Friday, May 31, 2013

Russian-speaking American actors again

The movie Meteor is on TV as I write this. It has an all-star cast including Brian Kieth as a Soviet scientist. Kieth was fluent in Russian and helped coached Alan Arkin in his Russian dialog in The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming.

Another surprising Russian-speaking actor was Fess Parker, TV's Davey Crockett and, later, Daniel Boone.

Both these guys seemed way too American. There are scores of millions of Russians and I'm sure there must be some who resemble Fess Parker or Brian Kieth. But they just don't look Russian.

I saw an interview with Nikolay Burlyaev who had the title role in Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood and he said that he was surprised he got the role as a kid because he didn't think he looked Russian. He thought he looked American.

Kickstarter backlash

Already the guy who directed Clerks has decided not to use Kickstarter to fund Clerks III. If Zach Braff is ruining Kickstarter, then the backlash against him is helping to save it.

On the other hand, Kickstarter is a commercial enterprise itself and people scrambling to "save" it are no better than the dupes who donated millions to Time Warner to make a Veronica Mars movie.

There've been other complaints about Kickstarter. There are people who say they won't contribute to anyone who hasn't contributed to other people's projects, which doesn't make sense to me since, if they have money to give away, why do they need donations?

The only Kickstarter project I know anything about is a local no-budget movie. They raised a modest $900 on Kickstarter. No one's getting paid on the movie, the director of photography is a college student checking out equipment from his school. But the director is coming out of it with several hundred dollars worth of recording equipment he bought with the donations.

The guy has a job. He really couldn't come up with $900 on his own? He's like the Zach Braff of minimum wage workers, demanding donations when he could scrounge up the money himself.

And is a $900 movie really going to be that much better than a $100 movie? What's he going to get for $900 that he couldn't have gotten for $100? It'll have better sound, but would the sort of person who would watch a $900 movie care? Forty years ago, they'd be filming without sound on 16mm and dubbing.

If you're going to make a $2,000 movie, make it for $100 instead. That'll put you $1,900 ahead when you start counting your profits.

In fact, go down to the Community Access TV station and make it there for free.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Woody Allen, Lassie

I mentioned this on here long ago.

Ron Howard discussed a three-part episode of Lassie he appeared in when he was fourteen. He described how it was filmed. Each scene was done in one shot. They would set up the camera. The actors would arrange themselves on set. The director would yell "Action". The actors would act out the scene. The director yelled "Cut!" and they rushed to the next scene. There were no retakes. There was no indication that the director cared anything about anything until the final shot.

Ronnie had to cry at the end. It's not that easy----you can't just break out crying at the drop of a hat. But the director shot a closeup of Ron standing with his hand on Lassie's shoulder. He yelled "Cut!" Ronnie was mortified. He knew it was going to look terrible.

The final shot was a close-up of Lassie. Ronnie decided he could salvage the scene with some hand acting. He began sort of clawing at Lassie's fur to show the depth of his emotion. The director yelled "Cut!" then rushed up to Ronnie and shouted, "Don't you EVER fuck with Lassie's close-up!"

Now I read an article about Woody Allen. He's like a laid-back version of the Lassie director. He almost never talks to the actors. He hangs around until it was time to shoot a scene, then they film the scene, usually in a single medium shot. If it's okay, he moves on to the next scene. He doesn't have to shoot coverage and he doesn't shoot unnecessary re-takes. He just goes on to the next scene.

I don't know how he was when he was younger, but Allen is 77 now. He likes to go home at 6 o'clock. He says that people like working with him because they're not there 18 hours a day and the actors don't have to do endless retakes from different camera angles.

But I have read actors like Mia Farrow complain that Allen doesn't rehearse actors and gives them little direction. I read that during the filming of A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy his bit of direction to Jose Ferrer was telling him that his acting in one take was at a made-for-TV movie level. He must have changed since then.

Of course, Allen and the Lassie director had the advantage of working with professional actors. He's not like Peter Bogdanovich who gave major roles to models and non-actors and did extremely well. He made Cher a star.

Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino had a lot of Hmong cast and crew who had never been in a movie before. He said that he gave them basic pointers on acting then filmed at a fast pace, not giving them time to think too much about it. I heard most of it was filmed in one or two takes. It had a 35-day shooting schedule and was filmed in 33 days. I did hear some criticism of it, that not enough help was given to the young actors in it, but I didn't notice. I thought they were fine.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Zach Braff talks to Woody Allen

Charles Bronson and Ingmar Bergman had the same publicist. Bergman wanted to meet Bronson, so the publicist took him to a movie set Bronson was working on. Bronson started explaining what they were working on. They were doing a shot with a machinegun so they were setting up the fake blood and fake bullet strikes. "But you're a director, so you know about all this," Bronson said.

"No, no, this is very interesting," Bergman said.

"You mean, you don't make movies with machine guns?" Bronson said.

I doubt this happened, but I read it in a book.

I was reminded of it when I read Zach Braff enthuse that he had recently explained Kickstarter to Woody Allen. Allen is 77. He never heard of it. He was interested and asked Braff intelligent questions about it.

I like to think I would have been less giddy about explaining something to Woody Allen than Braff was.

I already attacked Braff for the Kickstarter thing. I know he says he's putting his own money into the movie, but money from where? From other investments? Is he taking it out of the stock market? Because if he is, to hell with him.

He needs to sacrifice. He needs to eat out less often. He needs to trade in his Porsche for a Corolla. (He'd still have a better car than me.) He needs to sell his house and get an apartment. If he already has an apartment, he needs to get a cheaper apartment. He needs to buy one less ivory backscratcher.

That's all he has to do. He can still be rich. He just needs to make a slight change in lifestyle. That's all I ask.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Zach Braff, Kickstarter

Didn't Orson Welles pay for the movie Othello himself? He kept having to stop production so he could run off and take acting jobs to make more money for the picture.

Now Zach Braff is assuring us that if he wanted to make money, he would get another sitcom. So why doesn't he do it instead of grubbing for money on Kickstarter? He denies he's worth the $22 million that's been reported and claims he has to fund his vanity project by raising money from people of modest means. He has to do this, he says, because he doesn't want financiers to interfere with his casting. So he's offering a speaking role in the movie to anyone who donates ten thousand dollars.

I thought this was illegal in California-----acting is a profession there and charging someone to be in a movie is considered bribery.

It is very strange. Over $5 million was raised on Kickstarter for a Veronica Mars movie. That money went straight to Time Warner which is making the movie.

With Braff's movie, the two million is basically letting some investors make a five million dollar movie for three million.

He ought to pay for it himself. It would focus his mind on being cheap and profitable. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quantity is important, too

I don't know if this is true but I heard that Will Ferrell developed the theory on Saturday Night Live that there was no point in spending more than twenty-five minutes writing a sketch. Putting more time into it didn't improve it or didn't improve it enough that it mattered.

Probably right. I remember being surprised to learn that most novelists did little or no re-writing. They would write the thing and when they got to the end, they were done.

And it was noted that Will Farrell has done ten movies in the time that Mike Myers has done nothing but a couple of Shrek movies.

Woody Allen has said that he knows there's now pretty much no chance of him making another great movie. But his father lived to be over 100, and didn't he have a job when he was 90? Allen's mother was in her late 90s when she died. And he's 77, so he could well have another fifteen productive years left in him. Some people have attacked him for making a movie a year and thought he should put more time into each one, but should he spend five years developing a movie at this point?

You'd think Allen would be like Sidney Lumet who did his last movie, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, on digital video because he'd worked on celluloid for sixty years and, as he put it, it was a pain in the ass. Or like Eric Rohmer who used smaller and smaller crews as he progressed. His last films were just him, a camera operator and a sound man. Allen has less and less money to spend, but there are things he could be doing to cut costs and speed up production even more. If he cut back to a crew of three working on digital video, he could make movies as fast as he could write them. He could do thirty movies in fifteen years if he applied himself.

In other art forms, perfection is undesirable. Flaws are part of the aesthetic. Filmmakers like Guy Maddin intentionally make their films look primitive. Jon Jost has complained about people adding film scratches to their digital videos. Why intentionally add flaws when you can work really fast and have them occur naturally? There was a time when jump cuts were done out of necessity.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Kai the Hatchet-Wielding Hitchhiker

I understand that people thought it was funny when a hatchet-wielding hitchhiker who stopped a huge mentally ill man from killing people by hitting him over the head with the blunt end of a hatchet gave a moronic, obscenity-laced interview for the local news. And I can understand how people might have admired the moron. He appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and had a following on the internet. But now...

Now he's been arrested for murdering a man, beating him to death with a blunt instrument.

Years ago, I was reading a biography of Charles Bukowski. It described one incident. Bukowski went to a reading by William S Burroughs. He tried to talk to Burroughs and felt Burroughs had snubbed him. He became extremely angry.

Look at him! I could knock him down with one punch! Bukowski said to Harold Norse.

Yeah, but you'd be dead because he'd shoot you, Norse said.

And I felt a fleeting admiration for William S Burroughs, a thin, frail old man who was far more dangerous than Bukowski or Norman Mailer or any of these other violent, thuggish writers who like to brag about how tough they are.

Then I remembered that Burroughs killed his wife in Mexico City while he was drunk, trying to shoot a glass off her head like William Tell. He fled the country and was convicted of manslaughter in absentia. 

It's like Kanye West. It was admirable when he was on a telethon raising money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He went off script and talked about the undeniable racism in the media against black victims there. "George Bush doesn't care about black people," he said. He became a hero to quite a few people.

But then he did it to Taylor Swift and it seemed so much less charming.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tea Party Patriot groups are apolitical?

It's pretty obvious that if a group has the word "Tea Party" or "Patriot" in its name, it's a political organization and not any sort of legitimate educational group as the law requires if it's going to be exempt from federal taxes. If this weren't the case, the right-wingers wouldn't have their panties in such a twist. But now they're attacking the IRS claiming they were persecuting these morons by requiring them to explain what sort of groups they were when they demanded tax exemptions.

Obama isn't caving in to the Republicans. He is a Republican only more so. Bush was Obama-lite.

I won't go into it. You know what I'm talking about. It's too depressing.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Valhalla Rising

Watched Valhalla Rising, which I liked pretty well. Terribly violent. There was very little dialog and no gags. It came across as sort of pretentious, but there are worse things that being sort of pretentious.

I heard Salman Rushdie on C-Span. He talked about a story he read, a tragic story about the horrible things that happen to family after an earthquake in Chile. He thought it was funny just because it was so fast-paced. The story was very short, just a couple of pages, but it packed so many terrible things into it came across as a joke.

Then there was a spoof I saw somewhere of a Bazooka Joe comic. It was supposed to be from Sweden. We see a slow moving comic strip. The first panel, someone asked Baz√łka Ingmar what is black and white and green. We see two or three pictures of Ingmar contemplating this. In the last panel he says, "Two figures of death fighting over a pickle."

Pacing's the key.

The trouble with The Great Gatsby

The book was short. Like 180 pages. The movie ought to be about 65 minutes long. Edgar Ulmer should have directed it for PRC. But, of course, they wanted the movie big.

I'm in the middle of watching the old Robert Redford/Mia Farrow/Bruce Dern version. It's not bad. Mia Farrow named her adopted daughter Daisy after her character, which is weird.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Aura

A little like Breaking Bad

I watched the Argentine movie, The Aura, which is apparently being remade in Hollywood. The original films are always better. Translating a foreign film and setting it in the US never quite works. It's like making a western based on a Samurai movie. It almost works, but there are things that don't make sense.

The movie is about an epileptic taxidermist with a photographic memory who wants to commit the perfect crime. He and a taxidermist friend go hunting. His friend has an emergency and runs home leaving him there in a cabin. He discovers that the missing hunting lodge owner is a criminal plotting a crime similar to what he wanted to attempt and he sees his chance to become involved.

A bit like Breaking Bad on a different scale. And sort of like a grim version that comic The Ghost and Mr Chicken (a newspaper typesetter desperately wants to be a reporter), Ernest Goes to Camp (a handyman desperately wants to be a camp counselor), and wasn't there a Jerry Lewis movie where a janitor so desperately wants to be a private eye that he assumes the identity of a detective whose office he cleans?

I don't think there are any where the star wants to commit a serious crime.

But the movie was great. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

How to watch a movie like an opera

Well, what can I tell you. I kept falling asleep trying to watch a foreign film with subtitles, so I did that thing that opera guy suggested.

There was an opera fan interviewed by Rick Steves on the radio. The opera guy explained that you're not going to follow the plot of an opera by watching and listening to the words. You should read about the thing beforehand, find out what it's about, learn the storyline, then go and relax and listen to the music.

So I looked this movie up on Wikipedia. Whoever the people are who write the movie descriptions on there, they always give away everything in the plot. This description for this one was shorter than most of the others, but I read it, knew what was happening, and relaxed and watched the movie.

I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't have done it. I did watch another movie in the same genre from the same director, and I sat there reading all the subtitles and it was a more interesting experience. Both movies were technically mysteries, although the endings came as no surprise.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Innapropriate laughter in low budget cinema

When I was a kid, my mother was taking a drawing class. The teacher was male and they had nude models who were female. My brother was talking to one of his friends who was amazed by this. The model comes in there in front of the whole class? Yes. And does the teacher laugh when she comes in?

My brother became annoyed. NO, he doesn't laugh! Why would he laugh? You think men laugh when they see naked women?

Children weren't terribly sophisticated in those days.

But I just watched some of a 1982 slasher movie, Slumber Party Massacre. Some old-looking high school girls have a slumber party. Some balding high school boys hear about it and go to their house and spy on them. And, when the girls start taking their clothes off, the boys laugh.

I've seen this sort of thing elsewhere. Idiot actors playing adolescents laughing when their characters spy on naked women. What are these actors thinking?

And there are other things. There was a low budget family film I saw. I was slightly acquainted with the star. I wish he had asked me what to do. He plays a kid who's intrigued by some small items that had belonged to his late father. I think they were related to sailing ships or pirates---I don't remember. But he gets these things out and looks at them from time to time, which is fine. Except, when he looks at them, he smiles maniacally. Do people do that?

There are other scenes in movies where people laugh at inappropriate times. In the Douglas Sirk melodrama, All That Heaven Allows, a wealthy widow (Jane Wyman) dates her yard man (Rock Hudson). They go out to Hudson's nursery. They meet some of his friends. He says something to one of them. He looks at Jane Wyman who is out of earshot and laughs. Wyman is troubled by this.

"What did you say to him?" she asked.

"I said you had the prettiest legs I've ever seen," Rock says.

And why did the guy think that was funny? I mean, it was funny. There was nothing remotely attractive about Jane Wyman's legs, and even if there was, it wouldn't have made up for that terrible hair do. Mercifully, her legs are never actually exposed in the film. She looked like an aging rich woman. Rock Hudson was too good for her even if he was a yard man.

According to her adopted son's memoir, Jane Wyman was a heartless bitch.