Tom Ford’s beyond striking film debut A Single Man is an overwhelming aesthetic and emotional experience, a piece of filmmaking that really and truly becomes something bordering on a living, breathing painting of life. This is an expressionistic, at times impressionistic piece of work, and it never fails to stir up intense feelings while watching it. This is Colin Firth’s crowning achievement as an actor, and it’s sort of a crime that he didn’t win the top trophy that year at the Oscars; his award for The King’s Speech feels so much like a consolation prize it’s not even funny. Julianne Moore is electric in her glammed-up role, giving nothing short of a tour de force performance. Eduard Grau’s painterly cinematography is astonishing to digest, contemplate, and study, and what’s more, the sense of high-style that Ford set into motion was always in service of a thoroughly engaging narrative, with characters you immediately latch onto. Nicholas Hoult (never better) and Matthew Goode (underrated always) deliver devastating supporting turns, the score from Abel Korzeniowski is hauntingly romantic, and I’ll never not be blown away by Ford’s innate sense of what’s cinematic; this is a film that feels both studied and extremely unique, deeply personal, made without any sense of capitulation or compromise. I’m not familiar with Christopher Isherwood’s source material, but as a film, this is a work that feels so singular and deeply rooted from within itself that I feel like I owe it to myself to check out where the story first began. I’m also a huge fan of stories that take place over the span of a single day, and while A Single Man does contain dreams and flashbacks, this is one of the best all-in-one-24-hour-period films that I can think of. There’s an immediacy to every single scene that jacks up the importance to the events, and the tragic finale stings with heartfelt authenticity and ironic exactitude. Jon Hamm’s voice on the phone POWER and Tom Ford recruiting the Mad Men production design team POWER. This is an exquisite, evocative, and all together unforgettable piece of filmmaking. I am beyond excited to see what Ford has up his sleeve with the upcoming romantic drama Nocturnal Animals.
Cherry 2000 is a fantastic cinematic explosion of ideas, genres, tones, and possibilities. In other words – it’s a Steve De Jarnatt picture, ahead of its time during initial release, and so ready for rediscovery by modern audiences it’s almost a joke. Feeling like an acid-tinged riff on the post-apocalyptic action picture with shades of Mad Max all throughout, I can’t help but feel that this film set the stage for properties like Demolition Man and Tank Girl and possibly even something like The Fifth Element and Ex-Machina! It’s wild, it’s outlandish, it’s audacious, and there’s not much else I can think of that even remotely comes close to the fantasia that this off the wall effort represents. In the future, 2017 to be exact(!), Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) is a recycling plant manager. He goes home every night to his beautiful wife, played by the beyond sexy Pamela Gidley, who just so happens to be a lifelike robot with the titular name of Cherry 2000. She’s ready for her man at any point, always smiling, always there to pleasure and reassure. But when she short-circuits, Sam isn’t interested in downgrading with a newer, less smoking hot robot-wife. After removing her personality disc, he hires a lawless tracker named E. Johnson, played with charm and early hotness by a lithe Melanie Griffith, in an effort to track down a legitimate Cherry 2000 replacement model. This film is both tongue in cheek and totally dead serious, sometimes within the same scene, with a tone that goes back and forth between pointed social commentary and off-the-wall-genre-craziness. The action scenes are robust, the explosions were done for real, and some of the stunts simply defy logic. There’s a TON of RPG-assisted mayhem during the final act that needs to be seen to be believed, and the frequent bouts of hilarity that come at the expense of the far-reaching screenplay by Michael Almereyda (his take on Hamlet back in 2000 is grotesquely underrated) are at times unexpected yet fully earned. Simply put, a film like this would have a hard time getting made — on any level — in today’s movie-making climate, so it’s all the more exciting to see something this willfully bizarre and enjoyable. At times the film feels cut from the same sort of whacked-out cinematic cloth that Terry Gilliam uses to weave his dense and unclassifiable tapestries of genre-blending. Basil Poledouris’ thundering and rousing score sets the stage repeatedly for the action fireworks that continually unfold, especially in the second and third acts, while memorable supporting turns from Laurence Fishburne, Harry Carey Jr., Tim Thomerson, Ben Johnson, and Brion James spice up the narrative. Originally completed in 1985, the film was set to be released in August of 1986 by Orion Pictures, who then delayed it until March of 1987, then September of 1987, before deciding on a straight to VHS release in the fall of 1988. Cherry 2000 was likely too much of a good thing for people to understand it at the time, likely vexing marketing departments and studio heads; those days of pushing creative and unique gems like this one through some sort of studio funded pipeline seem long gone. The newly released Kino Blu-ray is sharp as a tack, with great color saturation and excellent sound quality.
The Rookie is one of my favorite male-weepie sports films. Sensitively directed by John Lee Hancock and passionately written by Mike Rich, the film stars Dennis Quaid as real life baseball legend Jim Morris, who had a brief but phenomenally glorious career as a MLB pitcher. His claim to fame: Entering the sport at the tender age of 35, a time in life when most players are having early thoughts of retirement. I adore this film – it just flat-out works on every conceivable level. The performances are note perfect, the writing is top-notch, the baseball footage is some of the absolute best ever captured for a Hollywood production, and when that moment of supreme personal triumph arrives as Quaid trots out from the bullpen when he makes his debut – I dare you not to cry. Captured in a long tracking shot by the incredible cinematographer John Schwartzman, making excellent use of LENS FLARE POWER, the camera glides out to the pitcher’s mound, and then goes into full-on swirling mode as it begins to settle in on Quaid just exactly what he’s accomplished. I’d honestly have to check to see if you have a beating heart if this moment doesn’t make an impact on you as a viewer. A superb supporting cast including Rachel Griffiths as Quaid’s supportive wife, Angus T. Jones as their son, and master scene stealer Brian Cox as Quaid’s father all deliver finely etched performances which strengthen the overall narrative, giving it weight and honest family dimension that feels real and true. Schwartzman’s warm and beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen cinematography captures all of the action, on and off the field, with subtle style and loving affection for the rural landscapes and working class environs that the story trades off of, while also splendidly capturing a timeless sense of baseball love. And in tandem with Eric Beason’s fluid and steady editing and Carter Burwell’s sweeping yet net overbearing score, the film hits repeated grace notes without ever losing its full head of steam, all the way up until the potent finale, which hits both small and large notes of emotional satisfaction. Honestly, Quaid has rarely been better than he was here, in a role tailor made to his inherent charm and likability – he should have gotten an Oscar nomination.
Innerspace is a film I watched repeatedly as a kid, and there’s just so much gee-whiz charm about this film that I can’t stop grinning while watching it to this day. Joe Dante has always been a favorite filmmaker of mine, someone with that Spielberg touch for tone and spirit, as so many of his efforts have left me enchanted that I’ll never forget the importance he’s had on my cinematic upbringing. Explorers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, Small Soldiers, The Howling, The ‘Burbs, and Matinee (damn I love Matinee!) – it’s just an insane list of genre-defying entertainment, with Innerspace ranking near the very top of his output. Starring Dennis Quaid with that mile-wide smile and Meg Ryan in the prime of her filmic cuteness, this sci-fi-romance-comedy centers on Quaid’s Marine who is miniaturized in a government experiment and is then accidentally injected into Martin Short, playing a massive hypochondriac who feels that he’s become possessed. Short is an utter pisser in this film, and the way he bounced off of Quaid was absolutely perfect, offering up any number of hilarious moments of character interplay. Ryan is Quaid’s love interest, and the chemistry they shared together is bonkers to witness. This film is one laugh after another, one scene of inventive plotting after another, with some truly wonderful (and practical) special effects that never feel dated in a now modern context. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is sprightly and catchy, and one must never underestimate the talents of cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, who also shot First Blood, Streets of Fire, The Warriors, and Southern Comfort. The freshly released Blu-ray has a commentary track with Dante and key craft contributors – can’t wait to give that a listen! Also, it goes without saying, MASSIVE Robert Picardo POWER.
Steve De Jarnatt’s cult classic Miracle Mile has just hit Blu-ray thanks to the lovely people over at Kino, and it’s about damn time this terrific little gem had its high-definition day of reckoning. Starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham as two potential love birds whose romantic date-night is cut short thanks to the alarming notification of the end of the world (nukes have been launched…!), De Jarnatt’s exciting, heartfelt, and totally unique tale of desperate romance hits all the right notes of 80’s tonal shifts and scrappy whimsy. Edwards is great in the rare lead role as drifting musician Harry Washello, who immediately becomes smitten by a waitress name Julie (Winningham), who he meets at a downtown LA diner in the Miracle Mile district. They make plans for a date, but things get complicated when Harry runs late, and then answers a ringing pay phone where he hears on the other line the wild rantings of a supposed government worker exclaiming that the end of the world is near. The rest of the film unfolds more or less in real time, as Harry attempts to traverse the rapidly crumbling city in an effort to find Julie and spend the last remaining moments of life together and happy. That is…of course…if the caller on the other end of that pay-phone was telling the truth. Without spoiling the film for anyone who hasn’t see it, there’s a conviction to the storytelling, especially in the final act, that feels alive and bracing, and the film serves as a unique precursor to stuff like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (very underrated) and any number of end-of-times thrillers that have been released over the years since Miracle Mile’s low-profile theatrical release. The film has become a massive favorite with at home viewers throughout the years, and it’s easy to see why: there’s not much else quite like it and few films dare to pack as much in as this one does into its slim but engrossing 90 minute runtime. De Jarnatt created a lively cross-section of distinct characters who all feel oh-so-Los Angeles, and I loved how the film’s narrative swerved back and forth between comedy, romance, surprisingly dark and violent action, and pointed social commentary which still feels relevant to this day. Clearly shot on a low budget, the film feels much bigger, with slick and stedicam-dominated cinematography from Theo van de Sande, who was making his English language debut as a cameraman. There are some brilliant long takes that boggle the mind and I loved how De Jarnatt and de Sande captured the restless spirit of both Harry and Julie’s characters. This is a movie that meant one thing to me as a teen while watching it and a totally different thing when recently revisiting it. This is a goodie that too many people may be unfamiliar with.
Podcasting Them Softly is extremely proud to present a Special Edition CINEMATOGRAPHER’S CORNER POWERCAST with director of photography Salvatore Totino. For the last 16 years, Salvatore has been shooting films for an extremely impressive roster of filmmakers. Oliver Stone drafted him for his big-screen debut on ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, which catapulted him into the top ranks of working cinematographers after he displayed an aggressively visceral camera style on Stone’s gridiron epic. He was then scooped up by Ron Howard and over the years he’s shot seven films for him, including all three Robert Langdon adventures – THE DAVINCI CODE, ANGELS AND DEMONS, and next year’s INFERNO, as well as the historical drama FROST/NIXON, the revisionist western THE MISSING starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett, and the relationship comedy THE DILEMMA. Other credits include moody and stylish work on Roger Michell’s underrated drama CHANGING LANES, and later this fall, he has two big films coming out in theaters – the star-studded mountain climbing adventure EVEREST and the NFL brain-trauma expose CONCUSSION, which stars Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, David Morse, and Albert Brooks. Welcome to the show Salvatore, it’s an honor to get a chance to speak with you!
The Missing is one of Ron Howard’s best, most underrated efforts. I typically love his films when he goes with R-rated material, and this one has edge, intelligence, fantastic performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, and a roll-call of terrific character actors, and an extremely impressive visual atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Salvatore Totino, a dynamic cameraman who I’ve been impressed with for years. This is a unique, revisionist Western that plays on old-school genre touchstones within the classical narrative while also allowing for a modern sensibility to creep through, in terms of the attitudes and aesthetic. There’s a directness that I admired about this film, with Howard steering clear of overt and sappy sentimentality, and allowing for the desperate, rugged qualities of life in the old West to shine through. Blanchett cut a convincing portrait of a woman pushed to her mental and physical edge, with the production going to great lengths to show how hard life would have been during that time period. Jones is fantastic as her spiritual and literal guide to revenge and redemption, and it’s yet another performance where he’s able to do so much with that weathered face and amazing voice beyond the dialogue that he was given. Howard and Totino opted for a washed out, de-saturated color palette; we might be in John Ford territory but this doesn’t look and feel like your grandfather’s Western. The Missing feels cold and forbidding and dangerous and lawless, all attributes of that life and time, but what’s so special about this film is that it never feels softened at any point. This 2003 release flew under the radar with critics and audiences and deserves a higher profile, and it more than qualifies as overdue for a Blu-ray release, especially considering how well appointed the production was on a visual scale. And as usual, James Horner’s score popped in all the right ways, adding heft and dimension to the action on screen. A terrific roll-call of supporting actors are on display, including Clint Howard, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer, Eric Schweig, Ray McKinnon POWER, Jenna Boyd, and Max Perlich, who is always terrific.