Readers’ Corner: Peter O’Toole (1932-2013)

lawrencearabia

Although he will go down in cultural history as the incarnation of Lawrence of Arabia (not so much the real-life one, but the fascinatingly cinematic variation thereof), Peter O’Toole had his literary side as well. When he passed away last week, most obituaries mentioned one of the hellraising actor’s more memorable lines of poetry:

I will not be a common man.

I will stir the smooth sands of monotony.

For more O’Toole greatness, check out Gay Talese’s rattlingly good profile on the man from Esquire in 1963. Among other snappy lines, it includes this bit:

All he knew was that within him, simmering in the smithy of his soul, were confusion and conflict, and they were probably all linked somehow with Ireland and the Church … a former altar boy, a drinker who now wanders streets at night buying the same book (“My life is littered with copies of Moby Dick”) and reading the same sermon on that book (“…and if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves…”)…

New in Theaters: ‘The Past’

Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in 'The Past'
Berenice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in ‘The Past’

thepast-posterLike the writer said, The past is never dead, it isn’t even past. In Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi’s newest drama, a French woman (Berenice Bejo, from The Artist) invites her ex-husband back from Iran supposedly to finalize their divorce only to ensnare him in her tangled new relationship.

The Past opened this week in limited release but should roll out around the country over the next couple months. My review is at Film Racket:

Asghar Farhadi’s powerful but unraveled film starts as a domestic drama and then shifts into a mystery. Strangely, the further it pushes the mystery angle, with secrets peeling off like onion skin from the knotted core of the past, the less engaging it becomes. Farhadi’s greatest strengths lie in the parsing of intra-family conflict, where expectations and resentments bubble all around like a musical score. He’s on less sure footing when it comes to building tension by way of soap-operatic revelation. But give the man a husband and wife and a kitchen sitting between them as though it were the battlefield of their lives, and he’s in his element…

thepast2
Pauline Burlet as the daughter caught between her battling parents in ‘The Past’

Here’s the trailer:

In Movies: National Film Registry

'Decasia'; now, and for eternity
‘Decasia’; now, and for eternity

Every year, the Library of Congress selects another 25 films “deemed to be culturally, aesthetically or historically important” for adding to the National Film Registry, in order to preserve them for future generations. The 2013 list is nice and eclectic, ranging from Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) to musicals (Mary Poppins), short documentaries, and experimental one-offs (Decasia, a found-footage compilation showing the decay of film stock over time).

Here’s the new list:

  • “Bless Their Little Hearts” (1984) – Billy Woodberry’s UCLA thesis film about a working-class African American family.
  • “Brandy in the Wilderness” (1969) – Stanton Kaye’s experimental semi-autobiography.
  • “Cicero March” (1966) – Short film recording a civil right march in an all-white Chicago suburb.
  • “Daughter of Dawn” (1920) – Recently rediscovered drama with hundreds of Native American cast members, the first shot in Oklahoma.
  • “Decasia” (2002) – Found-footage compendium using decomposing images from old nitrate film stock.
  • “Ella Cinders” (1926) – Silent comedy about a girl trying to become a star.
  • “Forbidden Planet” (1956) – Classic sci-fi adventure semi-based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
  • “Gilda” (1946) – Brilliant film noir with Rita Hayworth
  • “The Hole” (1962) – John and Faith Hubley’s Oscar-winning animated short about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Judgment-at-Nuremberg-Poster“Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961) – Star-studded Stanley Kramer drama about the Nazi war crime trials.
  • “King of Jazz” (1930) – Early Technicolor music revue with Bing Crosby.
  • “The Lunch Date” (1989) – Award-winning student film about a chance meeting between a woman and a homeless man in a train station.
  • “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) – John Sturges’ western remake of “The Seven Samurai” will never grow old.
  • Martha Graham Early Dance film (1931-44) – Four films documenting the choreography of these influential dancers.
  • “Mary Poppins” (1964) – That movie which Saving Mr. Banks is about.
  • “Men & Dust” (1940) – Documentary about Midwestern miners.
  •  “Midnight” (1939) – Comedy with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore.
  • Notes on the Port of St. Francis” (1951) – Vincent Price-narrated short about San Francisco.
  • “Pulp Fiction” (1994) – Quentin Tarantino’s epic blend of crime and comedy that supposedly changed everything in Hollywood.
  • “The Quiet Man” (1952) – A big wet kiss to Ireland from John Ford, starring John Wayne.
  • “The Right Stuff” (1983) – Philip Kaufman’s rousing adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s account of the early space program.
  • “Roger & Me” (1989) – Michael Moore tries to get answers from the head of GM.
  • “A Virtuous Vamp” (1919) – Silent romantic comedy.
  • “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1966) – Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton go to war in Mike Nichols’ film of the Edward Albee play about marital discord, and other things.
  • “Wild Boys of the Road” (1933) – Social drama about teens on the road during the Great Depression.

New in Theaters: ‘Her’

'Her': Loving what's not there
Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Her’: Loving what’s not there

her-posterEveryone always says that they just love this phone or that gadget. So it makes sense that Spike Jonze’s visionary but powerfully naive new sci-fi rom-com Her would take that romantic displacement to its ultimate conclusion by having a guy (Joaquin Phoenix) fall in love with his new operating  system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

Her opens this week. My review is at Film Racket:

In the future, computers will be not only our friends and lovers, they’ll also help us discover our better selves. That seems to be the message of Spike Jonze’s partially genius, often infuriating yuppie sci-fi fantasy about love and meaning in the post-smartphone era. It’s a film that spends so much effort perfecting the sun-dappled look seen in digital-tech commercials, and squinting to see how technology will operate a few years hence, that it doesn’t have much energy left over for its humans. Jonze seems more truly engaged by Samantha, who is the most well-rounded character in the film. Notably, she’s not human…

'Her': Happiness is an advanced operating system
‘Her’: Happiness is an advanced operating system

Here’s the trailer, soundtrack by Arcade Fire:

New in Theaters: ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’

'Anchorman 2'! Is back!
‘Anchorman 2’! Is back!

Anchorman2_PosterThe rule of comedy sequels is not a strong one; witness everything from Ghostbusters 2 to The Hangover 3. Nevertheless, Adam McKay and Will Ferrell dared the fates by going back to their 2004 cult oddity Anchorman, the single most surreal comedy to hit American theaters since Monty Python, and seeing if they could resuscitate the magic. This time, instead of 1970s local-news, they’re doing an extended riff on early CNN.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens everywhere tomorrow. My review is at Film Journal International:

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is so busy resting on its laurels it never gives the audience a solid reason for having shown up. The original was anarchic parody on a near-operatic scale, with the feel of several comedy greats throwing it all out there as though they would never get another shot. But the second film is clearly a franchise, it reeks of work

You can see the trailer here; just part of the film’s Super Bowl-like marketing campaign that’s been swamping the nation for weeks now:

Department of Awards: Online Film Critics Society

Chiwetel Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave'
Chiwetel Ejiofor in ’12 Years a Slave’

The Online Film Critics Society, an international group of cinematic scriveners who are kind enough to count me in their number, today announced our awards for the best films of 2013. Not surprisingly, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity took the lead, with five and three wins, respectively, and Cate Blanchett deservedly took another best actress win for her work in Blue JasmineVariety reported it here.

Cate Blanchett in 'Blue Jasmine'
Cate Blanchett in ‘Blue Jasmine’

We also gave a special posthumous award to the late, great Roger Ebert, “whose decades of work in criticism helped to popularize serious film appreciation to a wider audience, and whose tireless persistence in the face of cancer was as inspiring as any of the films he championed.”

Here’s the full list:

  • Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
  • Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises
  • Best Film Not in the English Language: Blue Is the Warmest Color
  • Best Documentary: The Act of Killing
  • Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity
  • Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor – 12 Years a Slave
  • Best Actress: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
  • Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender – 12 Years a Slave
  • Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
  • Best Original Screenplay: Her
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
  • Best Editing: Gravity
  • Best Cinematography: Gravity

 

Writers’ Corner: James Baldwin and Preaching

baldwin1James Baldwin didn’t start out as a writer; but then, none of us do. Before he put pen to paper, he had a different calling: preacher.

In this interview from The Paris Review, he explains the difference:

When you are standing in the pulpit, you must sound as though you know what you’re talking about. When you’re writing, you’re trying to find out something which you don’t know. The whole language of writing for me is finding out what you don’t want to know, what you don’t want to find out. But something forces you to anyway.

It’s all communication, one way or the other.