The House


My eternal thanks to Joshua Rothkopf for finding this one:

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TAGS: total eclipse of the heart


Werner Herzog

[Editor's Note: The Conversations is a monthly feature in which Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard discuss a wide range of cinematic subjects: critical analyses of films, filmmaker overviews, and more. Readers should expect to encounter spoilers.]

Ed Howard: In the introduction to Herzog On Herzog, a book of interviews conducted with German director Werner Herzog, the interviewer Paul Cronin writes about the curious weaving of mythology, exaggeration and legend surrounding his subject: the "astonishing" variety of "false rumours and downright lies disseminated about the man and his films." It's true; there are few directors who have gathered such an outlandish body of stories and wild myths around themselves. It's not at all clear, however, why this is so, because there are few directors less in need of such legends than Herzog. In his case, the truth is strange enough, big enough, that there is no need to print the legend. So while Herzog may not have, as the story goes, directed the notoriously psychotic Klaus Kinski at gunpoint, he did threaten to shoot the actor if he tried to leave the set, and cheerfully admits that he once plotted to blow up Kinski's house. He also made a potentially fatal trip to an island where a live volcano was on the verge of exploding, just to make a film (La Soufriére) about the nearly deserted and dangerous locale. This is a man who has had an entire steamship hauled up the side of a mountain in the middle of the Amazon rain forest (for Fitzcarraldo, of course). This is a man who was shot, on camera, in the middle of a BBC interview, and barely flinched. This is a man who made his first films with stolen cameras and stock, who has been jailed in several African countries, who cooked and ate his own shoe to satisfy a bet with the young documentary filmmaker Errol Morris.

Obviously, there is no need for exaggeration here, no need for legends. The unvarnished reality of Werner Herzog is already the stuff of myth, and it's this outsized persona, this raw physicality, that runs like raging rapids through his prolific, sprawling filmography. His films are not the work of a daredevil or a madman, as is sometimes said, but they indubitably reflect his unique sensibility, his skewed way of looking at the world. He is drawn, again and again, to similar kinds of stories, to similar kinds of heroes, whether he finds them in the real world or creates them entirely in his fertile imagination. Indeed, there are few directors who have transitioned so fluidly back and forth between fiction features and documentaries: the two forms as essentially the same for Herzog, who never creates fiction wholly devoid of fact or a documentary wholly devoid of fiction. The Herzogian hero might be based on a historical figure, or might be wholly imaginary, or might be a real person subtly guided and shaped by Herzog's aesthetic, but it's fairly certain that he (it is almost always a "he") will be at odds with the world, driven by mysterious and powerful inner motivations, possessed by strange ideas, and living outside of ordinary human society.

Herzog's world is harsh and cruel, dominated by a violent natural order in which humanity's place is precarious at best. His films are thus characterized by instability, by extreme emotions and actions, by desperation and suffering. There are few filmmakers who have nourished such a consistent oeuvre while tackling such a broad range of subjects and styles. Whatever Herzog's subject, whatever the story he's telling, it's his sensibility that's always at the center. During the course of this conversation, we'll be exploring that sensibility in some depth, but for now I'll just ask you: what do you see as the salient characteristics of Herzog's cinema?

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TAGS: aguirre: the wrath of god, ballad of the little soldier, encounters at the end of the world, fitzcarraldo, grizzly man, land of silence and darkness, lessons of darkness, little dieter needs to fly, rescue dawn, signs of life, the conversations, the wild blue yonder, werner herzog, wheel of time


God's Land[Editor's Note: The following is the third in a series of on-set reports on God's Land, a feature film written and directed by Preston Miller, whose previous feature, Jones, was covered by The House Next Door here (review), here (interview), and here (podcast).]

Days Three & Four

Like most of the others working on God's Land, I have a day job that has nothing to do with filmmaking or entertainment. I depend on the job to support my wife and two kids, the youngest only three months old. Shooting must be done at specific times, usually on weekends so as not to interfere with the cast and crew's money jobs. This means that even though a shooting schedule exists and is constantly modified, not everything that's listed on a certain day will actually materialize. It's up to me to see it all the way through. When resources are temporarily missing, I have to come up with solutions to keep this train moving lest the riders decide to jump off.

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TAGS: alex gavin, allison pantoch, arsenio assin, carrie kiamesha, god's land, jeremiah kipp, jodi kiamesha, jodi lin, leif fortlouis, nancy eng, preston miller, robbie sinder, scott perry, shing ka, spaghetti western


Breaking Bad

What does it mean anymore to be a father? We still roughly know what it means to be a mother. Indeed, we rather know it in our bones. Giving birth, nurturing, caretaking, we get all that. But, increasingly, the notion of fatherhood feels almost taken for granted, as something we've constructed up around the male parent to give him something to do. You teach the kids to drive. You make sure they stay on the straight and narrow. You provide for them somehow, guide them in a way to help them realize their dreams, maybe even some of your own dreams. Those pundits who bleat about how the role of the father is disappearing in modern culture aren't right, not exactly, but what they say sometimes, critically, feels right, as though dear old Dad and the patriarchy he drags along with him is powerless in the face of modernization, even as we know that the smiling benevolence of Father Knows Best was, at best, not always true and, at worst, a complete myth. We respond to deeper urges, then, know, somehow, that to be a father is to hold your baby for the first time and say to yourself, "All right. It's not all about me now. Let's see how that changes things."

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TAGS: aaron paul, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, Bob Odenkirk, breaking bad, bryan cranston, giancarlo esposito, john de lancie, kelley dixon, Krysten Ritter, phoenix, recap, RJ Mitte, vince gilligan


Howard HawksAt the Museum of Modern Art's just-finished Julien Duvivier retrospective, which showed a good cross section of the neglected director's seventy-two films, I heard a lot of chivalrous defenses of Duvivier and the long-since-repudiated French "tradition of quality," which included fairly dismal directors like Claude Autant-Lara, Christian-Jaque and Jean Delannoy. More to the point, I saw and grappled with several Duvivier films, only briefly taking a break for a screening of Howard Hawks's Red Line 7000 (1965) at BAM's recent "Late Film" series. The issues this experience raised for me have helped me define where I stand on the issue of strict auteurism, which is alive and well at Dave Kehr's blog (see the recent gladiatorial combat between Kehr and Kent Jones over the merits of John Huston).

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TAGS: howard hawks, julien duvivier


2 Fast 2 Furious

Vin Diesel was offered the lead role in 2 Fast 2 Furious but turned it down. For this he earned the label "difficult actor" and a stigma of ingratitude followed him around for years (as well as a couple of box office flops). But watching this sequel, perhaps he was correct in simply walking away. One would perhaps admire this seeming integrity more if he hadn't shown up for the fourth Furious film in a desperate act of career resuscitation—a colleague recently referred to him as "the Gretchen Mol of action movie stars" in that he never quite lived up to the hype.

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TAGS: 2 fast 2 furious, Cole Hauser, john singleton, paul walker, tyrese gibson


Offices"Tedious" is not a word I often associate with the Coen brothers—or with theater director Neil Pepe for that matter. But Ethan Coen's latest onstage diversion, Offices, three short comedies about the cubicle world, is about as fun as a day job. One can never be sure what's going on inside the brothers' collective mind though, in this case, one question begs to be asked of the Ethan half, "O Brother, What Art Thou Thinking?"

"Am I the only sane person in this room?" a character in Offices cries. "Not even if you were alone," his wife gamely replies, Catskills style. The show isn't three plays so much as a workshop montage of journal snippets, half-formed ideas, repetitive gags and jokes with punchlines seen from a mile away (unless, I guess, you happen to be part of the Manhattan theatergoing Medicaid set, the only ones who found a stale gag about Dick Cheney shooting someone in the face uproarious). Dialogue from the mediocre cast (save for a typically showboating F. Murray Abraham) is mostly barked or yelled. Indeed, Pepe seems to have retained his Mamet mindset from Speed-the-Plow. The piece doesn't move forward but in easy, predictable circles, making its relatively short running time (a little over an hour) seem hamster-on-a-treadmill endless—quite a feat considering many scenes last mere minutes.

The brief glimpses of crankiness and cranks, water cooler politics and under-the-desk oral sex, suburban couches and corporate layoffs—all divided by quick-cut blackouts and annoying snap-crackle-pop music—are so uninteresting that only two of the show's stars truly shine. I'm talking about the rotating, stark gray minimalist set design courtesy of Riccardo Hernandez, and David Weiner's inventive noir lighting, which give the banal production an Edward Hopper feel. Yes, you know things have gone terribly wrong in Coen-land when visuals the Academy Award winner didn't create upstage his poorly developed script. With all the youthful, vibrant productions running nearby, someone should have told Coen that this spring's Off Broadway is no curtain for old men.

Brooklyn-based writer Lauren Wissot is the publisher of the blog Beyond the Green Door, the author of the memoir Under My Master's Wings, and a contributor to The Reeler.

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TAGS: ethan coen, f. murray abraham, lauren wissot, linda gross theater, neil pepe, offices


The Fast and the Furious

With its title lifted from a Roger Corman cheapie, The Fast and the Furious would be the perfect film for the drive-in. Cars, girls and a hot rod "break the rules" cop hero versus anti-hero adrenaline junkie racing thieves—all the ingredients are present and accounted for, in a narrative pared down to simplicity itself (good guy has to infiltrate the bad guys, befriends them, then decides if he wants to bust them or join them). Young hotshot Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) takes part in a race on the streets of Los Angeles—and words like "turbo-charged" and "nitro-boosted" take on a macho, sexual allure as muscle cars line up on the streets that are as colorful and distinctive as an array of butterflies, or the wings of exotic peacocks. As he takes part in his first race, what would amount to twenty seconds of real time are expanded into a two minute aria of fuel injection, spinning wheels, and, most important, the headlong rush of speed as a car defies physics and takes on a quality director Rob Cohen described as "science fiction." Anyone stupid enough to drive 110mph down the road as a teenager will understand the feeling, and anyone who hasn't might glean some of the energy and excitement of such a moment all the same.

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TAGS: paul walker, Rob Cohen, the fast and the furious, vin diesel


The Girlfriend Experience

According to IMDb's plot synopsis, Steven Soderbergh's latest indie tryst, The Girlfriend Experience, starring porn star Sasha Grey, is a "revealing look at the world of prostitution from an elite call girl's point of view." While it's true that Ms. Grey plays high-priced hooker Chelsea (a.k.a. Christine), the film is less a "revealing look at the world of prostitution" than it is a narcissistic indictment of the director's own world. Rather than bravely and avidly explore lusty new territory, Soderbergh merely grafts the wheeler-dealer movie industry he knows so well onto the sex biz and calls it a day.

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TAGS: Sasha Grey, steven soderbergh, the girlfriend experience


Terminator: Salvataion

It's almost redundant, but the opening of Terminator Salvation is a harsh reminder that we're not under the watchful hand of James Cameron or even witness to Jonathan Mostow's ham-fisted glory. Thematically, it should be the same: orchestral tones, the slow-burn title sequence and jolting futuristic action. Instead we're given a computer code-inspired sequence littered with colons, dashes and brackets to remind us that we're about to see something involving robots and lasers. Instead of focusing on the actors, like the original, the first thing we're told as an audience: this is "A Derek Anderson and Victor Kubicek production." Two minutes later, as the familiar "DA-DA DA, NUH NUH" blares across the THX, it is confirmed: this is "[Directed by McG;]"

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TAGS: helena bonham carter, McG, sam worthington, terminator salvation







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