Movies

Peter O'Toole, Always in Character

The actor, who died earlier this week at the age of 81, turned every role into a feat of concentrated charm and wit. 

In a fantasy sequence in the 1967 movie Casino Royale—not a straight Bond flick, like the 2006 version, but a famously messy spoof—Peter Sellers, playing one of several rival 007s, sees a haggard-looking Scots bagpiper emerge from soundstage fog. "Are you Richard Burton?" the piper asks, and Sellers retorts, "No, I'm Peter O'Toole!" At which the piper—played by O'Toole himself—is overcome by emotion. "Then you're the finest man who ever breathed," he says, and vanishes into the mist.

"Spring Breakers" Was the Best Movie of the Year. Seriously.

It was imbecilic but gorgeous—just like America. 

AP Images/A24 Films

First off, some disclaimers: I haven't seen Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis yet. I thought 12 Years A Slave and Gravity were both just swell, and I had a great time at Ron Howard's unexpectedly lively—and worldly—Rush. In spite of groaning at Woody Allen's bald-faced hijacking of A Streetcar Named Desire and his Rip Van Winkle unfamiliarity with the current century, I even got semi-down with Blue Jasmine, and so on.

The Coen Brothers' Goodbye Song

Inside Llewyn Davis deepens the duo's turn from satire to elegy

The year is 1961 in Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, and the title character is a struggling New York City folk singer caught in one of life’s loops. The movie begins where it will end, with Davis onstage at the Gaslight, one of the West Village venues for a musical movement that, in the early ’60s, was caught in a loop of its own, believing it was the start of something rather than the finish. Before getting his butt kicked in a back alley by a mysterious stranger, Davis sings the song of a man condemned—if only in his miserable mind—to be hanged; we assume Davis must be a victim before we realize, over the next 100 minutes, he’s a fuckup. Homeless and broke and constantly relying on the kindness of strangers or near strangers or the newly estranged, the suddenly solo singer was once half of a duo whose fortunes were on the rise. Now haunted by the loss of his partner to suicide and raw to the doubts that go with being on his own, Davis believes he’s too good for the advice of people who try to give him some, and too good for the world, of which every setback seems to offer only further proof.

Another Note for the Bettie Page Files

A new documentary, Bettie Page Reveals All, provides not only a bonanza of images of the proto-hipster pinup girl in her prime, but her later-in-life musings as well. 

 

It's fun to think of Bettie Page as Hugh Hefner's female rival. Six decades ago, Playboy's incredibly dull founder created an empire that turned women into interchangeable sex objects in the guise of liberating Americans from their Puritan hangups. All Page had to counter him with was a body that couldn't be mistaken for anyone else's and an extraordinarily expressive face. Hef made millions while Page posed for chump change for amateur shutterbugs, at least until softcore fetish king Irving Klaw and then pinup photographer Bunny Yeager recognized her uniqueness and she wound up in Playboy itself.

The Seven Stages of Important Black Film Fatigue

AP Images

If you live outside of major film markets like New York or Los Angeles, this weekend marked your first opportunity to see Steve McQueen's much-lauded 12 Years a Slave. But it's probable that you've already heard early buzz, either from fawning reviewers or from friends who've caught advance screenings. Perhaps you've heard that its commitment to historical accuracy has resulted in graphic depictions of violence and torture. Maybe your best friend still can't shake the cracking urgency in Chiewetel Ejiofor's voice or a haunting expression on Lupita Nyong’o's face.

Royal Rumble: Academics vs. Film Critics

AP/Belknap Press

It's not every Sunday morning I find myself engaged in a Twitter quarrel with Richard J. Evans, today's foremost (though Ian Kershaw may disagree) academic historian of the Third Reich. But Sir Richard—yes, he's been knighted—is also the foremost academic defender of Ben Urwand's controversial new book The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, and I had a bone to pick with him. I can't say I'm not grateful he answered, although my dream of blowing off Cambridge's Regius Professor of Modern History by tweeting, "Gotta go. Saints game's on!" didn't materialize.

Restorative Justice's After-School Special

“Education was where my heart was,” says Tyrone Sinclair in Growing Fairness, a documentary showcasing the impact restorative-justice programs can have in our nation's schools. Sinclair says he was expelled from school at 16, became homeless, and then ended up in jail. Now, he organizes young people in Los Angeles. “I knew that wasn’t the place for me,” he says of prison. “I love to learn every day.”

You’re Tearing Us Apart, Tommy!

Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s new book, The Disaster Artist, basks in the delightful weirdness of The Room and its chief architect.

Photo by Amanda Edwards/PictureGroup

"The greatest bad movie ever made." That's what the subtitle of The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero with co-author Tom Bissell (Simon & Shuster, $25.99), calls crackpot director-writer-star Tommy Wiseau's The Room, on which Sestero labored as costar, line producer, and thunderstruck eyewitness. The object of a worldwide cult that's still going strong a decade after the movie's 2003 "release”—it played for two weeks in a single L.A. theater rented by Wiseau, to mostly empty houses until word began to spread that this was no ordinary train wreck—The Room has definitely displaced the previous bad-movie champ, Ed Wood's legendary 1959 Plan 9 From Outer Space, in both notoriety and audience affection. And what a bitter pill for Wood's ghost, since the only superlative he ever earned has been snatched away by an even crazier usurper.

Michael Bay Blows Up Detroit

Cal Sport Media via AP Images

It's a morning in early August when Detroiters awaken to find a piece of Hong Kong rising in their midst. Beneath the shuttered skyscrapers of Grand Circus Park, the multi-story setpiece for Michael Bay's Transformers 4 buzzes with work crews painting balustrades and roofing life-sized tong lau. It has been little more than a week since Detroit became the largest city in the United States to declare bankruptcy.

Rummy Returns

Donald Rumsfeld in Errol Morris' new film.

Don Rumsfeld, believe it or not, is back. And though I haven't read "Rumsfeld's Rules," (available in paperback soon!), I'm pretty sure he hasn't changed a bit. Which is something that I think it's fair to say is true of most people who worked at high levels for George W. Bush. As far as they're concerned, they were right all along, about everything. Rumsfeld thinks President Obama is going about this Syria thing all wrong, about which he could well be right, but how can anybody hear him offer opinions about that sort of thing and not remind themselves that he bore as much responsibility as anyone for what was probably the single greatest foreign-policy screwup in American history?

Anyhow, the real reason I mention Rummy is that Errol Morris has a new documentary about him coming out soon called The Unknown Known. Like Morris' The Fog of War, his film on Robert McNamara, it's basically a long interview with Rumsfeld. But unlike McNamara, Rumsfeld has no regrets. Watch this preview all the way to the end:

"Blue Jasmine" Another Black Mark

Woody Allen's new movie is the latest evidence of how superficial he is—and how his humor and New York sensibility have lured critics and filmgoers into overlooking his shallowness.

AP Images/Andrew Medichini

The new movie, Blue Jasmine, has been so wildly embraced by critics, while being so replete with its writer-director’s worst tendencies, that it provides the best example in years of Woody Allen’s status as America’s most overrated filmmaker. At the center of the picture is the calculatedly neurotic performance by the otherwise fine actress Cate Blanchett, who exhausts our patience within five minutes and, for having done so, has emerged as a front runner for the Academy Award; her Jasmine is the stranger next to you on a plane who never shuts up about herself and commandeers your attention without a clue or care that you might have a life too, since she decided long before she laid eyes on you that you exist for no reason but to enable her or advance her interests or, if need be, save her. She’s certainly not somebody in whose company you want to spend an hour and a half, even with a movie screen between you.

Morally Compromised Art, on the Big Screen

A scene from the upcoming film of Ender's Game.

Look around the internet at any list of the best science fiction novels of all time, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game will be at or near the top (see here, here, or here). Frankly, I've always thought it was a little overrated. A good book, certainly, but better than Dune or 1984 or the Foundation trilogy? Come on. In any case, Ender's Game was published in 1985, and it's finally reaching the screen this November, in a big-budget blockbuster starring Harrison Ford, among other people. As soon as the film was announced, people started advocating a boycott of the film because of Card's views about politics in general and same-sex marriage in particular. Card is not just an opponent of marriage equality, he used to be on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, the most prominent anti-marriage-equality organization. And his writings about politics aren't just conservative, they're positively unhinged, run through with the kind of venomous hatred for liberals in general and Barack Obama in particular that we've become depressingly familiar with over the last few years.

So the question is, should that affect how we view this film, and whether we give over our ten or twelve bucks to see it, some small portion of which will presumably find its way to Card?

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