Thursday, January 28, 2010


J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)

If I weren't in a rush to post this, I might have taken more time to try to find a better photo of J.D. Salinger, but somehow this seemed appropriate with the author's obsession with privacy and life as a recluse. His output was relatively small for a legendary writer such as he was, but those novels and short stories were so monumental, so influential for so many generations of readers, that his reputation was sealed long before his death Wednesday at 91.

Salinger's best-known creation was Holden Caulfield, his protagonist from his 1951 debut novel The Catcher in the Rye, a rite of passage for adolescents of many generations and a book that still generates controversy, which always seems puzzling to anyone who has read it. I actually didn't read it until college, under unusual circumstances. I'd driven to Dallas to visit a friend for spring break only his mother had summoned him home without him having the chance to tell me, so I let myself in with a key under the doormat. To make matters worse, a freak March snow and ice storm basically trapped me in his apartment with little to eat and even less to do and that's how I first read Catcher in the Rye and loved it. It's really that opening paragraph that grabbed me and, I suspect, most others.
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

Rye was not Salinger's first published work. He first garnered acclaim in 1948 for the great short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which leads off his great short story collection Nine Stories. His two other published novels, which really were each two novellas joined together, really had more charms than Rye and all concerned the Glass family. First, came the excellent Franny and Zooey which was followed by my personal favorite, Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, and its companion the difficult, but ultimately worthwhile Seymour: An Introduction.

More than a decade ago, there was a plan to print in book form Salinger's last published novella, Hapworth 16, 1924, which originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1965. The ensuing publicity was so ferocious that the book was delayed indefinitely. Perhaps we will still get to see it someday. Rest in peace, Mr. Salinger. You don't have to worry about the phonies any longer.

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Describing the indescribable

"Be pleased then, you living one
in your delightfully warmed bed
before Lethe's ice-cold wave
will lick your escaping feet."


By Edward Copeland
When you've been a lifelong film fan as I've been, you end up seeing a multitude of movies, from the sublime to the ridiculous. After awhile, even when watching a great film, it's seldom something you can't compare to another work or, in the worst cases, doesn't turn out to be something trying so hard to be experimental or bizarre that it leaves a rotten residue. Sometimes though, lightning strikes and you see a film that truly defies comparisons and just turns out to be a truly delightful viewing experience. This is the case with Swedish director Roy Andersson's You, the Living.

You, the Living can best be described as a collection of vignettes, yet that doesn't quite do justice in depicting the film in easy-to-categorize terms. The scenes are not short films; some characters recur, but most don't; there is only the vaguest of overriding themes serving as connective tissue for all that transpires. What can be said with authority is that what Andersson has assembled transfixes, frequently causes bursts of inexplicable laughter and is unlike just about any film I've ever watched.

Believe me — I racked my brain for comparisons, but every movie that came to mind was just another example of one that elicited the same excited reaction of newness or the bored fatigue of a failed folly in me. I thought of Richard Linklater's Slacker, with its unbroken take of following one character to the next for the entire film, but that's really not the right mold. On the negative side, I recalled my recent viewing of Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Started Small, but that did have recognizable characters and situations even if the ultimate result was dull and pointless. The closest I came was Francois Girard's Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and that's only because that was the last time I got a similar feeling of something remarkably fresh in filmmaking after I saw it, not that You, the Living resembled it.

No, You, the Living plays, at least for me, as an original, a unique piece of filmmaking and, more importantly, a unique piece of filmmaking that remarkably succeeds. I could describe many of the vignettes from the film, but I fear that if I did that would dilute the film's magic. The Goethe quote at the top of this post is what opens the film and it really gives a sense of what underlies the various people whose paths we cross. Most feel misunderstood or unwanted and seek a sense of belonging, though even when they have mates, they treat them inhumanely, but in a way that usually comes off comically, not cruelly.

In the film's first scene, a man wakes up suddenly from his bed declaring, "The bombers are coming." The next thing we know, we are in a park where a distraught woman is telling a man to just take her dog and leave her alone because no one understands her and everyone would be better off if she didn't exist. The man protests, but he finally slinks off and the woman suddenly bursts into a song while a man in a raincoat suddenly reveals himself from behind a tree. Then the credits roll and you are hypnotized into the universe Roy Andersson has created, or at least I was.

Later in the film, we meet a doctor who speaks directly to the audience, informing us that he's been a psychiatrist for 27 years and he's basically burned out listening to people demand that he help them find the fun in their life, when his own life lost his fun long ago. He talks to the camera and says:
"People demand so much...They demand to be happy at the same time they are egocentric, selfish and ungenerous. Well, I would like to be honest. I would like to say that they are quite simply mean, most of them. Spending hour after hour in therapy trying to make mean people happy. There's no point. You can't do it. These days, I just give them pills."

In the DVD commentary for You, the Living, which was released in 2007 but only arrived on U.S. shores in 2009, the interviewer asks Andersson if things have grown worse in the world since his last film, 2000's Songs From the Second Floor. Andersson concedes yes with constant wars and economic turmoil and a world economy he labels a "chain-letter economy."

Between the psychiatrist's quote and what Andersson says, you'd expect a fairly pessimistic film, but You, the Living is anything but. It embraces the humanity of its put-upon characters, but does it with joyous humor and a musicality that leaves a smile on your face. Often in the film, someone will say, "Tomorrow is another day," but it's not a Scarlett O'Hara declaration of hope for a new start, it's just the recognition that life will go on and the next day likely won't be better or worse, but just more of the same. You certainly can't say that You, the Living is more of the same.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Life isn't always precious

By Edward Copeland
Director Lee Daniels exercised intuitive intelligence with most of the stylish touches he adds to his film of Precious or, as its gargantuan title refers to it, Precious based on the novel Push by Sapphire (Does this mean I now have to refer to Nosferatu based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker?). Anyway, Daniels' flourishes prove quite welcome relief in what could be an otherwise depressing tale, though even when it's played straight, it does manage to earn some uplift.

Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe plays the title character, a large 16-year-old girl living in 1987 Harlem, but still in junior high and currently pregnant with her second child by her now-dead father while living with her mountain-of-hate mother Mary (Mo'Nique). Though she still can't read, she does have some math skills, but her pregnancy gets her evicted from her public school but a teacher suggests an alternative school for Precious, though her mother desperately opposes the idea, thinking it threatens her welfare and that Precious should just give up on school and get on welfare herself.

Sidibe makes a solid debut and gives a touching performance as a child who has been abused and put down all her life, though she certainly has her dreams, often displayed in colorful fantasies of fashion shows and dancing. The movie's biggest misstep comes when Precious and her mom sit watching Sophia Loren in Two Women and Precious imagines herself and her mother in the film's black and white setting, complete with wigs, costumes and speaking in Italian but with subtitles where Mary is abusing her as normal, but with a docile face. It's so out of place, I actually laughed out loud and it breaks the film's mood for a moment.

While Mo'Nique has been devouring practically every award in sight, I think it built in me an expectation for more. She's quite good, but I figured I'd see more scenes of her and larger moments. I found myself drawn more to the quieter performance of Paula Patton as the alternative school teacher who takes an interest in Precious.



Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Taken for granted for far too long

By Edward Copeland
How many years, decades has it been now that moviegoers have just accepted Jeff Bridges as a constant good? He's never been what you'd really label a movie star. His work always has been that of the yeoman character actor.

Link these: Duane of The Last Picture Show and Nick Kegan of Winter Kills; Starman and Tucker; four Jacks: Baker in The Fabulous Baker Boys, Lucas in The Fisher King, Kelson in American Heart and President Evans in The Contender; Ted Cole in The Door in the Floor, the Dude in The Big Lebowski , even Wild Bill.

Now add to this menagerie Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. What connects all these disparate parts and many others is the actor lurking beneath their varied skins and costumes. The spotlight seems to suddenly have turned its often short attention span on Jeff Bridges and it's about damn time.

From the moment Bridges appears on screen in Crazy Heart, he is Bad Blake. Seemingly every cell, every hair follicle and every way his 57-year-old body moves, whether to hold a guitar, swill a drink or have a smoke, there is little Jeff Bridges in evidence in the movie, there's just Bad Blake. It's a good thing too because Bad Blake is the movie. He's in virtually every scene and even though some aspects Crazy Heart seem very familiar, Bridges works such wonders with it, that you don't mind much.

Blake once ruled as a country music superstar, but now he's reduced to playing bowling alleys and drinking too much, living off advances, sometimes with as little as $10 in his pocket when he rolls into his latest town. Still, his gravelly exterior has charm to spare, for the crowds or the occasional lady who longs to share his bed for a night. Yes, his career may have hit the skids, but a loyal fan base persists, making a reporter in Santa Fe (Maggie Gyllenhaal) want to interview the man about the difference between his style and what she deems the "artificial country" that dominates radio today. Soon, a real romance develops between the two.

One of the primary beneficiaries of today's country music is Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), a former protege of Blake's who still feels tremendous loyalty toward his mentor and tries to use his stardom to reignite his mentor's career however he can.

Writer-director Scott Cooper adapted the novel by Thomas Cobb and he certainly brings an authentic feel to the settings and the character (helped in no small part by the original music by T. Bone Burnett and his collaborators), despite moments that steer uncomfortably close to being a country-music version of The Wrestler.

Still, Bridges' powerhouse turn more than compensates for any weaknesses that the film itself has and it's worth seeing just to spend some time with Bad Blake.

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Monday, January 25, 2010


A life cut short

By Edward Copeland
I imagine, though we are several years removed from the Lord of the Rings movies, there remain enough obsessed Hobbitologists out there who may likely throw a hissy fit when I claim that Peter Jackson creates more stunning and remarkable imagery in his adaptation of The Lovely Bones than he did in 760 hours of the Rings trilogy.

Based on Alice Sebold's best seller, which I admittedly have not read, could easily turn treacly or depressing in its tale of a murdered 14-year-old girl (a terrific performance by Saoirse Ronan) witnessing how the lives of her family, friends and even killer progress as she wanders in a nether region she must navigate before she moves on to heaven.

Set in 1973, the period details are quite good, and not in that CGI-overkill way they were in Jackson's bloated, misguided remake of King Kong. It even includes Michael Imperioli playing a police detective with a hairstyle that makes me believe he had to have filmed this right around the time he was making the short-lived TV series Life on Mars.

The opening section of The Lovely Bones plays as an average slice-of-life about the Salmon family and it may be some of the best scenes connecting with day-to-day people that Jackson has filmed since way back in Heavenly Creatures. Oldest daughter Susie (Ronan) proves to be the family's life force, even though there is still mom and dad (Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg) and a younger sister and brother (Rose McIver, Christian Thomas Ashdale). There also is the great Susan Sarandon as the hard-drinking, chain-smoking grandmother who believes in living like a free spirit in a neverending quest to deny her real age.

Ronan proves that her Oscar-nominated work as the young Briony in Atonement was no fluke. Most of the weight of The Lovely Bones falls upon her young shoulders and she carries it with aplomb, first as a smart teen with bursting creativity and a strong crush on a boy at school and then later as an apparition, wanting to help her family heal and to see her killer punished.

The man who kills Susie is played with the appropriate amount of banality and creepiness by Stanley Tucci, though I have to admit that his eventual demise has to be one of the most ludicrous since Kubrick let Nicholson's Jack Torrance freeze to death in the maze in The Shining. Having not read Sebold's novel, I have no idea if this is a departure from the book.

Still, it's a minor criticism for an otherwise impressive film. Jackson produces impressive sequences of all shapes and sizes, from a simple sequence showing the loss of passion in a marriage over time to the fantastical imagery of giant ships in bottles crashing against the shores in Susie's limbo as her father is breaking down at home.

Having not read the novel, I didn't know quite what to expect from The Lovely Bones, fearing it might be maudlin or depressing, but instead I found it to be a worthwhile experience that held my interest from beginning to end.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010


Jean Simmons (1929-2010)

Jean Simmons' long career, which has sadly ended at the age of 80, had such a wide array of varied and great performances, it always has puzzled me why the British-born actress didn't have a larger reputation. Maybe there is a price to be paid for being so prolific for so long and for being so damn good.

Simmons started her film career young back in the 1940s. Her first film was 1944 and by 1946 she already had landed the role of the young Estrella in David Lean's Great Expectations and followed that up the following year with the role of Kanchi in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus. For her work as Ophelia in Laurence Olivier's 1948 Hamlet, she received the first of her two Oscar nominations.

She did get her shot at a lot of biblical-era costume dramas, including 1953's The Robe with Richard Burton. Simmons got a chance to do a musical turn as well in the role of Sgt. Sarah Brown opposite Marlon Brando in 1955's Guys and Dolls. 1960 brought her three great roles that couldn't be more different. There was Varinia, the woman loyal to Spartacus. The role that she truly got robbed of an Oscar nomination for was Sister Sharon Falconer, a tent circuit evangelist who begins to believe a bit much in herself beyond the con in Elmer Gantry opposite Burt Lancaster. Finally, there was the frothy fun as the gossipy, fourth wheel watching and spurring on the action in a love triangle between Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum in The Grass Is Greener.

In the mid-'60s, she began appearing on television more, though one film, which I haven't seen, 1969's The Happy Ending, did earn her another Oscar nomination. The remainder of her career was a mix of TV movies and miniseries, feature films and guest shots on TV series. She even appeared on The Odd Couple and received and Emmy nomination for an appearance on Murder, She Wrote. She won an Emmy for her role in the miniseries The Thorn Birds. The last notable feature film she appeared in was 1995's How to Make an American Quilt. R.I.P. Ms. Simmons.

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Friday, January 22, 2010


A secure job in turbulent times

By Edward Copeland
When something receives the wide swath of rave reviews that Up in the Air has and you are a latecomer in getting to see to it, it is understandable to begin viewing the film with a healthy degree of skepticism. Soon after its beginning though, Jason Reitman's movie won me over, even though it's far from a flawless film.

George Clooney does what he does best as Ryan Bingham, playing a charmer with a healthy dose of the wiseass in him as he performs his rather mercenary job, flying from city to city telling employees of companies too timid to do their own layoffs, that their jobs are no longer available. Needless to say, the fired workers getting this bad news from a man they've never met before react in a myriad of ways.

It's the perfect job for Bingham, who has insulated himself from any real connection to the world, estranging himself from his family, choosing fleeting trysts over any lasting relationships and going so far as to give speeches as to how to downsize your world into a backpack so you carry as little baggage as possible. The constant travel, and Bingham's goal for hitting an astronomical number of frequent flyer miles, is enough to make him content.

Then he's called back to the home office in Omaha by his boss Craig (Jason Bateman) to learn of an exciting "game-changing" development in the way they do business. The brilliant idea comes from 24-year-old Cornell grad Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who sells Craig on the idea of giving the to-be-canned workers the bad news via computer connection from the Omaha office as a cost-cutting measure.

Needless to say, Ryan finds this idea repugnant and sets out to show Natalie why it won't work, first in the office and then, by Craig's order, by taking her on the road with him to do some layoffs the old-fashioned way. (Of course, you would think in an economy as shaky as the one in which we currently reside, companies would start cost-cutting by ceasing to use services such as the one offered by Craig's company, grow some balls and fire their employees for free.)

Of course, Natalie does see the shortcomings in her impersonal approach and finds herself personally affected by some of the workers they encounter. Ryan, who is carrying on a casual fling with another frequent traveler he's encountered (Vera Farmiga), finds his lifestyle questioned by the young Natalie who can't understand how anyone can be happy living a life a solitary as Bingham's.

If you took Up in the Air apart, it sounds quite formulaic: committed middle-age bachelor and young ambitious businesswoman each learn from one another and question their career choice. However, the script by Reitman and Sheldon Turner based on a novel by Walter Kim, breathes so much fresh air into the business with sparkling dialogue and interspersing snappy individual scenes of scripted firings using cameos by solid character actors such as J.K. Simmons with interviews with real people who lost their jobs and get a chance to say what they would have if they hadn't been shocked and devastated at the time.

The trio of the main actors: Clooney, Kendrick and Farmiga are all excellent, especially Kendrick, who gets to show the most shadings to her character. Reitman's direction stays pretty much on the mark until the third act when Up in the Air loses its way a bit and the sudden change in the work resolution doesn't really fly since it seems as if a lot of money was wasted on something they decide to discontinue rather quickly. Also, one other twist I saw coming 20 miles down the road and I have a hard time believing a cynic such as Ryan Bingham wouldn't have seen it either. Up in the Air provides a nice, enjoyable flight, but you are definitely traveling in coach.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Harry Potter and the half-baked script

By Edward Copeland
With the arrival of each new Harry Potter film, I've made it clear that I've never read any of the books yet I've been amazed how each installment grew in depth and quality once they got rid of director Chris Columbus from the first two installments. The previous entry, Order of the Phoenix, slipped a little and was the first of the films that felt to me as if it had been condensed to the point that a lot had been left out from the book. However, Imelda Staunton's delightful performance, the best in the entire series, more than made up for that film's flaws. This time, with director David Yates returning to helm Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the first time, even including the Columbus efforts, where I watched most of the time bored and dumbfounded.

As with all the other adaptations, the Half-Blood Prince was written by Steve Kloves, the man whose great work as writer-director on The Fabulous Baker Boys inspired J.K. Rowling to select him to adapt her books to the screen in the first place. However, the Half-Blood Prince plays like a muddle. By the time it reveals who the Half-Blood Prince is, I still had no (and still don't have any) idea what that really meant and what its significance was.

As in Goblet of Fire, Harry's friends Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint, Emma Watson) stay pretty much segregated to the sidelines except for one sequence where Grint proves quite charming and funny when Ron becomes enchanted by a love potion. Daniel Radcliffe still does fine as Harry, but this time out the heavy lifting seems to be handled even more than usual by the veteran British pros such as Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith and Alan Rickman.

The actor who shines the most in this outing is the series' newcomer, Jim Broadbent, playing a former potions professor that Dumbledore (Gambon) lures back to Hogwarts because of the connection he had to Lord Voldemort back when he was just a student named Tom Riddle and hadn't turned to evil. Every note Broadbent strikes — fear, guilt, excitement — seems just right. He's really the only aspect of the Half-Blood Prince that saves it from being a complete bore.

Director Yates' pacing is way off here. The atmospherics are solid as usual, but I don't know why this chapter came off as seeming so messy. The final book in the series is being broken up into two movies, so perhaps that will eliminate some of the problems of leaving things out, but it concerns me that Yates has been entrusted with the reins once again since his two efforts have been the weakest non-Columbus outings in the film series.

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Monday, January 18, 2010


In Texas, you're on your own

By Edward Copeland
I remember seeing Blood Simple for the first time so clearly. I was a sophomore in high school and Siskel & Ebert had bellowed its praises on their show and now it had shown up on the "Bijou" screen of our local AMC theater. I went with my parents and my mind exploded. It was as if I were witnessing the birth, no scratch that, the major announcement of new filmmaking talent that you don't usually see in a debut. This must have been similar to what film aficionados felt the first time they saw Orson Welles' Citizen Kane or Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Who starts a film career this assured? It was astounding and 25 years later after the Coen Brothers arrived on the national scene, Blood Simple still astounds.

I had seen the character actor M. Emmet Walsh before and I've seen him since, but he's never had a better role or given a better performance than that of the private detective in Blood Simple. (Some sources give his character name as Loren Visser, which is what he was named in the screenplay, but in the film's credits, he's listed simply as private detective.) It's Walsh's voice we hear first in this pseudo-noir as he explains that the world is full of complainers and go ahead and ask your friends for help and watch them fly, a lesson I've painfully learned from experience over the past couple of years. He extols the idea of the way it is supposed to work in Soviet Russia, with each person pulling for the other guy. However, as the private detective explains (not that we know who he is or what he does yet), we're in Texas and there you are on your own, because nothing comes with a guarantee. Walsh's cackle can produce laughter or shivers, depending on the situation. You're never certain if his character is a mastermind or a buffoon, but Walsh plays him brilliantly. In an ideal world, the Academy would have noticed. He certainly deserved an Oscar nomination at least, especially considering the prize went to Don Ameche, who wasn't even the best supporting actor in Cocoon, because Ameche's stand-in could breakdance.

Blood Simple actually began appearing on the American movie radar in 1984 when it started showing up on the film festival circuit, but it didn't get an actual distribution and release until this day in 1985, hence why I'm marking today as its 25th anniversary. About a decade ago, a new DVD of Blood Simple came out which I'd never seen until last week, many years since I'd last seen the film. It comes with an introduction by Mortimer Young (really actor George Ives) and the pretense that technology had caught up with it and something called Forever Young Films has restored the film, not only digitally improving the film, but adding some things and "cutting the boring parts." Granted, it had been a long time since I'd last seen Blood Simple but nothing seemed new to me besides that introduction and everything I remember being there before, still was. More importantly, Blood Simple still plays as great as always and still amazes when you remember it is the work of debut filmmakers. In the Coen canon, I'd still place it in the top four or five alongside Raising Arizona, Miller's Crossing, No Country for Old Men and their most recent, A Serious Man. In fact, though I usually frown on remakes of good films, I grant leeway with they are foreign adaptations and I have to admit I can't wait to see what the great Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou has come up with by filming his take of Blood Simple as a period film set in a noodle shop and emphasizing the comedy.

Blood Simple, of course, was not set in a Chinese noodle shop. The center of its story is a popular Texas night spot owned by the angry, sleazy and apparently well-off Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya, better known as the even sleazier but much funnier Nick Tortelli on TV's Cheers). Marty hires the detective to see if his pretty young wife Abby (Frances McDormand, who would meet future husband Joel Coen on this film) is stepping out on him. Indeed she is — with Ray (John Getz), one of his bartenders. Needless to say, Marty does not take the news well, telling Walsh that in ancient Greece, they killed the messenger who brought them bad news. The P.I. tells Marty he knows where to find him if he needs him or if he wants to chop off his head: He can always crawl around without it. When Ray returns for his final paycheck, Marty refuses to pay and warns him that if he sets foot on his property again, he'll consider it trespassing and would be justified in shooting him. Marty also makes sure to put plenty of doubts in Ray's mind about Abby's trustworthiness. Still, the betrayal eats at Marty and he returns to the detective to hire him to murder Ray and Abby. The detective expresses some reluctance that Marty isn't smart enough to pull it off, but he agrees to do it for $10,000. He tells Marty to go fishing for a few days and he'll tell him when it's done. Then things get complicated.

What doesn't get complicated though is the plot itself. That's not to say it isn't attention getting (detractors might call it gimmicky), but the story itself is told very efficiently. It would be easy to be confused as to what the various characters are up to but even if you have a moment of brief puzzlement, the Coens steer you back on the right track. Simple proves an appropriate word to have in the title (as does blood, because there is a lot of it). It's essentially a five-character cast (the fifth character being another bartender, Meurice, played by Samm-Art Williams, who also is a playwright whose 1980 play Home received a Tony nomination for best play). However, as far as the Coens' filmmaking style goes, they grab you early and often. After some picturesque Texas visuals to go with Walsh's opening voiceover, we go to a conversation in a car between Ray and Abby during a driving rainstorm and each pass of the windshield wipers takes one of the actor's names with it. While film watchers have been used to hyperactive cameras for a long time, a fresh smell emanated from many of the Coens' moves. When a shot follows the length of a bar, it stops to rise over a passed-out drunk blocking its way before resuming its journey. When Meurice jumps over the bar to change a song on the jukebox, the camera follows him back at shoe level, stopping to take note as his feet do a brief dance shuffle atop the bar. When Marty gives Ray his rather intense, profane warning about Abby, his speech gets punctuated by the sound of an insect frying in an electric bug zapper. When Marty surprisingly assaults his estranged wife, the Coens combine a zoom with a high-speed tracking shot before slamming on the brakes. The wondrous climax takes place between two people in adjacent rooms, which was referenced in its own way with the money hidden in the hotel vent in No Country for Old Men.

At the start of their filmmaking career, the Coens didn't share all the credits as they do now: Joel was the director; Ethan was the producer; and they shared writing credits. Even in their debut, some familiar collaborators were on board. Composer Carter Burwell, who has scored all the brothers' films except for O Brother, Where Art Thou. Barry Sonnenfeld did the cinematography here as well as in Raising Arizona. Of course, Roderick Jaynes debuted as a film editor, though he had the help of Don Wiegmann. What still amazes me is how these neophyte indie filmmakers were able to secure the use of The Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" (used repeatedly and as a hilarious endnote in the movie), Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams" and "The Lady in Red" by Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra, given the unmitigated greed of the music industry which demands astronomical fees and often strip permission to use the works years later if more protection isn't paid. It was a great feat, no matter how it got done. Now of course, everyone knows who the Coen Brothers are, but 25 years ago and really through Miller's Crossing, I felt as if I was part of a secret fan club. It wasn't really until Fargo, when I'd lost my infatuation with them, that everyone seemed to discover them. I'm happy that with their work starting with No Country for Old Men, the Coens and I seem to be on the same cinematic wavelength again. Still, should we become estranged again, we'll always have Blood Simple.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010


An award? Already

By Edward Copeland
Here I am, just barely trying to breath life back into my blog after a health-mandated hiatus and Peter Nellhaus has already seen fit to bestow the Kreativ Blogger award upon me with instructions to pass the award on to seven others, so here I go. I hope I don't do any duplicates since I haven't been keeping up with other blogs very well of late. The rules are as follows:
1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award. (Thank you Peter)
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog. (Done)
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award. (Done)
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
a. I'm typing this horizontally.
b. I really should be working on my book.
c. If not that, I should be watching a DVD.
d. I only believe in two conspiracy theories: That Mark Fuhrman was working for O.J. and the big rise in diabetes is a scam worked out between Big Pharma and doctors to make more money.
e. I have discovered the faraway and virtual friends treat you better than longtime friends and they all do better than most relatives.
f. We will only achieve true government reform when every member of Congress who has served more than two terms is tossed out and we start with a clean slate.
g. I believe that on the whole, throughout history, religion has done more harm than good.
5. and 6. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers and post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
a. Ken Levine at By Ken Levine
b. Jason Bellamy at The Cooler
c. The FilmDr. at The Film Doctor
d. Paul Matwychuk at The Moviegoer
e. Craig at The Man From Porlock
f. Jeremy Richey at The Moon in the Gutter.
g. Ivan G. Shreve Jr. at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.



Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Not just a Bigelow

By Edward Copeland
Kathryn Bigelow has had many fans as a director for a long time, something that always has been inexplicable to me since most of her previous film work has been sadly lacking. I didn't care for the vampire tale Near Dark. Blue Steel was laugh-out-loud bad, thanks mainly to a beyond-over-the-top performance by Ron Silver. Point Break's creativity ended with bank robbers wearing masks of former presidents as Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze and Lori Petty raced to see who could drive an audience member to suicide first. Strange Days certainly had its moments, but in the end was mostly a sci-fi muddle. Then again, it was written by her ex-husband James Cameron, and as we all know, writing has never been his strong suit.

Poor Bigelow even got the chance to direct some episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, though they were unfortunately later season episodes after NBC meddling and Tom Fontana acquiescence had made the once-great show a shadow of what it once was.

That's why it is so great to report that all the acclaim that Kathryn Bigelow has received for The Hurt Locker is not just fanbase hype: She deserves the kudos because it's by far the best movie she's ever made without any qualifications.

Actually, I do have at least one qualification about The Hurt Locker. The movie opens with a quote that just too neatly underlines the film's point in BIG BOLD LETTERS. It's unnecessary and, in a way, undermines what could be a more powerful ending. That aside though, The Hurt Locker is very good, thanks mainly to the lead performance of Jeremy Renner and the nonstop, visceral direction by Bigelow.

Renner plays Staff Sgt. William James, who leads an explosive detonation unit in Iraq. If you've ever seen a film with a suspenseful sequence that involves disarming an explosive, imagine a two-hour-plus film made up almost entirely of those scenes. Renner's James is an adrenaline junkie, who finds each new device a challenge to disarm, no matter if it puts his life or others at risk.

Bigelow employs a myriad of techniques to keep the movie moving at a kinetic pace through sudden zooms, fascinating closeups and interesting vantage points of explosions. Truly, Bigelow's direction proves to be the star of the film, aided immensely by her editors Bob Innis and Bob Murawski and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd. The screenplay by Mark Boal may be the weak link. It's fine, but it's really just a template for Bigelow to work her magic and Renner really is the only character aside from Anthony Mackie that stands out. This isn't a writer's movie: It's a director's film.

For as long as The Hurt Locker has been circulating (it was nominated at last year's Independent Spirit Awards), I was surprised to see some well-known actors pop up in small roles who I didn't even know were in the film.

Iraq war movies have not done well at the box office or critically, but The Hurt Locker succeeds because this could be any war and the politics aren't even brushed upon. The film just focuses on men doing a very dangerous job and Kathryn Bigelow brings it vibrantly alive and Jeremy Renner creates a character to remember.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Centennial Tributes: Luise Rainer

By Edward Copeland
This is a skimpy tribute, but one that I just couldn't ignore because Luise Rainer has accomplished something no one else has in the history of this blog: She has achieved her Centennial Tribute while still being alive. She turns 100 today. It's been a long time since I've seen The Great Ziegfeld or The Good Earth, the two films that made her the first performer to win back-to-back Oscars in 1936 and 1937. I've also never seen her last film appearance in a 1997 adaptation of Dostoyesky's The Gambler. I'm sure I probably saw her guest shot in the 1970s on The Love Boat at some point, but don't recall it. However, being the first actress to win two Oscars, to win them consecutively and to make it to 100 years of age is deserving of some recognition.



Monday, January 11, 2010


Seeing if the engine still works

By Edward Copeland
It's a slow process (and a tentative one), but thanks to a new bed tray that allows me to write horizontally, before too long, the blog may be returning to some sort of life.

Until then, today marks the 75th anniversary of the release of Henry Hathaway's The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and we'll just go with an old review of it until then.



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