Martin Scorsese’s Fran Lebowitz Doc PUBLIC SPEAKING Now Airing On HBO

PUBLIC SPEAKING (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)

“When I was a child it was called ‘talking back’ and now it’s called public speaking, you know? But it’s really the same. So, the thing I used to get punished for at home and in school…and get bad marks in school for it…then at a certain point in my life I got actually paid and rewarded for it. But it’s the exact same thing.” – Fran Lebowitz

This film is loosely a documentary really; it’s mostly a sit-down conversation with noted author Fran Lebowitz at her favorite table at the Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village, NYC interrupted only occasionally with bio doc clippage.

Scorsese embraces Lebowitz at the beginning of the film and the back of his head can be seen as well as his laugh can be heard throughout the film, but this is a showcase for Lebowitz’s gift for gab – and a damn good one.

We hear the outspoken woman, who comes across as the consumate New Yorker, as she offers views on race, gay rights, and the over abundance of bad writers in the marketplace and it’s funny stuff. Intellectual insights galore from one of the few people to get their own Jeopardy category: “The Quotable Fran Lebowitz”.

A highlight are Lebowitz’s telling of the many meetings she had with Hollywood people over rights to her books which she never sold are as gold as anecdotes can get.

Among the clips of Lebowitz on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Charlie Rose, various speaking engagements, and most amusingly, as Judge Janice Goldbergon on Law And Order, there is illuminating archival footage of influences such as James Baldwin and Gore Vidal as well.

As “Jeopardy” attains there are many great quotes in this doc such as:

“Here’s the problem with being ahead of your time…by the time everyone gets around to it, you’re bored.”

Maybe, but I wasn’t bored for a second watching PUBLIC SPEAKING.

PUBLIC SPEAKING is now airing on HBO. Check your local listings for show-times. No word yet about when it will be released on DVD.

More later…

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SHUTTER ISLAND: The Film Babble Blog Review

SHUTTER ISLAND
(Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)

“You act like insanity is catching”, federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) quips to the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch) while being shown the grounds of Shutter Island, the contained electronically secure mental hospital for the criminally insane. It’s a welcome one-liner as the introductory build-up to DiCaprio and his new partner Mark Ruffalo’s entry is one of the most overwrought openers in Martin Scorsese’s career. The score pounds in an over the top progression of fearful crescendos as the men enter the complex.

Once the uber-melodramatic music eases off we are led inside to meet and greet Dr. Cawley (the always ominous Ben Kingsley) and the premise: a female patient has gone missing and the facility is on lock-down. Kingsley cryptically explains: “We don’t know how she got out of her room. It’s as if she evaporated, straight through the walls.”


With a stern look that keeps his worry brow constantly a-worryin’, DiCaprio, still using his Boston accent from THE DEPARTED, has another agenda. 2 years ago his wife (Michelle Williams) died in a house fire and he believes the pyro-culprit is a patient hidden somewhere at the hospital. A World War II vet (the year is 1954), DiCaprio is also full of conspiracy theories about secret experiments and mind torture going down at the hospital – the presence of a German doctor played by Max von Sydow particularly sets him off – as hallucinatory visions of his wife and the horrors he experienced at war haunt him around the clock.

Based on Dennis Lahane’s bestselling 2003 novel, SHUTTER ISLAND has a supremely effective first half. The second half falters because I believe many folks will see the end coming from miles away – I actually had an inkling of the conclusion when seeing the trailer months ago. The reveal is wrapped in exposition and once DiCaprio and the audience figures it all out, the film lingers too long.

However this doesn’t completely ruin the movie. The dream/flashback/whatever sequences are beautifully shot recalling David Lynch’s surreal palette. DiCaprio’s visions always have something falling and floating in the air around him. File papers, snow, and ashes fill the screen along with DiCaprio’s angst.

It’s not the best film that DiCaprio and Scorsese have made together in their decade long collaboration (that would be THE DEPARTED), but it has a lot of strong searing imagery going for it, even if the narrative isn’t as layered as it would like to be.

Acting-wise, it’s Leo’s show. Despite the solid supporting cast (including Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Ted Levine), Dicaprio carries the movie spending considerable chunks of the film alone with his demons. By this point, his 4th film under Scorsese’s direction, he’s not just an actor going through the motions; he’s an embedded yet impassioned piece of the scenery. By comparison Ruffalo comes off like he’s playing a gumshoe in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

So it’s half a great movie – half is an absorbingly creepy character study, half a formula thriller frightening close to well trodden M. Night Shyamalan territory. But half a great Scorsese movie is still a vital movie-going experience, you understand?

When speaking of Scorsese in an interview a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino said: “I’m in my church, praying to my god and he’s in his church, praying to his. There was a time when we were in the same church – I miss that. I don’t want to do that church.” In one of SHUTTER ISLAND‘s most powerful shots, Scorsese mounts a DiCaprio Dachau death camp recollection that blows everything in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS away. Sorry Quentin, but Marty’s is the church I want to attend.

More later…

10 Blink And Miss Them Movie Cameos

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I have a fondness for film cameos. Film Babble Blog has featured lists like 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos, The Cameo Countdown Continues, and more recently Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies, but this list is a bit different because many people may not have noticed these cameos at all. They can be difficult to catch as they go by fast but they’re there just waiting for some film geek like me to point them out. So here goes:

1. George Harrison in MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (Dir. Terry Jones, 1979) Harrison helped finance this film solely because he was a big fan so it stands to reason that they’d throw him a bit part. He can be seen in a crowd scene and although he is uncredited he actually has a character name: Mr. Papadopoulos. He has one word of dialogue (“ullo”) spoken to Brian (Graham Chapman) as he is introduced by Reg (John Cleese) as “the owner of the mount” they are planning to rent. It’s brief but worth looking for – if only so you can point out to your friends: “Look! There’s a Beatle!” Speaking of the Beatles…

2. Phil Collins in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (Dir. Richard Lester, 1964)

This is kind of a cheat because Collins wasn’t a well known celebrity at the time (he was 13), and you can barely see him in the audience shots of the concert climax but I just couldn’t resist listing it. Collins has often bragged about being one of the 350 teenage extras screaming at the Beatles, especially when he hosted You Can’t Do That!: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night” (1995). Though as you can see his visage is impossible to recognize, even when enlarged, he is listed in some movie guides as being one of the stars of the film.

3. Alan Ladd in CITIZEN KANE (Dir. Orson Welles, 1941) This is a pretty infamous one – Ladd is one of the reporters in the screening room after the opening newsreel. It’s a smoke filled shadowy shot but he can be clearly seen, though it took Roger Ebert’s commentary on the DVD for me to identify him. He can also be seen at the end of the film smoking a pipe and even has a few lines.

4. R2D2 in STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)


This cameo/Easter egg was rumored when the film opened last summer (there was even a Paramount sponsored contest centered on finding it) but it was pinpointed by fanboys all over the internets when the film hit DVD/Blu ray last month. It works as a funny little visual joke as well as a shout out from one science fiction franchise to another.

5. Dan Aykroyd in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1984) It may have seemed strange to see the former SNL funnyman hawking Crystal Head Vodka in advertisements that refer to the last INDIANA JONES film, but Aykroyd actually has a legitimate connection to the series. He appears in Indy’s second installment as Weber, a British cohort who arranges a getaway plane for Jones (Harrison Ford), Willie (Kate Capshaw), and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). It’s easy to miss him as it’s a sweeping long shot and he’s such an incidental character but he still makes the most of his 18 seconds in this film.

6. Dennis Hopper in HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) This one is priceless because Hopper looks like he can’t wait to get out of the studio, get on the road and shoot EASY RIDER (Monkees money funded EASY RIDER you see). Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote HEAD, is also in this scene which has the movie break down around Peter Tork with many members of the film’s crew coming into the shot including director Rafelson. When he swoops behind Tork to get to Rafelson I’d like to believe he’s asking “hey man, how long is this gonna be? We gotta get going!”

7. Christian Slater in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991)

I know, I know – another STAR TREK cameo but this one baffled me when I first saw this film. When Slater pops up it’s a dark shot and I distinctly remember the murmur in the theater as everybody seemed to collectively wonder “was that Christian Slater?” Credited as “Excelsior Communications Officer” Slater appears in a doorway, has a few lines, and then he’s gone. What was he doing there? In an interview with DVD Playground he answered that question: “My mother cast that film and needed someone to fill in. Yet even so, that was probably the most nervous I had ever been in my entire career.”

8. Richard Dreyfuss in THE GRADUATE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) Again, this might be playing loose with the definition of cameo too, but Dreyfuss’ smart part as “Boarding House Resident” always makes me laugh when I watch this film. Over the shoulder of landlord Norman Fell, Dreyfuss’s delivery is unmistakable on his only line: “Shall I call the cops? I’ll call the cops.”

9. Sigourney Weaver in ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) She only appears in one shot, and it’s a long one, as Alvy Singer’s (Woody Allen) very tall date to yet another showing of THE SORROW AND THE PITY but if you ever see this film on the big screen you can see her features better. It was her first film and I bet nobody involved could predict that only 2 years later she would break through big in ALIEN. From “Alvy’s Date Outside Theatre” with no lines to science fiction icon/feminist heroine Ripley is quite a leap considering.

10. The Clash in THE KING OF COMEDY (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1982) From the IMDb Trivia section for this film: “In the scene where Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernard argue in the street, three of the “street scum” that mock Bernhard are Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon, members of the British punk rock band, The Clash.” There are many pictures of Scorsese directing RAGING BULL wearing a Clash t-shirt so there’s obviously a connection between the master film maker and “The Only Band That Matters” (as they were billed at the time).

Okay! There goes another patented Film Babble Blog list. If you have any other blink and miss them movie cameos please drop me a line.

More later…

Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies

As film geeks throughout the blogosphere well know, an appearance by a director in their own film is a tradition established by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch (or “Cock” as Teri Garr once claimed she called him to Francois Truffaut) had brief but notable appearances in 37 of his 52 films. Obviously excluding those who act in sizable roles in their own films (Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Orson Welles, etc.) these are my favorites of the film maker folks that followed in Hitch’s footsteps:


1. Martin Scorsese in TAXI DRIVER (1976)


Scorsese has had brief bit cameos in a lot of his movies but it’s this appearance credited as “Passenger watching silhouette” that makes the biggest impression. As a nervous gun totting cuckolded husband, Scorsese tells his cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) to pull over and stay parked with the meter running outside the building where his wife is with another man. He talks about his revenge fantasy involving his 44 Magnum in the only scene in the movie in which we are creeped out by somebody other than the title character.


What puts this at the top of the list is that Scorsese actually shows some acting chops and a persuasive presence. His later performances in other’s movies, particularly Akira Kurosawa’s DREAMS and Robert Redford’s QUIZ SHOW, confirm TAXI DRIVER‘s hinted at prowess. Incidentally Scorsese can also be seen in a daylight street scene shot earlier in the film.


2. John Huston in THE TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE (1948) Another American master who appeared in many movies, his own and others’, Huston stole a short but sweet scene from star Humphrey Bogart in this undeniable classic. Bogart’s down on his luck character Fred C. Dobbs makes the mistake of trying to bum money 3 times from Huston as an “American in Tampico in white suit”. Huston reluctantly complies but warns: “But from now on, you have to make your way through life without my assistance.” Luckily this was nothing but a movie line – Bogart and Huston assisted each other on a couple more classics afterwards (KEY LARGO and THE AFRICAN QUEEN).


3. Roman Polanski in CHINATOWN (1974) Perhaps it’s been all the op ed pieces on Polanski lately (Sometimes that have the same screen capture I have here) that helped to inspire this list but whatever the case this is a colossally classic cameo. In less than a minute of screen time, as a thug that Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes dismisses as a “midget”, Polanski convinces us that he actually slices Nicholson’s nose with a switchblade. It’s a moment that’s impossible to forget:



Still not convinced that it’s a classic cameo? Then check out this 12 inch articulated custom figure!


I mean come on! How many cameos have action figures representin’? Well, come to think of it, there is this guy:


4. George Lucas in STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) This is movie director as extra. For a member of a crowd scene in the last STAR WARS series entry (or the third if you’re into the revisionist re-jiggling thing), Lucas got himself decked out in alien garb and gave himself a name: Baron Papanoida. There’s an oddly lengthy bio at IMDb. And yes, there’s an action figure too.


5. Richard Linklater in SLACKER (1994)


Linklater’s role as “Should Have Stayed at Bus Station” sets into motion the stream of self consciousness exercise that he geared the movie to be:




It’s quite a loose likable persona that Linklater affects – one that kicks off his film career and also appears in animated form in WAKING LIFE (2001) – a sort of sequel (or at least spiritual follow-up) to SLACKER.


6. Hal Ashby in HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)


Film babble blog favorite Ashby also does the “movie director as extra” thing as a hippy freak at a carnival in his counter culture cult classic. Of course, he was just dressed as usual and it’s not really a cameo; more of a brief shot that captures the director as a random passerby watching a mechanical toy train with Harold (Bud Cort) and Maude (Ruth Gordon). Ashby also shows up doing the extra thing again in a newsroom in BEING THERE (1980) – something I noticed just recently after missing it for years on many repeated viewings.


7. Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)


So he’s the “Director of TV Crew” who barks orders at the soldiers as they run through his shot – is it an exaggeration of Coppola’s ego or the real thing? You decide:





8. David Lynch in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Lynch has done a number of walk on parts in his films but here he gives himself an actual character: FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole who Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Machlachlan) reports to. Lynch’s Gordon appeared on the TV series a few blink and miss them times and his bit for the prequel/origin story/whatever movie is pretty meager. So what gets him on this list? I guess it’s that a normal office scenario is skewed by the likes of David Bowie and flashes of a white faced pointy nosed circus wack job or whatever dancing around and this time Lynch himself is in the midst of it. Welcome to my nightmare, indeed:




9. Oliver Stone in WALL STREET (1987)

Yet another director that has taken bit or extra roles in multiple movies, Stone does a split screen sound bite appearance as a broker on the phone in one of the film’s many frenetic montages. No word whether he’ll reprise the role for the sequel.

10. Sam Raimi in THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY (1981-1992) As documented by AMC Filmsite, Sam Raimi appeared:


1981: as a Hitchhiking Fisherman and the Voice of the Evil Force
1987: as a Medieval Soldier; and
1993: as a Knight in Sweatshirt and Sneakers, who assured Ash (Bruce Campbell): “You can count on my steel”


Peter Jackson pulled the same stunt by appearing in all 3 LORD OF THE RINGS movies.


Anybody else? I know this list is just a drop in the ocean so bring on your own favorites! You know where to put ’em.

More later…

It Was 40 Years Ago Today: Re-watching Woodstock

“It’s really amazing. It looks like some kind of Biblical, epochal unbelievable scene!”
Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)

“A bunch of stupid slobs in the mud.”
– Grace Slick (The Jefferson Airplane)

Yeah, Woodstock divides folks – even folks supposedly on the same side. Whatever your feelings on the famous Woodstock Festival, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, it’s impossible to deny its lasting impact and cultural importance. For a number of reasons * I felt like re-watching the movie that was made of the event that fateful weekend. I’ve seen it before a number of times -usually on anniversaries it seems. I remember a party in ’99 with it on in the background via VH1 and I remember seeing it constantly on the monitor of the video store I was working at in ’89.

* One of which being the upcoming release of Ang Lee’s TAKING WOODSTOCK featuring comedian Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber who came in at the last minute to offer his property for the event after it was banned from its original location.

I just borrowed my brother’s DVD of it from the late 90’s – as Martin Scorsese, who was assistant editor on the project, said the film “has shape-shifted quite a bit over the years” so I felt I was fine with the 1994 “Director’s Cut” and didn’t need to shell out for the new lavish 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition for an anniversary re-viewing you know? This was an old school DVD – it didn’t even have a proper menu and the video quality was pretty VHS but that’s apt because that’s how I saw it originally so screw digital remasterings! For now anyway.

The film makers had some fun with the standard ratings disclaimer at the beginning of the film – the “R” starts to ignite at the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” guitar solo.

It extends to the word “Restricted” which quickly goes up in flames and the implication is clear – this movie is fiery cataclysmic stuff, watch out. That notion though disappears rapidly once you see laid back shots of farm fields and hippie folk arriving to take them over. Workers building the stage and setting up sound equipment while people arrive – some in colorfully painted vehicles, some on foot climbing through holes in the fence.

This all goes on a bit too long as it’s a while before we see an actual live performer. We hear studio versions of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Canned Heat tunes with a split screen image showing simultaneously Michael Lang talking to a reporter from ABC News while the second half of the screen shows the unwashed masses making their way through paths of parked cars and campers.

24 minutes into it, Richie Havens is the first performer. He does his hard acoustic guitar strumming thing on a few songs, stopping in between to tell the audience that the next day the whole world will read about how groovy they were. Out of sight, man! From there we see Wavy Gravy (still going by the name Hugh Romney **) mulling about hamming it up and then hear his announcement that the acid circulating is not poison – it’s just been poorly manufactured.

** For more on this see Michele Esrick’s excellent documentary about Wavy Gravy coming soon to a theater near you: SAINT MISBEHAVIN’.

This is where I get weary of reporting on everything in this already well reported movie and will just hit the highlights (or lowlights) as I saw them:

The Who’s bombastically beautiful “See Me, Feel Me” and “Summertime Blues” performance shakes things up after Joan Baez’s stoic stance of an act.

The audience is blown away by Joe Cocker’s ferocious “With A Little Help From My Friends” Beatles cover (wonderfully parodied by John Belushi on SNL Oct. 25th, 1975).

Jeez, there’s way too much drum circle footage combined with people running and sliding in the mud after the infamous downpour that the crowds tried to stop with a chant: “No rain -no rain!” Doubt this bit was what won the film a “Best Documentary” Oscar.

The most treacly bit: John Sebastian solo acoustic singing his song “Younger Generation” concluding by saying “That kid’s gonna be far out.”

Jimi Hendrix’s set is definitely the highlight of the entire event – despite that he was the last performer and it was early Monday morning and most of the massive crowd had left.

Hendrix’s mind bending take on “The Star Spangled Banner” is the bit that alone singed the “R” rating above. The set is available separately and for good reason.

When all is said and done in my book (or on my blog) there’s just this music on record that lasts from this colassally overwrought event: The Who, Sly and The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. The rest is pretty iffy. For example: none of the Grateful Dead’s set has ever been released because it sucked – as band members have repeatedly alleged. And who invited Sha Na Na?

As a cultural historical document WOODSTOCK is essential, however as a fun rock concert movie it is bogged down with an unnecessary hyper significance – I found myself siding with Grace Slick’s quote above most of the time watching it. It’s an event ripe for major cherry picking – in this era of ripping a decent mix could be made of this but I may suggest alternatives like FESTIVAL EXPRESS and WATTSTAX for more consistent goodies. Just sayin’.

More later…

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries

Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites (“Let Them All Talk” Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I’ve been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I’d thought I’d share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list. Now, I know a lot of folks don’t listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on – if only just to sample. So, here goes:


10 More Great DVD Commentaries

1. THE PASSENGER (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: “This picture, ‘The Passenger’, was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life.” His involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson’s breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

Nicholson: “Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window…why I hope Michelangelo doesn’t mind my revealing of the magic of his work…was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot.”

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries ’cause that one’s a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986)

This customer review on Amazon says it best:

“Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The “Bueller…Bueller…” edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition.”

That’s right, even the new Blu ray of this 80’s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the “Bueller…Bueller…” edition. The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes:

Hughes: “After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in
this scene is in love.”

And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:

Hughes: “And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.

I used it in this context to see that he’s (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it’s a mother and child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really.

But the more he looks at, there’s nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.” Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). Just look for the one with the cover pictured to the left.

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50 ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dir. Orson Welles, 1958) The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin. It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton listen to the voice but it’s not Cotton…” Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.” Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?” Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984) This beyond odd track features audio commentary by “Kenneth Loring”, the “artistic director” of “Forever Young Films” (a fictional gig – but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

5. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary!” You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers – specifically “Satan’s Alley” with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: “Sort of an alternate universe for Spiderman and Iron Man.”
Downey Jr.: “I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn’t have none of it. Talkin’ ’bout happily married.”

6. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour’s background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: “This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I’d always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time. How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we’d never seen before and we’d never see again after.

The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes’ challenging anti-biopic.


7. SUPERBAD: UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2007)

Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch. Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn’t last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: “This scene is fuckin’ hilarious, man.”
Apatow: “Jonah, Jonah…”
Hill: “Yeah?

Apatow: “Maude’s over there.”
Rogen: “You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!”

Hill: “Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean…”
Apatow: “Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it…I don’t have a
babysitter, I’m in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way…I don’t have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?”
Hill: “I dunno, dude I’m not…”

Cera: “Like “Home Alone 2!”
Hill: “It’s “Superbad”! I curse the whole movie…the commentary, I mean, it’s like…whatever.”
Apatow: “You know, I’m not trying to ruin it…I’m not trying to ruin it…”
Hill: “Let’s just go back to the movie; let’s just go back to talking about the movie…”
Rogen: “It’s kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can’t say
what the fuck he wants to say.
Hill: “Yeah! I can’t curse, why don’t you just…”
Apatow: “You know what? I’m not 15 years old and don’t have a kid – I’m an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality.”
Hill: “If I had a kid I wouldn’t bring it to work with me.”

Whoa – some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let’s minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up (“whatever comments I have…are really not from inside the director’s vision”) about the film and his screenplay’s seminal 70’s statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it’s quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: “What happens at the end happens at the beginning.”

“When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that’s the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting.”

“I don’t believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There’s only one camera angle in the script, and that’s the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track.”

9. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) In the interest of space I’ll refer you back to this post (“Talking ‘Bout A Generation Gap” Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled ’bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern’s very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)

Luckily before beloved “New Hollywood” auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus. As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you’re sitting on the couch with him as he rambles. Some random rambles:

“When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn’t real country music. But I wasn’t looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there…”

“We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them.”

“Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with…we weren’t paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were.”

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that’ll point out some good commentaries out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send ’em on. You know where to find me.

More later…

Full Frame Documentary Film Fest 2009: Day One

The 12th annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival may be scaled down somewhat lacking the big name speakers such as Michael Moore, Ken Burns, or Martin Scorsese from previous years, but there is still a roster of riches on display in Durham over the next 4 days. The first day was drizzly and gray so it felt very comfortable to be inside the Carolina Theater and adjacent theaters in the Durham Convention Center to embrace this smorgasbord of infotainment. These are the films I attended:

MECHANICAL LOVE (Dir. Phie Ambo, 2007) I saw the first film of the morning in the same theater that last year I had seen the BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT in. This is extremely apt because many times throughout this Danish film about therapeutic robots I thought of the creations of the Tyrell Corporation. Not that the subjects here were “more human than human”, as Tyrell’s motto goes, mind you, but the questions asked about emotional attachments and human response are right on par with those of that inarguable cult classic. We meet Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese scientist who is developing robot duplicates of himself and his family. His experiments are as creepy as they are uncanny (a word that comes up quite a bit). Meanwhile a mechanical baby seal called a Paro is introduced as a companion to a woman in an old folks home. This story is at first amusing but its airy pace and spare commentary drags the film down. Tinkling piano and poised presentation aside, MECHANICAL LOVE would have been better if edited down to a 20 minute segment of an anthology film or magazine style TV program.

A back to back bull session: MATETILLA (Dir. Victoria Clay-Mendoza, 2003) A film about professional bullfighters and RANK (Dir. John Hyams, 2006) a film about professional bull riders. This double feature, both shot in digital video and presented by a DVD projector, is part of the Festival’s theme this year: “The Sporting Life”. Not being a sports guy I wasn’t sure how many of the films associated with the theme I’d attend but I’m glad I chose these because the contrasts between the Mexican world of children dreaming of bullfighting with suits of lights and coordinated moves and the rawer (yet just as rough) American landscape of bull riding were quite absorbing. For such dangerous sporting events with the threat of severe injuries there is a serene grace and inspiring motivation involved which both these films capture succesfully.

ART & COPY (Dir. Doug Pray, 2009) This is an incredibly entertaining celebration of real life Mad Men with tons of footage from famous commercials, interviews with the giants of the business, and many many statistics. Funny and insightful stories abound from the likes of the Nike “Just Do It” ads, Wendys’ “Where’s The Beef” campaign, and the “Got Milk?” go arounds – which have all undoubtably reached icon status by this date. ART & COPY is as slick and polished as the ads themselves, but it is delightfully free of cynicism as it focuses on the creative end of the business and makes no condemning statements. Unfortunately director Pray was unable to attend so producers Michael Nadeau and Jimmy Greenway fielded questions after the screening. They followed up on one the film’s many amusing revelations – that the Nike “Just Do it” campaign was inspired by the last words of a convicted murderer before being executed (“Let’s do it!”) and revealed that the beloved image of Santa Claus was created by the Coca Cola company – a fact that was cut from the finished film. Fancy that.

SONS OF CUBA (Dir. Andrew Lang, 2009) In introducing the opening night film, director Lang told the sold out crowd at Flecther Hall he had just completed work on it 3 days ago. If he hadn’t said that I never would’ve been able to tell because his film is immaculately crafted and as fully formed as the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. We follow 3 Cuban children as they intensely train to box at the Havana Boxing Academy. They take the tasks very seriously as they jog through poverty stricken streets and form bonds with one another even when at obvious odds. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in Cuba this year with both CHE: PARTS ONE & TWO and now this film which takes place during Fidel Castro’s conceding power in 2008. It’s an entrancing experience that surprisingly has a lot of humor in between the kid’s tears. This, of course from Lang’s intro above, was SONS OF CUBA‘s world premiere so be on the lookout for it to come to your area.

Okay! Day One down. Tomorrow – Wavy Gravy gets his bio-doc due, the Yes Men try to right corporate wrongs, and whatever else I decide to see will get Film Babble Blog appraisal.
Hope you join me.

More later…

GOMORRAH: The Film Babble Blog Review

GOMORRAH (Dir. Matteo Garrone, 2008)

Talk about hype! The trailer for this Italian film is filled with raving quotes such as: “Stunning…A reinvention of the mafioso movie” and “the greatest mafia movie ever made…strips every last pretense of romanticism from ‘The Godfather’ saga.” Quite daunting statements especially when considering THE GODFATHER itself was credited for stripping away previous romantic pretensions from the old Hollywood James Cagney-era gangster films. But that’s just the thing, THE GODFATHER as such created a new romanticism involving family and tradition that has thrived through later day mob classics including Scorsese’s * GOODFELLAS and had a healthy run on HBO’S The Sopranos. That the ambitious GOMORRAH is being sold as a shattering of these modern mob movie myths isn’t exactly false advertising but it’s certainly an injustice to this fine yet somewhat inaccessible film.

In a strained structure that makes the complex workings of SYRIANA look like a walk in the park, there are several knotted threads to follow involving a group of characters in Naples connected to the Camorra – the real life criminal organization older than any other in Italy.
In one major thread, Gianfelice Imparato plays Don Ciro, a mid-level money carrier who defects from his clan amid a hairy dispute. Another thread involves Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) as street toughs who steal guns from Camorra members and amuse themselves by firing off rounds at the riverbank in only their underwear making for a striking image that has been rightly exploited in the film’s ads. Other threads involve the 13 year old Totò (Nicolo Manta), who falls in with gang members, and Carmine Paternoser rebelling against his boss illegally dumping toxic waste.

How all these tangents come together I’m still trying to work out but perhaps absolute clarity is not director Garrone’s objective. Based on the bestselling book by Robert Saviano, GOMORRAH is the result of the work of no less than 6 screenwriters so it’s no wonder that it can be a cinematic ball of confusion. Despite this, there is much to recommend here – the washed out docu-drama feel, the killings (or hits) are as piercing as movie simulations can be, and there is realistic grit replacing the glamour of former gangster epics even if the film doesn’t surpass their grandeur like the over hyperbolic critics quoted in the trailer claim. However the lack of strong characters coupled with an annoying soundtrack which sounds like cellphone ring-tone flourishes accompanied by a techno beat keep this from a true breakthrough of mafia movie re-imagining. These are my first impressions though for I feel it deserves a deeper look. As it stands now I don’t think it would make my mafia movie top ten (were I to make such a list) but depending to how it ages and holds up to repeated viewings, it might just make it in one day.

* Martin Scorsese is credited as the Presenter: USA release of GOMORRAH – something the trailer is actually wise to hype up.

More later…

Paul Newman R.I.P. (1925-2008)

One of the most solid actors to walk the planet in the last century has just left us. I suspect many of my fellow film bloggers out there are too young to truly know the depths of his work so I would suggest filling NetFlix queues with Newmans finest. Undisputed classics such as THE HUSTLER, HUD, COOL HAND LUKE, and Sydney Lumet s THE VERDICT are highly recommended. As are his fun period piece buddy films with Robert Redford – BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE STING.

Extracurricular work would include Sydney Pollack s ABSENCE OF MALICE, NOBODY’S FOOL, and MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE. Honestly you can’t go wrong with a Paul Newman movie – even BLAZE and THE TOWERING INFERNO have their merits. He worked with many of the great directors – Alfred Hitchcock on TORN CURTAIN, Robert Altman on BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, Martin Scorsese on THE COLOR OF MONEY (which Newman won the Best Actor Oscar for) and even the Coen Brothers on the unjustly underrated THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (pictured at the top of this post).

His comical side has been overlooked in many of the obits I ve read the last day or so but his appearances on Letterman over the years have been hilarious self-effacing affairs – check out this clip on youtube. Its fitting that his last role was the voice of a 1951 Hudson Hornet Automobile named Doc Hudson in Pixars CARS. Nice that the wee ones will get an intro to Mr. Newman there.

So put some Newmans Own popcorn in the microwave, fire up the DVD player and pay proper tribute to the man.

More Later…

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Others Original Designs

This is a sequel of sorts to a post I did earlier this year (10 Of The Most Misleading and Mis-representing Movie Posters Ever!) with one of the same posters mentioned and the same theme of mis-marketing dominating. Recently the publicity for the new pop-doc AMERICAN TEEN included a poster that directly recreates the iconic poster image for the classic 80s teen angst flick THE BREAKFAST CLUB. The similarity was so blatant that it made many folks (including me) think it was a retitled remake:

You see? To be fair AMERICAN TEEN has another poster design out there that’s more original but that above is still still close for comfort. This is a pretty common device that calls for another patented Film Babble Blog list:

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Other Poster’s Original Designs

1. THE BIG ONE appropriates MEN IN BLACK and suffers legal action for it – That’s right the image for Michael Moore’s self indulgent book tour doc was ruled too similar to the design for the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi vehicle so a judge ruled that Miramax had to remove the posters from distribution. The taglines: “Protecting the Earth from scum of the universe” from MEN IN BLACK and “Protecting the Earth from the scum of corporate America” from THE BIG ONE would probably be dismissed by most of us as parody not copyright infringement but Columbia Pictures’ lawyers thought differently.


2. FLETCH LIVES for some reason regurgitates GONE WITH THE WIND – This lackluster sequel did itself no favors by placing Chevy Chase’s Irwin M. Fletcher character into the framework of one of the most famous films of all time. Not sure the thinking here, did they really think it was a good idea to equate the camera-mugging wise-ass with a suave Rhett Butler in the thralls of a tragic romance while Atlanta burns? I suppose the GONE WITH THE WIND design is just a device for selling the Fletch inherits a Southern Plantation’ premise and I should cut them some slack for trying to wrap a failed follow-up in something resembling a classy package.


3. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? macks on the art for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – Meticulously copying the entire design right down to the typefaces and every detail of the amazing Amsel painting done for the 1982 re-release of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Morgan Spurlock’s much lambasted quasi-poli-doc tries to align itself with the same globe trotting heroic splendor of the Spielberg classic but just ends up looking desperate. I haven’t seen WHERE IN THE WORLD… but not being a fan of SUPER SIZE ME or Spurlock’s television work makes me ambivalent at best to it with this uninspired poster design putting me off even further.


4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP jumps on the back of AIRPLANE! – This one I wrote about before in the Most Mis-leading Movie Posters post mentioned above, noting that director Rob Reiner remarked: “They marketed it with a guitar flying in the air with a twisted neck which looked like the poster for AIRPLANE! It looked like it was trading on

another film”. There were many more comedies that were marketed with crazy flying in the air’ imagery – the Zucker Bros. own NAKED GUN movies kept the concept alive for another decade after SPINAL TAP.


5. PROBLEM CHILD crassly copies PARENTHOOD – A mere months after Ron Howard’s family comedy was a hit came this tasteless anti-family comedy with a poster design that mocks the former’s switching the roles and supposedely doubling the laughs. Not a bad advertising approach mind you, I’m sure many rented one after glancing at the video box thinking it was the other.


6. DEAD HEAT duplicates GOODFELLAS – This one is really annoying. Same dark design with 3 protagonists posing above a street scene and the same typeface

shows a complete creative bankruptcy on the side of the promotional department. The utterly forgetable Keifer Sutherland crime thriller that somebody on the IMDb message board called “SEABISCUIT meets GOODFELLAS could not come close to competing with Scorsese’s masterpiece so seeing them try is painful.


7. ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL re-amps NATIONAL LAMPOONS ANIMAL HOUSE – Lots of crude sloppy comedies have likewise Mad Magazine derived designs but the folks behind marketing the Ramones’ film debut didn’t look very far for an angle here – they just went with what worked for the previous years teen gross-out blockbuster. Squint and you’d think you’re seeing the same picture (especially with the tiny examples I’ve provided here).


8. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY redoes ANNIE HALL (as does the movie) and begat a flood of rom com movie marketing – A couple in a hesitant yet sexually tense moment always makes for a good poster picture for a romantic comedy,

right? Well just add a city skyline (most often New York, duh!) underneath and now you’re talking. Dozens upon dozens of recent rom coms have used this type imagery including SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, TWO WEEKS NOTICE, MAID IN MANHATTAN, ALEX & EMMA (also Rob Reiner), etc. Oh yeah, the Dudley Moore / Mary Steenburgen movie actually named ROMANTIC COMEDY had a similar image too.


9. CLOVERFIELD marks on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs territory – The Statue Of Liberty gets a lot of abuse in the world of movie posters. In CLOVERFIELD its head gets blown off (same thing is shown

on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORKs poster incidentely) and a long shot view shows us a stormy New York in turmoil. Looks a lot like the same painting style and tone used in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs the Statue Of Liberty under ice image. The poster for the upcoming sludge through bad pop culture spoofs DISASTER MOVIE features our long suffering statue getting drowned in a tidal wave. Hard job it is being a giant symbol of freedom I guess.


10. TRANSFORMERS apes PLANET OF THE APES – Why would anybody want to recall the roundly rejected Tim Burton remake of the Charleton Heston “damn dirty ape” classic with a poster image that looks nearly identical? It seemed like TRANSFORMERS would’ve had its own shiny take on the aesthetics and wouldn’t have to stoop to this so was it unfortunately unintentional? Did somebody think the look and angle of the Ape design was cool and thought it was either forgotten or needed to be re-done and re-purposed? Whatever the deal, I can still barely tell them apart.


Okay! Now, I know there are lots of movie posters that have co-opted the designs of others that I missed so feel free to comment away.

More later…