Monday, December 29, 2014

“Elevation” and “Two Days, One Night”

Elevation from Roundtable Pictures on Vimeo.

Update: Marion Cotillard has been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the Dardennes' "Deux jours, une nuit."

The new film by the Dardenne brothers, “Deux jours, une nuit,” (“Two days, one night”) is causing quite a stir, mostly due to the rapturous reviews that Marion Cotillard is receiving for her portrayal of a working class woman who loses her job and tries to win it back. Cotillard is Sandra, who learns that her coworkers have been able to cover her shifts during a lengthy illness (she has a breakdown) and have been promised a bonus of 1,000 euros if they agree to lay her off. The two days and one night of the title describe the timespan that Sandra has to get her colleagues to change their minds. She needs her job, but they also could use the extra money.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dec. 15, 1939: "Gone With The Wind" premieres

And we explore the connection between Margaret Mitchell and James Joyce

It may not be the greatest motion picture ever made, as critic Leonard Maltin said, but it may be the greatest example of the kind of movies Hollywood used to create. Like many pictures featuring black actors in the 1930s and 40s, some of this is difficult to watch — excepting a stunning moment with Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) and Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) as they walk up the stairs to try to get a grieving Rhett Butler out of his room. This scene undoubtedly won McDaniel the Oscar.

Be that as it may, it's hard to understand there was a time when a movie, no matter how large and opulent, could capture the attention of an entire nation. (The first half of "The Hunger Games" final installment may have been the most popular movie this weekend, but I don't know a single person who's seen it.) But that was the case of GWTW. The search for the actress to play Scarlett made national headlines and for many years this was the highest grossing movie of all time. It was also the only movie for decades that was known for its acronym. Everyone knew what GWTW meant.

It is no wonder that producer David O. Selznick chose to film in color. The opening paragraphs of the novel are a splash of color:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Spielberg Manifesto

How a 27-year old speech by one of the most powerful figures in movie history can still change the movies

By Lars Trodson

There is a manifesto coming out of Hollywood that industry leaders hope will reinvigorate ticket sales, if not the artform. The manifesto isn't the idea of any specific group or individual; it's been issued piecemeal through interviews, articles and columns in such publications as The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times. The manifesto can be summed up in just a few words: Technology will save tomorrow.

This belief is advocated by such disparate luminaries as special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull, screenwriter and director Paul Schrader and the futurist Faith Popcorn. These people are predicting that bigger screens, immersive technologies and better food will be the gateway to a revived industry.

The recent flurry of interest on how to save the movies has come about because of the dismal 2014 summer season. After those box office receipts emerged, experts started to weigh in on the future. This viewpoint deserves to be called a manifesto because, despite the number of voices involved, almost everyone is advocating the same path.

Monday, November 24, 2014

J Lo, J Law, Scar Jo and ... who?

The habit of the media to reduce celebrity names to instantly recognizable marketing handles has led to some pretty ridiculous examples, so we made up a new one.

And so, in the proud tradition of J Lo...

and J Law...

 and Scar Jo...

We present...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mike Nichols, 83

Filmmaker, standup comedian and theater director Mike Nichols has died at 83. A titanic chameleon — from nightclub stages with Elaine May to "Spamalot" — an incredible career.

The word legendary is bandied about too easily, but it applies here. He was a successor to George Abbott and Elia Kazan and Billy Wilder and others whose talents stretched across genres and media.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Men From UNCLE

Apropos of nothing, here's a little bit of movie trivia that I just realized today.

There were two great male ensemble movies from the early 1960s that became a mainstay of American pop culture experience during the last 50 years: "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Great Escape." They always seemed related, of course, because Steve McQueen, Charlie Bronson and James Coburn appeared in both films.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Halloween Wins!

How the most rag-tag of holidays became the most important of them all.

By Lars Trodson

As Orson Welles so famously said, “That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian, it's Halloween!

By which Orson and I mean to say that it is now Halloween all year long. As children, we were admonished to keep the spirit of Christmas in our hearts everyday of the year. But no one is that cheerful. We barely celebrate the spirit of Christmas for an entire day anymore.

As it turns out, it’s much easier, perhaps because it more closely matches the dark heart of the world, to celebrate the dead and the undead. You would not be paranoid to believe that there is death all around us. The name is also great. Look at it. Look at the letters strung together. Halloween. We say it and see it so often that we forget what the word actually looks like. But if you take a second to actually read it, it seems even stranger still.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Sphinx Unearthed!

By Lars Trodson

It's true.

A team of esteemed archeaologists have spent years unearthing one of man's greatest and most mysterious treasures, the ancient Sphinx. The find has been soberly reported in major newspapers and and science journals this past week.

Only this Sphinx is the one that was built for Cecil B. DeMille's first version of "The Ten Commandments," which was made some 90 years ago in the ancient, mysterious town of Los Angeles. It's made of plaster and is in rough shape, being buried in sand and all (see: Original Sphinx.) But these scientists have brought it above ground, and the old artifact can now be seen by grateful future generations. It was, just as an aside, one of 23 Sphinxes built for the movie.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Running the Empire

By Lars Trodson

I spent this past season as the manager of The Empire Theater, on Block Island, Rhode Island. The theater has a beautiful dark wood interior. There are two huge posters, one on each side of the screen, advertising live theatrical productions that were performed at the theater in the early 1900s, before the place started to show movies. There is a ticket booth that will conjure images of Fortune Tellers on Coney Island, and a concession stand that consists of one popcorn machine, a soda dispenser with no ice, and a glass candy display case that was built in Philadelphia in 1882 — the year the theater was first built as a roller skating rink. If you want espresso, green tea, or cheese nachos with your movie, then you’ll have to head to the mainland. 

The Empire only shows one film at a time, something that’s always clearly stated on the big marquee outside the theater, but no one reads any more. People ask if they should go left or right to see the movie they just paid for (there are two entrances to the one screen). And, yes, you have to pay in cash. More than one customer has left a down payment (completely unnecessary) as they run off to the nearest ATM machine in order to get enough cash to pay for their bloc of tickets.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Richard Schickel's "The Stars"

By Lars Trodson

Writer's note: I didn't notice this at the time of publication of this article, but the late Lauren Bacall was not included in the list of stars that Schickel wrote about in the book review that follows. It does not seem to me that this is an egregious omission, because her fame, as considerable as it may be, is based primarily on her associations rather than her accomplishments (at least in film). She first appeared in the glorious Hollywood of the 1940s, and she was married to a man, Humphrey Bogart, some consider the greatest of all movie stars. But when "The Stars" was published in 1962, Bacall had already receded from the limelight. She was, even in her heyday, very rarely the focus of the films she appeared in. She was third-billed in 1953's "How To Marry A Millionaire," and by the time she was 50 she was appearing in matronly roles (the widow in John Wayne's final film "The Shootist.") 

The fact is she could pack a wallop when she needed to. She was beautiful, sexy, smart, and she certainly made the 1940s glitter. We're so bereft of women that hold more than one of those qualities in films today that, even though she made her first cultural impact 70 years ago, her legacy is a hard one to meet. Who today could hold her own with someone like Bogart?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hitchcock’s 'Notorious:' This Is No American Love Story

By Lars Trodson

Two details tell you that this is going to be a most dangerous game: She’s wearing zebra stripes — a jungle animal, not to be tamed, a bundle of native intelligence and cunning. She’s both sexual predator and prey. Carnal and without a moral or political compass.

As for him, he has no face when he’s introduced. A beauracrat. He also doesn’t have a first name — why would he need one? He’s a blunt-edged tool. His last name, though, is very close, too close, to something that sounds like the devil. He’s Devlin. Or Dev. And he represents the United States. They both represent the United States.

What, exactly, is going on with Hitchcock’s “Notorious?”

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Richard Griffin And The Art Of Staying True To Yourself

Actors Michael Reed, left, and Elyssa Baldassarri with Richard Griffin on the set of "Normal."

By Lars Trodson

Back in 2005, Quentin Tarantino decided he'd make a B-movie with a big budget. He called it "Grindhouse," and it was supposedly an homage to all those drive-in flicks of the 60s and 70s that were made by slightly unhinged characters who had a camera, a little cash and a lot of chutzpah. "Grindhouse" didn't do so well, in part, I suspect, because it didn't feel authentic. It had movie stars (Bruce Willis and Kurt Russell, among others) and, despite the fact that there was considerable effort to make the celluloid look distressed, it never even remotely felt as though the film had been made by outsiders. It was Hollywood all the way.

Even the films that seemingly fit the bill of an old grindhouse picture — such as the first "Hostel" movie by Eli Roth, or some of the other torture porn pictures — all had the patina of having been made by college- or film-school educated pranksters who were looking to get their break into the big show. This was a departure from real grindhouse roots. The old school pioneers of the grindhouse — whether it was Russ Meyer or Herschel Gordon Lewis — never had any real desire to move into the mainstream. They wanted to make movies their own way, which, in the end, is the purest form of integrity there is.

Welcome, then, to the world of Richard Griffin, co-founder of Scorpio Films Releasing, and a man who is proudly on the outside, doing it his way, and with no real desire to get asked to the Hollywood dance.

Monday, April 28, 2014

How "Mad Men" avoids the dark side

Where does it really hurt?

By Lars Trodson

As I finished watching the most recent full season of Mad Men, something was nagging at me (outside the feeling of déjà vu I was beginning to have about some of the plotlines).

I was beginning to realize just how little most of the wreckage caused by the characters’ deliberate actions actually seems to hurt. I remembered, late in the fifth season, Don goes to a seedy bar and has a brief conversation with a burnt-out preacher who reminds him of his own terrible past. The next thing we know, Don is in jail, and then right after that we see him pouring his booze out in the kitchen sink.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Three Ideas to Save the Short Film from Obscurity (and Meaninglessness)

By Lars Trodson

Quick! Name the five most beloved short films in history.

Tasking myself with my own question, I came up with two: “The Red Balloon” and “Winnie The Pooh and the Blustery Day.” (If that’s even the right title.) I’m sure there are some revered avant garde films that I’m forgetting (the Bunuel/Dali film, Un Chien Andalou,” I suppose), but they are probably more respected than loved.

So. What is the state of the short film today? One could argue that it is thriving. In 2013, a record 8,102 short films were submitted to the Sundance Film Festival. The Cannes Film Festival has hosted, since 1998, its Cinéfondation, which is dedicated to short and medium length films and is designed to support the next generation of filmmakers.

Every film festival on the planet has a short film program, and of course there is a plethora of events dedicated exclusively to the art of short filmmaking. In the last decade or so, short film anthologies (Oscar winners, for example) have been issued on DVD, and there are uncountable numbers of obscure and well-known shorts available on YouTube and other online formats.

So why does it feel like short films don’t matter? Rarely does a short film enter the public discussion.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Do John Wayne, Paul McCartney and Andy Williams Have in Common?

Everyone remembers the tagteam of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, but even stranger is the mashup of John Wayne, Andy Williams and Paul McCartney. We unearthed this gem while doing some research. Two things of note: John Wayne's "joke" about his Japanese gardener, which is about as racist as you can get, and the fact Paul McCartney and his wife Linda were sitting in the nosebleed seats. Take a look:

— Lars Trodson

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Very Worst Oscar Snub (It's Not What You Think)

By Lars Trodson

For me, it’s not the fact that Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was not nominated for Best Picture because, for one, it was never going to win. Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” deservedly took home the statuette that year, so it’s only mildly irritating that the grandaddy of all slasher films didn’t get the nod. I can live with that.

But there are two greater “Psycho” injustices, and they are the two worst Oscar decisions in its 85 years. When you realize that “Psycho” was dissed in both the editing and music categories, you begin to realize what a significant oversight this was.

Monday, February 17, 2014

“Tide Turning” now available

“Tide Turning,” the second novel featuring detective Langley Calhoun, has just been published by Mainly Murder Press. The advance word is already out:

“Mention New Hampshire and its small towns, and the image quickly comes to mind of peace, quiet, and years of undisturbed history, surrounded by a town common and white-peaked churches. But author Lars Trodson knows better, and in “Tide Turning,” he rips off the façade and reveals the murky truth of what can happen in a small town, with years of betrayal, hidden and deadly secrets, and one man who’s determined to do what’s right, no matter the odds, no matter the chances. Very well done!” — Brendan DuBois, author of "Fatal Harbor," two-time Shamus Award winner and three-time Edgar Award finalist.

“Welcome to Lars Trodson's ‘Tide Turning’ — a world in which environmental activism, covered bridges, stewardship, and living with illness and loss come together in a way that feels immediately familiar. In the novel, Trodson's second, it is the characters that first and lastingly pull us in — even those making brief appearances — the wanna-be rock star, the live-hard, play-hard boss, a father's late-in-life girl friend. And they pull us in because of Trodson's unique ability to make them seem not only credible, but kindred. This is intelligent fiction that addresses the major ‘stuff’ of our public and private lives. In ‘Tide Turning,’ Trodson has beautifully choreographed this waltz of life — and the work it takes to meet our civic and social responsibilities, even as we cope with the deep losses and ongoing challenges of our own lives. — Lisa Starr, former Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, author “Mad With Yellow” (2009), “This Place Here” (2001), and “Days of Dogs and Driftwood” (1993).

Look for details on readings throughout New England in March. If you’d like me to attend your book club, please reach me at

Thank you all!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How Alfred E. Neuman Stopped Worrying And Won The War

Fifty Years of Dr. Strangelove

By Lars Trodson

The secret is in the full title: “Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.”

Alfred E. Neuman’s motto from Mad Magazine? “What, me worry?”

That’s why we know that a little, ad-less, satirical and slightly creepy comic magazine transformed both the movies and American culture. Without Mad Magazine, there is no “Strangelove,” no “The Loved One,” no “Bonnie and Clyde, no “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Mad Magazine exposed the fragility and the absurdities of the movie cliche — Mad made you love them in all their ridiculousness and run from them at the same time.

More specifically, this is the legacy of a feature that was prominent in the magazine for 10 years prior to the Jan. 29, 1964 release of “Dr. Stangelove” — the magazine’s movie parodies.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bob Dylan, Chrysler And The Value Of Your Art

To everybody pissing and moaning about Bob Dylan's Chrysler ad: if you like an artist, respect his right to make money. It's the only way he or she is going to be able to create their art. The idea that Dylan or any other artist for that matter is so pure as to not be "commercial" is absurd, and utterly impractical, and Dylan can certainly do whatever he wants. By saying that Dylan shouldn't be doing TV spots is saying to every artist that their art is somehow above commerce, that they are doing something that does not create a thing of value. This attitude continues to feed the idea that works of art are there to be appreciated just for existing rather than for something for you to buy. It's why too many artists have their hats in their hands. Dylan is talking about craftsmanship in that ad, he's talking about creating something of real worth, and that should apply to a car as well as a painting or a song, and if you don't support that then you're contributing to an atmosphere that makes it so difficult for people to pursue their dreams. — Lars Trodson

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Not A Great Idea, 20th Century Fox

With Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" receiving mixed reviews and not-so-great box office, it was probably not the best idea for the 20th Century Fox marketing department to come up with a new campaign that shows Stiller literally having jumped up on top of a shark: