Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Paul Newman & the Cinematic South

The Ideal Imposter: Paul Newman & the Cinematic South

A parody of the Christ story set on a Florida chain gang, Cool Hand Luke is one of those movies so many people think is great that critics who recognize life is short just shudder and change the subject. It’s not worth trying to get fans to notice how pointless Luke is, or how inordinately pleased the filmmakers are by the hip equation of the hero with Jesus—which is cleverness in a vacuum, because the equation actually doesn’t tell us anything about either man.

That quote comes from an interesting article by Tom Carson that explores Paul Newman's connection with the American south. Newman starred in a slew of films that took place in our nation's heartland - from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Sweet Bird of Youth, Hud to Cool Hand Luke. While I don't agree with his assertion that Cool Hand Luke is "pointless" - Luke is one of my favorite films of all time, and regardless of the overt religious undertones, it is a fun picture that does explore the psychological effects of imprisonment to some degree. But Carson draws an interesting connection between Newman and the deep South; Despite his Cleveland, middle-class upbringing, Newman always managed to convince audiences that he was that lonesome southern man simply looking for his peace/piece.

it’d be a mistake to call the disconnect incongruous; a more accurate word would be crucial. Audiences always knew this puckish smoothie was just acting when he curled his lip to taunt us with his contempt for gentility—not really plumbing the depths of postwar sophistication or bitterness, but showing us what a rakish good time could be had in their shallows. A tragedian he wasn’t, and that’s why he was so phenomenally enjoyable. It made him the ideal inauthentic Southerner for a Hollywood whose new appetite for bold themes was in hock to the old imperative of making them congenial.

I've made the point before that anything Newman touches essentially turns to gold, and I'll stand by that statement. Even at his current age, Newman remains a nuanced performer. In tribute, here are some sweet scenes from Cool Hand Luke:

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Grindhouse Debacle

It was at the end of Death Proof that I came to the following conclusion – Quentin Tarantino needs a girlfriend.

Grindhouse has been out for two weeks now and it's official - the film is a bomb. There's been some outcry from the film-making community, and a lot of speculation as to why it failed - audiences who walked out not knowing it was a double feature, the 3 hour+ run time limiting turn over. Frankly, I think it failed for a couple of obvious reasons: it's a violent niche flick that isn't all that good. Not a very big market of people looking for that.

A lengthy comment about the film over at Film Brain essentially echoes my own feelings:

Simply stated, Tarantino can't write dialog for women to save his life. Listening to the palaver of the two disparate groups of women in the film – be it about making out or muscle cars – you'd think the screenwriter had never actually spent time with women. This isn't Quentin trying to write intentionally bad dialog, à la The Cheerleaders – the style is identical to that of his earlier films, except that unlike the nameless hoods of Reservoir Dogs, or the multitude of characters in Pulp Fiction, the women in Death Proof aren't characters at all, they're merely character types; agents for Tarantino's excursions into violence and vengeance. In past films, even minor characters (Gogo Yubari, Honey Bunny) had a certain three-dimensional quality to them. None of that is to be found here. (Unless of course you consider liberal use of "Nigga' please" as character defining.)

Several of the lengthy dialog scenes go absolutely nowhere, fizzle out, or are otherwise pointless. For example, Kim and Zoe's story about the ditch in Thailand – neither funny, revealing, nor particularly interesting, its function (as far as I can tell) is simply to prepare us for Zoe's miraculous survival later in the film. Where's the payoff we've come to expect from such setups?

Mr. Bean is Really Popular

How did Mr. Bean become Britain's unofficial ambassador?

The lastest Bean film, Mr Bean's Holiday, is a global smash hit, No 1 in 21 countries and top of the international box office. And if you ask a non-Brit to describe Mr Bean, these are the words they deliver back: hapless, awkward, self-conscious, childlike, disaster-prone ... and British. Resplendent in geeky tweed, the Mini-driving Mr Bean increasingly seems to be a symbol of Britishness around the globe.

One of the many ironies in this story is that Atkinson says his quintessentiallyBritish creation was in part inspired by a French comic character, Monsieur Hulot, invented by French actor, director, writer and producer Jacques Tati, who released a series of films, including Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. Mainly, however, Bean was the result of decades of the comic studying himself.

That's an excerpt from a really interesting article in The Guardian probing the multi-cultural impact of Mr. Bean. The Tati influence is striking, when you think about it, but I think Rowan Atkinson takes the whole uncomfortable thing beyond the realm of idiocy. But what is most interesting is the impact Mr. Bean has had worldwide, particularly in the middle east.

The character has been popular across the Middle East, from Israel to Iraq, for years. The new film is currently the No 1 box-office attraction in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. There have been more than 14m Mr Bean videos sold worldwide; many have been sold in Tehran's shops and stalls.

Rowan Atkinson's lack of fine motor skills once again proves that brain-damage-adventure is still Britain's funniest genre. - I Watch Stuff