Latest Headlines

Inferno – Making of the Expendables

InfernoMakingof ExpendablesWhere does it come from:
I believe it was an extra on some release – I do not know which, but it has its own IMDB page and was produced by Epix, which is a pay TV station. They produced the superior John Milius documentary that I reviewed at Cinema Sentries.

I saw it online at Daily Motion.

There is no uber-narrator. It’s all interviews, footage, and some Sly Stallone talking about what he’s doing, what he’s trying, what he sees himself accomplishing. This narration begins expansively, but quickly becomes much more nuts and bolts (and much more interesting).

Tone of Documentary:
For this type of movie, surprisingly open-eyed, and eye-opening. It is only a documentation of the movie-making process – not press kit interview stuff, no one talking about how great everything is. It’s a real filmmaking documentary. There’s some talk about the intent of the movie (recreating the 80s action film dynamic, loading it with 80s stars) but Sly Stallone is clear-headed about the kind of film he is making, and about stardom in general. Kids crowd him everywhere he goes. He understands that, “It’s not me. It took me about 30 years to get that.”

Who Participated:
Almost all of the footage is on-set, so anyone who was there at the time. And this means sometimes interviews with tired crew-members who don’t much want to talk, and a Sly Stallone who is in deep pain. During the movie he ruptured a tendon in his foot, needed neck surgery for a spinal issue, had shingles and all kinds of ailments. It doesn’t show in the times when he is actually doing the work.

Best bits:
I have not seen the Expendables movies, and I don’t much care to see them. The footage of the actual film didn’t look like anything I would go out of my way to check out. But this is a great documentary on the process of making an extremely complicated film. Action movies tend to go lower-rated by critics for a number of reasons, legitimate and illegitimate. But there is nothing easy about this type of movie-making. Filming people talking is infinitely less complicated and easier to do. The disrespect for action filmmaking, if it isn’t largely based in ignorance, is political. These movies are not useful (no good art is useful, and those who seek ‘use’ for art, and find art that is not directly useful ‘problematic,’ are friends of tyranny and enemies to all that is good). They advance few agendas, and are at least sympathetic toward, if not wholly laudatory of masculine values. And Sly is upfront about this. It’s a movie about men overcoming odds, very specifically men. I guess women filter into the Expendables series eventually – I don’t care, any more than I care about these movies. I do care about filmmaking, and feel I have a better understanding of it having watched this doc. It is not antiseptic, it is not boring, it is not hagiographic. It is illuminating, all that a doc should be.

Film Nerd Bits:
This isn’t a film nerd style doc. There’s no old trivia – the movie, I understand, is full of winks and the like, but this is just a nuts and bolts in-media-res show of moviemaking.

Actual Documentary


The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


This review is a discursive plug for Alex Cox’s book, 10,000 Ways to Die.  Cox synopsizes of just about every Spaghetti Western ever made.  His estimations of the films themselves, though, are the meat and potatoes.  Everything else, including the synopsis and the full list of cast and crew for each film, is padding.  Having said that, I do in theory appreciate the synopsi, because I know how difficult it is for anyone to synopsize a story in so many words.  I digress, though.

Sergio Leone films are rough around the edges.  Of the Westerns he made, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly seems to me not only the quintessential one, but the most fun.  As to whether it is the quintessential Spaghetti Western—hey.  That’s the sort of superlative I just can’t issue.  After reading Cox’s book, I must confess my ignorance:  The films credited to Leone only represent about a fifth of the genre.  In addition to his films, I have seen a couple of Sergio Corbucci pictures, and The Big Gundown and Death Rides a Horse.  Lee Van Cleef stars in four of those titles, and I have a highfalutin idea to write a biography about him someday.  Still, I digress.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly nails the basic Leone approach.  Influenced as much by American directors (e.g., John Ford) as they were by Japanese directors (e.g., Akira Kurosawa) and Italian directors (e.g., Federico Fellini), Leone’s gun operas remain startlingly fresh to this day, and here are the reasons why:  Depicting the West as a veritable bed for bastards (a hostile desert terrain that, aside from a few breathtaking master shots of Monument Valley in Once Upon a Time in the West, looks unlike any American desert and so [if you didn’t know better] at least subconsciously jars you into feeling like you are watching a Western that was shot on another planet [but of course, it was Spain]), he gives you a riveting face for every character, and the leads are antiheroes.  At times, and for extended sequences at that, Leone eschews dialogue altogether.  He also stretches time constantly.  The effect excites you.  Making stark juxtapositions between the wide shot and the close-up—between the slow buildup of tension and the hair-trigger release of violence—between the proclivity for sentiment and the proclivity for a rich gallows humor—Leone brings the Roman circus, a carnivalesque thirst for the bawdy, crude and obscene, to the central, ritualistic idea of the standoff.  In one sense, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is simply one standoff after another.  Detours, double-crosses, and head fakes abound, but Leone keeps raising the stakes.  And though TGTBATU is the best of the Dollars Trilogy, it does in its 180-minute iteration feel a bit too long, a bit too keen on being a masterpiece to rival anything David Lean was doing in that same decade, the 1960s.  The sheer novelty of Leone’s approach, though, bolstered here and never bettered, sustains your interest.  Applied to Ennio Morricone’s music on the soundtrack (Leone shot scenes to parts of the music), the film rises to greatness.

Anyway, I recommend the Alex Cox book to anyone with even a passing interest in the Spaghetti Western genre.  He writes well, and the praise he gives to some real obscure Italian oaters has inspired me to seek those films out.  The Christopher Frayling audio commentaries on the blu-rays of the Leone Westerns are detailed and informative, amounting to a kind of biography-by-commentary.  Better still are Cox’s critical yet loving reviews of the films, which comprise a slightly damning portrait of a director who changed the world.  So, you should see the films (TGTBATU takes the cake), you should watch them with the Frayling commentaries on, and you should read the Alex Cox book.

There was more to the Spaghetti Western than this one film; but I have a feeling it is the definitive example of the genre.  I aim to find out.


Peter Gabriel – Melt

pg3rdalbumAs is the case with Sting’s tunery, Peter Gabriel’s music has always struck me as a rather untidy synthesis of pop, prog, and world.  At his best, Gabriel is a poppy git; you can dance to his slick evocations of sex (“Shock the Monkey”; “Sledgehammer”; “Digging in the Dirt”; “Steam”).  At his worst, he’s a pretentious twit.  No matter where you turn, the distinct musk of arty self-importance permeates the man’s catalog.  You can smell it a mile away.  His vocals, though, are the sticking point.  On this, the third and best of his eponymous albums, he bolsters the song-craft, tightening the rhythms and making the lyrics more prosaic than he had done before.  Propped by the canned and airless feel of the production, there’s even a kind of motif, that of a man losing, or grappling with, his identity as the world around him burns.  (When I bought the CD in my teens, I was reading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a book which seemed to tie nicely into the music.)

Rating: A-


Velvet Goldmine

velvet-goldmine-posterConspicuous by his absence from the soundtrack, Bowie as beautiful, androgynous space freak is all over Velvet Goldmine. Quite a few people, Bowie included, cattily dismissed the movie as a gay glam fan’s total wish fulfillment fantasy, saying it was just an extended music video that took glam rock as no more or less than a gateway to gay liberation, to buggering who you want to bugger (or have bugger you). To me, though, the movie is a cool curio for precisely that reason. Filmed by lesser hands, and as perceived by lesser minds, Velvet Goldmine has all the potential to be simply a cock-shy piece of trash, gutlessly rendering the glam-swooning London of ’72/’73 as a bright conglomeration of talented and imaginative blokes on the make. Perhaps someone could surprise me and make a good movie of that. Velvet Goldmine, however, is an aficionado’s fond, feather-light look back at an era the director wasn’t around for, mashing the sounds and styles through his own filter of appreciation, and giving it lots of sex and sex appeal in the process. The fact that the movie has no choice but to skirt around Bowie’s bio (as opposed to tackling it head-on) frees it to go deeper into its own fantasia. (Part of the film’s fun is the way it reinvents the Ziggy Stardust phenom at will, from a Citizen Kane-like perspective.) And hey, Bowie and the Spiders From Mars may have been the apotheosis of the genre, but there was a helluva lot of great glam rock that other people were making then, too, and I salute any film that gives them ample shoulder room.

Of special merit: Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Hot damn.

Rating: B


Book Covers Used to Be Better, Too

Reading Jack’s great article on movie posters (which I will be expanding on soon) I want to throw in for 70s paperback book covers. Book covers now all look the same, and have been homogenized like movie posters. There used to be more art to them.

Here’s one I just found that’s hard to beat:

Shaft Among the Jews-1

Tags: , ,