R.I.P. – Harris Savides

I’ve never done an emblematic, ‘rest in peace’ post on this site, but I feel like it’s necessary on this occasion. On Tuesday 9th October, American cinematographer Harris Savides left this realm at the tender age of 55, after a battle with brain cancer.

A cinematic giant, Savides’ work with Ridley Scott (American Gangster), Sofia Coppola (Somewhere), David Fincher (The Game, Zodiac) and Gus Van Sant (Milk, Gerry, Elephant) is unparalleled. I mean, come on. THE GAME!

But the reason I’m really doing this post is to look back at his earlier work. Like all the greats, Savides started out crafting music videos. A plethora of incredible projects to his name, this is the one that really stands out. A poetic utopia that’s still as exhilarating as it was back in 1995. It’s visionary.

#249: Good Time Max (2007)

I don’t know how it happened. Somewhere around the release of Gus Van Sant’s Milk, James Franco woke up one morning and transformed into a decent actor. It was a blessing for regular cinephiles and casual Francophiles alike.

Whilst still “studying” at UCLA, he devised Good Time Max. As lead actor, director and co-writer, this jejune genius/druggie drama is so excruciating that Franco’s formative years are best left forgotten.

Franco is the titular Max, a mathematics genius with a penchant for cocaine. After a double-cross with a suburban drug dealer, he hitches a ride with his priggish, doctorate brother Adam (Matt Bell) on his way to a hospital residency in LA. A speedy cold turkey transition later and Max manages to slip into a lovely suit and land himself a job in algorithm design (he is a genius, after all). But soon after the addictive bug kicks in and Max nose-dives straight into crystal meth with his co-workers, vicariously destroying the brotherly love in the process.

Struggling with the addiction (but never therapy – geniuses don’t need it), Franco fails to invoke the audience into feeling any empathy for Max. An isolated, pompous and wholly unlikeable character–both on and off the smack–who Franco portrays with a cocky gurn and nervous dramatic skills. Instead of character development, the ‘flawed genius’ thread is trite and domineering. The word is used 9 times throughout the film, most of which come from the arrogant horses’ mouth.

To be fair, Franco isn’t all to blame. Making the boy genius seem less of an irritable screen presence is when he is joined on screen by just about anyone else. I am sure that there most be some talent lurking amongst the ranks of this predominantly amateur cast, but Franco’s cliché-fuelled script (co-written by Merriwether Williams, who earns her buck as story editor of Spongebob Squarepants [alarm bells]) and lack of hard-earned directorial authority mean that Good Time Max is just plain bad.

Still, thank fuck for Gus van Sant, ey?

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#184: Chacun son Cinéma (To Each His Own Cinema) (2007)

Take to your seats.

Presented at the glitzy 60th Cannes Film Festival in 2007, Chacun son Cinéma is an unsurprisingly tumultuous omnibus feature. With 34 three minute shorts shorts from 36 directors, it also feels a bit too crowbarred for a single 100-minute presentation.

With festival director Gilles Jacob challenging each director to create a short which somehow describes “their state of mind of the moment as inspired by the motion picture theatre, it’s fascinating to see these international auteur’s explore their devotion to cinema restricted to a measly time restraint. With little time for exposition or pretty much anything else, I was hoping for pure cinema, but instead I got 34 short homage films featuring cinema halls. Close, but no Croisette.

There’s a great deal of shorts to like here. Brazil’s Walter Salles’ 5,557 Miles From Cannes is at tuneful riff on Cannes elitism. Canadian visionary David Cronenberg morosely explores the futile future of cinema in mini-dystopia flick At the Suicide of the Last Jew In the World In The Last Cinema In the World. Italy’s answer to Woody Allen, Nanni Moretti produces a narrative commentary about his movie-watching history in Diary of a Spectator, which is both breezy and informative. And China’s Wong Kar-Wai’s luscious I Travelled 9000km to Give It To You presents the director’s love for cinema in a sexy new, beautifully coloured light. Oooh, I almost forgot Kiarostami’s Where is My Romeo?; even when given just three minutes, he can still churn out an allegorical mini masterpiece.

Expectedly, when the turkeys do come, they come gobbling. David Lynch’s uninspiringly mysterious Absurda is, even for the master of modern suspense, completely trite. Then there’s France’s most forgiven child molester Roman Polanski pain inducing attempt at comedy with Cinema Erotique. Above and beyond, the worst of them all comes from Britain’s most overrated filmmaker, ‘socio-realist’ Ken Loach’s Happy Ending, a frustrating and superfluous father and son tale starring Bradley Walsh. BRADLEY FUCKING WALSH!

The subheading of the programme translates roughly as Or That Thrill When The Lights Dim And The Movie Begins. Although these projects may come from a passionate place, there’s not a lot of love or willingness to thrill in the projects individually. There’s also no space (or, let’s face it, time) to represent the artistic license which these lauded directors have accumulated over their career’s.

An exercise in industry back-patting, Chacun son Cinéma attempts to present the world’s film artist arsenal in all it’s glory, but ends up feeling like a lightweight pet-project. Still, as far as omnibus movies go, it’s much better than Paris Je t’aimeBut then again, so is everything.

As an overall, 100 minute film….


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If you were interested, here’s details on all 33 shorts, with individual star scores out of six. A lot of them can found on YouTube.

OPEN-AIR CINEMA- Raymond Depardon – 2/6
ONE FINE DAY- Takeshi Kitten – 3/6
THREE MINUTES- Theo Angelopoulos – 5/6
IN THE DARK- Andrei Konchalovsky  – 5/6
DIARY OF A SPECTATOR – Nanni Moretti – 5/6
DARKNESS- Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 3/6
WORLD CINEMA – The Coen Brothers – 5/6
ANNA- Alejandro González Iñárritu – 3/6
ABSURDA – David Lynch– 1/6
MOVIE NIGHT- Zhang Yimou – 4/6
THE DYBBUK OF HAIFA- Amos Gitai – 2/6
THE LADY BUG- Jane Campion – 1/6
ARTAUD DOUBLE BILL –Atom Egoyan – 3/6
THE FOUNDARY- Aki Kaurismäki – 2/6
UPSURGE –Olivier Assayas – 2/6
47 years later- Youssef Chahine – 1/6
IT’S A DREAM- Tsai Ming-Ling – 2/6
OCCUPATIONS- Lars Von Trier – 3/6
THE GIFT- Raul Ruiz – 4/6
FIRST KISS- Gus Van Sant – 1/6
CINEMA EROTIQUE- Roman Polanski – 1/6
NO TRANSLATION NEEDED- Michael Cimino – 2/6
THE WORLD David Cronenberg – 5/6
I TRAVELLED 9000 KM TO GIVE IT TO YOU –Wong Kar Wai – 5/6
WHERE IS MY ROMEO? –Abbas Kiarostami – 5/6
THE LAST DATING SHOW- Bille August – 1/6
IRTEBAK – Elia Suleiman – 2/6
SOLE MEETING –Manoel De Oliveira – 1/6
5.557 MILES FROM CANNES – Walter Salles – 6/6
WAR IN PEACE –Wim Wenders – 2/6
ZHANXIOU VILLAGE- Chen Kaige – 3/6
HAPPY ENDING- Ken Loach – 0/6

#169: To Die For (1995)

Pooch power.

If there’s one female leading lady of Hollywood and beyond that’s had a somewhat patchy career, Nicole Kidman certainly takes the biscuit (or is that rice cracker?). With surprising successes like suspense thriller The Others shoved up against the irksome Batman Forever, even in bad films, she’s been able to sparkle on screen, being the closest thing Australia’s got to a an iconographic movie maiden. Born a star, it was this little quirky comedy that launched her into the big bucks.

To Die For is a black satire that targets the soullessness of modern life and the vapid construct of the celebrity. Kidman compelling plays Suzanne Stone, a heartless ‘dumb-blonde’ with an ambition and willingness to do just about anything to become a major television star.

After banking a job as a weather girl on New Hampshire’s local cable network, she decides to make her mark by creating a video documentary about a local high school’s degenerate youths. With her eye firmly on the prize, Suzanne seduces the naive 16-year-old Jimmy (played by a sprightly young Joaquin Phoenix) who acquiescently agrees to murder her working-class husband (Matt Dillon), whom she sees as a threat to her fame master plan.

As one of his first films, Gus Van Sant is clearly still developing his own style in the director’s chair, making To Die For a hectic and frenetic film experience which meddles in form from mockumentary to archive footage, to straight up thriller fiction. Fortunately for us, the ramshackle approach is befitting to the story, which is at first a critique of our dependency on sensationalist media and ends up being a screwball comedy.

Career shaping performances from Kidman, Phoenix and Casey Affleck, an impressively acrimonious score from Danny Elfman, a scathingly satirical script from The Graduate‘s Buck Henry and a humorous cameo from David Cronenberg, To Die For is a zippy instalment into the American media industry canon, which it forebodingly lampoons.

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