Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Deer Hunter: Masculinity Against All Odds

By Steve Evans
Finishing up my mini-festival of John Cazale films today with an evening screening of The Deer Hunter, that epic, heartbreaking and long (but not too long) exploration of Vietnam-era Americana and small-town values. Oh. And it also took the Oscar for Best Picture of 1978.

Unlike most critics and film historians, I never thought The Deer Hunter was “about” the Vietnam War. Rather, it is about three men of identical working-class backgrounds but markedly different personalities, and how they each cope with horrific, life-altering circumstances as a consequence of going to war. It is a study of masculinity, of what it means to be a man and how a man responds to seemingly impossible situations.

John Cazale’s character Stan is peripheral to this theme. He represents the weak male, the ineffectual hanger-on whose identity depends on the men he can surround himself with. The central characters are played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken (in an Oscar-winning performance) and John Savage (a last minute replacement for Roy Scheider, who quit the production and opted, instead, to star in Jaws 2).

While the film itself remains a devastating emotional experience, it also has the distinction of containing the single greatest sequence of unbearable intensity and suspense in the history of motion pictures. Period. I refer, of course, to the infamous sequence where De Niro, Walken and Savage are held in a Vietcong POW encampment, forced to play Russian roulette for the gambling amusement of their captors, along the most desolate stretch of rat-infested river ever seen in film.

I should mention now that I have probably seen close to 15,000 motion pictures during my lifelong love affair with the cinema. Never have I seen a more terrifying and emotionally exhausting sequence than the Russian roulette tortures endured by the protagonists of this film. It ranks among the most brilliantly constructed 15 minutes of film in the history of the medium.

I saw this picture when I was 15 years old and it haunted me for days afterwards. I watched it again this afternoon and found myself in the same vise-grip of total involvement that I first experienced more than 36 years ago.

Every time I view The Deer Hunter I challenge myself to a different question. Three decades ago, I wondered how I would handle myself in the same circumstances. Today the film gave me reason to consider just what I am prepared to do to ensure the well-being of my children and my own self-preservation in the face of ungodly obstacles.

These are provocative thoughts to consider, my friends. Be glad you are seldom faced with such choices.

But if it should ever come down to it, I now know unequivocally that I will follow De Niro’s lead and bring the situation to its inevitable conclusion.


Yeah? Just try me.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Remembering John Cazale (1935-1978)

By Steve Evans

I am this week revisiting the amazing career of character actor John Cazale, who made precisely five films – all of them either nominees or winners for the Best Picture Academy Award: The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Conversation, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter, which was released posthumously, as Cazale died of lung cancer mere months before that film opened in 1978.

Most people will remember Cazale as Fredo, the weak brother in the first two Godfather films. He was engaged to Meryl Streep at the time of his death and was reportedly the love of her life.

I watched Dog Day Afternoon (1975) earlier today and recall the conversation I had with the film’s Oscar-winning screenwriter, Frank Pierson, during the Virginia Film Festival a decade ago. Pierson gave a clinic on dramatic writing – and he was imminently qualified to do so – a much of Dog Day is set inside the branch office of a Brooklyn bank during the course of a robbery, with only dialog to propel the plot.

Cazale has maybe 20 lines in the entire film. His work is all the more chilling for the scarcity of his verbosity. Al Pacino got all the attention (and an Oscar nomination), but it is Cazale's brooding performance that haunts and ultimately rewards repeat viewings.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the 1970s were the last truly great decade of American cinema. For seven fleeting years, Cazale was an integral part of that.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paid to See 'Planes' Sequel; Found Nemo, Instead

By Steve Evans

Taking three kids to the movies turns out to be more interesting than the movie itself, in this case, Disney's sequel to Planes.

After the picture finally started, the two oldest kids made two trips each to the restroom, which in practical terms means we ALL went to the restroom four times. The youngest ate more than half of an $8 sack of popcorn and talked merrily throughout the film while giving me non-stop High Fives. Then she removed and tossed one of her shoes down the aisle. I do not see well in the dark, but always bring a pocket flashlight with me for these special occasions. Middle child took his shoes off as the credits rolled, then went running and leaping up and down the theater aisles. Oldest child offered to share her Skittles with every kid leaving the theater. She and her brother danced until the house lights came up, then we looked for their shoes.

And once we got to the car, loaded up and locked in with seat belts, my three-year-old son screams, "Daddy! I left Nemo inside the movie house!" Nemo is a beloved stuffed toy, a Clown fish from the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo. Whereever my son goes, Nemo goes.

Nothing to do but unload everyone, bang on the Exit door of the theater until a kind soul let us in, then pick our way through the theater in our quest for Finding Nemo.

Alas, the stuffed fish was not in Theater #8. But the nice folks at Lost & Found had indeed found Nemo, no worse for the wear and tear except for a few pieces of buttered popcorn stuck to his gills.

Half an hour later, we were back in the car and on the road. Youngest had both her shoes. Mr. Elephant was in the possession of my oldest. And middle child clutched Nemo to his chest -- a clear sign that going back into the theater was the right thing to do. Hell, the only thing to do.

Over ice cream the kids talked happily about how much fun they have going to the movies. And I thought quietly that the tale of a Talking Plane and his adventures with firefighters in the Pacific Northwest could scarcely compare to the real-world excitement of lost shoes, finding Nemo, and making so many trips to the potty I am thinking of equipping everyone with a colostomy bag.

Fatherhood: the most challenging job I ever loved.

(For those of you on the fence about the Planes sequel, truth be told it's better than the original. The computer animation is a wow. For kids and their parents -- at least the parts we managed to see.)

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer cinema: talking monkeys, giant robots, dumb comedies & superhero sequels = dismal box office

By Steve Evans

The summer movie blockbuster season hits the midway mark this week and box office results show audiences are saying, "meh."

The top three films in America, as of this writing, are a Planet of the Apes sequel, a Transformers sequel, and "Tammy" starring Melissa McCarthy, the vastly overrated comedienne whose sell-by date soured almost a year ago.

Variety reports a shrinking domestic box office this year, as raunchy R-rated comedies fill theaters bereft of family films and provocative adult dramas that might give more people a reason to go to the movies. At this point, there's no way Hollywood will top the record $4.76 billion box office from last year.

Hollywood, of course, skews product toward teenage boys and occasionally their dates. As a result, superhero movies dominate screens and sequels rule the summer. Except this summer, it ain't necessarily so. Lackluster results for Spiderman 2, Michael Bay's execrable Transformers series and other summer 2014 sequels pale in comparison to last year's record movie attendance. Why?

Analysts and studio execs are tripping over themselves to explain away these dismal results. They claim irregular production schedules and competing entertainment such as the World Cup peel off potential ticket buyers.

These are smoke screens.

The reality is that the slate of summer 2014 films is of such poor quality and ticket prices have grown so exorbitant that people exercise more caution with their entertainment dollars. Social media plays a big role in advancing word-of -mouth about the merits of a movie. Low social engagement with a film on Facebook can cost a production millions in revenues.

Film critics fancy themselves an indispensable part of the dialog on contemporary cinema, but their influence is negligible compared to the power of a social media post gone viral.

So here's a post:

This year's summer blockbusters just aren't very good. And irritated ticket buyers are quick to post their dissatisfaction. Films that might surge on opening weekend lose 60-70 percent of their business the following week. It's a numbers game: you cannot recover a $200 million budget on a film that makes $75 million on opening weekend and gets bad-mouthed on the Internet to the point of extinction in the following weeks before the picture is pulled from screens to await a Blu-ray release and possibly a second life on Netflix.

Video on demand and streaming services like Hulu catch a lot of the blame for poor ticket sales at theaters, but that doesn't tell the whole story.

America excels at a great many things, none moreso that the creation of popular entertainment. As much as I love world cinema, the simple truth is that when it comes to making movies, Hollywood is the center of the universe. Until the Hollywood studios curb their desire to repeat past successes with formulaic films and endless sequels, people will remain wary of the noisy product on sale at multiplexes throughout the country. The harder the marketing push, the more reluctant the buyer.

It's simple, really. People crave strong narrative; it is inherent in all of us from childhood. Please. Tell me a story.

Present a story fundamentally well-told, both original and with characters worth caring about, and people will pay to hear it. Or watch it with sticky 3-D glasses at the theater.

For now, studio executives are content to engage in a high-stakes crapshoot with loaded dice. Even then, they still roll snake eyes. The results are boring. Predictable. And we deserve better.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Running with the Mayans: Revisiting Apocalypto

By Steve Evans

How many times has the famous short story, The Most Dangerous Game, been adapted to film? I can think of the original from 1932, shot in chiaroscuro shades of black and white by night on the same sets used to make King Kong. There's a nice DVD edition of this picture in The Criterion Collection.

Variations of this adventure tale abound in the cinema. Essentially, The Most Dangerous Game involves an innocent man captured and set into the wild for the sole purpose of being hunted and killed by ruthless men who live for the perverse sport of tracking and eliminating another human being. In some accounts, the hunters pay for the privilege. In others, they hunt just for the hell of it.

Jean Claude Van Damme starred in Hard Target (1992), which was Hong Kong director John Woo's first American film. It's ruff and tuff, with as much stylistic camera whoop-de-doo that Woo can get away with. Lots of slo-mo explosions and doves suspended in flight, punctuated by the Belgian Van Damme's peculiar blend of kickboxing and stilted non-sequiturs delivered in halting English.

I could rattle off a dozen more films in this sub-genre, but for my nickel, the most absorbing of the bunch is Mel Gibson's off-the-rails Mayan thriller Apocalypto (2006). Easily in the running for most violent film ever made, the picture is so completely engrossing that at times you may think you're watching a documentary of an ancient culture. Once it gets rolling, though, the tension never lets up. 

Briefly, a peaceful tribe of Indians is ambushed by Mayan warriors who need human sacrifices for their sun god. Tribal leader Jaguar Paw is among those tied up and forced to march through the jungle to the Mayan city, but not before he is able to hide his pregnant wife and young son in a deep pit.

Vividly depicted on massive sets augmented by CGI, the Mayan city is shown to be part of a decadent civilization in rapid decline. Disease is rampant. Crops wither in fields parched from lack of rain. The Mayan leaders attempt to appease their followers with ghastly human sacrifices at the summit of their pyramids. Indian prisoners are forced onto an altar, where their beating hearts are cut and ripped from their bodies with a jagged bone knife (this is not a date movie; much of Gibson's original vision had to be toned down so the film would receive an R-rating).

Jaguar Paw manages to escape this fate and his captors, setting in motion the final act of the plot -- an adrenaline-charged chase through the jungles as a persecuted primitive man races to save his family while Mayan warriors pursue him mercilessly. From here on, it's catch me if you can. Jaguar Paw will leap from waterfalls, fend off poisonous snakes, jaguars and wasps, dodge spears and arrows, and kill many evil men with a savagery befitting the times and circumstances in his heroic odyssey to rescue wife and child.

The performances, costume design, cinematography and breathless editing are top-notch. All dialog (with English subtitles) is in the Yucatec Maya language, adding to the authenticity of this mesmerizing cinematic experience.

Found it on Blu-ray today for a measly $5 so it's off to the 15th century with me this evening.

Say what you will about Gibson, but when he gets a chance to work with unique material that sates his bloodlust and transparently Darwinian point of view, the results are stunning, visceral and unforgettable.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writer-Director Paul Mazursky Dead at 84

By Steve Evans

Five-time Oscar nominee Paul Mazursky, who played a role in Stanley Kubrick's first film, Fear and Desire, died June 30 in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Mazursky's career as an actor, writer, director and producer spanned six decades and almost all genres, although his focus remained primarily on comedy and drama. Always a bridesmaid, he came closest to winning the Academy Award for his work on An Unmarried Woman (1978), starring Jill Clayburgh as a wealthy Manhattanite whose life is shattered when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Mazursky was up for the Oscar that year as writer, director and producer. Clayburgh also received a nod for Best Actress.

His most popular film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), is a remake of Jean Renoir's classic French satire Boudu Saved From Drowning. Mazursky was reportedly a great admirer of French cinema, Renoir in particular, and this fact alone drew me to Mazurksy's work through the years. Down and Out remains one of my favorite films satirizing the Reagan years.

As an actor, Mazursky played a delinquent tormenting Glenn Ford's high school teacher in the hugely influential Blackboard Jungle (1955). Late in life, he had a recurring role as the poker dealer Sunshine in The Sopranos.

As a writer, Mazursky penned the amusing hippie film I love You Alice B. Toklas (1968) starring Peter Sellers as a square who learns to tune in, turn on, drop out and loosen up with the benefit of a special hash-brownie recipe. Getting it on with Leigh Taylor-Young certainly adds to Sellers' enthusiasm for the role.

A Jewish kid from Brooklyn, Mazursky's work was often compared with Woody Allen, as the two worked similar turf. Mazursky never came completely out of Allen's shadow, but they collaborated through the years and Mazursky's films never failed to entertain.

Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that Mazursky's comedies "are more intelligent than most of the serious films around."

Always a writer of topical material, much of Mazursky's output may now seem dated as his settings are invariably linked to the social concerns of a specific time and place. You should seek them out, anyway.

He had an acerbic wit that reportedly emerged from a gentle spirit and a fascination with the foibles of average Americans.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cassavetes gives a clinic on reality vs. perception

By Steve Evans
Check out this fascinating clip of an old talk show, when filmmaking men still had balls of blue steel and were unafraid to make a statement.

John Cassavetes, that great Godfather of indie cinema, wanders onto the Dick Cavett show in 1970 with compatriots Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara, ostensibly to promote Cassavete's picture "Husbands" (which is a searing cinematic experience). All appear to have been drinking heavily. Talk-show TeeVee was quite different 40-odd years ago. Poor Cavett; he struggles valiantly through the first half of the interview.

Then an amazing thing occurs. Cassavetes actually gets down to business around the 25-minute mark and offers some remarkably insightful thoughts on middle age as it relates to his film. Falk and Gazzara, after fucking around for 20 minutes, suddenly chime in with their own equally lucid and rather sharp observations of what it means to be a man in a society determined to make conformists out of everyone.

This sudden on-air turnabout from drunken buffoonery to poignant social commentary is stunning. Seldom do we get to see performance art acted out on live television in such a convincing way that your entire perception of this free-wheeling interview evolves and turns 180 degrees miraculously before your eyes. Plus, these guys are so damn cool, so supremely confident in what they are up to, that it's an absolute disgrace Cassavetes' films are not all in the Library of Congress. How hard must it be to be so misunderstood and yet so relentless in the quest of your own personal vision?

We learn, once again, that nothing is ever as it truly seems. And that realization is the very definition of liberation.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Film, Beethoven, Flash Mobs and Perfect Dinner Parties

By Steve Evans

Someone once asked me at a dinner party...who I would invite to a dinner party and what I would serve. The latter answer is easy -- filet mignon grilled fast in brandy and minced shallots, lobster tails slathered in drawn butter and lemon zest, grilled asparagus, roasted new potatoes with rosemary and crushed garlic cloves, and grapefruit salad dressed with sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.  Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for the lobster. New York style cheesecake topped with ripe raspberries and port wine for dessert.

Then there would be cigars and cognac.

As for the guest list, that becomes problematic. Most of my heroes have left this plane of existence, but if we could resurrect them (and language was no barrier to our conversation), I would invite Jesus, Buddha, Aristotle, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, John Coltrane, Bill Evans (no relation), Cleopatra, Louise Brooks, Myrna Loy, Jean Renoir, Picasso, Neil Armstrong, Cary Grant, Stanley Kubrick, Henri Georges Clouzot, Jeanne Moreau, possibly Richard III, definitely Abraham Lincoln and Ingmar Bergman, Grace Kelly if she was free that night, and Jimi Hendrix, because he was always Stone Free. If there was still room at the table I would welcome Ed Wood Jr., Phil Tucker (who directed Robot Monster, one of the most sublime and yet still awful films I have seen), Victor Hugo and Joan of Arc, Ghandi (he would pass on the fillets of beef, no doubt), and James Agee, who may be the most under-appreciated writer of the 20th century.

I think I would ask Marilyn Monroe for a date that evening, not for the reasons you might think, but because I might be able to pierce her shell ( I am good like that) and perhaps understand the demons that drove her. Plus, I am confident that I could kick Jack Kennedy's (or Bobby''s) ass into the street.

And by the time we got around to the cigars and brandy, I would ask Beethoven to perform for us all.

Here, then, is the coda on my perfect dinner party...wandering outdoors we would all encounter the most wonderful thing I have seen since the dawn of the Internet.

Life is beautiful. I would do well to remember that. So would we all.


Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014. By Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The English Patient died...and saved my life

By Steve Evans

I have seen "The English Patient" many, many times, including a press screening in advance of its original theatrical release 18 years ago. I have many smart friends who tell me this Best Picture Oscar winner is overlong, contrived in its emotional manipulation, and deviates from the source novel (as if it is the only film ever to have done so). I respect my friends, though not always their opinions. The English Patient remains on my annual rotation of must-see motion pictures. That means I am coming up on at least my 19th viewing.

Perhaps it's the music, especially Mahler's concertos for piano, that I find so enchanting. Or maybe it's Kristen Scott Thomas and her smoldering carnality. More likely, it's the essential gentle goodness of Juliet Binoche, ripe and erotic, who won an Oscar for her performance as a compassionate nurse whose smile might very well be the cure for cancer. Maybe I relate to the blind arrogance and eventual sad regret of Ralph Fienne's Count Laszlo de Almásy, the English Patient of the title, even though this is a misnomer and he is Hungarian by birth. Or perhaps it's the performance of Colin Firth, in an early role, who plays a grieving, vengeful lover who sets the sorrowful plot in motion.

Whatever alchemy this film may weave over devotees of literate drama, I know only that I have been overwhelmed by the cinematography every time I have viewed the picture. That the blend of images, story and performance moves me to tears every time, even though the film is as familiar to me as a beloved piece of classical music. The notes progress as they must, in precise sequence, moving inexorably to a coda already known.

And still I am moved by The English Patient. It pierces deep into the recesses of my mind, into the places I share with no one. It lives there, now, in my heart. There are moments in this film when I will cry, as if on cue, and I am powerless to stop the emotion. I know this story. I know what's coming. It is the sheer brilliance of the cinematic execution in the telling of the tale that pulls me under its spell. I am powerless to resist the allure of this picture. I could no more look away or deny the power of the film than laugh off the claims of an anesthesiologist who told me to count backwards from 10 and soon I would fall unconscious.

Director Anthony Minghella's greatest film (he left this mortal plane too soon) evokes a precise time and place, and sets in motion a romantic tragedy so profound, that I will throw my cards to the table and say it is the equal of anything I have read by Sophocles, Shakespeare, or even my own impassioned (and not half-bad) gibberish to my soon-to-be ex-wife.

The English Patient is a cautionary tale of choices and consequences. We can still choose to move forward without letting our past mistakes dictate our future decisions, without letting external factors like crazed pilots guide their planes like missiles toward us, determining our fate.

Scar tissue awaits us all, whether from the heat of burning flame on the surface, or the searing heat of emotional anguish within.

The English Patient ends on an epiphany and that devastating, bittersweet smile on the face of Juliet Binoche. If my dear readers may indulge my interpretation of her smile, it is this:

So long as we may live, there is hope. There is now; this very moment, to pause and reflect and decide what next to do. And with every continued breath, there is the possibility of tomorrow, a new day perhaps a little less painful than the night we endured before.

And that's enough.


Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Wolf" barks, seldom bites

By Steve Evans

Finally finished viewing Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" over three evenings separated by three weeks. My reaction is complex and not a little confused. I salute a 70-year-old director for producing a stylish and rambunctious motion picture that sustains the most unchecked debauchery (three relentless hours of it) that I can recall in a movie, yet tells the story in such farcical terms that I cannot decide whether to be offended or laugh, or more likely, both. Hence, my ambivalent reaction to the film. Maybe the only way to present such repellent material is to treat it as comedy so it becomes more accessible to a mass audience that can buy sufficient tickets for a $100 million film to become profitable (it did). Or maybe I am just old-fashioned. Maybe my conscience influences my thoughts about situations I find offensive yet are beyond my control. Perhaps I am more conventional than I once believed. Or more anarchic than I could ever have imagined.

"Wolf" traces the true story of Jordan Belfort, a charismatic penny-stock broker whose taste for wealth, women and drugs seems obvious after the first three minutes of the film, then continues for hours. His appetites accelerate in ways that only a film with a hard-R rating can explore. Belfort ultimately got busted, ending up serving a couple years in a federal prison for fraud and securities-exchange violations. He avoided a 20-year sentence by ratting out his accomplices. Today he is a motivational speaker.

Less than 30 seconds of research on the web reveals he was paid $1 million by the producers of this film for the rights to tell his sordid tale.

Belfort's brokerage was a boiler room where "pump-and-dump" stock schemes involved pushing cheap, worthless investments on rubes throughout the United States who were convinced by slick salesmen to buy paper that would never pay off. When the stock reached a plateau, Belfort and his cronies sold off, leaving the core investors to suffer the aftermath of junk gone bust.

In his pursuit of the American Dream, Belfort exploited the people most susceptible to the vaporous elusiveness of that dream. As portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the film, Belfort never gave a damn about the harm he caused. If the film is at all accurate, Belfort was too fucked up on drugs and intoxicated by pussy to comprehend his own behaviors. Even in fleeting moments of lucidity he just doesn't care.

The essential lesson of "Wolf" is that obsessive pursuit of anything (money and sex in this instance), comes at the cost of the soul. This is no epiphany. It is not insightful, beyond the relief that a thoroughly corrupt human being ultimately got his comeuppance, but still finagled a sweet deal with the law and emerged chastened, if relatively unscathed.

In absolute terms, the immorality of the protagonist is never in question: He is a scumbag. While Scorsese is ever-reliable in his flash-bam-pow cinematic style (this movie positively sizzles with energy and bizarre comedy), the story is familiar to anyone who follows the news and the theme seems self-evident to anyone who knows anything about Wall Street.

If the film is to be believed, Belfort enjoyed hiring hookers to shove lighted candles in his ass while dripping melted wax on his bare back. He tossed $100 bills at FBI agents who were investigating his company. He inhaled coke like most people enjoy breathing. He ingested so many Quaaludes that he had to crawl out of a country club. His schemes were so broad and complex that even distant relatives were recruited to launder his money through Swiss banks.

So why should we care? Step back for a second and think on Scorsese's career.

To oversimplify just a bit, "Wolf" is "GoodFellas" substituting guns for Mont Blanc pens. The films explore different worlds, but the motivation within them is still the same as every great Scorsese picture: money, power, sex, drugs, guilt, the hope for redemption. This time the only unconvincing aspect of a Scorsese picture is whether the protagonist truly feels guilt, much less seeks redemption.

Scorsese in his finest hours has been as obsessed and fascinated by these themes as any of his characters who have wallowed gleefully in decadence, madness and self-destruction. Scorsese himself came frightfully close to death in 1979, when a nightmarish addiction to cocaine nearly took his life. Robert De Niro brought to him the project that would become Raging Bull, and Scorsese devoted himself to that film as if it might be his last artistic statement in this life.

Like a moth to a flame, I believe Scorsese is more than just intrigued by these themes that imbue his films. Perhaps he even envies them, but in the case of "Wolf," at least, he cannot commit to a moral position. Still, narrative film is not journalism, in which some notion of objectivity is expected. Narrative film is art, and as an artist, Scorsese until now has always made his stance clear.It is his ambiguity over "Wolf" that makes my own ambivalence more troubling. I just don't believe Scorsese fully understands what he has created. The film was cut multiple times and the release delayed to get the running time under three hours. Maybe commercial considerations tainted the finished product.

Or maybe I expect too much from Scorsese, given his track record of excellence (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellas, The Departed -- even Casino -- come to mind). I was entertained by "Wolf," often extremely so. But I was not enlightened.

For me, transformation is the essence of great drama. Maybe the intent was to slay me with irony. The protagonist of "Wolf" is a degenerate prick and remains so throughout the picture. If that was Scorsese's goal, to show a man fundamentally incapable of change, then I need to think long and hard about the bleakness of that world view. It is not my vision. I believe people are capable of change. At least those who are not sociopaths.

Is sociopathy the key to success in relationships with people (at least short term)? Is an embrace of this ethical wasteland a crucial component of amassing wealth? Is the ability to prey upon people's weaknesses the path to winning? And if so, what has actually been won? Scorsese's film seems to suggest the answers to these four questions are "yes," "yes," "yes" and, "who cares?"

If these are the answers, my friends, that may be cause to reevaluate my response to modern American cinema. If "The Wolf of Wall Street" is intended as a reflection of the world we live in, a hyper-stylized mirror image of the reality that drives the 1 percent of Americans, then I may be ready to talk a little treason. To tear down the walls.

Truth be told, I am an anarchist at heart. In my most calm and calculated moments, this movie made me want to swing the action end of a Louisville Slugger savagely into the faces of several characters. I was revolted. I wanted to do...something. Perversion, selfishness and utter self-absorption should have no place in a world where people ought to love one another. Does that sound precious? Think that at your peril.

Taken in that light, perhaps Scorsese's bloated look at privileged American decadence may prove its value yet.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Finally finishing the foreign film book

By Steve Evans

After several false starts it's time to finish my book on great foreign films and why watching international cinema can help us better understand the world views of other people -- and consequently expand our own awareness of what it means to be alive. Many experiences in our lives are universal; obviously birth and death, but also love, joy, pain and perhaps, if we are fortunate, we may experience illumination in-betwe
en those milestones. How we perceive these things and respond to them all depends on where we're coming from, our culture, the uniqueness of our individual worlds.

Viewing international cinema is one way to unfurl the canvas of life much wider, allowing us to paint right into the very corners of existence. From this, I believe with all my heart, it becomes possible to cultivate a greater appreciation for our lives by understanding how other people live and perceive their world. Not just for the duration of a film, but long after. My intent with this book is to use the medium of film as an inspiration for pursuing a better life today, in this very moment, and to reconcile our bittersweet acknowledgment of the fleeting hours ahead.

And on that note, I encourage you to watch this three-minute clip from a 1977 Italian film, Allegro non Troppo, a particular favorite of mine. It speaks to the quest for individualism in a world of conformity and emulation. The clip also says quite a lot about self-absorption. Music by the incomparable Antonín Dvořák.


Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kick Out the Jams

By Steve Evans

Variety and The Hollywood Reporter ran reports this week of two new musician biopics due out this year, one featuring Jimi Hendrix and another charting the life of that Godfather himself, James Brown. I look forward to both films, but worry the soul will be bled from the stories of these legendary musicians.

After watching Bob Dylan turn tricks during the recent Super Bowl commercials, I got to thinking that rock and roll has strayed so far from its mission that the mainstream barely gets annoyed by the sound any more. Jimmy Page sold Led Zeppelin's legacy to hawk Cadillacs. Pete Townshend has been pimping Who songs for years.

So it's time to get back to basics. If we're going to bankroll musician biopics, it's time to strip away all pretense and make some real noise. I say, it's time for a biopic on the MC5. This quintet outta Detroit made noise as pure and coarse, as uncommercial and beautiful and flat-out-in-your-damn-face as rock and roll is ever likely to be. They were ahead of their time 45 years ago. I'm not sure the rest of the world ever caught up. If anyone makes a film that does justice to their story, FBI investigations and all, it will be the best movie about rock and roll since the Maysles brothers shot Gimme Shelter.

I miss the MC5. A lot. Well, maybe not the white boy 'fros nor those garish 1970s fashions, but that raw sound remains ungodly and unequaled.

I've been living the ethos of this song for so long, I never woulda thought I'd outlive most of the guys in the band. So let's hear it for the story of the MC5, coming soon to blow minds at a multiplex near you. I can dream if I wanna. Gotta kick 'em out.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Mining the Internet for Fun & Profit

By Steve Evans

Going over my notes this morning for a screenplay idea that mixes the phenomenon of social media with independent film makers and the curious world of film buffs. They call themselves "cinephiles." I've discovered their behavior, at least online, is more like a pack of rabid dogs.

Probably the most interesting part of the project so far has involved hanging out on a particular film forum – it's easily the most pretentious movie forum on the Internet – and observing a group of self-absorbed individuals try to one-up each other in their knowledge of world cinema when they bother to talk about cinema at all. This in and of itself was fascinating, like looking into a terrarium where all the creatures breathe their own fumes until their behavior gets a little wacky.

It took about a month to identify the prime roosters and the cackling hens for closer observation and just ignore everyone else. When you observe Internet behavior, a group dynamic may at first seem like chaos. Just random comments punctuated occasionally by disagreements that rapidly unravel into hissy fits. But after a while an interesting thing happens. The people communicating on a forum lose themselves in their performance. Even among those who may be aware they are affecting a performance, it still comes across as some peculiar form of method acting. They become so lost in themselves that their true nature begins to bleed through.

Who's really who? Is it me or is it you?
Sure, you can’t really judge anyone by an online persona, much less be certain they are what they seem to be. The Kinks’ song “Lola” comes to mind. But the pure, unadulterated, stream-of-consciousness rhetoric that flows from their minds onto a website is a fascinating thing to observe. Say all you want about Stanley Kubrick’s monkeys at the opening of 2001. The real primate behavior is happening on Internet forums. And it’s a hoot to watch.

I studied their habits, made notes of their patterns and watched for character traits that could be leveraged. Call it behavioral psychology on an Internet forum. Pretty soon it all had a predictable rhythm to it. Mostly, I wanted to identify a number of core personality traits among forum dwellers in the 21st century. In this movie forum when not arguing bitterly with each other, a smaller group spends their days compiling and ranking lists of films, then complimenting each other's lists (at least when they're not criticizing their lists). The closest thing to this behavior that we can encounter in nature is the muskrat, which gathers random collections of objects and then marvels upon them. Making endless Top 10 lists is a curious form of mental masturbation, but watching this occur wasn't very helpful to my screenwriting project. 

So I started posting the occasional comment of my own, usually in mild disagreement with some other forum participant. The results were always the same: an immediate and angry defense of the wounded individual's original position (typically something trite like “why John Wayne sux.” Remember, I said this was the most pretentious film forum on the Internet). It soon became obvious that no one was interested in anything but their own opinions. It was like Napoleon had been cloned a hundred times over and gone to war with himself.

"To war!" cried Rufus T. Firefly. And why not?

So I began offering more provocative comments to see what kind of response might come back. Oh, the hatred and vitriol came swiftly, my brothers and sisters. I tossed more bread crumbs on the trail. And crows dropped from the sky to squabble and bicker over the quantity and quality of the scraps I had thrown. For variety I floated a few trial balloons to gauge reactions. The screams of protest and sudden attacks were wildly disproportional to the comments I had made. Their accusations would have been horrendous, were they not so unintentionally funny. I had to consider the source and press on.

Some of the individuals I observed are astonishing in their stupidity. One particularly immature guy openly brags about buying and using the illegal drug MDMA "using taxpayer money" when his home address in London can be found easily by anyone who wants to look. I wonder when the police will be paying him a visit, assuming the fool doesn't OD first.

This is the sort of individual who populates this Internet forum. Their credibility is a joke, but their comments are a goldmine of opportunity.

Then it occurred to me that watching these people dance for my benefit was a lot like directing a movie, except with actors unaware they were on stage. In fact, it was easier than directing a film, ridiculously so, because the performers were eagerly willing to work for no pay. Had this been an abattoir, they would have shuffled along like bleating sheep to slaughter.

All Things Must Pass
In the last few days I turned up the heat steadily and as fast as it seemed possible without spoiling everything by getting myself kicked off the site (forum moderators are no smarter or better than the people they moderate. They’re like power-drunk traffic cops itching to write a ticket). I pushed it as far as I thought it could go. I even argued with the moderators. Just when it seemed a mob would rise up and demand my crucifixion, I shut off the account and vanished like Keyser Söze. Probably saved the forum manager the trouble of doing it.

Was it manipulation? I’ve considered the implications of that. If it was, the people being manipulated were willing and eager participants, each trying to hurl insults and arguments nastier than the previous one. They certainly rose to the challenge. Was it unethical? No. If you make a silly face at someone and they try to gun you down with a machine gun, the reaction is hardly proportional to the sin you've committed.

At the end of the day it was worth it.

In looking over several months’ worth of notes, I’ve got about three dozen character studies, at least half of whom would probably fit the clinical definition of a sociopath. Very nice source material. Also a good assortment of neurotics, bullies, harpies and harlequins – in sum, society in a microcosm, only amplified through their common trait: an arrogance so profound as to move a reasonable person past being appalled and into that rarefied realm of wry amusement.

There’s enough material here for at least two screenplays once I hit upon the right story and unleash these characters on the real world.

Farewell to the Lunatic Fringe
This has been an absorbing experience. I've learned people will argue about anything and need little reason to do so. The dumb ones will even reverse their position and argue the opposite side if you just wait a while for them to forget the first debate. The anonymity of the Internet makes this particularly useful, in terms of character research, because hiding behind a mask gives a person a false sense of confidence. Internet dwellers tend to be much more brave and bold than they would dare to be face to face. So they let their guard down, acting more obnoxious than they might ordinarily, and that enables the careful observer to get at a deeper truth about human interactions. The Internet is truly like the Wild West, a vast and untamed land where anything goes. It’s liberating and appalling all at once. It allows people to act uncivilized – and apparently enjoy it – from the relative safety of hiding behind a computer.

I think a couple of the smarter playas on the movie-geek forum have come to realize that they’ve been played. Some will never know. But for most of these Very Serious People, you can bet they’ve already gone running down a different street, barking their heads off and chasing another car. This will go on until the forum inevitably implodes and the angry people who practically live there will be forced to find something else to fill the vacuum of their existence.

What an experience to roam in their midst. To paraphrase Kesey, "One flew east, one flew west, and one flew over the cuckoo's nest."

There's a story somewhere in all their madness. 

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sin City Sequel Gets Release Date

By Steve Evans

I've been waiting nine years for A Dame to Kill For, the sequel to Sin City. If it's only half as good as the original, it will still be the popcorn thriller of the summer. From the looks of the trailer, we're talking stylish trash to wallow in like film-loving pigs in the slop. Get it on the calendar: Aug. 22.

Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller are again credited as co-directors.

Potential spoilers follow.

From the looks of the trailer, the sequel will dabble in non-linear narrative just like its predecessor. No other way to account for the return of Marv (Mickey Rourke) or Hartigan (Bruce Willis), both of whom died in the first film. Lots of other cast juggling going on, too. Clive Owen makes only a cameo as Dwight. Josh Brolin is taking over the role to account for Dwight's facial reconstruction surgery known by fans of the books. Brittany Murphy died in the intervening years between the Sin City films, so there won't be a Dwight-Shellie reunion. And Jamie Chung takes over as katana-wielding Miho, replacing Devon Aoki who was pregnant at the onset of production and thus unavailable. Always great to see Ray Liotta pop up in a supporting role, here identified as a character named "Joey," apparently a low-level baddie. Apropos.

The sequel offers a quartet of stories set in and around notorious Basin City, where just about everyone drops the "Ba" and calls it Sin City. Two of the tales will be familiar to readers of Miller's graphic novels; the other pair are originals written for the film. From the press materials:

"A Dame to Kill For”
Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) is summoned by his former lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green), who wants his help to escape her abusive husband, billionaire Damien Lord (Marton Csokas). However, Dwight soon learns that Ava's true intentions are more sinister than they appear.

"Just Another Saturday Night"
On the night John Hartigan (Willis) meets up with Nancy (Jessica Alba) in "That Yellow Bastard", Marv (Mickey Rourke) regains consciousness on a highway overlooking the Projects, surrounded by dead young men, and unable to remember how he got there.

"The Long Bad Night" (original story)

Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky gambler, disguises a darker mission to destroy the biggest villain in Sin City at his own game. He beats the wrong man and events take a turn for the worse. Along the way, he meets a young stripper named Marcy (Julia Garner).

"The Fat Loss" (original story)
Set after Hartigan's suicide at the end of "That Yellow Bastard", this story centers around Nancy trying to cope with his death.

I never grow weary of the Sin City vibe, essentially noir taken to borderline ridiculous extremes -- almost to the point of parody. Rodriguez always dials everything up to 11, so we can enjoy a good match between a director and his material.

A couple final thoughts, and then I'll let the trailer speak for itself. It seems Rodriguez works best in collaboration with someone else, whether it's comic-book artist Miller or Quentin Tarantino. Since Rodriguez seems determined to make a career out of shooting grindhouse pictures, by working with Miller in adapting the Sin City stories he can at least make stylish grindhouse pictures.

As for that distinctive look, it's not just that the picture is technologically possible as a result of shooting on HD digital video, it's actually because of HD video that the images have that razor-edged sheen. That's what makes Sin City so alluring. And deadly.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Only fools dis films they have not seen

By Steve Evans

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to witness the idiocy du jour -- the religious organization "Faith Driven Consumers" says it has conducted a survey showing 98 percent of its supporters are "not satisfied" with the upcoming movie Noah starring Russell Crowe and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan). Nevermind that the $125 million movie has not been released or that no one surveyed -- not one single person -- has actually seen the picture. But what truly makes this idiotic is the way the survey questions are phrased. In the interest of pleasing that Old Testament God, we'll just say the questions are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Faith Driven Consumers is the same group of yahoos who support the crackers on Duck Dynasty when those hillbillies make public jackasses of themselves. At this point, Faith Driven Consumers has about as much credibility as the ingredients list on a hotdog stand at the county fair.

Slap the word "faith" on something and certain groups of people will march after it -- goosestepping their self-righteous asses off -- right over a cliff.

A tip o' the hat to Variety for breaking this story.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A 10 Gallon Hat: Blazing Saddles Turns 40

By Steve Evans

One of the great American western films, Blazing Saddles, was released 40 years ago today by Warner Bros. It's still just as funny -- and offensive -- as ever. And that was the point. Mel Brooks held a mirror up to racism and discrimination of almost every kind and showed it to be what it always has been: stupid. At the same time he managed to send up that uniquely American film genre, the Western, while subverting every audience expectation imaginable. If Brooks can be said to have created a masterpiece, this is the one (although I like The Producers with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder a helluvalot).

Comedy is all about timing, and with Blazing Saddles Brooks showed pin-point control of his material. Brooks had help on the screenplay from several writers, including Richard Pryor, who was supposed to be cast as Sheriff Bart, but Warner Bros. was afraid of Pryor's partying reputation and scotched that plan. Gene Wilder was Brook's second choice to play the Waco Kid, but when Gig Young took ill, Wilder won the role. There are many stories about Brooks' battle with Warner Bros. over various aspects of the production, use of racist and racy language, even the classic scene of Alex Karras (as Mongo) knocking out a horse with one punch. Brooks had negotiated final cut into his contract, so all of the elements that gave studio executives a fit remained in the picture.

Brooks conceded in a 2012 interview that he could not make Blazing Saddles in today's politically-correct environment, where satire sails over the heads of the overly sensitive.

As an 11-year-old I saw this R-rated film on original release by bluffing my way into the long-gone University Theater in Charlottesville, VA. I remember laughing the hardest during the infamous campfire scene, although you can really pick any random 10 minutes of this movie and enjoy a laff.

This clip is NSFW nor for those with delicate sensibilities. But you already knew that, didn't ya?

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Woody Allen Is Innocent

By Steve Evans

I waited a good long while and was leaning heavily toward just staying silent while the lingering accusations against Woody Allen seem to take on a life of their own. I truly grow weary of this tub-thumping and should probably find better things to do with my time. But silence isn't an option, not when so many ignorant people are determined to voice an opinion in the absence of any knowledge of this issue or any of the facts related to it.

So for the moment I'm going to tee off on stupidity. I doubt I'll make a dent in it, but I'm a-gonna try. If you are already convinced that there are too many fools running loose in the world, feel free to skip ahead to the explanation of why Woody Allen is innocent, beginning immediately after the section break.

A woman I knew for years couldn't wrap her mind around the possibility that calling for Allen's head on a platter might just be premature or worse, morally repugnant -- or even worse, inappropriate for creating a game for her own amusement. She would rather stir up emotionally fragile people and steer them toward her trite blogs than make any effort to get at the truth of an issue. That's the worst sort of sensationalism and reflects the desperate tactics some so-called journalists now use to grab readers. Nothing sadder than a middle-aged reporter trying to remain relevant by exploiting Woody Allen's misfortunes -- hell, twisting them around and deliberately ignoring facts that don't support her position -- all for her own personal attention-whore gratification. Using social media to propagate disinformation is irresponsible conduct, unbecoming a serious writer. Folks, this is the world we live in. Social media now makes it possible for flakes to spread gossip and lies faster than they could just by hanging out on a street corner. It makes me ill.

So I was tempted to turn this piece into a cautionary tale of wasting one’s time on an admittedly faded friendship with someone. Occasionally you think a person has a brain, only to find out she was bluffing all along. Even after I went against my better judgment and apologized for pushing the pro-Allen argument (hey, there's more to life than winning arguments) she dug in her heels and still wouldn't acknowledge her own culpability in fostering groupthink by convicting Woody Allen in a kangaroo court of public opinion. That her small subset of the public consists of cretins on Facebook doesn't really matter. Stupidity is like a carcinogen. It will take hold, mutate and eventually spread.

Ah, but fools squeal like piglets in hot oil if you turn up the heat and force them to confront facts. Indisputable facts scare the simpleminded. It demolishes their delicate worldview. They run away, shaking their heads in confusion. It may cost you a friendship or two, but really: are these the kind of friends you want? People change through the years and so does your impression of them over time, not necessarily for the better. Sometimes you have to let them go and move on.

I would rather stand on my principals than fall for anything.

Woody Allen's situation is a crucible into which we can pour our better instincts, use our intelligence and emerge with our dignity intact, or we can become our own worst enemies by wallowing in a salacious interest in the sensational. Why is this story being dredged up again? Why, for assorted selfish purposes of course (selling magazines, stirring up click-bait for gossip websites, etc.). You didn't think it was so the horror of sexual assault would finally be addressed and resolved once and for all, did you?

Why is it wrong to scream mindlessly for a man's blood and to declare his guilt based on, at best, sketchy circumstances? Because condemning Woody Allen or anyone who has not been convicted of a crime -- much less ever even been charged -- is tantamount to ignoring nearly two and a half centuries of American jurisprudence. God almighty: even Frankenstein's monster got better treatment at the hands of those villagers. If you are carrying a torch or pitchfork and hollering for Woody Allen's spleen, shame on you.

Here’s a reasoned view of the Woody Allen situation, reached only after extensive research. Daring to put this forward -- gasp! -- cost me a friendship, which in hindsight was really a favor. Life is too short to waste on dummies.

This “latest” allegation by Dylan Farrow is nothing new. It was raised, investigated and dropped 20 years ago. It should either be raised, investigated and prosecuted now, right now, or the individuals raising the allegations should recognize that they are lurching into slander and libel territory.

Given the negligible amount of “proof” being bandied about and the wheelbarrows full of emotionally explosive rhetoric being deployed in the absence of proof, I find it no less likely that Mia Farrow is hell bent on destroying Woody Allen’s career and reputation, the latter of which he has done a good job of harming all by himself. Woody didn't court any favorable public opinion when he dumped his middle-aged girlfriend and took up with her adopted daughter, who was also an adult, by the way. That's what he did; nothing less, nothing more. Judge that however you wish.

Every time Allen releases a film or is up for an award, such as the recent Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed at the Golden Globes, it obviously galls the shit out of Mia Farrow, who takes to the Twitterverse like an avenging angel of hellfire. But let’s focus on one of her other adopted daughters, Dylan, since Dylan Farrow felt compelled to write an email to a New York Times blogger (who is also a family friend of Mia Farrow) and stirred up this nonsense over the weekend.

I have no doubt Dylan Farrow believes she was sexually assaulted by Woody Allen when she was 7 years old. I have no doubt that it never happened. Why? Because I have no doubt that Mia Farrow planted the notion in Dylan's mind, nurtured it, and helped it to grow.

Let’s go back 20 years for just a moment.

As part of the case, a team of investigators at Yale-New Haven Hospital had studied Dylan and her accusations (in 1993) and concluded that no sexual abuse had taken place, and described Dylan as having “difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality.”

That quote is not insignificant.

Just because someone says something with conviction doesn’t make it so. Regardless, the latest “revelations” are nothing different than what was alleged and dropped 20 years ago. What does this latest barrage accomplish? Nothing, unless Allen is prosecuted. The goal here is to keep the story alive in an effort to make Allen uncomfortable. Whose goal is it? Mia Farrow's. She is the only person with everything to gain and nothing to lose by using pawns to strike out at a former lover. The she would use her own children in service of this agenda is simply despicable.

Also worth noting is the fact that Allen and Soon-Yi Previn since their marriage in 1997 have adopted and are raising two daughters of their own.

Does anyone commenting on this case know anything about adoption? I do.

The screenings, evaluations and background checks are as absolutely comprehensive as technology and fact gathering can possibly be. The evaluation of an adoptive parent’s suitability for the role is independent of that person’s power, fame, money or influence. If there is any question in the slightest about an individual’s moral standing, the adoption will not occur.

It is simply not possible to believe that any adoption organization would be unaware of the allegations against Allen regarding his other adopted daughter, Dylan, made a few years earlier. That two adoptions were completed for Allen and Soon-Yi speaks for itself. I am confident the adoption organization had access to a helluva lot more information about Woody Allen than the little peanut-headed commentators ripping into him on the Internet. As an aside, I will quickly debunk some common myths surrounding this story. Contrary to what many people believe, Soon-Yi Previn is not Allen's daughter, nor his adopted daughter nor even his step-daughter, as Allen and Mia Farrow were never married. Both Allen and Farrow have also acknowledged that in a 12-year relationship he never spent the night with Farrow and her children under the same roof.

It is also worth noting that young Dylan’s accusations against Woody Allen came to light only after his relationship with Farrow imploded and she went on a rampage against him. Mia Farrow has also been very publicly criticized for coaching Dylan prior to the child being interviewed by prosecutors and social workers about her claim of sexual molestation. That's right, we're talking about an award-winning actress coaching the child on what to say and how to perform. This has not been disputed, least of all by Mia Farrow.

Clinical research has shown that pedophiles do not strike once and simply stop. Woody Allen is 78 years old at this writing. He has been accused of something terrible once. One time, and by a jilted woman. A team of doctors, psychiatrists and a prosecutor looked at the accusation inside-out and upside down.

The prosecutor said he had “probable cause” to charge Allen, yet Allen was never charged and the rationale for probable cause has never been revealed. It doesn’t matter, anyway, although an awful lot of people don’t seem to understand the difference between an accusation and a conviction. Allen wasn’t convicted of anything. Hell, he wasn’t even charged and a lot of resources were put into the investigation only to come up with a handful of nothing.

Why can’t more people comprehend that there is a very good chance this story is about nothing more than a woman who despises her former lover and will do anything to ruin him? There is more evidence to support that theory than any other in this sordid little tale.

Yes, these are messed up families all right. No doubt in my mind something bad occurred with these people 22 years ago. Whether it involved wrongdoing on Allen’s part with respect to Dylan Farrow has not been proven. Not even close. She and her mother Mia have been singing the same song for 20 years — what else are they gonna do? They can’t very well recant at this point.

Let’s get real: an accusation like this doesn’t go on and on for two decades without a prosecutor stepping up to the plate and doing something about it.

And anyone who says Allen is untouchable doesn’t know what they are talking about. There’s no statute of limitations on sex-abuse crimes. Here’s a novel idea: Charge him and let justice be done, or shut the hell up. That’s the system we all agreed to when we decided to live in America.

What is abundantly clear and proven is that emotion trumps facts and headlines ignore reason.

Being accused of something like this is like being called a wife beater or a racist. Once the allegation has been levied it seldom requires a shred of proof to gain traction and get folded into that oxymoronic catalog of human experience known as “conventional wisdom.”

It is anything but.

If Mia Farrow & Co. still feel more than 20 years later like they have been wronged by Allen, then let them focus on the actual wrong — an emotional betrayal of the worst sort by his decision to start an affair with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi. But the campaign has broadened and grown much more corrosive than that. Mia Farrow has dragged many individuals, including her own children, into the vortex of her hatred in order to destroy Allen.

I say she has done so at the cost of her own soul, without proving anything. And she continues to fan the 
flames for her own vindictive purposes. Mia Farrow has defended Roman Polanski, who has actually been convicted of a sex crime. Apparently her concern for victims of sexual assault extends only to family members, but not to the victim of the director who cast her in one of her most famous films, Rosemary's Baby. So in Mia Farrow's world, Polanski gets a pass and Woody Allen should be punished. Even though he's never been charged with a crime.

That's sad and pathetic. Just like the people who would rather censor any dissenting opinion than face up to the increasing likelihood that they are wrong. You wanna spew your ignorance and drink the Kool-aid? I have nothing but contempt for you.

Maybe the simple, perhaps even obvious answer is that idiots will be idiots and we would all do well to ignore them. After all, they have an inalienable right to be wrong. It just takes up more of my time to block their news feeds, such is the ubiquitous and pervasive nature of social media.

Okay, for the cheap seats, let's summarize: 

Woody Allen is innocent. Time will bear me out.
Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 By Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Golden Globes have nothing to do with Amy Adams' cleavage -- or anything else, truth be told

By Steve Evans

Three days later and the entertainment media is still babbling about the Golden Globes ceremony. Yawn.

The Golden Globes are a waste of time, unless you’re up for an award and want a complimentary night on the town. Nominees go to the ceremony because there’s an open bar and free dinner involved, and they get their collective asses kissed, which feeds those egos. The steady flow of liquor traditionally translates into much amusement; the Internet is rife with videos of Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor getting roaring drunk and having themselves a big time during the Golden Globes festivities. The Globes might afford some networking/schmoozing opportunities, as well, for stars looking for their next project.

Through inspired PR and relentless self-aggrandizement, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which chooses Golden Globe winners, has built itself into a perception of worth that simply belies the reality. I doubt if many people watching the awards know the first thing about the organization behind them.

It is this: the HFPA consists of less than 90 members who vote on these awards. They are foreign journalists who live in Southern California and write about the film industry for entertainment media in the far-flung corners of the world. That’s right, 90 people whose combined worldwide readership, by the way, is smaller than the population of the United States. At least 20 percent smaller. This information is readily available on the HFPA website. It doesn't take much digging to realize the Golden Globes are the most over-inflated event of movie awards season.

Yes, fewer than 90 people. That’s hardly a reliable barometer of artistic merit.

For a simple comparison, there are 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which of course awards the Oscars in March.

Aside from the occasional entertainment of watching Hollywood royalty get silly drunk at the Golden Globes ceremony, I cannot imagine any intelligent person giving a damn about this bloated event.

I mention all this solely because it’s boring to see the fuss being made over an organization hardly deserving of the attention.

The fun-loving hipsters at HitFix have compiled a video slide-show of great drunken moments at the Golden Globes through the years, good for a free laff.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Tarantino Western? Is that all ya got?

By Steve Evans

Coming on the heels of his financially successful D'Jango Unchained, Quentin Tarantino revealed this weekend the working title of his next film: The Hateful Eight. It's another western. Word is, this won't be a D'Jango sequel. The title actually suggests nothing so much as a variation of Inglourious Basterds, which was, like most of Tarantino's work, a mashup of elements from long-forgotten films.

Maybe the title is a riff on John Sturges' western classic, The Magnificent Seven (1960), itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's tremendous action film Seven Samurai (1954).

I've long since lost interest in Tarantino's reworked homages to mostly obscure genre films. Were it not for his gift of writing dialog, I would probably stop watching his stuff. His best films, now two decades behind him, delight the viewer with non-linear plotting and a narrative structure that coils around itself like a snail's shell. It's no coincidence that Tarantino's major industry awards come from his writing, not directing and certainly not his acting.

Considering that dialog and narrative structure are his strongest traits, D'Jango was a surprisingly straight-line revenge tale peppered with as much violence as the current R rating can withstand. Basterds was told in a similarly linear fashion, with none of the meandering whoop-de-doo that makes other Tarantino films more interesting to watch.

I write this not to bash the guy, but to put forward the modest wish that if he insists on stirring up another cinematic equivalent of Mulligan's Stew, that he at least write a more engaging and clever script -- always his strong suit -- to justify another Tarantino trip down movie-memory lane. You've seen a lot of movies, Quentin, but so have I. Your work of late has the whiff of familiarity.

Honor and revenge are the thematic foundations of all Tarantino films. Especially bloody revenge. I suppose someone could make a career out of payback fantasies, culling the best parts from old movies that a majority of your audience has never seen. Truth be told, that's exactly what Tarantino's been doing for 20 years, to curious acclaim and great financial reward. Well, bully for him. It's getting stale.

What else ya got?

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Run Run Shaw Gone to Kung-Fu Heaven

By Steve Evans
Run Run Shaw, prolific producer and pioneer of cinema in China, died today at 106. Best known for ultraviolent kung-fu movies in the 1970s (and I do mean ultraviolent), he was also a producer on the Ridley Scott science fiction classic Blade Runner. 

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies would not exist without the towering influence of ShawScope pictures. It's a whole other world of cinema.

The New York Times has a comprehensive obit here.

Shaw's life story would actually make a pretty good movie. With his brother, he made his first film in 1924 and both were millionaires by the 1940s. As noted in the Times obituary:

Their business boomed until the Japanese invaded the Malay Peninsula in 1941 and stripped their theaters and confiscated their film equipment. But according to Run Run Shaw, he and his brother buried more than $4 million in gold, jewelry and currency in their backyard, which they dug up after World War II and used to resume their careers."

A Shaw trailer from 1977's The Brave Archer:

Cinema Uprising copyright 
© 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

That was the best popcorn in Oz

By Steve Evans

Inflating a bag of microwave popcorn restored my childhood this afternoon.

The aroma of the popping kernels propelled my mind into a state of total recall and it was 1966 again. Let me explain. I have an unusual gift: a photographic and olfactory memory that can transport me to any point in my life, if the triggers are right. It's like watching a movie. I just close my eyes and...

Today I was three-years-old again. My parents were popping corn in a metal appliance that got so screaming hot I was forbidden to go near it. This ‘lectric popcorn popper was purely utilitarian in design; it had all the aesthetic appeal of a metal trashcan in an alleyway. I didn’t care. I was told magic came out of it, and when you're three, you're inclined to believe what you hear. As it happens, for once in my life the hyperbole came true. I would be a witness to magic.

Cinematic Cteve's ancient popcorn machine

The bottom half of the popper was essentially an electric burner with a metal coil that glowed angry orange. The upper half consisted of the pot and the lid. What you did was pour about 1/3 cup of vegetable oil into the bottom of the pot and park it on the lower half with the heater coil. There was no on/off switch. You just plugged the power cord into the wall and unplugged it later, when you were done.

After what seemed like an eternity, the oil began to smoke a bit. Then you tossed three unpopped kernels into the bubbling oil. These were “test kernels” as dad called them. I don’t know why he added three, as opposed to two or four or even seven. It was always three. Those test kernels would get to hissing and dancing around in the oil, as I once observed when dad picked me up and let me peer inside the popcorn popper.

He’d set the lid on top and after a few minutes we'd hear a pop! – followed by two pings, like the sound of BBs plinking an empty tin can. This was the much-anticipated signal that the popcorn machine at last was ready.

Into the popper dad poured 1/3 cup of corn kernels that he had carefully apportioned into a measuring cup. On went the lid. Dad would place his open palm over the knob on the lid and shake the popper by the handle on the side. Ah, soon enough those rapid-fire explosions would thump and rattle that metal popper.

As the popping began to subside, dad lifted the upper half, removed the lid and in one swift motion dumped the contents into a heavy peach-colored ceramic mixing bowl that mom used on Sundays to whip pancake batter. On movie night it pulled double-duty as a popcorn bowl.

Sometimes the bowl still showed signs of life as a few tardy kernels would pop and occasionally launch themselves out onto the floor.

Mom added a liberal sprinkling of Morton’s salt (with iodine) from the fat, blue cardboard cylinder featuring a little girl in a yellow raincoat with an umbrella shielding her from a downpour of sodium chloride – one of the more peculiar product logos I remember from years ago, yet obviously effective since I can still see that salt container in my mind.

On this particular evening mom carried the bowl into the living room and I ran along close behind, trailing the aroma. I scrambled up onto the sofa while dad diddled with the rabbit ears on the 19-inch television with the dark-green metal cabinet and the separate UHF and VHF dials on the front. After a moment, the tubes in the TV warmed up and the CBS eye glowed on the screen, followed by a lion – m’God, a lion! – roaring right at me.

I sank my greedy little fingers into the bowl, grabbed a handful of popcorn and began stuffing myself. Orchestral music welled up from the television and then a title card that dad had to read to me, because I was only three, after all, and had no clue my mind was about to be blown:

“The Wizard of Oz.”

It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen up to that point, especially the Emerald City itself, although the Technicolor parts of the production were lost on me because we had a black and white TV.

I didn’t know movies sometimes came in color. I didn't know anything about the world 47 years ago. Places like Vietnam were mentioned on the news, but that meant nothing to me. I have only vague recollections of names like Johnson, King, Bobby Kennedy.

But I knew we had one helluva popcorn popper that came out of the cupboard on movie nights.

And that was good enough for me, a three-year-old in ’66, sitting up way past his bedtime watching dreams spring to life in the dark.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2014 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.