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Billy Wilder (#110 of 14)

Summer of ‘90: Men at Work: Grasping at the Last Strands of ‘80s Nostalgia

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Summer of ’90: Men at Work: Grasping at the Last Strands of ’80s Nostalgia

Triumph Releasing Corporation

Summer of ’90: Men at Work: Grasping at the Last Strands of ’80s Nostalgia

Men at Work is patient zero for the plague of Charlie Sheen movies that infected the 1990s. One tends to forget that Sheen had steady work in that decade, turning out cocky fare like The Chase and Terminal Velocity. And while Men at Work isn’t the first film to use the actor in his then-typical role of a wiseass hot-shot lothario, the casual laziness that would infect his ’90s output has its origins in writer-director Emilio Estevez’s crime comedy. As Carl Taylor, Sheen can’t be bothered to do anything but exist on screen as he wades through his brother’s mercilessly overstuffed plot.

Estevez’s second feature is a major step down from his 1986 debut, Wisdom. For that film, Estevez was flanked by a massively talented crew: It was edited by Michael Kahn, scored by Danny Elfman, and produced by legendary Oscar-winning director Robert Wise, whom Estevez sought out for advice and guidance. Despite all that firepower, Wisdom is shocking in its ineptitude, a crime thriller saddled with far too many useless details and tangents. The more problematic Men at Work suffers from the same screenplay overcompensations, to the point where one wishes Estevez sought out Wise’s contemporary, Billy Wilder, for advice instead. Wilder would have burned the script for Men at Work.

Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection

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Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection
Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection

Reading and flipping through The Wes Anderson Collection, which is one of the most purely beautiful films books to be released in recent memory, one is immediately struck by the rightness of the subject/author pairing of director Wes Anderson with critic and House Next Door founder Matt Zoller Seitz. Both have misleadingly delicate sensibilities as artists, as they both produce work that’s characterized by a guiding benevolence that’s bracing, but dangerously prone to distracting the inattentive eye away from the underlying toughness of their respective worldviews. In Anderson’s films, as well as Seitz’s writing, human life is a great bruising, relentless, terrifying entity, and all the more precious for it.

The Wes Anderson Collection is organized in a fashion that’s as rigorously and deceptively straightforward as either artist’s work. A poignant introduction by author Michael Chabon kicks things off, with Seitz then proceeding to address each of Anderson’s seven films in chronological order. Each film merits its own section of the book, all of which are more or less of equal length, and each of those sections opens with an essay by Seitz that follows with a long interview in which he and Anderson discuss the director’s working methods as well as a few tellingly stray personal anecdotes that provide social and practical context. Interspersed throughout is an exhaustive collection of pictures, footnotes, annotations, asides, illustrations, and storyboards that collectively capture the intricate personal obsessiveness of the world as offered in Anderson’s films.

Understanding Screenwriting #111: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #111: <em>42</em>, <em>The Company You Keep</em>, <em>Renoir</em>, <em>In the House</em>, <em>To the Wonder</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #111: <em>42</em>, <em>The Company You Keep</em>, <em>Renoir</em>, <em>In the House</em>, <em>To the Wonder</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: 42, The Company You Keep, Renoir, In the House, To the Wonder, Billy & Ray, Looper, The Barbarian, but first…

Fan Mail: I was delighted to see David Ehrenstein back in the comments section and not just because he more or less agreed with me about On the Road. In the past several years I’ve come to feel that my column isn’t complete until David weighs in on it. The other three comments were on Evil Dead. “Syvology” is obviously a genre fan and gave up thinking I could teach him anything when I used the terms “horror movie” and “scary movie” interchangeably. “Buck Theorem” thought the script was worse than I did, especially the exposition, which I thought at least established the characters. The most perceptive comments were from “Dersu DeLarge,” who felt that since I liked some of the humor in this Evil Dead, I might appreciate the humor in the others. I may have to look into that.

42 (2013; written by Brian Helgeland; 128 minutes.)

Almost worthy. Many reviews have pointed out that this is a very conventional screen biography of Jackie Robinson. It is. In the film, he and his wife pretty much say and do what we expect they said and did. But Brian Helgeland is a pretty good screenwriter, and he’s done some nice work here. To keep his focus tight, he’s smart to limit himself to just two years in Robinson’s life, 1945 to ’47, starting with Dodger owner Branch Rickey deciding he’ll make Robinson the first black major-league baseball player. We watch Robinson in the minor leagues learning how to deal with all the small shit that comes down on him there, and then we see him putting that experience to work on the big shit when he’s called up to The Show.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matthew Connolly’s Top 10 Films of All Time

Among the many critics who simultaneously partake in, and rise skeptical eyebrows toward, “best of” polls, the notion of the “list as snapshot” becomes a helpful negotiating metaphor. Viewing any top 10 ballot as a historically contingent event—as opposed an authoritative act of canon formation—allows critics to both enthusiastically make the case for our favorite films, while acknowledging that any act of “objectively” ranking works of art quickly bumps up against the limits of one’s own knowledge, biases, and experience.

It’s a useful image, but perhaps an incomplete one. If a photograph captures a given instant, it cannot account for all the previous moments that collectively created what was placed before the lens. Whittling down this list, for me, became as much about contending with my relationship to different periods in my life as it did with clarifying my feelings on the films themselves—as if the two could ever be wholly disentangled. Should I go with more classical Hollywood titles, whose early presence in my life profoundly shaped both my cinephilic tastes and childhood memories? Is it better to take a gamble on those movies that I’ve had less time to sit with, but whose initial seismic impact most likely ensures their permanent place in my head and heart?

Creating this fantasy Sight & Sound ballot, then, felt as much like excavation as photography, sifting through the layers of past experience, arranging the found artifacts in an attempt to convey my range of cinematic passions up to this point. It’s been an inevitably frustrating, completely rewarding task—and, if it means you add a couple of these titles to your Netflix queue as a result, all the better.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Odie Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Odie “Odienator” Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Odie “Odienator” Henderson’s Top 10 Films of All Time

I’m a compulsive. It’s no surprise that my list is full of movies about compulsion. Whether it’s a man who must play God in his relationship, casting his beloved in an image of his design, or a guy who can’t stop working, whoring, and drugging, I find myself drawn to depictions of people trying to find order in chaos. I’ve discovered this has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. When I dug up my 2002 list of this type, I shuffled the order and kept eight of the titles. I dropped the most emotional and the most rigorously organized movies, replacing them with films that were twice as organized and emotional. By this rationale, I’ll drop four movies in 2022 and be driven bat-shit insane looking for replacements.

This isn’t a list of my favorite movies, though two of these would appear on that list. This is a list of movies that profoundly affected me more than any others. With that said, a caveat is in order: Movie lists always inspire grouchy comments reflecting what a person felt should have been on them. Let me stop you now. You have no say in what should or shouldn’t be here because you are not me. Thank your lucky stars for that.

15 Famous Movie Impostors

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15 Famous Movie Impostors
15 Famous Movie Impostors

This week sees the release of the so-wild-it-must-be true documentary The Imposter, which tells the tale of Frédéric Bourdin, an international master of disguise who, in the 1990s, impersonated a missing Texas boy, one of countless identities the chameleonic subject assumed. Bourdin’s story may be all too real, but his is one of many impostor tales we’ve seen committed to film, as so much suspense rests on characters not being who they seem. In the cases of stars in drag, stars undercover, and stars on the run, viewers are usually in on the incognito secret. Sometimes, though, the ruse is so convincing that everyone is fooled, swept up by the yank of the proverbial rug.

15 Famous Bad Movie Cops

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15 Famous Bad Movie Cops
15 Famous Bad Movie Cops

Oren Moverman’s Rampart arrives in select theaters this weekend, adding Woody Harrelson to the pantheon of actors who’ve taken on crooked cop roles, playing officers who uphold the law about as well as a cheerleader holds her liquor. For decades, films have been infiltrated by serve-and-protect types who play both sides, abuse their powers, and leave behind paths of destruction. “The most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen,” reads the tagline on Rampart’s poster. These 15 badge-defilers would beg to differ.

My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

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My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival
My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

I suppose it’s inevitable that some of the bloom would have come off the rose that was last year’s first annual TCM Classic Film Festival. I am, after all, a year older, and the time spent in between the first festival and this year’s model has found life getting more complicated, with less room for the study of cinema, classic or not, than my selfish patterns would prefer. But just because I may be mired in a sophomore slump of sorts doesn’t mean that in 2011 the TCM Festival was equally bogged down. Familiarity hardly bred contempt this time around, or complacency. If anything, there was a certain comfort factor built into the festival for me this year, a feeling that, while not radiating the kind of freshman excitement generated by last year’s fun (and my own initiation into the rites of festival film-going), certainly resonated with the buzz of discovery, of learning, about films unfamiliar, and blessedly, seemingly genetically remembered, and even of the value of an adrenaline rush of straight-up nostalgia. Without a doubt, this 2011 edition was the film festival experience of the year for me.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: Carnaval Atlântida, Kill or Run, & Neither Samson Nor Delilah

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>Carnaval Atlântida</em>, <em>Kill or Run</em>, & <em>Neither Samson Nor Delilah</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>Carnaval Atlântida</em>, <em>Kill or Run</em>, & <em>Neither Samson Nor Delilah</em>

How many readers have heard of Atlântida Cinematográfica? The studio opened in Rio de Janeiro in 1941, and grew popular over the next two decades for its stream of chanchada films. These were light, exciting black-and-white musical comedies, often Hollywood parodies. At its height, Atlântida would put out five a year using the same small group of directors and actors. Don’t think of them as cheap rush jobs, though. On the contrary, these well-made movies are joys.

This becomes clear from one of the first shots of Atlântida founder/producer/director José Carlos Burle’s 1953 film Carnaval Atlântida, one of three chanchadas I watched Thursday in good Cinemateca Brasileira prints. (A fourth, Sputnik Man, also screened.) The camera moves toward a door with the name “Cecílio B. De Milho” on it, and we see the growling, pacing, cigar-chomping studio boss (Renato Restier) inside. He’s making an epic about the Trojan War. He needs box office, baby, and he needs a star to get it, but against his better judgment goes with two unknowns. The first, a moon-eyed, mustachioed, bow-tied fop (José Lewgoy), is enlisted to play Paris. The second, meek Professor Xenofontes (Oscarito), teaches classical history at a girls’ school, and is thus the best possible person to play Helen of Troy. Yet when it comes time to shoot, our leads refuse to kiss each other, wrestling each other to the ground instead, and destroying fake palm trees as they do.