Category Archives: Movies
In honor of seeing Jason Bourne this evening – hope to post commentary tomorrow – I’m reposting here one of the most enjoyable LiveJournal entries I ever wrote, which describes the experience of working on The Bourne Ultimatum in London during the spring of 2007.
I’ve spent the past two days on a new job working as an extra in The Bourne Ultimatum, now shooting for a summer 2007 release. Here are some highlights of this experience thus far…
EXT. FINCHLEY ROAD UNDERGROUND STATION, 5:50 AM.
JP arrives at the underground station and is dismayed to see Metropolitan Line tube services northbound are operating with “severe delays”. This forces him to wait in the chilly open-air train station for at least 20 minutes before the first train of the day arrives. Thankfully, it’s a service that goes to Uxbridge, which is exactly where he needs to be at 7am.
EXT. OUTSIDE UXBRIDGE TESCO, 7:05 AM.
After calling a local cab company from a sketchy free-phone inside the Tesco, JP is surprised to see a Saab speed up to the far curb facing him at a distance. He thinks that it might be the taxi cab, but is cautious as the car is unmarked and there is no taxi decal. But when the car speeds right up to the other side of the street, and then to the door, JP realizes that it is the “ride” and gets in as the Indian driver speeds off. Ten pounds and fifteen minutes later, he’s deposited at Pinewood Studios, walking right on to the back lot and the street where Sean Connery endures an Aston Martin crash in Goldfinger. Several other 007 locations are instantly recognizable.
EXT. PINEWOOD HAIR & MAKEUP ROOM, approximately 9:15 AM.
Disagreement and conflicted orders fly amongst the production staff over what to do with JP, who is the only new arrival of the day. “Should we shave his head?”, “Should we give him glasses?”, “Should we ask him to play two characters for the shooting schedule?”, they wonder to each other and then to him in side statements. Resolution is reached with the decision to ask him to step into a brief hallway scene immediately as one office intern character, then return to the makeup room for a costume change to become “Will McArthur”.
EXT. HAIR ROOM, 10:30 AM.
JP sits down for a hair trimming with a hairdresser who says she’s “freelance”, in a thick, slightly boozy British accent. She has just enthralled her previous smooth-talking client with stories of meeting other stars as they passed through Pinewood for various films. JP is worried that she may give him an extreme buzz cut, but is relieved when that turns out to not be the case, though he is wistful to see his sideburns drop off in favor of a conservative “prim” look.
EXT. PINEWOOD STUDIOS STAGE, 2:30 PM.
JP settles in to his post in the CIA conference room, meant to be in the government-heavy areas of Washington DC, with a set so authentic that it has American plugs on the walls and Poland Spring and DeSani water sprinkled across the desks. He keeps busy on and off the set, eventually being released for the day at 7:00pm.
EXT. FINCHLEY ROAD UNDERGROUND STATION, 5:40 AM.
It is again cold in the open-air station as JP ambles down the platform. There are no delays on this instance, and he gets on the Uxbridge train within three minutes of arrival, giving a silent nod to the train staff who were apologetic just 24 hours before.
EXT. UXBRIDGE HIGH STREET, 6:40 AM.
JP is met by a new friend from the shoot, an American expat coincidentally named Russ, who drives a very American minivan from his house 50 miles away to the studio, and was benevolent enough to come slightly out of his way and make sure that JP and one other extra did not have to pay for a taxi. Russ, an older man aged at least 55, eagerly asks younger (and sleepy) JP for advice on getting work in London theatres. JP gives him his contact details in anticipation of a further conversation. They are joined by Eduardo, a Brazilian DJ who has recently moved to London and is trying out acting in between music gigs. Driving just ahead of the van (on his own Harley Davidson) is John, another extra, who has a full time job on a UK-American air base.
EXT. PINEWOOD STUDIOS STAGE, 9:45 AM.
Joan Allen comes into JP and “his co-worker” Brendan’s cubicle area for a brief makeup touch up. JP had been disappointed that Allen, an actress that he enjoys and respects in her screen roles, had constantly vanished right after takes on Friday. He looks at her and says with a smile, “Ms. Allen, I am impressed by your intelligence on-screen.” Joan twitters her eyes as she receives makeup and says, “oh, thank you!” in a heartier voice than her screen delivery suggests. At the same time, JP is tsk-tsked by Allen’s attendant who had been eavesdropping nearby, and seems to think that it’s an unwritten rule for extras to not speak to featured actors. JP notices that Joan Allen disagrees with this belief, as she sits down for a moment in his chair for further touch-ups from another attendant, and makes a point to converse briefly with him and Brendan. As she leaves, Joan shakes JP’s hand with a genuine smile and reiterates, “Thank you, that was a lovely thing to say.”
EXT. PINEWOOD STUDIOS SMALL STAGE, 12:40 PM.
The entire production crew is treated to a complimentary lunch of curries, salad and ice cream. This is supplemented by free coffee, fruit smoothies, fruit and candy throughout the day.
EXT. PINEWOOD STUDIOS STAGE, 3:30 PM.
JP and Brendan watch with interest as Paul Greengrass and the rest of the production staff work with the principal actors (David Straithairn and Joan Allen) for a series of reaction scenes. JP is intrigued by the similarities and differences visible to him in/between theatre and film directing.
EXT. PINEWOOD STUDIOS OFFICE BLOCK, 5:25 PM.
The “extras supervisor” informs JP that his next call is Monday morning at 10am. He walks off into the sunset and is glad to have a day’s break ahead, but then called to the set again.
I had the pleasure of returning to the State Theatre in Ann Arbor yesterday (which I’ve decided is my second favorite cinema in Michigan) for a screening of the new independent film “Captain Fantastic” starring the versatile yet always independent minded actor Viggo Mortensen.
Upon arrival at the State, I learned from a poster in the lobby that the cinema will soon be closing for a nine month renovation and remodeling, and, among other things, intends to reopen with four reconfigured screens in its upstairs space. I felt some wistfulness at hearing this news, as part of the State’s appeal for me has always been its quirkiness, as opposed to its neighbor the Michigan, which always tends to feel a little too polished. Since this was likely my last visit to the State in its current configuration, I took a moment to document it. I still feel that what would really be good is if downstairs tenant Urban Outfitters moved out and their space could be fully restored to its former glory as the State’s main screen … But who knows if and when that will happen.
As for the film itself, it seemed to serve as a metaphor for a large family journey, once it got over an initial overbearing quirkiness in the story. Some of the later moments struck some particularly powerful notes, notably around a grandfather character solidly portrayed by Frank Langella and an oldest kid character portrayed by British actor George MacKay, whom I previously saw at the State in an underrated film called “How I Live Now.” Through the whole story Mortensen anchors the film with a mix of whimsy, subtlety and authority. I might have enjoyed the culmination of the story even more if it kept going down an unexpectedly bleak route, but in the end a turn back towards the whimsical and hopeful (yet still realistic and honest) wrapped things up on an appropriately thoughtful note.
In anticipation of my upcoming return to the West Coast, I decided to take a look, for the first time in several years, at a seminal “West Coast” film for me – Into the Wild, originally released in the fall of 2007. Hard to believe that is almost a decade ago at this point in time!
The circumstances of when and where I first saw the film likely contributed to its lasting impact. I was spending a few days in Albuquerque, New Mexico, accompanying my mom to a conference, but with an open-ended personal schedule, just like the main character in the film, to some extent. The New Mexico crisp quality of light, color and air was in full abundance in the late October time of year, and it was my first time ever seeing the state. I’d just had a phone interview, while on that trip, that led to my first job in California, and the prospect of that transition and opportunity was even more eye-opening, again in a more structured way to what the main character of the film anticipates with his journey to Alaska.
I saw the film again 4 or 5 months later at The Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, still one of the friendliest movie theatres I’ve ever spent time in. By that time I had settled in to the California lifestyle and the film took on more of a “reinforcing” of the open road feeling, as opposed to the potential of the earlier screening in New Mexico. Still, there was a yearning there, and many possibilities existed for where my path could go at that time, in a way that I see now is characteristic of one’s early 20’s, and I was right in the same age bracket that the main character of the film was during the narrative.
For some reason I was less familiar with the original story and circumstances of Chris McCandless’ life at the time, probably because the main events took place when I was much younger. However, I was aware the author Jon Krakauer was a highly-regarded fellow Hampshire College alum – yet another personal connection to the story. And the director Sean Penn would later briefly be a down the street neighbor in Marin County.
So, in 2007 and 2008 the film made a lasting impact on me, with its wide vistas of Alaskan scenery and intense story of abandoning one’s personal possessions and family members for a back to the land life. Eddie Vedder’s original songs continue to be on my personal playlist from time to time, including one particular track (that I’d forgotten is not actually featured in the film) which feels emblematic of just driving around on the West Coast, and the sense of sky and open space that is so unique to the region.
In 2015 the film feels like a time capsule to me. First on the level of its featured actors professional trajectory, such as lead Emile Hirsch perhaps finding it difficult to top the performance he gives in this film, and running into some personal troubles with law enforcement earlier this year. Of the supporting actors in that age bracket, Kristen Stewart appears in a small role and looks noticeably younger, while Jena Malone has since branched out further into a mix of popular and independent fare. The older actors in the group soldier on in the industry, but their fortunes have also varied, with Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughan and Marcia Gay Harden among the group. And IMDB tells me director Penn is preparing his first directed film since this one for release in 2016.
I guess I wasn’t expecting to feel the distance from the narrative that I felt on this re-viewing. I’ll still continue to regard it as a key film in my West Coast life, but … I also feel how time has passed.
Some blogs do a great job of focusing in on the little details, the big moments in their author’s memories that seem to stand out in their author’s memories. Or maybe they have been embellished for detail and only the author knows the truth. In any case, this is a detail that I feel like my writing is only periodically successful with, and it’s something I’d like to work on. So I present this entry in a deliberately more active style.
Today, the Monday before Thanksgiving break, had that “ehh…” feeling that most Mondays tend to have. It was likely amplified for a variety of reasons, including our impending time off from the academic calendar (which will start tomorrow night for me), the sense of just hanging around after my midday class concluded, and, broadly, Michigan’s sudden shift back into winter weather this weekend, with up to a foot of snow in some parts of the state, and a relatively mild dusting here in metro Detroit.
Two brief interactions over the course of my day (which hasn’t ended yet, so there could be more!) made me feel like I had an invisible “(YOU CAN) TALK TO ME!” stamp on my face.
In the first instance, I ordered my usual beverage at my on-the-way-to-work Tim Horton’s (where I’ve just recently crossed over into being “a familiar customer”), and an older man in his 40’s or 50’s was sitting near the counter. He suddenly started talking to me about gas prices and how it is notable that Michigan prices have recently fallen to around $1.75 per gallon or higher (which completes a cycle of up then down that started at the beginning of this calendar year.) I replied with some standard conversation and seemed to surprise him when I said the lowest gas prices I remember are around 89 cents per gallon in the late 1990’s.
I’d also like to note my impressed feeling that this Tim Horton’s location is often a hangout for US-Canadian Border Patrol officers.
In the second instance, I’m in my work elevator, which is generally the usual spot for awkward silences, since it draws a mixture of faculty and students. The fellow passenger actually engaged me in conversation, and I don’t remember what it was about! I do remember a similar instance sometime last week where the elevator briefly stopped in its path and seemed to be deciding whether to actually get stuck or continue, (it did proceed) – but the next day, the power went out in the building for at least an hour, and I wondered if that was a precursor.
A detailed blog post could be written about the venue where I am writing at this moment, known as the Great Lakes Coffee Company. It is a small chain of fair trade coffee shops in the metro Detroit region, and this location also has a beer and wine license. In the past I have enjoyed another of their locations adjacent to The Maple Theatre in Bloomfield Hills, where I took the picture displayed here at one of their very classy jazz evenings, but it is no longer as convenient a trip for me in my current living arrangement.
Nonetheless, this location on Woodward Avenue in Detroit could easily be seen as a hipster capital of Detroit, and I once heard it referred to as “capital of the New Detroit” (though I forget who or what said that) – meaning that the people who have flocked to Detroit within the past 5 years are more likely to turn up here than long-time residents. A friend says that the venue once served as a music club, and it’s easy to see its roots with exposed brick walls and rough hardwood floors. For a time I felt like I was watching the place change, as it instituted an awkward reserved seating policy involving hosts and table service, and seemed to want to deliberately elevate itself to a fast-casual type of place. I also felt like I didn’t particularly want to associate with that “new Detroit” energy (although I admit I could be seen as part of that same crowd) coming here and being seen, just because.
But … things seem more relaxed this time around, and it’s only the second or third time I’ve been here since returning to Detroit for the school year. I can’t tell if this is a permanent relaxation or increased comfort among the venue itself, but I think it does warrant a return visit sometime down the road.
One of my cousins started a blog. And it’s not simply a commentary blog, it’s a detailed personal blog about life in the Big Apple. I’m not sure I would want to do the same thing for life in Detroit and surroundings, but it does remind me of what I call “the old days” of blogging, first when a long update on life via LiveJournal – sometimes several times per week – was the norm, later in a more public blog off and on for a few years, then morphing into Twitter updates that continue through to this day, and finally embracing the increasingly verbose and visually sophisticated art of Facebook status updates, which now IMO are currently more about the art of the “share” from another source, and less about the actual written status of the friend.
All of which to say is that this blog was originally intended as a way to “go back” to the habit of a more detailed description of daily life, and since its creation in 2009, I’ve come back to that objective periodically. But recently, for one reason or another – starting with no internet in the place I lived over the summer, and then going into a new residence from there and choosing not to have internet – this blog has felt more distant. It’s time to correct that!
SO, this weekend I spent a good deal of time in Canada, which I generally like to do, since it is literally right down the street and there are many subtle, fun cultural differences in going just over the border. At some point I became aware that the artistic culture is different as well, and I also learned that the Canadian film culture is occasionally ahead of the game from its US counterparts, as in a film is released earlier or simply comes to the area but doesn’t come to southeastern Michigan. And this fact is the most apparent when the Windsor Film Festival rolls around for another year, as it did this past week.
On the final day yesterday, the festival director excitedly noted that 17,000 tickets were sold during the five day event, a new record for their offerings. Three of those tickets were from me for three distinct films.
First up on Friday night was 45 Years, a buzz-building drama expected to be rolled out in the US around Christmas. Star Charlotte Rampling is also expected to factor in the end of year awards season conversation for her role in this film. She plays Kate, a retired schoolteacher living in rural Norfolk, England, with her husband, Geoff. The couple is mere days away from their 45th wedding anniversary as the film opens, and due to some health problems they experienced five years before, they’ve decided to host a large scale celebration this time. The drama gets going when Geoff receives an unexpected reminder of his past, and the narrative moves forward from there.
I notice that the synopsis sounds more like a mystery or horror film, and 45 Years very much treads in that realm at times during its 95 or so minute running time. A crucial choice made by director Andrew Haigh involves leaving many details to the viewer’s imagination and almost nothing spelled out in the narrative. That is something that I greatly approve of in film storytelling, and is yet all too rarely seen!
It’s not a surprise that Rampling (whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform onstage in 2004, sort-of met after the show, and owe my appreciation of her work to this Avengers episode) ably carries the film on her veteran shoulders. But it was refreshing to see her drop a certain steely demeanor she’s become known for IMO in some of her recent roles over the past 5-10 years – she was believable as a person who enjoys the more relaxed side of life, and life in retirement phase. But when her husband’s surprising news affects her as well, there are many questions and she conveys the lonely confusion and disarray that envelops the character’s life.
As for the other two films, I’ll have to do a separate entry.
My first few days back in Southeast Michigan have brought a lot of driving, reunions, food, logistics, and just one film. Time will tell if I’m able to get this blog back up to regular speed. I think it is doable.
The one film, Amy, is clearly one of the most powerful entertainment (as opposed to human rights or other subject) documentaries I’ve ever seen. Using a combination of home movies, existing concert and interview footage, and present day voice-only interviews with the singer’s family and friends, the film charts the rise and fall of singer Amy Winehouse, who achieved her widest fame for her “Back to Black” album around 2007, before falling into a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse that eventually led to her premature death in 2011.
The success of the film, directed by acclaimed filmmaker Asif Kapadia, lies in its ability to refocus the narrative about Winehouse from a one-hit punchline into a full complex person. The viewer walks away with a clear and devastating understanding of how the acquisition of fame changed her life and what those around her could and could not enforce to make sure she was still herself.
Four years ago I was very excited that there was a new “Scream” film. I didn’t note at the time that it had coincidentally been filmed right here in Michigan. I wasn’t living here at the time but had learned of the filming from local friends.
I’m having some giddy enthusiasm over the prospect of seeing SCREAM 4 today at the movies. I’m sure this is due to the memory of the SCREAM series being a big deal “back in the day” and the curiosity of seeing if this film lives up to its predecessors. I’m deliberately holding off reading any reviews of the film and will do so after seeing it. In a few other recent film-going experiences (BLACK SWAN comes to mind) I regretted taking a close look at the publicity before seeing the film.
I never saw the original SCREAM in the cinemas …. in fact, I don’t think it was originally released to the North Shore. This was before the Danvers 20 screen megaplex opened, and screening options were limited. I do remember the runaway success of the film, and watching with interest as it continued to be shown well into mid 1997. I do miss those days of long running movie hits, as the screen to DVD window is so tight now, it’s almost better to wait for the video. I did find out recently that the original film was shot in my area of California. A friend of a friend had a small supporting role. The climax of the film was shot at a house which I have driven by a few times, without realizing its so-called historical significance.
SCREAM 2 was another story. This time, it was a big deal to see the film as soon as it came out, and I eagerly compared impressions with my classmates. My dad and I were regular visitors to the Solomon Pond Mall cinema in Marlborough, MA. This complex had achieved local acclaim as “New England’s first stadium seating megaplex” and was virtually unique for the first 6 months to 1 year of operations. Hoyts quickly opened similar complexes in nearby Westborough and Bellingham, but there was something special about the first space. Or it could have been “never as good as the first time” for film goers. I think I actually saw the film again a few weeks later in Vermont, either sneaking in to the R-rated movie or going with an accompanying adult. The “live” nature of seeing it on opening weekend, with a full sold out audience also looking at it for the first time, stands out very clearly in my memory. It also helped that it was on an enormous cinema screen with stadium seating and perfect presentation.
SCREAM 3 was also a unique experience. This time, we traveled to the Showcase Cinemas in Randolph for my first (and still only) visit to that South Shore megaplex. I could tell from the start that the enthusiasm wasn’t there for the production team in this installment. Neve Campbell’s virtual absence from the story, and the overly tongue in cheek Hollywood nature of the script, suggested to me that there was not a lot of excitement in the tale.
What will SCREAM 4 bring? I’m looking forward to going over to the Larkspur Landing Cinema this afternoon to find out.
This weekend’s entertainment/arts culture vulture journeys led me to take in two stories that both explored the art and challenges of what is known and unknown in any given situation, and how individuals work around those issues – or not – and maintain a sense of awareness in their possible confusion.
I’ll save the movie for a separate post; here is a focus on the play:
Meadow Brook Theatre in Rochester, MI, is currently offering (just) the third professional production of Luce, a new play by JC Lee that premiered at NYC’s Lincoln Center last year. I learned that Lee had been a writer in residence for a year at my California hometown theatre, Marin Theatre Company.
The play is very much of the moment, with references to Facebook, mobile technology, teen obsession with texting, high school social dynamics and more. But the broad portrayal seen at Meadow Brook, while commendable, did not seem to fit with the ethos of emphasizing the smaller moments that the playwright was clearly going for.
Experienced and versatile local actress Serab Kamoo carries the show as Amy, Luce’s adoptive mother who wants nothing more than the best for her son. The rest of the cast gives strong effort to their roles, but I felt that only Kamoo truly convinced in her part. As Luce himself, Leroy S. Graham fares best with a monologue partway through the show, which is the only chance that the character has to truly speak for himself.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the show would have played differently on a smaller stage and with a more unified sense of direction. The script never spells our Luce’s specific intentions when his actions are called into question, but it never allows the character to get to the heart of the matter, either. Meadow Brook’s stage is well used in the design, with a clever conceit of a downstage area doubling as two locations thanks to some lighting maneuvering, but some of the intimacy of the drama is also lost in the wide space.
The play is performed without intermission and suffers from a sense of anticlimax. Several scenes close to the end could easily be the end, and when the last scene comes around, the resolution feels less satisfying than if the story had closed on a more ambiguous note. Similarly, since Luce’s true intentions are never made clear after his actions are called into question, a note of uncertainty might have driven the plot home in a deeper and more direct way.
All this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the play. I am always grateful when a theatre presents a new piece, and especially if it is something that stimulates a feeling of engagement and discussion.
I was pleased to realize upon March’s conclusion that (in the US at least!) I only visited independent cinemas this month, and in an unintentional coincidence, trips to The Maple Theatre (pictured at right) north of Detroit bookended my spring break adventures abroad.
I did deliberately choose to catch The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel prior to spring break, where it stars a number of well-known elder British actors. And the sequel is more or less an excuse to let them act again in a beautiful location. It’s most notable for the central performances of Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, given more dramatic space than in some of their other film portrayals, and Smith especially reminds the viewer of how much she can do with actual acting beyond just raising an eyebrow or giving a witty remark.
Last night I changed my earlier view and went back to the Maple to catch their last showing of Still Alice, the movie that gave Julianne Moore a well-deserved Academy Award and is now making its way out of theatres. As expected, the film is a showcase for Moore’s bravura and sensitive performance depicting a woman who faces a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Something that may have gone less noticed in the awards season conversation is the effective supporting cast that surrounds Moore, most notably Alec Baldwin as her husband and Kristen Stewart as her youngest daughter.
While the film inevitably feels like a “movie of the week” at a few moments and has a slightly overcomplicated plot (does Stewart’s character really need to live in California if she can conveniently make it home for most of the film’s major scenes?), Moore’s sympathetic and nuanced portrayal overshadows those deficiencies to create a poignant and powerfully thoughtful cinematic experience.
*** for both films