Today in Charade: Stanley Donen

23 February, 2019 at 3:43 pm (charade, film)

Stanley Donen speaks with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn behind the scenes of Charade.Coming hot on the heels of the announcement of the death of actor Albert Finney, we discover today that his director of Two For the Road, Stanley Donen, has died.

It’s been a long time since I watched 2ftR (as no one is calling it), and I had intended to give it a rewatch after learning of Finney’s passing. My main memory of it is that it did an amazing and convincing job of making the actors seem young at the beginning and older over the course of the film — no mean feat considering we had watched co-star Audrey Hepburn age onscreen over the previous decade and a half. I also was bemused by some of the late-sixties mod styles of clothes and automobiles, and overall enjoyed the push-pull of the evolving and maturing relationship between the characters. I didn’t know how to place the film in Donen’s opus, as it wasn’t as comic as most of his works with which I was familiar. Even his pictures that bent serious did so within genre conventions, so while I felt I knew how to evaluate Arabesque or even Blame it on Rio, 2ftR had been hard to pigeonhole.

In the end, I decided to watch Finney’s performance in Murder on the Orient Express, which I’d never witnessed, and put off Road for a future day in which I was feeling maudlin about relationships. It seemed easier than opening up the can of worms that I was really avoiding: that all the film buffs I know have a deep, classic appreciation for Donen as choreographer-turned-director, and I do not. So as someone who still largely eschews musicals, my trying to figure out where that film fit amongst Donen’s work would be impossible. Because most of his work still eludes me. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Multiverse’s Tiniest Violin

23 December, 2018 at 7:31 pm (gameplay)

A few weeks ago I was at work, killing time, and I pulled out the defunct, previous model phone that I keep for two reasons: as a decoy, in case I get robbed, and for mobile gaming. I’m crap at games, generally, but find that games on the Free-to-Play model are simple enough that they match my natural level of ability. And since I strive mightily not to spend any money on F2P gameplay and see how well I can do if I am patient, I tend to spend about ten to fifteen minutes a day gaming, which suits my lifestyle.

I get a reasonable amount of crap around the office for having the two phones, and was unsurprised when they garnered a little attention from a colleague, who asked what I was doing. When I said I was playing a video game, she reacted strongly, telling me to delete it immediately. When I protested, telling her that it was a cheerful distraction and that I only played for the tiniest amount of time each day, she was steadfast: “Any amount of time is too much,” she said, “because those games make you want to play more and more. Delete it!” she warned me again.

Considering that she and I were going to be co-hosting a field trip in a few months, I spent a little time weighing her words. Two weeks in France was a perfectly normal amount of time to stop playing a video game to which I claim to have only the barest of attachment. But at the same time, such games are wonderful in airports terminals and other periods of interminable delay. However, if that was going to be her reaction, then it would probably be the better part of valor to just free up the hard drive space before the trip rolled around, and then see how I felt about restarting or not once we returned.

Turns out, the decision was made for me. TinyCo. has announced that they are shuttering Marvel: Avengers Academy on February 4th.

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Today in Charade: A Spanking! A Spanking!

16 December, 2018 at 10:27 pm (charade)

CHARADE: How would you like a spanking?

Despite the title and the pervasive references to comedies in today’s Today in Charade feature, I’m not making light of this topic. In the ongoing saga of how much CBS apparently needs to change its workplace attitudes, the business section of the New York Times has devoted significant column inches to detailing the recorded circumstances that led Eliza Dushku to seek arbitration about her employment on the show Bull. There is some blurriness about ultimate responsibility and whether Dushku was fired for reporting his behavior — I don’t know the man, but I would be a mixture of disappointed and unsurprised if the former head of Moonlighting, a show all about gender roles and subsequent tensions, was blind to an atmosphere of casual discrimination — but Bull‘s star, Michael Weatherly, does not come across at all well.

Putting aside any easy assumptions one could reach about the gendered expectations of a show that cast a thirty-seven year old woman as the eventual romantic partner of a fifty year old man — a few hours after I started writing this, Vulture did that for me with a pretty salient summary of the pervasive entitled male perspective CBS’s shows embody and perpetuate — one can probably safely assume that Bull‘s characters engaged in romantic persiflage. I’ve never seen the show, but the Times‘ description of the show’s strapline and that the relationship between the characters was “flirty” conjures a reliable trope in terms of tone and scope. That the lead in the show would also, therefore lean in to keeping that fun, smarmy atmosphere that is part of the product alive in between takes and behind the scenes also both fails to surprise and disappoints.

Weatherly, in the Times transcripts, refers to three specific instances where sexual innuendo came about because of improv on his part. Twice, he specifically refers to the improvised innuendo as “ad-libbing” on his part, and while the third time doesn’t use that exact phrase, it is specifically couched within a moment when he was trying to jokingly improve a line of dialogue on the fly. In this last instance, he says, “[I]n retrospect, [it] was not a good idea.”

You think? Read the rest of this entry »

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IMDBLR: I’d Just Like To Thank The Academy

22 August, 2018 at 11:55 pm (film, imdblr)

It’s been more than four years since I last sat down and catalogued my contributions to the credits of movies made with the assistance of crowdfunding platforms. This is, in part, because my commitment to ego-blogging wanes considerably with age, but also because Kickstarter is a slow and patient process. The first project I ever backed is still years from completion, and while I’ve received my backer party favors for believing that Detroit deserves a Robocop statue, it’s taken Detroit quite some time to find it a proper home. So films that I excitedly send off my support for don’t always turn around and fly into my mailbox as quickly as my donation flew out of my inbox. So to speak.

But I do enjoy the process of opening up the old Kickstarter account and checking in to see how many projects have actually finished up. Many of them have done the Robocop route of sending out rewards to contributors, but haven’t yet been able to finish wrapping up the project those rewards represent. And with film projects, that’s rarely surprising. Films seem to regularly cost more than expected, and so frequently one of the Kickstarter “prizes” for backing a project is a digital download or stream of the finished video. When this is the case, I leave the little “Got it!” box unchecked in a fit of pique, even if I have accounted for all the sparkly physical gewgaws and whatsits that were promised.

All of which is to excuse my lack of urgency in checking up on how many times I’ve appeared in the credits. But let’s not only make this about me. Let see how often and in what way crowdfunding is acknowledged in the credits of films…

 

WISH I WAS HERE (Raised its minimum funds on May 24, 2013, released on July 25, 2014)

WISH I WAS HERE -- Title Screen

WISH I WAS HERE -- Kickstarter Credit
Availability to be in the credits: Originally, pledgers at the $200 level were going to have their names be graffiti in a scene in the film. If memory serves, the select backers listed in the credits were those people, as the scene didn’t scan sufficently.
Expectation of me being in the credits: None. I backed at the Special Q&A in Boston level.
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Michael Fleisher

13 March, 2018 at 10:36 pm (comics)

Farewell, Old Friend: Michael Fleisher

My grandfather amazed me one day, after asking about my enjoyment of comic books, by saying that he knew the artist of Spider-Man. Turns out he was friends with the parents of Rick Leonardi, who — by my reckoning — was the most dynamic and interesting Spidey artist, particularly in the way he would draw splash pages capturing his speed and agility by having multiple images without panel breaks. My stepfather, however, was able to do my grandfather one better. In his profession as weird wood artist, he has met a whole host of comparable borderline personalities that have glommed on to him, and one of them was Michael Fleisher, writer of Jonah Hex.

Fleisher was even a sufficient fan of my stepfather’s that he drove out to New Hampshire to visit him, and brought his monthly box of DC comp titles for us kids to enjoy. We read and re-read them all, despite being titles we didn’t remotely care about, and despite that they were all in the midst of storylines of which we wouldn’t buy the next issues. He was a real comics writer, and this complete catalogue of every DC book from September 1987 was proof. Long before comics at large temporarily transitioned into their “auteur theory” period of considering writer uber alles, the fact that a comics writer had stayed in my house had already elevated their collective status in my eyes.

My stepfather would keep vaguely in touch with him. I heard about the announcement of the transition from Jonah Hex to Hex before I read about it in Direct Currents or the like. I heard about his weird, failed sex novel, and his move to England to work on 2000AD for a time (when I visited England myself, I asked about his “prog”s, and was told in no uncertain terms that they didn’t pass the smell test). And a couple of years ago, I was told that he was living in hospice and not doing very well. Read the rest of this entry »

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OSCARS: Seven of Nine

4 March, 2018 at 8:05 pm (film)

Oscars 2018: Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards...

Well, it’s been ten years since I weighed in on the Oscars Best Picture race, and nine years before that since I went back to my alma mater to hammer out a post-grad defense in the student newspaper of Shakespeare in Love having taken home the old Golden Boy. In general, I find the exercise of handicapping the proceedings to be less revelatory than the amount of weight of commentary might otherwise indicate. I feel that my prior comment on the nature of What Is Best lends itself to no particular new insight, so I’ll let my early ham-handed postings remain for anyone who couldn’t deduce my point of view with their own fifteen seconds of introspection. The only thing I’ll add is that wiser word-processors than mine have already looked at the fact that the victors are often less Best picture and more Trendiest Picture, representing a particular cultural windsock more than any larger zeitgeist.

In 2008, I really did feel that any of the winners would have been worthy. That it was a banner year for taste amongst the selection, and that even the slightest entry of the five still had yards of appeal. And in the post-The Dark Knight explosion of Best Picture nominees, allowing up to ten possible candidates, that the entries have never been as lean and incisive again.

This year is a particular exception. Read the rest of this entry »

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GALLERY: Business Cards in Television

26 February, 2018 at 3:09 pm (television)

Jessica Jones, Alias Invesigations

Alicia Florrick, Esq. of Florrick, Agos, & Lockhart

Angel Investigations

Detective Arthur Bell in Orhpan Black

Phryne Fisher, the Honourable Miss Fisher, Lady Detective Read the rest of this entry »

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Yesterday in Charade: The Annotated Regina

13 June, 2017 at 10:47 pm (charade)

Midway through the day, The A.V. Club cheerfully chirped up about the opportunity to bid on a copy of Audrey Hepburn’s personal copy of the script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s should one “have unlimited means“. Aside from the traditionally Blake Edwards’ party sequence, Tiffany’s has never particularly warmed the cockles of my heart, but I was interested to see what else might be for sale in late September when Christie’s holds its London auction. Because, while I do own a couple of supposedly genuine screen-intended props from the remake of Charade, the opportunity to own something actually used in the original 1963 film has never availed itself to me. (A minor exception: I could own a severed swatch of fabric apparently from Hepburn’s screenworn faux-leopard fur hat, but that feels like a predatorily ghoulish way to collect “memorabilia”.)

Promotional still of Hepburn in Charade on display in Christie's promotional video
The auction house’s accompanying promotional video for the upcoming event doesn’t display much Charadiana, surprising no one, but near the bottom of the press release a very small amount of “film memorabilia” is mentioned. It’s difficult to tell if one should infer from this delayed placement that Christie’s, while enjoying the borrowed splendor of the late actress, would prefer to not sully itself with such things as movie props and other pop cultural ephemera. This is where one finds the item that The A.V. Club flagged up so prominently, Hepburn’s copy of the Tiffany’s screenplay, as well as the estimate of its anticipated value, between sixty thousand and eighty thousand pounds. And, no, that variance is not due to the soft market value of the pound sterling after last week’s special election failed to cement Theresa May’s or even the Tories’ mandate as leading parliamentary party.

But tucked in next to that leading treasure is that Hepburn’s copy of Charade will also be for sale, expecting to rake in the comparatively paltry median amount of £20,000. Read the rest of this entry »

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LE CARRÉ DIEM: Our Kind of Traitor

8 July, 2016 at 11:41 pm (film, le carré diem)

PREVIOUSLY: I watched every feature film adaption of a John le Carré novel in preparation for the U.S. theatrical release of this film, in order to write about them each in sequence.

US theatrical release poster for Our Kind of TraitorCURRENTLY: Well, let’s get down to it. Is this the apex of the Carré Canon? Obviously not, as some of the earlier efforts are considered stone-cold classics and are not going to be re-evaluated in comparison to the strengths of a film that has received a thorough critical meh in the UK upon release. It’s difficult to know exactly what the critics were hoping for, as I’ve been avoiding their write-ups for the past few weeks in order to go into my own viewing as untrammeled as possible. Now having watched the movie and weighed it, I plan on writing about it in a more free-form manner than my previous reviews, all of which were able to be planned and sourced by years if not decades of critical response, by DVD release and multiple viewings. Sure, I’d never seen Deadly Affair or Looking Glass War before, but their very absence was part of the shadow that they cast in a minor film nerd’s hunt-and-pecking through the feed trough of cinema history. I have seen this once — in a mostly empty screening populated by three elderly couples, one of whom felt like they were obligated to share their confusion with the plot and their lives with the rest of the audience &mdsah; and won’t be able to review the materiel with quite the same ease as the other titles in this series. So I plan on rambling for a bit, reacting to the reviews and any press materials that seem germane, and then putting this little experiment in using WordPress’ post-dating ability to rest. Won’t you join me for this final installment of Putting Le Carré Before Le Source?

We begin with a reasonable amount of Russians speaking Russian, mostly with subtitles, sometimes without, depending upon whether director Susanna White (Bleak House, Generation Kill) wants us to be given information or to be given tone. Her decision to have the characters talk on cell phones or murmur to each other without transition attempts to force the audience to pick up on what’s going on by watching the characters’ intent, their eyes, and by listening to the susurrus of ordinary vocal timbre. Obviously, this requires the sort of audience that is going to try and find meaning when obvious information is not provided, that is going to search for clues and not instead fold into a sulk of alienation. Bit of a risky proposition, I feel, having ridden many polyglottal subways and seen passengers threatened and worried by the indecipherable multicultural human interactions around them. I mention again the aged couple that sat a few rows behind me, mumbling through each ambiguity in a sour hunt for step-by-step plotting and motivation.

Not that this film was completely devoid of signposting, it just occasionally gave us the conflict first and the reasons a little later. Read the rest of this entry »

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LE CARRÉ DIEM: A Most Wanted Man

30 June, 2016 at 6:41 pm (batman, film, le carré diem)

PREVIOUSLY: Commissioner Gordon ultimately takes over MI6 after discovering the Kingsman mole in his midst. Remember: everything is in continuity.

CURRENTLY: I first saw this film in the cinema, where the experience of watching it was weighed down with the knowledge of the death of its star, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman died of an overdose of heroin between the film’s premiere at Sundance in January of 2014 and it’s wide release in September of that year, and reports and remembrances in the interim painted a picture of a man who was intense in his work and seemingly unable to leave that intensity at work. So while watching his portrayal of a man bent under pressure to stop the next global terrorist act, it was difficult not to imagine him carrying that intensity around with him, and looking to chemical relief. It made it hard to watch, and made me feel complicit in his demise, because this was the kind of intense emotional work that I wanted him to labour under, to provide for me. I’m not sure I wholly understand the message that Haneke was going for in Funny Games, especially as I have no desire to ever watch it, but it has filtered through to me that the film is about villains’ agency to fulfill the audience’s desire to watch terrible things happen, that their motivation is not as characters but as avatars for our collective desire for bloodlust masquerade. We are supposed to feel guilty for what happens to the characters. Similarly, I felt a twinge of responsibility, however accurate, for providing a marketplace for Hoffman’s lack of catharsis.

the Viking paperback edition of A Most Wanted Man by John le CarréBecause I spent my initial screening of A Most Wanted Man watching Hoffman’s onscreen pain, and projecting his apparent real life pain onto that performance, there were some aspects of the film that I missed the first time ’round. In particular, I missed entirely that this film was post-9/11 storytelling and filmmaking. I certainly didn’t catch or remember the introductory text mentioning that the planners of the Sept. 11th attacks planned their assault from Frankfurt, and the multicultural port city continued to actively search for future terrorist activity that might originate with their Muslim populations. It isn’t given undue mention subsequently, but in his notes on still photos he took during the production, director Anton Corbijn makes an explicit reference to what is the background to everyone’s actions and motivations. While narrating images from scenes where the Muslim Chechen at the center of the story spends his time holed up in an abandoned apartment, tossing paper airplanes around the space, Corbijn says that Issa tossing the paper distractions at the plastic construction sheeting in the apartment is “Obviously… a reference to 9/11” (p.106).

I was astonished by this claim, and if it had been made by anyone other than the film’s director, I would have dismissed it as the worst kind of symbolic and interpretive overreach. However, when I noticed that the first British editions of both the hardcover and paperback print runs of A Most Wanted Man had also seized upon that image, I began to feel like I was the fool who hadn’t notice the glaringly obvious visual miming. However, when Corbijn later uses that same plastic sheeting as a metaphor that allows Issa “visually [to] go from a ‘terrorist’ to a ‘martyr'” (p. 109), I returned again to my comfortable stance that this imagery was more than a little abstruse, and that it’s injected meanings might be falling well short of the viewer.

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