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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Love Burns: The Films Of Michael Winterbottom

Britain in the nineties produced many remarkable and innovative film directors but none of them have had more of an effect on me than Blackburn born Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom has proven more consistently brilliant and prolific than almost any of his often more publicized peers. If he hasn’t had a break out hit comparable to directors his age like Guy Ritchie or Danny Boyle, he has had a remarkable staying power and nearing his twentieth year of filmmaking Winterbottom’s vision seems as fresh and as vibrant as ever.

Winterbottom was born in the spring of 1961 in the period where the so called Kitchen Sink Drama was really beginning to flourish in England. Like many of the best directors of the sixties, Winterbottom’s own career has adapted the rather unique capability of marked genre hopping while following similar thematic obsessions. Critics of his career often frown upon Winterbottom’s fearless embracing of all types of cinema but they often overlook the distinct patterns that connect even his most seemingly diverse work.
Michael got his start in the same way many of his peers did, namely in the British television of the eighties. His work almost always focuses on the idea of how people relate to each other in the context of the society they are living in, and his earliest television work reflects this from the get go. It isn’t a coincidence that one of his first projects was a documentary on Ingmar Bergman, another director whose obsessions led him towards the sharp bonds and breaks that exist between families and most often couples.
I have unfortunately not seen Winterbottom’s earliest feature films as they are hard to come by in America so I cannot comment on them. I got my first look at his work the way many people did hear in the States with a viewing of his caustic and disturbing road movie Butterfly Kiss in 1995.
Butterfly Kiss is a difficult film but I remember being immediately impressed by how fearless the filmmaking was. Featuring an amazing turn by Amanda Plummer and an eerie washed out color scheme by Seamus McGarvey, Butterfly Kiss served as a harsh announcement that a major new talent had arrived. The fact that the film seemed to divide nearly everyone who saw and reviewed it would also serve as a foreshadowing of Winterbottom’s career to date as he has never gained total acceptance, which has perhaps allowed him to keep following his own very specific and lone path.
Butterfly Kiss’ follow up film was Go Now, a little seen but striking work starring Robert Carlyle as a man who develops multiple sclerosis. Go Now is an extremely important, if often overlooked, film in Winterbottom’s canon as it served as a sign that no matter what issues he might be dealing with the core of the film would always come back to a relationship. Every major film Winterbottom has made since Butterfly Kiss deals with this idea of relationships and how they survive (or dissolve) due to the societal issues that might be surrounding them.
With that in mind, it is much easier to see Winterbottom as a key auteur in modern cinema. His stunning Thomas Hardy adaptation Jude might seem as far removed stylistically from Butterfly Kiss and Go Now but when you center in on the relationship between Christopher Eccleston’s Jude and Kate Winslet’s Sue then it feels much like a small piece of a very well defined but complicated puzzle. The connections between Winterbottoms films aren’t always easy to spot but I would argue that they are indeed there.
Jude was a major work and it would give notice that there were few better directors of women in the modern cinema than Michael Winterbottom. The string of performances that Winterbottom has gotten out of some of the worlds great actresses has been apparent in nearly all of his films since Jude. There is a real sense of security and trust in the way he shoots that seems to put all of his actors at ease, even when they are playing some of the most difficult roles of their careers.
Jude would also continue Winterbottom’s affection for seeking out favorite novels to adapt to the screen. Rarely writing his own films, Winterbottom instead lets his camera and his thematic interests connect his work. Jude’s follow up film, Welcome To Sarajevo would continue this pattern.
Welcome To Sarajevo would garner Winterbottom his first Golden Palm nomination at Cannes and its drastically different almost documentary style harkens back to some of his earliest work for British television. In hindsight I don’t think the film is one of his strongest as some poor casting choices hamper it slightly. Still the film continued his pattern of focusing on strong relations in impossible situations and it is well worth revisiting.
I wrote a long piece here before on Michael’s next film, I Want You, and that can be read here for those interested. That memorable work starring Rachel Weisz was followed by one of his greatest films and perhaps the one that is most closely connected to the Kitchen Sink Dramas he grew up with.

The sharply written ensemble piece Wonderland is a masterful and moving film filled with more nuance and subtlety than most filmmakers would dare to even think about. A confident and brave work with alternating storylines and with some of the most remarkably inventive shooting methods Winterbottom had ever attempted, Wonderland is one of the best British films of the nineties and possibly the first masterpiece of his career.
With Or Without You was a little bit of a let down after Wonderland but it is still an assured and powerful work that would feature Winterbottom reuniting with his Jude star Christopher Eccleston. With Or Without You, with sex being a key motivator, would also serve as a warm up for the most controversial film of Winterbottom’s career, which was just a few years down the road.

After the disappointing reception granted to With Or Without You, Michael would return to Thomas Hardy country with his extremely interesting The Claim. Despite working with a cast featuring Nastassja Kinski, Sarah Polley, and Milla Jovovich, The Claim never quite captured the public's attention. It would garner some acclaim upon release but it is has never garnered the attention that it perhaps deserved.
Two years would go by after The Claim but when Michael Winterbottom returned he seemed to be totally recharged and more confrontational than ever. His projects since have all been marked with a ferociously go for broke attitude that has divided some of his original fans while gaining many more.

The audacious 24 Hour Party People, a work centering on the Manchester music scene and Factory Records in the late seventies, is a simply stunning film. Alive, energetic with its own very distinct sense of rhythm, myth and history, 24 Hour Party People angered a lot of folks with its devil may care attitude concerning what really happened and what is remembered but it is an exhilarating film. Everything from the way Winterbottom uses music (another thing he is expert at), to the look of the film, to the relationships between Steve Coogan’s Tony Wilson and the circle that surrounds him are unforgettable. Again Winterbottom takes the relations between very strong and original characters and places them squarely in a very specific and often well known society. Often like aliens in a recognizable world, the characters who inhabit Winterbottom's films seem somehow separate from their surroundings while being completely enveloped by it.
Winterbottom would return to the more political filmmaking of Welcome To Sarajevo with his next work, the award winning In This World. Again focusing on a relationship, this time between two Afghan refugees, Winterbottom manages to make fairly recent history into a totally personal journey. In This World works well as a searing political drama but even more so as a sharp story of a friendship. It would win Winterbottom many well deserved European film awards in 2002.

Michael would turn his focus next to the Science Fiction genre with the stirring Code 46 starring Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. Centering on a doomed love while mixing in serious ideas about genetic cloning and just what it means to be a human being with a soul, Code 46 stands as one of the most intelligent of all modern Science Fiction films, and Winterbottom directs it with just the right amount of dreamlike realism to make it among the most masterful films of his career.

His next film would prove to be his most controversial and one of his most talked about. I think 9 Songs might be the definitive Michael Winterbottom film, even though it perhaps isn’t his best. Gone is the societal and political struggles that marked his previous work…this is Winterbottom at his purest…just two characters in love, having sex, going to concerts and finally going their separate ways.
Matt, played by Kieron O’Brian, is seen at the beginning of the film flying over the ice covered Antarctic. The audience quickly learns that he is remembering a relationship he had had the previous year with a young American student named Lisa, played by Margo Stilley. The film is his memory of the ways they would make love, bands they saw together and finally the way they split.

9 Songs is an important little film about memory, sex, music and the things that really go into making and breaking a relationship. Much has been made of the explicit sex in the film and the bands Winterbottom filmed for the concert sequences, but what is often lost from the discussion is just how remarkable the little moments in the film are. Bits like Margo Stilley posing in front of the mirror or the two just having dinner in silence are the kind of incredibly real moments you rarely see in film anymore. 9 Songs is also one of the loveliest looking digital productions ever mounted with Marcel Zyskind's color photography and Winterbottom's endlessly inventive camera work being absolutely sublime. For many the sexuality in 9 Songs will keep them away which is too bad as it is a really special film and one of the bravest of the decade. The final shots of the film that conclude with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's haunting Love Burns are among the definitive moments in any Michael Winterbottom film.

9 Songs garnered Winterbottom an equal amount of love and disgust. He seemed unbothered though by even the harshest attacks that the film was hit with and he immediately shot one of the most confrontational films of his career, the crazy A Cock And Bull Story which would again garner him loads of acclaim and an equal amount of disdain. Frankly the fact that Winterbottom would be brave enough to follow up 9 Songs with a work like A Cock And Bull story separates him from almost any other filmmaker on the planet. Anyone else would have retreated into a safe place after 9 Songs...Winterbottom instead charged right back into the war zone.
9 Songs and A Cock And Bull Story (and the documentary The Road To Guantanamo) were artistic triumphs but perhaps even better was his return to conventional narrative filmmaking, the extraordinary A Mighty Heart from last year.
In adapting the story of journalist Mariane Pearl for the screen, Michael Winterbottom creates a grueling, heart wrenching and beautifully realized film that perfectly encapsulates his near two decade film career. Poetic, troubling and equal parts engrossing and hard to watch, the lost relationship at the core of A Mighty Heart can be seen as a perfect extension of all of the passionate relationships Winterbottom has spent his career exploring. A Mighty Heart is a real rare piece of quality fact based filmmaking (with a truly monumental performance by Angelina Jolie) that is much better than many of the films out that are currently being honored this award season.
I'm actually a bit relieved that A Mighty Heart didn't break Winterbottom in America. I would hate to think about him in sanitizing and sacrificing his vision to satisfy a commercial need. I would hate to see him lose his edge and thankfully that edge has never been sharper or better defined.

A Mighty Heart is going to be a hard work to follow up but I suspect Michael Winterbottom will manage it. His next film is entitled Genova and it is due out later this year. After that is Murder In Samarkand which will reunite him again with Steve Coogan.
Michael Winterbottom is one of modern cinema's greatest artists and yet he is rarely mentioned as such. All of his films are marked by ferocious sincerity, authentic vision and an uncompromising nature. Here's to twenty more years of pissing people off, confounding expectations and just being all the way around brilliant.


Later today I hope to be posting one of the longest pieces I have written here in a while as a tribute to one of my favorite modern filmmakers, Michael Winterbottom. Since his newest film, A MIGHTY HEART, got unjustly shut out this award season it seemed a good time to show some respect to this extremly undervalued director.
In the meantime, here is a favorite photo of the great man and I hope everyone will enjoy my look at his career which I should have posted late this afternoon.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

When Bad Art Happens To Great Films

Has anyone else been noticing just how truly horrendous a lot of the artwork from the big studios is getting for their home market? The tendency to not use the original, and almost always superior, theatrical posters has been going on for awhile but some of the latest photoshoppe nightmares (such as this one for the upcoming And Justice For All disc are truly disturbing.
Everything about a lot of these new discs just shows a total lack of respect to the artists and the films. Of course, this has always been a problem on the home video market but I have never seen quite so many sloppy and ill conceived cover designs as I am now. It just baffles me how so studios with millions upon millions of dollars on hand for promotion can't be bothered to care a little bit more for the looks of their products, when small companies like Severin and Blue Underground with limited funds at best can keep continually coming up with some of the most beautiful packaging on the market.
I suppose it all does come down to really caring about the films, which is something many of the large studios seem to have none for (especially their older catalogue films)...but for God's sake couldn't they have at least made Al Pacino's head look like it belongs on his body?
Oh well, I suppose the trend will continue, and apparently I am not the only one disturbed by it as a Google search for 'bad DVD artwork' brought over 200,000 hits. The new And Justice For All disc will be out in a couple of months and I will buy it for the new bonus features...but I won't be displaying this ill conceived artwork anywhere in easy view.

Inside Roxy Music 1972-1974

Gearing up for the release of the double disc THRILL OF IT ALL collection that is getting ready to hit American shores, I was finally able to catch up with the near hour long INSIDE ROXY MUSIC 1972-1974 last night.
I have read a lot of complaints about the British INSIDE series, that has profiled everyone from Syd Barrett to Kate Bush, but I must admit that I am quite fond of it for the most part. While it is true that these are essentially unauthorized low budget productions with limited archival material and no input from the bands themselves, there is something so refreshing about the fact that they really are about the music and not the artist’s personal lives. I find them all really welcome in our age of sick and draining tabloid journalism run rampant.
INSIDE ROXY MUSIC 1972-1974 follows the pattern set up by the other shows in the series where we see a group of musicians, fans and critics being interviewed (talking head style) about just what it is that captivates them so much about the artists in question.

The Roxy Music panel is fairly strong although I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with most of them with the exception of late period bassist Mark Smith and the Roxyrama founder. Still, despite not knowing them, I found them all to be compulsively watch-able, well spoken and intelligent.
The show starts with a discussion of the band’s legendary first single, the blazing VIRGINIA PLAIN, and how unique Roxy Music were from the get go. Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground are correctly mentioned throughout the show as being one of the pivotal influences on Roxy, especially in relation to that first single and STREET LIFE. Interesting comparisons are drawn throughout including an interesting talk on A SONG FOR EUROPE’S connection with David Bowie and why Roxy continue to impress and be talked about long after most bands from the period have faded into obscurity.
Much is made of the dynamic between Ferry and Brian Eno, and the disagreements on Eno probably provide the documentary with its most bracing moments. Particularly telling are the differing views on Eno’s replacement Eddie Jobson who is viewed as musically more sophisticated but perhaps not as creative…an interesting but not totally accurate view as I have always found Jobson’s work to be quite extraordinary especially on the majestic COUNTRY LIFE album.
My favorite aspect of the disc is the serious discussion on how incredibly inventive and original Ferry is. I have stated before that I consider Bryan Ferry as important as any rock artist from the past forty years and seeing his often undervalued work treated with such respect and care was extremely satisfying.
Archival clips from the BBC are spread throughout and even broken up into pieces like they are here, they still show Roxy as one of the most visually and musically astonishing bands of this or any other age. One critic notes that it was like they were aliens who had fallen to earth and viewing these clips, that seems absolutely true.
Like I said, this isn’t a program at all interested in the personal lives of these artists. So no Jerry Hall, no information on the fights between Ferry and Eno…just an hour of serious discussion on why the songs and albums of Roxy Music remain so absolutely essential and vital.

The main problem with the disc is how short it is and the fact that it just covers the first half of Roxy Music’s career. I would love to see a volume two on the underrated second half, a period which is in many ways even more confrontational and interesting than the first. Also looks at the solo careers of Ferry and Eno would be absolutely essential and are hopefully in the works.
Fans of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno should absolutely take a look at INSIDE ROXY MUSIC 1972-1974. While it is no way definitive and just contains a smattering of performance clips, it will remind you of the undeniable triumph this band was and why their music continues to prosper to this day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Critical Reactions: Revolution

Revolution is one of the most notorious failures of the eighties and the following sampling of reviews reflect that for the most part. There were some positive notices, especially a stirring defense from Sight and Sound, but for the most part the critics had their knives sharpened for the film when it came out. Nastassja thankfully was typically not included in the critic’s attacks on the film. Unfortunately her costar, Al Pacino, took most of the trauma when the blame should have gone to director Hugh Hudson and the screenwriter Robert Dillon. Revolution remains one of the colossal misfires of the eighties and, unlike say Heaven’s Gate, time has not been kind to it.

“As the films of Hugh Hudson get more ambitious, they become duller and more long winded…art without heart is rarely worth the bother…dazzlingly shot…more embarrassing than engaging.”
-David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor-

“…pretentious mishap…Kinski is completely forgettable…Pacino’s one note performance has absolutely nothing to recommend.”
-Pat Anderson, Films in Review-

“…gloriously photographed….utterly and fatally devoid of a story…the technical side is immaculate.”
-Shelia Benson, LA Times-

Revolution is less interested in organized political strategies than in personal struggle…the film makes its case powerfully and with conviction, exhibiting a scope, imagination and commitment all too rare in contemporary British cinema.”
-Pam Cook, Monthly Film Bulletin-

“…without a script…scrambled footage, epic and medium tedium, missed chance.”
-John Coleman, New Statesman-

“All in the world are making jokes about Revolution…but I found myself almost too depressed to laugh…”
-David Denby, New York-

“It may also easily be the worst (film of the year)…half-hearted….as mind boggling as it may seem there has never been one good or successful film about the most dramatic war in the history of America. Revolution not only fails to remedy that oversite, it sets back the cause 200 years.”
-Rex Reed, New York Post-

“The first words out of Pacino’s mouth makes us cringe…Pacino’s romance with Kinski is only a trifle less preposterous than his performance…a monumental mistake has been made.”
-Joseph Gelmis, Newsday-

“May kill the genre for good…there may be a smashing movie on the cutting room floor but what’s on the screen is a shambles.”
-David Ansen, Newsweek-

Revolution has been unjustly hammered….it’s intention, and it succeeds, is to create a mood…Pacino touches the heart…The note (Revolution) should, if there’s justice, be redeemed in part if not in full.”
-John Pym, Sight and Sound-

“…solemn, incoherent…could achieve the dubious immortality as the campfire classic of 1986.”
-Richard Corliss, Time-

“…sprawling fiasco…Pacino isn’t the silliest aspect of Revolution, it’s his girlfriend (Kinski)…it’s a hoot, but it’s hell on the constitution.”
-David Edelstein, Village Voice-

"The result was such a disaster that the words “Revolutionary War” were not spoken until 2000’s The Patriot, director Hugh Hudson wasn’t given another big studio budget until 15-years later in I Dreamed of Africa and Al Pacino went into a semi-screen retirement before returning in 1989’s Sea of Love.

"A disaster on par with Burton and Taylor’s Cleopatra, Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate or Beatty and Hoffman in Ishtar. To be timelier, it was an even greater disaster than Battlefield Earth."
-Matt Mulcahey, efilm-

"Revolution serves a great purpose. Don't get me wrong, for a film that depicts the American Revolution there is little to no revolution going on. The lesson is one that director Hugh Hudson and stars Al Pacino, Nastassja Kinski and Donald Sutherland learned: Make an expensive, rotten film and watch your career spiral downward. Pacino, Kinski and Sutherland recovered. For Hudson....that's another story."
-Ned Daigle, BMN-

"Revolution is a pointless, frequently cruel train wreck of a movie, atrociously miscast and laughably overmelodramatic, and apparently filmed without benefit of a script."

"It's so bad that one suspects there must be a good story behind it. It's not easy to goof on this scale, especially not for Mr. Hudson, the director of the Oscar-winning ''Chariots of Fire'' and the even more interesting and complex ''Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.'' The fault is not that Mr. Hudson is English or that the film was shot in Britain. There's an underlying wrong-headedness about it that, like senility, is universal in its effects."
-Vincent Canby, New York Times-

" silliness, and one of the biggest debacles of the 1980s."
-James Sanford, Kalamazoo Gazette-

My Look At Maria's Lovers At Amplifier

Amplifier has just posted my newest article for them and I invite everyone over to check it out. Andrei Konchalovsky's Maria's Lovers from 1985 would mark the Russian directors first English language film and it remains a work that I am very fond of. The subject matter of the film, which stars Nastassja Kinski and Robert Mitchum, seems very relevant right now which is one reason I chose to highlight at the Amplifier.

Speaking of Kinski, I have just given Nostalgia Kinky a visual override and I think it is looking quite striking. I am extremely thankful to my girlfriend's good taste in color schemes as my design skills are severely lacking.

Out 1's Look At Rambo

Brandon Colvin over at Out 1 has posted an terrific, penetrating and intelligent piece on RAMBO that everyone should check out. It is easily among the best pieces I have read on this fantastic film so far and is highly recommended.

Here is a sample from the piece that I am extremely fond of:

"Like a hemorrhaging, rippling, vein-popping version of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), Rambo progresses with blistering intensity and cinematic gusto oozing from every frame."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Harry Moseby Confidential Opened For Business

As Moon In The Gutter has grown more and more in the past couple of months (I’ve seen the number of hits I am getting daily go from around 300 to more than 700) I am noticing that the people visiting seem to be attracted to the wide range of topics I cover ranging from more obscure foreign cinema to modern mainstream American work. It has been really reassuring to find that my all over the map tastes are shared by so many. I must admit though that the area of my interests that give me the most comfort is in the decade that brought me into this world, the 1970s.
So to give myself, and anyone who chooses to visit, a little seventies style sanctuary I have set up Harry Moseby Confidential. What exactly is this little new offshoot of Moon In The Gutter? Basically it is a spot dedicated to my love for the seventies. Here you will find older (and now revised) articles from Moon In The Gutter, pictures of some of my favorite people from the decade, songs, trailers and even clips of news events from the period that left a mark on me. I just started it over the weekend so right now it is fairly small but I am already feeling a sense of relief when I visit it.
So, if you dig the seventies and like the work I do here stop by Harry Moseby Confidential sometime. Think of it as a streamlined and much more specific stop than Moon In The Gutter.
Business will continue here as usual here and at Nostalgia Kinky and I really do appreciate all that continue to visit and comment. I suspect Harry Moseby Confidential will have a fairly limited crowd of visitors, which is totally fine. I have been a bit down and stressed lately and I just needed to set up a place to relax and remember. Hope it proves a pleasant stop.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Odds And Ends: Harem

HAREM would turn out to be Nastassja's weakest film since SPRING SYMPHONY and a real let down after the extraordinary run of films she had just filmed. Still, HAREM is well worth revisiting if just for the lovely photography and great score by Sarde (which apparently has not had a proper release).

I recently found these lobby cards listed on Ebay, but otherwise HAREM has proven a difficult film to find a lot of material on, Nastassja's follow up film is just the opposite though. I will begin my look at one of the most pivotal, if for all the wrong reasons, of all of Nastassja's films later this week. Expect a lot more postings than you have been seeing the past couple of weeks.

Sylvester Stallone Film Poll

With ROCKY BALBOA and now RAMBO, Sylvester Stallone has successfully introduced an entire new generation to his two most iconic characters, and brought his two greatest series to a fitting close. There has always been a lot more to Sylvester Stallone than just Rocky Balboa and John Rambo though, and this weeks poll focuses on his key film rolls outside of these two series.
I have left off a few of the less notable films but have gone out of my way to include a mixture of Stallone’s finest (COPLAND, NIGHTHAWKS) with some of his lesser achievements (JUDGE DREAD, DRIVEN) to provide a balanced look at this man’s fascinating career in front of and behind the camera.
So vote for as many favorites as you’d like. I think the results of this week’s poll will turn out to be among the most interesting that we have seen so far.

Paul Schrader Film Poll Results

Thanks to everyone who voted in last weeks Paul Schrader poll. My long look at BLUE COLLAR will hopefully be appearing in a future issue of the Amplifier. Here are the results to the poll:

2. CAT PEOPLE (25)
4. MISHIMA (22)
5. HARDCORE (20)
6. AUTO FOCUS (20)
10. LIGHT OF DAY (12)
13. TOUCH (9)
14. DOMINION (9)
15. THE WALKER (7)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Return To The Green Inferno

Sylvester Stallone’s RAMBO is the most entertaining, brutal, vicious, nihilistic and savagely bad-ass action film in almost 25 years. You would have to go back to the Italian cinema of the early eighties to find a more exhilarating and primal film than the one Stallone has delivered here.
RAMBO is the absolute opposite to pretty much any other film out right now which is one thing that makes it so incredibly refreshing. It’s a grueling, ugly, rain and mud soaked work that feels more like an authentic Grindhouse film from a few decades ago than any other modern film I could possibly imagine.
Stallone, directing as if he is channeling Ruggero Deodato, thankfully pulls the series out of the macho cheesiness that hampered Parts Two and Three and returns his iconic character to the downtrodden outsider that marked the masterful FIRST BLOOD twenty five years ago. If ROCKY BALBOA was a heartfelt haunting elegiac finale to his key series, then his RAMBO is a angry go for the throat attempt at reclaiming the action genre from the Michael Bay slick hell than it has found itself in the past two decades.
Beginning with some chilling real life news footage of modern day Burma, Stallone’s film centers on a group of Christian missionaries who seek out an American boatman named John Rambo to take them up the river where they can deliver medicine and supplies. After doing so, the missionaries are kidnapped and Rambo returns with a group of mercenaries to rescue them. That’s the plot of this lean and savage film in a nutshell. Like the best of Stallone’s work, the screenplay for RAMBO is a jewel of minimalism and simplicity. Stallone has always been a genius at taking the simplest of stories and transcending them into something unexpected and surprisingly complex, and RAMBO does just that.
RAMBO fits very nicely into the classic Hollywood mold that Stallone has always delighted into playing into. Here we have all of the stock characters of the genre…evil villains, a few key supporting characters and even a damsel in distress surrounding a lone isolated title figure. The genius of Stallone is that he values these standard conventions…he embraces them, and in his best work he finally transcends them.
Stallone’s new film is a triumph on nearly every front. Easily the best of the series since FIRST BLOOD, RAMBO works mostly as a tribute to just how powerful a figure Sylvester Stallone can be. Gone is the slender and musical vision that populated Parts Two and Three and in its place is a brooding beast of a man who casually tosses off lines like, “Fuck the world” and “Live for something or die for nothing” like a practiced mantra that he whispers to himself each morning upon waking up. Stallone’s Rambo is quite unlike any other character in film history…half hero and half horrific killing machine, John Rambo remains a terrifying and yet totally enduring creation.
Stallone's RAMBO might be the most violent film ever released with an R Rating in Hollywood history. It’s the kind of film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN would have been if Steven Spielberg had any real kind of film making balls, which he doesn’t. By the way, if someone like Spielberg’s name was attached to this film exactly as it is, it would be greeted as a revisionist classic by the same critics who are currently trashing Stallone. RAMBO is the kind of film that will invite disdain from the critical establishment, intellectuals and film snobs, but trust me, this film will last much longer than most of the ‘great’ film that will appear throughout the upcoming year.

I mentioned at the outset the Italian films of the early eighties and it is productions CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, THE NEW BARBARIANS and CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE that Stallone is clearly paying tribute to here. Fans of those films would be advised to check out RAMBO as soon as possible even if they have never admired the work of Sylvester Stallone. Even more than the works of more celebrated genre enthusiasts like Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone hits on an authentically brilliant and grimy feel with RAMBO that is incredibly seductive and hard to shake. With its many be-headings, severed limbs, stakings and stabbings, the carnage in RAMBO achieves an almost surreal and dizzying quality that is rarely seen in even the harshest of American or World cinema.
The difference between RAMBO and the Italian pictures that preceded it is a marked one though. Whereas Deodato had his cannibals, and Fulci had his zombies, Stallone has Stallone. Sylvester Stallone is his own greatest creation and as he did with ROCKY BALBOA, he return his second greatest character to an absolute grace with RAMBO.
I suppose it's not a perfect film and I am sure re-viewings will make its problems clearer but for now I just want to bask in the excitement of it. As the late Jerry Goldsmith's theme kicked in yesterday and RAMBO came to a close, I felt a real satisfaction that I rarely feel anymore in a theater. RAMBO will be a punching bag for critics and many film goers but I highly doubt I will enjoy or be more enthralled by another American film this year.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Beineix's Moon In The Gutter At Ebert's Site

A couple of weeks after casually mentioning Beineix's MOON IN THE GUTTER in his new review of DIVA, Roger Ebert is now featuring an article he wrote on Nastassja Kinski at Cannes in 1984 as one of the lead stories over at his site. I've always liked this portrait of Kinski and I was quite stunned to see it suddenly reappearing as one of his top stories with a lovely shot of her from Beineix's film.
Visit the above link for Ebert's talk with Kinski and some of his views on the film that inspired my main blogs name. Also my best to Roger Ebert who I know has gone back into the hospital. I wish him a quick and speedy recovery.

Beineix's Moon In The Gutter At Ebert's Site

A couple of weeks after casually mentioning Beineix's MOON IN THE GUTTER in his new review of DIVA, Roger Ebert is now featuring an article he wrote on Nastassja Kinski at Cannes in 1984 as one of the lead stories over at his site. I've always liked this portrait of Kinski and I was quite stunned to see it suddenly reappearing as one of his top stories with a lovely shot of her from Beineix's film.
Visit the above link for Ebert's talk with Kinski and some of his views on the film that inspired this blogs name. Also my best to Roger Ebert who I know has gone back into the hospital. I wish him a quick and speedy recovery.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Who's That Lady?

Note: I have since changed the picture in teh template above, but invite you to please read my tribute to Mariana that is linked below.

I have gotten several emails in the past couple of weeks inquiring as to who the striking lady is that is currently gracing my template above. For those who don't know and are wondering, that is Italian actress Marina Pierro in a still from Walerian Borowczyk's THREE IMMORAL WOMEN. Pierro is best known for her wonderful work with Borowczyk, surely one of the great partnerships in all of modern cinema, and she can also be seen in Jean Rollin's unforgettable THE LIVING DEAD GIRL and briefly in Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA.
I wrote a bit on Marina early on in this blogs history so if anyone would like to read that tribute please click here.

Marina's official website has some of the most breathtaking pictures online and it is linked above as well. I plan on switching the template design pretty regularly but I must admit that this one hasn't even began to grow old yet. Thanks to the people who inquired.

The Essential Paul Schrader: Focused And Hardcore

One of the most telling moments of Paul Schrader's career actually doesn't occur in one of his films but instead in an interview he gave concerning Peter Biskind's book EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS. During the interview a rather frustrated Schrader correctly notes that the biggest problem with Biskind's book is that he seems incapable of admitting that many of the seventies best director's did quality work after the early eighties. It seems to be a common misconception by many film fans that all of the best work by artists like Schrader, Scorsese, Coppola, Bogdanovich and so on just happened in that very special period in the seventies. While that might be true to an extent it is certainly arguable in all of their cases that some of their most important, personal and challenging work came later and of Schrader this is absolutely true.
I had originally hoped to write reviews of several of Schrader's films this week but the death of Heath Ledger and some personal issues have kind of stopped me. I will eventually though but in the meantime here is my own offering of what I think the great Paul Schrader films are. I find his career to be much more balanced than most fans give it credit for and he remains I think one of the only key directors who have managed to deliver masterworks in the seventies, eighties, nineties and finally this decade.
I hope the following list proves of interest.

1. BLUE COLLAR (1978):
Schrader's directorial debut is one of the best films of the seventies and one of the most searing. With one of the most combative casts in any film in place, Schrader delivers a mesmerizing tale of corruption, friendship, betrayal and the often forced difference between both class and race.

2. AUTO FOCUS (2002):
Schrader's stunning return to form stands as one of his great works and one of the best films of this, now not so young, decade. Featuring amazing performances from Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe and Mario Bello, Schrader's film about tragic HOGAN'S HERO star Bob Crane is a complex and moving work that got lost in the shuffle when it came out back in 02.

3. PATTY HEARST (1988):
I wrote a long piece on why I think this is one of the great and essential films of the eighties before. It can be read here. The current unavailability of this important film is baffling and absolutely criminal.

Richard Gere's performance as hustler Julian Kaye remains as electric and right on as it was nearly thirty years ago. With Schrader's studied direction, the music of Giorgio Moroder and the slick production design of Ferdinando Scarfiotti this is the film that created everything eighties cinema should have been but finally rarely was.

5. CAT PEOPLE (1982):
I took a long look at Schrader's most controversial film here, which I hope everyone will check out.

6. HARDCORE (1979):
One of Schrader's most personal and interesting films featuring a terrifying performance by George C. Scott (just about a career best) and a moving supporting turn by Season Hubley. The key to the film, in fact, lies not in Scott's obsessive search for his daughter but in the unlikely relationship he forms with Hubley. The film's final chilling moments are some of the most effective Schrader has ever shot.

7. AFFLICTION (1997):
Often considered the best of Schrader's later works, this film falls just below AUTO FOCUS as his best film from the past ten years. Steered by an eerie and astonishing performance by Nick Nolte and Schrader's expertly handled script from Russell Banks novel, AFFLICTION briefly returned Schrader to everyone's cinematic radar where he has always belonged.

A striking extremely well thought out film that unfortunately seemed to slip under the radar immediately. The Venice locations and work by Christopher Walken and Natasha Richardson combines into an unforgettably hypnotic and seedy cocktail.

9. MISHIMA (1985):
Considered by many to be Schrader's best film and it is definitely his bravest. I must admit the film has always left me a little at a distance, which is perhaps the point but it keeps me from including it higher on the list.

10. LIGHT SLEEPER (1992):
An almost masterpiece that garnered a lot of acclaim when it has first came out but it feels oddly dated now, much more so than almost any other work in his canon.

11. FOREVER MINE (1999):
Schrader's attempt at an all out modern noir is misguided, little seen and frustrating. Still when his camera focuses on the face and body of Gretchen Mol it is quite striking and sublime, like they are both channeling an erotic fever in cinema long since vanished.

Schrader's weaker films are for the most part noble failures. Works like LIGHT OF DAY (1987), TOUCH (1997), and DOMINION (2005) all suffered from studio manipulation and were bitches for the great man to get made. I have yet to see his newest film, THE WALKER, but am eagerly anticipating it.
Schrader's legend was cemented with his script for Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER but his career as a director needs more attention.
For a great if outdated look at his career, may I recommend SCHRADER ON SCHRADER and it looks like coming in March is the new PAUL SCHRADER CONTEMPORARY FILM DIRECTORS which will hopefully prove to be a worthwhile companion to his films.
My look at BLUE COLLAR will hopefully appear this weekend.

Moon in the Gutter (Month By Month)

BLOG CREATED, EDITED and WRITTEN BY JEREMY RICHEY: Began in DEC 2006. The written content of all posts (excepting quotes from reviews, books, other publications) COPYRIGHT JEREMY RICHEY.