not too cool. It's the perfect time to visit if you're looking for a place to come alive for a weekend.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Flights Of Fancy: Turning du Maurier's "The Birds" Into Hitchcock's Nightmare

By Lars Trodson

Ed. Note: This is another in our occasional series examining short stories that have been adapted into feature films.

“The Birds” is Alfred Hitchcock’s most schizophrenic movie. It's certainly effective and memorable, but it features some of the worst acting in any film considered to be one of the director’s major efforts. It also has lapses in logic that would be inexcusable in other Hitchcock efforts. The special effects are terrific, but there are some scenes so obviously shot on a sound stage that they break the narrative spell. It could be that Hitchcock simply wasn’t interested in the human story; the primary challenge seemed to be in making sure the audience believed that flocks of birds could orchestrate a deliberate attack on human beings and kill us all. 

But it's also true that Hitchcock and his screenwriter, Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), didn’t have much to start with. Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 short story on which the film is based (also called “The Birds”) focuses almost exclusively on the Hocken family— father Nat, his unnamed wife, and their two children, Jill and Johnny. Both story and film offer no explanation as to why the birds attack, but du Maurier presents the reader with some awkward Cold War symbolism as a way to give her little story more heft than it deserves, a touch that Hitchcock wisely discarded. His birds aren't Communists, they've just gone around the bend.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mad Men: Don Draper's Secret Goes Missing

By Lars Trodson

The final seven episodes of "Mad Men" are scheduled to begin on AMC on April 5, 2015.

What does it mean when two of the most creative people in the “Mad Men” cast of characters are insane? While most of the employees of Sterling Cooper Draper & Price (or, lately SC&P) are excellent and efficient at their jobs, it is Don Draper and copywriter Michael Ginsberg that have the spark of real imagination, creativity and wit, and both of them are clearly off their rockers. Draper is self-destructive in epic ways, and when Ginsberg needed a valve to vent the rhythms emanating from the new IBM computer in the office and were vibrating through his body, he cut off a nipple and presented it to Peggy Olson as a token of his love.

Why do writers who write about writers see them in such a bad light?

I suppose I should be thinking of more immediate topics when watching the show, but there wasn't a single episode in the first half of "Mad Men"'s final season during which I didn't seek distraction. While the writer's neatly added some drama to the Burger Chef pitch by linking a successful moon landing to the fates of Don, Peggy and the rest of the creative team, the idea that there was any inherent drama in the search for a new client had clearly passed. There wasn't much in season seven that seemed terribly fresh. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The 2015 Razzies

It's no secret that 2014 was a good year for the film scene, and that includes the high number of real turkeys that were churned out this year.

Special recognition should go to Cameron Diaz, who starred in three duds: "The Other Woman," "Sex Tape," and the "Annie" remake. Adam Sandler distinguished himself with both "Blended" and "Men, Women and Children."

I saw two truly inept movies this year, "The Legend of Hercules," with The Rock, who deserves better, and "Into The Storm," which looked like the home movie it was trying to be.

Anyway, here are The Razzies! Enjoy!

— LT