Intense, mean, and violent, Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon is really overdue for a Blu-ray release. It’s sort of hammy with its dialogue but it’s no less entertaining for being so. Alex Thomson’s bravura cinematography consistently dazzles. The visceral, blazing shootouts feel real and wildly dangerous. The nightclub scenes are electric, clearly paving the way for Collateral/Vice-era Mann. Rourke is both agonizing and heroic, and even if he might not have been truly old enough for the part as written, he was his usual, fascinating self, always a reserve of surprise, ever the actor to keep you guessing. David Mansfield’s evocative musical score heightens the mood and Wolf Kroeger’s absurdly amazing production design is beyond sumptuous — you’d never know that almost the entire film was shot on North Carolina sound stages. The screenplay, co-written by Cimino and Oliver Stone from Robert Daley’s novel, is both on the nose and subtle, cliched and unpredictable, which is no easy accomplishment, while the level of startling and bloody violence is bracing to behold — people get FUCKED up in this movie. Cimino, as always, just totally went for it, giving this explosive if at times overwrought narrative tons of dynamic sequences and individual moments, while also hammering home his distinct visual aesthetic, which here borrowed neo-noir and gangster movie elements to tell a propulsive and engrossing story that feels intimate and epic all at once. The production value on this movie truly is wondrous, I can’t say it enough.
I always preferred Robin Williams when he went DARK — stuff like Insomnia (as good as remakes get), Death to Smoochy (brilliant satire), What Dreams May Come (visionary), One Hour Photo (supremely creepy), Good Will Hunting (downbeat but still lovable), and The Final Cut (unnerving) rank as my favorite movies from this legendary comedic actor — but I am not sure anyone was prepared for how screwed-up and obscenely hysterical Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad was going to be. This is a scalding, deeply perverted, and oddly touching little comedy that’s destined to find a huge cult following. The less you know about the story the better, but here’s a small summary: Williams is high school teacher and failed writer Lance Clayton, a single dad who is raising his punk-ass teenage son Kyle (the amazingly nasty Daryl Sabara) and carrying on a secret relationship with fellow teacher Claire (the extremely cute Alexie Gilmore). When Kyle accidentally (and embarrassingly) dies, Lance decides to write a suicide note on behalf of his son. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Again, know as little about this movie as possible before you check it out. All I will say is that it’s one of the sharpest high school satires since Election, and overall, the film has a nasty streak of diseased humor running through its cinematic veins that is extremely refreshing. It’s also a unique film about parenting and family, and while much of the delinquent son’s behavior might putt off some people from even attempting reproduction, Goldthwait’s narrative still has plenty of genuine heart. This is an audacious, unsafe comedy, unafraid to go to some truly bleak places, and always succeeding because of Goldthwait’s ability to cull humor out of the perverse. Williams gives a terrific performance, on par with his career best work in stuff like Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and One Hour Photo; when he wanted to knock it out of the park, he really crushed it. This is easily one of the funniest, most transgressive comedies in years, on par with stuff like Observe and Report and Bad Santa.
Mr. Turner is an exquisitely made movie, and on an aesthetic level, it’s a work that consistently leaves one in awe over it’s spellbinding use of color, light, and texture. But I have to be honest – I found this movie to be dry-dry-dry, and while that’s not a terrible thing per se (it’s hardly uninteresting), had it not been for the overwhelming cinematography, I might have not been as engaged to the mildly repetitious narrative. Timothy Spall is indeed fantastic in this film, all primal sweaty and completely ensconced in his role, but the absurd amount of grunting and strange-noise emitting became distracting if not hilarious by the mid point of this two hour and 30 minute film. And make no mistake about it — subtitles were REQUIRED while watching this film on Blu-ray. I’ve watched a lot of British/Irish films before with thick accents — but some of the lines, as spoken by numerous members of the cast (Spall included), were utterly incomprehensible to my ear. So that was sort of an annoyance, because the last thing I want to be doing while watching a film as absurdly gorgeous as this one, is to be reading text dialogue at the bottom of the screen. Leigh is a master filmmaker, there’s clearly no question about that, and this film is miles from something like Happy-Go-Lucky or half-dozen other entries from his diverse and spectacular resume, further reinforcing the notion that he’s a filmmaker capable of telling almost any type of story. But for me, this was the Dick Pope show all the way, as he conjured up one obscenely photographed sequence after another, demonstrating a tactile understanding of how to merge Turner’s lush and evocative paintings into a fully alive piece of cinema, allowing the brushstrokes from Turner’s canvass to spill out into the frame, thus turning the entire film into a living, breathing cinematic painting.
Podcasting Them Softly is honored to present a chat with cinematographer Ben Kasulke. Over the last 10 years, Ben has amassed close to 60 credits, and has become one of the leading independent stylists of his generation, having created intense collaborations with filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Guy Maddin, shooting for them such titles as TOUCHY FEELY, YOUR SISTER’S SISTER, HUMPDAY, THE FORBIDDEN ROOM, SEANCES, and KEYHOLE. His work stretches various genres and filmmakers with other big-screen credits including SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, THE FREEBIE, and TREATMENT. He’s also no stranger to television, having shot the first season of the hilarious and critically acclaimed FX comedy MARRIED starring Judy Greer and Nat Faxon, and Adult Swim’s horror comedy THE HEART, SHE HOLLAR with John Lee and Vernon Chatman. Ben has also worked on documentaries and short films, and his most recent project is the upcoming Amazon series RED OAKS for executive producer Steven Soderbergh and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS director David Gordon Green. We hope you enjoy our latest entry in the PTS Cinematographer’s Corner series!
One of the best things I’ve done all year is get to know the work of Paul Mazursky better, and Blume in Love, the first film where he was the solo writer as well as director, is easily one of the finest films I’ve seen from him yet. Resembling a series of memories, all hazy and restless and sudden and abrupt, this is a magnificent piece of storytelling, with Mazursky’s usual and amazingly perceptive emphasis on the human condition firmly in place. I loved Bruce Surtees’ constantly searching and intimate cinematography, and don’t get me started over how the film begins and ends with the same shot – brilliant! George Segal turned in a challenging and deeply complex performance; the rape sequence in the third act changes the film in a very unique and startling way. Susan Anspach delivered a fantastic, multifaceted piece of acting as a woman torn between intense feelings of love and rage, while Marsha Mason, in her screen debut, was able to paint a convincing and potent portrait of “the other woman,” something she’d be asked to do more than a few times in her career. And I must say, she really enjoyed taking her top off during her heyday! Some of the best scenes of the film involve Kris Kristofferson’s stoner lay-about, as he hooks up with Anspach after she and Segal divorce (due to his cavalier infidelity), and then becomes odd-couple friends with Segal in the most humorous of ways. Mazursky was always interested in people, in faces, in how we all interact and view the world, and I loved how this entire film felt like some sort of scattershot dream, complete with Segal’s stream of consciousness voice over. And I’ll always marvel how films from the 70’s had such an observant style, with shots looking off from the distance, allowing dialogue to be overlapped with images not containing the speaking actors, not to mention how films from the 70’s just STARTED, with no handholding or babying you through the first act. Bill Conti’s score is peppy in spots, pensive in others, and underscores the narrative without overpowering anything on screen. There’s so much casual humor in this film which keeps it from being as depressing as some of the narrative truly is, and Segal carries such an aching, wounded heart, that the film feels caught between sympathizing with him while also scorning him for his thoughtless, sometimes sickening behavior. I wonder how audiences reacted to “the big scene” in Blume in Love, the bit between Segal and Anspach which, on one hand, seems like a pretty obvious example of rape, but then, upon further contemplation (and post-film discussion), I don’t know what to feel, especially since critics at the time seemed to think nothing of it. All I know is – that scene NEVER makes it in a modern film. Whatever it was, it was another indication of Mazursky acknowledging the possibility for human failing, and while not condoning the behavior, it’s clear that he understood how two people could find themselves in that situation, with the same outcome, with the same set of shifting feelings. What a phenomenal piece of work that I can only assume will linger long in my memory banks.
Gritty direction from the underrated filmmaker James Crowley (Boy A, Closed Circuit, the upcoming Brooklyn). Witty and mean screenplay by Mark O’Rowe that folds over on itself without suffering massive contrivances and features genuinely nasty characters who we still, at times, have sympathy for. A terrific ensemble cast led by Colm Meaney, Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Shirley Henderson, and David Wilmot. A yowsa(!) Kelly Macdonald = drool. Corker of an ending. Energy and style to spare. Love the Irish locales and the rough-and-tumble cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski (Ida, Margaret). Much like Crowley’s unforgettable drama Boy A, Intermission has edge and smarts, and is due for reconsideration.