The Brooklyn Academy of Music is unrolling a Michael Mann retrospective, which, as such unapologetically visual filmmaking will, has resulted in some good reads. Isaac Butler looks back at Thief and finds Mann’s status as America’s action auteur already in full bloom, even as the director making his feature debut wanted to emphasize his writing. (“Thief introduces us to Mann’s fixation on stopwatches, water, love at first sight, prison, postcards where his protagonists store their dreams, tough guys, big scores, cars gliding at night, beginnings in medias res, and synthesizers. It also introduces the hallmarks of Mann’s writing: a heightened hardscrabble lyricism, often devoid of contractions and rooted equally in classic gangster cinema and real life vernacular; episodic plot structures made out of sequences that feel like the chapters of a novel; and storytelling through implication instead of exposition.”)
Daniel Kasman finds the cyber-denizens of Blackhat as the ultimate statement on the unnerving freedom enjoyed by Mann protagonists and the intimidations it offers the rest of us (“Theirs is a kind of honed hyper-existence, which, unconventionally, does not recognize what it lacks and instead always tries to peer into the horizon to satisfy the longing and unrest. They peer into and desire to go onward toward that horizon.”); while Kenji Fujishima reports on the director’s cut of the film that premiered at the festival, which replaces the tense scene that opened the theatrical version with (less crowd-pleasing, more thematically relevant) a bit of Wall Street trading as originally intended, and otherwise does what you’ve come to expect of Mann’s re-edits: trims some of the dialogue.
And Bilge Ebiri sits down with Mann for another of his intellectually stimulating interviews. (“When people are bombarded with as much content as we are now, audiences come to impute, fill in blanks, extrapolate, and project. So the requirements for plot specificity, for example, reduce. I mean, if you’re living in the late Middle Ages in a peat bog, and you go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in England one time in your life, the religious story told by that piece of architecture, with its towering nave and stained-glass windows, will blow you away. That’s one story in a lifetime. We encounter 20 stories in a day. That’s what I am interested in. How should stories work next?”)
“At the end of The Emigrants, Karl Oskar and his family feel as if they have arrived somewhere, and that’s the way Troell wants an audience to feel when one of his films is over. In this case, though, the story isn’t really finished, because the end of the Nilssons’ journey to America is also the beginning of something; there’s always more work to be done for these hardworking people.” Terrence Rafferty situates Troell’s The Emigrants and The New Land as not merely epics of immigration, but another in the director’s career-long examination of marriage as the true plunge into uncharted territories.
“Generally, there are two kinds of folks who are still interested in movies like Air Hostess. The first are people who grew up with the films, often in diaspora communities; the second are academics and film scholar types, who can’t resist the aspirational escapism that defined Cathay’s output. Every one of these movies is like a box marked “ready to unpack.”” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s new series of articles on “the misfits, underappreciated gems, and underseen classics of film history” praises the gleaming artificiality of Evan Yang’s 1959 Hong Kong musical, and its iconic star Grace Chang.
“That night he did not take the customary comfort in his monthly shipment of books from London.” Carrie Rickey praises Scorsese’s adaptation of The Age of Innocence, even though the director admits his prime influence was less literary than, of course, cinematic, working his way into the story via Visconti. This for the Library of America series on adaptations of work they’ve published, which began with Last of the Mohicans; surprisingly, the press seem not to have put out Upton Sinclair, so this might be the end of the Daniel Day-Lewis streak (they do have Lincoln’s collected writings but that seems a stretch).
“The numerous ways in which films can bid farewell to us as viewers is a topic worthy of long study by scholars, for it is a scarcely understood or appreciated area of cinema aesthetics—and yet, at the same time, something that all good filmmakers already know well, intuitively or otherwise. (Such, in a nutshell, is the history of film in relation to film criticism!)” Adrian Martin considers some of his favorite movie endings, from De Palma’s teasing, slow-zoom revelations to Taste of Cherry’s “breathtaking transition from one level of reality to another.” Via David Hudson.
“In the biography Furious Love, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger recount Richard Burton’s bafflement, acting alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the splendidly overwrought Cleopatra (1963), over her seeming lack of technique: “ ‘She’s just not doing anything,’ he complained to [Joseph L.] Mankiewicz.” But the director pulled him aside and showed him footage “that took his breath away.” Burton, Kashner and Schoenberger explain, “was struck by Elizabeth’s absolute stillness,” and learned from her “how to tone down the theatrical performances for the camera’s cool eye.” I’ve often wondered if Keanu’s costars ever think the same thing, since he has a similar transfixing stillness.” Angelica Jade Bastién speaks up for those of us who’ve long considered Keanu Reeves the most underrated actor of the times, showing how his ability to capture loneliness, and his remarkable physical control that marries masculine explosiveness with a feminine delicacy, reach their apotheosis in John Wick. Via Shannon Gee.
“[Lucas] said that he had been thinking of people who could replace him. She thought he was asking her for suggestions. The job carried tremendous responsibility. Not only would whoever he picked to succeed him inherit the responsibility for all things Star Wars, but he or she would also be running the storied special-effects shop Lucas had created, called Industrial Light & Magic, as well as the Camelot-like postproduction facility, Skywalker Ranch, in the hills of Marin County. Recalling the lunch, Kennedy continued, ‘I started to mention a couple of people, and he immediately said, “No, no, no. I’m thinking about you doing this.”’ She was taken aback but quickly came around. ‘You know, George, I actually might really be interested in that,’ she remembered telling him.” Sarah Ellison profiles Kathleen Kennedy, who with her taking control of Lucasfilm and shepherding the future of Star Wars has gone from one of the key behind-the-scenes figures of the past twenty years to arguably the most powerful woman in Hollywood; pace Megan Ellison.
On the other end of respectability in the movie business (though I’m sure analogues could easily be found in Hollywood offices), Jake Adelstein reports on the revelations about Yakuza control of Japan’s talent agencies that are coming out from Ikumi Yoshimatsu’s accusations of harassment and criminal activities against an executive as the agency that handles Ken Watanabe, among others. Via Movie City News.
“Yeah, well I get my ideas while watching movies. It’s very relaxing and very stressful at the same time. Gives me a lot of space to think. The worse the movie, the more I think.” Matt Zoller Seitz talks with Mark Rappaport about his role as one of the founders of the video essay, and projects that should be taken up by fellow filmmakers/essayists.
“’It was war,’ Lee recalls in a voice still full of righteous anger despite her 87 years. ‘It was war, and which side were you on? There was certainly no choice in my mind over who were the really stupid bad guys and who were the good guys.’” Interviewed by Tom Bond, Lee Grant looks back at her 12 years under Hollywood’s blacklist.
Now that every other movie is based on a comic book, David Filipi offers a gallery from the golden age of comics (particularly those published by Dell) that adapted movies, with vivid fidelity for the likes of The Naked Prey, and something closer to a travesty wrapping up The Searchers with happily-ever-after brusqueness.
Tommy Kelly made his screen debut in the lead role of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), picked by producer David O. Selznick from thousands in an open audition. He went on to star in Peck’s Bad Boy with the Circus (1938) and had a small but memorable role in Gone With the Wind (1939). He appeared in a few other films, including a small role in Irene (1940) and the lead in the low budget Military Academy (1940) before enlisting and serving in World War II. He appeared a few films after the war before leaving show business to teach and then work for the Department of Agriculture. He passed in late January at the age of 90. Mike Barnes for The Hollywood Reporter.
British screenwriter Norman Hudis wrote over a dozen British B-movies before he helped launch the hugely successful “Carry On” series with Carry On Sergeant (1958), followed by the next five sequels, before leaving the series. He wrote episodes of The Saint and Secret Agent and then went stateside to write for American TV, scripting episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, It Tales a Thief, Marcus Welby, MD., and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Along the way he wrote plays and an autobiography. He died at age 93. More from the BBC.
American screenwriter Dan Gerson co-wrote Monsters Inc., Monsters University, and Big Hero 6, among other films, and contributed to Cars and Meet the Robinsons. He passed away at age 49, from brain cancer. Mike Barnes and Cheryl Chang for The Hollywood Reporter.
Johnnie To’s acclaimed 3D corporate thriller musical Office plays one night only at The Uptown, on Monday, February 15. Details here.
Premiering this weekend at NWFF is Phillipe Garrel’s new film In the Shadow of Women, also three days only. Showtimes here.
This weekend is “Witches Brew,” four features on the theme of witchcraft and the supernatural—Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Craft (1996), Witchfinder General (1968), and the uncut UK version of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971)—followed by a sneak preview of The Witch with filmmaker Robert Eggers in attendance. The screenings are at SIFF Film Center and The Uptown and are free for SIFF members. Details here.
NWFF is showing a new 35mm print of Chocolat (1988), the first feature by Claire Denis, for three days only this weekend. Showtimes here.
The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries and Seattle Screens curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.