DID YOU READ

Family Values

Family Values (photo)

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A chamber piece resolutely devoid of flash and glitter, “Summer Hours” isn’t a film one would have anticipated from the director of such disparate provocations as “Irma Vep,” “Clean,” Demonlover” and “Boarding Gate.” Then again, Olivier Assayas’ new release is subtly provocative in its own right. Its willingness to lay out ideas about art and life in the age of globalization makes it his biggest dare yet. What distinguishes this Assayas movie from the others is the manner with which it sustains an unspoiled blend of the intimately emotional with the unequivocally intellectual. The cumulative strengths of “Summer Hours” as a philosophic elegy and a generational saga are powerful enough to throw everything else Assayas has done in illuminated relief.

The movie’s first summer dream is an idyllic one, with children playing on the grounds of an old country house whose widowed owner Hélène (Edith Scob) is celebrating her 75th birthday with her brood of three accomplished 40-something offspring. The light surrounding the party is festive and bright, but shadows seep in from the edges. Hélène knows — or, at least, suspects — that this may be her last birthday, and she’s intent on making sure the house’s 19th century art treasures, most of which (lithographs, glassware, furniture, original Corot paintings) belonged to her distinguished uncle, will be cared for in her absence.

Eldest son Frédéric (Charles Berling), an economics professor, regards each artifact with the mildest impatience. He’s taking it for granted that the house and its contents will always be in the family, no matter what happens to his mother. But it becomes all too clear, after Hélène’s death, just how perishable those dreams are. His sister Adrienne (Juliette Binoche) is a fashion designer with more at stake in America and Japan than in France, while younger brother Jérémie (Jérémie Renier) chooses to raise his family close to his shoe business in China. It’s left to Frédéric, the only one staying close to home, to decide what to do with Hélène’s stuff, and what he does is bring in appraisers and auctioneers to, piece by piece, yard by yard, disperse a rich family legacy.

05132009summerhours.jpgAssayas clearly shares Frédéric’s disdain for the economic forces that erode collective memories and transform art into commodity. But there’s nothing programmatic or (obviously) ideological in his approach. He doesn’t condemn Frédéric’s sibs for the life choices they make any more than he chastises their own children for all but bypassing the craftsmanship of their ancestors. Indeed, the writer/director’s melancholy resignation with culture’s casual dismantling arouses far deeper emotions than could be summoned with a more open attack on corporate culture; though a few zingers are fired here and there by Frédéric and Adrienne, mostly at Jérémie’s labor practices. But even they yield to what’s become the mantra of 21st century progress: It is what it is and what can you do, anyway? Making a movie about it all seems to be one answer — and Assayas has made one of the most haunting, probing, and (in the end) tentatively hopeful one could possibly imagine.

The world at large seems divided in two camps — those who dug Rian Johnson’s 2005 debut feature, “Brick,” for its cunning appropriation of ’20s pulp-magazine tropes for a contemporary teen crime thriller and those who thought the whole exercise was too coy and airless for its own good. I was — and remain — very much in the former constituency. Subletting Dashiell Hammett’s argot without sounding like a scratchy 78 RPM record is one thing, but using it to effectively bend the suburban high school subgenre without losing hold on plausibility is quite a larger thing. Risky, for sure, and you wouldn’t want to see it done again any time soon. But “Brick” had enough assurance going for it at the jump to make one wonder (avidly, avidly) what its writer/director would try next.

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

The Trouble With Man Dates

The Trouble With Man Dates (photo)

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The first thing John Hamburg’s “I Love You, Man” teaches us is that the mean time between the Style section of the New York Times heralding a fake trend and the creation of a Hollywood comedy predicated on that fake trend is about four years. It was in April of 2005 that the Times published an article entitled “The Man Date,” which made the staggering observation that two men can have dinner and see a movie and not have sex with each other afterwards. Who knew? All those years I was doing it wrong! No wonder it took me so long to get married to a woman!

Patent ridiculousness of the piece aside, it did, unfortunately, introduce the term “man date” into the urban post-modern vocabulary, and where there’s a catchphrase, there’s usually a high concept waiting to attach itself to it in some film industry pitch meeting. Hence, “I Love You, Man,” directed by Hamburg from a script by himself and Larry Levin, gets quite a few laughs from the “man date” stuff before settling into a slightly more considered but equally funny consideration of het male friendships and their glories and discontents.

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Spring Preview: Rian Johnson on The Festival of Fakery

Spring Preview: Rian Johnson on The Festival of Fakery (photo)

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When Rian Johnson attended USC in the ’90s, he had a certain criteria that needed to be met when choosing an apartment. “It was walking distance from the New Beverly,” says Johnson, who’s been living in the same place near the venerable Los Angeles revival house ever since. Thanks to a collision of fate, whimsy and just a little bit of conniving reminiscent of his latest film, the thoroughly delightful conman caper “The Brothers Bloom,” Johnson will take over programming duties at the theater starting tonight in what’s being billed as “Rian Johnson’s Festival of Fakery, a week of films regarding frauds, fakers, charlatans, hoaxters, huxters and other unsavory sorts.” Johnson follows other recent guest programmers at the theater that include Edgar Wright, Diablo Cody and Peter Bogdanovich, and will be onhand every night of the festival to give introductions to the films. Fortunately, if you’re not in L.A. this week, I got the writer/director to talk a little bit about his picks, (almost) all of which you can watch at home:

02182009_DirtyRottenScoundr.jpgFebruary 18 & 19:
Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom” (2009) and Frank Oz’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988)

We’re starting off with “Brothers Bloom” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” which is terrifying for me — the prospect of putting “The Brothers Bloom” in the company of any of these movies is, but “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” in particular, because not only is it one of my favorite con movies, it’s one of my favorite comedies. People sometimes forget how good a con man movie it is, how well it works on that level, because it’s so well known as a comedy. But in terms of a classic form of how a con man movie can hit an audience just right at the end, it does its job really well.

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