The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005, Rebecca Miller)

So… what happened?

Sometime in the first four months of this year, I proclaimed Rebecca Miller the best new filmmaker since… shit, I don’t know, Wes Anderson or somebody. Sure, Wes Anderson. Wes Anderson is the last great filmmaker. Or P.T. One of them, just not Paul W.S. Anyway, this conclusion about Miller was based on Personal Velocity.

I talk a lot–if not at The Stop Button, then in personal conversation–about artists shooting their wad. When they’re done, in other words. There are famous non-wad-shooters like Woody Allen, John Carpenter, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Stanley Kubrick and on and on and on. It looks a lot like an Owen Wilson-less Wes Anderson does not produce a wad… Anyway, Rebecca Miller appears to have shot her wad with Personal Velocity.

It’s not that all of Jack and Rose is bad. It’s not. Not all of it. Miller’s reliance on Bob Dylan songs, bad. Miller’s shot composition, excellent. Her dialogue and some of the scenes, also excellent. It’s just that it’s too long for her. I should have known after I read Personal Velocity, the book….

Anyway, there were four good stories in Personal Velocity, the book. Miller put three of them in the movie. The long stories in the book were painful and failed.

Kind of like Jack and Rose. I’m not as upset about the film as I thought I’d be, just because now I realize I should have seen it coming. I should have seen the long narrative as her undoing. Miller’s greatest potential appears to be in doing small stories, like a TV show. I can see her doing a really good TV show. But I’m not holding my breath for her next film.

I hope she proves me wrong.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller; director of photography, Ellen Kuras; edited by Sabine Hoffman; production designer, Mark Ricker; produced by Lemore Syvan; released by IFC Films.

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (Jack Slavin), Camilla Belle (Rose Slavin), Catherine Keener (Kathleen), Paul Dano (Thaddius), Ryan McDonald (Rodney), Jena Malone (Red Berry), Jason Lee (Gray) and Beau Bridges (Marty Rance).


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The Graduation (2002, Nagasawa Masahiko)

I try not to spoil things here on The Stop Button, but I’m going to make an exception for this film. It’s a fine example of what not to do….

Mayama is a psychology professor at a college. He is socially inept (the closest comparison is Montgomery Clift in Wild River, only more). He does not talk and he’s unable to make decisions. He’s also forty-one. He’s got a girlfriend who wants to marry him, but he hasn’t asked… Then, his long-lost daughter appears, only he doesn’t know she’s his daughter or that he even has one. She’s been stalking him for months, then they finally meet and her influence–while never telling him she’s his daughter–changes his life for the better.

The film’s about the two of them, then pretends to be about him and the girlfriend, invalidating the whole damn point of it. I’m kind of pissed off, not just because I need to get up at 4:30 in the morning and stayed up watching this one, but because it’s a well-made film. The guy who plays Mayama (Tsutsumi Shin’ichi) is amazing. So amazing I looked up his name.

The film just doesn’t know how to end… though I suppose having three screenwriters doesn’t help anything.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Nagasawa Masahiko; written by Masahiko, Hasegawa Yasuo and Misawa Keiko; director of photography, Fujisawa Junichi; edited by Okuhara Yoshityuki; music by Remedios; production designer, Yoshida Etsuko; produced by Kono Satoshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Natsukawa Yui (Izumi), Tsutsumi Shin’ichi (Mayame) and Uchiyama Rina (Asami).


They’re a Weird Mob (1966, Michael Powell)

I could have gone forever without knowing the Archers (Pressburger wrote the film under a pseudonym) were capable of such a piece of shit. They’re a Weird Mob is not about gangsters–specifically small time gangsters, which is what I thought–it’s about Australians, as seen by a recent Italian immigrant.

It’s really, really bad.

Oddly, the acting is fine, it’s the writing. I sat through the film blaming the writing without knowing it was Pressburger. I have no idea what happened to him. The insightful, human dialogue that defines the other Archers’ films is missing here. It’s not even a real film, it’s a travel commercial for Australia–where the men drink and the women lose… Oddly, according to what I’m reading, the film’s financial success lead to the creation of an Australian film industry (Australia makes some really good films these days, once they got rid of Weir anyway).

This film is also the last Archers’ film. Pressburger came on to sort on the screenplay issues after Powell signed to do it. John Ford made some bad films, lots of them actually (anything to do with the calvary really), but I always had the Archers on a pedestal. I had thought that Peeping Tom was Powell’s last before the 1970s, that he and Pressburger had already broken up.

I’m glad to point out that this film has no US release–ever, apparently. No VHS, no LaserDisc, no nothing. The UK doesn’t have it either. So it’s only folks in Australia that need fear seeing this film and having all their high opinions of Powell and Pressburger tarnished. It’s a really sad end to the greatest filmmaking duo. Sad….

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Powell; screenplay by Emeric Pressburger, from the novel by John O’Grady; director of photography, Arthur Grant; edited by Gerald Turney-Smith; music by Alan Boustead and Lawrence Leonard; released by Z.

Starring Walter Chiari (Nino Culotta), Clare Dunne (Kay Kelly), Chips Rafferty (Harry Kelly), Alida Chelli (Giuliana), Ed Devereaux (Joe Kennedy), Slim DeGrey (Pat), John Meillon (Dennis) and Charles Little (Jimmy).


Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)

Altman never does a film half-assed. Either it’s great or it’s shit. How one of his films can be shit is varied, but the shitty ones are always just plain… shitty. There’s no formula to figuring out how an Altman film is going to be–usually, if Altman thinks it’s shit, it’s good (M*A*S*H, The Player). Thieves Like Us is small, the big cast doesn’t occupy the running time. The main characters really are the main characters. I’ve been dreading Thieves for a few weeks now and I’m sorry I did. I probably should have checked the screenwriters. I would have felt better. Calder Willingham wrote Little Big Man, The Graduate, and Paths of Glory. I don’t know how you can get safer than him….

It’s not just the writing or the direction–Altman really likes setting a film in the 1930s, it lets him use radio programs instead of a score. That method seems very Altman-like. The cast, as they used to be in Altman films, is impeccable. Keith Carradine means little to me except his 1990s schlock work and Shelley Duvall has always just meant bad. Their romance holds the film together and it’s a wonderful little gem of a movie romance. You enjoy watching them fall in love. John Schuck and Bert Remsen are the other titular thieves and both are excellent. A pre-Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher shows up… It’s just a fantastic cast, great acting.

Of course, Thieves Like Us is not available on DVD in the US. I rented it from Nicheflix. It’s another title waiting for the rock stars at Sony to decide what to do with it (however, if they cancelled special editions of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, how high a priority is Thieves going to be?). It’s no fair, of course, since there should be at least six good Altman films available on DVD and I doubt there are….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury and Altman, based on the novel by Edward Anderson; director of photography, Jean Bouffety; edited by Lou Lombardo; produced by Jerry Bick; distributed by United Artists.

Starring Keith Carradine (Bowie), Shelley Duvall (Keechie), John Schuck (Chicamaw), Bert Remsen (T-Dub), Louise Fletcher (Mattie), Ann Latham (Lula) and Tom Skerritt (Dee Mobley).


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