I Signed It Out at the Library: SLEEPLESS

Recently I read a glowing article about actor/musician Jamie Foxx in the paper. (Yes, I still read newspapers in the coffeeshop.) The article mentioned a Grammy-nominated album, a new movie and even a game show he is hosting. 

But nowhere does it mention a movie called Sleepless. That’s not surprising. 

Frankly, I hadn’t even heard of the movie until I spotted it in the DVD section of the library.

sleepless - movie poster

Adapted from a French thriller called Nuit Blanche by Andrea Berloff (one of the Oscar-winning screenwriters of Straight Outta Compton), Sleepless features Jamie as Vincent Downs, a Las Vegas cop with connections.(I refer to the performer by his first name because calling him Mr. Foxx sounds like an X-rated version of a Wes Anderson film). 

He and his partner (played by rap star T.I.) are in possession of  cocaine originally belonging to club owner/crook Stanley Rubino (played by an almost unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney – hey, I said almost unrecognizable.) Mr. Rubino is under pressure to recover the shipment since he promised to sell the drugs to a mobster named Novak (Scoot McNairy, who usually plays a good guy, so he is taking liberal advantage of the opportunity to play an especially nasty villain.)

With so much on the line (no pun intended) Mr. Rubino kidnaps Jamie’s, I mean, Vincent’s teen-age son (Octavius J. Johnson) to make sure that Vincent returns his cocaine. Plucky young Internal Affairs officer Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) is convinced Jamie’s character is dirty and is determined to get the goods on him. Meanwhile, Vincent’s ex (Gabrielle Union) keeps phoning from the hospital, where she works as a nurse, wondering where Junior is, because Jamie, I mean Vincent, doesn’t want to admit her son has been kidnapped.

The critical collective at the rottentomatoes.com gave this movie a wan 2i%. Audience “reviewers” scored it slightly higher at 36%. Obviously, they were not impressed either.

I blush to admit I actually liked the first 2/3 of the movie. Swiss/German director Baram bo Odar keeps putting the screws on our anti-hero to see which way he’ll jump. It reminded me of the final scenes of (the much better rated) 1995 flick Get Shorty when all the pieces of Elmore Leonard’s jigsaw puzzle plot start to come together. 

Unfortunately, something happens in Sleepless and I blame suits-in-the-editing-room or one of the performers using their clout to change the screenplay because at some point, this wannabe thriller falls as flat as a gateau in the oven. (I can almost hear the conversation now,”That may be what they do in Europe, Bo, but in America, audiences want action – y’know, fistfights, car chases, lots of guns …. “)

Y’think movie producers would learn something after the box office fails of American remakes of European hits like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Let The Right One In or even the U.K. TV hit Broadchurch but judging from the fate of this pic apparently not.

sleepless - french 3

Rix Flix: Nice Guys, Injuns, Alice, Suicide and all that Jazz

Suicide Squad

If this is intended as an antidote to all those superhero flicks, count me in. Otherwise, well. my inner twelve year old enjoys watching Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

blog-harley
Batter UP!

The Nice Guys

blog-nice-guys

Writer/director Shane Black’s follow-up to his cult film hit Kiss Kiss Bang Bang isn’t nearly as clever or original as his 2005 hit but stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe seemed to have a lot of fun making it. 

446_trail_hollywood_indian_reel_injun_dvd_alt2_1024x1024
No, it’s not the singer Neil Diamond

This film isn’t a current release (I signed  out the DVD at the local library) but it does make for provocative and insightful viewing – regardless of your ethnicity or whether you played cowboys’n’indians as an adolescent. Documentary film by  Quebec-born Cree film-maker Neil Diamond examines how native Indians have been portrayed in North American movies using clips from silent films, John Wayne westerns, Billy Jack flicks and more modern examples like Smoke Signals, Dance Me Outside and Atanajuat: The Fast Runner ( to name a few.)

blog-reel-2

There are also video bites from Native Indian activist Russell Means, First Nations actors Adam Beach and Graham Greene, Professor Melinda Micco and film-maker Chris Eyre (among others).

blog-reel

Born to Be Blue

blog-blue-2

This is another film that has been out for a few months. I rented it on DVD because I have always been a big fan of Chet Baker’s music. There has been a Baker biopic in the works for over a decade (originally Brad Pitt was signed to star with Richard Linklater directing) but it took Canadian money, Ethan Hawke as Baker and Toronto-born filmmaker Robert Budreau to bring it to reality.  Like Miles Ahead (a fictional reporter played by Ewan McGregor invades the home space of Miles Davis played by Don Cheadle to find out why the famed jazz trumpeter has not recorded or toured in seven years) Born to be Blue is a “reimagined” version of real events. It’s true that Baker was wired on heroin, served jail time, was beaten up and lost his teeth in the process.  What isn’t true is that he was romantically involved with an actress named Jane (Carmen Ejego as Jane plays a composite character representing the women in Baker’s life) What’s true is that he was the “James Dean of Jazz”, the “Prince of Cool” just like the film says, a pop idol back in the early 50s when jazz still ruled the charts.

blog-chet-2
Chet Baker in the 1950s

What isn’t true (to the best of my knowledge) is that Hollywood planned to make a documentary on his life (depicted in the film). 

Writer/director Budreau skips over some of the more sordid aspects of the jazz legend’s life. (For that you will have to check out Bruce Weber’s riveting but ruthless Baker doc Let’s Get Lost).

blog-chet-4
Chet Baker -Lost in the Eighties

Budreau prefers to think (as he says in a DVD extra) that Born to Be Blue  is the kind of film folks might imagine while listening to Baker’s lightly swinging playing and dream-like vocals (“he sang with an innocent sweetness that made young girls fall right out of their saddle Oxfords,” Rex Reed once wrote. The film, on the other hand, has Dizzy Gillespie, portrayed by Kevin Hanchard, advising Baker not to try singing.)

The playing and vocalizing sounded effortless. And in the beginning, they were. That may have been part of the problem, the film seems to say.

blog-cover

Interestingly enough, some of the folks funding Born to Be Blue also shelled out money to produce this illuminating documentary on the famous (or infamous) shock rocker.  The film itself was produced and directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen who collectively have worked on rock docs about Rush and Iron Maiden (to name just two).

sam-dunn-scott-mcfadyn-2
Sam Dunn (right) and Scot McFadyen (the other guy)

I signed this one out from the library (in other words, it’s not a new release) on the word of my little sister. I have never been a huge Alice fan (although I hafta admit “Under My Wheels” has a greasy kick to it) but I was attracted partly by my sister (who doesn’t recommend  many films – especially docs) and by the reputation of Messrs Dunn and McFadyen.

Rent it for vintage photos and trivia (the band’s original name was The Earwigs),cameo appearances by his wife (he has had only one), his mom and dad and some true confessions on why the original band broke up.

blog-young-alice
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Most of all, you will see and hear and why the character of Alice Cooper almost killed its creator, a nice, church-going, golf-loving family man from Phoenix, Arizona named Vincent Furnier. 

blog-alice
Vincent as Alice: “Now let’s not lose our heads over this character.”

 

 

I Got It at the Library: IL DIVO

No, it’s not a new group of Italian  tenors- or the penultimate flavor of Italian gelato. It’s a 2008 film by Italian writer/director Paolo Sorrentino.

poster

Judging from the reviews, the general consensus seems to be that the scope and ambition of Il Divo can only be fully appreciated if one is familiar with the many twists and turns of former Italian Premier Guilio Andreotti’s 50 year political career and the alleged skulduggery associated with his lengthy stay in power.  It is provocative stuff, especially considering Andreotti was still alive at the time of the film’s release. (He died at the age of 94 in 2013 .) He was reportedly angry when he was first shown the film (at a private screening) but later told his biographer (Massimo Franco): “I’m happy for the producer. And I’d be even happier if I had a share of the takings.”

il-divo-andreotti
 Guilio Andreotti – ‘What? Me Worry?”

The great Italian actor Toni Servillo as the enigmatic politician, gives a master class in restraint and control.

il-divo-toni
Toni Servillo as Guilio Andretti in Il Divo

However, despite rave reviews from All the Right Critics, I still prefer  Signor Sorrentino’s 2014 entry The Great Beauty (Oscar winner Best Foreign Language Film) with its more accessible narrative, a textured performance from Signor Servillo in the lead role and a visually sumptuous tour of Rome – past and present.

 But then I’m prejudiced. As a youngster I was a fool for ancient Roman history. (Okay, I was a weird kid). As a teen I took a course on the history of ancient Greece (it was the nearest I could get to Ancient Roman Studies, not offered in my university. Big mistake.  Although I scored well on an essay on The Battle of Marathon I almost flunked the final exam) As an alleged adult I  saw some of the places I had only read  about (or written about.)

In fact, it was the advice of friends whose opinions I respect who urged me to watch this film. “If you liked The Great Beauty,” they said, “You’ll love Il Divo.”

Well, “love” is a strong word but I was sufficiently intrigued to watch Signor Sorremtino’s English language feature Youth which I spotted recently on Netflix. I enjoyed it (more on this in a future post) and I didn’t have to read any newspapers to follow the plot. (Which is just as well. I don’t read Italian, anyway.)

il-divo-sorrentino
Italian film-maker Paolo Sorrentino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Right …. Sespequedalian!

“Don’t go quotin’ Buddhists on me … they were zombies! ZOMBIES!”

REX LIBRIS: THE BOOK OF MONSTERS 

Written and illustrated by James Turner (SLG Publishing) 2009

This may be the most literate graphic novel I have ever read. I was reachin’ for the dictionary every five minutes. But then whaddya expect when the “hero” is “the world’s favorite butt-kickin’, sesquedalian librarian.” That’s right! Sesquedalian! Look it up. I did! Hey, do you know how hard it is to find a rhyming word for “librarian”.  (Appropriately enough, I picked up this book at the local library.)

Wowser! I hope I spelled “literate” wright.)

I GOT IT AT THE LIBRARY #1 : Horrible Bosses

I sometimes wonder if the local library is aware of some of the crap littering their DVD shelves.

Imagine a Hollywood  pitch meeting. Someone comes up with a title. TV sitcom vet Mike Markowitz (Becker, Duckman: Private Dick, The In-Laws) is hired to write a movie around it. Apparently he needs a little “help” because the screenplay credits also list  Jonathan Goldstein and Bones star John Frances Daley, co-writers of the recent  box office bomb The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

I mean, everyone has a boss at one time in their lives that is absolutely, um, horrible. Right?

So we have three disgruntled (and, hopefully, relatable) employees (Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jason Bateman) who scheme (rather ineptly) to exact the ultimate revenge on their bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston. )

HB - poster

I know Horrible Bosses got a 69% approval rating on the rottentomatoes.com Tomatometer  and was a huge box office hit (a sequel is already in the works) but to this viewer it plays like an unfunny Saturday Night Live skit (and, depending on what you read,  there have been plenty of those in recent years … in other words, if you think SNL is a hoot, you’ll probably love this movie.  Come to think of it, Mr. Sudeikis is a SNL veteran and Mr. Day hosted an episode of the show.) 

Perhaps the alleged “humour” is just not for my tastes. (I prefer a little subtlety with my wit and you won’t get either of  them here, subtlety or wit.) The plot, for lack of a better word, is way over the top. Oscar nominee  Jamie Foxx (Ray, Collateral), as a “murder consultant”,  is wasted here (figuratively, not literally, although I’m never sure. This is one movie in which the cast is definitely having as much fun as their target demographic. I’m guessing 15- 30 years of age.)

Charmless vulgarity,” sniffs the newyorker.com, in one of the few reviews with which I can relate, ” Neither the trio of plotters nor the director, Seth Gordon, do more than keep the story moving …  the intermittent comic sparks never really ignite. This clunky botch is evidence that, though improvisational skills can be learned, being funny is a gift, one that is little in evidence here.”

I Got It at the Library: FITZCARRALDO

Fitz - Poster

That crazy gleam in his eye is real.

But then who else but Klaus Kinski could play the role of a mad visionary who dreams of building an opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle?

Actually,  director Werner Herzog’s original choice was Jason Robards.  Robards  became ill and  Herzog was forced to scrap the footage he had shot with the American actor and call  on  Kinski to play the part of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, a fictional character (very) loosely based on the exploits of  Carlos Fitzcarrald, a  real-life madman who lived in the Peruvian rainforest  city of Iquitos in the 19th century. Herzog  had already worked with Kinski on three previous films  (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Nosferatu, the Vampyre, Woyzeck) and knew about the actor’s notoriously volatile temperament from first hand experience.

Kinsji and Herzog on the set of Aguirre, Wrath of God:  "Take Back What You Said About My Mother!"
Kinski and Herzog on the set of Aguirre, Wrath of God: “Take Back What You Said About My Mother!”

Kinski more than lived up to his reputation while filming the jungle epic.  In fact, legend has it that the actor’s erratic  behaviour so angered the Peruvian Indians cast as headhunters in the film that one of them offered to kill Kinski as a favor to  the director. Herzog graciously declined the offer.  (Years later, Herzog shared his experiences working with the temperamental actor in a German language documentary  Mein liebster Feind – translated loosely into English as My Best Fiend – in which the director refers to Kinski as both a nemesis and a muse.)

Coping with Kinski would have been a fulltime job for any film-maker. But Herzog also insisted on shooting on location in the unpredictable and often treacherous Amazon jungle and moving a 340 ton steamboat across  steep mountainous terrain utilizing  several hundred  Peruvian Indians and a complex system of pulleys.  

Whatever floats your boat (or doesn't, depending on what you read)
Whatever floats your boat (or doesn’t, depending on what you read)

I saw a feature length documentary (Burden of Dreams) on the making of  Fitzcarraldo a number of years ago and ever since then I have wanted to see the actual film. To judge from the documentary, there was as much drama behind the scenes as there was in front of the camera.  (Mick Jagger was originally cast as Fitzgerald’s weak-minded assistant. Mick had to leave the film for a Rolling Stones tour so Herzog scrubbed his character from the screenplay. In Burden of Dreams,  there is some test footage of Jagger preparing for the role. )

Kinski’s cheerfully unhinged performance is worth the price of admission alone. (And judging by film lore it may have been the only time he was smiling.)

The dramatic moving of the boat is the real deal. (Oh sure, some doubters  claim the German film-maker used models to achieve the desired effect.  But then some folks believe the Moon landing was faked, too. )

The resulting film is a labor of love (some might say obsession.) It is also a tribute to Herzog’s gritty sense of purpose and his skills as a filmmaker.  (Herzog’s insistence on realism may be one reason why there are almost as many documentaries as fiction pieces in his filmography. My favorite Herzog docs are Encounters at the End of the World and Cave of Forgotten Dreams.)

Herzog - While Filming Fitzcarraldo
Werner Herzog – While Filming Fitzcarraldo

Werner Herzog -  After Making Fizcarralod
Werner Herzog – After Making Fitzcarraldo
 
 
 
Claudia Cardinale (cast as Fitzgerald’s brothel madam mistress) is in the full flower of her lush, voluptuous beauty in this 1982 film.  “It was the most incredible adventure of my life!” Cardinale told The Guardian’s Steve Rose  in an interview last year. “Just a small group of us, with all the animals in the forest. Can you imagine?” Wasn’t it dangerous? Rose asks. “No! I like danger!” Herzog? “A marvellous man, very intelligent and fantastic.” As for Kinski …“Oh my God! But he was afraid of me!”
Claudia Cardinale & Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo
Claudia Cardinale & Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo

I Got It At the Library: SANJURO

Got a yen for a classic Japanese samurai flick?

When legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was asked to make another movie like  Yojimbo following the enormous box office success of his 1961 “samurai western”, he initially resisted. The story goes that Kurosawa  didn’t want to repeat himself,  a sentiment today’s multiplex moguls would find hard to relate to. ( Yes, I know, I’m not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition but, hey, it’s a blog, not a master’s thesis.)

Instead, the Japanese master made what is probably the closest he ever came to a comedy.

The mighty Toshiro Mifune actually plays a parody of the character he created in Yojimbo. 

In this 1962 release his sword slinging samurai is like a scruffy housecat. All he wants to do is eat, drink and lie around. And judging from the way he keeps scratching himself it’s been awhile since he had a bath.

Toshiro Mifune in “Sanjuro”: Resting Up After “Yojimbo”? 

He may be lazy but he still has wicked skills with a blade and he is still a sucker for the underdog. So when he wanders into an internecine struggle between warring factions in a small village he turns down big bucks from the bad guys to reluctantly help a group of idealistic but inexperienced samurai rescue an abducted village elder and restore him to his rightful place as the head of the clan.

The Not-So-Magnificent Eight (They’re the good guys, believe it or not)

Even though the tone of the overall film is light there is still plenty of swordplay including a climactic duel in which the blood literally spurts out of actor  Tatsuya Nakadai (who plays the heavy of the piece, just as he did in Yojimbo). The scene may seem tame by modern standards but it was fairly shocking back in the day.

To find out what really happened during the filming of the controversial scene you will have to check out the extras on the Criterion Collection.

In addition to a lovingly restored hi def version of the film the Criterion DVD includes a minidoc on the making of Sanjuro, including interview clips with Nakadai, production designer Yoshiro Muraki and longtime Kurosawa collaborator Teruyo Nogami. There’s even a vintage interview clip from Kurosawa himself.  (You’ll also find an essay on the film from esteemed movie critic Michael Sragow in a booklet tucked inside the DVD.) 

One for the Money, Two for the Show …

PS  Yojimbo was previously written up in this blog.