By Ray Pride
What if it had been good?
What if it had been a movie?
“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” is the product placement of all time, the runestone, the grail, the altar upon which billions of dollars of cash will be placed in the next few weeks, and its surge of activity in the economy, coursing from fan-hand to Hasbro or Galoob bank, from T-shirt sweatshop to Lucasfilm coffers, may be more instrumental in lubricating the economy than any amount of e-commerce day-trading in Internet stock ever could. The Force is money. The movie is crap. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.
While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.
Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices. Read the rest of this entry »
(Adieu au langage 3D) Roxy Miéville: superstar. With querulous, dark, liquid eyes, and a torso that extends from the back of the screen and a long, aquiline nose that juts out over the audience and nearly to your fingertips to be petted, the sleek, sniffulous mutt owned by Jean-Luc Godard is the most lustrous of special effects in his hectic, cryptic 3D provocation, “Farewell to Language.” Working with cinematographer Fabrice D’Aragno over the course of four years, the now-eighty-four-year-old Godard wreaks multidimensional effects other filmmakers wouldn’t dare, often created with only a couple of small consumer cameras strapped together and wielded by the filmmaker himself. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
One of the most bittersweet end credits I’ve seen in recent movies comes at the end of Paul Haggis’ melodrama about jealousy and point-of-view, “Third Person”: “To all the Belgian tax shelter investors.”
Haggis laughs when I say this on a recent sunny Chicago afternoon resounding with fire trucks and ambulances on the street below the high-up hotel suite. “I had to leave this country to get financing for this film,” he says at a fast clip with a light Canadian cadence. “I knew it was going to be a European film in many ways, anyways. It’s a European sensibility, this film. Besides the fact that two of the cities, Paris and Rome, are European. That didn’t trouble me too much, but it is a shame. We didn’t even bother to think of taking this to studios. We didn’t even try. Why would we? This is nothing a studio would make today. The days of studios making adult dramas is, sadly, long past.”
The look and feel of the movie does hark back to multiple eras. “We shot a lot of interiors at Cinecitta [studios in Rome]. Some we built on locations,” he tells me. “All the hotel suites, the hotel corridors, everything’s built there. I wanted two hotels that had the same footprint exactly. It’s part of the story. Even though [production designer] Larry Bennett changed out the windows and the dressing and the coving and everything, I wanted them to feel like… ‘Is this the same place?’ No, it’s not. ‘Is it?’” Read the rest of this entry »
(A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution) Fifty shades of grayscale: Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 “Alphaville” is eternally nouveau, fifty years passé. One of his most entertaining movies is also one of his most timeless. Drawing on a post-Bogart gumshoe character that Eddie Constantine had already smoked and drank his way through in Z-level Euro-thrillers, Godard creates a future landscape entirely from cannily curated elements of Paris, 1964. The City of Light becomes the portal of portent. All you need to make a movie, or at least a nagging, haunt-your-dreams pre-neo-noir, is a gun, a girl and simmering philosophical asides. The shadowy web etched by cinematographer Raoul Coutard’s black-and-white photography is countered by the luminosity of Godard’s then-wife and matchless muse, Anna Karina. Her eyes shine as the corners of the city lurk, mute yet ominously expressive. Fittingly, this object from the past that partook in an imagined future, of an urban dystopia ruled by a brute computer called “Alpha 60,” is newly restored, cleanly pixillated into the present tense of rapid-fire 1-0-1-0-1-0 sequences of data. Read the rest of this entry »
Mexican director Gerardo Naranjo’s brilliant, urgent “Miss Bala,” which was his country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film, and easily the best film of 2012 so far, is getting an abrupt release in the Chicago area after failing to make the final five for the Academy Awards. It’s under the Fox International banner, which co-produced the film with Canana, the Mexican production company whose principals include Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, and it’s their first release in the U.S. “Miss Bala” is the propulsive story of a working-class woman in Baja California (Stephanie Sigman) who wants to enter a “Miss Baja” competition but who falls into a series of coincidences that send her on the run for the duration of the film after witnessing the murder of members of the drug cartel and DEA agents at a club. (“Bala” translates as “bullet.”) Read the rest of this entry »
The 80-year-old Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme” is a disarmingly beautiful rash of video imagery that ranges from HD in gleaming blues on a luxury liner late at night to cell-phone images that stutter, blanch and bleed, accompanied by murmorous dialogues turning over familiar political idées fixe and the crisp musique concrète-style sound mixes of his work of the past three decades. Godard hectors and cryptographs, finding an expressive character for his digital video palette with far greater success than his 2001 “Eloge de l’amour,” but with less engagement than in the recently reissued “Sauve qui peut (la vie)” (1980), shot on 35mm film, which works with metaphors of self-loathing, prostitution and misogyny. “Film Socialisme” is sketch comedy for cineastes (far less dense than the obsessive and potted essay “Histoires du Cinéma”), those who react to colors and edits and gestural repetitions and thematic fixations, but not those who struggle to cipher a story from fragments. His latest fractured fairytales are also filmmaking as sculpture, expressive through collage and not the verities of theater and text, film as a corrupted dream. (Oh! The nineteenth century!) Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Contrails crosshatch and feather a deep blue sky to the sound of planes. A camera pointed upward, soon to come to earth to trace how the lives of three adults’ lives criss-cross.
Shocking and shockingly beautiful, Jean-Luc Godard’s “Every Man For Himself” [Sauve qui peut (la vie)] is as brutish as it is sensitive. First released in the U.S. in 1980, Godard called it his “second first film,” marking his return to European art-house film after a decade experimenting first with didactic political films and then with emerging video technology. Francis Coppola was the original U. S. distributor, and was set to produce an ill-fated American gangster movie by Godard, “The Story.”
Paul Godard (Jacques Dutronc) is a television filmmaker fighting with his girlfriend, Denise (Nathalie Baye), who cross paths with a prostitute, Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert). The camera’s gaze remains as simple as those opening shots. Blunt statements about power and sexual violence are threaded throughout, and are usually also in the service of describing filmmaking as being an equally brutal act. (The scenes of sexual display are largely absurd, including a Rube Goldberg-style roundelay in a hotel room that resembles a tableau from a late Fassbinder film as well as a mockery of how movies are directed.) Read the rest of this entry »