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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—16 April 2010

It's Not A Great Sign When...: announce your revered film festival's lineup and pretty much the first thing everybody on the receiving end says is, "Yeah, but what about this one?..." And this goes across the spectrum of cinephilia. On the one hand, I've heard from friends and Some Came Running commenters who are disappointed that the current Cannes lineup as announced is bereft of new and much-anticipated work from Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Assassin), Jia Zhangke (Moving the Arts and/or The Age of Tattoo) and—not that the list stops here!—Terrence Malick (Tree of Life). And, on the other hand, you have Jeffrey Wells, who apparently has mistaken Cannes for an offshoot of Spike TV or Starz or something, "requesting" "some kind screening" of...wait for it...Sylvester Stallone's upcoming monkey-gland injection The Expendables.  "We're speaking of the ultimate rube social event as well as a possible cinematic revelation. In a highly boisterous, rock-n-roll, animal-house, cheap-whore, anyone-who's-anyone-has-to-be-there sense, The Expendables must be screened on the Cote d'Azur between 5.12 and 5.20." Rube social event, sure thing. In fairness to Wells, he also groused about the Tree of Life omission.

One doesn't know what to say except maybe "it ain't over 'til it's over," because, after all, The Directors' Fortnight has yet to be announced. There's a nifty little feature over at ioncinema speculating on which films could be last-minute additions, and it mentions a few that even some of hardcore film lovers might not have thought of. I myself of course was thinking of the new Bela Tarr, The Turin Horse, whose theme seems beyond perfect for Tarr.  I had to laugh at how the ioncinema piece put it: "the the film is freely inspired by an episode that marked the end of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s career." I dunno, I never quite thought of Nietzsche as having a "career." That struck me as funny.

But all right. My questions here are, are the howls of complaint coming up this year louder than they have been in previous years? Are they drowning out the anticipatory enthusiasm the cinephile crowd might have for other films, in or out of the competition? Are there potential attendees out there who are as full of Kiarostami as I am of Iñárritu and Mikhalkov? (I doubt it, and if they are they're silly, but it's a question worth asking, if only to maybe lure silly people out of the woodwork.)

Weirder Things Have Happened. Haven't They?: Yes, it is kind of peculiar that Neil LaBute directed the Chris Rock/Martin Lawrence-starring remake of the 2007 British farce Death At A Funeral. But as I point out in my review of that film for MSN Movies, weirder things have happened. Such as Molly Ringwald showing up in a Godard film. I thought it might be a diverting parlor game, as it were, to open comments up to citations of weirder-still cast/director, writer/director, what have you, matchups, and observations on the quality of the results. For the record, I think one of the most striking things about Ringwald in Godard's King Lear is how he shoots her in just about the way he shot every woman he worked with in that period, and hence, she ends up coming off like a more or less typical Godard lead actress. And hey, how about some love for the fact that a Godard work will be at Cannes...

One weird cast/director match-up I’d nominate would be Richard Pryor, Robert Blake, and Marilyn Manson in David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY; odd even for him, I’d say.
Do we count the classic line, “Robrt Altman worked with every actress from Lilian Gish to Lindsey Lohan”? ‘Cause he did. If not, I think the king of these has to be Ryan O’Neil and Stanley Kubrick.
Not an actor/director matchup, but brainfryingly odd, is the fact that James Stewart’s final movie Africa Monogatari (there were some TV appearances afterwards but that’s all) was based on a screenplay by Shuji Terayama, director of Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Riot in the Streets. According to IMDB, Stewart ‘said that he and his wife were vacationing at a game preserve in Kenya when they came across the filmmakers shooting this picture. He said he was persuaded to make a short appearance, speaking a few lines, because he thought it would help to promote wildlife conservation. “Never did understand what it [the film] was all about”, he said. “I did it on a whim.”’
Africa Monogatari is also NANAMI: INFERNO OF FIRST LOVE director Susumu Hani’s last film.
Oh God, a Jeff Wells name drop. The same guy who says “Who?” in reaction to half of the directors who have films in the lineup this year.
I’m like 99% positive that neither The Assassin nor Ciqing shidai (“The Age of Tattoo”, if you insist) have started shooting. Last I read the latter project was pretty much dead.
If TEN and FIVE had been followed up by TWO AND A HALF then yes, I’d be about done with Kiarostami, though less full of him than weary of the diminishing returns. His experiments at removing himself from the production of his own films raise several interesting questions—about authorship, about being a creator in a censorious state—but the productions themselves don’t seem charged by the inquiries. Instead they surrender to their own withdrawal; FIVE struck me as particularly listless, a flick-of-the-wrist whim. But his episode in TICKETS was something perfect, a marvelously sustained effort at constantly shifting the audience’s sympathies until everyone is worthy of our affection. And SHIRIN sounds fascinating, though I haven’t yet caught it. So I’m definitely looking forward to whatever he comes up with next. Silliness lured out; carry on.
What decade does Jeff Wells live in where ‘rubes’ can still be tossed off as a genuine term of scorn instead of something that just makes him look bitter and out-of-touch?
The pairing of Meryl Streep and Wes Craven on MUSIC OF THE HEART springs immediately to mind when it comes to bizarre director-actor matchups. Despite the fact that he won a Best Actor Oscar for the performance, I find Sean Penn unbearable in MYSTIC RIVER – his mannered, overwrought acting seems totally out of place in a Clint Earwood film. Another odd cinematic tag team is that of Terence Davies and Gillian Anderson for HOUSE OF MIRTH. While Ms. Anderson was fine on “X Files,” nothing about her performance on that show suggested – at least to me – that she was suited to play an Edith Wharton heroine. That being said, Anderson gives a wonderful performance in the film, which is one of the best of the aughts. Actually, I also found Davies’ desire to adapt “The Neon Bible” somewhat quizzical. “Minor” isn’t the right word for the novel. If John Kennedy Toole hadn’t gone on to write “A Confederacy of Dunces,” I can’t imagine it ever being published. Quentin Tarantino, as I recall, claimed (falsely) to have acted in KING LEAR when he was doing publicity for RESERVOIR DOGS. Later QT would brag that he knew he could get away with this fabrication because, in his inimitable words, “no went to see that piece of shit.” (My own estimation of Godard’s film is somewhat at odds w/ Tarantino’s.) Of course, I also remember Godard himself claiming never to have read the Shakespeare play. The new Godard plus the new Lodge Kerrigan and the new Hong Sang-soo are the pictures in this year’s announced Cannes lineup that I’m most interested in seeing, with the Valerie Plame picture being the least. As for Kiarostami, I can imagine some holding it against him that he’s working at all, much less making films w/ Juliette Binoche, while his former collaborator Jafar Panahi languishes in the custody of the Iranian authorities. Its’ not a line of thought I personally subscribe to, but I don’t think it’s altogether silly either.

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