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Film Club Of The Air: “Precious,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Messenger,” “The Maid”

Above: Mr. Fox, voiced by George Clooney, is standing with Mrs. Fox (the voice of Meryl Streep) and Badger (Bill Murray.) The Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a novel by Roald Dahl, is about a clever protagonist outfoxing three mean, simple-minded farmers.

Audio

Aired 11/25/09

We'll talk about the movies that are opening this Thanksgiving weekend, including the new animated film from Wes Anderson, the much-talked about "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," and an independent film starring Woody Harreson as a soldier who notifies families who have lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan.

DOUG MYRLAND (Host): I’m Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and you’re listening to These Days in San Diego. Millions of Americans will go to the movies this holiday weekend, maybe you among them. To help guide you to the right multiplex, this hour we've got the ever popular Film Club of the Air. We welcome KPBS film critic Beth Accomando. Welcome, Beth.

BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Thank you.

MYRLAND: And we also welcome local film critic and author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, Scott Marks. Scott, glad you could be here.

SCOTT MARKS (Film Critic/Blog Author): Welcome to our little dysfunctional family, Doug.

MYRLAND: Glad to be here. This is – First film we want to talk about is titled “The Messenger,” and it’s a movie with Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton and Jana Malone, the framework of “The Messenger” about the delivery of very bad news. Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson play soldiers who have the sad duty of telling next of kin about the death of their soldier family members. The movie’s also about the relationship of the two men and, I would say, the increasing awareness and change in the lead character, played by Foster. Having to inform family members is not the only uncomfortable, difficult situation in the lives of these characters. And so, Beth, what did you think about this movie?

ACCOMANDO: I liked it for the most part. I mean, I was really happy to see Ben Foster get a lead role and one that’s not quite so twitchy as some of his other ones. And I like the perspective of kind of dealing with the war but from the homefront, so I thought it had a fresh perspective in that respect. And Samantha Morton, too, so the two performances, Ben Foster and Samantha Morton, I thought were great and that really drew me in.

MARKS: And not Woody?

ACCOMANDO: No.

MARKS: Oh, boy.

ACCOMANDO: No.

MARKS: Okay.

ACCOMANDO: I find him kind of self-conscious and I felt like I was constantly watching an actor act, which I don’t like.

MYRLAND: Go ahead, Scott.

MARKS: Go ahead. Oh, okay.

MYRLAND: Well, I was going to say that sort of gives me an excuse to make my comment about the film, which is that it has another actor in it, Steve Buscemi…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …who’s maybe the biggest name in the picture.

MARKS: Oh, no, Woody Harrellson’s above…

MYRLAND: You think – well, all right.

MARKS: Cheers…

MYRLAND: You – you…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he’s definitely better known…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …maybe not on the indy circuit.

MYRLAND: Either way, Steve Buscemi’s a recognizable…

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MYRLAND: …actor. And as good an actor as he is and as tempting as it must be for a director, and this is a first time director, if you can get Steve Buscemi for your film…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …you’re going to want him. I felt like it didn’t do the film any favor because you see Steve Buscemi and you go, oh, wow, that’s Steve Buscemi, and he’s playing kind of a small role. And by the time you sort of get over the fact that it’s a more recognizable face, he’s off the screen. And it kind of takes you out of the movie.

MARKS: See, but don’t forget back in the golden era of Hollywood, there were character actors who would just appear in small roles, and I really applaud a man of Buscemi’s magnitude as an actor to take on a tiny role like this and give it all he’s got. And I guess it didn’t suck me out of the film. Yes, I know it’s Steve Buscemi and obviously I’m watching an actor act but it was just nice to see him. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him in a movie. He is such a welcome presence in just about any movie he makes that it wasn’t a detraction for me at all.

ACCOMANDO: For me, there’s two things about that. I mean, I think in this particular film the thing that bothered me is that the character he played, I don’t think was as well written as it could’ve been. It – You see him only briefly and it’s such an over-the-top, overly emotional brief scene that I think that’s what pulled me out of it more than the fact that it was Steve Buscemi. I just don’t think that scene was that well written. But I think using an actor like that in a small role is actually a really smart thing to do because it connects the audience immediately to a character in a way that you can’t do with an actor that’s not known at all. I mean, I think Kathryn Bigelow did a really good job of doing that by using Guy Pearce just in that one opening scene in “The Hurt Locker” because he’s only on for a short time and I think most people have seen the film already so I can say he ends up getting killed. But you get an immediate connection with that character that’s only on briefly in a way that you couldn’t get, I think, if you have an actor that nobody has any kind of connection with at all.

MYRLAND: Would you guys say it’s fair to say this is really an actor’s kind of film?

MARKS: No, not really. I mean, I – I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of war movies. I have never seen a film that deals with this subject matter where you literally go knocking on doors to say, you know, you lost your loved one, you know, your brother, your sister, your wife, your husband is dead. So from that standpoint, I think the film – this is one of the most original war films – and I liked “The Hurt Locker” but I think that this is just far superior to “The Hurt Locker.”

ACCOMANDO: But didn’t you find that it started to get quite repetitive because they follow – The two soldiers are told that they have to follow this script that the Army gives them, and after a while it felt like not only does it get very repetitive in the way they approach what they’re doing but it almost felt to me like it was this checklist that the director was going through where I want to go and have them deliver the message to someone who needs a translator, and I want them to deliver the message to somebody who lost a daughter, and I want them to deliver it to a pregnant woman who’s now going to have to deal with – and it just, after a certain point, I felt like, oh, okay, I’m – this is what I’m waiting for because this is still on the checklist that they haven’t done.

MARKS: See, it may have followed the script that the military gave them but it didn’t follow the script that screenwriter and director Oren Moverman gave them because all those scenes when they go knocking on the door are completely ad libbed. When they knock on the door, they had no idea who was going to be on the other side of the door, how they were going to react. This, to me, was fascinating. The only thing…

ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s fascinating in the approach but in the outcome, it comes across as very repetitive. And, again, I just felt like I was going through this checklist after a certain point.

MARKS: But, all right, so let’s compare this to “Hurt Locker.” You didn’t think that that film had like two explosions too many? Talk about a film that was repetitive. They’re going to go and they’re going to get blown up real good.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but I felt more involved in that story. I mean, in a certain sense I think “The Messenger,” the way it began with the job they were doing was fascinating and that aspect of dealing with the war, I thought, was a great way into the story but after a certain point I was more interested in Ben Foster and Samantha Morton and…

MYRLAND: Well and…

ACCOMANDO: …what was going on with them.

MYRLAND: …and I think that’s worth pointing out, that the film is also about…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …Ben Foster and Samantha Morton and the change that they’re – those characters go through. And when I wrote this little introduction, I talked about it wasn’t the only – informing the families wasn’t the only difficult situation. It struck me that the movie was just full of difficult kind of uncomfortable situations, both in their personal lives and when they had to knock on doors.

MARKS: Well, one complaint that I voice repeatedly on the Film Club is inserting romantic subplots where they don’t belong, and I’ve seen the film three times now and I talked to Woody Harrelson about this movie and initially I didn’t like the fact that Morton and Foster get together but then I realized that not only don’t they bed down, there’s not so much as one kiss in this film…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …because the military would not have wanted that. And you have to – I have to – I hate to say it, I have to give the military credit for giving a pass on this film, for saying go ahead and make this movie. This is not a positive depiction of the military as far as I’m…

ACCOMANDO: Well…

MARKS: …concerned.

ACCOMANDO: …I don’t think it’s negative either.

MARKS: But I don’t think it’s positive because, as you said earlier, this film brings the war to the homefront.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: This is an anti-war film without one bullet being fired which, I think, is amazing and very, very hard to pull off. And I though it was very gutsy on their part to give this thing the green light.

MYRLAND: I want to talk about two technical aspects of this film. I noticed about halfway through that there was practically no score. In the second half of the movie, there’s only one place that I was able to spot where there was music that was not indigenous to the soundtrack, not coming from a radio or whatever. Do you think this film could have benefited from a more traditional score?

MARKS: Boy, until you just mentioned it, I’ve seen the film three times, didn’t even notice it.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, I didn’t miss it at all. I mean, sometimes I feel that music is a way of the filmmaker telling you how to feel or how to think and so on a…

MARKS: It’s a crutch.

ACCOMANDO: …certain level I appreciate when it’s not there.

MYRLAND: Well, now that we’ve talked about this film quite a bit, let’s let people hear a little bit of it. Here’s a clip from “The Messenger.”

(audio of clip from the film “The Messenger”)

MYRLAND: Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson there in “The Messenger.” So generally speaking, Beth, you’re favorable toward…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …the film and so are you, Scott.

MARKS: Yeah.

MYRLAND: But fair to say, Scott, you’re a little more…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MYRLAND: …more enthusiastic…

MARKS: Yeah.

MYRLAND: …than Beth.

MARKS: Yeah, and, you know, listening to that clip with Woody Harrelson, first of all you have to see it because when he talks about, you know, delivering the news at the breakfast, he takes a big chomp out of a slice of watermelon. I think what he injects in this film is a much needed sense of gallows humor. And I don’t know of a lot of other filmmakers that have allowed that in this – in a film like this. So, to me, I think his performance in its own way is as good as Ben Foster’s. I think Woody Harrelson, when we give the Critics Award for the Achievement of the Year between “Zombieland,” “2012,” he is the only good thing in “2012.” In this, I think Woody Harrelson has amassed quite an impressive track record this year.

ACCOMANDO: I’d have to disagree. I’m just not that impressed with him as an actor. I’ve never…

MYRLAND: Well, the movie is “The Messenger” and it’s playing now at the Landmark La Jolla Village Cinemas. Let’s move on to the “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” It’s a PG rated film based on a Roald Dahl novel about a fox, his family and their interactions with animal and human neighbors. The movie’s in stop motion animation. The director is Wes Anderson, whose previous work was in live action with films including “Bottle Rocket” and “The Life Aquatic.” The voice actors include George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. So what did we think about this animated film?

ACCOMANDO: Scott, you want to go – start that?

MARKS: Sure. Sure. This is like the only animated film I’ve seen in ages that gives Pixar a run for its money. This thing is so well made, funny, and the animation, the stop motion animation…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …is astounding. And he wanted this film to have an old-school look to it. This is not computer generated. You watch this and the first thing I thought of, you see the fur on their back moving…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …and I’m thinking “King Kong.”

ACCOMANDO: “King Kong,” yeah.

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: That’s exactly…

MARKS: This is based on a film called “The Story of a Fox” (sic) that came out in 1930. I think it’s a 65-minute film directed by Russian animator Vladislav Starevich and – who is, as far as I’m concerned, the father of stop motion animation. And he went back to the roots of stop motion animation and it is flawless. Instead of shooting this at 24 frames per second, he shot it at 12 frames per second to give the film more of a stop motion feel. He didn’t want to have that kind of slick look that you see in so much contemporary animation. The only contemporary director who’s really working in stop motion animation – well, there are two but there are really one, Henry Selick and Tim Burton.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: And from an animation standpoint, I think this is much better than “Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Coraline” or anything that they’ve done.

MYRLAND: Just to help our audience out, we’re talking about the kind of animation that – you mentioned “King Kong.”

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: Ray Harryhausen’s “Sinbad” movies from the 1960s.

MARKS: Yeah, this is where they take models and they actually take frame by frame, shot by shot. You have to readjust the hands, the feet, the smile, everything, in order to make these characters move. This is a painstaking process. Have you heard all the horror…

ACCOMANDO: Well, “Wallace & Gromit,” isn’t that stop motion also?

MARKS: Yes.

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: Isn’t – You’ve heard all the horror stories?

MYRLAND: Yeah, the difference with…

ACCOMANDO: Oh, on this one?

MARKS: Yes.

MYRLAND: Beth, the difference with “Wallace & Gromit” is those are all mostly…

MYRLAND/ACCOMANDO: …clay…

ACCOMANDO: …umm-hmm.

MARKS: Clay.

MYRLAND: …where…

MARKS: That’s claymation.

MYRLAND: …whereas these…

ACCOMANDO: Claymation.

MYRLAND: …these…

MARKS: They’re puppets.

MYRLAND: …in this film have more physical properties to them other than just the smooth clay.

MARKS: And you can do stop motion animation with…

ACCOMANDO: With anything.

MARKS: …human figures, with anything…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: And any object, you can do stop motion animation. You know the horror stories about this?

ACCOMANDO: No, no.

MARKS: Oh, that he’s – he was in Paris.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, the – that…

MARKS: And he would act…

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: …out all the moves and then send…

ACCOMANDO: Send…

MARKS: …them to his animators via iPhone. And then his director of photography, you know, this is like…

ACCOMANDO: And he didn’t have a lot of human contact with his other crew members.

MARKS: Right, and they’ve started like an internet feud that’s sort of like Jennifer Fox and Michael Bay – Megan Fox, I’m sorry, and Michael Bay where they just started sniping at each other. He said that Wes Anderson suffers from OCD and that’s why he’s doing this. And Anderson fired back and then the DP fired back basically saying, and, please, all of you fans, stop sending me death threats.

MYRLAND: Well, while we’re talking about Wes Anderson, there’s a lot to talk about in this movie. But with Wes Anderson, how does this work into the pantheon of his other films? How does this fit into his body of work?

ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s probably the first one you’ve liked of his.

MARKS: Oh, no.

ACCOMANDO: No? Oh, okay.

MARKS: No, his first two films were great. My complaint with Wes Anderson, great directors should move forward and advance and I think he started with his two best films and everything…

ACCOMANDO: And he kept repeating…

MARKS: …has gotten progressively worse.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, I love – The style of animation is just so appealing and, like Scott mentioned, it – the first thing that came to mind is “King Kong.” And this kind of animation…

MARKS: It’s that fur.

ACCOMANDO: It’s the fur, it’s the fur moving. It moves in such a way, and it just creates so much personality. I mean, you really feel that they have – they feel like they exist much more in a real world than when you get these computer generated 3-D animation that just seems so lifeless.

MYRLAND: Well, we’ll continue talking about this but we do need to take a quick break. You’re listening to the Film Club of the Air These Days in San Diego.

MYRLAND: You’re listening to These Days in San Diego. I’m Doug Myrland. We’re doing the Film Club of the Air. We have Scott Marks. He’s a local film critic and the author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, and we have Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic. And we’re talking about the “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” a Wes Anderson animated film. And before we do any more talking, let’s hear an example of this. It’s a scene where Mr. Fox, who’s voiced by George Clooney, cusses out the character of Badger, voiced by Bill Murray.

(audio of clip from animated film “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)

MYRLAND: So you’ve got Bill Murray and George Clooney but you don’t really have Bill Murray and George Clooney, you’ve got a couple of puppets. How do audiences reconcile that?

ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, I don’t think there’s that much to reconcile. It – That animation, I think, just pulls you in immediately. But I do have a slight problem with well known actors like George Clooney voicing characters because I do have this initial feeling of seeing him when I first hear his voice. And in a lot of ways, I prefer lesser-known actors voicing in animation and cartoons.

MARKS: But he is a Mr. Fox, he is that cool, suave kind of guy.

ACCOMANDO: I know but there’s just something about well known actors doing voices that initially kind of puts me off.

MYRLAND: It’s certainly not a guarantee that an animated film is going to be a success. I mean, we can point to some films that have had very famous actors and it didn’t make any difference. And yet you can also point to some that it’s been a huge advantage. You think Anderson made the right decision to pick really famous people like Meryl Streep and George Clooney?

MARKS: It doesn’t bother me because he made the right decision to do stop motion animation the way it should be done. So, to me, that kind of overrides any of the actors. The one question that people keep asking is should I take my children to see this? Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: By all means. I mean, I think children love being challenged. That little cussing that you just played, that’s like “Raging Bull” for five year olds. I mean, that is hilarious. And kids are going to use the word ‘cuss’ now in order to substitute it for profanity which, I think, is wonderful. And I love the fact that at times these characters act like foxes. The way these…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: …characters eat is absolutely hilarious, the sounds they make. These are not human characters at all. I mean, they’re…

ACCOMANDO: No, they are and so – I mean, they mix it nicely, I think.

MARKS: What’s the word, anthropho…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I can’t say it.

MARKS: Anthropo…

MYRLAND: Anthropomorphic.

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: Oh, boy. Thank you. Boy…

ACCOMANDO: That one.

MARKS: …I can never say that one. These characters are ‘anthro’ as Doug said, yet somehow, like Bugs Bunny, at times they do retain their…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …natural instincts. And I think that that is so charming and so funny and this is a film that I think a lot of it’s going to go over kids’ heads but it doesn’t matter because the characters are so appealing.

MYRLAND: Well, I…

ACCOMANDO: Well, and I think visually it’s really going to appeal to kids because it’s just – it’s just so charming and inviting to enter into this world with – and there’s a lot of detail in it, too, which is so wonderful.

MYRLAND: I want to play another clip but it needs some set up because I understand in the movie there’s a whole new game made up. It’s a kind of cross between cricket and baseball. Can you talk about that before we play this?

ACCOMANDO: Oh, I think you should let Owen Wilson explain…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …it. It’s just a made-up game and you’ll just be confused.

MYRLAND: Okay. Well, here’s a scene from the film. Owen Wilson as Coach Skip, a wack-bat coach, and Jason Schwartzman playing Ash, and the clip starts off with those rules.

(audio of clip from the film “Fantastic Mr. Fox”)

MYRLAND: That’s Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman in the “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” And, you know, we’ve got a tradition in film in this country of directors having a cast of regulars. You keep think – I think about John Ford and Ward Bond was in all his movies, and a recurring cast. And it seems like Wes Anderson does that, too, with…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Is that a good thing?

MARKS: For a director to have like a traveling stock company? You bet. And what’s amazing about this film is all of Wes Andersons preoccupations are in this movie, the way he looks at, you know, dysfunctional families in America, it’s all in this film. So, to me, this was a giant step forward for him. I don’t care if he was basically directing for Paris via iPhone, this is a giant leap in his approach to filmmaking. I love this film. And it all came about – there is some stop motion animation in “Life Aquatic”…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: …that hooked him…

ACCOMANDO: Which Henry Selick did.

MARKS: Henry Selick did it, yeah, and they were supposed to work on this and then Selick went his own ways to make “Coraline” and Anderson went off to do this. So this, to me, is if you’re going to see one family film this Thanksgiving, this would be the pick. This is a terrific film.

MYRLAND: Beth, do you agree?

ACCOMANDO: No, I’d agree with that. Yeah, it’s loads of fun. I love stop motion animation so it’s a real pleasure to see it.

MYRLAND: Okay. The movie is the “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and it opens today, so stand on line. The next movie we’re going to talk about is titled “The Maid.” It’s a film from Chile. It’s about Raquel, a woman who has worked as a maid for the same family for 23 years and the job is starting to get to her. As she grows more weary, Raquel’s employers hire a series of maids to help her out but instead they complicate and alter her life in surprising ways. “The Maid” is in Spanish with English subtitles. It’s directed and written by Sebastian Silva, who is a Chilean filmmaker, and the star is Catalina Saavedra. So, what do you all think?

ACCOMANDO: I thought this was great.

MARKS: Where this film ends up…

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: I was so surprised at the twists and turns that this film takes. This was probably one of the most refreshing and surprising films I’ve seen this year. It’s perfect.

ACCOMANDO: Because, you know, when you see a lot of films, you start to get a little bit jaded and you feel like you can predict things, and this – one of the things that was so amazing about this film is that every time I thought I kind of had it pegged where it was going, it took a turn that surprised me.

MYRLAND: Is it unpredictable because of the script or because of the acting?

MARKS: And the direction, all three.

ACCOMANDO: All – all combined, yeah.

MARKS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, she’s been working for this family as a maid for half her life and all of a sudden she decides it’s time for a mid-life crisis and she starts turning on some of the family members. And when they bring in substitute maids to help her out, she rips them apart until the third one and then you wonder…

ACCOMANDO: Well, don’t give away too much.

MARKS: No, well, I’m…

ACCOMANDO: And I don’t think she really kind of has a midlife crisis. I mean it almost – it’s almost there’s a point at which she feels threatened. The younger daughter is kind of giving her a hard time and even prompting the mother to fire her. And so I think it’s more of a defensive reaction as opposed to just a midlife crisis.

MARKS: You see why we can’t talk about it but I use midlife crisis because of the last shot in the film. And, to me, that…

ACCOMANDO: Maybe.

MARKS: …pretty much – that says to me…

ACCOMANDO: Well…

MARKS: …midlife crisis. She’s running away from something and running toward something at the same time.

ACCOMANDO: Maybe.

MARKS: Yeah, so that’s why I use that.

ACCOMANDO: But I – I don’t think it – I don’t think it starts as a midlife crisis. I mean…

MYRLAND: Is most of this film really specific to the Chilean culture? Or is it more universal?

ACCOMANDO: I think it’s more universal.

MARKS: Oh, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: But, I mean, I think there are certain things regarding class and that particular environment that come through but I think it’s a – it ends up being something that has a very universal feel to it.

MYRLAND: Because in this day and age in America, it’s kind of unusual for a family, other than a very, very wealthy family, to have a maid employed for that many years. It just doesn’t seem very familiar, a familiar situation.

MARKS: In certain parts of the world, I think it is. I mean, in Beverly Hills, you know, the old joke is the kids learn to speak Spanish because they have a lot of Spanish maids. So it’s certainly nothing that I can identify…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …with on that level but there’s still enough universality in this movie…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: …where it really – it hooked me and, as Beth said, you get so jaded after awhile but this film is so fresh, and it took – Every time this film turned a corner, I had no idea where it was going and where it would end up. And the last shot in the film just staggered me. That was the perfect way to end this movie.

MYRLAND: Now there’s a lot of praise being given to Catalina Saavedra’s performance. What’s so special about this particular performance?

ACCOMANDO: She’s just got such a quiet but focused intensity and you totally – she’s totally believable in this part. I mean, you never – I mean, for me, there was never a moment where I was thinking, oh, I’m watching an actor or something. I just felt like I was watching this maid, I had some secret little window into this life. And she was just amazing and you – there’s a lot of scenes with no dialogue where she’s just going about her duties just doing what she would do on a daily basis in this house. And…

MARKS: Talk to me about the nudity. Why do you see all the maids at one point or another naked in the shower?

ACCOMANDO: I don’t know. Did that bother you?

MARKS: No, are you kidding? That never bothers me. But I don’t know why it’s there. I mean, obviously, it’s a recurring motif because you don’t see them naked anywhere else. Well, no, I take that back, there was one outdoor scene. But they’re always in the shower cleansing themselves. I – I have no…

ACCOMANDO: Maybe that’s what maids do. And then she has to go and cleanse the bathroom after everyone uses it. She doesn’t feel anyone’s quite clean enough to…

MARKS: And cleanse it in the way where you get asphyxiated…

ACCOMANDO: …ated, yes.

MARKS: …just walking in there from all the chemicals.

MYRLAND: Now this is a film made by a relatively…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …young director but I’m hearing you say it’s a pretty mature work.

ACCOMANDO: Well, and I’m not – I haven’t read anything about him but at the very end of the film there’s a picture of two maids so I don’t know if this is something that he’s drawn from his own personal life of some experiences of dealing with a maid because it does feel like something experienced firsthand on a certain level so…

MYRLAND: Well, the film is dedicated to his own family’s maid.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, so I think the sense of, if not maturity but the sense of kind of assurance in dealing with the material, I think, may come from that he does what you’re often told to do as a filmmaker, is like look to your own backyard because you’re going to find a story that you can tell that’s going to be very personal and that will probably be more compelling than if you try to imitate someone else. And so I think if you’re feeling the sense of confidence from him, it’s probably because he knows that material well.

MYRLAND: Now this is a film with subtitles and I’m going to open up this can of worms…

MARKS: Here we go. Uh-oh.

MYRLAND: …because I have this attitude that with today’s wonderful digital technology, you know, why can’t they make multiple language tracks and make films a little more accessible to people in theaters rather than just on DVDs. And, you know, every film soundtrack is fake and manipulated, I mean, to one degree or another, so what’s the merit of seeing this film in its native language if you don’t speak the native language?

ACCOMANDO: I really don’t like dubbed tracks at all. I feel like hearing the real actors performing and hearing those voices is always going to be better than anything you can lay on top of that or change or translate. Even when there’s good translations, I mean, even in anime where, you know, it’s just a voice track that’s recorded in a studio and there’s no reason why you can’t duplicate that in English as you have – I mean, I’d much rather watch an anime in its original Japanese.

MYRLAND: So unless you have a truly multi-lingual director, your assertion is that it’ll never quite be the director’s vision.

ACCOMANDO: It doesn’t have to do with that so much, it’s when you’re performing the role live and you’re recording that voice and that voice is linked to that performance, it’s always going to be the better thing. I mean, even for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” I mean, Wes Anderson wanted to get those people out of the studio and recording, you know, in real situations to try and make it sound even better than he thought he could get in the studio. So I – it’s just that’s the way it was intended to be, that’s the way it was made, and I feel that’s the way I want to experience it.

MARKS: Sometimes you have to work for your art and I remember Johnny Carson used to always show clips of movies dubbed in foreign languages. Do you really want to hear Orson Welles with someone else’s voice? Or Clint Eastwood? Or Robert De Niro? Or Meryl Streep? No. That, to me, is so organically linked to the performance, I don’t want to hear someone coming in and impersonating them, and I know things have changed but whenever I hear dubbing, I think of “Godzilla” where everybody speaks with the same voice. They have the same tone of voice and the same inflections. I don’t want that. To me, you can’t separate the voice from the actor and this whole idea that subtitles, let’s face it, 80% of the American public will not go see a subtitled film. They’ll sit through “2012” and all this other garbage but they will not go see a film that in any way, shape or form challenges them. And, you know something, I don’t want them on my side then. Keep the subtitles.

ACCOMANDO: But, you know, I think that’s really changing. I mean, I work with kids, I run an anime club. The first year I ran it, I gave them a survey and I said, would you watch an anime subtitled? And about half the kids said yeah, and about half the kids were like, ehhh, I don’t know. Now, which is about five years later, the kids don’t even – I mean, it doesn’t even phase them. I mean, you’ve got people like Quentin Tarantino doing “Inglourious Basterds” where there’s huge chunks of that film that are subtitled. He’s getting a pop audience in there to see that film. I don’t think anybody has thought twice about going in to see “Inglourious Basterds” because there’s chunks of it that are subtitled.

MYRLAND: I’m thinking about people going out for the holidays and you’ve got to get six people to agree on a movie and there’s always one grumpy guy like me who says, uh-oh, subtitles. But I guess the encouraging thing we say is, hey, after ten minutes you get used to it, it’s fine, it wouldn’t hurt you to do a little reading. Right?

MARKS: Yeah. Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: But it’s not read – I mean, I don’t feel like it’s reading. I mean, you get so caught up in the – I mean, unless the film is bad. If the film is bad, nothing’s going to save it and subtitles are only going to make it worse. But if a film is good, you just – you forget. I can’t even, if I think back to films I’ve seen, it never occurs to me if the film was subtitled or not or, you know, I mean, I just get totally sucked in and I don’t even think about it.

MYRLAND: Tell that grumpy guy like me to go out for the popcorn or whatever.

MARKS: See, but when we were growing up, at least in Chicago, they would show two different versions. I remember seeing “Day For Night,” “Cries and Whispers” and…

ACCOMANDO: No, I only remember…

MARKS: …they would show American versions that were dubbed and they would show the original language versions and some…

ACCOMANDO: I don’t remember having a choice.

MARKS: Oh, no, two theaters, they would play in opposite theaters. It was for the lazy people and the intelligent people. And after a while, it was like, my God, I don’t want to hear these dubbed voices because they just don’t match – First of all, to me, it’s more distracting to see – it all looks out of synch.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah. That’s true.

MARKS: And, to me, it’s more distracting…

MYRLAND: Well…

MARKS: …to see lips out of synch that it is to have to look down every few seconds to read some words.

MYRLAND: Okay. Well, we will…

MARKS: Thanks for bringing that up, Doug.

MYRLAND: You’re welcome. And we invite those of us who are lazy…

MARKS: Yeah.

MYRLAND: …and those of us who are intelligent to stick around. We’ve got a lot more to talk about right after this break. You’re listening to These Days in San Diego.

MYRLAND: I’m Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh. You’re listening to Film Club of the Air on These Days in San Diego. We’ve got Scott Marks, local film critic and author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, and KPBS film critic Beth Accomando. We should mention that “The Maid,” the film that we were talking about just before the break is currently playing at Landmark’s Ken Cinema but it’s going to leave on Friday so you don’t have too much time to see it. So if you’re interested in that film, you should get that done.

MARKS: No, they’re holding it over another week.

MYRLAND: They are?

MARKS: I don’t know if it’s going to be at the Ken, but they told me – I talked to Brandon at Landmark and he says we’re holding it over another week, which means it may either go to the La Jolla Village or to Hillcrest. But I was told on Monday that this film is being held over for another week.

MYRLAND: Okay. Well…

MARKS: I hope he’s right.

ACCOMANDO: I hope he’s right.

MYRLAND: Anyway, if that doesn’t work out, you can add it to your next Netflix list. It’s “The Maid.” Next, we want to move on and talk about a film called “Precious.” It actually has a longer title than that. It’s based on the novel “Push” by Sapphire, and the actual title is “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.” And we should tell you now that there are going to be some spoilers in this discussion. A lot has been written about what happens in “Precious” but if you don’t want to know before you see the movie then you should turn the volume down. Don’t listen to another radio station, just turn the volume down and come back in about ten minutes for a list of final movie recommendations from Beth and Scott. So here we go. “Precious” is a 16 year old girl growing up in Harlem in the late 1980s. She lives in abject poverty with her mother, who is physically and emotionally abusive. Precious is morbidly obese, illiterate and pregnant with her second child, both children the product of rape by her father. The film follows Precious’ fight for survival, is directed by Lee Daniels. Executive producer credits go to Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, and the scriptwriter, Geoffrey Fletcher. It stars Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidobe and – Is that how you say it?

MARKS: I think it’s Sidibe.

MYRLAND: Sidibe, and a number of other folks. So the film’s sparked a lot of controversy, a lot of interest, a lot of discussion. Beth, you want to sum up some of the impact of this film?

ACCOMANDO: Sure. It first created some buzz at Sundance where it won two awards. It won a Jury Award and an Audience Award, which, you know, shows that it was appealing both to the wider crowd, the mainstream crowd, and also the people sitting on the jury panel. It’s been drawing crowds and – but the book and the film have both been criticized for reinforcing what many consider negative stereotypes about African American men and about welfare moms and so, you know, that’s been an issue that both the film and the book have brought up. So, you know, it’s a film – For me, I felt it was the performances that made it strong. I thought the direction and the writing were very uneven.

MYRLAND: Scott?

MARKS: I’ve seen over 200 films this year and – and including films like “Gentlemen Broncos” and “I Love You Beth Cooper” and few have reached a level of technical incompetence as “Precious.” I think that this is a godawful film. I think it is horribly made. I don’t think the performances are that outstanding to get anyone to sit through it. And my big question is who was this film geared for? This is geared for white, middle class liberals who can go watch the movie and shake their heads and cluck their tongue over the plight of, quote, unquote, those people. It’s a film to make you feel superior because no matter how bad your life is, your life is not as bad as Precious’s. This film is filled with so many stereotypes. There is nothing uplifting in this film. At the end of the film, this girl leaves us with a death sentence. She’s HIV positive and this is 1987, pre-cocktails, pre-Magic Johnson. Where is the uplift? Where is the positive impact? Yes, she does manage to stand up against her mother and she does learn how to read. And here’s another question: Why doesn’t she learn how to read? How come she can’t read? She’s a good student. She goes to class every day. What is she doing in class? I didn’t buy it.

ACCOMANDO: Well…

MYRLAND: Beth.

ACCOMANDO: I mean, it seemed like she was doing well in math and she was doing well in math because it seemed like she had an attraction to the teacher, which, you know, you can get by in math without having to read a whole lot. So if…

MARKS: But if you go to school every day and you are…

ACCOMANDO: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, going to school every day does not guarantee that you’re going to learn anything.

MARKS: And the director points this girl out as being someone who is reasonably intelligent for her lot in life. How can she not read? And the biggest laugh—and I’m sorry, I laughed a lot at this film when I shouldn’t have—she’s sitting at home watching Vittorio De Sica’s “Two Women.”

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, that was…

MARKS: A black and white, subtitled movie, and she’s illiterate. The only reason that that scene is in there is because the director, Lee Daniels, is trying to say I am making a new neorealist film. I am striving for neorealism.

MYRLAND: So you think that the part of the technical objection you have to the film is the self-referential part of it.

MARKS: No, because that’s the only really – Well, there are these fantasy sequences in the film that, from what I gather, are not in the book. And these things are filmed like they’re something off of an Aaron Spelling production, off of “Love Boat.” When she’s being raped by her father, you see her fantasizing that she’s a beauty queen. And, of course, they have to intercut a plate of pig’s feet being, you know, simmering on the stove while the father is raping her. This is – this is horrible filmmaking.

MYRLAND: And then let’s give Beth another moment here because I think Beth has a slightly more favorable view of the film and then we’ll play a clip and let people hear a little bit of it.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I mean, the worst part of the film for me were some of the fantasy sequences and especially when they put her into one of these fake Italian films. But I do think that there were some moments in some of the quieter moments of the – like and the scene when she’s being raped, not – the part I remember is that it’s like she actually kind of – her imagination takes flight through like the roof of the building and she leaves and I thought that was effective, and I thought – and especially after seeing “Good Hair,” the fact that she walks by a mirror and sees herself as some white girl with straight blonde hair, I thought those kind of moments gave us a little sense of what she was going through. But I think the stereotypes were a problem more so in the beginning and I think as Precious’ character develops a little more and she starts to step out and go to these classes and tries to learn, I think she becomes more of an individual and those stereotypes become less of an issue.

MARKS: Do you think at the end of the film this character has been redeemed in any way, shape or form?

ACCOMANDO: I don’t know if I’d say redeemed but I think she’s taken more control of her life. I mean, I think you get a sense that you may – that her character at the beginning, the mother keeps telling her you’re stupid, there’s no place for you to go, all you can do is, you know, go down to the welfare office. I think what she does is she takes control of her life, at least parts of it, and attempts to rewrite what her fate was supposedly written out to be.

MYRLAND: Okay, let’s…

MARKS: At the end of the film, do you think that the welfare office would leave a special needs child in her care?

MYRLAND: Let’s answer that question after…

MARKS: Oh.

MYRLAND: …we hear the clip, okay? And here’s a clip. I want to set it up. It’s a scene starring Mo’Nique. In this scene, which happens at the end of the film, she’s talking to that social worker, played by Mariah Carey. She’s explaining to her, in front of Precious, why she continually let her boyfriend molest Precious as a young child.

(audio of clip from the film “Precious”)

MYRLAND: Okay, Beth, you want to answer Scott’s question? Do you think that was realistic?

ACCOMANDO: That her performance was realistic?

MARKS: No, no, no…

MYRLAND: No.

MARKS: …that at the end of the film they’re going to let – the welfare office is going to let her walk away with a special needs child…

MYRLAND: Right.

MARKS: …and take care of that child.

ACCOMANDO: I don’t know. I haven’t had to deal with the welfare department. I mean, I don’t see that they would take the child away from her. I mean, they let the – I mean, technically, she had the child before. I mean, the mother was pretending that that child was living with them…

MARKS: Yes.

ACCOMANDO: …so in the eyes of the welfare department, that’s what was always – that was – that had always been the case.

MARKS: But the child was living with the grandmother and another question is…

ACCOMANDO: But nobody knew that.

MARKS: Well, but the other question is why doesn’t Precious go and live with the grandmother instead of…

ACCOMANDO: The grandmother seemed rather scared of the mother, so I don’t know if the mother…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …would’ve allowed that to happen.

MYRLAND: Now, I’m – I haven’t seen this film and I’m hearing you two talk about it and I think that it’s interesting that even though, Scott, you really dislike the film and you really believe it has some fundamental flaws, you’re still asking questions about I wonder why this, and I wonder why that. So at least the film is accomplishing at least one purpose which is it’s giving forth material for a lot of discussion. I mean, you’re obviously interested enough in it to say, well, why did it happen this way, why didn’t it happen that way?

MARKS: The only reason I even began thinking about this film is because Angela Carone, our producer, begged me to come on and talk about this film. This is the first time since I’ve been on the Film Club where she basically had to court me to do – to talk about this film. As soon as this film was over, I wanted to set fire to the screen. I wanted to completely eradicate any thought, any memory I had of this film I think this film is so bad. But because so much of what I feel about this film could be deemed as politically incorrect because you’re not allowed to dislike this film, if you dislike this film, you could be deemed a racist. It’s like saying I don’t like “Schindler’s List” and you’re pro-Holocaust. I think a lot of people will view it that way. And I had to sit and think about this film and I had to force myself to come up with an argument because I had to talk about it on the air.

MYRLAND: Okay. Well, we have a lot more films to talk about and we will continue that discussion right after the break. You’re listening to the Film Club of the Air on These Days in San Diego.

MYRLAND: Okay, now that we’ve got over with the spoilers and everybody’s turned their volume back up, we’re ready to continue the discussion of some other films. Let’s talk about some other films opening over the Thanksgiving holiday. We’ve got “Ninja Assassins.” That sounds like a Beth Accomando movie. I’ve seen the previews for that about 62 times watching sports on TV and every time I see it I feel like, ooh, Beth’s going to like that movie.

ACCOMANDO: Well, you know, you take what you can get sometimes but I will say that after “Twilight” and before heading into the really serious, somber Oscar hopefuls, this was a pleasant piece of entertainment, this and “Dead Snow,” the Nazi zombie film. This is just a dumb, violent film but it was just so over the top and it really taps into kind of what’s enjoyable about playing a video game, which is just massively killing lots of people kind of mindlessly and taking out your frustrations. So it was silly…

MARKS: You love ninja films and so do I. “Ninja III: The Domination”…

ACCOMANDO: This isn’t a real one. This isn’t a real – this is a Hollywood version of what they think an Asian…

MARKS: And “Ninja III: The Domination” isn’t? Where we take a telephone worker and turn her into the exorcist and make her a ninja? Ninjas in the beginning of this film are portrayed as evil. There’s no bad ninja, there’s no good ninja. These guys are warriors and assassins, so the whole point of this film—and I’m telling you, between this and “Precious,” I saw enough child abuse to last me a lifetime in the theater. Caning little children on their feet, it’s brutal and it’s by the guy who did “V for Vendetta,” a film I really, really liked…

ACCOMANDO: I liked that, too.

MARKS: …and I was disappointed in this. This is just…

ACCOMANDO: It’s stupid.

MYRLAND: …90 minutes of brutality.

MYRLAND: Let’s…

ACCOMANDO: Stupid and mindless.

MYRLAND: Let’s ask about something completely different here. “Me and Orson Welles.” Scott, you interviewed the director.

MARKS: Yeah. Yeah, this is a – this is a wonderful film that takes place in 1937. It’s about Orson Welles in his pre-Kane life in his production of “Julius Caesar.” And Christian McKay, who is the actor who basically played Orson Welles because he looks like Orson Welles, this is a great performance. People say that he does a wonderful impression of Orson Welles, this isn’t Rich Little or Frank Gorshin, this is a man really giving a full body performance. It is beautifully designed and photographed. It’s directed by Richard Linkletter. And it opens December 11th and it’s a part of Welles’ life that I think a lot of people know nothing about. People may know about him, you know, from “Citizen Kane,” on and, you know, the godawful Paul Mason commercials he did towards the end of his life in order to make money. But this is a fascinating, beautifully told story.

MYRLAND: Just to put this in historical context, this would be a few years after his radio “War of the Worlds.”

MARKS: No, before “War…

MYRLAND: Before “War.”

MARKS: When was “War of the Worlds?” ’39?

ACCOMANDO: I think so.

MARKS: Yeah, this is ’37.

MYRLAND: So actually before the “War of the Worlds.”

MARKS: Yeah, this is before, really, anybody…

ACCOMANDO: Knew who he was.

MARKS: …knew who he was. This is the Mercury Theatre production of “Julius Caesar.” It has a wonderful cast. And I admit, I was skeptical going to see a film with Zac Efron. I have not – The only thing I have seen the lad in was “Seventeen Again,” which I kind of enjoyed. I don’t know, shoot me. But he really holds his own in this film. He holds his own opposite Orson Welles. And Christian McKay did a show way off-Broadway called “Rosebud,” which was written for him about Orson Welles. And talking to him, this guy is a Welles authority. He knows everything about Orson Welles. I was so impressed with this man’s just sheer brilliance and knowledge when it came to Orson Welles. This is a lovely, lovely film and, you know, it’s not a film for families but when it opens, I highly recommend it.

MYRLAND: Now there’s a new John Woo film, “Red Cliff”…

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MYRLAND: …opening at the Ken. Both of you seen it? What do you think?

ACCOMANDO: Well, unfortunately, it’s being shown in its truncated, single-part version as opposed to its two-part, five-hour version that was released in Asia because apparently Americans can’t sit through…

MARKS: No.

ACCOMANDO: …a long film.

MARKS: No.

ACCOMANDO: I would still recommend going to see it. I love John Woo and this is a return to action that he hasn’t done in a long time and to see it on the big screen was just amazing. But I would definitely recommend that people seek it out in the two-part version when it comes out on DVD.

MARKS: Or call Beth and borrow hers like I did. See, when you say it’s single part…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …this isn’t – because the film was originally released in Hong Kong…

ACCOMANDO/MARKS: …in two parts.

ACCOMANDO: Umm-hmm.

MARKS: This takes part one and…

ACCOMANDO/MARKS: …part two…

ACCOMANDO: Yes.

MARKS: …and gives you a Reader’s Digest condensed version.

ACCOMANDO: Yes, uh-huh, truncated, yes.

MARKS: It is completely incomprehensible.

ACCOMANDO: No, I don’t…

MARKS: It’s all the battle sequences…

ACCOMANDO: Yes, it’s…

MARKS: …jammed together.

ACCOMANDO: …basically all the action left intact and all the complexities of the relationships removed.

MARKS: Right, the set-ups, boom, out the window, just show them…

ACCOMANDO: Because we can’t – we can’t handle that.

MYRLAND: So it’s a good movie for those of us who don’t like subtitles.

ACCOMANDO: Yes, probably…

MYRLAND: We can just see a whole lot of action.

ACCOMANDO: …because there’s not a whole lot of subtitles.

MARKS: Oh, yeah, there really – not in the shortened version. The only good thing in the shortened version is, is they cut out that godawful drag humor in Part II, and I love John Woo. I think he’s a great filmmaker and I have the same complaint about Scorsese, he does not know what to do with female characters.

MYRLAND: I want to jump to Scott to talk about a movie I know that you want to talk about. It’s a Werner Herzog…

MARKS: Oh “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” This film has nothing to do with Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant.” Edward Pressman produced both films and he said, well, Nicholas Cage takes drugs and he’s an inveterate gambler and I want to continue to franchise and maybe make a little more money off the Ferrara film so we’re going to put “Bad Lieutenant” on it. Ferrara, after – he didn’t see the film but after having heard about the film, he wished everyone involved in the Werner Herzog version death. So he was not completely pleased with this. I know a lot of people say bad things about Nicholas Cage. This is not “National Treasure.” This is one of the best performances this guy has given in a decade. He is so funny in this film. And if – Yeah, I think the Ferrara version of “Bad Lieutenant” has a lot of laughs but, you know, I’m a sick puppy. This one, I think, is an out and out comedy and Cage is terrific. It opens today, and it’s a hard R-rated film, there is no question about it. This is a rough, rough film but for people who want to see a good, tough R-rated cop film, have fun.

MYRLAND: Okay, well, we’ve got to leave it at that. We’ve been speaking with Scott Marks, who is the film critic and author of the blog EmulsionCompulsion.com, and KPBS film critic Beth Accomando. And, certainly, we’ve given you lots of ideas from which to choose as you make your way to the multiplex, and don’t forget to bring some money for popcorn. You’re listening to These Days in San Diego.

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Avatar for user 'lmross'

lmross | November 25, 2009 at 4:34 p.m. ― 4 years, 11 months ago

Responding to the review of Precious which was on today. Beth seemed impressed by the film, but the other person, Scott, I think, was appalling in his response. Was he that uncomfortable with what he saw? does he not know that there are other worlds besides the (probably rather comfortable) world he (and most of us) lives in? He wonders how Precious can go to school for years and not know how to read. when there are pressing issues in your life like hunger, abuse, poverty, neglect, "all the words will look the same to you on the page." They were watching the Italian movie because this was before cable TV, there were probably only a few channels and this is simply, what was on.
The danger of the film PRECIOUS is that so many white and non-black folk will come away with their prejudices and stereotypes reinforced. I hope, rather than this happening, thiat the film will instead enhance our sympathies, and widen our understanding and open=mindedness. Bravo to the ones who put on this film.

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