Wednesday, June 23, 2010
We'll find out what our Film Club critics think of the latest "Toy Story" installment and discuss the Sundance award-winning "Winter's Bone." Also on deck, the Tilda Swinton vehicle "I Am Love," and the movie version of a pulp classic, "The Killer Inside Me."
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The summer movie season is well underway. On this KPBS Film Club of the Air, we'll discuss a movie about illicit love among modern Italian aristocrats, a film noir mystery that’s set in the unlikely locale of the Ozarks, a controversial and brutal film based on one of pulp fictions most notorious classics, and "Toy Story 3?" Yes. It all begins now on the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I’d like to welcome my guests. Beth Accomando is the KPBS film critic and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. Beth, good morning.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Scott Marks is the author of the film blog Emulsioncompulsion.com. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT MARKS (Author, Emulsioncompulsion.com): Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And Anders Wright…
ACCOMANDO: You’re too perky.
CAVANAUGH: …is the film critic for San Diego CityBeat. Hi, Anders.
ANDERS WRIGHT (Film Critic, San Diego CityBeat): Good to see you, Maureen.
MARKS: Anders won’t play along.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I’m going into “Toy Story” so I have to keep that up, the thing going. We begin with Pixar’s 3-D animation. It’s “Toy Story 3.” As it begins, Andy’s toys have stayed the same since the last “Toy Story” movie years ago but Andy is all grown up. He’s headed off to college, and the toy gang, that includes Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Jesse are afraid it’s attic time for all of them. What actually happens is even worse, and the gang is forced to break out of a daycare center where they’re donated. In this clip from “Toy Story 3,” Sheriff Woody and the gang first meet the toys at the daycare center who explain how things work at their new home.
(audio clip from the film “Toy Story 3”)
CAVANAUGH: That is a clip from “Toy Story 3” and you heard the voices of Wallace Shawn, Tom Hanks and Ned Beatty and others. Beth, Kenneth Turan from the LA Times and NPR actually said Pixar is the only sure thing in movies today. From what I’ve read, the quality, you know, in this movie has remained high throughout these sequels. Would you agree with that?
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I mean, the quality’s been consistent. I wouldn’t go so far as that Pixar’s the only sure thing. I think that’s a little overblown.
MARKS: I don’t think they saw “Cars.”
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I don’t think…
ACCOMANDO: …yeah, “Cars.” I’m not a huge fan of all of the Pixar films but, I mean, I do think the quality is consistent among the – especially through the “Toy Story” films. In fact, maybe part of the problem is it’s been too consistent in the sense that the stories themselves feel very familiar in the three. But it’s an enjoyable film. I – I mean, I have this thing for toys anyway. I’ve always believed my toys were alive when I wasn’t in the room with them and I remember my son, the first time he bagged his toys – Yeah, I know, make the loony sign. The first time my son bagged his toys to give them away, we put them in the garage to bring them to – I think we were bringing them to Father Joe’s and Tony went into the garage and poked holes in all the garbage bags to make sure that the toys could breathe.
CAVANAUGH: They could breathe, of course.
ACCOMANDO: So, I mean, seeing these films – I mean, that’s the appeal of the “Toy Story” films to me, is that childlike notion that you have that, you know, what are your toys doing when you’re not watching them, and I think that’s been consistent and enjoyable through all three.
CAVANAUGH: Anders, I want to stay with the concept of Pixar and the quality of these “Toy Story” movies. How have they managed to remain consistent through the one, two and three?
WRIGHT: Well, you know, I think what Pixar does so well, really, is they make these movies that tap into these kind of very familiar yet totally intangible emotional connections that we all have, and that is why people love these Pixar movies. And I think this one, too, it’s the same sort of thing. You know, the first “Toy Story” movie came out 15 years ago and now it’s 15 years later and I see so much of this is about – it’s about this kid who’s grown up and he has to say goodbye to his toys and his mom is trying to say goodbye to him at the same time. And he’s going off to college, and it’s not just that, too. It’s this idea that audiences – I mean, audiences love these movies, love these characters. Kids have grown up with them. And this is the final one. This is the last one. And I think one of the reason that people are – one of the reasons that people are crying all the way through this film is that they’re also saying goodbye to all of these characters that have really had an impact on them.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, did you cry?
MARKS: Yeah, but for different reasons. Do you really think this is the last one?
MARKS: So when they need money, when things have dried up and they need money, there’s not going to be a “Toy Story 4?”
WRIGHT: There’s no reason to think that Pixar’s going to have any problems with money. All their movies have made so much money.
MARKS: But there’s also – But there was no reason to think that we needed a “Toy Story 3” and that’s my problem with this thing.
WRIGHT: You know, I…
ACCOMANDO: But, I know, I think they did feel like they wanted to follow it through. I mean, I have teen critics writing for me on the Cinema Junkie blog and for all of them, they feel like – because they’re all 17 and 18 right now, and they feel like they identify very strongly with Andy’s character…
ACCOMANDO: …because when Andy was, whatever, four and five, they were four and five. And when he was in high school or whatever, you know – so they feel a pretty close identification with that character. And they’re all going off to college now and saying goodbye to their parents or to, you know, their toys or whatever, you know.
WRIGHT: And I think a lot of people thought originally “Toy Story 3?” Really? A money grab? You guys need that? But they did it. They pulled it off. They abs – I mean, I feel like they capped the franchise perfectly.
CAVANAUGH: And why didn’t it work for you, Scott?
MARKS: I don’t find anything original about basically taking the story of “Finding Nemo” and retooling it for toys. Leave it to me to mention Hitler’s name when we’re talking about “Toy Story.” They did these Hitler maymays on YouTube and there was a line I’ll never forget about Hollywood’s opiate of replacing technology – or supplanting technology for story. And that’s my big problem with this film. Technologically, it’s wonderful to behold but I don’t think there’s much in the way of story and I have to tell you, the 3-D in this film is negligible at best.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: Really? I was going to ask you about that.
MARKS: There were times when I was…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, yeah.
MARKS: …lifting up the glasses and it looked in perfect focus.
ACCOMANDO: No, go see it in 2-D.
MARKS: Well, not – I don’t…
ACCOMANDO: No, I would go see it in 2-D.
WRIGHT: Look at it like this, 3-D’s going to cost you an extra 10, 15, 20 bucks depending on how many people you go with.
ACCOMANDO: It’s not worth it.
WRIGHT: Yeah. I think the 3-D was fairly negligible.
CAVANAUGH: Because the 3-D made it for you in “Alice In Wonderland” I remember, Scott, yeah.
MARKS: And a lot of other films, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, but I don’t…
MARKS: But this is…
ACCOMANDO: This wasn’t made for – I mean, they didn’t really make it to exploit the 3-D.
MARKS: No, they definitely…
ACCOMANDO: I felt like it was more like Pixar is being told they need to release it in 3-D so they can jack up the ticket prices.
MARKS: Then why don’t they just – See, I have a real problem. And this is a problem within me because on one hand I’m the first one to say that if they’re going to shoot in 3-D, make it naturalistic. And that’s kind of what this is.
MARKS: But I don’t want to see an animated film about toys where I’m talking about naturalism. I want the slinky dog to come flying out of the screen at me. This is kind of what I expected and considering that the storytelling in this film, for me, was really, really flat, the 3-D didn’t compensate for it. It was just a gimmick that they tacked on and they didn’t use the gimmick well and my biggest complaint with this film, being an animation lover, this is a dialogue driven work of animation. Cartoons should not be dialogue driven. You should use animation. This is like “The Flintstones.” It’s a sitcom.
MARKS: There are so few things in this film that if you put – if you dressed an actor up as a toy they couldn’t do. Or if you used Claymation or stop motion animation. You could’ve done that with actual figures. So to me, this thing just kind of left me cold. It’s not a bad film. Now, what’s funny is I – being the die hard auturist, you know, championing directors over everything, I never sat down and looked at the “Toy Story” films from directorial point of view. And when I read – I was thinking the other day and I was on Google and I ran my three favorite toy – my three favorite Pixar films, “A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Wall-E,” and they were all directed by the same guy, Andrew Stanton.
MARKS: So, to me, he is the supreme artist at Pixar. And John Lasseter is basically doing cute sitcoms and I think that’s one of the reasons why people love this film so much, because they get to go to the theater and watch television.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Anders, I know that this – a lot of people have been seeing tributes to genre films in “Toy Story 3,” like prison break movies. Did you see that as well?
WRIGHT: I guess so. I mean, a lot of people have talked about that. It’s the idea that these toys have to break out of the – this daycare center when the – and get away from the bad toys who are sort of keeping them in there. I mean, that’s all there. But, to me, that’s really – I don’t think that’s really why people are enjoying this movie. I loved this movie. I really did. It totally tapped into some sort of an em – you know, an emotional connection for me. And I think that’s why people are really connecting with it. I mean, it made an enormous amount of money, too, over the opening weekend. But, I mean, I don’t know, I mean, I don’t think I necessarily agree with you. I don’t think animation necessarily means that it should be an action driven film.
MARKS: No, no, no, no, I’m not saying action. Bring back…
ACCOMANDO: Visually driven.
MARKS: Bring back squash and stretch. That’s what animation is. “Heckle and Jeckle,” we’re cartoon characters, we can do whatever we want. These characters can’t say that.
WRIGHT: But that’s what animation is to you. And, clearly…
MARKS: Of course, of course. Who else can I speak for?
WRIGHT: Exactly. But, I mean, obviously people have been watching these movies and totally digging them for years and…
MARKS: But that doesn’t mean that they know squat about animation, that they’re animation fans. I think…
ACCOMANDO: But I think you limit animation when you say that. I mean, you don’t even want to watch anime because you have a big issue because you feel like they can’t walk and talk or something.
MARKS: Well, they can’t.
ACCOMANDO: But they do.
MARKS: You know, I’m going to sit you down one day and I’m going to show you.
MARKS: I’m going to show you.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, let me ask you something. You know, I haven’t seen this movie but I’ve read in some reviews that sections of it are really kind of dark. I mean, you know, is this too bad for young kids?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, well, I’m the worst person to ask that question to, huh?
CAVANAUGH: That’s true. Yeah, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, I took my son to see horror movies when he was five.
CAVANAUGH: That’s true.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, I think for some of the little kids that I know, the darkest part of that film were similar to like “Lord of the Rings” when they’re going to the fires of Mordor or something like that. So, I mean, I think there are some dark moments in it but, you know, I think kids – there’s a certain part of kids that like that…
ACCOMANDO: …darkness. As long as things work out okay, they can get through it. But part of – I mean, I remember when I was a kid, I mean, you kind of want to go and get scared to a certain degree. I mean, that was the whole thing with “Scooby-Doo,” it was like safe scares because you knew the formula of the film…
ACCOMANDO: …so well, you knew that there’s something scary but they would always reveal that it wasn’t something scary at all. So I think within the context of this film, I think kids feel probably pretty safe that…
WRIGHT: Scary doesn’t necessarily mean inappropriate.
CAVANAUGH: Right. Any new toys that stand out for you in this film?
ACCOMANDO: I liked Timothy Dalton’s character.
WRIGHT: Yeah, Timothy Dalton, that was…
ACCOMANDO: But he was so…
WRIGHT: …Shakespearian, what was he, a hedgehog?
ACCOMANDO: He was only not – Yeah, that prickly or whatever that…
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, he was on for such a short time. It was too bad.
MARKS: I wish they would’ve done more with the Ken doll being gay. I really think that they – and that’s the problem with these films. They walk up to the line and they won’t put a couple of toes over it. They’ll do the least amount of shock that they can and it’s Disney so you really can – Well, I take that back because the original – the old Disney films, “Bambi” is a horrifying film.
CAVANAUGH: It sure is.
MARKS: “Pinocchio” was a horrifying film. When those little boys sprout donkey ears and head to Constantinople, you know, that’s a horrifying film.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, most of the horror filmmakers I’ve interviewed, when I ask them what’s the thing that scared you most they almost, without fail, they almost all point to a Disney movie as…
ACCOMANDO: …the first thing that ever scared them. Monstro, the whale, or the witch in “Snow White.” So Disney, yeah.
MARKS: Primers for children in adult neuroses, that’s what they are.
WRIGHT: Umm-hmm. Umm-hmm.
ACCOMANDO: But, you know, I mean, children’s fairy tales, if we go back to the old fairy tales…
MARKS: Oh, the Grimm Fairy Tales…
WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
MARKS: …they were horrifying.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, they’re – they were meant to teach kids a lesson by scaring them.
WRIGHT: Well, and actually one of the characters that does jump out that I think people aren’t really talking about is this big baby character which is a big doll that’s sort of damaged. It doesn’t really talk and is sort of this odd kind of emotional…
ACCOMANDO: Creepy looking.
WRIGHT: Yeah. It’s very creepy looking and yet it’s also a baby. I mean, that’s the thing.
ACCOMANDO: One rolling eye.
WRIGHT: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
MARKS: But every kid in America has one of those in their toy chest.
ACCOMANDO: But every kid in America is scared of dolls probably.
MARKS: Then why do they have one in – throw it out.
ACCOMANDO: Because they – because we like to be scared.
CAVANAUGH: I know Scott isn’t crazy about this movie, Anders really likes it. Beth, is there anything you dislike about this movie?
ACCOMANDO: I think the only thing I really dislike is the fact that it feels very familiar in terms of the plotline and just the fact that the toys are escaping. It’s pretty much the same story we had in the first one and the second one. So I wish it had been a little more clever in terms of how they laid out the story but it’s fun, it’s likable.
MARKS: We talked – Anders and I were talking about franchise movies before this. Go ahead, Anders.
WRIGHT: Well, you know, we were saying basically, too, that this is the – one of the only franchise films so far this summer that fans of the franchise have really connected with, too. So many of the big summer movies really do feel just like, you know, products and money-grabs and sort of like let’s trot out a new “Shrek” or a new “Sex and the City” in hopes of, you know, because someone has a mortgage payment on a boat or a – coming up basically. I mean, these movies have been just terrible and…
MARKS: And fans of those franchises are not happy.
MARKS: They’re walking out angry.
WRIGHT: They’re feeling let down.
MARKS: Yeah, so, what, is the next “Sex and the City” going to be 3-D?
MARKS: Are they going to revive that?
ACCOMANDO: Ehh… That’s scary.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a break. “Toy Story 3” is currently playing in area theaters. And when we return, we’ll talk about a much different movie set in the Ozarks. You’re listening to the Film Club of the Air on These Days here on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This is the Film Club of the Air. My guests are Beth Accomando, Scott Marks and Anders Wright. And we move on to a movie called “Winter’s Bone.” In a setting of grim poverty in the Ozarks, a family mystery is unfolding. Ree Dolly’s father is missing. His court date is coming up, he can’t be found, and he’s put up the family’s rundown house for bail. So it’s up to teenager Ree to find out what happened to him, and she eventually does in a most unpleasant fashion. In this scene, Ree goes to the home of a powerful family in the area. Her father worked for them cooking meth. She wanders up to the house and is greeted by the matriarch of the family and Ree asks her if she can talk with Thump, her husband.
(audio of clip from the film “Winter’s Bone”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s a clip from “Winter’s Bone” and we heard Jennifer Lawrence there. She stars as Ree Dolly. The director is Debra Granik. Now, Scott, this film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year. This is the kind of film that Sundance loves, isn’t it?
MARKS: Yes. And I don’t – Sundance, to me, is the Academy Awards on a budget and that’s kind of what they’re turning into. This film establishes character and atmosphere as well as just about any other film I can think of. The dialogue is razor sharp. It’s just that I have a – my big problem with this film is that it has a false, tacked-on, happy ending that just did not work for me at all, and it destroys so much of what comes before it. But that said, the performances are great. This young actress is like Juliette Lewis in “Cape Fear.”
MARKS: I mean, this girl is never out of the moment. She – It is a remarkable performance. And it’s a very, very good film up until a point and then it just kind of lost me.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, what do we know about the director, Debra Granik? Besides her fondness for movies with bone in the title? I think her last movie was called “Down to the Bone.”
ACCOMANDO: Well, she hasn’t made that many films so it’s hard to draw a whole lot of conclusions about her but, I mean, she does – You know, for this film, she really wanted to get into the atmosphere and the location, and she insisted on going and shooting in Missouri and finding a real home to work in, to shoot at, and to use some of their clothes and to really ground it in that kind of reality. So, you know, so far she’s, I think, shown herself to be a very, you know, detailed driven director who wants to get into these kind of stories on a very nitty-gritty level.
CAVANAUGH: Anders, I wonder if you can describe the setting of this film. It’s, of course, a poor mountain community in the Ozarks. What does this world look like?
WRIGHT: It looks bleak. I mean, really, you know, the movie is called “Winter’s Bone” and just the sort of images that that produces, it’s just like that. It is cold and grimy and rundown and people have all sorts of junk in their yards. Ree’s siblings spend a lot of their time jumping on a sort of aged trampoline because there’s really just nothing else to do. People subsist on game and squirrels and really just sort of make their way as best they can. There’s nothing very nice about it. But I also think what she’s doing, she’s not trying to – There’s no pity for this community. It just sort of is where it is and these things are going on because of the way it is. Everyone sort of has their fingers involved in kind of smalltime criminal activities but only because there’s no other economic opportunity anywhere. And there’s very little law and order to be had. But there’s also no shame in that in terms of the people within the community. They just – this is how they live.
CAVANAUGH: Now some nonprofessional actors are involved in this production. Can you spot them, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: No, and I think that’s a good thing that you don’t. I mean, I think everybody’s well integrated into the story and I think that’s part of what makes it so good is that you feel that it’s very rooted in this real world and that the professional actors and the non-actors blend completely in the story. But when Anders was talking about the setting and about the getting the squirrels and stuff. I mean, one of the lines that, to me, kind of summed up a lot of what the mood and tone was, when they’re gutting the squirrel, the little brother asks, you know, do we eat the guts? And she says, not yet.
CAVANAUGH: I know, I – Yeah…
ACCOMANDO: And, you know, and that really kind of summed it up…
ACCOMANDO: …to say like, you know, we – we’ll go as far as we need to and when we hit a certain point and we have to go that one step further, we do it. And that’s just the way it is.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Scott, some reviewers—and I mentioned this in my intro—have been calling this a film noir set in the Ozarks. And you don’t really see that.
MARKS: It doesn’t – There’s nothing noir about this. When you said that I thought that you transposed this and the Lou Ford and “Killer Inside Me”…
MARKS: …because that’s definitely a film noir.
MARKS: I don’t see it. I mean, and do – do you guys see it?
WRIGHT: It’s – I mean, we’re – I mean, we’re getting to semantics to a certain point. I mean, it’s kind of a thriller. There’s certainly criminal involvement in it but it’s – You know, it’s really about this girl in these sort of desperate circumstances.
MARKS: But film noir, to me, is all about visual style. It’s not a genre. Film noir is not a genre.
MARKS: It’s a style like Italian neorealism or German expressionism.
CAVANAUGH: I think what the point was that these reviewers were making was that this wasn’t just a view into the life of these very poor people in this mountain community but there was actually a mystery going on.
ACCOMANDO: Well, I think part of the problem is, is people always want to pigeonhole a film. They want to be able to describe it in a really short, simple way that wraps it up in a neat little package. They’ll say like, okay, this is a country noir film or something, somehow tags it with all these things that people can identify with and I think part of what makes this film good is that it doesn’t get neatly pigeonholed.
CAVANAUGH: One of the subtexts of this film is this drug culture that actually completely permeates this poverty-ridden community. What is the movie telling us about that, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: Well, like – and Anders had already brought it up.
MARKS: Just say no.
ACCOMANDO: But Anders already brought up that, I mean, there is a lot of poverty there and there’s a lot of hopelessness in the sense of what kind of job prospects or life you have. So you take what – just like eating the squirrel guts, you do what you have to do to survive.
WRIGHT: If cook – Yeah, if cooking meth is the best way to like make money for your family, then people are going to cook meth.
ACCOMANDO: But, I mean, what I thought was really interesting about the film was the role that the women play in all this.
MARKS: There you go.
MARKS: I was just going to bring that up a couple…
ACCOMANDO: …because, I mean, there’s a point at which, I don’t think this is giving away too much, but there’s a point at which the women are the ones…
MARKS: Ahh, you… I don’t know.
WRIGHT: Yeah, that’s…
ACCOMANDO: The women are the ones who exercise some…
MARKS: Just remember the end of “Godfather III” what happens to Connie Corleone. That’s kind of what’s going on here. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: But – And the things that she has to do to kind of fulfill her quest. It’s dark and chilling. And I really appreciate the fact that the director handled all this in a very kind of low key, matter of fact manner. There’s no big music hits, there’s no flashy cutting or shaky camera, whatever. I mean, it’s just very blunt and matter of fact like, hey, this is how things are done.
MARKS: To its credit, this film tells you nothing but it shows you everything.
WRIGHT: Umm-hmm. Yeah.
MARKS: And that’s why I like it.
MARKS: You never judge these characters.
MARKS: And some of the dialogue in this film, there’s one line I wrote down. When – And I mean, this is one just abusive male character in there and he turns to his wife and said, I said shut up once already with my mouth.
CAVANAUGH: I know, I – Yeah, yeah.
MARKS: That’s all you have to say and you know…
MARKS: …everything about this character.
WRIGHT: Well, and he’s – that’s John Hawkes, the actor who’s like criminally underrated. He’s so good in everything he does, and he look – he’s kind of a weasely-looking guy. And he’s so good in this as this sort of wretched, horrible guy who eventually – it’s not that he has a turn of conscience, it’s that he’s – he finds himself having to deal with things that he doesn’t want to deal with. And…
CAVANAUGH: Some of our listeners might know John Hawkes from the HBO series “Deadwood.”
WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah. And this actually – There’s a lot of sort of “Deadwood” feeling in it.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.
WRIGHT: I mean, the guy who plays Sheriff – the sheriff, Garrett Dillahunt also really cut his teeth there. They’re both – It’s got that – I mean, it is – it’s a razor’s edge of a movie, absolutely.
CAVANAUGH: I want to go back to – Scott made the point of talking about the young actress Jennifer Lawrence. I want to get your take on her because her performance was really quite remarkable, wouldn’t you say, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah, she’s very good. She was seen earlier—was it last year in “Burning Plane?”
ACCOMANDO: But she’s very good. And, again, part of what works so well in this film is that nothing really calls attention to itself. It’s not a showy performance. It’s not something that really tries to draw attention. It’s about blending in and becoming a part of this environment. And I think that’s what she does well, all the other actors do well and the director does well, is it’s just this presentation of this environment and this world that really sucks you in and feels thoroughly authentic.
WRIGHT: And, you know, one of the things I really like about her performance is that, okay, she’s tough as nails, she’s totally flinty, she will stand up to anyone. But it’s also clear that she is 17. She is a kid. She does not have all the answers by any stretch of the imagination. And the things she’s dealing with are not things she wants to be dealing with. And, honestly, they’re things that her mother or father or someone else should be doing instead of her but…
ACCOMANDO: But she’s not tough because it’s like you see tough characters in some other films where it’s kind of an act or it’s part of, you know, what she thinks she needs to do to be cold, she’s only tough because she has to be.
ACCOMANDO: She – It’s the environment and things going on in her life that force her to do certain things and she’s driven to find her father because if she doesn’t they’re going to take the house and the land away and she – the kids’ll – her two siblings will be taken away and what will happen…
WRIGHT: It is cold there.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, and so she has to be hard as nails because…
ACCOMANDO: …there is no other choice for her.
CAVANAUGH: We’re talk…
MARKS: In too many films, and I hate when I see this, when in reel one you’ll see a prop or an object and you know this is going to come into play in reel four. In the very beginning, she goes to the high school and she sees the ROTC people, you know, they’re practicing, and then later on she becomes so desperate that she goes to enlist in the Army just to get the money to help bail her family out. This, to me, was incredibly realistic…
MARKS: …and also kind of a nice slap at the military without ever saying it, without ever pointing out that war is bad and whatever. I mean, this film just shows it to you. So…
WRIGHT: And that’s a terrific sequence, too. It’s full of action.
CAVANAUGH: It’s a wonderful scene because it doesn’t all go one way. I mean, that recruiter has a heart, too.
MARKS: Where you going to find a recruitment – I mean…
MARKS: …I want to…
MARKS: When I think of recruitment guys, I think of “Stripes.” You know, they will do anything to get you to enlist.
MARKS: They just, you know, it’s like a cop who writes tickets.
MARKS: They have a quota. This is not like that.
WRIGHT: Every – every scene in this movie is like that, where you think you see what’s going to happen, it doesn’t play out that way. That’s what’s…
MARKS: But why does it have to have a happy ending?
WRIGHT: It doesn’t have a happy ending.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, I wouldn’t call it happy.
MARKS: For this film, it’s a happy ending.
WRIGHT: It’s – But, again, you don’t see that hap – you don’t see it coming.
CAVANAUGH: Well, people can judge for themselves.
CAVANAUGH: “Winter’s Bone” opens Friday at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. We move on to a movie called “I Am Love.” As a wealthy aristocratic Milanese family celebrates the passing of the torch from father to son in the business world, another torch is being lit. The son’s wife, an impassive Russian beauty, is about to engage in an affair with a young chef. Among the layers of complication in this movie of the upper classes are desperate business troubles, the revelation of a sexual secret and lots of steamy recipes. The movie stars Tilda Swinton. And I understand that this film evolved from an ongoing conversation between the director and Tilda Swinton on the subject of love. Beth, what’s the back story here?
ACCOMANDO: Well, apparently they’ve been talking about this or considering this for about 7 years. And Tilda Swinton has expressed this interest ever since she had made the film “Orlando” and these stories about transformation and kind of metamorphosis and it’s interesting, too, that “Orlando” is being re-released right now in theaters, the Sally Potter film. So it’s something that she’s been interested in and that she worked with the director to form the story, which really showcases her. And I – she’s one of my favorite actresses. I just find her so fascinating because she doesn’t – she’s never conventional and she always surprises you.
CAVANAUGH: Anders, describe the world of this film, particularly the Recchi family. Who’s at the center?
WRIGHT: Well, I guess the center would be the grandfather who’s the sort of magnate of this industrial company. And, you know, things start off, it’s his birthday and, you know, he’s – he eventually is – has to decide who he’s going to pass his company down to. There’s his son, who’s married to Tilda Swinton, then he’s got a number of grandsons and granddaughter – and it is absolutely like beautiful, opulent wealth. These people live in wonderful homes. They’re cooked, you know, lovely meals. They have lots of help. But you, you know, they’re just sort of real people. That’s just sort of how – the way that they – the way they live. There’s nothing about them that’s necessarily particularly upper crust. They just happen to come from these gorgeous upbringings, basically.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, with this sumptuous surrounding, is this kind of like – and the family drama, is this reminiscent of an old-fashioned melodrama?
MARKS: Well, first of all, all you people who write in saying I don’t like anything…
MARKS: …listen, listen, listen, listen, listen. This is a masterpiece. This is one – And it’s not even the best picture of the year. I think “Ondine” is the best thing I’ve seen so far this year. This is one of the most stylish films I’ve seen so far this year. The way these characters interact and the sense of history, film history, this guy has – The matriarch and the patriarch of the family are played by Gabriele Ferzetti and Marisa Berenson. And when I talked to the director, he said, I did that intentionally because I wanted to have the sense of cinematic royalty. And if you don’t know Gabriele Ferzetti, it’s – if you’ve seen “Once Upon A Time in the West,” he’s the guy on the crutches when Henry Fonda kicks the crutches out from under him. I mean, it’s one of the most stunning moments in the history of cinema. And Marisa Berenson, of course, was in Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” So he has the sense of film history and about 10 minutes into it, I’m saying, my God, this is Visconti’s “The Damned.” And then I’m watching more and it’s like this is Douglas Sirk. So, yes, this film is a grand melodrama, beautifully photographed. I mean, this thing – there is not a bad shot in this film. Tilda Swinton is probably the most fearless actress at work today. And they have a – they worked together on two other films prior to this, one called “The Protagonist,” which came out in the late nineties, and then he did a documentary about her called “Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory.” So they’ve been working together for quite some time and their relationship basically formed the basis of this movie.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Beth, what did you think of Tilda’s performance?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, it was – What can you say? She’s always magnificent.
CAVANAUGH: She’s always fabulous, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: I mean…
ACCOMANDO: Because, like Scott said, she is fearless, she’s not afraid to do anything, she – You know, in this film, it was nice to see her kind of go through this transformation both visually and emotionally. I mean, she goes from this, you know, elegant, upper crust kind of matriarch with these beautiful clothes and her hair done up and then, you know, through the course of it, she cuts her hair, she be – you know, she ends up shedding everything of that wealth through the course of the film. But she’s always completely believable and she just – she’s fascinating onscreen.
MARKS: And she learned to speak Italian.
ACCOMANDO: And she’s – And Russian.
MARKS: And she learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent.
WRIGHT: I know, yeah. Yeah.
MARKS: I mean, this is amazing. And I asked the director, I go, was it phonetically spelled out for her, like, you know, like Brando would do? And he said, no, she actually learned how to speak Italian for this role.
WRIGHT: You know, I think one of the things about it, too, is that as the film progresses, all of her children are supposed to be going through these huge transitions in their lives, and everyone looks to her to be sort of the rock that they can revolve around. And the fact is that she’s not. I mean, that’s sort of where the whole thing goes off in a different direction because she finds, as everything is changing around her, she finds herself changing, too.
MARKS: And she’s hopelessly pampered. I love in the beginning of the film, you see the husband helping her, putting on her jewelry. It’s just one little throwaway shot. And then later on when she’s with her lover who doesn’t have a lot of money, who doesn’t really like all the jewelry, you see him taking the jewelry off of her…
MARKS: …before they make love. So, again, here’s a film that tells its story through visuals…
ACCOMANDO: Well, there’s practically…
ACCOMANDO: …no dialogue actually. I mean, if you were to pare it down, there’s really not all…
WRIGHT: Yeah, it’s also – It is one of those – it’s a food movie, too.
ACCOMANDO: Food porn, yeah.
WRIGHT: Yeah, as I – When I was watching it I wrote down it’s like a slow movie for the slow food crowd.
WRIGHT: And when I say slow, I don’t mean dull.
WRIGHT: I just mean it doesn’t move quickly but that’s okay.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and but there’s that – there’s that – Talk about melodrama. There’s the moment where she eats the meal that her potential lover has just made.
WRIGHT: Oh, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: And it’s in a restaurant and they serve her these prawns and suddenly like all the sounds around her fade out and it’s like a spotlight comes on her and everybody else in the room kind of goes dark and you just see close-ups of her eating this food and, I mean, the subjectivity of that sequence, I mean, it gets so much into what she’s going through and how she can filter out everything in the world and the sensuality of the food and it was just – you know, it was a beautiful sequence.
CAVANAUGH: In wrapping up this particular movie, Scott, tell – talk a little bit about how it looks.
MARKS: I mean, he captures all the seasons in this film. I mean, it opens up in – with snow and in the middle of winter, and then as it progresses, all of a sudden it’s summer, then spring and things brighten up. And he just knows how to compose shots. He knows when to move the camera. I mean, the Italians move the camera better than just about anybody. I mean, I was watching this and I was also reminded of some of Bertolucci’s great slow camera tracking shots in his movies. So I think it’s just – if you’re an Italian director, you get it by birth. You just know how to move the camera and how to compose a shot.
ACCOMANDO: Well, and the other thing that I think a lot of American audiences may not get and I didn’t get completely either was – I mean, there’s a lot of political subtext to it, too, with the north and the south because, I mean, part of the reason why she hooks up with this particular man as a lover is that, you know, both of them are kind of outcasts from, you know, the main – the mainstream of Italian society because he’s – I always forget which – He was from the south, I think, the lover? Anyway, but there’s this north, south conflict going on and, you know, she was an outsider. She came from Russia. So I think part of what’s going on here as well and plus with the textile company that the grandfather owns, I mean, there’s, I think, some political elements to the story that may be lost on some American audiences.
CAVANAUGH: Well, before we leave, I just want to shout out to somebody whose name I’m not going to be able to pronounce. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux is – was the man who actually shot “I Am Love.” “I Am Love” opens Friday at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas. When we return, we’re going to talk about “The Killer Inside Me” and more on the Film Club of the Air here on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. I’m with Scott Marks, Beth Accomando and Anders Wright. And we move on to the movie “The Killer Inside Me.” In a small Texas town, Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford unexpectedly finds himself involved in a violent, high voltage affair with a local prostitute. But that’s not all that’s unexpected about Lou Ford. In an attempt to settle a family feud, Ford hatches a plot that involves brutal murders which he believes nobody will trace back to him. In this clip from early in the film, Deputy Ford, played by Casey Affleck, gives us some of his thoughts about life in a small town.
(audio of clip from the film “The Killer Inside Me”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s a clip from “The Killer Inside Me” and we hear Casey Affleck as Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford. Scott, before we get into talking about the film, let’s provide a little context. This movie is based on a pulp fiction novel by Jim Thompson. Who was Jim Thompson?
MARKS: The former governor of Illinois. Okay. Jim Thompson is – they call – they refer to him as the Dostoevsky of suspense fiction. I read “The Killer Inside Me” years ago and as soon as I put it down, I read 12 more Jim Thompson novels. “The Killer Inside Me” is one of the greatest books, for my money, ever written. He never had a book published in hardcover. It was all pulps. Towards the end of his career, and I read this too, he was doing novelizations for “Ironside”…
WRIGHT: Yeah. Yeah.
MARKS: …with Raymond Burr. You know, he was doing novelizations of movies, you know, where basically they would show him the film and he would sit at a typewriter…
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
MARKS: …and just adapt it. When I first read “The Killer Inside Me,” there are moments in – First of all, Jim Thompson can do in one sentence what it takes most authors a chapter to do. When someone gets punched in a Jim Thompson novel, you grab your stomach, you grab your jaw. And I’ll give Michael Winterbottom credit, there’s a scene in this film where he brutalizes Jessica Alba, which is letter perfect to the book. I mean, it’s there. That said, when you read the book, you think of Robert Mitchum. Lou Ford is a force of nature. He’s a serial killer. He’s a monster. He is not Casey Affleck.
MARKS: He is not this diminutive guy who talks like this and mumbles throughout the entire film. I don’t like Casey Affleck. I think it’s all show. If anything, I think Ben Affleck would’ve made a better Lou Ford. You need someone big and burly and menacing and threatening. And I know casting against type, it’s almost like putting Elijah Cook, Jr. in this role. I just – I didn’t buy him. Jessica Alba is lovely but she provides little more than a punching bag in this film, and the same with Kate Hudson. But this is all in the novel and it’s essential. And I don’t know that you could really – I think his novels are unfilmable…
MARKS: …because they work so well on the page. They did it once before. Stacy Keach played a Lou Ford in a version of this, I think, in the eighties, which just really didn’t go anywhere either. So Michael Winterbottom is a much more talented director. He’s one of those directors who wants to work in every conceivable genre known to man. I mean, he’s made documentaries. He’s just terrific, just a wonderful, wonderful filmmaker, and this is probably as good an adaptation of this novel as you’re going to find.
CAVANAUGH: Scott, what did – I’m sorry. Anders, what did you think of it?
WRIGHT: Well, I didn’t really have as much of a problem with Casey Affleck but I do feel like they pretty much – He probably got the part based upon his work in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”
WRIGHT: He’s kind of doing the same thing. I think that, you know, it’s fairly well made. You’re absolutely right. I mean, you – Thompson’s language is just blistering. And this movie doesn’t really do that. I think, honestly, it’s so brutal, some of the sequences are so brutal, that most audiences – I mean, it’s hard to watch. It’s really hard to watch. And it’s not sort of movie violence. It feels really, you know, it feels very real, and it’s really, really, unpleasant. But I think that casting Affleck, I mean, part of the deal there is that he isn’t menacing. And one of the things I do like about him, as he said in that little blurb there, he says here, you know, you’re always a man and a gentleman. And he’s always a courteous, kind gentleman-like sort of sociopath throughout the entire thing. I mean, it’s a really interesting movie but it’s not a very enjoyable movie.
CAVANAUGH: Beth, what do you think? In this particular movie, we see outbursts of violence against young women. I’m thinking of “Kickass” where we saw an outburst of violence against a young girl that you really sort…
ACCOMANDO: It was more an outburst of violence by a young girl.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, well, I mean, but she got beaten up as well. I’m wondering…
ACCOMANDO: But these women never fight back.
CAVANAUGH: No, they don’t. Tell us about that.
ACCOMANDO: Well, they – All right, they are punching bags essentially. I mean, I had very mixed feelings about it because you guys talk about how violent and brutal it is and yet, on a certain level, the film left me like really lukewarm, like I didn’t – I didn’t feel really moved by it. I didn’t feel angry or wrapped up in it and I think part of it is Casey Affleck because there’s an interesting aspect to that performance in the sense that he is this kind of weasely little guy who’s not very threatening but they don’t really use that to what I think would be a good effect to make him scary by the very fact that he’s not…
MARKS: Yeah, good point.
ACCOMANDO: …viewed as scary.
ACCOMANDO: So it’s like he has these outbursts of violence and he’s able to kind of hide from everyone what he’s doing but we don’t get this sense of how dangerous he is and that’s why the price – because I would’ve gone with that casting. I would’ve said, like, okay, fine, you know, go it against type of – yeah, Mitchum was exactly who I was…
WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: I mean, because he has that sense of menace when…
MARKS: And gentleman behavior as well.
ACCOMANDO: But also – but it…
MARKS: You can do that in “Cape Fear.” Yeah.
ACCOMANDO: But what Mitchum had was menace with this kind of bland, deadpan surface…
MARKS: Oh, baby, I don’t care, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, you know, so – That, and he had…
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right, right.
ACCOMANDO: And he had that mastered. And Casey Affleck just seemed to have the blandness down…
ACCOMANDO: …without the menace. And so it was just frustrating me because I kept feeling like I should be more affected by this and I should be more – I feel like I should’ve been more shocked by it but there was a certain level where it just…
WRIGHT: Like the menace is more in his actions than his character in some ways.
CAVANAUGH: Didn’t you find that there were a number of…
ACCOMANDO: Of course, I think he was disassociated from his character.
CAVANAUGH: Didn’t you find there were a number of false notes in this movie? For instance, in that clip that we heard, you know, people think that they know you and he basically thinks that the people in the small town won’t suspect him, and immediately they suspect him of these murders like three hours later.
MARKS: But this is like – that’s Lou Ford.
MARKS: That defines Lou Ford perfectly. And you were talking earlier about how the women don’t fight back. Don’t forget, the relationship that he has with both these women is really founded on rough trade. They like rough sexual abuse.
ACCOMANDO: Especially the Jessica Alba character.
WRIGHT: But they – but neither of them see this coming, too.
WRIGHT: This comes out of nowhere.
MARKS: …of course. It’s Lou Ford.
WRIGHT: And, I mean, it’s – Yeah, absolutely, that’s just it, and they’re going – I mean, there’s no kind of reason or way that they would. I mean, these are brutal acts that he’s committed.
CAVANAUGH: It couldn’t very well be that you need to read the book before you see this movie because I’ll tell you, it kind – while I was looking at it, I thought, you know, this make – this probably makes a better book.
MARKS: As Anders says, it’s Thompson’s use of language, and the screenplay just doesn’t capture it.
WRIGHT: But you can’t. I mean, you know…
MARKS: You’re right. You can’t.
WRIGHT: You – He wouldn’t have been able to do it himself.
WRIGHT: I mean, that’s always the tricky thing about, you know, a film version of anything that you’ve read and that you love and that you know that’s part of yours. I mean, you’re watching Michael Winterbottom’s version of that book, you’re not watching Jim Thompson’s.
ACCOMANDO: But even then, I mean, the film has to stand on its own two feet and I just don’t think that it worked on its own merit. I mean, if you divorce it from the book and you come at it not having read the book at all, I still don’t think…
MARKS: Have you read the book?
ACCOMANDO: No, I haven’t read the book.
MARKS: Have you read anything by Thompson?
MARKS: You’d love them. You’d love him.
WRIGHT: Do you think if they had cast someone else in that role with – who had a little more menace to him it would’ve come together a little more?
ACCOMANDO: I think it would’ve come together a little more. To me, it was a pretty glossy film. I mean, there’s a surface, you know, everything kind of happened – most of the scenes happened during the daytime. It’s kind of this sunny, you know, demeanor to everything. But it wasn’t used as kind of in contrast to the darkness that some of these characters exhibited. And I just – I guess what it was for me, I felt it was kind of – I felt removed from the film.
ACCOMANDO: Like I’m watching it from a distance and I’m not really caring that much about what’s going on.
WRIGHT: No, I mean, I wonder, though – that’s sort of like a – that is sort of like what a sociopath is like in terms of the – not on you but…
ACCOMANDO: I’m a sociopath.
WRIGHT: …in terms of their relationship to the rest of the world. I mean, you sort of wonder if that’s…
ACCOMANDO: Well, I mean, a film that I think was similar kind of a bit in tone was “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”…
ACCOMANDO: …where it’s Michael Rooker, kind of is this bland, you know, if he walked through a room nobody would probably notice him. And he portrays this serial killer who goes around killing people and his kind of M.O. is if I don’t kill two people in the same way, nobody’s probably going to…
WRIGHT: Right, right.
ACCOMANDO: …catch me.
WRIGHT: And he’s terrifying in that movie.
ACCOMANDO: And he’s terrifying.
ACCOMANDO: And the same thing, that film is done and it’s kind of all during daytime and you are removed from everything. It’s kind of a cold film and you feel this detachment but that film was really scary…
ACCOMANDO: …and creepy.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, I think one thing we all agree with, whether you see the movie or not, definitely read the book. “The Killer Inside Me” opens on July second at Landmark’s Ken Cinemas. Okay, now it’s time for roundtable recommendations on the Film Club of the Air. Beth, what do you have for us this week?
ACCOMANDO: Well, two things. Scott actually mentioned “Ondine,” which I really loved that film.
ACCOMANDO: I love Neil Jordan. I know that I don’t tend to profess a liking for romantic movies, however, Neil Jordan has a way of kind of grounding romance in a very gritty kind of setting, and this was just a wonderful film.
CAVANAUGH: What is it about?
MARKS: Not if I was on a jury. No, sorry.
CAVANAUGH: What is it about quickly?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it taps into the mermaid legend. It’s a young – well, it’s a fisherman…
MARKS: A Silkie (sic).
ACCOMANDO: A Selkie.
MARKS: Selkie, okay.
ACCOMANDO: Selkie, which “Secret…
ACCOMANDO: …of Roan Inish” was about, too. But it’s a fisherman who pulls up a girl in his net and she’s still breathing and his daughter thinks that she’s a mermaid and there’s this relationship that develops but there’s a reality behind it as well. And it’s just a beautiful film. Neil Jordan’s great at that.
ACCOMANDO: And then for total silliness, there is the shadowcast of “Repo, the Genetic Opera” at midnight at the Ken. So…
MARKS: Oh, God. Oh, God.
ACCOMANDO: …shadowcast is sim… Oh, it’s fun to go to those.
MARKS: The music in that film is so – it’s like putting a cat in a Cuisinart.
CAVANAUGH: Well, what is a shadowcast?
ACCOMANDO: A shadowcast is when a cast performs the film in front of the film with audience participation. And I’m all for kind of community involvement in screenings where you go and you participate and I think it’s fun.
MARKS: I’ll remember that.
WRIGHT: So it’s like “Rocky Horror 2.0.”
MARKS: I’ll remember that next time I sit behind you during a screening, okay.
ACCOMANDO: I enjoy it. I mean, so I threaten to beat people up sometimes but that’s, you know, if they’re a little out of hand.
CAVANAUGH: That’s just Beth. Anders, do you have any recommendations for CityBeat events?
WRIGHT: Well, CityBeat – Yeah, CityBeat actually is throw – we are throwing our first-ever movie night at the Birch North Park Theatre…
WRIGHT: …Monday, June 28th, 7:00 p.m. We’re not sort of trying to show like, you know, the films with that much, might we say, artistic merit. We’re kicking off with “Heavy Metal,” that classic…
WRIGHT: …eighties animated thing, which will be preceded by “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” which was this odd legendary documentary shot outside a Judas Priest concert in 1986. You know, it’s going to be like – it’s going to be a big party, lots of drink specials. We’re partnering up with the West Coast Tavern. So please come on down. It should be a good time.
CAVANAUGH: And when is that?
WRIGHT: Monday, June 28th, 7:00 p.m., Birch North Park Theatre.
ACCOMANDO: So it’s a double feature.
WRIGHT: Yeah. We may have some other shorts, too, in front of those, we don’t know yet.
CAVANAUGH: And, Scott, what about you?
MARKS: I always thought it would be fun to do like a movie version of the Oprah Book Club. Did I just say Oprah?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, you did.
MARKS: So Andy Friedenberg, David Elliott and I are doing a series at the Studio Diner in Kearny Mesa in July and August, Thursday nights, where we’re just going to look at some classic old movies from the seventies and the eighties. We’re doing like the 40th anniversary and the 30th anniversary. We’ll look at films like “M.A.S.H.” and “Five Easy Pieces” and “The Stunt Man” and “Atlantic City.” I mean, some really, really good movies.
MARKS: We’ll introduce them. You can come there, have dinner beforehand and then we’ll show a movie and stick around for Q&A at the end. So if you want to join us, it’ll be Thursday nights, July and August. Give us a call at 619-280-1600 or you can always e-mail me at email@example.com and we’ll tell you. And mention that you’re a listener of the KPBS Film Club and we’ll give you a special discount.
WRIGHT: Leave it to you to do something classic, ahh…
ACCOMANDO: Scott won’t spit in your food.
CAVANAUGH: You know, I have a recommendation. I’m almost embarrassed. Sometimes I’m surprised by the movies I like and I want you to keep your groans down, okay? I’d like to recommend, out on DVD, the movie “Wolfman” with Anthony Hopkins and Benecio del Torro.
MARKS: Is it eleven o’clock yet?
CAVANAUGH: It’s – I thought it was a really impressive attempt to reimagine the original Universal movie.
MARKS: We’ve got to get cameras in here just for Anders’ expression. It’s like he’s smelling something bad.
WRIGHT: That is like my least favorite movie of the year.
WRIGHT: Oh, I hated that.
ACCOMANDO: No, no, no, please, go watch the original one.
CAVANAUGH: I watched the original one and then watched this. I loved the sequence in London. Anyway. Anyway, thank you all so much. I want to thank my guests, Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, Anders Wright, thank you all so much.
WRIGHT: Thank you, Maureen.
MARKS: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.