Archive for Bruce Dern

The Sunday Panty-Title: “…And That Girl Had a Wooden Foot”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2014 by dcairns

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I wanted to call my thoughts on Michael Ritchie and Jerry Belson’s SMILE (1975) by the title SMARM, in honour of one of the great essays of recent times, but Fiona insisted I use the inspirational anecdote delivered by Michael Kidd. Also, the movie is structured around the days of the week, as announced by what turn out to be Annette O’Toole’s panties.

Somehow I’d never seen this film until last week. Did I have some kind of trepidation about it? Maybe because it seemed like it would be an Altman copy. And though I love a good Altman, a bad Altman can wear out the will to live faster than a bad almost anything. Fortunately, the aspects of this which are Altmanesque (and the girl with the braces smiling at the start seems like something Altman himself lifted for A WEDDING) are really cool — the movie knows what it’s aiming at, and is scathing without being unwarrantedly vicious, altogether misanthropic, or self-important. When your subject is a beauty pageant, how outraged can you get? And even if you use that for a kind of state of the nation address, a bit of gentleness is warranted.

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Also, much of the film doesn’t play quite like Altman at all — much of the footage has a sly, caught-on-the-hop quality, as if Ritchie really did set up a scenario, leave it to play out naturally, and capture it documentary-style. But I don’t think the dialogues is  improvised — we have people like the great and insanely hot Annette O’Toole who ALWAYS seems to be behaving rather than acting, in anything she appears in. Anybody who can seem like they stepped off the street and into CAT PEOPLE or SUPERMAN III must have an in-built sense of truth, justice and the American way, a kind of faultless naturalism compass. And she smiles like Veronica Lake… sigh.

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The film’s star is Bruce Dern, in a performance that supplies the centre of his career and screen personality, something I now realize I was missing all these years I loved him. (In Telluride, I nearly got handed his luggage by mistake, suggesting a potentially awesome alternative reality where I go on to live his life and collect an Oscar nomination for NEBRASKA while he slinks back to a tenement in Leith and a pitiful existence ranting on the internet about unbelievably obscure movies.) He plays a sort of happy idiot, a used car salesman who’s SINCERE, I suppose a guy who believes all the lies, and likes it. He’s unable to help his depressed friend (Nicholas Pryor, also great) except by making him laugh occasionally, and in fact the friend manages to chisel a chink in Dern’s armour of sunshine, and the poor man nearly withers on the vine as he suddenly sees beyond the veil of acceptable optimism and into an existential abyss. Being indefatigable and all-American, he soon slams the door on THAT unwelcome insight.

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Michael Kidd plays the pageant’s choreographer — a great dancer and choreographer himself, he made intermittent movie appearances, including a star turn in the superb IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER, and so this is a relatively rare chance to see him act. Great face, great voice, and the greatest portrait of a hard-bitten, essentially decent, dogged professional in any profession that I can think of right now. Just superb work. You don’t get near-heroes like that in Altman.

Oh, and Geoffrey Lewis practically doing a Pangborn, something I never expected to see.

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I think the other reason I never hurried to see this was that I got to know Michael Ritchie’s work via FLETCH (inoffensive but very minor) and THE GOLDEN CHILD (whaaaa?). One can’t judge a filmmaker by their worst projects, but it seemed from that perspective that Ritchie was minor, and already washed-up, a flash-in-the-pan kind of guy. But now I’m of a mind to try THE BAD NEWS BEARS, PRIME CUT, THE CANDIDATE, SEMI-TOUGH. From this fresh perspective, it may be that Ritchie enjoyed quite a nice little run.

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Overlook

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on August 30, 2013 by dcairns

(L-R) Andy Serkis, David Bowie, Hugh Jackman

So, here’s the order of events –

We find out we’re screening at Telluride, but we’re sworn to secrecy. The peculiarity of this festival is that nobody knows what’s on until they get here.

Then I realise that the reason the place-name is familiar to me is from Richard Lester’s BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: THE EARLY DAYS, where the town is regarded as a kind of outlaw paradise.

Then, through circumstances that may be narrated one day, I get to meet Mr. Lester. Despite being sworn to secrecy, I mention Telluride to him, because, well, I figure Who’s he gonna tell? No, not that, I figure he’s trustworthy. And he tells me about filming there, and how it was one of the first towns with electric street lighting anywhere, because of the generator needed for the mine, and how they featured those streetlights in his film.

Then, looking up Telluride under “locations” on the IMDb, I realise that actual incident, the electrification of Telluride, is recreated in Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE, a film I actually like better than most Nolan movies (but what it really needs is a big wide CITIZEN KANE shot at the end to actually clarify what has been happening — thinking about it, a big wide shot in that warehouse with a few identifiable corpses floating in tanks — clear everything up beautifully).

And now I’m here. Partying in the Rockies with Francis Ford Coppola, the Coens, Philip Kaufman, Allan Arkush, Robert Redford, Salman Rushdie, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Bruce Dern and David Thomson (who has written our programme notes in typically unconventional and imaginative style) while thunder rumbles in the not-so-distance, The drive up was total SHINING credits sequence material, but my hotel is less like the Overlook and more like the Great Northern in Twin Peaks. As for altitude sickness, I’m not sleeping, I’m breathless, my head aches and I feel weak as a kitten — which is all perfectly normal for me.

The bus driver tried to give me Bruce Dern’s luggage by mistake. Maybe I should have accepted it?

They Go Boom

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by dcairns

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More Frankenheimer thick-ear for your questionable delectation. BLACK SUNDAY is a latter-day Robert Evans production, and it’s shocking to see how pointless Evans’ cinema got, how fast, after he stopped being the big man at Paramount. The movie, based on a pre-Hannibal Lector Thomas Harris thriller, deals with a plot by Palestinian terrorist Marthe Keller, in cahoots with deranged Vietnam vet Bruce Dern (typecasting is a wonderful thing, sometimes) to blow up the superbowl using the Goodyear blimp, some plastic explosives smuggled Stateside as plaster madonnas, and a lot of rifle darts, making the world’s biggest nail bomb.

It’s slick, kind of meaningless, very violent (the Japanese sea captain getting his head blown off by a telephone is an early highlight) and made with Frankenheimer’s trademark professionalism and dynamism, but all that rather counts for nothing. John Alonso’s photography is very fine but this isn’t CHINATOWN.

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dead bang

Leading man/growling muscle Robert Shaw plays a Mossad agent nicknamed “the Final Solution,” which gives you some idea of the taste level. Much of the story is a paean to the efficacy of torture and intimidation in getting people to do what you want, and it isn’t very convincing. But Shaw does get the film’s only laugh when he sticks a gun in a man’s mouth and demands his assistance: “Nod for ‘yes’, die for ‘no’.”

Pretty corrupt stuff, even by the standards of modern action movies and things like the unlamented 24. Frankenheimer was often characterised as a liberal, but that gives you plenty of rope in America. I do remember one interview in a short study of his career where he kept referring to “the negro problem.” What he said about this issue wasn’t overtly offensive, or even very meaningful, but the phrase struck me as deeply problematic, not because of the lesser N word (it was the sixties, that was the preferred term) but because the construction implies “there’s a problem because there are these people called negroes”… it’s a bit like saying “the Jewish question”, isn’t it?

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Aside from Shaw’s scowling menace, Bruce Dern is fun (when is he ever not?) and Marthe Keller confirms the impression I received from CARLOS — forget Hollywood, all the really hot chicks are in international terrorism. She also plays it like she’s the heroine rather than the villain, which is a shrewd choice.

Suddenly remembered that in his self-serving autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture, Evans puts the blame for all the less inspired decisions made at Paramount on Charlie Bluhdorn, head of Engulf & Devour Gulf & Western, Paramount’s parent company. In particular, the studio’s failed attempts to make a star out of Serbo-Croatian hunk Bekim Fehmiu are attributed to Bluhdorn alone. And yet here’s Fehmiu, quite effective as a Palestinian bad guy.

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Frankenheimer, who cameos as a sweary TV director, (almost as bad type-casting as Dern’s deranged Nam vet) brings to the pointless carnage his usual dogged professionalism, dynamism, and eye for nasty detail. Unfortuntely the special effects team aren’t quite up to rendering the blimp climax in a photorealistic manner — some striking shots are let down by lame process work elsewhere, and the frenzied montage is a dead giveaway that cinematic jiggery-pokery is being deployed. Poor Frankenheimer would once again have to base a film around an impossibility when he made mutant bear movie PROPHECY. How much drink did he have to put away to survive that one?

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