Film Club: Inglourious Basterds, Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg, Thirst, Taking Woodstock
Film critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss movies with These Days Host Maureen Cavanaugh on the KPBS Film Club of the Air
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Listen to reviews of Film Club movies Inglourious Basterds, Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg, Thirst, and Taking Woodstock.
SAN DIEGO MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Summer's winding down. Most of the summer blockbuster movies have come and gone. We've battled Transformers and public enemies, welcomed a new Starship captain and an older Harry Potter, and seen lots of dinosaurs, monsters and aliens at the children's matinée. But, no matter what time of year it is, the KPBS Film Club of the Air finds the most interesting movies to talk about. This time we're mixing it up with a couple of big, new releases, a documentary that walks down radio's memory lane, and another, better vampire movie. Joining me, as they do each Film Club, are Beth Accomando. Sorry. Beth Accomando, the KPBS film critic and author of the film blog Cinema Junkie. Welcome, Beth.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Scott Marks, whose film blog is called Emulsioncompulsion.com. Scott is – also writes film reviews for Uptown News. And, Scott, hi.
SCOTT MARKS (Film Critic, Uptown News): Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And we invite our audience to join the conversation. If you have a question or a comment you can give us a call. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Well, let's start out with the big one, a certified summer blockbuster from director Quentin Tarantino. A group of Jewish American Army commandos, led by Brad Pitt, engage in bloody tactics of revenge against Nazis during World War II. And the group is known as "Inglourious Basterds." They team up with a spy and a German actress to destroy the Nazi high command and that plot merges with the revenge planned by the Jewish owner of a French movie theater. And with all that, Tarantino even finds time for an homage to the great German pre-war filmmakers. So, Scott, I know you're a huge fan of this film. Why?
MARKS: Well, Beth seems to think solely because you get to see Jews scalping Nazis. And while I have to admit I sure did enjoy seeing that, Tarantino has finally harnessed his passion for cinema and his knowledge of cinema and he's incorporated it into an coherent narrative. This is not pastiche work like "Kill Bill" where it's like we'll take a scene from this movie, a scene from this movie and stick it all together. This is a straightforward, very funny, dare I say, 'Hitlarious' comedy about – It's the ultimate Jewish revenge fantasy. So, I mean, that's what really had me going, too. But I'm telling you, the most beautiful moment in the film—and you're going to be surprised—is when he films the changeover in the theater at the end where you see the film go from one reel to another and you see the timing bell to alert the projectionist that it's time to change the reel. I mean, it's moments like that that really, really brought back my childhood growing up at the movies. And this is not a film about war, this is a film about war movies. When I first saw the trailer it's like, oh, great, he's ripping off "Dirty Dozen," but he's not. And, in fact, I think we both – Beth and I both agree that if we have one complaint, his Dirty Half-Dozen, he really…
ACCOMANDO: Is not very memorable.
MARKS: Yeah, he doesn't do anything with them. I mean, you don't give – In the "Dirty Dozen," which is one of my all-time favorite war…
MARKS: …films, he gives every one of the Dirty Dozen some bit of business, some type of schtick to do, but that's not so in this movie. Three of them just kind of vanish and the other three, I think, are his drinking buddies that he hired because he enjoyed, you know, hanging around them and wanted to have them in the movie. So that, I think, is a bit of a flaw. And you mentioned paying homage to the early German films. I mean, this is everywhere. This thing opens with a tribute to Sergio Leone's…
MARKS: …"Once Upon a Time in the West." You could call this once upon a time in the west – I blew the joke. Once upon a time in West Berlin. Oh, that blew the joke. But I do have a question for our listeners. Who was the first actor ever to spoof Hitler? Because for years in the – you had "The Great Dictator" and then you had Lubich's "To Be or Not To Be." And then all of a sudden the truth about Hitler's atrocities were made known and I don't think that they made another film that spoofed Nazis or Hitler until Mel Brooks…
CAVANAUGH: "The Producers."
MARKS: …in "The Producers." So time plus tragedy equals comedy, and now you can do it. And I have to say, this is the funniest film I've seen since "Borat."
CAVANAUGH: So, Beth, did you like it?
ACCOMANDO: Yes, I did. I enjoyed it as well, too. I mean, I…
MARKS: She wouldn't have sat so still while I was talking if she didn't.
ACCOMANDO: I would've thrown things at him. No, and I think – I mean, I think what – I think Scott's right in the sense of how Tarantino's finally kind of using his knowledge and love for film and packaging it into another movie. But I think what's interesting is this film has far less to do with real history and real war and far more to do with cinematic history and cinematic war movies. I mean, the references – I mean, he literally rewrites history but he's rewriting it within the context of kind of all these movies he loves and everything in there feels kind of once removed from the real world and it feels very much like this piece of cinema and it's great fun. I mean, he's having so much fun doing this, and I think you talked about how he had – this was kind of his spaghetti western version of the war movie, and he uses a couple of clips of Ennio Morricone music and I think that's really perfect because Morricone's music has this ability to both pay homage and mock at the same time.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
ACCOMANDO: And I think that's a lot of what's fun about the film, is he has a genuine affection and love for all the things that he's got in this movie but he's also tweaking it and having some fun with it, so he manages to balance both and keep them in a really nice balance and that's what makes it so enjoyable.
MARKS: And it's a genre picture, which is a lost art. They don't make genre pictures in Hollywood anymore. They make message pictures. This is a good, old-fashioned, rousing war movie. And, yeah, the on…
ACCOMANDO: No message at all. I don't think there's really any message, overt or – or…
MARKS: Well, unless you're going to talk about – Well, maybe not – No, you're right.
ACCOMANDO: I don't think there is.
MARKS: No, there really isn't.
ACCOMANDO: There is no message.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you about the spelling of the "Inglourious Basterds." Is that just to give us a cue that this movie is going to be a little off kilter to begin with?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I think it comes from – Brad Pitt's kind of semi-literate Tennessee officer. He has it spelled that way on his – his knife, I think?
ACCOMANDO: On his knife. So, I mean, it comes from that character. I think it's also Tarantino's way of differentiating himself a little bit from the – 'the' "Inglorious Bastards," the other film that has a similar title but is not spelled the same.
MARKS: Have you see the original one? Nor have I.
ACCOMANDO: No, no I…
MARKS: Not have I. Duncan Shepherd did and he said it has absolutely nothing to do with this film.
ACCOMANDO: Plotwise, no, I don't think…
ACCOMANDO: I mean, it just the same sense of it's a group of guys, I think, who are on their way to the military prison and get – I think they escape and they end up on this – they get shanghaied into this mission that – in Switzerland or something. So, I mean, it's the same kind of notion of a bit of a renegade group.
MARKS: Did you see Tarantino on "Charlie Rose?"
MARKS: He actually mentioned something that, dammit, I didn't pick up on. In the film, there's a Nazi war hero that…
MARKS: Goebbels, who is, of course, the greatest film producer of all time, decides he wants to fashion a film after him and he goes, I did this with Audie Murphy in mind, the…
MARKS: …the American war hero who turned out to be, you know, this, you know, facist, let's go, you know, kill Krauts type guy. And I didn't pick up on that. And the other thing I know Beth is going to agree with. Is it Christoph Waltz?
ACCOMANDO: Yes, who played the…
MARKS: This is…
ACCOMANDO: …Nazi officer.
MARKS: One of the greatest Nazis in the history of cinema and, hands down, the best performance I've seen by an actor this year. If they don't remember this guy at Oscar time, they are out of their minds. This guy is so charming and so evil and just so much fun to watch.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, it's just – it's such a perfectly pitched performance because a little bit one way or a little bit another way, it would be total caricature or something else but it – he walks this perfectly fine line and he manages to be amusing and chilling and just spot on. I mean, it's – Yeah, hands down, I think he does.
MARKS: You mentioned Morricone. He wanted Morricone to do the score for the film, and he had too many prior obligations and he couldn't do it but… That's another complaint, when I hear twanging guitars in Nazi Germany, I don't know. But for the most part…
ACCOMANDO: There were…
MARKS: …you set the anachronisms aside. There is no irony in this film. He just made a good, old-fashioned, straightforward war picture.
CAVANAUGH: This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air and I'm speaking with critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks, and we are talking about Quentin Tarantino's blockbuster movie, "Inglourious Basterds." Now both of you have mentioned the fact that this movie kind of sets expected genres on their head. I wonder if you could give us some examples of how, indeed, it does twist the genres that we all know in different movies and yet gives them a new spin in "Inglourious Basterds."
ACCOMANDO: I think the mere fact that he mixes them up is part of – I mean, this notion of taking these Sergio Leone western films and taking a certain element from that and mixing it into an American war film refreshes it just there. And he just kicks it up a notch. I mean, it is this sense of taking something that's familiar, something that we have these expectations of, and kicking it up a notch and tweaking it here and there whether it's increasing the level of violence or maybe doing a little sidestep and showing either – I mean, showing some of the Nazi propaganda film and stuff. So I think it's more that as opposed to really completely, you know, revising or reinventing the genre.
MARKS: Well, David Elliott spilled this in his review so I feel – and a couple of other critics did, too. He kills Hitler at the end. How many films – I can think of one film, "Hitler Dead or Alive," which was made in 1941. It's American propaganda where Ward Bond and a couple of American chowderheads go over to Germany to kill der Fuhrer. I'm warning you, this is one of the worst – It's so funny. They were in a plane and there's a Nazi plane following them. So what does Ward Bond do? He opens the door, pulls out a gun, and shoots the plane down. You can get it for like three bucks on amazon.com. "Hitler Dead or Alive," it's the only other film that I can think of that killed Hitler. And the way he does it, he kills him with nitrate film stock. I mean, come on. This is a love letter to cinema…
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, the whole climax of the film takes place in a movie theater.
CAVANAUGH: And what about Brad Pitt? We see a lot of him in the trailers. What – How would you say his performance is in this movie?
MARKS: I thought he was great.
ACCOMANDO: It's fun. I mean, I know you said that this isn't really his "Dirty Dozen" film but, I mean, it borrows a lot from "Dirty Dozen." And, to me, you know, he doesn't quite achieve that kind of Lee Marvin performance and the reason why is because I think he's a little too smirking during it. He's a little too knowing of the fact that he's making fun, which is completely different from Christoph Waltz who…
MARKS: Oh, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: …as the Nazi, who he's really playing it pretty straight and we get the humor from kind of another place. I don't know exactly how to – But the difference between the two of them is that Christoph Waltz is really – his performance feels very organic to the film and he feels very much like it's a real performance and Brad Pitt is very much a Hollywood celebrity playing this role, having a good time with it but knowing that he's making fun of it. And it's fun. I mean, I enjoy him in the film but that's the one thing that kind of kept it from really going up a notch.
MARKS: See, I look at this and then I look at his performance in "Burn After Reading," which I feel what you just said about this film.
MARKS: I think he's always winking at the audience. I did not like him in that film. This one – Well, one, he's – I think audiences are going to be misled. He's only in like, what, a half dozen scenes?
ACCOMANDO: He is not in that much.
MARKS: He's not really the star of the film but, of course, he's the biggest name so they're going to give him top billing. I thought he was – I thought he played it to perfection. I thought the accent, calling them Nat-zys (phonetically), I mean, I really – N-a-t-z-y, I really thought that he nailed this character.
MARKS: And Lee Marvin in the "Dirty Dozen" is a much smarter character. The character is more intelligent.
ACCOMANDO: But also he's playing it straight. I mean, he's not – There's no sense of winking at the camera in "Dirty Dozen" so…
CAVANAUGH: We do have a clip from the movie…
MARKS: Oh, good.
CAVANAUGH: …that they would let us play. And Brad Pitt is in this scene. He plays Aldo Raine, who's the leader of the Basterds. Now in this scene, he and his band of Nazi assassins have captured a Nazi commander and are trying to get him to reveal information. At the end of the scene, Raine calls out a character played by Eli Roth, a Jew who kills Nazis with a baseball bat. Let's take a listen.
(audio of clip from "Inglourious Basterds")
CAVANAUGH: That is a scene from "Inglourious Basterds," Brad Pitt playing southern Aldo Raine. So, I mean, this movie is really violent.
ACCOMANDO: But there is one -- You know what, it – Tarantino is someone, he always reminds me of the character Mercutio from Shakespeare. He loves to hear himself talk or he loves to hear his characters talk. And I took my son to see this film and he came out of it, he really liked it but he came out of it and he goes, you know, I was fooled. He says, I really thought this was going to be an action film and it wasn't. And it's true. I mean, there's really not a lot of action, there's a whole lot more talking. But it…
MARKS: Beth almost slipped there.
ACCOMANDO: No. No, no, but the thing – I mean, the thing that's – But the thing that's fun about it is it's dialogue in which – And I think this is partially what he borrows from the Sergio Leone films, too, it's this sense of these characters kind of sizing each other up and playing this one upsmanship game through the dialogue as opposed to through a lot of action. I mean, there is action and whatever action there is, is the – fairly extreme but…
CAVANAUGH: We've got a caller on the line. Preston is calling from La Mesa. Good morning, Preston. Welcome to the Film Club.
PRESTON (Caller, La Mesa): Thanks for taking my call. Can you hear me?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, I sure can.
PRESTON: You guys were talking a little bit about the music in the movie just a little bit ago, and did you notice at the very beginning of the movie, opening credits, Tarantino uses "The Green Leaves of Summer," which is from John Wayne's "The Alamo," 1960, and I thought what the hell does that have to do with this movie? But it was just kind of like, hello? What…
MARKS: And, I mean, when the character's called Aldo Raine, I mean, it's Al…
MARKS/ACCOMANDO: …do Ray…
MARKS: I mean, he's making an homage to Anthony Mann's "Men In War."
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it's – it's…
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for that call, Preston. So this – So you can pick out – I would imagine this is a movie that you can see over and over and over again and just pick up…
MARKS: Yeah, and I will gladly.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and – But the thing is, too, it's for people who really love film. You can pick up on a lot of these references. But if you don't know film that well, it still plays perfectly fine and you can get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
CAVANAUGH: And I want to tell everyone we have been speaking about Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," and it's currently playing in area theaters. We do have to take a short break. When we return, we'll give a nice big yoo-hoo shout out to an old-time radio legend. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
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CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We continue with the KPBS Film Club of the Air with critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. Now our next film, "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," is a documentary portrait of a woman who created one of the most enduring characters in the golden age of radio. Gertrude Berg wrote, produced and directed the radio show "The Goldbergs," which thrived in the 1930s and '40s, and then transferred its stories of a Jewish family from the Bronx to the new medium of television. The documentary is not without its drama as it reveals the program's brush with the black list in the 1950s. Now, Beth, I just touched on some of Gertrude Berg's accomplishments. What more do you want to add about this woman?
ACCOMANDO: Well, what was interesting for me is my dad had been a big fan of radio shows and so when I was little he had a collection of these radio shows and I had heard one of the ones that she had done. So when I saw the film, what surprised me is I really didn't realize that she had done the TV show and what that TV show was like and the fact that she was such a driving creative force behind it. So, to me, this was, you know, an eye-opener for me to find out more about her and her role in creating this material.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, that really is what this documentary is. It's an eye-opener about someone who's been a pioneer in broadcasting who is virtually unknown today.
MARKS: This woman invented the sit-com long before Lucy came around.
MARKS: She was a strong-willed, independent woman. She broke all the clichés about Yiddish mamas. I mean, prior to this film, Jewish mothers were depicted as martyrs. You know, oh, yeah, everything for my children, with the accent and all that. And she completely did away with that. And she had a way of just kind of pulling you in like she was your friend, take your shoes off. She would do commercials for instant coffee which I – Did her husband invent instant coffee? Somewhere in the movie, either her husband or her father invented…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, her husband, yes.
MARKS: …instant coffee in World War I…
CAVANAUGH: Yes, umm-hmm, right.
MARKS: …to give the soldiers coffee on the front. And she would write these commercials and she would speak from the heart. I don't know that this was done before Gertrude Berg. They do say in the documentary that she was tough, that she was very hard to work with at times, very demanding. This woman wrote over 5000 radio shows. This radio show was on every day. FDR credited her, and they say it may be apocryphal but when the legend becomes truth, print the legend. He said that it was Gertrude Berg that really helped get America out of the Depression. So, to me, this is – this is not why I normally go to movies. I don't go to movies for a history lesson and this film taught me – I learned more watching this trailer than I did watching most complete features. And I went back and I tried to find some of the original shows. If you go to Emulsion Compulsion, I did dig one out, and there's one on YouTube. And I posted it and it's fascinating to watch because this was at a time when anti-Semitism was running wild and here you have Jew and Gentile alike gathering around and they're – they didn't – It's obvious this woman was Jewish. There was no question about it. But they loved this show and it gave them comfort. And in the movie, they play some clips that are just heart wrenching the way she – When they talk about the story where, during the war, they throw a brick through the Goldberg's window and how they deal with that. Nobody was doing stuff like that, and Lucy would never do that in a sit-com.
CAVANAUGH: Or when they get the first letter from a relative in Europe…
CAVANAUGH: …after World War II. That was really kind of profound, too. But as a history lesson, it gets high marks. How is it as a documentary itself? What's…
MARKS: As a piece of film making?
ACCOMANDO: It's not very innovative or any – I mean, it – For me, documentaries are – can take two paths. They can either be very creative works in which the film maker has a real vision and creates something that's a work of art, or it's somebody who really wants to document a subject. And this is a case of documenting a subject and they do a good job of digging up a lot archive footage. The clips from the show, from the TV show, I think, are what impressed me the most, seeing – Because some of that stuff is remarkably not dated.
ACCOMANDO: It feels very contemporary. And some of it feels even daring by today's standards. I mean, they don't deal with some of those subject matters in today's TV shows. I can't imagine something that serious in a sit-com with broader implications, you know, popping up in sit-coms today like "Everyone Loves Raymond" (sic) or something.
MARKS: I mean, "All In the Family" would do something like…
MARKS: …what she did. I'll give you…
ACCOMANDO: But that's 30 years old now.
MARKS: I'll give you a pet hate. I don't like when they take clips from actual movies and present them as historical documents. When they talk about coming over to Ellis Island, they show a clip from "The Immigrant"…
ACCOMANDO: Charlie Chaplin.
MARKS: …with Charlie Chaplin.
MARKS: I couldn't stand it. They're talking about the…
MARKS: …hotel boom in Florida and they show a clip of Groucho…
MARKS: …in "Coconuts."
MARKS: I don't like when you use cinema to represent historical fact. And Aviva Kempner, the woman who made this film, is not a visionary.
MARKS: She is someone who basically knows how to compile information, straightforwardly hand it out. She also did "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg," the documentary about the baseball player. And I had the same complaint with that film. It's just – You mentioned during the break, Maureen, it's like watching an episode of A&E's Biography.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, yeah.
MARKS: But it's a fascinating episode…
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
MARKS: …of A&E's Biography and it's a film that I learned so much watching this film, I highly recommend this movie. And I think people…
MARKS: …are going to be just really taken by the story and I'm hoping that Gertrude Berg is going to get her rightful place in the annals of broadcasting and I hope that they're going to bring these shows back so I can see more of them. I mean, I'm hooked now. I want to see, you know, what was going on in these times. It really fascinated me.
CAVANAUGH: Let's hear a little bit of the film. This scene features archival footage of Gertrude Berg being interviewed with Edward R. Murrow, intercut with scenes from the actual television show, "The Goldbergs."
(audio of clip from "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg")
CAVANAUGH: That was a film clip from "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," the new documentary about Gertrude Berg and her radio and television show. And I just want to mention, I'm not – I wasn't familiar with Mrs. – the Mrs. Goldberg, "The Goldbergs" television series or the radio series and when I first heard her do the character, it sounded exactly like Lanie Kazan in "My Favorite Year," when she plays a – So that must be a direct ripoff because, I mean, it's almost identical. I'm wondering though, "The Goldbergs" was criticized because of promoting an ethnic stereotype. Do you think that's fair?
MARKS: No, I think this film, if anything, did its best to shatter ethnic stereotypes. They talk about in the film how Amos and Andy were played by black men and these were all – But there's a contradiction, too, because they have this guy Bobby Robertson or whatever who played the All-American boy, and he wasn't Jewish and he was playing a Jew. But for the most part, I think that this film shattered – Or, I mean, this program shattered stereotypes in its day.
CAVANAUGH: And I think one of the most interesting parts was when it dealt with the black list and what happened to Philip Loeb.
CAVANAUGH: …one of the main characters on the show. How do you think that was handled in the documentary?
ACCOMANDO: Well, I think it's handled like everything else. I mean, she does it in a pretty straightforward manner and it's basically, you know, Gertrude Berg tried to help her costar who was being targeted and, I think, severely underestimated with the impact of those McCarthy hearings were like (sic) and sponsors were pulling out.
MARKS: But she, for awhile she was able…
ACCOMANDO: She did.
MARKS: …she had so much power she went to the sponsors and said, enough. You are not taking this man off the show. The sponsor, it wasn't – I can't…
ACCOMANDO: I don't remember which sponsor it was.
MARKS: Yeah, it wasn't Sanka.
MARKS: It was General Foods or something like that. And they issued a statement saying until this man is proven guilty, he's staying on the show. But even that wasn't enough and eventually he had to leave and the guy wound up committing suicide.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, I know. I thought that was very powerful in the movie.
MARKS: But she fought.
MARKS: She found the red menace.
ACCOMANDO: She tried for as long as she could, yeah.
MARKS: Yeah, for as long as she could. And she was a gutsy, modern, progressive woman, and that's also what makes this film so compelling because you didn't think of that back in those terms (sic). You didn't think that women were like that. You know, that they were housewives, that they were martyrs, they were whatever but that, to me, is what makes this film – or, this woman so compelling and so fascinating.
CAVANAUGH: And one last question about "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," you know, Gertrude Berg was so famous and so popular in her day. I know, Scott, you're now on a mission to popularize her.
MARKS: Yeah. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: But did it, did this documentary adequately address the question as to why she is not remembered more today? Beth?
ACCOMANDO: No, I mean, it's not really – and I don't know if there's really a simple answer to that either.
MARKS: Syndication. Simple. We all love Lucy…
MARKS: …because Lucy is on somewhere in America. I'm sure "I Love Lucy" is on right now. And I just think that the film wasn't kept in modern day – in the – What's the word I'm looking for? We can't see them.
MARKS: Reruns, there you go.
MARKS: I think that's the main problem.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Well, I want to tell everyone that "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" opens Friday at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas. Now it's time to move on to the 40th anniversary of the Festival of Peace and Love. That was Woodstock. Director Ang Lee has made a light comedy, "Taking Woodstock." It's called "Taking Woodstock," about the beginnings of that famous concert. A very young chamber of commerce president in upstate New York hears about a very large concert planned for the area and he begins moving heaven and earth to get that event moved to his town. So, "Taking Woodstock," it has received mixed reviews. I want to hear from the Film Club. Beth, let me start with you. You didn't like "Taking Woodstock."
ACCOMANDO: No, and, you know, it's pretty interesting moving from "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" to this because here you're – In "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" you're dealing with a program from how many decades back that was breaking stereotypes. And we move to a contemporary film that seems to be reinstating them? Especially for the Jewish characters but, I mean, all the characters feel very stereotype. Nobody feels real: the Vietnam vet, the Jewish parents, the hippies. It all feels so far removed from you – It really feels like some out – And, I mean, Ang Lee is not an American, he comes from Taiwan. But, I mean, it really feels like somebody who's an outsider from reality looking in and creating these types as opposed to really full-blooded characters.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott?
MARKS: Oh, boy. You're right. To go from Gertrude Berg to Imelda Staunton's character in this film and we – we met Imelda Staunton. She came to the…
MARKS: …San Diego Film Critics luncheon. We gave her an award for "Vera Drake," and she was so gracious. And I thought her performance in that film was astounding. And I – After that, it's like it's pulling a thorn out of my paw. I want to see everything this woman did. This is the most stereotypical money-grubbing Jew I've seen put on a film – put in film in ages. It is so ugly. And it's the whole – that's – Everybody in this film is given one bit of business and hers is money. I vant money, and she does the accent. I mean, we're going back decades now. There's one scene where she wakes up sleeping on her money. I mean, this is like Scrooge McDuck for Hasidim. I mean, this is – This movie offended me in ways I can't even tell you. Vietnam vets with the flashback scenes are laughable. And you know what, gay men, they listen to Judy Garland. Boy, I never heard that before. This film is an abomination. It has very little to do with Woodstock although I will say I thought the acid flashback scenes were very well filmed and I thought the computer generated concert in the background was very, very well done. But for the rest of this film, Ang Lee should be ashamed of himself.
CAVANAUGH: Well, what about the – Demetri Martin playing the lead role? He's a stand-up comedian.
CAVANAUGH: How doe he do, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: He's okay but it's not the actors that are at fault in this film. It's badly written and it's badly directed. Like the flashback scenes of the – the Vietnam war flashback scenes and the scenes with the hippies and all this, it's just so thinly written and relies so heavily on clichés and then Ang Lee is letting these people get away with performances that are solely based on stereotypes and gimmicks and just bits of business. It's – Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let's remind the audience. Ang Lee has directed "The Ice Storm," and "Brokeback Mountain." So, Scott, where do you think he's gone wrong here?
MARKS: Look, I don't know that he was ever all that right. You…
ACCOMANDO: I liked his films in Taiwan. When he was doing films that were kind of comedy of manners in Taiwan, films like "The Wedding Banquet" and "Pushing Hands" and – and when he came to America and did films that were similarly looking to these kind of cultural situations, like "The Ice Storm" I liked also. But after that, things like, well, he did Hulk. He did "Ride with the Devil." He…
MARKS: Keep going.
ACCOMANDO: Which one is the most…
MARKS: Keep going.
ACCOMANDO: …offensive one to you?
MARKS: No, the one that I don't think you're going to like his tiger crouch…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, I didn't like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." I mean, I felt that was a bad imitation of a Hong Kong movie.
MARKS: And that was a Hong Kong action film for people who would never go near…
MARKS: …a Hong Kong action film.
ACCOMANDO: It was a westernized…
ACCOMANDO: A westernized Hong Kong action film from a Taiwanese director so that's that one.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you what, let's take a – Let's hear a clip from "Taking Woodstock," and then we'll take a short break and we'll finish up our conversation and then talk about vampires, how's that?
MARKS: All right.
ACCOMANDO: A real Asian film.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah. This is a scene with Emile Hirsch and Demetri Martin. Hirsch plays Billy, a Vietnam vet. He and the main character, Elliot, played by Martin, look out over the field where the Woodstock music festival will take place and as they look out, hundreds of Woodstock attendees mill about.
(audio of clip from "Taking Woodstock")
CAVANAUGH: That was from "Taking Woodstock." This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. We'll be back in a moment.
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CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to KPBS. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air, and I'm here with KPBS film critic Beth Accomando and critic Scott Marks. And we are going to be talking just a few minutes more about a film neither one of our critics likes very much, "Taking Woodstock," by director Ang Lee. Liev Schreiber has a very curious role in this movie, and it's the only performance that's received positive reviews. And perhaps you could tell us a little bit about it, Scott.
MARKS: He plays a stereotypical drag queen, you know, and he's like the muscle. He comes in and he's going to help them and he has a gun strapped to his leg.
ACCOMANDO: Like John Lithgow from "World According to Garp."
ACCOMANDO: The really masculine-looking guy in a dress.
CAVANAUGH: In a blonde wig.
ACCOMANDO: And a blonde wig.
MARKS: It's funny stuff.
MARKS: Yeah, it's funny stuff.
ACCOMANDO: I think that does it for…
CAVANAUGH: Okey-doke then. "Taking Woodstock" opens at Landmark's La Jolla Village Cinemas this Friday. We move on to a Korean vampire love story called "Thirst," directed by Park Chan-wook. A selfless Catholic priest who submits to a dangerous experimental medical procedure finds himself transformed into a blood-sucking sexually aroused creature of the night. He takes his friend's wife over to the dark side and both vampires shock each other with the extent of their indulgences. The story, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year, is told with a strict attention to gruesomeness. Now, Beth, you are a fan of "Thirst."
CAVANAUGH: Tell us why.
ACCOMANDO: Well, it's a great film, and it – Park Chan-wook was at Comic-Con presenting the film and somebody introduced the film and said this is the anti-Twilight film. And they're right on a certain level. But the thing that is so good about his films is the fact that although you may categorize it as a vampire film or something, he totally blows genres apart. For one thing, this film is actually based on Emile Zola's 19th century novel "Therese Raquin," which is not where you would actually look to find inspiration for a vampire film. His main character is a priest who goes into this experiment wanting to help people and emerges from it as a vampire wanting to suck human blood. And he's – a lot of the film is dealing with this conflict that he has trying to reconcile the fact that he needs blood to survive and the fact that he doesn't want to commit any sins and he doesn't want to harm anyone. So the film, the vampirism actually starts to recede to the background as you focus on the character's moral conflict, and then once this young woman gets involved, on their relationship, which ends up being – although it's based on this – on "Therese Raquin," it has film-noirish kind of elements in the sense it's these three characters, there's a lot of betrayal, deceit, there's murder, and that starts to be the focus of the film. It's that relationship, how interdependent they get on each other, to what extremes will they go to get what they want or to stop the other from doing something. And so the vampirism fades and it just becomes this fascinating study of these characters, and that's what I love about his films is that you – It's like the disease that the character gets; it keeps mutating and each time you think you're diagnosing it and know where it's going or where it's at, it changes its complete direction and goes somewhere else.
MARKS: And you're right. It starts out as a vampire film but it doesn't end that way, and that fascinated me. My complaint with the film is I think the second act really sags.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it drags in places.
MARKS: Yeah, it's a long…
ACCOMANDO: It could be tightened up.
MARKS: …it's a longer film. And I also have to admit, I saw this film two months ago and I've probably seen 40 films since then and I didn't take good notes, figuring I'll be able to see the film again and that, to me, is the ultimate compliment. If I stop taking notes during a movie, I'm in the movie. I don't want anything else to disturb me. There are moments in this film that I think I will always remember. How do I say this, the son passing wind in his mother's face so mom can see what the boy ate that day. I thought that was so funny and so out of left field. And the priest slitting his tongue and letting the blood drip into the woman's mouth so she can get, you know, her little vampire high. He really screws with genre expectations. He's one of the few directors today who makes films that uses color expressionistically to help tell the story. I'm sure people have seen "Oldboy"…
MARKS: …and "Lady Vengeance" and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengenace." I mean, that was his trilogy. I think this guy is just doing God's work. I think he is such a good genre reinventor and experimenter, and that's what I like about this movie.
CAVANAUGH: An interesting choice of words.
ACCOMANDO: And the characters are complex. I mean, what – the thing that's so great is you hate the characters for certain things, you're repulsed by what they do, yet you can still feel compassion and sympathy for them. And they're complicated. They're not – You can't categorize. I don't think, anybody in the film is completely bad or completely good. They've very human. They're flawed, they're vulnerable. They have good points and bad.
MARKS: And after he becomes a vampire, he still wants to help people.
MARKS: I mean, he's a priest, he becomes a vampire. Anybody else, this would have been like "Blacula" or something like that. They would've just gone off the deep end. But he holds true to the character as well, and I found that fascinating.
ACCOMANDO: And he tries to resist when he gets tempted into adultery, too.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, it becomes – It's not just that he's tempted to drink human blood, he's tempted by a woman to have sex and as a priest he can't do that. And so the "Thirst" of the title is a thirst that kind of applies to everything and to a number of temptations that he faces and that's really what the film's about.
CAVANAUGH: And I just want to make the point that not that I think that children are going to run to see a Korean language vampire movie but I do want to make the point that this is very much an adult film.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, you spoke to the director…
CAVANAUGH: …Park Chan-wook, and – when he was here during Comic-Con about this movie.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I was able to speak to him. He also held a panel there. He, you know, he – When he was talking about the film, he basically said that he didn't want the film to be pigeonholed, he wanted to make a film that couldn't be pinpointed and locked down to anything. At the panel itself he did talk a little bit about why he chose a vampire film. And, for him, in Korea, there is no real folklore about legend – about vampires and this tradition of vampires that there is elsewhere in the world. So doing a vampire film in Korea was quite novel so at the Comic-Con panel this is what he had to say when he was asked about what his attraction was to a vampire story.
PARK CHAN-WOOK (Film Director): You asked me about what attracted me to this vampire tradition. I always thought vampires were poor creatures. You know, they can only drink blood, they can only go about their business during night, and they have a very, very limited menu. And there are all these restrictions for them to live by. So I actually had sympathy for these creatures. I thought they were really poor, poor creatures. So then he was trying to make it and he went to a investor and said he wanted to do this film violence. One of the first things they were asking is, there are a lot of vampire films out there in the world and how is your vampire film different from them? And he was going to say, well, it's a vampire film where you don't see fangs. And also they would then be really excited and ask, so what else is different about your vampire film. And he would tell them, well, in your average vampire films, a priest would play the role of this vampire hunter. But in my film, a priest becomes a vampire. So as I was going through this sort of chain of thought, I tried to take as many clichés away from this vampire role. By taking things away, I was able to make a new, different fresh take on the vampire genre.
CAVANAUGH: That was the director of "Thirst," Park Chan-wook speaking through an interpreter at Comic-Con. And, you know, vampires are really pretty hot right now in the movies. What does this film offer the trend that we're seeing now?
MARKS: A good movie.
ACCOMANDO: An adult vampire story, sort of.
MARKS: An adult vampire film, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Well, talk to us a little bit because I know that there's a passionate love story at…
CAVANAUGH: …the very heart of this movie. Talk about that aspect of the film.
ACCOMANDO: Sure. Well, the main character, who's the vampire, enters into this relationship with this young woman who's trapped in a bad marriage and she convinces him that their only way out is to kill the husband and that's basically the plot from the Emile Zola novel. And once they do that, as in many film noirs, they start to suspect each other and they also start to feel – one of them starts to feel guilt and it traps them in, you know, kind of a spiraling amount of crime things so – But it's a really tender love story that's at the center because he really cares very passionately about this young woman but on the other hand, as a priest and as someone with this very strong moral sensibility, when he sees that she's not willing to kind of adhere to some of the same morality he does, he's caught in this very difficult situation of what do I do with this person that I love who won't abide by kind of the rules that I've lived by all my life? And, again, it becomes very complicated and you feel compassion for both of these characters and that's what really hooks you. And it was the same thing with his revenge trilogy, too. I mean, you had characters who were committing horrific acts and yet you could understand where they were coming from, why they were doing it, and sometimes that they were committing horrible things for actually good reasons.
ACCOMANDO: And you get torn. And that's what, I think, makes these films so rich is that you do have this level of complexity and depth in them.
MARKS: What was the name of the lead actor? I can't think of his name.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, Kang Song Hu (sic), I think.
MARKS: He was also in "The Host."
ACCOMANDO: He was in "The Host," and he was in "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance."
MARKS: This guy has a way…
MARKS: …of walking through life numb that he has such – He gave such good performances. And he was perfectly cast in this film. He really pulls this off because this is one of those films that actually – and you don't see it much in vampire films where the whole transition of going from a human being to a vampire and the confusion…
MARKS: …and the fear and then the thrill is all registered in this guy's performance. I really – I – Even though the third act – the second act does slow down, this is a terrific time at the movies. Between this and "Inglourious Basterds" my dance card is filled this month. I mean, I had a wonderful time at the movies.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to tell everybody that "Thirst" is currently playing at Landmark's Ken Cinema. And in the about two minutes that we have left, I wonder if I could ask both of you if there are any movies that you've seen recently that we haven't had time to talk about during this Film Club that you'd recommend for people to go see?
ACCOMANDO: Well, we'll disagree on this but I really enjoyed "District 9," which is the alien sci-fi thriller.
MARKS: You're right, we will disagree on this one. I thought "A Woman in Berlin," which opens Friday at the Gaslamp. Again, it was a bad month for Nazis, a very bad month for Nazis. It's another film that kind of plays with your genre expectations because here you have a bunch of German women who are just brutalized by the Red Army. And there's one point in the film where it's like, gee, I hope the Nazis come in here and really take care of the Russians. And it's like, but wait a minute, they're…
CAVANAUGH: Well, I was going to say…
MARKS: …doing this to Nazis, yeah. So – And also a film that I kind of enjoyed, "The Answer Man," with – Did you watch it yet?
ACCOMANDO: I didn't see that yet.
MARKS: Yeah, that also opens Friday at the Gaslamp. The Gaslamp is doing some really good alternative programming. It's, for my money, the best place in San Diego to watch a movie. I mean, those – that's a multiplex done right. I know there's no parking. Ha-ha, I know. You park at Horton Plaza, you validate the ticket and you walk over, there you go.
CAVANAUGH: Now, now we're not recommending that. Here we go.
MARKS: Speak for yourself.
CAVANAUGH: We went full circle in this, the Film Club of the Air. Quentin Tarantino is a fan of director Park Chan-wook and so we started with "Inglourious Basterds," ended up with the movie "Thirst." And, you know, except for "District 9," you both agree on this month's…
ACCOMANDO: I know, isn't that amazing?
MARKS: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Well, there's always next month.
ACCOMANDO: Reality check. We could argue about "District 9," huh?
MARKS: No, but we've agreed, I think, more often than not lately. I mean, we both loved "Il Divo."
MARKS: You know, you know, it's – A good movie is a good movie and if – if – It's our job to point people in the direction of good movies. Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, and we hope we've done so. Well, I have to thank you both so much, again, being on the KPBS Film Club of the Air. Beth Accomando, thank you.
ACCOMANDO: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Beth Accomando is KPBS film critic, author of the film blog Cinema Junkie. And, Scott, thanks.
MARKS: Thanks, always fun.
CAVANAUGH: He is – His film blog is called emulsioncompulsion.com. His name is Scott Marks, and he also writes film reviews for Uptown News. Thank you for listening to These Days on KPBS.
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