Film Review: Basquiat (dir by Julian Schnabel)


Basquiat.  I love this movie.

I Shot Andy Warhol was not the only 1996 film to feature Andy Warhol as a character.  He was also a prominent supporting character in Basquiat.  In this film, he’s played by David Bowie and Bowie gives a far different performance than Jared Harris did in I Shot Andy Warhol.  Whereas Harris played Andy as a detached voyeur, Bowie’s performance is far more sympathetic.  (Of course, it should be noted that Harris and Bowie were playing Andy Warhol at very different points in the artist’s life.  Harris played the younger, pre-shooting Warhol.  Bowie played the older, post-shooting Warhol.)

Then again, it’s not just Andy Warhol who is portrayed more positively in Basquiat than in I Shot Andy Warhol.  The entire New York art scene is portrayed far more positively in Basquiat.  Whereas I Shot Andy Warhol was a film about an outsider who was destined to forever remain an outsider, Basquiat is a film about an outsider who becomes an insider.  On top of that, Basquiat was directed by a fellow insider, painter Julian Schnabel.

The film itself is a biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat (very well played by Jeffrey Wright), the graffiti artist who, in the 1980s, briefly became one of the superstars of the New York art scene.  However, it’s less of a conventional biopic and more of a meditation on what it means to be an artist.  Throughout the film, Basquiat looks up to the New York skyline and sees a surfer riding a wave across the sky.  The image itself is never explicitly explained.  We never learn why, specifically, Basquiat visualizes a surfer.  But then again, that’s what makes the surfer a perfect symbol of Basquiat’s artistic sensibility and talent.  It’s a reminder that, while we can appreciate an artist’s work, only the artist can truly understand what that work is saying.  All attempts to try to explain or categorize art are as pointless as trying to understand why that surfer is in the sky.  Ultimately, the why is not as important as the simple fact that the surfer is there.

The film follows Basquiat as he goes from living on the streets to being a protegé of Andy Warhol’s and, until he overdosed on heroin, one of the shining lights of the New York art scene.  Along the way, Basquiat struggles to maintain a balance between art and the business.  In one of the key scenes of the film, an empty-headed suburbanite (Tatum O’Neal) looks at Basquiat’s work and whines that there’s too much green.  She just can’t handle all of that green.

Basquiat’s friendship with Andy Warhol provides this film with a heart.  When Bowie first appears — having lunch with a German art dealer played by Dennis Hopper — one’s natural instinct is to assume that Bowie as Warhol is stunt casting.  However, Bowie quickly proves that instinct to be wrong.  As opposed to many of the actors who have played Andy Warhol over the years, Bowie gives an actual performance.  Instead of resorting to caricature, Bowie plays Warhol as being mildly bemused by both his fame and the world in general.

Basquiat also develops a close friendship with another artist.  Gary Oldman may be playing a character named Albert Milo but it’s obvious from the moment that he first appears that he’s playing the film’s director, Julian Schnabel.  If there was any doubt, Schnabel’s studio stands in for Milo’s studio.  When Milo shows off his work, he’s showing off Schnabel’s work.  When Albert Milo introduced Basquiat to his parents, the nice old couple is played by Julian Schnabel’s actual parents.  It’s perhaps not surprising that Albert Milo is presented as being one of the most important and popular artists in New York City.  In a film full of bitchy characters, Albert Milo is unique in that literally everyone likes and respects him.  And yet Gary Oldman gives such a good and heartfelt performance that you can’t hold it against the character that he happens to be perfect.  There’s a small but touching scene in which Albert Milo and his daughter share a dance in front of one of Schnabel’s gigantic canvases.  Of course, Milo’s daughter is played by Julian Schnabel’s daughter.

The entire cast is full of familiar actors.  Willem DaFoe appears as a sculptor.  Christopher Walken plays a hilariously vapid interviewer.  Courtney Love plays a groupie.  Benicio Del Toro plays Basquiat’s best friend.  Parker Posey shows up as gallery owner Mary Boone.  Michael Wincott plays Rene Ricard, the somewhat infamous art critic who was among the first to celebrate the work of both Basquiat and Schnabel.  For once, the use of familiar actors does not sabotage the effectiveness of the film.  If anything, it helps to explain why Basquiat was so determined to make it.  There’s a magical scene where a then-unknown Basquiat peeks through a gallery window and sees Andy Warhol, Albert Milo, and Bruno Bischofberger.  However, the film’s audience sees David Bowie, Gary Oldman, and Dennis Hopper.  What both Basquiat and the audience have in common is that they’re both seeing bigger-than-life stars.

Basquiat is an often magical and poignant film and I absolutely love it.

A Movie A Day #146: The Dogs of War (1981, directed by John Irvin)


Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) is a professional mercenary who is hired, by a British businessman, to overthrow the government of Zangaro.  Though Zangaro is currently ruled by a ruthless dictator, Shannon’s employers want to replace him with someone even worse, all so they can get their hands on the country’s platinum mines.  After Shannon is captured and tortured by the government, he wants nothing else to do with Zangaro.  Instead, he wants to return to New York and propose to his ex-wife (JoBeth Williams).  But, when she turns down his proposal, Shannon and his mercenary army return to Zangaro.

Before winning an Oscar for The Deer Hunter and becoming one of our most popular character actors, Christopher Walken was a finalist for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars.  If not for George Lucas’s decision to hire Harrison Ford to read lines for the actors at the auditions, Christopher Walken’s career could have developed far differently.  The Dogs of War, which was Walken’s first big film after the high of The Deer Hunter and the low of Heaven’s Gate, features Walken playing a character who has much in common with George Lucas’s original conception of Han Solo, an amoral mercenary who will work for anyone who pays him.  Walken is almost too good as Jamie, playing the part as being so aloof and ruthless that it is sometimes hard to feel any sympathy for him at all.  If he had taken that approach to playing Han Solo, audiences would have really been shocked when Han returned to attack the Death Star.  They would probably be worried that he had returned because the Empire offered him a thousand credits to kill Luke.

The Dogs of War has an intriguing premise but it’s a very slow movie that gets caught up in all the minutia that goes into staging a coup.  It’s exciting when Walken and his mercenaries finally attack the dictator’s compound but it takes forever to get there.  The book, by Frederick Forsyth, is a well-written page turner but the film adaptation largely falls flat.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: Annie Hall (dir by Woody Allen)


anniehallposterYou take a risk when you review a Woody Allen film, even an acknowledged, Best Picture-winning classic like 1977’s Annie Hall.  Do you address the accusations that have been made about him?  Do you ignore them and hope that they won’t be the Elephant in the Room, stomping through your review?  Do you try to justify reviewing (or, in some cases, even watching) Allen’s film?  Or do you just let the work speak for itself?

I love Annie Hall.  Quite frankly, I like a lot of Woody Allen’s films, even though I understand why his work is an acquired taste for quite a few other people.  I’ll address the elephant in the room in a paragraph or two but you know what?  I watched Annie Hall last night and I want to mention a few reasons why I enjoy this film.

First off, Annie Hall features one of Christopher Walken’s first (and best) performances.  He only has a few lines but he makes quite an impression.  He plays Duane, the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).  When Annie’s boyfriend, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), is visiting the Hall family, Duane invites Alvy into his bedroom and tells him that, whenever he’s driving, he fantasizes about intentionally swerving into incoming traffoc.  In the very next scene, Duane is driving an oblivious Annie and a terrified Alvy to the airport.  It’s a wonderfully funny moment.  (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that Annie’s apartment is full of pictures of Duane and his thousand yard stare.)

Secondly, this film also features an early role for Jeff Goldblum.  He only has one line — “I forgot my mantra” but my God, he does amazing things with that line.

Third, when Alvy and his agent, Rob (Tony Roberts), are driving through Los Angeles, they pass a theater.  According to the marquee, the theater is showing House of Exorcism, a Mario Bava film.  That’s right: Italian horror in a Woody Allen film.  How glorious is that?

Fourth, Annie Hall is an extremely dated film.  It was made in 1977 and, as to be expected about a film directed and written by a stand up comedian, it’s full of references that were probably hilariously on target then but rather obscure now.  As well, like almost all Woody Allen films, it’s a very New York film.  Alvy is an intellectual, left-wing Jew who suspects that everyone he sees is an anti-Semite and who is dating an aspiring actress and singer who hails from middle America.  (During the scene where Alvy meets her family, he immediately pegs Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.”)  The film is very much told from Alvy’s point of view, which means jokes about New York periodicals and a flashback to an Adlai Stevenson rally.  That being said, I’m a Texas girl who was born long after Annie Hall was first released and I still enjoy the film because it’s a film that captures some universal truths about human relationships.

The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was 17 and I saw a lot of myself in Annie.  While I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of her outfits, I knew what it was like to be insecure.  I knew what it was like to be nervous.  I know what it was like to worry about being smart enough.  And, like Annie, I eventually learned that independence was the key to happiness.  Annie Hall has stood the test of time because both Annie and Alvy are relatable while still remaining wonderfully unique and neurotic individuals.

(If ever a film has been a ode to the joy of being neurotic, it’s Annie Hall.)

Fifth, I love the scene where Alvy asks a random couple of the street how they make their relationship work.  “I’m totally shallow and have no original thoughts,” the woman replies.  “And I’m the exact same way,” her husband cheerfully adds.

Sixth, I’m going to assume that Paul Simon was primarily playing himself.

Seventh, there are just so many great scenes.  Like when Alvy deals with a rude cop by ripping up his license.  And then, there’s that lobster scene.  And that moment when Alvy comes over to Annie’s apartment to kill a “spider the size of a buick.”  (Judging by the number of times Alvy has to hit the spider with that tennis racket, I assume buick’s are pretty big.)  There’s the two scenes of Annie singing, one when she’s still insecure and can’t compete with the sound of plates smashing around here and the other when she’s developed the confidence to dominate and control both the stage and the audience.  There’s the scenes where Alvy breaks the fourth wall and get advise from random people on the streets of New York.  And what about when Annie starts laughing while telling the horrible story of how her uncle died at the post office?  Or what about when Alvy tries to avoid having sex with his first wife by discussing the JFK assassination?  Or when we literally see Annie mentally check out of making love to Alvy?  Or how about the split-screen therapy sessions?  Or the sudden moment when Annie and Alvy become cartoon characters?  Or the scene with the pretentious blowhard at the movies?

(As a Southern girl, I have to admit that it’s always strange to me to hear Alvy and Annie talking about “waiting on line” at the movies.  Down here, we say “in line,” which makes a lot more sense.  Since a line is just a crowd of people standing in a certain order, saying that you’re “on line,” is the same as saying your standing on someone’s head.  You get in a crowd, not on them.  Whenever I hear someone from up north talking about “waiting on line,” I assume they must be bidding for something on Ebay.)

I like Annie Hall and I always will.  As for the accusations against Woody Allen, they don’t keep me from enjoying his better films because:

  1. I’ve always been a big believer that art can and should be judged separately from the artist.
  2. Having read what both sides have said about Woody Allen and the accusations that have been made against him, I don’t think he did it.

Obviously, some are going to disagree with me on both those points.  So be it.  Everyone has to make their own choice.  For me, though, what’s important is that Annie Hall is a film that I’ve loved since the first time I saw it and I’ll continue to love it.

Lisa Marie’s Six Favorite Super Bowl Commercials!


As you may know, if you’re one of our longtime readers, I only watch the Super Bowl for one reason.  Right now, I know that at least three TSL contributors are happy because the Patriots won.  And I know that at least one is upset that the Falcons lost.  But me — all I care about are the commercials.

What were the commercials like this year?  They weren’t terrible.  As tends to happen with Super Bowl commercials, quite a few of them tried way too hard.  A lot of people are going to go crazy praising the more political of the commercials.  A few commercials attempted to comment on everything that’s going on in this country right now.  That’s their right but I always find it amusing when big, faceless corporations spend millions on commercials bragging about how progressive they supposedly are.

That said, it was fairly easy for me to pick my six favorite commercials this year.  It was also pretty easy for me to pick my least favorite commercial.  Seriously, Febreze, what the Hell?

Here’s my top six.  I’m not saying that these commercials would convince me to buy or do anything.  But they did amuse me and that’s the important thing!

6) Yellow Tail Wine

I hardly ever drink so I don’t have any idea whether Yellow Tail is a good wine or not.  To be honest, I really don’t care.  Nothing bores me more than when people start getting all technical and in-depth about wine.  The important thing is that the kangaroo is cute.

In fact, he’s almost as cute as the beaver in this 2008 commercial from Australia.

5) Tide

“I know, you’re trending.”  This made me laugh out loud.

4) Bai

Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake need to do more commercials together.

3) Wix.Com

Speaking of pairings that unexpectedly work, I hope that Gal Gadot and Jason Statham will return for this commercial’s sequel.

Finally, for my top two spots, I have to admit that I’ve gone back and forth as to which one of these commercials should come in first and which should come in second.  I was even tempted to declare a tie but, in the end, one commercial managed to cling to the top spot.

First, here’s the runner-up:

2) Snickers

This commercial didn’t get much attention in the days leading up to the game.  It probably didn’t cost a lot to make.  It wasn’t trendy.  It wasn’t flashy. It most definitely wasn’t political.  But, by highlighting the absurdity of Super Bowl commercials, it nearly won the night.  (Plus, it features Adam Driver and who doesn’t love that?)

And finally, my pick for the best commercial of Super Bowl LI…

(Drum roll, please…)

1) Squarespace

John Malkovich!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Nine Lives (dir by Barry Sonnenfeld)


Much like Warcraft, Nine Lives is another film that came out last year and got reviews that were far more negative than they should have been.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  Nine Lives is technically a pretty stupid movie and it stars a lot of actors who probably should be doing something a little bit more substantial with their time.  That being said, it’s not as if Nine Lives ever promised to be anything more than what it is.

Two facts about Nine Lives:

Number one — it did not make me physically ill, which already makes it a better movie than Hardcore Henry.

Number two — it’s all about cats!  After being more or less pushed to the side by The Secret Life of Pets (which featured only one tokenish kitty), cats finally get a movie of their very own!

It may not be a very good movie but that’s beside the point.  KITTY POWER!

As for what the film is about — well, it’s a concept that is so silly and stupid and predictable that I’m not surprised that it was produced by a major American studio.  (Except apparently, it wasn’t!  Despite taking place in America, featuring a totally American cast, and English dialogue, this is actually a French film, produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.)  Kevin Spacey is an emotionally cold and ruthless businessman who discovers that he does have a heart when he switches bodies with a cat.  Don’t ask how he switches bodies, it’s just too silly for me to talk about.  The important thing is that he switches and it leads to a lot of litter box jokes that made me, as a proud cat owner, cringe.

BUT — and here’s why this film is not as bad you may think, the cat is really cute.  And if a cat did speak with a human voice, chances are that voice would sound a lot like Kevin Spacey’s.  It may sound like a pretty weird role for a two-time Oscar winner and multiple Emmy nominee (and don’t even get me started on the Golden Globes) but dammit, Kevin throws himself into voicing that feline’s thoughts and good for him!

Plus, this is yet another film that features a totally out there Christopher Walken cameo.  The presence of Christopher Walker automatically elevates any film.

Nine Lives may not be good but it’s not terrible.

(Of course, dog lovers will hate it….)

 

Film Review: Eddie the Eagle (dir by Dexter Fletcher)


 

eddie_the_eagle_poster

Hi, everyone!

So. I’m guessing, after what happened last night, some of our readers might need something to cheer them up.  If you’re a regular reader of this site, I’m going to imagine that you love movies.  And, in your moment of uncertainty or whatever, you might want to watch a movie.  And, of course, you’re asking yourself, “What does Lisa think I should watch?”

Well, I’ll be honest.  My cinematic tastes tend to be rather dark.  I like horror movies.  I like movies with sad endings.  I love brutal satire.  I love movies that attack their audience and that dare you to look away.  So, I might not be the best person to ask…

But you know what?

There actually is a movie that I can recommend to anyone who needs to be cheered up this week.  Eddie the Eagle, which came out way back in February, is exactly the type of movie that you would expect an arthouse snob like me to dismiss.  It’s a feel-good sports movie, one that is based on a true story but which also features a lot of composite characters and manufactured drama.  No, Eddie the Eagle is perhaps not the type of film that you would expect me to enjoy but, when I finally got around to watching it a few days ago, I absolutely loved it!

Eddie the Eagle tells the story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a somewhat eccentric Englishman who dreams of competing in the Winter Olympics, despite the fact that he’s not all that athletically inclined.  When he’s turned down for a spot on the Olympic skiing team, Eddie decides to try to go to the Olympics as a ski jumper.  Working to Eddie’s advantage is the fact that there are no other English ski jumpers.  (We’re told that it’s been over 60 years since the UK even sent a ski jumper to the Olympics.)  In theory, Eddie should be able to qualify for the Olympic team just by showing up.  Working to Eddie’s disadvantage is the fact that the snooty British Olympic officials don’t want him to represent the UK in the Olympics.

Of course, there’s also the fact that Eddie has no experience as a ski jumper and only a few months to learn how to do it.  And, if Eddie makes any mistakes during one of his jumps, he could easily be severely injured or perhaps even die.

Most people would probably just give up and find something practical to do with their life but not Eddie!  Eddie has a dream and he’s going to achieve it, no matter what.  Fortunately, Eddie finds a coach.  Alcoholic Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) used to be a champion ski jumper but he’s spent the last few years drinking and being bitter.  At first, Bronson doesn’t want anything to do with Eddie but eventually, Eddie wins him over with his sincerity and his refusal to give up.  As Eddie explains to Bronson, he doesn’t care whether or not he wins a medal.  He just wants to compete…

And really, it shouldn’t work.  I should be complaining about how shamelessly manipulative this movie is.  I should be making fun of the fact that it features almost every sports film cliché imaginable.  But dammit, it’s such a sweet movie!  Director Dexter Fletcher does a great job filming Eddie’s jumps (often times from his point of view) and Taron Egerton is so charmingly odd in the role that you can’t help but cheer whenever Eddie manages to land without crippling himself.  Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman does a good job of grounding the movie in reality (which makes it all the more ironic that, unlike Egerton, Jackman is playing a fictional character).  Add to that, this film features a somewhat random Christopher Walken cameo!  Seriously, you’re sitting there and you’re thinking, “This is a good movie but I just wish Christopher Walken was here…” and then suddenly …. THERE’S CHRISTOPHER WALKEN!

Eddie the Eagle is a sweet and sincere burst of positivity.  It’s the perfect antidote to 2016!

Music Video of the Day: Weapon Of Choice by Fatboy Slim (2001, dir. Spike Jonze)


Leaving this out of a week of music videos that feature dancing would be a crime. I could leave it at that, but let’s talk a little bit about this music video.

Much like the mid-90s swing revival seemed to come out of nowhere, so did this video. We were all familiar with Fatboy Slim’s Praise You whether we wanted to be or not at this time. They played that song to death. Then came Mr. Deer Hunter and Gold Watch up your butt Christopher Walken dancing around a hotel like he was suddenly possessed by the spirit of Fred Astaire. Leave it up to Spike Jonze to think this one up, or at least I assume he did. This is one of those music videos that we not only know the director and producers, but the cinematographer, choreographers, the production designer, the 2nd camera operator, costume and wardrobe, visual effects, stunts, and it apparently had a “Philosophical Consultant”.

The choreographers were Spike Jonze and Christopher Walken themselves, but also a Michael Rooney. His work can be seen from as far back as Saved by the Bell to this year’s The Jungle Book.

Of course you’ll recognize the 2nd camera operator. That being director Roman Coppola.

The cinematographer is Lance Acord. He worked on Being John Malkovich (1999), Adaptation (2002), Lost in Translation (2003), Marie Antoinette (2006), etc.

The people you’ll recognize goes on.

Eric Zumbrunnen was the editor on this video a along with some notable videos such as Buddy Holly, Cannonball by The Breeders, and Sure Shot by Beastie Boys. He too would continue to work with Spike Jonze being the editor on Adaptation and Her (2013).

Producer Vincent Landay would continue to work with Jonze, but Deannie O’Neil doesn’t appeared to have done much of anything beyond this music video.

Production Designer Val Wilt would go on to do 96 episodes of Bones. Not bad.

Costume Designer Casey Storm would also go on to work for Spike Jonze and do Zodiac (2007) with David Fincher.

Visual effects person Ben Gibbs would work some more with Jonze, but I’m not sure about Jeff Kim.

As for the stunt people, Keith Campbell is one of those people who has done stunts on everything. Brian Friedman is apparently very well known as a dancer/choreographer on TV Shows. He also worked on several Britney Spears music videos.

The “Philosophical Consultant” K.K. Barrett worked with both Jonze and the Coppolas.

Wow! Now this is a well documented music video. This makes me happy. It also makes me happy watching Christopher Walken channel his inner Astaire. I love how Walken at first isn’t sure where the music is coming from and notices the little radio. Then he is overcome, and must dance. It’s true what Gloria Estefan said: “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”.

This video is pure fun. It’s also funny that we got 70s cop shows for Beastie Boys, Happy Days for Weezer, 50s musicals for Björk, and then Walken doing a more expansive version of Fred Astaire’s number from 1951’s Royal Wedding.