If you didn't get a chance to see the premiere of VITO last week, make sure to tune in to one of its final airings [July 31st: 12:45 p.m.; Aug. 4th: 3:00 p.m.; Aug 8th: 9:15 a.m.] or find it on alternate HBO channels or HBOGO. The documentary is about the life and activism of Vito Russo (1946-1990) who was the author of the seminal non-fiction book "The Celluloid Closet" the definitive kick off point to the now robust commonplace conversation about the depiction of LGBT people in filmed entertainment.
I spoke with Jeffrey Schwarz, Vito's director, for Towleroad last weekend. I'd previously seen Schwarz's documentary about B movie showman William Castle (Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story) and we talked for an hour about a wide range of things beyond Vito including his work as the producer of "added value content" for DVDs. He's worked for a who's who of auteurs (Lynch, Scorsese, the Coens, and many many more) on bonus features and "making of" projects. It's not a subject one hears much about in terms of what goes on behind the curtain -- The Making of The Making of! -- perhaps that's diving too deep down the DVD/Bluray rabbit hole?
But I thought I'd share a few notes that didn't make it into my Towleroad interview for lack of space as well as being slightly off the Vito doc topic.
NATHANIEL R: You run this company Automat Pictures that does DVD extras. You've worked with these legends, almost mythically famous directors.
JEFFREY SCHWARZ: If you love movies, what I do for a living is a like a dream come true. I started doing this in 1998 when I got a job editing and shooting behind the scenes on Gus Van Sant's Psycho. That's how I got into this business. I didn't even have a DVD player yet! The format was first emerging and the studios were hiring independent producers to make added value content. I got lucky because I was in the right place at the right time. I'd actually pitched my William Castle movie to Sony because they own all the William Castle movies. I was a little bit naive thinking that this big studio would want to produce my documentary but they did end up hiring me to produce the DVD extras for The Tingler!
That's really what got me started -- first it was Psycho, then it was The Tingler! and that led to other jobs for other studios.
Take One: Ruthless People (1987)
DeVito wants Bette Midler dead and gone in Ruthless People. The sooner the better preferably, with a minimum of fuss and personal expense. Sam "spandex mini-skirt king" Stone's wife Barbara (Midler) is kidnapped by the nicest people to ever venture to the criminal side, Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater. When, over the phone, Reinhold relays his strict rules regarding heiress Barbara ransom, DeVito’s face brightens by the minute at the idea that she will be killed if he disobeys their orders or any police intervention is suspected. Cue a fleet of cop cars and every news channel in LA reporting on the story. Cut to: Sam popping a champagne cork with filthy glee.
Ruthless People is a daft rejig of crime film plot staples, a film noir hijacked by a clown. DeVito gives it just the right amount of mugging and brimful-to-overflowing silliness it requires. He revels in the heightened ridiculousness of the plot in his typically impish fashion. There’s something consistently written across his face that suggests he’s so in on the joke and wants us to be just as tied up in the murderous slapstick as he and the rest of the cast are. DeVito mined this goofy performance style to perfection during the 1980s in films like Twins, Throw Momma from the Train and Wise Guys, but its best expressed right here. DeVito is ever the generously complicit comedian in Ruthless People and deserved that Golden Globe nomination for his comic efforts. (Inexplicably, Paul ‘Crocodile Dundee’ Hogan won that year)
Take Two: The War of the Roses (1989)
When the DeVito-directed The War of the Roses was first announced there was talk, rumors really, that it would be the next installment of the Romancing the Stone series. It wasn’t, but it featured the same core trio: Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner romantically entwined and Danny DeVito on the sidelines. MORE...
Shortly after writing about The Dark Knight Rises I got all frustrated remembering how audiences are ignoring the bracing terrific French drama Farewell My Queen so I couldn't resist doodling about them together. Enjoy!
That arthouse drama about The Terror would make for an eye opening double feature for fanboys, an educational footnote if you will, for Chris Nolan's awkward political metaphors about the unruly 99% and how hard they are on those put upon benevolent 1%ers!
Speaking of bags upon bags of money and who's got it... this weekend's box office charts.
Box Office Fifteen
01 THE DARK KNIGHT RISES $64 (Cum. $289) Review
02 ICE AGE 4 $13.3 (cum. $114.8)
03 THE WATCH $13 *new*
04 STEP UP REVOLUTION $11.8 *new*
05 TED $7.3 (cum $193.6)
06 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN $6.8 (cum $242) Review
07 BRAVE $4.2 (cum. $217.2)
08 MAGIC MIKE $2.5 (cum. $107.5) Review
09 SAVAGES $1.7 (cum. $43.8)
10 MOONRISE KINGDOM $1.3 (cum. $38.3)
11 MADEA'S WITNESS PROTECTION $2.5 (cum. $62.7)
12 TO ROME WITH LOVE $4.2 (cum. $12.9) Review
13 BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD $2.5 (cum. $4.1)
14 MADAGASCAR 3 $4.2 (cum. $209.5)
15 THE AVENGERS $2.5 (cum. $616) Review
Just outside the top 15, French import and international feel good hit The Intouchables is really rising. It's about to hit $5 million in the US and still expanding. Outside of TDKR, the most crowded theaters (i.e. per screen average) were for two indies in very limited theatrical release: NC-17 rated Killer Joe (with Matthew McConaughey and Gina Gershon based on the Tracy Letts play) and Ruby Sparks with Paul Dano as a writer and Zoe Kazan as his creation.
What did you watch this weekend? Besides The Olympics of course.
Please tell me you're watching the Olympics.
Like many non-sports people of the world, it's the only time I'm ever interested in sports but interested I am. All in! I love that famous film directors often get to direct the Opening Ceremonies and though I can't say that I think Danny Boyle did a memorable job or anything (Zhang Yimou's 2008 spectacle is a *really* tough act to follow), I did enjoy the comic touches. Always love seeing Daniel Craig suited up as James Bond and the evening's best moment had to be Queen Elizabeth's stunt double hilariously leaping out of a helicopter in that grandmatronly pink dress and the Queen's own sense of humor about herself to say yes to all this slapstick in the first place.
Who knew she had a sense of humor?
You'd never know it to look at her. Her Majesty never looks anything less than miserable (I died at her reaction to that ghastly children's choir) If she had said no, one must assume that Danny Boyle had Dame Helen Mirren backstage with costume on, ready to step in like an eager understudy.
My other favorite bit was Mr. Bean's total boredom while playing the Chariots of Fire theme song on the keyboard and his resultant jogging fantasy. It's probably not cool to admit that Mr. Bean cracks me up but he does.
Most of us watch the Olympics on the telly but look who was happy to be in the bleachers!
Love you, Nicki Kidman! You are a true Olympian in our hearts and an actual Gold Medalist to The Film Experience! xoxoxo
Call me maybe?
What are your favorite Olympic moments so far? I live for gymnastics and they keep cutting away from it. ALSO: any suggestions on how to get better gymnastics coverage are welcome -- I feel like I literally ONLY saw the US athletes tonight and I have no idea how their competition is doing or what they look like. I watch the Olympics because its global. I need other countries in the mix. Please and thanks.
Though it's normally best to get straight to the point with reviews The Dark Knight Rises (hereafter refered to as TDKR) presents something of a quandary. How do you jump right in to speaking about this particular film when Christopher Nolan's last Batman film has so long ceased being "just a movie". So we begin with a three part preface...
What?!? Nolan can blow seven reels of a non-origin Batman film before Bruce suits up and you object to me blathering on for three paragraphs before I review the movie? Double standards!
First, I believe that Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman is one of the greatest performances of the 1990s, the very definition of what an actor can do when they understand their auteur's vision, get the heightened play of specific entertainment genres, and are capable of imaginative stylization. It pissed me right off that people tried to pretend that no one before Heath Ledger had ever delivered Oscar worthy work within the comic book genre. So Batman Returns is my favorite Batman movie (yes, I know it has flaws. Shut up) and I entered the movie naturally resistant to Anne Hathaway's Catwoman.
Second, I saw the movie alone on Saturday, the morning after it opened. I failed to convince any of my friends to go with me and wasted my second ticket. To my great shame even though I think it's stupid to let fear change your routines (I was on a plane exactly a week after 9/11 as scheduled) I did briefly find myself thinking about where the exits were* against my will and flinched at the frequent gun battles in the movie. When I returned from the movie a friend snarkily asked me "So was is worth risking your life?" and I wanted to punch him. In a non violent way. See, every movie is worth risking your life for because movies are totally safe. Movies do not kill people, people do. People with access to firearms especially which is a lot of people given our nation's embarrassingly pro-tragedy gun laws.
*I'm super happy to report that I've been to the movies twice after this and never once thought of this.
This is a LOT of baggage to take into a movie already. I get that. And then there's the small matter of my teflon resistance to understanding the genius of Chris Nolan and residual frustration with fanboy culture that demands that I do. I was discussing the push and pull between mandated blockbuster movie culture and blogging demands last week with Rob, a reader, on facebook who paid me the nicest compliment:
I like the balance you strike. Sorta: this is here, can't ignore it, we're all gonna see it, Christian Bale is gonna sound funny, and we move on.
This year I had made a silent goal to myself to talk about animated films more often at The Film Experience since I sometimes really enjoy them even if I don't say so and you definitely enjoy them but we tend to not cover them. So far so getting better. Here are two films I'm looking forward to that I didn't even realize I was excited for because I almost forgot they existed.
1. Me and My Shadow (2014)
This upcoming effort released a teaser poster a few days ago and has a cute concept. It will reportedly be a blending of traditional animation and CG animation with the traditional being the shadow world and the CG being for the "real" world. From the official synopsis...
Stan (Bill Hader), our hero's shadow, yearns for a more exciting life but happens to be stuck with Stanley Grubb (Josh Gad), a timid guy with an extreme aversion to adventure. When a crime in the shadow world puts both of their lives in danger, Stan is forced to take control of Stanley...
My mind immediately lept to Steve Martin's body controlled by Lily Tomlin's spirit in All of Me (1984) and Linguini's body going all marionette for Remy in Ratatouille (2007) so the concept is just rich for potentially golden physical slapstick and awkward charm. Not that it's easy to be as good as either of those pictures!
More after the jump including Oscar potential...