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Entries in Martin Scorsese (2)

Friday
Dec232016

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS: THREE TARNISHED IDOLS

TWELVE DAYS OF CINE-MAS
A traditional festive countdown, reflecting upon my 2016 movie-watching moments...

THREE TARNISHED IDOLS
When the dust settled on the greatest decade in Hollywood history, it was these three men who were at the forefront. They emerged from the 1970s with classic films to their names, works that defined and altered the ways movies were made and watched; they remained figgureheads of the American industry for four decades, delivering critical and/or commercial hits again and again. But something happened in 2016 that their legion of fans could not quite comprehend – they were proven to be fallible…

STEVEN SPIELBERG
History says…: The most successful director in cinema history, Oscar nominated in every decade for the last 40 years. His astonishing back catalogue includes Jaws, Close Encounters of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-terrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of The Sun, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich; as a producer, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to The Future, Men in Black and True Grit.  
And in 2016?: Cannes rolled out the red carpet for the World Premiere of The BFG…and no one cared. Spielberg spoke of his affinity for Roald Dahl’s source material, the beloved book he read nightly to his children; of how he has neared shoot dates on the project for decades (at one point, Robin Williams attached), but effects technology failed to match his vision; of his ‘bromance’ with Bridge of Spies star Mark Rylance, whose face peers out from behind the mo-cap/CGI titular character. But critics were divided (the post-screening mood in Cannes was chilly) and audiences couldn’t be wooed; it stumbled out of the gate in the midst of the US summer and crawled to an anaemic US$55million domestically, an underwhelming US$122million globally (against a budget of US$140million).
Can he bounce back…?; There have been some stumbles along the way – namely 1941, Hook and War Horse - but his natural storytelling prowess and commercial instincts tend to rebound strongly. He followed 1941 with Raiders of The Lost Ark; Hook with Jurassic Park; War Horse with Lincoln. He is deep into production on the adaptation of the pop-culture sci-fi phenomenon Ready Player One (due 2018), a seemingly perfect fit which see’s him back in Minority Report/A.I. territory.


WOODY ALLEN
History says…: After a series of timeless comedies (Take the Money and Run; Sleeper; Love and Death), he emerged as the quintessential ‘New York filmmaker’ of the 70s when he wrote and directed the Oscar-winning rom-com, Annie Hall. AMPAS is always looking to reward the prolific, often brilliant auteur; he has 19 nominations and four Oscars (most recently, for his Midnight in Paris screenplay in 2012). European cinephiles cite his period of Bergman-esque introspection (Interiors, 1978; September, 1987; Another Woman, 1988) as works of genius.
And in 2016…?: Was afforded Opening Night honours at the Cannes Film Festival for Café Society, his melancholy look at Hollywood’s golden years. General consensus was that it was Woody on auto-pilot; he had done this rose-coloured, bittersweet nostalgia trip before and better, most notably with Radio Days and Bullets Over Broadway (Editor’s note: we liked it); it did US$11million in the U.S., bringing out the die-hard Allen fans but few others. A bad year turned worse when salacious accusations regarding his private life were dragged out again, this time by Mia Farrow’s son, Ronan. Attention turned to the premiere of his Amazon TV series, A Crisis in Six Parts, in which he co-starred opposite Miley Cyrus and comedy legend Elaine May. By the time Variety listed it as the 5th worst television show of the year (“It’s mind-boggling that anyone thought this was a good idea”), 2016 proved to be Allen’s annus horribilis.
Can he bounce back….?: He has an ‘Untitled Woody Allen Project’ due in 2017, with stars Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake and Juno Temple. Allen has stumbled before, including a period at the turn of the century in which his U.S. films had become so disposable, he fled to Europe (and really bounced back, with the superb Match Point and Oscar winning Vicki Christina Barcelona). At 81, time may be a factor, but his work ethic and on-set energy is faultless.


MARTIN SCORSESE
History says…: One of the greatest filmmakers ever to step behind a camera. Along with peers like Spielberg, De Palma, Coppola and Lucas, Scorsese was one of the original ‘Movie Brat’ directors, emerging in the 70s with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film history and a seemingly effortless talent for pulsating narratives. His classics include Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Waltz, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, After Hours, Goodfellas, Casino, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, The Departed (for which he scored his first Best Director Oscar) and The Wolf of Wall Street. 
And in 2016…?: Not included amongst those ‘classics’ is 1993’s The Age of Innocence, his bloated, self-important Oscar-bait period piece which sank under its own pretension despite some superb ensemble acting (Daniel Day Lewis, Winona Ryder, Michelle Pfeiffer). To wit, Silence, Scorsese’s latest over-produced, history-lesson bore, in which an earnest, sobby Andrew Garfield plays a Jesuit missionary, searching for Liam Neeson’s turncoat padre while preaching what was a forbidden religion in 17th century Japan. A former seminary student, Scorsese had been obsessed with Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel for decades, only now having the cache to pull together the eight different independent financiers needed to cover costs. Not even Scorsese could wring studio backing for the production; sensing award season potential, a moribund Paramount finally picked it up for distribution. Critics will love it because ‘A Scorsese passion-project’ makes good copy, but audiences, even the burgeoning faith-based demo, will find it a turgid slog. Add to the mix the critical slaying and cancellation of his HBO production Vinyl, and 2016 has been a year to forget for the great director.
Can he bounce back….?: Already happening, with the buzzed-about casting of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci in his next picture, The Irishman.

Thursday
Nov052015

THE BEAUTIFUL WORDS OF MELISSA MATHISON

Screenwriter and author Melissa Mathison passed away on Wednesday, aged 65, at the UCLA Medical Centre, having fought neuroendocrine cancer for several months. Her Hollywood experience was legendary; the political-science graduate from Berkeley befriended Francis Ford Coppola (she would babysit his young children) and became his PA during the production of The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now. Over four decades, six of her screenplays would transition to the big-screen (including a co-writing credit with Stephen Zito on Caleb Deschanel’s 1992 drama, The Escape Artist); at the time of her passing, her adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (the third collaboration with Steven Spielberg; pictured together, below, on the set of ET) was in early post-production. Her work, filled with warmth, humour and honesty, will never be forgotten… 

THE BLACK STALLION (1979; Dir: Carroll Ballard)
Having worked as a TIME correspondent, Mathison was encouraged to tackle her first screenplay by Coppola, playing the mentor role. With fellow feature debutants William D Witliff and Jeanne Rosenberg, Mathison crafted the adaptation of Walter Farley’s novel into the first of her classic family storylines. Under the stewardship of director Carroll Ballard and visionary eye of DOP Caleb Deschanel, Mathison’s lean, spiritual tale of the desert-island friendship between Alec (Kelly Reno) and The Black Stallion has endured; in 2002, it was admitted into the National Film Registry by the US Film Preservation Board.
Classic line: “’Cause this Black, he can outbreak ya, y’know? He can outbreak ya. You’d just be sittin’ in mid air.” – Henry Dailey (Mickey Rooney).
Says Mathison, “We all agreed the movie should be like a children's book, with just pictures. That's when I learned to take out the words, to tell the story visually, which is the best training there is." (LA Times; July 9, 1995).

E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982; Dir: Steven Spielberg)
With John Sayles and Ron Cobb, Steven Spielberg had written a 99-page treatment called Night Skies, a sequel-of-sorts to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While in the midst of the action-movie mayhem that was the Raiders of the Lost Ark shoot, Spielberg met his leading man Harrison Ford’s girlfriend (and future ex-wife) Melissa Mathison. She took the script’s final scene, in which an alien is abandoned on Earth, and crafted a first draft, entitled ‘ET and Me’, in just eight weeks. ““It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day,” Spielberg said on the DVD commentary of the film’s 30th anniversary re-release. “It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.” The writer’s first sole screenwriting credit would become the most successful film of all time and earn her an Oscar nomination.
Classic line: “I'll...be...right...here.” – E.T.
Says Mathison, “In 1982, I was not yet a parent, but I was a stepmother, and had been a consummate babysitter and an older sister. The kids in E.T. can be directly linked to kids I knew. I even stole some of my little friends’ best lines: i.e. ‘penis breath.’ What adult woman could have thought of that?” (The New Yorker; October 3, 2012).

TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, Segment 2: KICK THE CAN (1983; Dir: Steven Spielberg)
Working under the pseudonym ‘Josh Rogan’, Mathison adapted the original teleplay, ‘Kick the Can’ by George Clayton Johnson for the anthology reworking of Rod Serling’s cult TV series. Although it appears mid-film, it was the final segment shot during the troubled production. Following the on-set deaths of Vic Morrow and two child actors while filming John Landis’ opening segment, Joe Dante and George Miller had shot their contribution; Spielberg, back behind the camera for the first time since ET, was tasked with delivering his special brand of magic in the tale of old folk literally rediscovering their youthful selves. Critics weren’t kind (the New York Times said the “rather ugly, sentimental comedy” was “inept in every way”), but retrospectively the narrative clearly captures Spielberg and Mathison at the most whimsical, least cynical juncture in their professional lives.
Classic line: “Fresh…young…minds…” – Mr Bloom (Scatman Crothers).

THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD (1995; Dir: Frank Oz)
Mathison’s first ‘family film’ in over a decade was an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks beloved fantasy, in which 9 year-old Omri (Hal Scardino) finds a new friend in a tiny plastic Indian (played by native American actor Litefoot, of the Cherokee nation) that comes to life. It achieved middling box office upon its initial release but, like much of Mathison’s timeless work, has become a childhood staple for generations.
Classic line: “You are always a great people, but it is not always so good.” – Omri (Hal Scardino).
Says Mathison, “"If children are given some real content, they can feel powerful with their own understanding of it. I think a movie like 'Indian in the Cupboard' will instruct them how to proceed as people. They can think about whether they would have done something the way a character did, how they would have felt about an event in the story.” (The New Yorker; October 3, 2012)

KUNDUN (1997; Dir: Martin Scorsese)
Director Martin Scorsese’s interest was pique when his then-agent sent him Mathison’s original screenplay, chronicling the early life and ascendancy of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. “I read the script and liked its simplicity, the childlike nature of it,” Scorsese told Film Comment in 1998. “It wasn't a treatise on Buddhism or a historical epic in the usual sense.” A devout Buddhist, Mathison had spent time with The Dalai Lama at her home in Wyoming and worked through 16 drafts of her screenplay before the narrative became fully formed. Early screenings suggested it was an Oscar front-runner (it would earn 4 tech category nominations), but Disney allegedly stalled its marketing approach when Chinese officialdom attacked the film over their depiction.
Classic line: “I believe I am a reflection, like the moon on water. When you see me, and I try to be a good man, you see yourself.” – Dalai Lama (Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong).
Says Mathison, “I think it's kind of pretentious or presumptuous to think that you could actually affect anything with a movie. Certainly, I hoped that people would be moved by this truth and maybe want to get involved on some level. I think when you set out to make a political statement through a movie, you're in big trouble.” (Hollywood Bitchslap; May 23, 1999).