Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Fever Dream That Was Casino Royale

Peter Sellers as Evelyn Tremble/James Bond 007. He was by far the most
charismatic actor in Casino Royale, so it's a shame he didn't shoot his
entire role. In this scene he is playing Baccarat with Le Chiffre
(Orson Welles), despite the fact they were never on the set at the same time.
I do not believe I have ever before seen the 1967 version of Casino Royale all the way through. That is, I thought I did not see this film until I watched it last night in pretty HD. Then I realized I had seen it, probably several times: it was such a mess of a film that my young mind probably couldn't coherently file it away. So this movie somehow fooled me into thinking I never saw it.

And now I know why.

Like I said, Casino Royale (which Daniel adores, for many reasons now very obvious) is a mess of a film-- a glorious tribute to the excesses of producers who believe they have such a hot property that, like a hyperactive dog with a soup bone, they don't know what to do with it. The hot property here was the film rights to "Casino Royale," the first Ian Fleming 007 novel from 1953. These rights eluded Cubby Broccoli and EON Productions, ending up in the hands of Charles K. Feldman and Columbia Pictures.

Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond / Mr. Noah. I'm guessing Charles Feldman
Owed him a solid for writing What's New, Pussycat? and gave him the
juicy Villain role. He was not as funny as you'd expect in this film.
What do you DO with a legally usable character of such as James Bond, Agent 007, in the absolute height of his popularity? Feldman couldn't compete with Cubby Broccoli in terms of making a straight action film. So he made a spoof out of it. And boy, did he lay it on thick. You don't get one James Bond here: you get at least six. Every girl in the film is a Bond Girl (or will eventually be). It's a work of reactionary cinema: almost every scene refers in some way to the main Bond series.

And, like I said, it's a mess. There were six directors and even more screenwriters. Peter Sellers walked off the production, leaving huge holes of missing footage. Orson Welles insisted on doing magic tricks in his scenes. In the end, the filmmakers got so desperate they literally hung the numbers "007" on everything: seals, monkeys and on a plane full of awful Native American stereotypes (who parachute while saying "Geronimo!" Get it?)

Joanna Pettet as Mata Bond. She was a very pleasant surprise: exeedingly
beautiful and quite funny, the best Bond Girl in the film. Yes,
Ursula Andress was also in Casino Royale, but she's a dud:
thanks to HD, It's plain Ursula read her dialog off dummy cards.
All this being said and well-documented (really, this is one of those films where the making of is more interesting than the film itself), I'd have to say it is still a very funny, very unusual film. If you were looking for insight into the mid-1960s, particularly into the slim moment in history when the early 60s James Bond Space Age aesthetic was about to be eclipsed by the psychedelic, Op Art late 60s, this is the touchstone.

The jumpy, scattered storyline is in some ways ahead of its time. Movies of this era were often plodding and linear: it took breakthroughs like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider to move Hollywood cinema to a more punctuated style of narrative. In Casino Royale this evolution happened accidentally: The very effort to salvage this movie -- missing stars, unshot footage, plainly overindulgent style-- into releasable form created a weird dreamlike flow to the story. This interpretation makes quite a bit of sense: If you were dreaming about, say, James Bond, and his appearance shifts from David Niven to Terence Cooper to Peter Sellers, that would seem to the dreamer as a perfectly normal development. Locations shift nonsensically: characters are carefully established, disappear, then re-appear: To the dreamer, none of this seems out of place. So now you know why I didn't remember seeing this film as a kid: can anyone really remember dreams?

It's about as insane as any Terence Malick or David Lynch movie, but much funnier.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Big ol' chart courtesy of

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to for the numbers

Monday, June 17, 2013

This Is The End: Bropocalypse!

Another addition to the "At World's End" sub-genre, this time it's not an asteroid or anything even vaguely scientific: It's the biblical Apocalypse, right out of the evangelical Protestant interpretation of the Book of Revelation.

It's a brilliant idea, because it personalizes the end of the world for the main characters, a collection of the hottest comedy stars in Hollywood ostensibly playing versions of themselves. The Rapture hits without warning less than 15 minutes into the movie. Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel, taking a break from a party in James Franco's house, witness blue beams of heavenly light appear and pull the righteous straight into heaven. They rush back to Franco's house, dodging flames and fissures in the earth-- to find nobody at the party has noticed anything amiss. This wonderfully confirms what we all suspect is going to happen to movie stars on Judgement Day.

I don't know if Danny McBride is a
borderline sociopath in real life. I
doubt it. But it's his persona, and he
definitely runs with it in this film.

And sure enough, the Tribulation begins: fierily sinkholes open up and swallow celebrities. Eventually, just a few survivors-- Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and an uninvited Danny McBride-- are holed up in Franco's Beverly Hills mansion, waiting for rescue and slowly coming to face their final destiny.

(How the apocalyptic theme ties into the exhaustion of the bro comedy as a genre is an association best left to future film theorists.)

It's a very funny film, one that obviously skewers everything about these self-based characters and every movie they've ever made (while holed up in the mansion, they make an impromptu sequel to Pineapple Express shot with the video camera from 127 Hours). Interesting character dynamics play out. There are even some spectacular special effects. Go see!

A few notes:

• What makes it good is it's a Judd Apatow universe, or at least one envisioned by his protégés. Apatow himself was not involved--which is just as well, as he's retreated into his own navel (This is 40) and that's not the funniest orifice. Still, it hews to the sub-genere's major themes: bro bonding, recreational drug-taking, movie geekery, and a casual approach to extraordinary, one-percent-level wealth. It also features the crude and unmistakable signature of an Apatow-inspired production: exposed penises.

The flip side of this genre hallmark is also on, um, display: a somewhat fearful and marginal take on women. In fact, the biggest female role belongs to Emma (Harry Potter) Watson-- the main characters have a difficult time not referring to her as "Hermione." She, on the other hand, knows what sort of universe she has wound up in and ends up holding all the other characters off with an axe.

• Seth Rogen and co. know very well what sells tickets and the star power in this film is formidable: Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and on down the line of Judd Apatow alumni right down to the amusing, bit-player appearance of Paul Rudd, who does nothing more than look terrified and carry an oversized champagne bottle with a bow on it.

• The budget of this film was surprisingly small ($25 million), considering the star power. This is an aspect I especially liked about This Is The End: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (the producer/directors) must have talked everyone in it into working for scale or close to it. most of the money was lavished on production values-- apocalyptic exteriors, impressively destroyed sets, excellent visual effects-- so you see the whole budget on the screen. It also made all it's money back on opening weekend.

• I can also see how audiences could be led to believe that there is some truth to the characters that transcends the screenplay, Eisenstinian typeage at work. There is an undeniable kernel of truth to it, in that Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel and their ilk tend to play versions of themselves in everything they do anyway. But there is no reason to believe that anything even close to celebrity true life is exposed in This Is The End. We don't know these people, and they would never allow anything close to that reality to be conveyed anyway.

• The real "tell" that This Is The End, "actors-playing-themselves" notwithstanding, is a work of full-on make-believe is buried at the end of the credits: This film was shot entirely in Louisiana, a state that subsidizes film production. It's just another runaway production. It's not James Franco's mansion. it's not even greater Los Angeles that's being impressively destroyed onscreen.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kubrick at LACMA

I managed to rush down to Los Angeles to visit the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the L.A. County Museum of Art before it closed at the end of the month. It was a bit of a pain to get everything to work out on short notice, but the payoff far outweighed the cost.

The Kubrick exhibit takes up the first floor of the Art of The Americas hall, and is arranged like all good museum retrospectives: chronologically, starting with an overview, a short visit to his earlier works, and on chronologically through his highly singular ouvre to Warsaw Diaries, a project he was just in the early stages of researching when he died.

There are a few situational ironies about this exhibit. Stanley Kubrick only shot one film in California: The Killing (1956), his second feature-- and most of that was filmed in the Bay Area, around the former Bay Meadows racetrack in San Mateo. He scrupulously avoided spending time in Hollywood. Los Angeles put on quite a tribute for an outlander-- but then again, it's all one big business. The money that financed his films flowed for the most part out of studio gates. If he was not one of Hollywood's own, then he is widely considered one.

What I found especially pleasing is how hard the curators strove for authenticity in all the sections: there are very few reproductions, aside from amazingly detailed ones, like the model maze from The Shining or the hanging 10-foot model of Discovery One. But Jack Torrance's typewriter and axes, Private Joker's helmet, Barry Lyndon's costume: all the genuine deal. Someone had reproduced the sexy milk-dispensing mannikins from A Clockwork Orange, which struck me as an odd thing to do.

I was very gratified to see that the part of the exhibit concerning 2001: A Space Odyssey was by far the largest in space and number of artifacts. I had read in Piers Bizony's excellent, definitive book 2001: Filming The Future that Kubrick had deliberately destroyed the sets, props, spaceship models and costumes after wrapping 2001 to keep them from being used in cheesy sci-fi films afterward. (This happened to George Pal's Forbidden Planet (1956): those crazy grey jumpsuits showed up on TV shows well into the 1960s, as did Robbie the Robot). I was amazed even a little of it survived.

We visited LACMA on a Friday: there was a comfortable amount of other visitors there, no real crowding. Therefore, I was able to take as much time as I wanted in the Kubrick exhibit. I circled around and took it all in again.

It was an incredible culmuination for me. It was nothing short of awe-inspiring to be in the presence of the artifacts of Kubrick's works. It allowed me to slip through the gossamer veil of the cinema screen: while you're in there, among the hand-written script notes and props and lenses, you're on Kubrick's side of the camera. You stand with Kubrick, see what he saw and wrote and imagined. A powerful, unforgettable experience.

If you missed this retrospective, feel free to kick yourself.
Outside the exhibit space.

A dark room just inside the entrance. It shows side-by-side clips from his films,
one side overlaid with pithy quotes. This goes a long way to show the
breathtaking span of Kubrick's auteur vision.

This is on the wall just past the main entrance. It makes no sense here.
Makes all kinds of sense once you've gone through the exhibit.

Stuart Freeborn's articulated
Australopithicus makeup.
Part of the 2001 exhibit. The Discovery model is a reproduction: the
Space Station 5 chairs are authentic.

Fairchild-Curtis fisheye lens-- This is HAL's eye, the one they used
in close-ups and as a filming lens for HAL's POV.

They displayed the HAL Lens behind glass, but on both sides. All you have to do
is point your camera up to the back and you could shoot right through it.
This is a picture of me as HAL would have seen it, taken straight through
the Fairchild lens. Just amazing.

An actual production Discovery space helmet. This was Dave Bowman's: He wore it on the first EVA to replace the "faulty"
AE-35 unit, and unfortunately forgot it later on. I stared at this for at least ten minutes: I never, ever thought I'd
see something like this in person.

A detail from a surviving spacesuit costume, one of
the silver ones worn on the Moon. This is the
data pad, and there is supposed to be a number
of buttons on it. They must have fallen out.

There was other stuff there too: Here is Private Joker's helmet from
Full Metal Jacket. His gold wire-frame glasses were on display just
below as well.

All work and no going to LA to see a once-in-a-lifetime
museum retrospective make Jack a dull boy. The actual prop
Adler typewriter from The Shining.

Weekend Box Office.

Thanks to for the unreadable chart behind me

(Note: as I post this the video is upside down; I am assured this will be corrected. If you're seeing it rightside up and would prefer it upside down, drop us a line! We're flexible here.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Box Office Mojo for the numbers and for visual flair.