Monday, October 30, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

I've been purposely holding off on including any members of the Cassavetes or Fassbinder acting troupes in my Favorite Actor Monday series because once I start, it will be impossible to stop. I deeply love anyone who has been in either of these two directors' movies. I held off for as long as I can. Expect many more in the future. I'm starting with Barbara Sukowa because she was in one of the most affecting films I've ever seen, the 15 1/2-hour Fassbinder miniseries "Berlin Alexanderplatz." There aren't many 15 1/2 hour movies I'm dying to see again, but this is one of them. Please put these out on DVD, overlords of distribution. I have some moderately decent bootlegs, but that's not good enough. I'm growing weary of trying to explain why I like the actors I pick. Gushing adjectives don't do the trick. Barbara Sukowa is Mieze. She's Lola. I love those women. That's about it.

Berlin Alexanderplatz (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1980)
Lola (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1981)
Mariane and Juliane (Margarethe von Trotta, 1981)
Zentropa (Lars von Trier, 1991)
M. Butterfly (David Cronenberg, 1993)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A couple reasons why I like Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum is my favorite living, active movie critic for many reasons, especially because he eschews conventional wisdom and always gives me many things to think about, his taste could be called eclectic if that wasn't such a meaningless buzzword, he sticks up for important films that have either been ignored or battered by the mainstream critics, he doesn't give a shit about critical consensus (i.e. he thinks for himself whether it hurts his career or not), he's open-minded but very tough, and his approach to criticism is so much more thoughtful than any other current newspaper guy I can call to mind. He's not known for making grand, sweeping judgments, but a couple of grand, sweeping judgments he's made illustrate just how goddamn on target he usually is:
1) He's said that America would be a better country if John Waters hosted "The Tonight Show."
2) He's said that American film culture would be richer if John Cassavetes and Orson Welles had been able to make as many films as Woody Allen.
Disagree with those two points. I don't think you can.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday: Special Tuesday Has-Beens Edition

I've been thinking about what happens when actors get too famous for their own good, and it hit me again after watching Jack Nicholson ham it up in "The Departed" on Saturday. It's easy to forget how great some iconic actors were and occasionally still can be when they spend most of their later career either slumming it, chasing after paychecks, or getting lost in their own persona. I'm going to single out four actors in particular who've consistenly excited and disappointed me, for different reasons.
1) Jack Nicholson. At his best, a charismatic, empathetic, and intensely exciting actor, also capable of subtlety and a give-and-take with his costars. At his worst, an eyebrow-wiggling ballhog who forces his own public image on his character.
Jack Nicholson performances I like:
Flight to Fury (Monte Hellman, 1964)
Back Door to Hell (Monte Hellman, 1964)
Ride in the Whirlwind (Monte Hellman, 1965)
The Shooting (Monte Hellman, 1967)
Psych-Out (Richard Rush, 1968)
Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)
Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970)
Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols, 1971)
The King of Marvin Gardens (Bob Rafelson, 1972)
The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1973)
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975)
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Reds (Warren Beatty, 1981)
Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983)
Broadcast News (James L. Brooks, 1987)
Mars Attacks! (Tim Burton, 1996)
The Pledge (Sean Penn, 2001)
About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)

2) Robert De Niro. Everybody knows what's happened here. Greatness becoming laziness. A series of forgettable Hollywood paychecks.
Recommended, though these are mostly pretty obvious:
Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
New York, New York (Martin Scorsese, 1977)
The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978) (a problematic movie, but I like the acting in it)
Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983)
Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Midnight Run (Martin Brest, 1988)
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991)
Mad Dog and Glory (John McNaughton, 1993)
Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995)
Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

3) Al Pacino. He used to be subtly wonderful, now he just yells and hams it up. HOO-AHH! She got a GREAT ASS! SHAKESPEARE! Unlike De Niro, he still looks like he's having a good time, though, so he makes me less sad.
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
Scarecrow (Jerry Schatzberg, 1972)
Serpico (Sidney Lumet, 1973)
The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1974)
Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)
Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983) (although I blame this role for the direction of his career)
Carlito's Way (Brian De Palma, 1993)
Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell, 1997)

4) Dennis Hopper. He was always hit and miss. Capable of two amazing performances and three horrific ones in the same year (especially when he does his "hey, man" schtick), he's mostly been slumming in straight-to-video dogshit for the past ten years. He's mostly interested in photography now, which is understandable given the current state of Hollywood filmmaking, but he also loves George W. Bush. Ugh.
Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)
Cool Hand Luke (Stuart Rosenberg, 1967)
Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969)
True Grit (Henry Hathaway, 1969)
The Last Movie (Dennis Hopper, 1971)
Out of the Blue (Dennis Hopper, 1980)
Human Highway (Neil Young & Dean Stockwell, 1982)
Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)
River's Edge (Tim Hunter, 1986)
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
Hoosiers (David Anspaugh, 1986)
Straight to Hell (Alex Cox, 1987)
The Indian Runner (Sean Penn, 1991)
Red Rock West (John Dahl, 1992)
True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993)
Jesus' Son (Alison Maclean, 1999)
Land of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2005)

Monday, October 16, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

Denny Jackson, whoever that is, writes about Gloria Grahame on, "She did, indeed, remind legions of fans of the girl next door." I wonder where Mr. Jackson and these legions live, because I've never had a neighbor like her, and I suspect almost no one else had either. Gloria Grahame was either too scarily intense or too tragically vulnerable to ever be a girl next door. She married one of my favorite directors, Nicholas Ray, and later married his son Tony (he played the guy who takes Lelia Goldoni's virginity in Cassavetes' "Shadows"). She had a very interesting mouth. I mean that as a compliment. Even when she shared the screen with Lee Marvin or Humphrey Bogart, I mostly watched her.

Recommended Gloria Grahame performances:
It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953)
Human Desire (Fritz Lang, 1954)
Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme, 1980)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

I'm pretty hungry and am about to get something to eat, and Robert Mitchum doesn't need me to gush over him (first of all, he's dead; second, he never seemed like the kind of guy who liked getting gushed over; finally, what's the point?), so I'm not going to write a lot about him. I'll just say that there are a lot of gaps in my Mitchumography I hope to fill in over the course of my life (I've never seen the original "Cape Fear," for instance), and, besides being one of the best actors I've ever watched, he's one of the most goddamned interesting.

Recommended Robert Mitchum performances:
Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)
Angel Face (Otto Preminger, 1952)
The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
Secret Ceremony (Joseph Losey, 1968) (more a ridiculous performance than a "good" one, you still can't take your eyes off him)
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973)
Farewell, My Lovely (Dick Richards, 1975)
Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988)
Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991)
Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Favorite Actor Monday

Watching Sandrine Bonnaire act is like listening to Keith Moon or John Bonham drum. Seeing her in "La Ceremonie," which is one of my favorite movies, I felt complete empathy, bafflement, and terror from her character. All at once. For the film's duration. She's good.

Recommended Sandrine Bonnaire performances:
Vagabond (Agnes Varda, 1985)
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat, 1987)
Monsieur Hire (Patrice Leconte, 1989)
Joan the Maid (Jacques Rivette, 1994)
La Ceremonie (Claude Chabrol, 1995)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Half Nelson

I feel good. After The Science of Sleep last week, I saw another almost-great movie this weekend. Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck) sounds so horrible on paper, a smorgasbord of cliches. Not good cliches, either. Bad ones. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad ones. It's like someone looked into my personal list of subjects the movies are awful at exploring. Let's check them off:
Drug addiction
White teacher inspiring inner-city youth
Race relations
Leftist politics
Inappropriate relationships between male authority figures and young girls
Drug dealers
Hippies becoming yuppies
Chasm between parents and children
The possibility of redemption

This movie is about all these things, all these things I've never, ever, ever wanted to see covered in a movie ever again, not even incidentally, and somehow is one of the best things I've seen all year. Every character is flawed, complex, and treated with respect. Every issue raised is raised honestly. Every situation is presented without melodrama. Almost every cliche is avoided. The use of background music is unusual and effective, only overbearing on a few occasions. The quiet expression of futility and outrage about our current political situation is refreshing. The characters are never let off the hook for their flaws, but are never reduced to simplistic representations of general ideas. One scene in particular, in which one character confronts the other, begins like any scene of this kind and becomes something else, something that happens often in life but almost never in a film. I'm glad I took a chance on it.

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