Tuesday, January 16, 2007

007 in '007: The PreRamble

If this can possibly be believed, I finally saw Casino Royale this past Saturday night, after weeks of The Don badgering and heckling me for not doing so already. It was never a matter of thinking I wasn’t going to like it; quite the contrary – I was certain I would. But Bond is this little universe many of us have grown up with, and once the floodgates opened and phrases like “Best Bond ever” and “Negates everything that came before it” started being tossed around, I instinctively pulled back a little bit, and my interest somewhat waned. I’m not going to review Casino Royale at this time, but suffice it to say despite being pretty taken by the whole affair and recognizing that this is where the series should have been when Pierce Brosnan took over, its existence didn’t poke even a minor hole in all that came before. Indeed, Casino Royale may have given me an even deeper appreciation for the series.

Which leads directly to a project that will be ongoing here at The Rued Morgue over the next 12 months: “007 in ‘007” – a laid back exhumation and autopsy of the longest running movie franchise in film history; a franchise so needlessly and obnoxiously repetitive that the mind almost boggles at its ability to keep on truckin’. Of primary importance will be reviews of each film, but the project may veer into other areas, analyses, lists and/or commentaries along the way if and when inspiration hits, so it's anyone's guess what this could morph into.

Having received for Christmas (thanks to my dad & JJ) Volumes 2 & 3 of the James Bond Ultimate Edition DVD box sets and having the other two on the way (thanks to some clever eBay bidding on my part), my love for Bond has in recent weeks been reinvigorated. For some bizarre reason, the last time I collected Bond was on VHS as a teenager. I skipped not only the previous DVD releases, but also – inexplicably - the laserdisc versions, which should have been a no-brainer as they were my first opportunity to own the series in widescreen. Since obtaining these sets over the holidays, it’s beginning to feel like fate: Bond has never looked as good on home video as he does on these new releases and I'm glad I waited.

In some cases it’s been years since I’ve seen an installment and in two cases, I’d never seen them at all! While these new sets feature much previously released-on-DVD bonus material, for me it’s all brand-new and quite a treat to sift through. On top of everything else, these editions feature newly recorded commentaries by Sir Roger Moore on all seven of his outings and as Rog is my favorite Bond, his thoughts, memories and anecdotes are icing on the cake sort of fare. Say what you will about Moore (I may not even argue with you), but I don't see Sean Connery taking time out of early retirement to reward loyal fans with the same.

So if you are a Bond fan, hopefully you’ll check in to the Morgue periodically and see how the project is coming along and throw down your own insights. If you are not a Bond fan, there’ll be plenty of heckling and poking fun along the way. After all, if Roger Moore is my ideal 007, it should go without saying that I don’t take Bond as seriously as the idea of this project might imply -- and yet I wouldn't tackle it if I didn't love me some Scaramanga, Blofeld and Tiffany Case.

First up? Comin’ outta the gate with my favorite Bond flick of them all (if for no reason other than to get it out of my system): Roger Moore’s freshman outing, Live and Let Die.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Lynchendental Meditation

Thanks to The Don I'll be seeing David Lynch's much talked about Inland Empire on the 24th at the lovely Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX -- with Lynch himself in attendance! Of course, it's hugely doubtful there'll be a chance to go one on one with the man -- but as I've often said to many a fellow Lynch Nut, of all my favorite filmmakers, he's the only one to whom I'd have no idea what to say. Lynch is the kind of guy whose voice and vision stands on its own.

Which leads me to his other latest endeavor, the book entitled Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, a piece which strikes me as noteworthy because David Lynch doesn't write books every day, and certainly not on subjects that are personal to him. It's nearly 200 pages of Lynch talking about (in the words of the Amazon description) "his personal methods of capturing and working with ideas, and the immense creative benefits he has experienced from the practice of meditation". If you're at all like me, it sounds like a bunch of new age hooey...but if like me you love the man's work, you're also hard-pressed to dismiss this effort to reach out to the public on the matter. (One wonders if Terry Gilliam could benefit from these philosophies?) I'm not exactly rushing to Borders to pick this up, but I'm pretty sure I'll own a copy within the next couple weeks; it's very reasonably priced for a hardcover.

I got "My Borders Monthly" in my e-mail box last night, and it was pimping the book, along with an excerpt titled "The Pace of Life", a brief excerpt from the audio version of the book, and an engaging Q & A with Lynch. Check out the links, as I think you'll come away from them with a slightly different attitude toward this work. It doesn't strike me as the kind of text that's specific to Lynch's audience; this seems like fare that might benefit anyone engaged in creative endeavors.

Check out Ryland Walker Knight's writeup/review of the book over at The House Next Door.

Pete Martell: There was a fish -- in the percolator!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Swimming Pools & Movie Stars: Random Thoughts about Little Children

Little Children (finally!) opened at the Crossroads Bijou this weekend; for those of you who don’t live in San Antonio, it’s also on 100 or so other screens across the country. After months of building it up in my head as this probable piece of celluloid perfection (due to numerous factors), and then subsequently worrying that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype (due to experiencing the "letdown" too many times to count), I discovered a work even more rewarding than I’d imagined or hoped. There isn’t a weak performance or moment on display, and its characters & situations left me with as many questions as they did answers. It’s unsettling material that also frequently had me in stitches, and as the end credits rolled, I was a weeping mess -- I'm still trying to figure out why that was.

Many S.A. Morgue readers know Jackie Earle Haley and many probably also know he’s been racking up awards from various critics organizations, as well as snagging a recent SAG nom for his work in the movie. Viewing Jackie in his other recent role as Sugar Boy in All the King's Men was the type of experience I often encounter when seeing a close friend performing on stage or in a film - regardless of the quality of the performance, I'm always aware that I'm watching someone I know playing a character.

Jackie's Ronnie in Little Children is a different story. Somewhere in the midst of probably his third scene, I found myself unable to wrap my brain around the fact that I've known the figure onscreen for 7 or 8 years. There was not only nothing left of the person with whom I associate, but he somehow ceased to even look like Jackie. Yes, Mr. Haley is more than deserving of the accolades he’s received - and yet he's only one reason to see this film.

Most of the above says more about me than the movie, and I’d have to see it a few more times before attempting any kind of review. The film is better discussed than reviewed anyway, so who knows if or when I’ll even try. Little Children has been compared to Kubrick. Via director Todd Field’s sterile, removed--yet inexplicably non-judgmental--approach, that doesn’t seem an overstatement. Like a Kubrick flick, it has the power to polarize; for each person who loves it, another will loathe it, which certainly indicates a measure of strength. It may even somewhat be the movie that detractors of Eyes Wide Shut have often claimed it should have been – a relevant commentary about the contemporary complexities of marriage (which isn’t to bag on Eyes, a work I dearly love). Oddly (I guess), Field played piano player Nick Nightingale in Kubrick’s swan song.

Despite my enthusiasm for all the attention that not only Jackie, but also Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson and the film itself have been given, it’s a weirdly noticable oversight that more recognition hasn’t been heaped upon Todd Field. More than any other film I’ve seen in ages, this is clearly the vision of an assured, meticulous director. He’s amassed some awards & nominations for its adapted screenplay (co-written with novelist Tom Perrotta) and the film’s got some “Best Picture” momentum (including a Golden Globe nom) - yet the directing kudos have eluded Field. It’s not that the screenplay isn’t award-worthy, but it’s the type of script that in the hands of someone less capable could easily have ended up feeling like a Lifetime TV movie. Little Children is all about Field’s direction -- how he visually and stylistically chose to interpret the material he helped put to paper. (In fact, it's easy to imagine Field directing the film in his head during the adaptation process.) If the film is hated by a viewer, I don't think it'll be the material that offends - it'll be the way the material's been presented that gets under their skin. Same thing goes for those who love it.

Maybe the oversight will be rectified come Oscar time, but it could end up being one of those bizarre predicaments where the movie’s up for Best Pic, and yet the director fails to be given a nomination. For all I know Field couldn’t care less. Despite four noms, Stanley Kubrick never won an Oscar and he didn’t seem too bothered by it (or at least his work and credibility didn't suffer). Had I the intelligence and insight to make a movie this strong, the ability just to do it would, I believe, be reward enough...which isn't to imply such aspirations have evaporated -- quite the opposite: Little Children is the kind of fare that will inspire a certain breed of filmmaker. It provides reassurance that there's still room in the marketplace for creative complexity and that a movie can still be produced without worrying about how it'll play in Peoria (or indeed anywhere, for that matter).

Field did however just win the "Visionary Award" at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Maybe an award named as such is the most appropriate for what he's achieved with this film. Anyone who can present the world of mind-numbingly boring suburbanites -- a topic that's been dramatically and comically explored from seemingly every possible angle in recent years -- with such freshness and familiarity, must be a visionary of some kind.

The flawed institution of wedded bliss is only one of Little Children’s numerous topics. It’s best you discover the rest of its world on your own. Find out what this movie means to you, as what it meant to me will likely be irrelevant to your own experience.

Now on Tuesday I must go rent Idiocracy and see my friend Kevin Cacy strut his stuff when Mike Judge's latest hits DVD.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Rued Morgue will return...

...in "007 in '007"

Stay tuned!