Friday, October 31, 2014

Cinema Romantico's Week Off

Hey, loyal readers, first-time readers and suspect readers wondering "who is this dufus and what is with his 'ShueRolling' obsession?" Once again, that time of the year has arrived. Today I'm off to unwind, relax, recharge and smile brightly and widely while consuming coffee in 40 degree temperatures on the north shore of Minnesota and Lake Superior while partaking in a roughly ten day Internet sabbatical.

But don't fret! Cinema Romantico will not be going dark in my absence. We have several posts set to go up automatically, posts we have refrained from posting for reasons I don't really know. Well, that's not entirely true. I didn't post my "Lone Survivor" review because I was terrified the pro-"Lone Survivor" supporters who become absurdly jingoist for daring to accuse "Lone Survivor" of being absurdly jingoist \would swoop down on this poor blog to verbally accost me for failing to declare that "Lone Survivor" WAS THE SINGLE GREATEST FILM IN THE HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION AND IF YOU SO MUCH AS CLAIM IT POSSESSESS EVEN HALF OF ONE FLAW YOU ARE A TREASONIST. But since I won't be here when the review goes up, hey, have at it! I'll catch up with the comments laterzville.

There will also be a traditionally served Friday's Old Fashioned, an obligatory wonked-out Top 5, a requisite anybody's-guess-what-in-the-world-this-is, and a post in which I pay homage to (rip off) my friend Alex at And So It Begins... and his incredible Things About Movies He Loves That No One Else Talks About. So keep stopping by! I'll catch back up with y'all just in time for my "Interstellar" review to have been rendered irrelevant due to the passage of (Internet) time.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Beauty Way

In reviewing Wes Anderson's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2003), Roger Ebert described Bill Murray's title character by referencing an epitaph he was immensely fond of, one of a teenaged girl entombed at London's Southwark Cathedral. He wrote: "Steve Zissou is very tired. I suggest for his epitaph: Life for him was but a dreary play; he came, saw, dislik'd, and passed away."

Zissou is a Jacques Costeau-esque oceanographer, and because he is Jacques Costeau-esque, we assume he is a man ensconced in an oceanic embrace, a lover of the sea's wonders and mysteries, its infinite depths and inestimable species. Yet even if the character is modeled on Jacques Costeau, he specifically possesses none of the same spirit, overcome instead by a "vague, wistful tristesse" in the words of A.O. Scott.

It's fair even to ask if Steve Zissou likes the sea. So much of the evidence suggests otherwise, whether it's wanting to kill the mystical Jaguar Shark in the name of revenge or Team Zissou's supposedly intelligent dolphins for whom he only professes extreme irritation. He often comes across more enchanted with his glock and his Campari on the rocks than marine biology. Slowly but surely, the joy this aquatic once held for his field has withered. And yet.....

At the premiere of his new film which is, shall we say, less than well received ("I just don't think they got it," he's told which is the surest sign you've got a cinematic neutron bomb on your hands) and which features his best friend and forever-and-then-some colleague, Esteban, being eaten alive he runs into his nemesis who is in a relationship with his ex-wife and then some old coot asks him to autograph pretty much every poster of every old (more successful) movie he's made and so his glorious past is literally flashing before his eyes and, I mean, my God, can it get any worse? And the sheer exhuastion with which Murray plays all this honestly makes you wonder if he's going to make to the end of the night without hopping into a submersible and eternally submerging himself. But then......

The nephew of Klaus, his right-hand man, bestows Zissou a gift. It is a Crayon Ponyfish. And in this instant, Zissou's nature barely but oh so perceptibly changes. "An interesting specimen," he says with a suddenly surprisingly sincere air. In that instant you can see who the old (young) Zissou must have been and wonder, sadly, where he went. And when some nameless yokel standing outside the theater, alongside the picturesque red carpet, not entirely convinced that Zissou's mourning for his friend Esteban is authentic, callously wonders "Who're you gonna kill in part two?", fisticuffs ensues, causing the tiny bag bearing the exotic Crayon Ponyfish springs a leak. Could this day get any worse? Thinking fast, Steve seizes a champagne glass to use as a makeshift fish tank.

All due respect to Mr. Ebert but that magnificent shot makes me think of a different line involving another teenaged girl. "I don't think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

First Glimpse of Interstellar

I was able to catch an earlybird showing of Christopher Nolan's six-and-a-half-hour saga "Interstellar", the first Hollywood product ever to be advertised on Jupiter and its surrounding moons. And although I was, of course, forced to sign 47 consent forms confirming that I would not reveal "pertinent nor non-pertinent" information prior to its offical release date while also handing over my iPhone to the armed guards at the door, I still managed to record a snippet of the film with my ankle iPhone to give you a sneak peek. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


In the magnificent "All Is Lost" Robert Redford starred as unnamed man so determined to escape whatever mistakes he made in his previous life that he took to the open sea in a boat all on his lonesome and was made to lose everything he had before he could begin (whether for real or metaphorically) anew. In "Rudderless" Billy Crudup stars as Sam Manning, a man so determined to escape the unspeakable tragedy in his past that he also takes to a boat. The sly twist, however, as comical as it is sad, is that his boat remains firmly anchored to shore, a place for him merely to sleep, drink and urinate off the bow. And because he remains tethered to land, he remains tethered to the tragedy of his past, the death of his son, Josh (Miles Heizer). He is both unable to confront it and unwilling to let himself drift away from it.

That changes when Sam's ex-wife (Felicity Huffman) turns up one day with Josh's old guitar, his sketchbook of lyrics and a box full of homemade CD's. Reluctantly, he loses himself in the music of his lost flesh and blood, as comforting as it is traumatizing, playing one of his son's songs at a local open mic night without revealing its true author, and then even more reluctantly falling in with Quentin (Anton Yelchin), a would-be rock star if only he could past his ample nerves.

Clearly the relationship between Sam and Quentin is intended as a case of surrogate father/son, the emblematic opportunity for a dad to repair what went wrong. Crudup, however, never lets it fall into the trap of this banality, instead conveying it more as a prickly rapport between a closed-off mentor and an over-eager protege. He doesn't let Quentin all the way in, primarily because he knows that to let Quentin all the way in might just ruin the promising youth before he's blossomed. Yet, at the same time, he realizes their small-time rock 'n' roll dream is precisely what is allowing him to blossom, and so he forges ahead. Crudup simply excels at these sorts of contradictions, and his back and forth between dick and decent is effortless.

The problem, however, is that the script by director William H. Macy & Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison forces their leading man to act nearly three-fourths of the film with a secret, and one that is entirely pointless to keep hidden from the audience aside from theoretical shock and awe when it is inevitably spilled. It's as if Macy, a first-time film director, did not trust himself with dark-hearted material, and so rather than honestly asking if something as dispensible as music can ease or remedy legitimate psychological trauma, he opts for waters blue and unsullied, crafting a "Begin Again" that suddenlys pull the old switcheroo into (spoiler alert by clicking on link!) this.

"Rudderless" as a whole struggles with tone, putting Crudup through an eternal grind of behavioral paces, from bitter drunk to overgrown frat boy fronting a band to - in the film's most utterly misguided subplot - Rodney Dangerfield in "Caddyshack" taking a snot-nosed yachtsman down a peg or two. Yet even if the film itself can't handle the final shift, Crudup can, credibly evincing an emotionally wrecked man who doesn't find solace in his son's music so much as a necessary perspective. Still, there were so many more demons for him to wrestle, and oh to see the movie that might have let him.

Monday, October 27, 2014

St. Vincent

Parables are often associated with the Bible and the Bible is often associated with Bible Study and in an increasingly secular American society who wants to go to Bible Study to hear about Jesus and The Mustard Seed for the umpteenth time? So instead writer/director Theodore Melfi has invented a parable from the ground-up in "St. Vincent", a title that works as a dead giveaway to its religious overtones. The film tells a fairly obvious lesson via a fairly predictable formula but then people don't turn to parables to parse through them on account of their complex nature and hidden meanings. They turn to parables to cite them as obvious lessons.

To compensate for its obviousness, Melfi casts Bill Murray as the title character, a decision that is fairly obvious in its own right but nonetheless inspiring because even if Mr. Murray goes out for a round of golf he can turn those 18 holes into a work of comic genius. The first shot of "St. Vincent", in fact, sets Murray at a neighborhood bar, getting sloshed and telling a joke. And even if the joke isn't funny, because it isn't meant to be, it establishes the film's overriding intention to simply sit back and allow its charismatic star to hold court.

In a role suggesting Clint Eastwood's Walt Kowalski re-cast as Hugh Grant's Will Freeman, Murray is Vincent, a drunken habitual gambler, his debts expanding and his depression bordering on zero hour. His messy life is given untraditional semblance of structure when he becomes the babysitter for Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), an eleven year old who has just moved to the neighborhood with his single mom (Melissa McCarthy), overworked and struggling. An untraditional (traditional) mentorship ensues: Vincent teaches him to throw a punch, takes him to the racetrack, bellys him up to the bar, etc., though he does not so much warm to Oliver as tolerate him, offering selfless guidance in tandem with spectacular self-absorption. Narcissistic pricks, in other words, can be saints too.

In spite of all this bawdiness, Vincent, like his lady-friend Daka (Naomi Watts), the brassy Russian lady of the night, has a heart of gold. We know this by the patient way in which he attends to his Alzheimer's-addled wife, sadly forced to live out her end of days at a nursing home he can barely afford. And his goodness only increases as the film progresses, revealing his past in increments as Oliver is tasked by his Catholic school teacher (Chris O'Dowd) to write about a living saint.

The Catholic church merely recognizes saints, it does not make them, and yet the pseudo-investigative journalism done by Oliver in the third act to track down Vincent's past does precisely the latter. It makes him into a saint rather than just letting the character exist beatifically on his own terms. The final moments when he ascends the stage to be annoited seem like too much pomp and circumstance for such a dickishly holy guy. I preferred the incredible shot near the beginning, in his corner watering hole, when he puts Jefferson Airplane on the jukebox as the camera watches him through one of those cheap plastic windows typical of low rent bars.

It's like a divey stained glass window, and through its prism Vincent truly resembles a Saint.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday's Old Fashioned: Memphis Belle: A Story Of A Flying Fortress (1943)

A favorite movegoing memory came in the winter of 1990 when a friend wanted to go see the box office bonanza "Home Alone" and enlisted me to go along. Honestly, I wasn't all that excited to see "Home Alone", but I loved going to the movie theater, and so why not? Yet I was delighted, even though I was forced to hide that delight, when we arrived to find "Home Alone" sold out. With limited alternatives, we chose "Memphis Belle", which I actually was excited to see. I loved the whole damn thing to pieces, right down to the gloriously cornball moment when Eric Stoltz stands up in front of his B-17 brothers and recites Yeats. "I know that I shall meet my fate / Somewhere among the clouds above." Sigh.

Of course, that "Memphis Belle" took its story (and stretched the heck out of it) from the real Memphis Belle, and the real Memphis Belle was chronicled in William Wyler's in-the-midst-of-WWII American propaganda documentary "Memphis Belle: A Story Of A Flying Fortress." Reading Mark Harris's wonderful "Five Came Back", which tells the story of American film directors who enlisted in the glorious cause to make movies in the name of the war effort, it shamed me to realize I had never watched Wyler's version. As Harris so thrillingly weaves it, Wyler went right up in the Belle with all the boys, even if daylight bombing was an incredibly risky concept, to garner his footage.

The footage is gripping and the stylistic touches only enhance the footage, so much that the 41 minutes (don't do it, Nick!!!) fly by. The film opens with idyllic shots of the English countryside before quickly pivoting to show that countryside overrun with ginormous B-17 bombers as the narrator, Eugene Kern, his voice reminiscent of a more schoolmasterish Orson Welles, making the word "bombers" as melifluous as it is portentous, intones about how England has become an "aircraft carrier", and how this is a new kind of war front. "THIS," and he truly bits with a deep baritone befitting all-caps, "is an air front," and this phrase is repeated at least twice more throughout.

Though Wyler incorporated footage of several different air runs, not that my novice eyes could ever tell, he has a convenient device around which he can sculpt a narrative - that is, the Memphis Belle is making its 25th bombing run into enemy territory. If it survives, its entire crew gets to go home. And so the film, in a wonderful bit of exposition madness imposed over a massive map, lays out the mission to Wilhelmshafen, Germany in precise detail. We meet the men of the Memphis Belle, though barely, and it really doesn't matter, because even the briefest detail when the real-life stakes are clearly so high resonates with thundering grandeur. "Tail gunner," Kern recites, "Sgt. John Quinlan of Yonkers, New York. Clerked for a carpet company but he quit December 8, 1941."

Can you follow all that?
The sequences set aboard the Belle are pulverizing, both in their moments of peace, such as the vapor trails streaking the sky like ones I'd see in my Iowa backyard on crisp fall nights, and in their moments of terror, like a fellow bomber that falls away as we watch parachutes of the crew members deploy. What becomes of these men we never know, and I thought of Harry Lime referring to the humans below as "dots", and how these nameless soldiers falling through the sky looked like anything but dots. Machine guns shake on screen and flak dots the skies, and at one point a burst of flak even drifts directly toward the camera, as if it might swallow us whole.

In "Five Came Back" Harris documents how Wyler had originally intended an ending decidedly grave in tone, only to be overrided by The War Department since, after all, the film's primary motive was to be used as propaganda wrapped in the Stars & Stripes. And so, the Memphis Belle makes it back safe, everyone smiles, and they get to meet the Queen. Every war is well that ends well. These concluding passages, however, stand in stark contrast to the preceding material, to the somber voice modulation of Kern who, I swear, is trying his damndest to scare us off from ever wanting to bomb anyone.

I remember when "Memphis Belle" rousingly wrapped up that I was filled with a rush of wartime evangelism, because I was 13 and I was naive and I assumed that going to war must be just like this movie. It must mean I'll pack up my lucky charm and my notebook of poetry and Harry Connick Jr. will sing "Danny Boy" and whimsy will fill the airfield. That seems so much more propagandistic than watching the B-17's launch in Wyler's documentary and listening to Kern declare "in a few hours when they come back...(pause)...IF they come back." Imagine going to enlist with that rattling around in your head.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bill Murray Sings (More) Bob Dylan

In the latest Bill Murray cinematic venture, "St. Vincent", review to come (eventually), in which he stars as your traditional drunken lout who finds redemption and so on and so forth, Murray simply sits in a lawn char over the closing credits while listening to Bob Dylan's "Shelter From The Storm" on an old-school Walkman, singing along. It's wonderful. And it, as it had to, got me to thinking about what other Bill Murray movie characters could sing along to Bob Dylan songs.

7 More Bob Dylan Songs Bill Murray Could Sing

The Royal Tenenbaums - Dignity. Well, if there is one thing for which poor Raleigh St. Clair is searching... "Chilly wind sharp as a razor blade / House on fire, debts unpaid / Gonna stand at the window, gonna ask the maid / Have you seen dignity?"

Rushmore - One Too Many Mornings. Imagine Herman Blume by the pool in his Budweiser boxer shorts drinking coffee with bourbon and smoking a cigarette and singing along. "And I'm one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind."

Ghostbusters - I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Have Never Met). The mere mental image of Peter Venkman crooning this to a mortified Dana Barrett..... "I can't understand, she let go of my hand / And left me here facing the wall / I'd sure like to know, why she did go / But I can't get close to her at all."

Lost In Translation - From A Buick 6. An alternative karaoke moment in which Bob Harris sings the blues. "Well if I go down dyin' you know she's bound to put a blanket on my bed."

Wild Things - A Simple Twist Of Fate. Here's what I'm thinking - during the closing credits when the movie keeps flashing back to show us what REALLY happened, we see Ken Bowden putting on the neck brace, getting ready for court, singing this song. "He woke up, the room was bare, he didn't see her anywhere."

Broken Flowers - Not Dark Yet. Here I'm picturing a sort of "Magnolia"-ish moment in which Murray's Don Johnston forlornly sits on his sofa and sings this to the camera. "There's not even room enough to be anywhere / It's not dark yet but it's gettin' there."

What About Bob? - Subterranean Homesick Blues. This one is because I love the thought of Bob Wiley re-creating Bob Dylan's video. "Ah, get born, keep warm, short pants, romance, learn to dance / Get dressed, get blessed, try to be a success."