1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Les Miserables
3. Silver Linings Playbook
I’m not trying to impress anyone here, these are just the films I enjoyed the most this year, by a long shot. The five worst movies were much easier this year.
1. This is 40
2. This is 40
3. This is 40
4. This is 40
5. This is 40
The other night we were out shooting car stunts. We assembled our convoy, which included cars driven by stunt drivers, a large camera crane mounted on a flatbed, and the Movie Star driving a jacked-up 70’s muscle car. We rolled several times, working on closed roads we had the police blocking off.
At one point a completely oblivious civilian couple in a minivan somehow managed to slip past the cops and pull right into the middle of our pack of cars. Right behind the Movie Star in his vehicle. Seeing them and making the car as a bogey he did the best thing possible. He punched it, leaving some rubber and smoke as he blew away from them. After a short distance he threw on the parking brake and executed a perfect j-turn, spinning 180 degrees and screaming to a stop facing the minivan. They, utterly freaked out by the unexpected move, slammed on their brakes and came to a stop staring at the Movie Star from ten feet away.
Now THAT is a story they are going to tell their grandchildren.
Me: Hey, I can body double for the Movie Star if you need.
JB: Yeah, you can body quadruple for him.
Inspired both by the random way that Eddie Deezen popped up in my mind and our recent viewing of Clash of the Titans I decided to share thoughts on some awful movies with you. Awful in that they are so bad that they are actually fun to watch. They can be any budget level, any era. Just as long as they are memorably crappy.
He was given a lifetime achievement award last night, and it was touching to hear his daughter Jenny speak after receiving it on his behalf. It was the first time she spoke of him publicly since his passing. Apparently one of the few people he spoke to outside of his immediate family in his last days was Mayor Bloomberg, who was informing him of the award. Hearing of it pleased him greatly even as the end approached. He loved New York and the honor meant a great deal to him.
And what an amazing life it was. Starting onstage at the Yiddish Theater at age four, he was on Broadway by the time he was eleven. After enlisting to serve in the Army Signal Corps in WW2, he returned to the city and taught acting. A former student, Yul Brenner, brought him over to a job in television when the medium was in it’s infancy. He directed over 300 episodes of live tv. Moving into filmmaking, his debut effort was “12 Angry Men.” That movie is better than anything 95% of the directors out there make at any point in their career. He went on to make over 40 movies, including a stretch of 30 films in 30 years.
His work was sometimes uneven, with “Q & A” standing out as a personal sore point for me. However at his best he was an absolute master. “Network”, “Serpico”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “The Verdict”, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” were all his. Just an embarrassment of riches. Also, his book “Making Movies” is the singular best thing I ever read on the subject. Well worth picking up if you aspire to the art or are simply a fan. It will enhance your appreciation of the craft.
I never had the chance to work with the man, and truly regret it. Take the time to watch some of his work, it’s well worth your time. He spent 82 years of his life entertaining us and we are fortunate to have had him.
— Matt Damon, at the Made in New York Awards tonight.
Our big scene was the exterior shot of the prison. It was a night shot, which is always more difficult due to the extensive lighting setups required. There were several other elements that complicated matters as well. We needed to create rain, stage a large group or protestors, have them interact with moving vehicles, etc. I was so busy pulling things together for that work that the interior work felt almost like an afterthought. Once we completed the opening scene and moved inside I was able to relax a bit and catch my breath.
I was guilty (as I sometimes am) of not paying enough attention to the scene we were shooting inside the prison. Of course I’d read the script, but only once and quite some time ago. Once you get into the heat of making a film you can lose sight of the big picture, forget that you are really just telling a story to someone. As long as you are aware of the specific things needed for the day’s work the dramatic elements can fade into the background. All a way of saying that on this particular night I knew when we needed access to the jail, what support staff was needed, all the tasks I was responsible for completing, but the actual content of the scene was a blind spot.
There was a holdup due to an art department problem. Although we had scouted the jail numerous times, you invariably make tweaks when you actually shoot. The director, Greg Hoblit, had changed the camera placement from what was originally proposed. The new position revealed a couple of cells whose doors were out of place. Set Dressers scrambled around swapping out working cell doors for the rotten fixtures we now saw. They were heavy pieces of steel in rough condition so we had some time to kill.
I found myself standing next to the actor Elias Koteas. Normally I leave the on-camera talent alone unless I have a specific reason to interact with them. I respect the difficulty of their craft and besides, I’m there to do a job, not to star-fuck. But Elias was just standing there whistling a Rolling Stones song under his breath, almost seeming like he was looking for someone to talk to.
“Hey man, I loved your work in ‘Crash’”.
He lit right up at mention of that film.
“Really, you did? Thanks for saying so. Playing Vaughan was an intimidating prospect.”
And we hit it off. It was one of those rare moments in life where you just fall deeply into conversation with a kindred spirit. We started with the film, then moved into the work of JG Ballard. Looped back to Cronenberg. Shared a laugh over the palpable sense of creepiness that James Spader carries with him. If it was a date we would have fucked, that’s how perfectly in tune we were. We spent a good half hour just vibing each other. Fascinating guy.
Eventually we were interrupted by a PA. Doors had been hung, lights tweaked and makeup was touched up. Time to shoot the scene. Elias politely excused himself.
“Hey man, time to work. Nice chatting with you.”
I hung around to watch him work and was instantly mortified. Turns out he was playing Edgar Reese, a serial killer. The scene was him walking down the death row hallway to the execution chamber. I can’t possibly imagine a harder scene to play. The intensity and focus required to portray a man walking to his death are well beyond my understanding. Had I realized what he was going to do I wouldn’t have gone within fifty feet of him. Yet he made it look effortless. Shook my hand, strolled onto set and made you believe he was that man.
Our location contact at Eastern State was a redneck named Jim. He may have lived in Philadelphia but everything about him was pure West Virginia. He was a prison guard when the penitentiary was still active and had been kept on when it closed to “manage” the place. Managing the place appeared to consist of eating twinkies and reading comic books and porn magazines from the looks of his office. He was reluctant to leave his office as it was the only air conditioned space in the facility. Eventually I convinced him to show me around.
The place really does have a great look. It was designed to not only contain convicts, but crush their spirits as well. Architecture of doom stuff. It’s where the demon is introduced in the film and was a perfect choice to set the scene. As we passed through the cafeteria Jim stopped and pointed out a mural on the wall. It represented various black icons from the later years that the prison was active, the sixties to the early seventies. Malcolm X, Doctor King, Muhammad Ali. Jim caught me by the arm and nodded towards the wall.
“Got one for you. Take a good look and tell me what’s missing”
I gave it a long look and couldn’t figure out the answer. Jim gave me a broad smile before hitting me with it.
“The bullet holes.”
He proceeded to laugh for much too long.
Easily the best film I’ve seen this year. I love a good gangster film, and this is a great one. It opens with a truly intense scene in Algeria and just accelerates from there, hopping continents to follow this international criminal. Intensely raw and violent, this film does not shy away from the gritty parts of the lifestyle.
That makes the lead performance all the more impressive. No easy feat to have the audience buy into a protagonist who is a stone sociopath. Vincent Cassel absolutely inhabits the role. My God is he good in this part. Truly perfect casting. The rest of the actors are quite good as well, and all are favored by some deft direction.
The wifey generally doesn’t care for subtitled films. I gave her the “just the tip” challenge on this one and she took it, agreeing to give it a few minutes and see if she liked it. Two hours later we were both sitting there, jaws agape, completely owned by this film. This was only part one and I cannot wait to see the rest.