Film Club: ‘Avatar,’ ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ ‘A Single Man,’ ‘Up in the Air,’ and ‘Me and Orson Welles’
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
We'll find out if James Cameron's "Avatar" was worth its $500 million dollar price tag and whether George Clooney or Colin Firth deserve the best actor buzz. We'll give you the goods on what will be in theaters this Christmas season.
DOUG MYRLAND (Host): I’m Doug Myrland in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days in San Diego. In this hour, we’re going to enjoy another edition of Film Club of the Air. Our guests are KPBS film critic, Beth Accomando. Welcome back, Beth.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Hey, thank you.
MYRLAND: And film critic and author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, Scott Marks. Scott.
SCOTT MARKS (Film Critic): Hiya, Doug.
MYRLAND: Well, “Avatar,” it’s the new movie from Director James Cameron. His first film since “Titanic,” twelve years ago, believe it or not. “Avatar” opened over the weekend, broke records domestically and internationally, no surprise there. It tells the story of an ex-Marine who becomes an avatar, or a human mind in an alien body, in order to collect information about a native population on the moon Pandora. “Avatar” is in 3-D and uses motion capture technology. And, Beth, just to kick off this “Avatar” conversation, can you, in 25 words or less, tell us what motion capture means?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, 25 words or less. Well, basically, what this is – and the interesting thing when – at Comic-Con James Cameron had a panel on this and somebody asked him where the idea for the film came up and he basically said he was in charge of Digital Domain, which was an effects house and he felt he wanted to do a project that would allow them to push their limits and to – He said they were doing good 2-D renderings but they really wanted to improve their 3-D renderings. So this motion capture is essentially a way, if you’ve seen pictures of actors with all these little like dots on them and in these kind of like leotard suits, it’s basically a way of using a live actor and capturing their performance digitally or with a computer and then being able to kind of animate over that and create these 3-D characters which are their performance, like Golem in “Lord of the Rings” or an avatar where you are getting their facial expressions and their body movements but it’s not what they really look like.
MARKS: It’s a rich man’s version of rotoscoping. And I don’t care what anybody says it still looks like an open casket funeral. “Polar Express,” all of them. It’s really creepy to watch a motion…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, no, I do have to admit “Avatar’s” far better than “Polar Express” and “The Christmas Carol.” Those are creepy. I don’t know why those particular ones are so creepy but they are.
MARKS: Because they look like dead people coming back to life. Yeah, I don’t like those.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, I think the technology in “Avatar” is better, far better, than…
ACCOMANDO: …“Christmas Carol” and “Polar Express.” I think…
MARKS: For $500 million, it better be.
ACCOMANDO: Well, only about 250 were for the film.
MARKS: Oh, okay.
ACCOMANDO: 250 were for the marketing.
MYRLAND: So, Scott, did you like “Avatar?”
MARKS: I’m going to take the Beth route on this one. It’s fun. And I know you hated this movie but I…
ACCOMANDO: I didn’t hate it. I…
MARKS: Oh, you should hear the bile that was coming out of her mouth about “Avatar” when we talked about this.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, here’s my problem. I think it’s technology – the technology is amazing and impressive but it’s used to tell this incredibly mundane and clichéd story. Why couldn’t he kick up the content as much as he did the technology?
MARKS: All right, I’ll agree with you on that and maybe you can answer this because this is the one problem I have with the film. The lead actor is a paraplegic and he’s in a pod and he’s able to take his mind and put it into another universe and fight battles. But how can you be two places at once? And…
ACCOMANDO: I’ve been trying to do that all my life.
MARKS: Well and unsuccessfully but…
MARKS: …you need an avatar then. But, I mean, how can that be? Didn’t – The whole premise rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn’t buy into this.
ACCOMANDO: Well, you’ve got to buy into it. I mean, that’s basically kind of “The Matrix” premise, too, that you’re…
MARKS: I walked out on that.
ACCOMANDO: Well, see?
MARKS: But this, the effects on this thing are just so incredible and the 3-D. Is it the greatest 3-D? No. Hitchcock did it better in “Dial M For Murder.” Hitchcock actually used the space as a narrative, you know…
MARKS: …tool to tell the story.
MYRLAND: Well, let’s take a minute and talk about 3-D because I suspect that there are still a lot of folks in the audience who have not been to a 3-D movie. Their only experience with 3-D is maybe some cheesy thing with red and green or red and blue glasses, which…
MYRLAND: …never really was the desirable technology. We’ve had the more modern kind of polarization technology. Let’s reassure people that it really does work and it doesn’t give you a headache and it – it’s pretty cool.
MARKS: Have you ever gotten a headache from 3-D?
MYRLAND: I mean, that’s…
MARKS: Nor have I.
MYRLAND: No, it’s just an old rumor.
MARKS: Yeah, it’s a bobbemyseh, it’s an old wives tale. Never got a – All right, the cardboard glasses were pretty uncomfortable. They would give the bridge of your nose a workout.
ACCOMANDO: Well, if you had bad depth perception then…
ACCOMANDO: …they never worked.
MYRLAND: But, Beth, you wear glasses…
MYRLAND: …and you can put the 3-D glasses on over yours and it works okay, right?
ACCOMANDO: I can put them on but generally when I’m at a movie I don’t wear my glasses because I’m farsighted and it’s easier for me to see without them. But…
MARKS: And here’s another little tip. A buddy of mine went over the weekend and I won’t say his name to embarrass him and instead of putting the glasses in plastic bags or cleaning them, they put like film over the lenses to keep, you know, your fingerprints off. Take the film off the lenses before you watch the movie because it’ll look like Lacomarama. He did not think the 3-D was all that great when it was over because he didn’t take the damn film off the glasses. So – And the other thing is if you’re going to see this movie, you have to see this movie in 3-D. Do not go to see – There are houses that are showing it…
MARKS: …not in 3-D and I don’t understand how people will go and see a film like this when so much of the appeal is the depth of the film at least visually.
MYRLAND: Now a…
ACCOMANDO: I’m glad you corrected that.
MYRLAND: …a critic from the Chicago Reader said that while watching it he began to understand how people in 1933 must have felt watching “King Kong.” Do you agree that this is as much a step forward for this era as that stop motion…
MYRLAND: …was for…
ACCOMANDO: And primarily because the story is so formulaic and so predictable. I – A film that’s just visually impressive or technically impressive doesn’t have the same impact as something like “King Kong” where it’s not just the fact that the stop motion was amazing to see but it had a story that really compelled you. And King Kong had so much personality that that’s what, I think, really impressed people. In this, it’s like watching a video game and it’s got a beautiful color palette and the depth is amazing and there’s elements of this 3-D that are really impressive but the bottom line is, is that the story was really predictable and it took 162 minutes to get to exactly where you knew you were going to be in the first three.
MYRLAND: Wow, that’s pretty long.
ACCOMANDO: It’s long.
MYRLAND: …almost three hours.
ACCOMANDO: It’s long because it’s not that good. I mean, the length of a film really doesn’t make any difference to me if it’s a good movie. But you knew everywhere that this film was going to go. There are no surprises and it takes a really long time to get you to a very familiar point, and that’s what I objected to.
MYRLAND: Well, we do have a clip to play to give people at least an audio assimilation to the film.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, we can’t give them the 3-D effect?
MYRLAND: Only if they separate their radio speakers a long way apart. We want to hear this scene from the movie. It’s with a colonel played by Stephen Lang. He’s a colonel heading up the military force that’s trying to move the moon of Pandora’s native population off of valuable land. And this is the first time we meet him in the movie. He’s speaking to new recruits. And here it is.
(audio clip from the flim “Avatar”)
MYRLAND: So there you have it, a clip from “Avatar.” And I have to say that doesn’t make a real compelling argument to me to run out and see the movie. It seems a little…
MYRLAND: …a little ponderous, is that…
MARKS: That’s because you have to see it in 3-D.
MARKS: And the whole argument…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but none of that actually pans out to be true at all. The Avi are easy to kill in the end. I mean, they get blown away…
MARKS: Give that away. Oh, that’s wonderful.
ACCOMANDO: Well, but that’s not the end end. But, you know, I mean, he builds it up – this scene feels totally ripped off from “Starship Troopers” with Michael Ironside doing that whole speech about how dangerous it is to face the bugs. But, you know, when they went and fought those bugs, they did get torn up, they did get slaughtered.
MARKS: And I agree, and “Starship Troopers” is a much better film. And if you want to cite references, “FernG…”
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah, no, no, no. There’s a ton – Yeah.
MARKS: “FernGully” and “Battle for Terra” are two animated films. One came out this year, also in 3-D.
MARKS: This is basically a ripoff of both those movies and I think both of those are superior to this. But that said, this is still – To sit and complain about the story in this film, I’ll give you an example. You love “Dead Snow.” How many times have you seen that story told? All right, so this time they’re wise enough to insert Nazis in there as the enemy. “District 9” is another one.
ACCOMANDO: But it’s not pretentious. But it’s not preten – “Dead Snow” does not…
MARKS: Well, “Distict 9” is pretentious.
ACCOMANDO: I didn’t find it pretentious.
MARKS: Yeah, it…
ACCOMANDO: I found it – I found it much more compelling and much more interesting and I thought it was much more innovative than this.
MARKS: You thought “District 9” was more innovative…
MARKS: …than “Avatar?”
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yes.
MARKS: No, no, not even close. Not even close.
ACCOMANDO: And a better told story.
MYRLAND: Well, this isn’t the only conversation about “Avatar” that’s going to take place during this holiday season…
MYRLAND: …because a ton of people are going to go see it and a ton of people are going to go out for dinner afterwards and have this very same conversation.
ACCOMANDO: No, most people will just be saying how much they enjoyed it probably.
MARKS: Right, and now they’re touting this as the new “Star Wars” so I hope we don’t have like nine of these awaiting us, you know?
ACCOMANDO: And a…
MARKS: Although the way Cameron works…
ACCOMANDO: And a TV series.
MARKS: Yeah, oh, yeah.
MYRLAND: Well, now…
MARKS: My – Real quick, my big question is how different would this film have played if they just got actors to wear blue makeup as opposed to the motion capture? Did the motion capture really add to the film?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it allowed them to look more different…
MARKS: Ten feet tall.
ACCOMANDO: …yeah, than they could’ve with just the makeup probably.
MARKS: Ah, you could’ve done that, too. Put them on stilts. You could’ve done that, too. I was just…
MYRLAND: Well, a couple of years from now on the Sci-Fi Channel, somebody will do just what you said.
MARKS: Oh, sure. Sure, and they did and it was called “Watchmen.”
MYRLAND: Let’s do something completely different now and…
ACCOMANDO: Monty Python?
MYRLAND: No, a film called “A Single Man.” It’s the directorial debut from fashion designer Tom Ford. It’s based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood. It has Colin Firth starring as a man grieving the unexpected death of his male lover of 16 years. And Julianne Moore stars as his best friend. It’s a very stylized 1960s period drama, and it’s getting a lot of buzz…
MYRLAND: …a lot of critical buzz. And we’ve got a couple of minutes before the break to just talk about it and we’ll talk about it again after the break. But, in brief, Beth, what did you think?
ACCOMANDO: This was one of my favorite films from the year. One of the things that I really liked about what Tom Ford did is his ability to get the subjective point of view. You really feel like you are getting inside the head of Colin Firth’s character and seeing the world as he does and feeling what he’s feeling. And I – that was the thing that impressed me the most about it.
MARKS: The first reel is pretty artfully composed. He’s trying a little too hard to make…
ACCOMANDO: But it still works.
MARKS: …an art film. After I got used to that and saw where the film was going, I’m with you, I think it’s one of the best movies of the year. It is the best performance by a male actor this year, and there’s been a lot of great ones. We’re going to talk about another one later on in “Me and Orson Welles.” But the period décor and the period recreation…
MARKS: …in this film, spot on. I mean, just flawless. And I also have to say this is the most depressing Christmas on record. I mean, child abuse, rape, murder, incest and that’s just in “Precious.” I mean, every film short of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and maybe “Avatar” and “Me and Orson Welles” is a downer. This is the biggest downer of them all. This is such a sad, sad movie.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but it’s – On a certain level, it’s not a downer for one reason, because it’s so well made. I mean, for me, personally, when a film is incredibly well made, no matter what the content is, I kind of get a buzz off of it just because it’s so well done and to see something so well done is just so rewarding.
MYRLAND: Well, this is a great tease because we have to take a break…
MYRLAND: …and when we come back from the break, we’ll talk more about “A Single Man” and particularly about the design…
MYRLAND: …elements and how artfully created it is. So you’re listening to the Film Club of the Air. Our guests are Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. And we will be right back to play a clip and talk more about “A Single Man” right after this break.
MYRLAND: These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. It’s Film Club of the Air. We’re talking about “A Single Man” with Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. And we mentioned before the break that it’s a very – it’s set in November of 1962, and I think I’m the only one in the room here who was walking around and looking at things in 1962. I…
ACCOMANDO: I was walking.
MARKS: Thanks for the compliment, Doug.
MYRLAND: But I have to say as beautiful as this film is and as meticulous as the design is, it’s not particularly realistic looking. It’s pristine. The whole film is very designed. I mean…
MARKS: Oh, sure, highly stylized.
MYRLAND: And I think that when you talk about a period piece, it looks like a sort of an idealized version of 1962.
MARKS: See, but the fact that it’s November of ’62, the year before the Kennedy assassination, I know I was around walking then and I was out of diapers. And I guess we remember that period in time as being somewhat idyllic considering everything that came after it. So that did – the whole stylization didn’t bother me. And before the break you were talking about how because the film was so well made that you didn’t find it all that depressing, you have to be a good filmmaker in order to depress me, in order to get an emotion out of me. I mean, if that was the case, I would’ve been weeping at “Have You Heard About the Morgans?,” you know, and it’s like I just couldn’t do that. But I think because the film is so well made and so stylized and because it puts you inside this man’s head that when the kicker—and there is a big kicker at the end of this film—comes into play, it’s really devastating. And it’s something I didn’t expect.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, it is. It doesn’t – Yeah, it doesn’t lessen the emotional impact for me but it makes it – because sometimes when you say a film is so depressing, it keeps people away because they feel like, oh…
MARKS: Okay, yeah, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: …I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to get a big downer. And for me, it’s not a downer because it is so well made. It’s still – Yes, the end is devastating and there’s…
MARKS: The subject matter, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, and the subject matter is depressing and there are moments in it that are grim but because it’s so well made, you don’t come out of it feeling, oh, my God, this is the world’s horrible…
MARKS: In that sense, I’m entertained. It’s like I find “The Sorrow and the Pity” to be a very entertaining film and it makes me feel terrible but it is…
MARKS: …so well made and so put together and so artistically, you know, lucid that there is something entertaining about that and I…
MARKS: …think I find that in this film, too.
MYRLAND: Well, let’s give people a taste of it. It’s a scene from the opening of the film. Colin Firth’s character, George, tells us in a voice over how he prepares each morning to face the world, and here it is.
(audio of clip from the film “A Single Man”)
MYRLAND: That’s Colin Firth in the film written and directed by Tom Ford, “A Single Man.” While we still have a moment on this film before we move on, do you think this is a potential Academy Award performance?
MARKS: Oh, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: It should be.
ACCOMANDO: He was amazing.
MARKS: Well, we’ll talk more about the Academy Awards when we get to “Up In The Air.” I think that that’s going to be the sweep this year.
MYRLAND: Well, “Up In The Air” is the next film we’re going to see.
MARKS: Oh, how – I must be psychic.
MYRLAND: You’re very helpful, Scott.
MARKS: Thank you.
MYRLAND: “Up In The Air” stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who travels almost every day of the year and loves it. His job is to go around the country and fire employees for companies who are too timid to do so. Over the course of the film, he meets two women who challenge his ideas about both work and relationships. The director of “Juno” and “Thank You For Smoking,” Jason Reitman directs this film, based on Walter Kim’s novel. George Clooney and a lot of airplanes. So what’d you all think?
MARKS: Go ahead, Beth.
ACCOMANDO: This was a fun film. This was an entertaining film. It doesn’t break any new ground but it’s just very well executed. George Clooney’s in his element as Ryan Bingham. It’s the kind of character that he can play so well. It was a very entertaining, enjoyable film.
MARKS: You didn’t find the ending of this film to be a downer at all? Maybe it’s just me.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I don’t want to give…
MARKS: Well, okay.
ACCOMANDO: …anything away but, I mean, I don’t – I don’t know if I’d call it a downer but I think it’s kind of a cold dose of reality.
MARKS: Because the last shot in the film, you’re pretty much left with making your – you’re drawing your own conclusions.
ACCOMANDO: And you can either draw them in a positive manner…
ACCOMANDO: …in a – and even the negative isn’t necessarily a complete downer.
MARKS: All right, the one thing that I’ll take exception, when you say it’s well executed. I think this film is very well acted, I think it’s very well written, and I think his direction is just mediocre.
ACCOMANDO: But how can you say his direction is mediocre when he’s the one who’s getting these performances out of these actors and putting it together? I mean…
MARKS: Because it’s all close-ups. Because as soon as they get inside a room, it’s close-up, cut, close-up, cut, close-up, reverse angle.
ACCOMANDO: But in this particular kind of film, I’m not sure that anything else would necessarily…
MARKS: Oh, see, to me, in a film like this where their surroundings are so – it’s so much a part of their character and so important to their character and their life, back up the camera a little bit and let me see how they relate to these really bland and boring spaces. And I talked to Jason Reitman about this and it was actually – the interview was going well and at the very, very end it’s like, all right, I’m going to finally ask the question, and I said, why so many close-ups? And he goes, well, what would you have preferred? And I told him what I would’ve preferred and he said to me, as soon as we get in those rooms and as soon as the actors start talking, that is the most important part, the dialogue. What they’re saying is the most important part. And I countered with, but that’s radio. And he goes, but there are certain scenes – And the external stuff is terrific. That one beautiful shot when you’re way outside the Hyatt and you see Clooney in one room and Anna Kendrick in the other room, that tells you so much about those characters without one word of dialogue. I thought that…
ACCOMANDO: He put it in there.
MARKS: I know but that, I liked.
MYRLAND: And, Scott, I think the credit sequence was exceptional for a modern film, with the montage of all the different…
MYRLAND: …airports. If you’ve done much flying, those scenes have – bring on mixed emotions.
MARKS: And there are little touches like when they’re in the hotel room. What do you have pictures of on the wall? Airplanes and airports. I thought that was very funny. When you go to his apartment, the only personal touch in there is the pizza menu hanging on the refrigerator. That just…
ACCOMANDO: But see, he got all that information in there and I think…
MARKS: Oh, but there could’ve been so much more.
MYRLAND: Yeah, but…
ACCOMANDO: I think part of it, too, is that the environment for these characters, to a certain degree, doesn’t matter because it’s so repetitious.
MYRLAND: It’s – Let’s talk about the characters for a minute because it seems to me that this is a film for most of the film – now people do things that you might not like or they may change a little but, by and large, this has – is a film full of characters who are kind of appealing. They’re people – they’re interesting people.
MARKS: Yeah. Even when we should hate George Clooney because he’s like the grim reaper of our contemporary society, but he’s George Clooney.
ACCOMANDO: But also what’s interesting about him is although he can’t relate really to anyone in his own personal life, he actually shows an amazing amount of compassion and empathy for the people he’s firing…
ACCOMANDO: …more so than anyone else in the film. So he has a connection with people he doesn’t know and will have nothing to do with ever again but he can’t make connections in his real life. So, I mean, I think that makes him interesting.
MARKS: No, I love the script to this film. I think Jason Reitman finally got rid of Diablo Cody, which was good…
MARKS: …and he wrote a terrific script. This is a very, very well written film, and all the performances are great. I just think, you know – Look, and it’s the same complaint I have with Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges. I don’t think that visually they’re the most compelling directors but two finer screenwriters have never lived.
MYRLAND: Well, we can’t prove or disprove that point on the radio but we can hear a clip. We can get a taste of that script that you like so much. So let’s hear a scene from “Up In The Air.” George Clooney and Vera Farmiga’s—is that how you say it? Famiga (phonetically)?
MARKS: I think it’s Farmiga.
MYRLAND: Farmiga—characters have just met. They’re in a hotel bar comparing VIP cards and frequent flier miles. The clip begins with them throwing each of their cards on the table. So let’s listen.
(audio clip from the film “Up In The Air”)
MYRLAND: So there’s an example of that dialogue. It’s a film full of dialogue.
ACCOMANDO: And it’s nice to hear good dialogue.
MARKS: And it’s nice to see a romantic movie. I mean, you don’t – I mean, let me rephrase it. It’s nice to see a romantic movie that doesn’t have Sandra Bullock in it. You know?
ACCOMANDO: Well, and a romantic movie that’s not a silly comedy.
MYRLAND: And I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Anna Kendrick…
MYRLAND: …and her performance as a younger colleague of George Clooney. I might go so far as to say she kind of steals part of the movie.
MARKS: A good chunk of it, yeah. And a lot of this film is based – You know what he based this on? And it makes so much sense now that he told me: “Sullivan’s Travels.”
MARKS: Where you have the older man and the younger woman basically setting out to find America…
MYRLAND: A Preston Sturges film.
MARKS: Yeah, a Preston Sturges film. So – And if you haven’t see “Sullivan’s Travels,” oh, oh, put that at the top of your Netflix queue. That is one of the most amazing films…
MARKS: …ever made. Yes, she’s very, very good. I think that this film is going to win a lot of Academy Awards and that bothers me.
MARKS: Because, one, I think there’s a lot better films that came out this year and, two, I hate it when films I like win Academy Awards. I don’t want the Academy’s approval…
MYRLAND: That’s so curmudgeonly of you.
MARKS: But I don’t want – I don’t want the approval of people who gave their – the green light to stuff like “Chariots of Fire” and “Forrest Gump.” I – I don’t want them on my side, I don’t. And they awarded Scorsese for the worst movie ever made. I don’t want these people on my side.
MARKS: So I think that this is going to go on unless “Precious”…
MYRLAND: See, I like it…
MARKS: …unless the guilt come in.
MYRLAND: I like it when a movie wins that I’ve actually seen. Okay, I have much lower standards. Anyway, we need to move on but I do want to mention one thing. I was delighted at the very end of this movie in the credit sequence because I knew I was going to do this show. There’s a familiar name in that credit sequence as the marine coordinator. The name is Ricou Browning. Did you notice that?
MARKS: Ricou Browning.
MYRLAND: He’s the guy who played – one of the guys who played the Creature in the “Creature in the Black Lagoon.” He was in the suit underwater. And they shot part of this movie in Florida and apparently Ricou Browning is still around and he helped coordinate maybe the stunt where George Clooney falls in the water or something but Ricou Browning. That’s a name that Beth Accomando particularly should appreciate.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and I did want to mention just real quickly that the people that you see in the film who are being fired, except for the actors, they actually went to people who had been laid off and told them, okay, if you could be laid off again, what would you really want to say? So some of those sequences…
ACCOMANDO: …are people who had recently been laid off.
MARKS: Except Zach Galifianakis.
MYRLAND: And when I asked him about it, he goes, when I was making this movie there was no “Hangover.” Nobody knew who…
MARKS: …Zach Galifianakis was so I figured I could stick him in. And he goes, now that the “Hangover” came out, everybody knows who this guy was. He was not happy with that because that kind of blew his cover.
MYRLAND: Well, the movie’s “Up In the Air” and it’s currently playing all over the place. “Sherlock Holmes” is the next movie we want to talk about. The new “Sherlock Holmes” presents a different version of the venerable Holmes and Watson characters, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Robert Downey, Jr. plays Holmes and Jude Law is Watson. This 2009 version has the duo solving crimes in action hero style instead of using just rational intellect. The movie’s directed by Guy Ritchie. Also stars Rachel McAdams as a love interest. So what do we think about this latest incarnation of Sherlock Holmes?
MARKS: Why? Why? Why take Sherlock Holmes and turn him into James Bond? And that’s all it is. It’s Holmes and Watson as two ass-kicking guys going and beating people up. This is any other action film that’s been made in the past 30 years.
ACCOMANDO: But why not reinvent Sherlock Holmes as an action hero? I mean, why not?
MARKS: If they took one of your beloved vampire characters and went in there and they made…
ACCOMANDO: They already have. What do you mean?
MARKS: Yeah, and you buy into that?
ACCOMANDO: They’ve been re – they’ve been remaking Dracula every decade.
MARKS: When vam – when vampires can now walk around in sunlight. That’s what this is to me. I want nothing to do with this. I love Robert Downey. I think he’s a terrific actor, and he’s very charming in this film. And from what he’s saying on all the late night talk shows, he believes that Holmes and Watson are gay, and there’s a little bit of that in the film. If they would’ve gone in that direction, I would’ve been much more pleased.
ACCOMANDO: Maybe that’s for the sequel.
MARKS: Oh, God, I hope – I hope there’s not going to be a sequel. This is just…
MYRLAND: And, Beth, you feel more positively about this movie, right?
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it’s not a great film by any means but I thought it was fun. It’s way too long, which seems to be a problem with a lot of the stuff coming out, “Avatar,” “Invictus,” this, they’re all clocking in well over two hours and not meriting that length by any means. So this could’ve been tightened up. It’s Guy Ritchie trying to be a little less, I don’t know…
MARKS: What, yeah, it’s Guy Ritchie being Guy Ritchie.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but he tries to tone it down a little bit and…
MARKS: Yeah, but you can understand the dialogue.
ACCOMANDO: And, I mean, the way they do the fights is instead of it just being a fight, it – to try and gives it all (sic) – give it a bit of a Holmes element to it, it’s – you’re kind of in his head thinking about what his plan is for how he’s going to knock these guys out and so you’re – he’s trying to give him some sort of approach to the fighting as opposed to just keeping them…
MARKS: And it was great the first time. The sixth time, enough already. We got it. I mean, he just repeats everything. He hammers everything home in this film. I think most audiences are going to be bored out of their mind by this. I mean, I don’t – I know most Sherlock Holmes fans are just going to detest this movie.
MYRLAND: Well, let’s hear a little bit of it. We should…
MARKS: Oh, good.
MYRLAND: We should give people a chance to sample it. We have Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in this clip as Holmes and Watson. They receive strange news about the recently deceased. And here it is.
(audio of clip from the movie “Sherlock Holmes”)
MYRLAND: So there’s a clip from “Sherlock Holmes.” And if I can characterize your opinions about this, Beth, you would say this is a pretty good compromise choice if the lines at “Avatar” are too long and you’ve got the whole family and they all want to see something kind of popular.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, man, see, that’s a tough call between the two of them.
ACCOMANDO: They’re both over-long.
MYRLAND: And then – and then, Scott, you would say…
MARKS: Take the family to see “A Single Man.” No, no.
ACCOMANDO: No. Go back to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” if you’ve got a family you’re taking out.
MARKS: This is “The Spy Who Loved Me” right down to the Jaws character. I mean, it’s – it’s kind of just a lukewarm ripoff of James Bond.
MYRLAND: Well, we’ll come back in a couple of minutes and talk about “Me and Orson Welles” and “Invictus” and a couple more movies but we do need to take a quick break. You’re listening to Film Club of the Air These Days in San Diego. Back in a couple of minutes.
MYRLAND: These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland, in for Maureen Cavanaugh. We’ve got Scott Marks and Beth Accomando. We’re talking about films on the Film Club of the Air. The next movie we want to talk about is “Me and Orson Welles.” So in this film, Disney heartthrob Zac Efron plays an aspiring young actor cast in a 1937 stage production of “Julius Caesar,” directed by Orson Welles. Christian McKay plays the brilliant, volatile Welles. Claire Danes plays an older woman love interest in this coming of age story set in the world of theatre. And I want to start off by saying this movie reminded me a lot of an old film called “My Favorite Year.”
MARKS: Fair enough.
MYRLAND: And in a good way. I don’t mean that…
MYRLAND: …as a – But a very, I think, a nice – When this movie goes to DVD, a nice Netflix evening would be “My Favorite Year” and “Me and Orson Welles.”
MARKS: But see “Me and Orson Welles” on the screen first. Yeah, I know what you’re saying if you want to do the double bill but I think the production design on this film, it’s 1937, the period recreation is flawless. It is gorgeous to look at.
MYRLAND: And I think a nice comparison with “A Single Man,” another period film, but this film actually, I think, goes a step farther. It has more verisimilitude to ’37 than “A Single Man” even has to 1962.
MARKS: It’s not quite as stylized, yeah.
MYRLAND: This movie is wide open. I mean, it’s got a lot of outdoor scenes. It really captures that 1937 atmosphere, I think.
MYRLAND: So I don’t think we can talk about this film without talking about the really spooky recreation of Welles that Christian McKay does. And, again, I mean spooky in a good way but it’s not just a performance with some similarities to Welles. It’s a spot on imitation, wouldn’t you say?
MARKS: I take exception to imitation because that, to me, implies Frank Gorshin and Rich Little. This – But you said it initially. This is a performance. And I think this guy carries this movie. He is so good, and he’s also a Welles scholar. He started out doing a show far off Broadway called “Rosebud,” that was designed just for him. And he did a lot of research into Orson Welles and they wrote the book “Me and Orson Welles.” Richard Linkletter, the director of the film, saw the show, that’s where he found McKay, and that’s how he got this part. Now my big fear is, is that towards the end of his life he doesn’t put on 400 pounds and start doing bad wine commercials and “Necromancy” or Dean Martin roasts. But I talked to him, the guy is just a delight. And he is so good in this role.
MARKS: This is such a wonderful performance. A recreation, I’ll give you that but I think it’s more than just a guy getting up there and doing an impression.
ACCOMANDO: Well, because also you don’t – you’re not consciously watching it and going, oh, wow, he’s really doing a good job of being Orson Welles. He gets into that performance and he totally – you totally buy into it. And I think that’s what makes it good, is you’re not consciously thinking, oh, I’m watching somebody impersonate Orson Welles.
MARKS: And he looks so much like him…
MARKS: …that it helps. I mean, he looks exactly like a young Orson Welles even though I think he was ten years older in real life than the age Welles was when the film takes place. He has the baby face, and the voice is – I think was the hardest thing for him to recreate and he’s got that down pat. So it helps that you know a little bit about Orson Welles to see this film. It all takes place prior to “Citizen Kane.” This is 1937, “Kane” was ’41. And it’s just about Welles trying to put on the Mercury Theatre’s production of “Julius Caesar” in modern day…
ACCOMANDO: But I don’t think you have to know that much about him to enjoy the film, Welles, because, I mean, I think what’s interesting is that this is him at a very early point in his career and you just get a sense of what his creative process was like and what working for him was like. And even if you don’t know much about him except for maybe the fact that he directed “Citizen Kane,” you still can get a lot of enjoyment out of watching his character go through that.
MYRLAND: You also don’t have to really know the play “Julius Caesar.” I think that the…
MYRLAND: …they do a skillful job of introducing you to some of the elements of the play as the movie goes on and…
ACCOMANDO: Because what’s interesting is seeing how he decides to put this Shakespeare play onstage and for the time period that it was, doing something in modern dress like that and doing some of the stage direction that he did was very innovative and I think seeing that, whether or not you know who Orson Welles is, is still fascinating to watch.
MARKS: And it might be better if you don’t know who Zac Efron is because then you won’t bring all the Disney preconceived notions in there because I thought he was very, very good.
MYRLAND: And he really is the lead character in the film, too.
MYRLAND: We should point out, we’ve been talking about Christian McKay and all the other elements but Zac Efron…
ACCOMANDO: See, and I…
MYRLAND: …has the lead and has the most dialogue.
ACCOMANDO: …and I think that’s the problem I had with the – I enjoyed it and I thought that the performances were great but maybe it would’ve been better if it was Orson Welles and Me or something and Orson Welles got the top billing instead because I wanted to have more with him. I didn’t feel like I needed that Zac Efron romance stuff going on and especially not the tagged on ending that came afterwards. And I could’ve done with a lot less of that.
MARKS: I liked the romance he had more with the other woman, not Claire Danes, the woman that he met at the library when you actually get the whole feel of how people courted each other back in the ‘30s as opposed to today. That the…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, it…
MARKS: …that then – and I’m always the first one to jump on that bandwagon, to say why are you putting a romantic subplot in where it doesn’t belong? This didn’t bother me. It was in the book so it didn’t bother me. And I went in there waiting to, you know, just – I was going to – I thought I was going to kill the kid. I was like how do you get this kid from “High School Musical” – but it’s the same thing when we watched “Adoration” earlier this year and we saw Scott Speedman, and he gave a good performance, right?
ACCOMANDO: No, he did.
MARKS: And I think that the kid is pretty good in this role.
ACCOMANDO: No, he did a good – he did a good job but, again, I wish the balance was a little different. I could’ve done with a little less of him and a little more of Orson Welles.
MYRLAND: I think the other thing we need to mention about this film is that it’s a film about other art forms.
MYRLAND: And that’s very difficult to do sometimes in films. We’ve got radio going on, the recreation of a radio drama, we have – it’s a film about theatre…
MYRLAND: …so it manages to pull us into those other art forms, I think, in an artful way.
ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm. Well, and I think part of it is because Orson Welles was such an interesting artist that to see him work in these multiple mediums and to see the kind of creativity he had is fascinating to watch.
MARKS: Yeah. And there’s so many great anecdotes that you really don’t have to be that great of a writer to put them in there. The fact that he would have an ambulance at his beck and call just to get through traffic to get from one spot to another, I mean, that’s true. I mean, Orson Welles did do that. So there was so much in this man’s life and so much self-conscious myth making that just turn to that and you’ve got a great movie. And I think that this is one of those holiday films that I think most people should go to see compared to some of the other more depressing, bigger budgeted ones.
MYRLAND: And would you say you can pretty much take the whole family to this movie?
MARKS: I – Kids…
ACCOMANDO: I wouldn’t take little kids.
MARKS: I think they’d be bored.
ACCOMANDO: Not so much – yeah, because of content. But, I mean, there are – there are sexual references and stuff so if you’ve got little, little kids and if you’ve got little, little kids they’ll probably get bored because there’s a lot of talking.
MARKS: I’d rather my kids see that, though, than “Princess and the Frog.”
MARKS: That’s why I don’t have children.
MYRLAND: So a unanimous recommendation…
MYRLAND: …from both of you for “Me and Orson Welles.”
MYRLAND: So “Invictus.” Directed by Clint Eastwood. Lots and lots of spots on TV. Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon. What’d you all think?
MARKS: Inflict us.
ACCOMANDO: Ahh, again, another…
MARKS: It’s so boring. This thing…
ACCOMANDO: Bloated, overlong…
MARKS: This is not Clint Eastwood as the auteur. This is Morgan Freeman as the auteur. He wanted to play Nelson Mandela, he produced the film, he went to Clint and said, I want to play Nelson Mandela, will you direct it? Clint said yes. I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan and I’m telling you, if you would’ve shown me this film and you didn’t tell me who directed it, never in a million years would I have pegged Clint Eastwood to make this film. It is so pious and over-sanctimonious. And the last half hour of this film is people tossing a ball around intercut with people watching television. There’s no…
ACCOMANDO: Well, he doesn’t know how to shoot rugby. He doesn’t know how to find any tension or…
MARKS: He knows how to shoot it…
MARKS: That’s it. He doesn’t know how to shape it.
MARKS: He doesn’t know how to shape this into – and how many films have you seen that end in a sporting event? They’re a dime a dozen. He should’ve gone back and looked at “The Longest Yard” or something to…
MARKS: …at least get some type of an indication how to do this. And…
MYRLAND: Is part of the problem that most of us don’t know much about rugby? So we…
MYRLAND: …don’t have much of a frame of reference?
ACCOMANDO: No, because I – He shoots it and plays it out badly. You can – I mean, I’ve watched films about cricket and I know very little about cricket and yet some of those films, some of those Bollywood films have made it entertaining. The problem with this one was a similar problem I have with “Avatar,” is it’s very long and it’s long without a purpose. And one of the things that it’s padded out with that I found frustrating was they kind of try to turn it into this like the “24” show, the TV show, where you’ve got these security guards who are constantly worrying about Nelson Mandela’s safety and there’s even a scene with a jet that’s flying in towards a stadium that looks like the 9/11 crash. And they’re building up all – they’re trying to manufacture all this tension about, you know, will there be some sort of security threat but we know that there was no incident that happened and so we feel that this is all – I felt like this was all padded and calculated and contrived to try and add some sort of extra tension to it and it wasn’t interesting, it just bloated up the film. I mean, I thought the most interesting things were some of the behind the scenes of how does – how Nelson Mandela worked with people, how he tried to get some of his ideas across, and his interaction with some of the rugby players. They could’ve trimmed out all the stuff with the security guards and a good chunk of the rugby playing. I mean, if he didn’t know how to shoot it, at least he could’ve just condensed it down into a tight little vital…
MARKS: And the whole point of the guards is so you could have a black guard and a white guard shake…
MARKS: …hands at the end.
ACCOMANDO: Well, no, you also needed them to explain what rugby was because if the…
MARKS: Well, that’s true, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: If the – if there wasn’t this exchange between the two security guards then you wouldn’t have somebody going like I don’t understand what happened on the field. And…
MYRLAND: How about the performances of the two lead actors, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon? What do you think about that?
ACCOMANDO: Bad accents?
MARKS: Yeah. Ed Anders hit it right on the head. He goes, there’s about eight accents going on throughout this film and seven of them belong to Morgan Freeman.
ACCOMANDO: Nah, nah, nah, at least four of them belong to Matt Damon, too, I think.
MARKS: Matt Damon does nothing. His – the characters – Matt Damon and his girlfriend, show me something about them. Nothing, they’re just there. The one great scene is when Matt Damon goes into Mandela’s cell and he stretches his arms out and you really get a sense of how tiny this room is, and then Eastwood screws it up by having the dissolves. Oh, there’s Mandela there. And then he dissolves. Oh, no, there he is there. That just lost me. I just think that this is so much a misfire. And I’ll be more than happy to cut Clint slack because I think that this, as a director, this is his most progressive decade and his films have gotten consistently better throughout the course of time. This one just kind of hit the wall. And even when he does try to put suspense – You have the little black boy at the end and he’s carrying around a bag and you’re saying, oh, maybe there’s a bomb in the bag because prior to that you see a guy standing on the roof and you think he’s a sniper. Oh, maybe he has a sniper – It’s the only shot you see of the guy, and the only reason the kid is there is so when they win the game at the end, the policeman can put his hand on the little kid and throw him up in the air. This is not good filmmaking. This is just…
ACCOMANDO: Plus, you get…
MARKS: It was so bland.
ACCOMANDO: You get the song that tells you it’s not just a game.
MARKS: Oh, it’s still not as good as his – the theme from “Gran Torino.” No, no, no, that was – Hearing Clint warble that…
MYRLAND: Well, I think everybody gets the idea that “Invictus” would not be on either one of your top ten lists.
MARKS: No. Sad to say.
MYRLAND: Scott, there was another film that you wanted to mention.
MARKS: Yeah, I wanted to mention “Broken Embraces,” because I know a lot of people are Pedro Almodovar fans. Have you seen it?
MYRLAND: And it’s Daniel Day-Lewis, right?
MARKS: No, that’s not…
ACCOMANDO: No, no.
MARKS: No, “Nine.”
ACCOMANDO: No. “Nine.”
MARKS: Yuchh, gut “Nine.”
ACCOMANDO: “Nine,” nein, no. No, no, no, no.
MARKS: Oh, no, no, no.
ACCOMANDO: No, no, no.
MARKS: No, no, no, no. This is Penelope Cruz.
MYRLAND: Oh, all right.
MARKS: It’s another Pedro Almodovar thriller. Beautiful to look at. I don’t think there’s a bad shot in the film. Beautifully framed and photographed. Penelope Cruz is lovely, especially imitating Audrey Hepburn. But I think he just tries for too much in this movie and nothing connects.
ACCOMANDO: Well, what was interesting, he’s kind of at an odd point in his career in the sense that he gained a lot of international acclaim making these kind of wild comedies, extreme comedies, how ever you want to describe them. I mean, unique in style. And then he started to move into this kind of Douglas Sirk, Alfred Hitchcock kind of thriller mode. And in this film, it’s kind of the Hitchcock-Sirk thriller and then inside of it there’s a film being made that’s like the old Almodovar. And it’s kind of this over-the-top, flamboyantly designed, real bold visual look and for those of us who kind of came to him with those early films, this film straddles those two in an uncomfort…
MYRLAND: In a good way? Not in a good way?
ACCOMANDO: In an uncomfortable way because you kind of feel like, oh, that little snippet we saw of the film within the film, I love that and I want more of that.
MYRLAND: Is this sort of like the funny Woody Allen versus the serious Woody Allen?
ACCOMANDO: A little bit.
MARKS: It’s not a bad analogy.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, yeah.
MARKS: Especially with the fact that now Woody is trying to do Hitchcock in “Match Point” and “Cassandra’s Dream.”
MARKS: He’s – For years, he was trying to do Bergman. It’s like what – why did you take so long to do Hitchcock? You do Hitchcock quite well, better than you do Bergman.
MARKS: So, yeah, I think that’s a really good analogy.
MYRLAND: Okay. And the movie “Nine” is the one I was confused about. That’s Daniel Day-Lewis. Right?
ACCOMANDO: Please stay away from that.
MARKS: Yeah. Yeah.
ACCOMANDO: Rob Marshall directed it. He’s the one who did “Chicago.” And even though – Did “Chicago” win an Oscar?
MARKS: Oh, I think “Chicago” won Best…
ACCOMANDO: I think it did.
ACCOMANDO: I think it did.
ACCOMANDO: Even though it did, that – those two films are two of the most painful film-going experiences I’ve had.
MARKS: This man should not be allowed to direct musicals. He is a terrible director when it – He’s a terrible director to begin with but when it comes to musicals, his stuff is almost unwatchable. Although I liked this more than I liked “Chicago.”
MARKS: Because at least he backed the camera up a bit and it is about movies but the music in this?
ACCOMANDO: It’s awful.
MARKS: My husband makes movies. Wow. Be Italian. That’s – this is some…
MARKS: …of the worst music…
ACCOMANDO: And Nicole Kidman is supposed to be Italian, I’m sorry.
MARKS: Oh, that was funny.
ACCOMANDO: And earthy…
ACCOMANDO: Sexy, Italian star.
MARKS: It did make Kate Hudson look appealing to me for the first time. I’ve never found her appealing. But with all the mascara, she looked like something out of…
ACCOMANDO: She looked like her mom.
MARKS: No, “A Single Man.” She looked like…
MARKS: …something that could’ve come out of that movie. She was very appealing but, boy, that’s not enough to get – And Sophia Loren, she looks like a catcher’s mitt. She should have Louis Vuitton stamped…
MARKS: …on her butt. Oh, she does.
ACCOMANDO: Don’t say that.
MARKS: She does. That head is grafted onto another body.
MARKS: She looks like something out of the Hall of Presidents.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, stop that.
MYRLAND: Well, Scott’s blog, in case you’d like to…
ACCOMANDO: If you’d like to – you’d like to post a comment…
MYRLAND: …make a comment about that. Yes.
ACCOMANDO: How can you be mean to Sophia?
MARKS: Because she – you know – Because she should’ve learned from Cary Grant and…
MYRLAND: We – we…
MARKS: …quit while you’re ahead.
MYRLAND: We need…
MARKS: She embarrasses herself in this movie.
MYRLAND: On that note, we do need to wrap up.
MARKS: Merry Christmas, everybody.
MYRLAND: We’ve been speaking with Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. Scott’s blog is EmulsionCompulsion.com. Beth is on the KPBS website. And I’m Doug Myrland in for Maureen Cavanaugh. You’ve been listening to the Film Club of the Air on These Days in San Diego.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.
Please stay on topic and be as concise as possible. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Community Discussion Rules. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.