Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: March 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

ROCFF Day 4: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Not much to report regarding yesterday's screenings. I skipped For Your Consideration because, to be honest, I'm all movied out. But I caught Sunset Boulevard and The Godfather, both in pristine condition as I have now come to expect here. Today brings us a screening of one of Spielberg's best, and most personal films, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. It is most emblematic of early Spielberg films tendency to look at the dynamic of broken families through the prism of science-fiction/fantasy. Other than that brief nugget one should look out for, I'm going to forgo any analysis on this one. Most everyone has seen it, and in my opinion looking at this film too closely robs it of the magic it holds for kids. Speaking of kids, tickets for this screening are half off the regular price for children under 12, a great bargain. This shall be my last entry about Robert Osborne's 2009 Classic Film Festival. It has been a joy to see these films in all of their deserved glory. I look forward to next year's slate of films. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial screens this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival. All events take place at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601, (706) 208-0900 or (800) 918-6393.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

ROCFF - Underrated: Talia Shire in The Godfather (1972)

by Tony Dayoub

In a movie with a powerhouse ensemble cast like Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, it is easy to overlook some of the supporting performances. The film has been covered extensively here, as well as in other publications. My own initial take on it focused on its two stars, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, and their father-son dynamic. But Talia Shire's underrated performance as the youngest Corleone Constanza, or Connie, is a ferocious performance that instantly grounds the movie in the cultural realities of the Italian family.

ROCFF Day 3: Sunset Boulevard (1950) and The Godfather (1972) screenings

One of the most enjoyable qualities of a classic film festival is the opportunity to see some of your favorite classic films on the big screen. This may not seem like a big deal to my readers in Los Angeles or New York, where revivals and retrospectives occur so often they begin to be taken for granted. But residing in Atlanta, the opportunity to see films like King Kong (1933) and Rear Window (1954) at a beautifully designed movie house with great acoustics like the Classic Center is really something. Kong's was a little worn, but Rear Window's and William Wyler's Funny Girl (1968) - which I was pleasantly surprised I enjoyed, despite not being a big Barbra fan - were near immaculate prints. Robert Osborne is also an excellent host. You all know that, of course, if you watch him on Turner Classic Movies. Yet seeing him just wing it onstage, with his total command of movie trivia, as he introduces and conducts Q & As after each film is impressive. This man does not need researchers to provide him with his facts. He also seems to be very involved in the festival production, meaning he's not just a host lending his name for publicity purposes. His familiarity with the staff, guests, and festival programming decisions - such as including a vintage cartoon short with each film like Disney's Clock Cleaners (1937) and Warner's The Wild Hare (1940) - demonstrate how much he loves cinema and all of its mystique, something that excites this movie buff, and many others given the huge turnout at the festival. Yesterday's panel on independent film was also much better than anticipated. Despite being filled with many older faces, I have to eat my words from yesterday. They spoke about the "mumblecore" movement, "new media" distribution and other timely issues concerning our bailout economy's impact on the independent movement. I humbly apologize for underestimating this group. The most interesting and informative panelist was Gabriel Wardell, executive director of the Atlanta Film Festival. He had the most information to offer on the current state of independent cinema, and I'm now reconsidering visiting this year's Atlanta Film Fest. On today's schedule: Sunset Boulevard at 1:30 p.m. with special guest Alan Rode, a film noir historian; For Your Consideration (2006) at 4:30 p.m. with special guests Fred Willard and Michael Hitchcock, both in the film's cast; and lastly a never-screened print of The Godfather at 8:30 p.m. with special guest Talia Shire, who played Connie Corleone in the film. See you later with more on Talia Shire. All events at the 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival take place at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601, (706) 208-0900 or (800) 918-6393.

Friday, March 20, 2009

ROCFF Movie Review: Rear Window (1954)

Recent analyses of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window have started to focus on an idea I began floating in a research paper 16 years ago for my professor, noted Hitchcock historian William Rothman. Don't get me wrong. I'm not taking credit. But I am saying that this reading of the film has been around at least this long, if not longer. The theory is that the courtyard pictured above, the one the titular rear window belonging to the convalescing L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) overlooks, is not just a proscenium allowing him to exercise some of his voyeuristic tendencies. This courtyard and its individual apartments are a physical manifestation of Jefferies' fears in regard to committing to socialite Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly). Each dwelling represents a compartment in Jefferies' own mind, housing a specific misgiving he has about marrying the eager Lisa.

ROCFF Day 2: Free Panel and Free Matinee Showing of Rear Window

Last night proved to be an interesting evening. The opening of the Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival got off to a shaky start with an ill-conceived performance of Bala Sarasvati's CORE Concert Dance Company dedicated to Goldfinger (1964). Not your usual film festival fare, and in my opinion, let's keep it that way. But things soon improved with a special treat, a screening of the recent Pixar short, Presto (2008). Why movies no longer begin with cartoon shorts is a mystery to me. After a screening of Goldfinger, director Guy Hamilton regaled the crowd with anecdotes about his career, including his long stint as assistant director to Carol Reed (The Third Man), or as he referred to his mentor, "his cinematic father". He even pulled out some stories I hadn't heard about the making of Goldfinger. For instance, plenty of aerial footage from the sequence where Pussy Galore's Flying Circus flew over Fort Knox had to be excised because of the male stunt pilots refusing to wear blond wigs. Hamilton laughed, saying in some of the closer passes, one could even see the gruff pilots smoking cigars. On the docket today is a free panel discussion at 10:30 a.m. titled Film Festival Fare: Independent Filmmaking & Its Influence on Hollywood. While I doubt they'll be discussing "mumblecore" it should still prove interesting. The films today: King Kong (1933) at 1:30 p.m.; Rear Window (1954), a special free matinee showing at 4:30 p.m.; and Funny Girl (1968) at 8:30 p.m. I'll be back later with some thoughts on Rear Window. The Panel Discussion and Rear Window are both free events at the 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival. All events take place at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601, (706) 208-0900 or (800) 918-6393.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

ROCFF Movie Review: Goldfinger (1964)

This is the film where it all came together. James Bond, Ian Fleming's Agent 007 on of the British Secret Service, had already become cinema's first action hero, appearing in two earlier films. But Goldfinger was the film that launched the film icon into the stratosphere. What were the elements that finally gelled to rocket the movie into blockbuster classic status? Sean Connery - The athletic grace that the handsome actor brought to Bond's stride served as a perfect counterpoint to Connery's own working-class background, the roughness of which seemed to spring out in the Bond film's fight scenes. As I've said before, this quality of a "gorilla in a tuxedo" - an animal harnessed by the Secret Service, educated in the social skills necessary to pass unnoticed in upper-class circles - seemed to produce the most popular incarnation of the character. Connery had himself been taken under the wing of director Terence Young (Dr. No), who even sent him to his personal tailor when preparing the first film in the series. Current Bond actor, Daniel Craig, has no doubt achieved a measure of his popularity by emulating Connery's performance, shadings of which had all but disappeared in the actors portraying the character in the interim. In Goldfinger, Connery has finally relaxed into the character's skin and quite devilishly starts letting more of the humor shine through in his sarcastic quips, such as his retort to a villain he has just electrocuted, "Shocking! Positively shocking!" Teaser and Opening Credit Sequence - What has now become a Bond tradition began here. This is the first film where the film opens with Bond on a short unrelated mission before launching into the credits and the story proper. Here, the mission involves Connery snorkeling into an unnamed Latin country, stripping out of his wet suit down to the white-jacket tuxedo (first appearance) underneath, a scene to which James Cameron paid homage in True Lies (1994). After completing his task, the film launches into John Barry's theme (lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) as sung by pop star Shirley Bassey. This would be the first of many times that a singer of Bassey's stature would be recruited to sing the theme song. It would also be the first time that the central image in the titles would be a scantily clad woman abstracted in some artistic way, here painted gold and having images from the film projected onto her body. The Perfect Villains - Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe) and his henchman, Oddjob (Harold Sakata) are the quintessential Bond villains. Goldfinger would be the first in a long line of blond Aryans that would scheme to somehow take over the world, in this case by sinking the global economy, a once make-believe threat that now seems more timely with each passing day. And the mysterious mute Oddjob represents Bond through a funhouse mirror - a gargantuan ape in a tux of his own with a propensity for using a secret weapon 007 would feel right at home with, a bowler hat with a razor-edged brim. These two would serve as the template for future Bond villains like Mr. Big and Tee-Hee (Live and Let Die), or Karl Stromberg and Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me). The Beautiful Women - Despite Shirley Eaton's short appearance as Jill Masterson, she is arguably one of the most famous Bond women. This because of her iconic death scene in which Bond finds her suffocated from being covered completely in gold paint. Honor Blackman is a bit more problematic as Pussy Galore. First, there is the condescending name given to her because of her (subtly implied) lesbian orientation. Then there is the fact that Bond is able to seduce her (some would say by force) into falling in love with him, leaving her preference for women behind. It is to Blackman's credit that the role is elevated by her both her physical and intellectual strengths. Blackman was already quite adept in judo, and known to fans from her time on The Avengers (1962-1964). Her dignity in the role makes some of the more lascivious aspects of the character a little more palatable. Gadgets - Aston Martin DB5 anyone? With an ejector seat, no less? The ultimate Bond gadget makes its debut here, for better - providing some nice over-the-top action in the short term - or for worse - laying the foundation for increasingly preposterous gadgets in the longer term of the franchise. The good news is that gadget scenes mean we get to see some of the interesting banter between the cranky Q (Desmond Llewelyn) - who resents the mistreatment his weapons are subjected to - and Bond, some of the most amusing scenes in all of the movies. Locations - Fort Knox, London, Miami Beach, Switzerland. This is the first of the Bond films to include such extensive globe-trotting, and the visuals associated with that are all the more exciting. Can you believe that Connery never set foot poolside at the Fontainebleau Hotel, featured so prominently at the start of the film? You'd never know it from director Guy Hamilton's effective use of background plates shot by him and a skeleton crew. The Bond Dream Team: Ken Adam, John Barry, Peter Hunt, Ted Moore and Richard Maibaum - It wasn't the first time all of them had worked on the same Bond film, but it was the best time, each achieving the peak of their craft in the Bond series. Production Designer Adam gave us a fantastic but not unimaginable extrapolation of what the inside of Fort Knox looked like. Composer Barry finally found the brassy, swing style of music that characterized Connery's swaggering take on Bond. Editor Hunt tightly edited the action setpieces designed for the 110-minute film, avoiding the self-important bloat that would begin to creep into subsequent films in the series. Cinematographer Moore bestowed a shimmering golden luminosity (like gold reflecting on water in Jill's death scene) on the film as a constant reminder of the megalomaniac that lay behind the evil plot at the heart of the movie. And screenwriter Maibaum (along with Paul Dehn in this outing) enlivened Fleming's original story by contrasting the very British secret agent against the rough-and-tumble American setting of much of the film, Kentucky. Guy Hamilton - One of the prime directors behind Bond's most successful outings, Hamilton contributes a cheeky brand of Brit humor in clever setpieces such as the one where Goldfinger trains a laser on Bond, all tied up, as the beam heads toward his nether regions. Hamilton humanizes the superhero, and may be the forerunner of the modern action film director: efficient, stylish, and not above slipping a trademark witticism into the mouth of his protagonist now and then. Goldfinger is the opening night film at the 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival. It screens tonight at 8:30 p.m. where Mr. Osborne and co-host Fred Willard will discuss the film prior to the screening with their guest, director Guy Hamilton. All films screen at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601, (706) 208-0900 or (800) 918-6393. This article was written with the invaluable assistance of the Bloomsbury Movie Guide 2: Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

The 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival (ROCFF) Opens Tonight with Goldfinger

I'm off to Athens this morning to cover Robert Osborne's Classic Film Fest. Seeing as these are well-worn classics that most of you are familiar with, my posts will take the form of shorter dispatches with my thoughts on each film, what it is like to see them in a theater (since many - but sadly not all- are from before my time), special announcements concerning any guests, and anything I think you movie buffs might be interested in. This will be a fun one for me to cover since my blog has recently taken a turn towards a covering older films. You'll hear from me soon.

Natasha Richardson

After almost two days of distressing news regarding a head injury it was announced today that Natasha Richardson is dead. I find myself quite saddened for many reasons. She was always a favorite of mine, performing in such personally memorable films as Ken Russell's Gothic (1986), Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers (1990), and Volker Schlöndorff's The Handmaid's Tale (1990). Her delicate beauty masked a fierce performer that in my opinion was every bit as powerful as her mother, Vanessa Redgrave. And sometimes a little upturn of the corner of her mouth, smiling while she spoke evoked the memory of her swan-like mother in her youth, as the gorgeous Guinevere in Camelot (1967). Richardson inherited a legacy of talent from not only the distinguished Redgrave family but from her father, the late director, Tony Richardson (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner). And the husband she leaves behind is famous in his own right, actor Liam Neeson whom she met in Nell (1994). Her early career showed great promise. She was usually the central character of her films, sometimes playing real-life figures such as author Mary Shelley in Gothic, and the eponymous Patty Hearst (1988). But as is often the case for actresses, mainstream parts dried up as she got older, and she was relegated to supporting performances in comedies like The Parent Trap (1998) and Maid in Manhattan (2002), while still taking on the lead in smaller arthouse fare. Given time, and her talent, I believe a strong second stage to her career would have been inevitable. Richardson was 45. Recommended Films - Gothic, Patty Hearst, The Handmaid's Tale,The Comfort of Strangers

Monday, March 16, 2009

Movie Review: Serbis

Brillante Mendoza's Serbis is the movie Slumdog Millionaire should have been; provocative, illuminating, and accurate in its use of metaphor to describe a country's social climate. The Filipino film is not for the casual moviegoer. It doesn't shy away from explicit sexuality in its depiction of a societal microcosm within the walls of a family owned and operated adult movie theater. It is noisy and chaotic, reminding us of the city outside, but never venturing too far from the confines of the moviehouse. Unlike Slumdog, Serbis is unwilling to succumb to the temptation of half-baked American influences in telling its story. The film's title refers to the hustlers that frequent the 24-hour movie theater soliciting payment from homosexual patrons in Tagalog in return for full service, "Serbis?" - implied sex acts, of course. But the film does anything but imply sexuality. There is graphic nudity and sex, both homo- and heterosexual. The theater (wryly named Family), is home to the owner, Auntie Flor (Gina Pareño), and her extended family. As the decaying theater crumbles around them, its bathrooms disgustingly flooding, the paint peeling off its walls, we are like a fly on the wall observing the travails of Flor's family over the course of a day. Flor is seeking a legal separation from the unseen family patriarch. Son Alan (Coco Martin) contends with a pregnant girlfriend while limping from a nasty boil on his butt. Son-in-law Lando (Julio Diaz) runs the canteen downstairs, diligently taking his son to school, while his wife, Nayda (Jacklyn Jose) tries to hold the failing business together. And all the while, the family casts a blind eye to the shady business dealings occurring inside the theater. The movie's soundtrack is devoid of any score save for source music and opening and closing credit themes. It more than makes up for this with a densely attuned ear towards ambient sound. One is always aware of the city life outside, streaming through the open-air terraces that surround the stairs of the Family theater. It makes the Family (and metaphorically, Flor's family) both rooted in the city yet distinctly removed from it, as if an outcast. Nayda, most closely tied to the theater's day-to-day responsibilities, never leaves its environs, often looking at the passersby from a window. The most exciting quality of Serbis is its unflinching acceptance of what it is; a gritty, but not hopeless, take on the tough life many of us here are entirely ignorant of. Rather than ground its repellent incidents in the palatable American underdog genre tropes as Slumdog did in its use of the game show metaphor, Serbis instead defiantly declares its identity as an alien, or more precisely, foreign film. Serbis captures a way of life foreign to our eyes, and doesn't compromise itself in doing so. Serbis is in limited release. In Atlanta, it is now showing at the Regal Tara Cinemas, 2345 Cheshire Bridge Road N.E., Atlanta, GA 30324, (404) 634-5661 Still provided courtesy of Regent Releasing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Movie Review: The Wrestler, or Jesus, the Other Anti-Hero

by Lissette Decos I had very little time for movie-watching in 2008. A minor detail I should have thought long and hard about before seeing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Not only did it suck, but it was so long that it left no time for any other movies. I did manage to see Slumdog Millionaire, which was good - but in the way that vanilla ice cream is good. And I prefer my vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips. But now that the Oscars have come and gone my movie dance card is clear once again, and I could finally go see The Wrestler. This movie is great - great in the way that a trip to Italy with enough money that you don’t have to stay in hostels and actually eat at restaurants is great. I saw it two days ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. And I love movies that make you think. When the titular wrestler, Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke), is preparing for his big fight it made me think about Rocky and how unlike Rocky he is. When the wrestler has his “pump up/getting ready” montage he doesn’t find the biggest set of stairs in town and run up them. As far as I can see, he doesn’t even own a jump rope. And there are no raw eggs in his diet. Instead, the Ram self-tans, dyes his roots, and injects himself with some sort of steroid. He lifts a few small barbells just to pump up the muscles on his arms. Oh yeah, at one point he stretches his legs a little. Rocky Balboa may have had his faults, but the Ram makes Rocky look like a standup citizen. Randy is a self-absorbed, deadbeat dad with a drug addiction. But that’s where the Rocky comparisons and contrasts ended for me because really the Ram’s more like Jesus or Jesus Christ Superstar. I’m not sure which. I would need to see the latter to be sure. His stripper friend, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), mentions it early in the film and from that point on it was clear to me. There’s a virgin, a prostitute, and he’s a Ram - which let’s face it, sounds a lot like lamb (as in sacrificial). And the clincher is the major (what I like to call) crucifixion scene, where a crazy nut that looks a lot like Pontius Pilate staples him to the cross. At one point they even go up a ladder as if trying to hang him on a cross, the barbed wire they crash onto looking a lot like a crown of thorns. When he comes out of that bout he has a huge gash on his side, and a medic puts his finger in it. Remember when Judas did that to make sure that was really Jesus? Isn’t there a famous painting depicting this scene? I loved The Wrestler in the way that makes you feel like why in the @$%# did this movie not win an Oscar... or five Oscars!? I loved it in the way that I wish Randy the Ram could beat up Benjamin Button. Put Randy in the ring and have his way with Button. I don’t care if it’s old-but-really-young Button or young-but-actually-old Button! Just get whichever Button you want, throw him in the ring, and have your way with him Ram!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Movie Review: Watchmen

The most anticipated movie of the year opened this weekend. That thud you hear is the sound of Watchmen hitting the ground after its precipitous fall from a stunning opening weekend to face what will no doubt be one of the largest drops in attendance on its upcoming second weekend in the box office. With little to appeal to the mass audience, and grand disappointment for its loyal fanboys, word of mouth on this movie shall be less than enthusiastic. Director Zack Snyder has delivered a beautiful reenactment of the comic book that even Max Fischer could be proud of. But all of the sly satirical elements that author Alan Moore so cleverly imbued his story with have been lost in its translation to the screen, leaving behind a hollow shell that doesn't vivify the greatest graphic novel of all time as much as mimic its appearance. It is 1985, Nixon is on his fifth term and the world is quite used to the idea of masked vigilantes running around. But they are mostly retired or in hiding now, due to the Keene Act, passed to restrict their activities after they arrogantly started operating under their own violent code. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) investigates the murder of a retired "mask," the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), leads a dull life as a civilian, often meeting up with his predecessor to swap stories about the good old days. Billionaire Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) releases ancillary products capitalizing on his former fame as "mask" Ozymandias. Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) deals with her identity as Silk Spectre, a legacy left to her by her mother, Sally (Carla Gugino), while her marriage to the godlike Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) slowly crumbles. Rorschach's obsessive pursuit of the "Mask-Killer" will soon reunite the group in order to uncover the truth. Moore's Watchmen was the apotheosis of the superhero genre in comic books. It was Moore's comment on the new realism encroaching into the violent comics of the eighties, comics such as Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, where Batman was depicted as just south of fascistic, an elderly Dirty Harry exacting revenge on Gotham's criminals with little regard for justice or public safety. When Rorschach uncovers a secret vault at a murder victim's apartment containing the Comedian's costume, it could easily be confused for a Bondage closet with its array of leather trappings, represented primarily by a full over-the-head leather mask often seen in fetish art. When the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre use an airship to save some folks from a burning building, Spectre's admonition to one of the victims is, "Listen, I don't care about your 'allergies' or your 'medicine'. Just get in the ship, you asshole." Moore was sharply criticizing superhero comics' loss of innocence, using new characters he created to give the reader some perspective. But he still made them close enough in spirit to allow us to see what Batman, Superman, etc. (actually his characters are based on the Charlton characters, i.e. Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Peacemaker and the Question) could be perverted into in this new trendy wave of darker stories. Snyder seems to have missed these underlying clever touches in adapting the graphic novel to the screen. Ironically, he seems slavishly devoted to most of the book, duplicating the look and feel of many classic panels of art from the book. Our first encounter with each of the characters is virtually a straight visual quote of pages from the book. But when it comes to the substance, there are some fatal lapses of judgement that eviscerate the story. Gone is the Comedian's S&M inflected leather mask, replaced by a traditional Robin-like diamond mask. So is the inferred thematic point that it takes a depraved lunatic to get off on the feeling of power associated with donning a superhero costume. Gone is Laurie's statement towards the victim of the burning house. Along with it goes the irony of having the Silk Spectre and Nite Owl "save" the victims without viewing them as people with individual needs requiring special attention. Worst of all, Snyder seems to glorify the violence that Moore was so adamantly denigrating. When the vigilantes take on street thugs, bones snap violently, bursting through skin. Rorschach's dousing of a convict's face with boiling oil is given a lingering closeup. And the murder of the Comedian, amongst other violent incidents, is given the now-trademark Snyder treatment, the stop-start fast-then-slow-motion effect so prevalent in his previous film, 300. All of these have the effect of beautifying the gore and brutality, the very thing that Alan Moore sought to undermine with his thoughtful commentary on then-current superhero comics. If there's any indication of what kind of success lies ahead for Watchmen, there's this. The 7 p.m. Saturday showing I attended had only been full to a fifth of its capacity despite agreeable weather. And the audience that was present - all geeky 24 of the fanboys - were reduced to a stunned silence as they tried to figure out whether Snyder's cliched use of "The Sound of Silence" in a funeral scene was a sly dig at cinema as a vehicle to promote a soundtrack, or just another hollow signpost used in hopes of evoking an emotion from a technically proficient but artistically untalented commercial director.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pasolini Retrospective - Accattone (1961)

The mark which has dominated all my work is the longing for life, this sense of exclusion, which doesn't lessen, but augments this love of life. - Pier Paolo Pasolini Today would have been the 87th birthday of director Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975). A man of contradictions, he was both a journalist and a poet; once a devout Catholic and later an atheist and Communist. The circumstances of his death are lurid. Brutally murdered in November 1975 by being run over a number of times by his own car, there have been many largely unsubstantiated rumors as to who was behind Pasolini's death. Some said it was an anti-communist conspiracy. Others said he staged his own death, due to the eerie similarities that can be found in his films. A young hustler was arrested, and confessed, to the murder of the openly gay director who - as his closest friend writer Alberto Moravia (Il Conformista) acknowledged - had a proclivity for violent, young men since his early days as a novelist (Ragazzi di vita). Pasolini's first film, Accattone (1961), portrays the lifestyle of these street people - or as he would often refer to them, the sub-proletariat - that lived outside the conflicting political currents that engulfed Italy and instead, held onto a fading code of morality. Vittorio (Franco Citti), known as "Accattone" to his buddies, is a pimp whose days are spent scrounging for food, lamenting his existence, and making bizarre wagers in order to get enough money to get buy. He could just get a real job, but as he observes about the blue collar life:
Accattone: We're all washed-up and everybody avoids us. If we've money we're alright, if not we're nothing. We're finished because we're incapable of making it on our own. Today its better to be a thief than follow this despicable trade.
When his prostitute is sent to jail, he finds himself without income. He meets a naive young woman, Stella (Franca Pasut), who he falls in love with. But before long his desperation for money, and his inability to conform to the mainstream work force, lead him to persuade her to take up the life of a streetwalker, corrupting the only innocence left in his life. Pasolini's early films were often mistaken for a new kind of neo-realism. There is a grittiness, to be sure. But even Accattone, his first film, shows a sense of style not found in the documentary-like work of his Italian predecessors. The credits roll under the strains of Bach's "Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder" from St. Matthew Passion, a piece Martin Scorsese would use to opposite effect in the opening credit sequence for Casino (1995) many years later. Pasolini uses the operatic tune to elevate his tragic lower class heroes. In one fight scene midway through the movie, the theme aggrandizes the wide-angled perspective on two men grappling in the dirt to an epic battle of honor. Scorsese used the same musical motif to diminish the explosive propulsion of Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro). A man flying through the stratosphere of Vegas becomes just another leaf falling from a tree, beautiful but insignificant. This is but one instance of Pasolini's influence on the young Italian-American directors of the seventies. Like Scorsese used De Niro as his cinematic doppelganger, Pasolini formed a long and productive relationship with Franco Citti. Citti's ugly sad-eyed mug spoke of the streets of provincial Italy, the same way De Niro's grimace did of New York's backalleys in Scorsese's Mean Streets (1973) a movie that centers on a subculture similar to the one in Accattone. Is it any surprise then that when Francis Coppola was seeking an authentic Italian actor for the part of Michael's Sicilian bodyguard, Calo, in The Godfather (1972), that he chose Citti to play him? Having already worked as a writer on some of Fellini's films (Nights of Cabiria) in the fifties, Pasolini would also mentor his young assistant director in Accattone whose career would eventually eclipse his, Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris). Pasolini would also reinvent himself a few times in the short span before his death. Ironically, the music from St. Matthew Passion would inspire one such instance of reinvention 3 years later, when he directs one of the most acclaimed takes on the Gospels, Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to St. Matthew). His constant mutability and knack for courting controversy soon made Pasolini a pivotal figure in Italian cinema. This is the first in a series of posts on some of Pier Paolo Pasolini's most notable works.

Monday, March 2, 2009

DVD Review: Wonder Woman

Warner Premiere continues its line of direct-to-video animated releases this week with the release of its fourth film, Wonder Woman. As usual, no shortcuts have been taken here. This is a fresh take on the Amazon Princess that still pays homage to her recent comic book run. As seems to be the case with most animated movies of this ilk, the movie lays the foundation for a future live-action property by summing up the protagonist's history for a new audience. Gone is the World War II-era canon established by the 1970s Lynda Carter TV series, and its comic book progenitor. Instead, the story relies on the 1985 George Perez relaunch, a modern retelling with underpinnings from Greek mythology. In this version it is her people's enmity with the god Ares (Alfred Molina), and their fear of the war-mongering "Man's World," that necessitates the debut of Princess Diana (Keri Russell) in America, hopefully not as an Amazon warrior but as an emissary of peace. Despite the character's popularity in pop culture, and easily identifiable persona from Cartoon Network fare such as Justice League Unlimited, her look and attitude has been subtly modified to befit her Greek heritage. This Wonder Woman is a little thicker, more full-lipped, and exotic looking, a nice counterpoint to the impossibly proportioned Barbie-doll often depicted in the past. Cowriters Gail Simone, wildly popular and masterful as a writer of female protagonists in DC Comics (including the current run of Wonder Woman), and Michael Jelenic perfectly capture the right attitude of this piece. Here's a look at a promotional video (courtesy of Warner Home Video) that gives you a taste: Simone and Jelenic subvert traditional adolescent male fantasies about the character by setting them up through Princess Diana's paramour, Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), and his failed attempts to seduce the avowed feminist raised outside the sphere of male-dominated sexual politics. Particularly funny is a scene in which he tries to get her drunk on tequila, and she manages to drink him under the table. Yes, this is a PG-13 cartoon. It is aimed at the same audience Warner hopes to capitalize on once they manage to get their Wonder Woman project underway after years of being stalled for one reason or another. The rating allows for some realistic violence and a darker tone that would be in keeping with the villain of the piece, the god of war. It also lures some A-list talent to contribute their voices to the project, elevating DC's direct-to-video animated fare over Marvel's. In addition to Russell, Fillion, and Molina, other actors include Virgina Madsen (Queen Hippolyta), Rosario Dawson (Artemis), David McCallum (Zeus), Oliver Platt (Hades), and Marg Helgenberger (Hera). The disc includes a first look at the next animated project they will tackle for release in July, DC's Green Lantern, which MTV recently announced is slated for a live-action debut in December 2010. From the looks of this project, fans have reason to be excited. Wonder Woman is available tomorrow on Blu-ray and Standard DVD. Still and video provided courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment.