Saturday, July 25, 2009

Talking During The Movie

Unless you live in a big city with access to a good repertory theater, or you are independently wealthy, you probably experience most older films (and many newer films) for the first time on DVD. This presents all manner of problems, of course. For most of cinema history, movies were specifically created to be projected on a huge screen in the dark. To watch them on the small screen, or on a computer, is a fundamentally misleading way to experience the intentions of the filmmakers.

But this isn't a lamentation about the loss of the romantic culture of arthouse theaters. You gotta work with what you got, and I've seen more great movies on DVD than on big screens. The quality of DVDs vary, of course, but for the hardcore movie geeks the DVD offers one exceptional benefit: the commentary track.

Now, I'm guessing most hardcore movie geeks already like commentaries, but I know that many people (especially casual movie fans) are less inclined to sit and listen to people talking about a movie.

In the right hands, however, the commentary isn't simply an addendum to a DVD package, it provides an entirely separate experience involving the film. I once heard Christopher Hitchens say that you never read the same book twice because you are always different when you come back to the text. This is doubly true of the DVD commentary. The commentary track makes you not only watch the film again, it gives you a guide who directs your eye or distracts your attention at any given moment. The film ceases to affect you as a story and becomes instead an object of study. It's the difference between reading a book on your couch and studying the book in class with a teacher. If the home viewing experience robs us of the communal enjoyment of watching a film with other people, the commentary, if done well, can give us an experience quite unlike any we're likely to have at a theater.

Of course, as with the picture itself, quality varies. There are certain things of which to be leery when it comes to commentaries:

1. Actors. I love actors as much as the next geek. I fall in love, hard, with actors and actresses. I see them in my dreams at night. But they rarely add much to a discussion of a film's qualities. There are exceptions to this: Willem Defoe adds interesting insights to The Last Temptation Of Christ, and Brad Pitt is straight up funny on Ocean's Eleven. Most actors, however, just don't have much to say.

2. A crowd of commentators. When you see that a commentary track has twelve people listed, it usually means that you're going to have to endure some banal anecdotes from the technical folks on the crew. I've never heard a sound editor add anything to a discussion of a film. I'm not saying these people aren't important; I'm saying they're dull. Moreover, they are usually telling you something you don't care about. On the commentary for Castaway, for instance, a sound guy talks over the reconciliation scene between Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. It's a fine scene, delicately written, directed and acted--and the commentary track is literally a monologue about the level of hum coming from the refrigerator. Another example of overkill is LA Confidential. There's no good reason they shouldn't have simply let Ellroy and Hanson do the whole thing.

3. The brilliant but clueless academic. I love Peter Cowie's writing on the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, but his commentaries for the director's films usually involve him describing what's happening onscreen.

4. Restorationists. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is one of the two or three best movies I've ever seen, but the commentary for the DVD is taken up with a discussion of the restoration process. Don't get me wrong, these guys are heroes. But I want to hear a discussion of the movie itself, not a discussion of how dirt is removed from celluloid.

Having sent up those white flags, here are a few of my favorite commentaries:

Crime Wave: James Ellroy and Eddie Muller watch the great De Toth noir together. Muller knows more about noir than anyone alive and Ellroy is Ellroy--profane, funny and brilliant. After listening to them talk about this movie, you'll want to go out drinking with these guys.

Eddie Muller is, in fact, the best man around talking about noir. If you see his name on a commentary track, it'll be worth a listen. Even when he's watching a stinker like The Racket, he's a wealth of information. He's also, importantly, an affable and lively guide. His commentary on Wise's Born To Kill is splendid--and his story about almost being decked by an elderly-but-still-crazy Lawrence Tierney is priceless. See also: Somewhere In The Night and Where The Sidewalk Ends.

Citizen Kane: Roger Ebert is another tour guide who is a winning combination of affability and knowledge. Citizen Kane is the rare movie which has something interesting to note every ten seconds and Ebert does a fine job of catching most of it. The DVD also has a commentary by Peter Bogdanovich which is less professorial and energetic but which has the added virtue of Bogdanovich's friendship with Welles. Ebert watches the film like an obsessed fan, and Bogdanovich watches it like a friend. See also: Ebert's track on Casablanca and Bogdanovich's track on The Lady From Shanghai.

The Last Temptation of Christ: Scorsese, Schrader, Defoe, and Jay Cocks all weigh in on their controversial adaptation of the Kazantzakis novel. The result is a fascinating discussion of the themes of the film rather than the usual here's-where-we-put-the-camera.

Boys Don't Cry: This is the single best commentary I've ever heard from a filmmaker. Director Kimberly Peirce sits down and tells you how to make a movie. She's as serious as her film, but her observations are never less than fascinating.

Blue/White/Red: Kieslowski's colors trilogy is dissected with palpable glee by the academic Annette Insdorf. Not for everyone's taste, but if you like the movies to begin with, you'll probably want to hear what Insdorf has to say.

Notorious: Marian Keene's assessment of Hitchcock's romantic masterpiece is academic. Really academic. As Oscar Wilde said, it's the kind of thing you like if you like that kind of thing. I like it, though I must say that I've always longed for the brilliant scholar Robin Wood to do a Hitchcock commentary track. As I mentioned above, Vertigo has never gotten the treatment it deserves. (To digress further: Most Hitchcock films still haven't gotten the five star treatment they deserve. The bulk of his American films appear to still be the property of Universal or the Hitchcock family or some similar controlling authority. Very nice versions of these films have been released, but these films deserve a package along the lines of the Criterion treatment. Whoever controls the Hitchcock films staring with Rope needs to realize what they've got. Go big, people. Movie geeks like me will shell out fat cash for a great package of Rear Window or Marnie or The Birds or Psycho or Vertigo. Bring on the academics and the obsessives. Pat Hitchcock seems like a very nice lady, but I don't think she has a lot to add to a discussion of her father's films.)

Some more movies in need of a good commentary track:

1. Chimes At Midnight-like many of Welles' films this is still waiting for a proper DVD release

2. The Trial-ditto

3. The Magnificent Ambersons/The Immortal Story-ditto/ditto

4. Too Late For Tears/Pitfall-both of these Lizabeth Scott masterpieces need a proper DVD release and someone knowledgeable to talk about them. Bring on Muller!

5. Detour-since this movie is in the public domain it's difficult to get a company to pony up the cash to pay for a decent treatment, but it's an irreplaceable work of art that needs to be honored. Bring on Muller!

6. The Big Sleep-this one baffles me. Everyone loves this movie. Everyone. C'mon, Warner Brothers, do it right. Bring in some Hawks experts and Bogie experts and Chandler experts.

7. High Noon-westerns often get shafted when it comes to commentaries. Right now, High Noon has a boring track featuring the aging children of the stars and crew members. Bring on the movie geeks!

8. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance-an overlooked film in many ways, this deserves the full treatment as well.


Finally, here are some fun sites that deal with commentaries. I don't agree with everything on them, of course, but they're helpful guides:

Let me know if I've missed a particularly informative or entertaining commentary.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Welles The Artist

My obsession with Orson Welles seems to know no limit. He's not simply my favorite filmmaker, he's a daily personal fixation. I probably know more about the life and career of Welles than I know about any other single topic except, possibly, my own life. I'm not sure exactly how this happened. My first exposure to Welles occurred late one night when I was a boy and my mother made me watch Citizen Kane on PBS. I remember little of that night except the way Welles' mouth filled the screen as he whispered "Rosebud" and died.

Ah, Citizen Kane. "The Greatest Movie Ever Made." "The Mount Olympus Of Cinema."

That's bullshit, of course (what would it even mean? what definition of TGMEM could be satisfactory?) and no one on earth ever knew that better than Welles himself. Perhaps no other great director is as defined by a single work. This is a tragedy not because Kane isn't a great film--Kane is a joyous, beautiful film, after all--no, the tragedy is that Welles continued to grow as an artist, to experiment and reach. The tragedy is that more than any other director I know, Welles becomes more fascinating the more of his films you see.

He was a constant experimenter, an artist who loved to exist in the moment of creation. I'm reminded of Emily Dickinson here, a poet who wrote her poems on scraps of paper and the back of old letters and lived and died with the knowledge that much of her work might never be read by another human being. Welles began his career on the stage and on radio. He began as a performer who lived for the wild ecstasy of the moment, and something of that always stayed with him. All his films, even the films he made toward the end when he had no money or resources, have an energy and vitality. They pulse with the adrenaline of their maker at the moment of their creation.

These thoughts came to me recently because I stumbled across a video on YouTube, an interview with Welles by an unnamed interviewer. In the interview, the man insults Welles to his face by asking if he thinks his films are "shallow". You can see the controlled fury in the director's eyes. Some context for this clip is important.

There are basically two narratives about the career of Orson Welles. Narrative A says Welles made Citizen Kane and then slid into a forty-five year decline of waste and failure. Narrative B says Welles stayed in Hollywood as long as he could, then moved to Europe and became an independent filmmaker of increasing skill and accomplishment.

Narrative A is the better known narrative. It's the narrative of the self-destructive genius, the brilliant young man who imploded as the result of his own vanity and indulgence. This is the narrative to be found in the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane which accompanies the DVD of Citizen Kane. It's clearly the narrative of the interviewer in the YouTube clip.

Narrative B has the virtue of actually taking into account the career of Welles after Kane. By my count, Welles made five masterpieces: Citizen Kane, The Trial, Touch of Evil, Chimes At Midnight, and F for Fake. You might also include the beautiful and butchered The Magnificent Ambersons, which is the cinematic equivalent of the Venus de Milo. The Immortal Story is excellent, and while the butchered The Lady From Shanghai isn't a masterpiece it's still a lot of fun, as are The Stranger, Othello, and Macbeth. Mr. Arkadin isn't a good movie, but it's an interesting failure.

Watching this YouTube interview you can see what it was like for Welles to try to labor under the burden of Narrative A. Curiously, it looks as if the interview is taking place on the set of Chimes At Midnight. Think about that. Welles is in the middle of making perhaps his best movie, perhaps the best Shakespearean adaption ever, and some asshole is asking him if he's shallow.

I'll post a link to the interview here.

And here is the best response to the charge of shallowness: the Chartres sequence in F For Fake. If this isn't profound, then cinema has never produced anything worthy of the description.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Wise Blood (1979)

At first glance, John Huston would seem to be a problematic choice to adapt Flannery O'Connor's novel WISE BLOOD. On one hand, the grotesque story of a young hillbilly "preacher" named Hazel Motes who tries to begin a "Church Without Christ" might seem good material for a director who'd always had an instinctive feel for oddballs. On the other hand, O'Connor's vision wasn't merely grotesque, it was, as she famously put it, "Christ-haunted." Her vision was dark and funny, yes, but O'Connor believed furiously in heaven and hell. Huston--the director of masterpieces like THE MALTESE FALCON and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE--was an atheist. How could an unbelieving, hard drinking, globetrotting, hairy-chested womanizer like Huston adapt the twisted vision of a Jesus-obsessed, lupus-stricken, farmer's daughter who once said that her life had been lived mainly "between the back door and the chicken coop"?

That question can only be answered by watching Huston's remarkable adaption of WISE BLOOD. The director always had an excellent eye for the best parts of a novel, and his unfussy shooting style seemed--when he was at his best--to do exactly what was needed and no more. O'Connor must have posed a particular challenge, though. Her story centers around the disturbing figure of Hazel Motes (Brad Dourif) and his quest to blaspheme his way into unbelief, but Motes is also surrounded by gallery of freaks and nutcases. There's the con man Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton) posing as a blind man, his nympho daughter Sabbath Lily (Amy Wright), and a psycho named Enoch Emery who steals a small mummified corpse from a museum and then dresses up in a Gorilla suit. With this kind of material, it's difficult not to spiral into sheer madness.

Huston manages to embrace the story without letting it get away from him. The final twenty minutes or so of this film have a quiet, terrible power. They're shocking, but Huston doesn't really play them for shocks. He simply goes all the way with Hazel Motes, an objective observer to the man's passions and foibles, which is the hallmark of any great John Huston movie. He builds this film on the fanatical central performance by Brad Dourif. Best known to most people as the stuttering Billy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (though he also served as the voice of Chucky in the CHILD'S PLAY series), Dourif was an inspired choice for this role. He gives Motes a rawboned restlessness, and he seems to instinctively grasp that the man is tormented, as O'Connor wrote, by the ragged figure of Christ in the back of his mind. For much of the film, his sky blue eyes are wild with that torment. Keep that observation in mind when you get to the end of the film. Eyes, and their function and failure, are vital here.

WISE BLOOD doesn't have the classic perfection of some of Huston's best work. The film's cinematography (by Gerry Fisher) is flat, and I wish the filmmakers had been able to shoot the film in period detail. O'Connor's novel was released in 1952, and there's something disconcerting about seeing it unfold in 1979. I mean, were kids still lining up to see a guy in a gorilla suit in 79? Hadn't they already moved onto Wookies at that point?

Still, these quibbles aside, WISE BLOOD is one hell of an odd movie, based on one hell of an odd book--which makes for a fascinating piece of cinema.


Flannery O'Connor might be, pound for pound, my favorite writer. She's certainly one of the most original literary talents that this country's ever produced. WISE BLOOD is the better of her two novels, but her most indispensable work is THE COMPLETE STORIES, a funny, terrifying, and masterfully wrought work of art. She's the poet laureate of fanatics and Jesus Freaks.

There's a lot of stuff on the web about O'Connor, but the best site is Comforts of Home: The Flannery O'Connor Repository

Finally, a quick word about the Criterion Collection DVD of the film. This is a terrific package, featuring interviews with Dourif and the screenwriters. It also contains an insightful essay by Francine Prose and an astounding audio recording--the only one in existence--of O'Connor giving a reading of "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" at Vanderbilt University in 1959. It should also be noted that the Criterion DVD has the best picture quality of this movie that I've seen. (It also has a gorgeous package. Click here to take a look).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Noir City Sentinel

I've written before about the Film Noir Foundation, the nonprofit organization committed to rescuing and restoring the great noir films of the classic period. It's a wonderful organization that is responsible for the popular Noir City film festivals, including the DC festival I wrote about last November. Even more importantly, the FNF has funded or partnered in the rescue and restoration of films like Farrow's Night Has A Thousand Eyes, Byron Haskin's I Walk Alone, and Losey's indispensable masterpiece The Prowler.

The FNF also publishes a terrific electronic magazine on all things noir called Noir City Sentinel. The Sentinel features articles by a host of talented writers, including Megan Abbot, Don Malcolm, Eric Beetner, Vince Keenan, Marc Svetov, and Eddie Muller. Recent issues have featured articles on Robert Siodmak, John Farrow, "Gothic Noir", "Radio Noir", character actors like Don Beddo and Thomas Gomez, an extensive tribute to Ann Savage, and much much more. Your humble correspondent has published a few extended essays in the Sentinel, including a ranking of noir's best brawls (expanded here), a look at the ironic use of tacked-on happy endings, and a discussion of noir's religious undercurrents.

The Noir City Sentinel is available for subscription here. Kick in a little cash, get a great magazine, support a fabulous organization doing essential work. It's a win-win situation.

You can also order a copy of Noir City Sentinel Annual #1, an anthology from the Sentinel's first three years as a bimonthly newsletter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Edge Of Fury (1958)

What a bizarre little movie. Shot on a ten cent budget with no name actors, EDGE OF FURY is nevertheless a movie with real power to disturb. Adapted from the novel WISTERIA COTTAGE by the Lost Generation art critic/novelist Robert Coates, the film tells the story of a troubled young painter named Richard Barry who befriends an elderly woman named Florence and her two daughters, sexy and sarcastic Louisa, and doe-eyed innocent Eleanor. When Barry finds a cottage for sale on the beach, he convinces the ladies to buy it as a summer home for the four of them. As the summer wears on, tensions begin to strain, particularly between Richard and Louisa, until finally Richard snaps.

Richard is played in a fearless performance by the actor Michael Higgins. At the time, Higgins was an unknown bit player on television, but he connects to this character in an awful way. Richard can be ingratiatingly needy, and its easy to see why kindly Florence takes a liking to him. It helps that Lois Holmes makes Florence a real human being, one capable both of warmth toward the confused young man and, later, of resolve as he starts to come unhinged. And he does come unhinged. One thing I enjoyed about Higgins’ performance is that he never makes Richard menacing in a conventional way. He’s weird, even creepy, but he’s also awkward and nerdy. You can also understand why the sassy older daughter thinks she can push him around and mock him to his face. Until she finds out differently, that is.

The film was co-directed by Robert J. Gurney (whose other credits were primarily cheapies like INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN) and, possibly more importantly, Irving Lerner. Lerner would go on to direct a couple of first rate crime pictures, CITY OF FEAR and MURDER BY CONTRACT before settling into a career as an editor and television director. On this project, Gurney and Lerner made a film quite unlike anything either of them would do again. It’s a strange piece of work, violent and neurotic, predating PSYCHO but occupying a similar emotional place. It reminds me of another film: watching this movie, I could swear that I saw some foreshadowing of Travis Bickle. I’d be interested to know if Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro or Paul Schrader had seen EDGE OF FURY before they made TAXI DRIVER.

One thing that both PSYCHO and TAXI DRIVER have in common with EDGE OF FURY is a focus on disturbed male characters with deeply tortured relationships with women. This film is surprising in its frankness (for the time) about sex. Louisa taunts Richard with her body—unsnapping her bikini top and asking him to rub on sun tan lotion—and he recoils from her teases with a prudish rage. Likewise, when sweet young Eleanor develops feelings for Richard, he reacts with anger. Sex is repugnant to him. In an unsettling later scene, Eleanor tries to kiss him and Richard throws her on the ground and attacks her. It’s unclear exactly what has happened—I read the scene as a rape—but the next morning Eleanor, clearly upset but trying to act chipper, apologizes to HIM. This is problematic for obvious reasons, but the sequence could certainly work it handled right. After all, some victims of sexual assault do feel a misplaced sense of guilt. Yet we’re never quite sure what’s going on with Eleanor. Her attraction to Richard never makes much sense—he’s clearly got a lot of problems—and at the point Richard finally begins to snap, the film shifts the focus away from Eleanor and she disappears.

Ironically, Florence and Louisa come into sharper focus at this point. Florence finds a righteous anger to confront Richard (not abut the rape, which is never discussed out in the open and which Florence seems to know nothing about), and Louisa finds a genuine concern for her sister and mother.

In some ways, EDGE OF FURY reminds me of Edward Dmytryk’s THE SNIPER, another classic noir about misogyny. Both films are flawed, but they are also valuable in observing these issues begin to emerge in the culture. However, where THE SNIPER was stark and matter of fact about its story, EDGE OF FURY has a haunted quality, accentuated by the music of Robert Sydney and the ethereal cinematography of Jack Couffer, Marvin Weinstein, and a young Conrad Hall (who was just starting out in movies). EDGE OF FURY isn’t a perfect work of art, but it is genuinely unsettling. How many fifties films can you say that about?

Monday, July 6, 2009

In Theaters Now

Here are some thoughts on current movies out right now.

1. "Up"-The older I get, the more interested I am in the raw materials of cinema. Contrasts of light, color combinations, movement and stillness, sounds and silence--these things are the component parts of cinema but we rarely stop to consider them as such. A good place to stop and observe them at work is in the new Pixar movie, Up, directed by Pete Docter. Now, I'm not normally an animation enthusiast, but something about Up caught my eye. I am here to report that it is a complete delight, a hugely entertaining movie with big laughs, eye-candy visuals of thrilling scope and accomplishment, and a few scenes of real emotional impact (there's a death near the beginning of the film that is as touching as anything I've seen at a movie in a while). The story of an elderly man and small boy who float to South America in a house hoisted by hundreds of balloons, Up is a capital-G Great film. Here's the trailer.

2. "Public Enemies"-I've waited a few days to write about this film because my feelings about it are unresolved. The story of John Dillinger as told by director Michael Mann, Public Enemies is well acted (for the most part) and sharply made, but I feel like there's something of an emotional disconnect at the center of it. Johnny Depp is charismatic as Dillinger but the character remains an enigma. Who is this guy? I'm not sure if Mann and Depp want us to think of him as a master thief or a self-deluded idiot. Maybe both. The cast around Depp is mostly effective--Marion Cotillard and Billy Crudup are particularly good--but I do not know what has happened to Christian Bale. His emotional intensity seems to have imploded, sucking in all his personality as an actor. He plays Melvin Purvis, a fascinating figure who was eventually double-crossed by J. Edgar Hoover and took his own life, but Bale's take on the character baffled me. He mostly scowls. Bale's a talented performer, but he needs...something. I could say the same thing about the movie. Here's the trailer.

3. "Whatever Works"-I remain an unreconstructed Woody Allen fanatic. It's become fashionable to flog the old boy, but he remains one of my favorite filmmakers. He's turned out a film every year--more or less--since 1969. Some of them are numbered among my favorite movies. Some of them are excellent, some are strong, some are weak, some are terrible. I'll concede some things: Allen has made a higher percentage of poor films in the last fifteen years than at anytime in his career, and two of these films--Hollywood Ending and Scoop--are the two worst films he's ever made. God, I hate Scoop. Having said that, Sweet and Lowdown ranks among his best work, Melinda and Melinda is an interesting film, and Match Point is a terrific neonoir, the best non-comedy he's made. To this list of good films, I would add Whatever Works, a comedy starring Larry David. The film has gotten mixed reviews, but, in America anyway, Woody Allen always gets mixed reviews. Critics often break down three ways: those who love Allen, those who think he's just repeating himself, those who think he's just repeating himself and hate him for it (this last group tends to strongly overlap with those who hate him for marrying his adoptive daughter). I'm an Allen lover, a fanatic really. I look forward to his yearly releases the same way I eagerly await the yearly release of a Robert B. Parker Spenser novel. So, granted, I'm inclined to like this movie. And I laughed all the way through it--and so did the audience I saw it with. When it was over, we walked out of the theater with silly smiles on our faces. It's a happy film about a nihilist, and I love nothing so much as happy films about nihilists. Here's the trailer.

4. "The Thin Man"-In the retrospective category of current releases, the AFI in Silver Spring (one of the greatest movie theaters in the world) is showing all six Thin Man films. The comedy/mystery series starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as the wisecracking alcoholic duo, Nick and Nora Charles. It's the 75th (!!!) anniversary of the first film and it is extraordinary how well it holds up. The charm of the film is the pairing of Powell and Loy. Powell delivered one-liners better than anyone in movies, and Myrna Loy is so damn adorable I don't have words for it. The series stayed strong through the second, third, and forth films, started to flag with the fifth, and puttered out with the sixth. Still, Powell and Loy never lost their chemistry. Here's the AFI's page on the series.

Things I Might See:

"The Hangover"-It's doubtful I'll commit a trip to the theater to see this film, but I've only heard it's hilarious from people whose definition of hilarious conforms to my own. So maybe it's a Netflix.

"The Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3"-I'll be honest, if someone else had played the bad guy here I might have gone to see this movie. Denzel Washington is one of our most consistently effective actors, but Travolta is a long way from Pulp Fiction has his credits aren't pretty.

Things I'd Rather Drink Vomit Than Watch:

"Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen"-Michael Bay should be put on trial for crimes against humanity. It depresses me to think that parents might take their kids to see this shit when they could take them to see Up, instead.

"Bruno"-I don't know. I thought Borat was funny, very funny actually, but something about Sasha Baron Cohen feels one-trick pony to me. This new film looks awful.

Coming Up:

"500 Days Of Summer"-I'm in love with Zooey Deschanel. If you know her, tell her. The trailer to this is terrific. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of my favorite up and coming actors (if you haven't see Brick, you should), and waching Zooey charm him and then break his heart seems like a good way to spend a hot July afternoon.

"GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra"- Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also in this. Hey, a man has to eat. I understand. But I can't give my money to this thing.

"Inglourious Basterds"-It's a funny thing: I never like Tarantino's trailers, and I always like his films. This spaghetti western meets the Dirty Dozen flick is thus far holding true to form. The trailer is less than appetizing, but I can't wait to see the film. Part of my enthusiasm comes from having read the first few pages of the script, which are pretty damn great.

And Looking Forward:

"Shutter Island"-This new Scorsese flick looks like a maybe. It has a tense trailer, but DiCaprio looks...goofy, like a kid playing dress up. I haven't been a big fan of his work with Scorsese, either. The Departed was a good thriller (though Scorsese should have reined in Jack), but Gangs of New York was saved only by Daniel Day-Lewis. The Aviator is a film that becomes worse and worse the more you know about what a misogynistic asshole Howard Hughes was in real life. That film is a glorification of a real world-class shithead.

"Surrogates"-Another maybe. This sci-fi mystery stars Bruce Willis and has a neonoir feel to it. The trailer has a lot of explosions--a bad sign--but it also has a intriguing set-up: a future world in which no one leaves their homes is unbalanced when the first murder in years occurs and a cop must force himself to go out into the world. Agoraphobia meets 12 Monkeys?

"The Road"-Cormac McCarthy's novel is a masterpiece of coming-Apocalypse paranoia and father-son love story, but I'm skeptical about this adaptation. The trailer looks like a fundamental misunderstanding of McCarthy's text. Normally, I wouldn't lodge such a complaint--movies are not novels, after all, and filmmakers don't owe the author any fidelity--but this has "the book is a lot better" written all over it.

"Sherlock Holmes"-Nothing can ever match Jeremy Brett's interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. The BBC show in which he starred remains one of televisions authentic triumphs. The new movie from Guy Ritchie, alas, is a big budget action flick with lots of shit exploding. I'm more of a "quiet charms" man than a fan of kinetic action, but the film might find its own kind of charm. Here's the trailer for the movie.