Send in the Killer Klowns

12/07/2014

by Glenn Lovell

Comics as whack-job meanies ‒ I know, I know, it sounds like an oxymoron.

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Williams as Sy the Photo Guy

Think back. Some of our best bad guys have been culled from the ranks of funnymen. Just off the top of my head I can think of Mickey Rooney as the frothing title character in “Baby Face Nelson,” Second City alum Alan Arkin as the killer in “Wait Until Dark,” Jerry Lewis as talk-show host Jerry (sangfroid) Langford in “King of Comedy,” and, more recently, Albert Brooks as Bernie Rose in “Drive.”

Brooks may be the most terrifying of them all. The comic used his fussy, deadpan delivery to excellent effect, making his psycho gangster as deadly with a straight razor as a quip. “That’s it, it’s done. There’s no pain, it’s over,” Rose soothes after slicing open a character’s artery.

Most comics have a dark side. That’s why they become comics, to hide or suppress their neuroses, those feelings of inadequacy.

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Carell as John du Pont

We were reminded of this in spades when Robin Williams lost his battle with depression. The former standup comic-improv genius was adept at channeling his manic behavior, using it to get inside social misfits, even killers. Who can forget Williams as the deeply disturbed drug-store employee Sy Parrish in “One-Hour Photo.”

The latest comic to shock with an abrupt about-face is Steve Carell. In the critically acclaimed “Foxcatcher,” the good-naturedly dense “Office”/”Anchorman” star dons putty nose and nubby rabbit-like dentures to become the seriously weird John du Pont, heir to the du Pont family fortune and an America First super-patriot straight out of “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Carell is creepy-plus in the role, a textbook paranoid schizophrenic who shows very little outward emotion. Indeed, he walks as if he’s dead from the neck down. Besides a nasty love-hate thing with mommy dearest, the character, like Sy Parrish, doesn’t know how to interact with people. So he buys their acceptance.

Where did Carell find this character? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he tapped into something fundamentally “off” about himself, like stage fright or a fear of not measuring up. We all have it, but comics seem to bury ‒ and eventually mine it better than the rest of us.

Second Screen Experience: Nail in coffin for serious movie-goers?

06/29/2014

by Glenn Lovell

That death knell you hear is for weekend movie-going as we once knew it. Soon we’ll be recalling wistfully, “Remember back when? Remember when people watched reverentially as images danced magically across the screen.”

If marketing honchos have their way, the bane of every serious moviegoer’s existence, the illuminated cell phone, will be not only welcomed in theaters, it will be encouraged, a required tool for getting the most out of the big-screen experience.

And when this happens, studio execs who have been lamenting the steady decline in attendance can bid adios to what remains of their slowly disappearing audience. Here, finally, will be the excuse disenchanted film-goers needed to park permanently in front of the home-entertainment system.

Word arrived last week that the so-called “second-screen experience” is on its way.

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Future … or Pandora’s Box?

According to a piece published in the business section of the San Francisco Chronicle, National CineMedia (NCM) is“working on ways to make smartphones, tablets and even built-in screens in seats a key part of the experience both before the movie and … during the movie.”

That’s right, if this comes to pass, those annoying preshow programs ‒ Ford and Pepsi commercials, behind-the-scenes promos for cable TV series ‒ will, with the help of your Shazam app, become interactive games.

And all you’ll need to play along is your cell phone or iPad.

Yes, that very cell phone you’ve been told to mute and stow upon entering the theater.

Obviously this invitation will be manna for those who never got the message that cell phones are a bloody distraction for those of us who come to watch the movie ‒ and only the movie. These clueless clowns will be able to text away with not only impunity but the blessing of theater management.

National CineMedia, the culprit behind this, specializes in something we all hate: those FirstLook movie ads or what NCM euphemistically calls “integrated brand experiences.” NCM, licking its chops, envisions a whole new revenue delivery system. But lest we become alarmed the company assures us that it’s only condoning cell phones during the preshow portion of the program.

Yeah, sure. Pardon me if I’m a tad skeptical. NCM won’t stop with the promotional portion of the program; it’s got its eye on bigger fish and knows that cell-phone junkies are easily enticed to keep tapping away during the feature attraction. The company lets slip its true intentions when it argues that “movies, by definition, are a social experience” that can only be fully experienced with the aid of social media.

Movies are meant to be a social experience ‒ one in which a large gathering of people interact respectfully with one another and the screen. There has always been a pact between filmmaker and film-goer. Once you introduce ‒ and condone ‒ the use of mobile devices that only some in the audience approve, you break that pact and leave diehard movie-goers racing, no, screaming for the nearest exit.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

02/02/2014

Death knows no timetable. It takes actors when they’re just gaining traction and more often when they’ve long since passed from public scrutiny. Death took Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, in his prime from what is being reported as a heroin overdose. The Oscar-winner for “Capote” was branching out with each new film and, indeed, had plumbed new depths as the charismatic cult leader in “The Master.”

 I sat down with Hoffman a couple of times and was, at each meeting, impressed by how low-key and self-effacing he was. What follows is a conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival, before he broke out with mainstream roles in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Charlie Wilson’s War” and the latest “Hunger Games.” We would talk again a year later at the Sundance Film Festival when he was promoting “Love Liza” written by his older brother. In that downbeat drama he played a guy dealing with the loss of his wife by getting high — on airplane glue and gas fumes.

by Glenn Lovell

In a span of just under three years Philip Seymour Hoffman has been an obscene phone caller (in “Hapimagespiness”), a New York drag queen (“Flawless”), a preoccupied male nurse (“Magnolia”), an obnoxious playboy (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”), an underground rock critic (“Almost Famo0us”), and, most notably, a painfully needy gofer for a San Fernando Valley porn merchant (“Boogie Nights”).

The New York-born, stage-trained actor has been so convincing in these beyond-the-fringe roles that his success has sort of backfired: Filmgoers don’t realize it’s the same Philip Seymour Hoffman in each role.

Hence, despite growing critical acclaim, Hoffman, 33, remains, to borrow the title of one of his vehicles, “almost famous.”

Pale and doughy-faced, he’s definitely not mainstream Hollywood’s idea of the classic leading man. But in David Mamet’s good-natured Hollywood-in-the-hinterlands lark “State and Main,” Hoffman is finally the “normal” guy who gets the small-town girl (Rebecca Pidgeon).

He plays Joseph Turner White, a timid but staunchly principled screenwriter who’s reluctant to participate in a Hollywood director’s cover-up, which has something to do with an amorous leading man (Alec Baldwin) and an underage local (Julia Stiles).

“That subplot probably won’t go over in some circles,” acknowledged Hoffman, nodding as he reached for his second cigarette of the interview. “But there is so much of this movie that’s so innocent ‒ like my story line.”

Which is a 180 for Hoffman, who heretofore has specialized in, well, more flamboyant personalities.

“I know, I know,” he agreed in that half-staccato, half mumble that has become his trademark. “This is your basic boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-fumble-over-each-other, boy-and-girl-eventually-kiss type of story. It’s really so sweet, so basic.”

Was this a conscious career move, to distance himself from those more oddball characters?

“Well, no,” replied Hoffman, who will next be seen in brother Gordy Hoffman’s “Love Liza,” about a man who copes with his wife’s death by sniffing airplane glue. “I’ve always felt the less recognizable you are, the better it is. Being a celebrity can be a good thing to a certain point. But, after a while, it can backfire.

“After a certain point, you don’t want your personality to precede you.” Hoffman figures that after nine years and approximately 60 films and plays, he’s now semi-recognizable. “I get recognized a helluva lot more now. That’s definitely changed. I deal with a certain loss of anonymity in my life, but it’s not so much that I don’t still have a life.”

For Hoffman, the bottom line remains: Serve the material, not your ego. Anything else, he sniffed, is “personality acting.”

“I think people have trouble attaching me to a particular performance because I try very hard to put the character who is on the page first, and try not to be myself I the film,” he explained.

“The approach is obviously working. No one would ever confuse his tornado-tracker in “Twister” with his pompous American abroad in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” or with his portrait of “Creem” rock critic Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical “Almost Famous.”

“I really loved playing Freddie Miles in ‘Mr. Ripley,’ “ he said. “Freddie’s kind of an ass in the way he behaves, but he also is incredibly savvy and loyal to his friends. But I’ve been really lucky to play a lot of parts like that. They’re not big parts, but they’re nice parts, and there’s a lot you can do with them.”

As the upstairs drag queen in “Flawless,” Hoffman plays speech therapist to stroke victim Robert De Niro. It was a gutsy career move. Did agents and friends wave him away from the role, given the dangers of typecasting in the still relatively homophobic movie industry?

“No, I was the one waving me away from ‘Flawless,’ “ he replied. “I was cast in the part without even reading for it. Director Joel Schumacher said De Niro didn’t want to see me read, either. I was like, ‘There’s something wrong here.’ Because I wasn’t sure I could do the part. But I kept reading and re-reading the script and eventually I felt, ‘This is something I can do.’ So I went for it. I worked my buff off. It was scary.”

Most established actors would have shied away.

“Yeah, yeah ‒ I know. But being ‘typed’ wasn’t even a thought. I know who I am as a person. Who I am as Phil is extraordinarily clear to me. That all that matters ‒ my work, my art form.”

Robert Redford: Cast Away

01/24/2014

by Glenn Lovell

As usual we had a few quibbles with the Academy Award nominations, like where were “Fruitvale Station,” “Don Jon” and Adèle Exarchopoulos in “Blue Is the Warmest Color”? Our biggest gripe, however, was the exclusion of Robert Redford in the best actor category for his work in the powerful survival drama “All Is Lost.” After experiencing Redford’s career-capping tour de force as a lone sailor adrift in the Indian Ocean, I would have bet the farm (or yacht) that he had a lock on a nomination, if not the trophy itself.

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Redford: Abandoned

Not only was it the best performance in Redford’s long, storied career, it provided a master’s class in lean, economical under-acting. Redford’s stolid mariner blazed like a beacon in the night beside the more conventional scenery chewing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey.

But in the end this didn’t mean diddly to Academy voters who snubbed both the film and its 77-year-old star. Why? A few possible answers:

√ What’s in a Name? Everything! There are memorable titles, like “Scream” and “Psycho” and soft, impossible to recall titles, like “You Again” and “To the Wonder.” Redford’s latest was saddled with a title so pedestrian it went in one ear and out the other, precluding word-of-mouth.

√ The Fogey Factor. Hollywood has always had a soft spot for veteran actors who hang in there and eventually sneak off with the hardware. Christopher Plummer won at age 82, Henry Fonda at 76. But the Academy’s sentimental streak goes only so far. It was easy to overlook the erstwhile golden boy because the voters had already embraced “Nebraska” costars Bruce Dern, 77 and June Squibb, 84.

√ Yesterday’s Snooze. “All Is Lost” played all the major film festivals, including Cannes in May, before receiving limited release in October. By the time “Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle” arrived, “Lost” was all but forgotten. It didn’t help that the film had no advertising budget to speak of.

√ Simple Spells Simple-Minded. The barebones man-against-the-sea plot was exhilarating to some but too basic for most. Just a cursory description of the film turned off Academy members, who stuck their complimentary “for your consideration” screener at the bottom of the pile.

√ Silence Is Golden ‒ in small doses. Just two years ago Hollywood awarded Jean Dujardin the best actor statuette for his silent performance in “The Artist.” Like Redford, he had only one line of dialogue. Enough already with the pantomimed emoting, grumbled voters. Even lost in space, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney gabbed away.

√ The Outsider Factor. As founder of Sundance Film Festival, which curries and honors independent cinema, Redford can be seen as the ultimate maverick. It stands to reason he has stubbed a front-office toe or two when weighing in on where the year’s hot new indies should land.

Year’s 10 Best Movies: The Big Picture

12/30/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Judging from the latest batch of 10-best lists, the year in film began less than a month ago. Most of the wrap-ups from the big dailies are padded with late 2013 releases. Once again, the media played into Hollywood’s hands by lauding the last-minute arrivals, which had to be superior because they were held until the fall, i.e. “awards season.” This strategy, of course, stems from the (not unfounded) belief that Academy voters and film critics have worse memories than the Bruce Dern character in “Nebraska.”

This time that thinking boomeranged. Several worthwhile winter-spring releases such as “42” and “Side Effects” went all but overlooked, while a number of the arty, desperate-to-please holiday arrivals ‒ “Inside Llewyn Davis” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” for starters ‒ monopolized the year-end critics awards and Golden Globe nominations.

With this in mind, I purposely sorted through the entire year for my favorites. The movies that stood out, in no particular order:

1. “Side Effects.” Part medical exposé, part labyrinthine whodunit, this slow-boil thriller had us hooked from the crime-scene opening. Credit Steven Soderbergh, who also scored with “Behind  the Candelabra.” This is his best since “Traffic” ‒ and another reason whysideeffects he should rethink those early retirement plans.

2. “The Great Gatsby.” I’ve never been what you’d call a fan of Baz Luhrmann’s hyperbolic brand of filmmaking. (His “Moulin Rouge” topped my 10-worst list.) This time, however, Luhrmann’s signature razzamatazz (kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley meets Beyoncé meets hip-hop) provided a daring new take on Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic. Leonardo DiCaprio, sans Quaaludes, was a good choice for the fatally smitten Jay Gatsby.

3. “All Is Lost.” Robert Redford in a late-career triumph as an old man adrift in the Indian Ocean ‒ without an engine or a scrap of dialogue. Pure cinema!

4. “Don Jon.” A foxy, fast-paced screwball comedy about a working-class stiff who’s addicted to porn. Joseph Gordon-Levitt directed, wrote and starred in this unexpected charmer.

5. “The Hunt.” A Danish-Swedish import about a diffident daycare worker wrongly accused of sexual Lostmisconduct. Mads Mikkelsen gave one of the year’s most sensitive performances as a good man-turned-town pariah

6. “Simon Killer.” Antonio Campos (“Afterschool”) directed this startling psychological thriller, a hip blend of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Last Tango in Paris.” Brady Corbet, who also co-scripted, played the creepy title character, an American abroad with definite personality issues.

7. “12 Years a Slave.” At last, an antidote for Tarantino’s cartoonish “Django Unchained.” Steve McQueen directed and Chiwetel Ejiofor starred in this grim but unshakable adaptation of the Solomon Northup memoir about a “free man” bound into slavery ‒ and suffering not only soul-shattering degradation and whippings but also survivor’s guilt.

8. “Dallas Buyers Club” / “Mud.” Matthew McConaughey seemed to be everywhere this year. He deserves an Oscar nod for his good-ol’-boy con artist who, after contracting the AIDS virus, wheels and deals his way to a new self-awareness. Jared Leto scored the year’s most amazing transformation as a woman biding her time in a man’s body.

9. “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” A 3-hour lesbian romance from France that, despite some lip-smacking reviews, is about a whole lot more than graphic sex. Adèle Exarchopoulos plays a high-schooler who falls under the spell of  aBluen artist ( Lèa Seydoux) and loses more than her heart. At times you want to look away, the soul-baring is that intense.

10. “Nebraska.” A quixotic road picture. Bruce Dern, never better, plays a wily old-timer who, with feckless son (Will Forte) in tow, aims to collect on his birthright, a “winning” sweepstakes number. Another wry, meandering winner from Alexander Payne (“Election,” “Sideways”).

Best Animated Feature: “The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus.

Best Exploitation: “The Conjuring,” the spookiest haunted-house chiller in years and James Wan best since the original “Saw.”

Year’s Most Overlooked: “To the Wonder,” a floating, free-form recitation on amour fou from the suddenly prolific Terrence Malick.

Among the year’s worst: “The Counselor,” “Man of Steel” (all CG, no substance), “World War Z,” “Meet the Millers,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Hangover Part III,” “Grown Ups 2″ and — somehow from the folks who brought us “Drive” — the blood-soaked “Only God Forgives.”

Worst Exploitation: “Maniac” and “You’re Next.” In the latter, a soon-to-be-skewered woman screams, “Why are they doing this to us?!” Why? Because you’re too stupid and unpleasant to live.

Bruce Dern: Breaking from the Pack

11/19/2013

by Glenn Lovell

The best actors, metaphorically speaking, are long-distance runners. They possess stamina, staying power. They start out in juicy character parts, surge to the front in starring roles in their 30s, then finish out the race in critically acclaimed supporting turns. Melvyn Douglas was such an actor; Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson also fit that description.

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Dern

Bruce Dern, however, may have run the smartest race of all. The 77-year-old actor, who in recent years seemed to be fading in the homestretch, is now having the last laugh. He expanded his chest, made a lunge for the tape, and came in first at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Best Actor prize for his performance in Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska.”

Not surprisingly, Dern, a decent half-miler in college, has always been a runner. It’s an addiction, he says. Even today he can be seen chugging along Malibu trails. Locals call him “Crazy Bruce.” He twitted, “I’ve been running thousands of miles and am so bored with people who shout, ‘Watch your heart,’ and then drive on.”

The half-mile is the perfect metaphor for Dern’s long career. The runners clump together during the first lap, and then, if one runner has the heart, he pulls away from the pack.

Consider Dern’s body of work. He made his screen debut (well, mostly the back of his head) in 1960 in Elia Kazan’s “Wild River” and died famously in Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and Robert Aldrich’s “Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte.” After six years of AIP quickies (“Wild Angeles,” “Psych-Out,” “The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant”), he, at long last, was given more sympathetic roles: a marathon dancer in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” a basketball coach in “Drive, He Said,” and Tom Buchanan, the rich playboy in the 1974 “Great Gatsby.”

In 1972, he returned to villainy, memorably. He shot Duke Wayne in the back in “The Cowboys.” Asked how it felt to off the screen icon, he chortled, “They may have booed me in Orange County, but they cheered me in Berkeley.”

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Betrayed in “Coming Home”?

The same year he had his first bona fide lead, as the astronaut-botanist in “Silent Running.” This led to leads in Hitchcock’s last film, “Family Plot,” John Frankenheimer’s “Black Sunday,” Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home,” and, personal favorites, Bob Rafelson’s “King of Marvin Gardens” and Michael Ritchie’s “Smile.” I met Dern for the first time during the Chicago junket for “Coming Home,” which co-starred Jane Fonda and Jon Voight. Fonda and Voight took shots at their co-star because he defended his character, a Marine captain who feels betrayed by wife and country and eventually loses it. Dern wanted the character to go out in a blaze of glory (as he does in the script). Ashby shot a more melancholic ending, an ocean suicide a la “A Star is Born.” All three actors were nominated for Oscars. Fonda and Voight won; Dern didn’t.

Dern’s stint at the top lasted about four years. He was never considered bankable, especially after appearing in such bombs as “Middle Age Crazy” and “Tattoo.” He rode out the ’80s and ’90s in character parts, the best being the obsessed runner in “On the Edge” and the conniving Uncle Bud in “After Dark, My Sweet.” These roles should have netted him second and third Oscar nominations. They didn’t because nobody saw the films. Consigned mostly to crotchety neighbor roles and glorified cameos in recent years ‒ he’s in “Monster” and “Django Unchained” ‒ Dern joked that he was best known for being Laura Dern’s father. He’s the motormouth sheriff who moonlights as a writer in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt.” It’s one of his cagiest performances. The film, now on VOD, went unnoticed.

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Resurrected in “Nebraska”

And then, miraculously, along came “Nebraska,” starring Dern as the grizzled, at times vacant Woody Grant, who hits the road with his son (SNL’s Will Forte) to cash in what he thinks is a winning sweepstakes number. Dern calls the film (opening Friday) “the best role I’ve ever had” and his best buddy movie since teaming with Nicholson in “Marvin Gardens.”

Will it make him another late-in-life Oscar-winner, like Alan Arkin and Jack Palance? That would be nice, but Dern isn’t slowing down for the laurel. He’s in it for the long haul. He won’t stop acting, or running. Some days you feel the burn, some days you cramp up. His next release: “Coffin Baby” (aka as “Toolbox Murders 2”).

Linda Lovelace Survived “Throat” Preem … Barely

08/08/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Confession time: Yours truly filed the very first review of “Deep Throat,” the 1972 porno that’s back in the news thanks to “Lovelace,” the biopic starring Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace and Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor, her abusive Svengali.

Just out of graduate school, I lucked into a job at the Hollywood Reporter, then located on Sunset Boulevard. Though I was hired as a copy editor to rewrite press releases, I got my shot at reviewing when the venerable Arthur Knight quit in protest over a friend’s firing. I reviewed television, nightclub acts and a lot of bad blaxploitation, like “Trouble Man” and “The Big Comedown.”

On a Thursday morning the city editor called me over and handed me an invitation. It was to something called “Deep Throat,” screening thaDeep-Throat-poster_lt evening at the Pussycat Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard. At the bottom of the flier: “This film is rated ‘X’ for explicit sexual content.”

When I reminded him that it was HR’s policy to not review hardcore porn, he waved me away. “I know, I know, but we’re covering this one anyway ‒ as a favor to a friend who manages the theater.”

It wasn’t a black tie/klieg light kind of affair, but the premiere did boast in-person appearances by Lovelace, costar Harry Reems and director Gerard Damiano, a former hairdresser who would later make “The Devil in Miss Jones.” As we passed into the theater we were handed cardboard boxes marked “Deep Throat Survival Kit.” They contained throat lozenges, chocolate-covered bananas, multicolor prophylactics, and rocket-shaped lollypops. (What do you think one of these babies in mint condition would fetch on eBay today?)

I can’t remember much about Lovelace, except that she was almost pathologically shy. Before the movie, she fielded questions from the stage ‒ by whispering her answers into the emcee’s ear. The press was told that “Miss Lovelace will be available for questions after the screening ‒ so stick around.” She wasn’t. We didn’t.

Seated behind me at the screening were Laurence Harvey and Joanna Pettet, who were working on a film together at the time. They bolted after about 20 minutes.

My four-paragraph review ran under the headline “Porno Film with Touch of Humor.” I noted that the “uniquely talented” Lovelace “proves she can moan and gyrate with the best of ‘em as ‘the girl who untangles her tingle.’” The review went on to predict healthy box office. Something of an understatement. “Deep Throat,” which earned upwards of $600 million on a $47,000 investment, ranks as one of the top-grossing indies of all time.

Depp as Tonto: Debate Heats Up

07/02/2013

by Glenn Lovell

Johnny Depp as Tonto? I know, I know, in this age of political correctness, it sounds like a bad joke. Depp has said he took the role in Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” because he wanted to redress how shabbily Tonto (Jay Silverheels) was portrayed in the old TV series. Strange reasoning: I hated the way an authentic Mohawk played the role, so I, a Caucasian, have decided to make up for it by donning war paint and feathers.

My column on Depp masquerading as Tonto (“Greasepaint Injun“) brought a ton of reaction, some siding with me, some suggesting I put a lid on the bleeding-heart thing.

“I saw a pre-screening a few nights ago,” said Denise Hobbs. “I had not planned on seeing it because of Depp’s role but when asked to the hr_The_Lone_Ranger_12screening, I took advantage of the opportunity. I find it interesting that Depp says he hated how Tonto was portrayed in the original. Well, (Jay Silverheels) was MUCH BETTER than what I saw Depp doing! I was embarrassed watching him make a mockery out of the character. It was Jack Sparrow dressed as Tonto! And I was appalled! He thought he was being funny and it was offensive. He was offended (by the TV series) as I child, well I am NOW offended at his portrayal as an adult.”

Added Christine Candelaris: “I was excited to see Depp’s Tonto in the trailer. His look is almost an exact copy of the Kirby Sattler image “I Am Crow,” an artistic representation of the Crow people from the American Midwest. My husband has worn this image on a t-shirt for years.”

Nikos Lynch said, “If we take this to its natural conclusion, then the Fighting Irish should be offensive; and what about the Irish-one-day-a-year sporting little plastic glitter walking hats on St. Patty’s Day?”

Ellen Mosher weighed in:I agree with Glenn Lovell’s article. There are plenty of good Native American actors who could have played Tonto. Native Americans do not run around in war paint and ceremonial garb everyday as depicted in the movie. The lack of sensitivity and stereotyping of Native American culture and traditions that still goes on is appalling. The parallel with Saint Patrick’s Day and the ‘fighting Irish’ does not follow. St. Patrick’s day is a day that has been embraced by many in the American culture as a happy celebration day, and the term ‘fighting Irish’ has a positive meaning suggesting strength and winning attitude. The stereotyping of Native Americans suggests a primitive and inferior culture when compared to the European culture.

JoMont: “Plenty of good Native American actors don’t sell at the box office like Depp. Let’s get real here. At least he isn’t using a Brooklyn accent like many in the 60’s. No one appeared offended when he played numerous other accented characters. In the big picture, this sort of yammering I find, troublesome.”

Wrote Bob Rosenthal: “Johnny Depp is an actor. Actors play roles. He is playing a role, his job. I will see the movie, realizing it is just a movie, not reality, and eat my popcorn and drink my Pepsi. Like everyone else I have the option of either seeing the movie or not seeing it if I feel it is objectionable.”

Don Gateley didn’t mince words. “Oh, please go away, Lovell. Must you have something to criticize and complain about? Most of these ‘caricatures’ were intended to honor, not insult. Malcontents will always find a way to twist it to tweak their disorder and offer themselves as above the ignorant, unwashed and politically incorrect masses. Your screed is tiresome.

“And, Ellen, I went to the University of Illinois where our rallying figure was in ceremonial dress and danced in honor of the defeated but still mightily respected fighting Illinois Indians who proved themselves a formidable foe.”

Michelle McIntyre: “According to reliable sources, Johnny Depp is Cherokee on his mom’s side. Works for me.”

An anonymous voice asked, “Lovell, are you Native American? If you are not then you are playing the role of White Savior. A role that colonizers have played many times with disastrous consequences to indigenous cultures. Since the word native in Western culture means primitive, I will use the term First Nation People. According to Depp, he is a descendant of First Nation ancestors, which makes him a First Nation person. Cherokee do not go by the European blood quantum policies that were forced upon most tribes by the U.S. government. One drop of Cherokee blood means you are a Cherokee. Which drop of water is not important to the river? I see your article as just another form of colonization by Europeans. You are saying live my way because it is best for you. Please let First Nation People deal with their own problems and live their own lives.”

Gary Hinze concluded, “You are too easily offended. Being offended on behalf of somebody else doesn’t even ring true. Like the white guy who smashed the Christopher Columbus statue at San Jose City Hall in protest supposedly on behalf of Indians. There are differences of opinion in the aboriginal community on this. The majority support Indian mascots. Some Indian groups have given approval to sports teams using Indian mascots. Others have objected. It could depend on how it’s done. If a sports team was to use a Japanese mascot, it surely would not be the demeaning war propaganda figure you postulate. It would likely be a fierce Samurai warrior. Are the Indians offended by the San Jose State Vikings?”

A testy Mila, obviously not familiar with my byline from years at the Mercury News, wrote: “So you’re a ‘local’ film critic? What does that mean exactly? Because based on your article you know nothing about movies or Johnny Depp. First of all, Johnny Depp has never been lily white. Second of all, he IS of Native American heritage himself. Third, his representation of Tonto is brilliant because he has consciously chosen to elevate Tonto’s role in the movie from the traditional and indeed stereotypical ‘sidekick’ to a real mentor and friend to the Lone Ranger. And lastly the make-up that he has chosen for his character is very, very appropriate.

“Here is a picture of an authentic Crow person (by Sattler), for your education: So as you can see Johnny Depp is more than qualified to play Tonto and has done the research he needed to do for his role. Unlike you, who clearly are neither qualified to comment on movies or political correctness nor has bothered to do even a quick Internet search on the topic. But you just wrote this article to get attention, didn’t you?”

Jeri Danforth: “Funny how these comments are split between Johnny Depp fans and non-fans. I agree with Glenn. Tribes recognize members according to tribal rolls. In the case of the Cherokee, even if Depp has only one drop, he should be able to trace his ancestry on the Dawes rolls. As of now, no one has heard that he has even tried. So what’s stopping him? He could easily put a stop to all this fuss if he would speak with the tribe he claims membership for and ask for their assistance.

Gary Hinze again: “Tonto is not a real Indian. Depp does not need to prove he is a real Indian to play a fictitious Indian. Actors play roles. They play extraterrestrials, zombies, even pirates. They don’t have to be real extraterrestrials, zombies or pirates. A movie is a story. This one is fiction. It is not a documentary. Depp does not need to prove he is an Indian, or a pirate. He proves his qualifications as an actor at the box office. He brings in millions of dollars. QED.”

H. Pasterlink demanded, “What reliable sources are you referring to? Cherokee rolls? His maternal great-grandmothers were Kentucky girls, nothing to suggest that they were Native American. His great-grandmother’s name is Minnie, and she was allegedly the mother of his paternal grandfather, (Walter) Everett Wells. But his mother was actually named Anna or Annie, maiden name Cooper. No Indian blood there.”

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013): Now in lap of gods

05/08/2013

Here’s an interview I did with Ray Harryhausen when he visited San Jose for a film festival devoted to fantasy and sci-fi. The legendary stop-motion artist, best known for “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” (1958), died Tuesday in London at age 92. Among those who embraced Harryhausen as a key influence were Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, George Lucas and, representing the next generation f/x specialists, Phil Tippett.

by Glenn Lovell

If, like many a giddy adolescent, you’ve never been able to quite shake the horned cyclops and saber-rattling skeleton in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” you’ll want to know more about their creator Ray Harryhausen, the meticulous stop-motion artist who has given life to some of Hollywood’s harry2most memorable oddities, including an undulating snake woman, reptilian Martian and, on Mysterious Island, a giant crab.

Harryhausen’s last screen credit was 1981’s “Clash of the Titans,” another of his beloved Greek mythology adventures.  Prior to that he oversaw the Dynamation (three-dimensional animation) on 1977’s “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger.” Before that he labored on “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,” released in 1974.

One movie approximately every three years — or, as Harryhausen breaks it down, “One year of pre-production (scouting European locales, polishing the script, etc.), one year of arranging for financing — ‘Clash’ was in the $12 million bracket — and 16 months alone with my models and assistants.”

Jason’s battle with the children of the Hydra’s teeth in “Jason and the Argonauts” lasts five minutes on screen and took four-and-a-half months to orchestrate (or two days for one second of movement). The dreaded Medusa, with rattlesnake tail and individually animated viper curls, has about six minutes in “Clash of the Titans.” Harryhausen lived with the Gorgon for three months.

“That’s why I’m working less and less now,” he explained. “It cost so much to do one of our fantasies, and they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, you know. The studios are more interested in science fiction hardware these days.”

What about three-dimensional computer animation, the kind of thing being done at Lucasfilm? “Doesn’t appemysteriousal to me,” said Harryhausen. “That takes the humanity out of fantasy.”

So he sticks with the time-consuming “old-fashioned methods,” some learned while apprenticing with mentor Willis O’Brien on “Mighty Joe Young.” These techniques enabled him to mangle the Golden Gate Bridge in “It Came from Beneath the Sea” and trash the Washington Monument and Capitol Building in “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.” Referring to the latter unpatriotic act, Harryhausen laughed, “No, there’s no hidden symbolism there. That wasn’t the reason I left the country.” (He moved to London 20 years ago because it’s centrally located and allows him to scout locations in Spain and Italy.)

None of Harryhausen’s films has received the praise and attention of “7th Voyage,” which, though heavily censored in England as too violent, “earned an enormous amount of money and became the year’s big sleeper … In England they cut the whole skeleton sequence, some of the fight between the Cyclops and dragon and the scene where the Cyclops roasts one of Sinbad’s men on a spit. They just said those scenes would frighten children. Fantasy never hurts anyone. It’s healthy, cathartic. Children enjoy the grotesque.”

Speaking of the grotesque, where did Harryhausen get the inspiration for “7th Voyage’s” ill-tempered Cyclops? “I just wanted to make him as belligerent as some people I’d met — belligerent and primitive.”

“Jason,” he recalled, was released in a market already glutted with poorly dubbed “Hercules” clones from Italy. Adding insult to injury, critics cited liberties with Greek mythology. As an acknowledged expert in the area, Harryhausen was livid. Vindication came when several university scholars rushed to his defense.

“It’s obvious from their writing that most critics have no idea what Greek mythology is all about,” he said. “They also wrote that I borrowed my mechanical owl in ‘Clash’ from R2D2. The idea of the mechanical owl goes way back to Greek mythology, which came a little before ‘Star War.'”

Further disappointment has come from studio publicity mills that have either ignored his movies or misrepresented them as standard sword-and-sandal fare. Harryhausen called “Valley of the Gwangi,” a 1969 Lost World western, and “First Men in the Moon,” a fanciful 1964 adaptation of the H.G. Wells story, “my most neglected films.”

“Warner Bros. didn’t know how to sell ‘Valley,'” charged Harryhausen. “When they saw the word ‘gwangi,’ people thought it was a Japanese monster film. When ‘First Men in the Moon’ came out just at the time when man set foot on the moon. So that destroyed the fantasy element. Suddenly moon travel was a real proposition.”

Harryhausen smiled and hedged when asked about his next screen project. “I don’t know. Don’t hold your breath. It’s in the lap of the gods.”

For some of Harryhausen’s best work in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” check out YouTube footage of Cyclops, Snake Woman and Dueling Skeleton, all set to the unforgettable music of Bernard Herrmann.

“Simon” Director Mines “Killer Inside Me”

05/02/2013

by Glenn Lovell

For a guy who grew up in relative comfort ‒ privates schools, successful middle-class parents ‒ Antonio Campos shows an unexpected affinity for society’s walking wounded, the alienated and dejected. Five years ago, he directed the festival favorite “Afterschool,” about a painfully shy prep-school student who spends too much time online, with tragic results. His noir-tinged “Simon Killer” (now in theaters and on PPV) is about a weaselly American in Paris who freeloads off a young prostitute. Again, with tragic results.

Between assignments, Campos,  29, produced the award-winning “Martha Macy May Marlene,” about a young woman adjusting to life after a Manson-like cult. You guessed it ‒ tragic results.

Campos2

Campos

To get to the bottom of this attraction for damaged outsiders, we talked to Campos at San Francisco’s 15th annual IndieFest. He referred to his new film, which was virtually made up by director and stars as they went along (“We sometimes showed up with just lines written on a notebook page”), as a “companion piece” to “Afterschool.” Main literary influences? The brainy mystery novels of Georges Simenon, as well as the more hard-boiled pulps of Jim Thompson.

“Thompson’s ‘The Killer Inside Me’ was a huge turning point; I’d never read anything like that,” Campos said. “How well we could understand that (psychotic sheriff) was kind of a revelation … Simenon deals with very similar characters but in a more opaque way. And somewhere in-between there, Simon was born … “

Campos says he’s always been drawn to the dark side, to everyday monsters lurking just beneath the surface. His second short “Buy It Now” is about a teenager who sells her virginity on eBay. “Why am drawn to dark subjects? I’m not sure. I’ve always been a fan of horror films. Creating horror out of real life is a challenge … You have these ideas, you write them down, and then on the day you have to shoot it, it’s incredibly uncomfortable. You go, ‘Why did I ever think of this? Why am I making my life so difficult?’ ”

There are certainly squirm-worthy scenes in his latest. In one, Simon’s prostitute girlfriend recalls being raped by her husband the moment she starts to go into labor with their first child. He got the story from a woman who worked in a Paris hostess bar. “She was very open and she told me that story and I was pretty shocked by it … After coming out of a very abusive relationship, being a prostitute in Pigalle was, as difficult as it is to believe, somehow liberating.”

Simon, played by co-writer Brady Corbet, has some serious psychological issues. In one scene, he bumps a stranger on the street and the encounter escalates. The guy is like a magnet for trouble.

“I’d say that Simon is manipulative and scared. He’s convinced that he’s doing the right thing and actually he’s jot. I don’t think Simon’s a sociopath. That’s what’s scary about him: It’s harder to pinpoint what it is. For me, the story is not about someone becoming a serial killer, it’s more about someone becoming capable of killing if he needs to.”

Campos grew up in Greenwich Village and, through a scholarship, attended a private school on the Upper West Side. Mingling with the haves and have-nots, witnessing the disparity, proved a turning point. “A lot of what you see in ‘Afterschool’ came from the hypocrisy of that school, the way that certain students got away with certain things and other students didn’t … That made myself and a lot of my friends very cynical because we saw that the way the system worked is if you have money, you have means, you can usually get away with anything … and the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves.”

Campos’s next film may be a murder mystery based on the 2004 documentary “The Staircase.” It’s bound to be dark, brooding.

And then? “I’d love to do a comedy, but … no one thinks I can be funny, unfortunately.”


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