Sunday, January 30, 2011


UPDATED 1/31/11 4:33 p.m.

You’re very excited, aren’t you? You’ve just settled into your seat after being in line for about an hour. The house is packing up quickly in anticipation of a rare screening of that cult film you’ve only seen on VHS and DVD up till now, and what’s more, the director, the screenwriter and a few other luminaries involved in the making of this favorite film of yours are all scheduled to appear in person to discuss it. You’ve got a great seat, seven rows back from the front, popcorn already purchased, all necessary pees taken. Yep, this is a little bit of paradise. The lights dim, the movie starts…

And so does the coughing. You’re so caught up in the crucial first moments of this film you love so much, you barely even notice it. But after 10 straight minutes of hacking courtesy of a guy seated a mere row and a half away from you, followed by the inevitable nervous shuffling and murmuring of everyone else in the immediate area, the spell, if it was ever really cast, is broken. All you can think about is this hacking, wheezing, phlegmy son of a bitch and how you’d give anything if he’d just take his bronchial circus home to a warm bed and a shot of hot Irish whiskey and leave you and everyone else in peace.

I am that hacking, wheezing, phlegmy son of a bitch.

But I have tried to keep my infectious projections to myself rather than taking them on the road, which is why, even though I had tickets for this past Sunday, Monday and Friday’s screenings I have managed to miss everything good and decent being offered this week by the New Beverly Cinema and the Wright Stuff II series. From Frenzy and Dressed to Kill (both brilliant prints, I understand), to Walter Hill and Bruce Dern introducing a very rare screening of The Driver, to a surprise appearance by David Lynch and Laura Dern and Hill’s second visit during the week, along with actor James Remar, to introduce The Warriors-- yep, I missed ‘em all! I’m trying to take the high road and look at it all as a lesson in selfless courtesy to my fellow man, which works just fine until I start thinking about all the wonderful stuff I must have missed. No calming fog of Vicks Vap-o-rub could possibly compete with listening to Walter Hill talk about The Driver, could it?

Well, in the real world, yes, I suppose it could, really. Here it is, the last Sunday of Edgar Wright’s series, and I’m still coughing a bit, especially in the morning. But confronted with a stout regimen of antibiotics the dragon has been, if not completely silenced then at least appeased for the most part, enough so that I am actually considering venturing out for tonight’s closing program of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (from whence comes the cute and fuzzy image above) and Miami Blues. But much will depend on the how the weight in my chest is sitting come 5:30 or so, when time to consider actually jumping in the car and making the drive over the hill actually arrives. And it’s raining in Los Angeles again today (what did we ever do to deserve such a treat?), and it’s cold in my house, so I may find solace right here at the keyboard writing to you, a tumbler of that warm Irish whiskey at my side, a much more seductive proposition. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to just sit down to bring forth random thoughts from my keyboard rather than random chunks of lung from my outraged respiratory system. And I do have a few thoughts to collect before finally marshaling my resources for the big year-end piece. (Yeah, I know, it’s February. Let go, let go…) So let me spend some time with those bits and pieces, stuff I think you might enjoy with me as the rain falls, and we’ll see where the day takes us…

Of course, the biggest, most insistent elephant in the room right now is that strange tribal phenomenon known as the Academy Awards. I was discussing the elephant with a good friend of mine over breakfast yesterday, and one of the first things he mentioned was how he never trusts anyone who, upon news of the nominations being announced, said something like, “Oh, I wasn’t even aware the nominations were being announced this morning, so when the phone rang at 5:30 I just thought to myself, ‘Who on earth could be calling at this hour?’” It is awfully hard to swallow that anyone who might actually expect that an Academy Award nomination might be in the cards would be surrounded by a phalanx of publicists and agents so lame as to let them enjoy even one moment’s ignorance regarding the impending announcements. It’s an awfully big pill to swallow to be asked to believe that Natalie Portman, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale, to name just a few, weren’t if not completely awake at 5:30 this past Tuesday morning, then at least extremely aware of what was coming at dawn when they went to bed on Monday night. My thoughts always go to the people I figured were sure things who, as it turned out, were anything but. Hopefully Lesley Manville wasn’t sitting by her phone waiting for it to ring. Hers was the name that most quickly jumped out at me as missing from the ranks of deserving nominees this year.

In fact, the list of deserving actresses from whom there was no room at Oscar’s Inn this year is a fairly stunning one, especially considering that Meryl Streep didn’t make a movie this year—in addition to Lesley Manville for Another Year, what, no love for the highly touted Tilda Swinton in I Am Love, Catherine Keener in Please Give, Hye-ja Kim in Mother or Emma Stone in Easy A? Yeah, yeah, I know—Manville had some critics awards giving her momentum, but the movie hasn’t made a huge splash even on the art house circuit; Swinton and Kim starred in movies that were so far off Oscar’s radar it’s as though they were never even made; and everybody knows that an actor like Stone has to amass a drawer full of great comic performances to even get a sniff from Oscar, the great inhale coming when said masterful comic actor dives deep into a dramatic role that ignores the elements which made their previous performances so joyful but will finally get them taken seriously by the givers of the gold. Still, goddamn it, they were great performances, any of which could easily supplant that of our hee-hawing, genially goofy front-runner. (And speaking of supplanting, I’ll just come out and say right now that, as much as I enjoyed Annette Bening’s work in The Kids Are All Right, it strikes me as a bit too cleanly worked out and modulated compared to her downright thrilling, much more complicated performance in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child.)

In the best actor category, neither will win, but I’d boot James Franco in favor of Mark Wahlberg’s understated calm at the eye of The Fighter’s familial hurricane any day of the week. And it’s Wahlberg’s centered performance that makes room for the more lionized, outsized work of Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, both of whom are likely to take home statuettes at the end of February. Bale’s “Look, ma! No hands!” brand of acting skirts the edges of “too much,” but the emotional core of the work (”inspired by true events”) keeps it within the ring as demarcated by director David O. Russell. But Melissa Leo’s fiery brand of lower-middle-class motherhood almost always had me averting my eyes. The actress, current poster rep for glum indie self-seriousness, is funnier than she’s usually allowed to be in The Fighter, but from the bouffant on down her working-class matriarch rarely challenges the boundaries of the cartoon manner in which the character has been conceived. I prefer Amy Adams’ smoldering Irish anger, and with that body, doughy in the middle but slightly wider than usual in the shoulders, maybe from hoisting all those beers for the regulars at the local pub, I’d lay money on her taking Leo in a no-holds-barred grudge match without hesitation.

That said, my vote, of the five nominated, would go to Hailee Steinfeld, whose work in True Grit is every bit the equal of Jennifer Lawrence, and her part every bit as central to the film as Lawrence’s. Yet Steinfeld is somehow a “supporting actress” while Lawrence enjoys “Best Actress” status. Based on the running times alone, one would have to guess that their screen time is comparable, and certainly neither film would have worked nearly as well without the actresses who played those roles. But because one actress’s face seems to be more marketable as the face of the film, she gets the push for a lead actress nomination without having to worry about faces from her own picture competing for the spotlight, whereas Steinfeld is looked at as secondary to Bridges and the Coen Brothers as the marketable stars of True Grit. Obviously the thinking isn’t entirely misguided (in terms of rooting out awards anyway) because both women got their deserved nominations. But just imagine the head scratching if Jennifer Lawrence had snared a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Winter’s Bone. Would it have been anything other than laughable? I hope that by the time the winner is announced in Lawrence’s category, Hailee Steinfeld has already had lots of time to smudge up her Oscar as the evening’s first triumphant Best Actress.

There have been the usual suggestions that Oscars are as blind to the achievements of non-whites as ever, but in a year like this one that complaint raises the specter of quotas even more than it normally would. Who was it that won the Best Supporting Actress award last year, after all, in a movie that did not go wanting for recognition? The simple answer has to be that this year there just weren’t that many great roles for nonwhite actors of any race, and those ones that were great—Kerry Washington, Shareeka Epps, S. Epatha Merkerson and even Samuel L. Jackson in Mother and Child come to mind—came in films that were simply not on Oscar’s radar, for whatever race or non-race-based reason there might be. But even lodging these kinds of complaints regarding errors of omission, I took a look at the nominations in general this year and had to admit that, excepting one or two glaring instances, the list Oscar has come up with this year is a pretty solid one, at least as far as the major categories go. John Hawkes? Nice. Jeremy Renner? Nice. I wish Edgar Ramirez could be on the list, but okay, at least there’s some silly bylaw upon which that omission can be foisted.

I will say that I’m at a bit of as loss to explain the surge of love for Jacki Weaver, who plays the frighteningly ingratiating matriarch of an Australian family of murderous criminals in Animal Kingdom. Weaver is good with insinuating smiles and the contrast between honeyed pronouncements and sinister intentions, and with those gigantic eyes the intimidation factor certainly registers. But the part itself seems underwritten, and I must admit that, after months of hearing how dynamic and riveting was her performance, I kept waiting for the moment-- the moment—where the actress ensnared me in the evil machinations of her character and seduced me with her fearlessness as a performer. It never really came. I’m not saying I was looking for Melissa Leo, exactly, but if I’m thinking of ruthless criminal matriarchs “inspired by true events,” I’ll take Billie Whitelaw as Violet Kray, the spidery Freudian nightmare looking after Reggie and Ronnie (Gary and Martin Kemp) in Peter Medak’s superb historical crime drama The Krays.

And only two years in, and I’m ready to dump this whole 10 nominees for Best Picture experiment. Everyone knows it is designed largely so that the Academy can tell itself it’s more in touch with the vanguards of mass taste than it may actually be. So as a result big audience pictures like The Blind Side and Inception get their token nominations. But has anything like momentum for Inception, whose moment as an $880-million worldwide box-office hit has, to put it mildly, already come and gone, really changed? The vagaries of the Academy’s own system insured that Inception, despite its flurry of big-ticket nominations, would be an immediately also-ran when it failed to snag a Best Director nomination for Christopher Nolan. The consensus, and it seems undeniable, is that “they” just don’t like him and therefore manifested that dislike by voting for the Coen Brothers, against DGA precedent, instead of the Dream Warrior. The Hollywood Reporter, noting the snub, reported (in my favorite headline of the season) that “Christopher Nolan’s Snub Sparks Twitter Outrage,” but at that point even the deafening buzz of 880 million fanboys didn’t much matter a damn, and we were left to think about, in the framework of the friendlier, expanded Academy Award nomination format, whether or not Nolan might have actually deserved one. Listen, for all of that movie’s flaws I’d give Nolan a nomination over Darren Aronofsky or Danny Boyle in a beat of my heart. But over also-not-nominated directors like Lee Unkrich or Debra Granik? Probably not.

And I always get a kick out of listening to the harping on about the various technical awards snubs, because this is where I, as a former techie movie nerd of the first order, always used to get most of my dander up in the wake of the nominations announcement. I can remember scribbling furiously in a preamble to my annual Oscar ballot about the outrageous snub visited upon Rob Bottin and his effects crew when they were not acknowledged by Oscar for their work on The Thing. It didn’t matter to me that I would have never in a million years actually expected recognition for this box office flop, which in 1982 was dwarfed by the shadow of E.T.-- it was the principle of the thing! Nor did it matter to me that my no-doubt-brilliantly-articulated rage was being wasted on a ballot which would be read by precisely one other person who had any emotion invested in the Oscars at all. The rest of the Oscar pool participants that year could have cared less about awards and movies—they were in it for the fun of watching the TV show-- but by God it was my call to school ‘em, and school ‘em I would!

I was reminded of myself and my self-righteous screed when I saw this year’s list of nominees for Best Visual Effects-- Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, Hereafter, Inception and Iron man 2. Solid technical achievements all and, with the possible exception of Alice, each and every one of them fairly routine in that they resemble the achievements of lots of other movies that have come down the pipe in recent years. My own nominee might have been the impish and playful effects that adorn (but are not the raison d’etre of) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, or perhaps the skin-crawling, mythopoetic visualizations of Splice. But I can guarantee you there’s much more black feeling astir over the exclusion of the overwhelming effects in Tron Legacy than just about anything other Oscar omission this year. I got an e-mail from a friend earlier this week which expressed a lot of the frustration that people who saw and liked Tron Legacy (and yes, those people do exist) are feeling over the overlooking of this picture in the Visual Effects department. But what I thought was most amusing was the little reminder of the Academy’s attitude about the original Tron, again back in that watershed year of 1982 which had already given me such case for infuriation. The writer of the e-mail recalled that in 1982 there was no great love for Tron as a groundbreaking piece of special effects cinema. The original movie did get nods for Best Costume Design and Best Sound, and as is typical was recognized 14 years later with a special award for technical achievement once the movie’s influence on effects technology became undeniable. But according to Steven Lisberger, Tron’s writer-director, the movie was bypassed for Best Visual Effects consideration in1982 because “the Academy thought we cheated by using computers.” In other words, the landscape of the computer, not yet having taken over American life in every aspect, was still a no-man’s-landscape; if the effects didn’t exist in three-dimensional space, if they weren’t quantifiable, tactile, products of objects rendered on film, they weren’t real special effects.

In the time it took the Academy to catch up with Tron America caught up with it too, in terms of internalizing the very language that propelled the movie into the daily fabric of its collective life through the computer. So why the Academy brush-off this year? Could it be that, for all of its flash and wonder, Tron Legacy represented a world that has in its way become too familiar, too routine? Or maybe the movie was seen (properly, I’d say) as a lot of sound and thunder signifying nothing more than sensation, eschewing the fascinating allegorical framework that lay beneath the relative crudity of the first film. Okay, so if we accept any or all of that, the question remains: Why then the relatively dull effects that did get nominated?

Some final thoughts. I have to say that, in a banner year for documentaries in which Restrepo and Inside Job were nominated, it does tickle me that Banksy is nominated for Exit Through the Gift Shop, a movie that calls into question notions of art, the appreciation of art, and even the purposes and structure of the documentary film itself. Had there been room for The Tillman Story or Marwencol or even Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, this would have been the most flatly inarguable category of the year. How is it that the Best Song category, most usually a dumping ground for unmemorable caterwauling of every stripe in the post-Disney Animation Renaissance years, is this year populated by four nominees that actually seem to be good songs? And in that light, the most perversely underpopulated category of the year, Best Animated Film, is the one with the best argument for expansion. How annoying to be limited to only Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist when there was also Tangled, Despicable Me and My Dog Tulip from which to choose. Renaissance, indeed.

But enough about the Oscars. On to some friends I need to brag about. First, old pal Ali Arikan, he of Cerebral Mastication, The House Next Door, Roger Ebert. Com and many other shingles, has a new one to hang out—that of resident film critic for Dipnot.TV, a Turkish news site. The site is in Turkish, but that won’t keep me from heaping congratulations on a fellow well-deserving of his good fortune in this enterprise. Plans are afoot for expanding Ali’s influence within the Dipnot empire via an iPad magazine launch slated for February. Look for updates here, and in the meantime brush up on your Turkish and enjoy Ali’s work here, starting with a look back at the movies of 2010.

Los Angelenos who enjoy the privilege of having a place like the New Beverly Cinema to aid them in their continuing cinematic education already know how lucky they are. But a little reminder never hurt, and this one comes from the inside, from the beating heart of the New Beverly itself. One of my favorite people, Julia Marchese, who happens to be special events coordinator and all-purpose muse for the theater, has a new blog called Flotsam and Jetsom and it is well worth a look. One of her first posts really separated the men/women from the boys/girls-- it's called "The First Rule Is, You Don't Talk About..." and it will answer many questions you didn't even know you had about why a young woman would decide she wanted to-- Well, I'll just let you read it and be surprised. Less outre but more emotionally charged is Julia's account of how her life became entwined with the New Beverly. She relates her own budding cinephilia marvelously here, but it's her relationship with the theater, and specifically with the theater's late owner-operator Sherman Torgan, which locates the soul in this cinema and illustrates just why this place means so much to so many. It's a beautiful and moving piece, and I hope Julia follows the blogging muse whereever it leads her. These two entries alone indicate that there's something special on the horizon if she does, for her and for us.

The Los Angeles division of the Horror Dads (me, Richard Harland Smith, Paul Gaita and Nicholas McCarthy—Jeff Allard and Greg Ferrara are East Coasters) finally got together a couple of weeks ago for a lunchtime summit at The Oinkster and it truly was a great, relaxing time. It was a genuine treat to spend time with these guys—none of whom I’d ever met in 3-D before—though I will say it’s been a good long while since I’ve spent time talking with guys who have so much joyful knowledge about genre cinema—particularly European horror of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. I felt completely out of their league in this regard, but they were to a man such genuinely friendly and entertaining folks that I can’t wait to get together, have a cheeseburger and be happily intimidated all over again. Of course, love of the movies, and love of our kids binds us all, and there was plenty to talk about on that front.

And Nicholas—who it turns out I had actually met before, in the aftermath of one of those giddy nights last summer at the New Beverly—is off at Sundance right now with a short film this year. It’s called The Pact, and it just last night completed its run there screening in front of a film entitled The Oregonian. You can see the trailer for the film here. I finally got a chance to see it myself a few nights ago and I was extremely excited for not only the film itself but what it bodes for Nicholas’s abilities as a stylist and a storyteller.

A terrific film that clocks in at 11 minutes is a film that wisely makes use of ambience, mood, the tension between what is seen and spoken of and what is implied, and the surety of the director’s hand in guiding the viewer to settle into the limited, haunted worldview of the main character. Nicholas’s movie is adept at all these things, anchored as it is in a beautifully modulated performance by Jewel Staite as a woman forced to oversee the estate of her recently deceased mother who comes to believe that her mother’s spirit, and the horrors of an abusive past, may not be content to remain consigned to death. What’s thrilling about The Pact is how it quite literally leaves you wanting more, speculating about inconsistent electrical signals in a darkened hallway and the empty spaces beckoning behind a basement door, all the while guiding the viewer by the gently insinuating pull of the camera (Did I just see something, or was it literally a trick of the light?) and our mutually shared desire for a spine-chilling touch, a signal that we will never be alone, whether we want to be or not. The Pact is a masterful little jewel of a short film, perfect if not for the necessary bit of exposition that anchors the film a little too literally before Nicholas’s camera and teasing sense of delayed gratification as a director sends it soaring. One hopes that the movie will soon become widely available and that further glory at Sundance will be forthcoming. For The Pact’s appreciative audience, the greatest tease now is not what fear lies waiting in that basement, but instead what Nicholas McCarthy will do for an encore.

Another short film definitely worth a look is Oren Shai’s Condemned, a creepily contemplative ode to the women-in-prison pictures of the ‘50s (perhaps most notably John Crowell’s Caged) which finds its unlikely pitch somewhere between Jack Hill and Rainer Werner Fassbender. Prisoner #1031 (Margaret Anne Florence) fearfully awaits execution within the confines of her dank cell, accompanied only by the occasional visits of a sneering guard and the Morricone-esque whistling that resides in her head, calling her to an alternate future that she will never access. Enter a sultry, Audrey Totter-inflected prisoner who shares #1031’s last hours and who may be an angel of death in waiting, and Shai’s recipe for low-boiling tension, conjured almost exclusively by the poker-faced terror of his heroine and the way her face is framed by the negative space and rusty accoutrements of a lonely, darkened cell, reaches its visual apex. Shai’s achievement, like McCarthy’s, is one of patience with building mood and ambience that is possible only when a director gets a handle of how to modulate little things like time and space, making our anticipation of the gathering of bits of information in such prescribed worlds as prison cells and haunted apartments of the utmost importance. And like The Pact, Condemned is a lovely illustration of the possibilities inherent in investigating genre forms when the director has something other than shock effects on his mind. (Click here and see Condemned for yourself.)

Finally, for those of you who can’t get enough Chucky—and frankly, I’ve developed quite an addiction myself these days—a couple of items worth passing on. First, there is the revelation culled from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Piers Morgan that the 1998 box-office failure of Beloved, the movie which the star produced from Toni Morrison’s book that was directed by Jonathan Demme—was the biggest disaster of her professional life. “I don't want to call it a turkey, but it didn't work,” says the none-too-understated mogul, “and it sent me into a massive, depressive macaroni and cheese-eating tailspin. Literally!" But who does she blame for the movie’s failure to lure the public out to the movie theater to see her genuinely odd, tonally miscalculated movie? Herself? Touchstone Pictures? Thandie Newton? No, it’s Chucky’s fault, of course! Bride of Chucky, specifically, which had the audacity to come out the same weekend as Oprah’s medicinal motion picture and lay waste to its misconceived ass, providing what Oprah’s bitter, hardly little pill refused to provide—actual entertainment value to go along with its apparently demonically possessed characters. “It premiered on a Friday night and I remember hearing on Saturday morning that we got beat by something called Chucky,” bemoaned the TV titan. “I didn't even know what Chucky was," she asked viewers to believe (no doubt just before going on to tell a story about how she was awakened by a phone call on a Tuesday morning back in 1986 with news of her Oscar nomination, which she had no idea was even being announced that day!) The upside: the perpetually upbeat media giant’s first real inkling of what it means to be down in the dumps. “Oh, this is what it must feel like to be depressed,” she recalled saying to herself before remembering that she was the obscenely rich and powerful Oprah Winfrey. No word at whose feet she placed the artistic failure of Beloved

And if you’re a Chucky fan in the Bay Area come Saturday, February 12, there’s going to be an event taking place which you will not want to miss. Renowned director/transgender performance artist Peaches Christ has a very special Valentine’s Day weekend on tap at the Victoria Theater-- ”When Chucky Meets Christ: A Monster-Sized Chucky Tribute”, presented in conjunction with the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Indiefest and Peaches Christ productions. In addition to a screening of Seed of Chucky, this special event will include an on-stage conversation between Peaches, the film’s star Jennifer Tilly and writer-director Don Mancini, a specially choreographed musical number and a killer costume contest. The fun begins at 8:00 p.m.. For more details you can access the Peaches Christ Web site. And if that doesn’t do ya, take a gander at this:

Here’s hoping that I can scrape together enough cash for a cheap Southwest Airlines flight to San Francisco, because if I can I’ll be there for this one. Sounds like the only thing that could possibly top our own Seed of Chucky tribute last October! At any rate, many congratulations to Don Mancini, whose cursed creation deserves all the recognition and extended life it can muster. All this will help me keep my own hopes alive that the adventures of Chucky will not have concluded with Seed, but that a new and vital chapter in this most subtly satiric and bedrock scary franchise might be just around the corner…

Speaking of coming soon… the year-end wrap-up posts this week. Watch for it!


Friday, January 21, 2011


With the fun well under way at the New Beverly Cinema this week for The Wright Stuff II, it’s time for a midterm report, a look at the schedule, what’s next and a coy, furtive glance back at how the series has fared so far.

The Wright Stuff II officially kicked off this past Friday and Saturday, January 14, with a triple consisting of Wright’s first three feature films, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The weekend sold out in advance in a record-breaking four minutes, and those that managed to get in were treated to an introduction from Joe Dante, trailers before all three films selected from the private (and mind-bogglingly deep) 35mm trailer collection of Quentin Tarantino, plus appearances from several members of the cast of Scott Pilgrim and a surprise appearance from Simon Pegg, star and co-writer with Wright of Shaun and Hot Fuzz. From all accounts (my ticket-purchasing fingers didn’t operate fast enough for a firsthand experience), it was an evening to satisfy the most fervent Edgar Wright geek, with the faithful spilling out onto the streets after the Scott Pilgrim Q&A around 4:30 a.m.

The festival’s first non-Wright bill, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil paired with Delicatessen, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, was greeted with another sold-out crowd on Sunday night, as eager to see the films as they were to hear Wright talk about them in the company of writer-director Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko, Southland Tales), whose own well-articulated essay on Brazil was included in the collection The Film that Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark. For me, the movie’s production history has eclipsed Brazil itself in fascination—it was an important movie to see in 1985, but in my view time has not been kind to Gilliam’s solipsistic vision. I wrote about my possibly blasphemous reaction upon seeing the film again in 2007 for Jim Emerson’s “Contrarian Blog-a-thon” in a piece called “Nuts to Brazil” and had little desire to see it again, though I definitely felt the pull of Delicatessen.

As Wright expresses in his notes written for the New Beverly and also published on his blog Edgar Wright Here, Delicatessen was a debut of notable wildness, “brimming with style, bold of palette, mixing black-heated humor with the sweetest comedy.” It would have been fascinating to see this genuinely demented film up next to Gilliam’s film, not only to observe the ways in which Gilliam’s baroque style plays out its influence in Jeunet and Caro’s weird apartment building, but also to see how the movie’s grotesque but undeniably humanist inclinations might function as an emotional corrective to Gilliam’s skin-deep nihilism.

The first double feature I was able to attend was a doozy. Wright delivered a stunning Technicolor print of Dirty Harry to the New Beverly Cinema to an appreciative crowd, many of whom had never seen the movie, or at least never seen it projected. And as an added extra bonus, in lieu of any actual participants in the making of the film (the numbers of which have seemingly been reduced to Clint Eastwood, Reni Santoni and Andrew Robinson), Wright brought Quentin Tarantino onto the stage for a typically animated discussion of the movie. It was a fascinating conversation that placed the movie, for those perhaps too young to remember, in the socio-political context of the time in which it was released. Decried by many liberal critics, including Pauline Kael, as “fascist,” Tarantino did a good job of pointing out how the movie, which was originally marketed to Nixon’s silent majority, a fearful group of average American citizens surrounded by an incessant flurry of countercultural changes whose intentions by 1971 had curdled, embraced Harry’s disdain for due process as the only rational response to a world gone mad.

But as befits a movie directed by the man who made the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was embraced by both the right and the left as an allegory of each extreme’s most pressing fear—the insidious effects of Communism or McCarthy’s ruthless witch-hunt mentality—Dirty Harry is a shade more ambivalent in its position as to Harry’s unquestioned righteousness than it is typically given credit for. (Even the distorted peace symbol on the killer’s belt buckle can be read as a comment on the fear of the dark undercurrent of the counterculture or as simply a suggestion that Scorpio represents an aberration in a cultural movement, one whose tenets of peace and love he clearly does not represent.) The movie expertly whips up a right-wing firestorm of outrage over the horrors perpetrated upon society by Scorpio, a serial killer depicted with relish some 20 years before the movies and TV would become consumed with the forensic fascinations and grotesque minutiae of homicidal perversion. But it also raises plenty of questions about whether or not Harry's methods, emotionally satisying though they may be, deserve blanket approval or closer examination.

And the sequence in which Harry tracks down Scorpio in the stadium is a masterpiece of film form within what Tarantino accurately, I think, describes as a near-perfect specimen of policier. Brought down and badly wounded by a shot from Harry’s .44 Magnum, the killer grovels and whines and shrieks, demanding to see a lawyer, insisting on his civil rights. Harry’s response is to dig his heels into the knife wound he’d given Scorpio in the previous sequence, an act which can’t be described as anything other than police torture. As the screams continue, a breathtaking helicopter shot pulls the camera away from its squirm-inducing close-up point of view until we see Harry and Scorpio reduced by the magnitude of the illuminated stadium, the San Francisco fog obscuring the rim of the park and perhaps our own perception of what we’ve just seen. It’s an undeniably thrilling bit of cinema, punctuated by a shock cut to Harry, in silhouette, overlooking the Bay at dawn, a shot that itself gives way to the horrific tableau of a young girl, dead, being pulled from a shallow grave. Harry may have “got” his man, but the objective of saving a kidnapped girl’s life is a failure.

The scene which follows, in which Harry is dressed down by the district attorney because of the detective’s disregard for procedure, plays much less strongly in Harry’s favor than I remembered. This being San Francisco, a place Tarantino pointed out was ground zero for the national freak-out that had everyday Nixon supporters locking their doors at night, naturally it is a Berkeley law professor who advises the D.A. that none of the evidence obtained in the arrest can be submitted in court. The usual arguments about victims’ rights versus the rights of the accused are aired out in powerful fashion in this scene, but what struck me about it was the way the scene ended. Asked how he knows that if released the killer will just keep on terrorizing and killing, Harry turns to the D.A. and seethes, “Because he likes it.” And of course Harry knows that Scorpio likes it because Harry likes it too. This is directly related to elements of the movie’s original ad campaign, which posited a film which would more clearly equate the methods of this policeman and this killer, a campaign that was set aside in favor of promoting the movie’s more obviously exploitable vigilantism. Tarantino tried to make the point that the movie operates in a world that predates CSI crime units and serial task forces and computer-based forensics and as such argues for “new laws” that would eventually come about as a result of our increased societal and legal familiarity with the modern serial killer. But it’s a confused point because clearly, though we are better equipped in 2011 to deal with these kinds of assaults, the laws and the rights being debated are not new, they are essentially the same ones we’ve been tangling with for decades. Tarantino’s infectious enthusiasm from the New Beverly stage ended up endorsing claims for the sociopolitical content of the movie that I don’t think are actually reflected in the movie’s text. But he was typically brilliant in extemporaneously providing a picture of the San Francisco that existed when the film was shot—during a time when the Zodiac case upon which Scorpio was based was still active—and talking about his own experience with how the movie shaped his point of view as a filmmaker.

The second feature, a very rare screening of Gordon Parks’ The Super Cops , featured a print that was flown all the way from the vaults of the British Film Institute. Long a favorite of Wright’s, virtually one in the crowd had seen it and we got to do so in the company of one of the movie’s stars, David Selby (Dark Shadows, The Social Network) and the movie’s supremely entertaining, acidly self-deprecating screenwriter, the legendary Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Three Days of the Condor, King Kong, Flash Gordon, the original Batman TV series). Semple related one long, hilarious anecdote about the movie’s production after the other, though it was often hard to hear him because the 87-year-old writer simply hasn’t much lung power anymore and the New Beverly’s P.A. system wasn’t able to help him project. But it was a keen way to preface the film, an inconsistent but entertaining buddy cop film featuring an electric performance by Ron Leibman as Selby’s better half, Greenberg to Selby’s Hantz. The movie is based on the true-life account of a couple of NYPD rookie cops whose unorthodox and effective methods of battling drug kingpins on the streets of Harlem make them no friends within the cynically corrupt system of their own precinct. The movie’s nonfiction roots ground it to a certain degree, but the ghost of irreverent comedies like M*A*S*H are left to battle it out with more obvious influences like The French Connection and Serpico, and unfortunately Parks isn’t a strong enough director to locate a consistent tone for the material. The end result is amusing but lacking in the impact, either satirical or social, that the material clearly aspires to. Never available on DVD, the day after this screening Warner Archives announced plans to release The Super Cops on DVD in 2011.

And last night the Wright Stuff II featured an inspired double bill, American Graffiti and National Lampoon’s Animal House, which made not only for a brilliant thematic pairing but also for one of those nights that I’ll never forget, courtesy of director John Landis and, more importantly the New Beverly’s special events coordinator Julia Marchese.

First, it was a revelation to see Graffiti again with an enthusiastic audience. Everyone got a good laugh from Wright’s observation that, as a British kid growing up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he had no social context for the obvious nostalgic atmosphere of Happy Days and American Graffiti. He just assumed that this was how America was in the ‘70s. Well, for me, specifically in regard to American Graffiti, that’s not far wrong. For me it started in 1973 with a heightened awareness of the movie’s must-see factor, based on the movie’s high profile at the Academy Awards and its phenomenal double-LP soundtrack, which conjured the film’s tapestry on four sides of vintage pop hits and archival clips featuring Wolfman Jack, Graffiti’s aural and spiritual guide. But by the time the movie actually played in my hometown, appropriately at the drive-in in the summer of 1975, it was a full-blown obsession. I saw it every night of the seven nights it played, and the activities it depicted—the rambunctious, aimless cruising in search of fun, all with the inevitability of high school graduation looming in the background—were precisely the same ones that informed my own youthful weekends and those of my friends. We recognized the nostalgic element of Graffiti’s appeal, but we didn’t relate to that element directly at all. For us, Graffiti was, excepting its time period, accurately reflective of our own experience, and as such the movie took hold of our imaginations in a way that few other movies did. Seeing it last night was a near-ethereal exercise in sense memory in which I rediscovered just how hot-wired this movie is into my cultural D.N.A. It was a thrill to be reminded. And as for the Wolfman, his cameo in the movie remains one of the most haunting expressions of the mystery of the World Out There for kids of my generation, who were not Internet-wired for instant and incessant gratification, that I’ve ever seen. (I hope to be able to write about just this scene soon.)

Before the first movie rolled, emcee duties were assumed by the ceaselessly energetic and entertaining John Landis, who filled in for Wright while the series host was off on Academy business. (Wright would arrive just in time for Animal House.) Landis read from an informally prepared statement written by Wright, frequently breaking out with his own observations and comments, and effectively setting the stage for the reacquainting with George Lucas’s movie but also for the promised Animal House Q & A that would take place before and after that second feature. Landis and Wright would be joined by the movie’s producer/editor George Folsey Jr. in between films, but it was Landis riffing on memories of the production that fueled the post-film Q&A. I was particularly glad that Landis saved some respectful comments for the film’s irascible and brilliant first assistant director, the late Cliff Coleman, who worked with Sam Peckinpah on The Wild Bunch, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and many others; and for Jebediah Dumas, credited as “Gigantic Dude,” who would deliver the movie’s immortal “Do you mind if we dance wif yo’ dates?” Jeb was a genuine giant—Landis claims he was 7’ 9”, but I don’t remember him being a hair over seven foot, and at those measurements what’s another nine inches. He was also a security guard at a local saw mill—this was his only movie—and a year or so after production wrapped he opened a popular hot dog stand on the University of Oregon campus called Jeb’s Dogs, over which he presided from a tiny booth aside a local bookstore. I took my dad, a huge fan of the movie, to Jeb’s for a dog once, and at one point Jeb made his way out of his cramped quarters and came over to see how went the chow. My dad recognized him immediately, even though Jeb never asked us to dance, nor did he lift up our picnic table with his bare hands. The dog, as always, was good, and Jeb was a fine host, providing my dad with exactly the kind of brush with greatness that he would most appreciate.

(That's me, two punks to Flounder's left, in the blue plaid bathrobe. Beer shampoo on deck!)

Just before the lights went down and the trailers leading to Graffiti began, Landis stopped. “Oh, and one more thing,” he said. “Dennis, are you here?” I caught a glimpse of Julia standing on the auditorium’s left side wall, opposite of my position on the fourth-row aisle on the right side, and she was sporting a grin that was too big to be called sneaky. Gamely attempting to keep my stomach settled and my balls from beating a quick retreat into my stomach cavity, I raised my hand, at which point Landis requested that I stand up and then asked me, “You were in the movie?! You were a Delta pledge?!” For someone who has spent some time acting and working in radio, I am still relatively allergic to the spotlight, especially when I don’t know it is coming. But what could I do? I responded that I was, and for the next couple of minutes my old boss, the director of Animal House asked me about what I did on the set and where I could be seen. He seemed genuinely amused and delighted that this most unexpected, off-the-radar cast member was present—obviously Julia had slipped him the info beforehand—but in typically good-humored fashion he ended the brief moment by asking me, “Was I nice to you?” He was a manic force on the set, to be sure, and not as approachable as some others were, but you have to chalk a lot of that up to the intense pressure he must have been feeling as a young director trying to ride herd on what would become the most famously rowdy fraternity in movie history. My response was honest: “Yes, you were very nice!” To which he shouted back, to the delight of the crowd, “In that case, you were brilliant! You saved the picture!” With that the movie commenced, and incredibly no one complained about my bright beaming in the aftermath of that moment being a distraction in the dark of the cinema.


American Graffiti and National Lampoon’s Animal House screen one more time tonight, before the series moves on to darker pastures. The following comments describing the remainder of the Wright Stuff II are pulled directly from Edgar Wright’s notes for each film, which were published on this month’s New Beverly calendar and also as Wright’s blog.


Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run is the kind of movie I wish I’d directed; there’s such a joyful explosion of ideas and techniques, such great momentum and perpetual motion. When I first saw this it made me want to direct another movie more than ever, I remember dragging friends to see it, including Simon Pegg & Jessica Hynes. Indeed it had an influence on my favorite Spaced episode, “Gone (2.5).” It will be great to see this again with a crowd. It’s like a great party mix tape of a movie.

Late period Hitchcock and golden period De Palma, together at last. Both fantastic thrillers, breathtaking technical exercises and coal black comedies. Frenzy had a mixed reception when first released as some were disappointed that Hitch finally showed in graphic detail what he had only hinted at before. I say this ruthless atmosphere only strengthens this grimly funny tale of a man wrongly accused of being a serial killer. As a Brit myself, I personally love the early 70’s grubbiness of the tale, murder among the fruit stalls and potatoes.

Dressed To Kill opens with a dream sequence, but the nightmare never ends. De Palma conjures a dark cloud of doom over his ensemble and creates opera from terror. The technique in this film is absolutely incredible, one of those movies that is a mini film school in itself.

Walter Hill’s spare, gritty neo noir, The Driver one of my favorite crime films; a gear crunching spin of Melville’s Le Samourai and a great snapshot of 70’s downtown LA. I love the stripped down dialogue, the lack of character names, the terse cat and mouse games and brutal bursts of violence.

Equally spare, Steven Spielberg’s debut feature film Duel is as great a sign of things to come as one could wish for. Not many first time directors could pull off something this effective and thrilling on such a low budget and short schedule. Not many directors have the word ‘masterful’ thrown around for their debut. Spielberg did. Film students take note, this is how you do it.

Two lovers on the lam movies, two stone-cold classics. Both equally beloved, both wildly entertaining, both frequently brutal and brutally funny. David Lynch’s amazing Wild at Heart was released at the height of his network TV success with Twin Peaks but does not pull any punches whatsoever. I vividly remember watching this on first release and being blown back into my seat by the outrageous opening; the combination of Im Abendrot, Powermad and a man’s head being bashed into a pulp was like nothing I’d ever seen. It remains a singular experience over 20 years later.

Tony Scott’s True Romance also felt somewhat ahead of its time and
though not a huge box office bonanza has become one of the most influential Quentin Tarantino scripts. The film foretells the age of the geek hero by at least 10 years and sparked a fire for an entire generation of meta madness, my films included. Given that he didn’t direct it, it’s ironic that it feels like Tarantino’s most personal film. It’s still a joy to watch, still apparently Tony Scott’s favorite film of his own, and my God, what a cast!

1979 was clearly a banner year for gang culture, as these two movies are the best of the genre. I showed these movies as a double bill in Toronto and they complemented each other beautifully. One is hugely underrated, the other is a cult phenomenon. Both are amazing movies.

Phil Kaufman’s The Wanderers is a bruising, funny knuckleduster of a movie, a rite of passage set amongst the warfare and initiations of ‘60s New York’s neighborhood gangs. There’s so much from this film that has stayed with me—Perry’s haymaker punches, the fogbound streets where the Ducky Boys lurk, Ken Wahl belting out Dion, the apocalyptic football game—I love this movie.

Walter Hill’s The Warriors is rightly celebrated as a cult phenomenon beyond even its origins as a movie; dialogue, sounds and images have entered into the consciousness in music, fashion and video games. At the heart is still a barnstorming late-night rumble of a film, another classic all-in-one-night tale as our heroes perform a lethal A-to-B in the dark terrain of a New York long forgotten.

Two fantastic crime films, both with legendary, beloved actors, neither of which are as well known as they should be. I aim to change this with this double bill. Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a buddy movie classic, with the amazing combination of Clint Eastwood in his prime and Jeff Bridges in one of his earliest starring roles. This handsome duo head up a tough, funny and frequently insane heist movie. I dearly love this movie. With Bridges now attaining the same legend status as Clint himself, it will be great to watch this again with a crowd.

George Armitage’s Miami Blues is another film slightly ahead of its time. In 1990 its combination of tough, funny noir and flashes of shocking violence seemed to bemuse audiences. Only five years later would Tarantino turn what was once for cult appreciation only into a global smasheroo. This very entertaining Miami lowlife romp has at its heart two great badass performances, the grizzled Fred Ward as Hoke Mosely, and the frequently shirtless and impressively hairy Alec Baldwin as the charming psychopath Junior. This film is a little gem of broken fingers, lost digits and missing teeth. Anyone who has seen my amateur film Dead Right will know that I stole a joke from Miami Blues. I am willing to be ashamed by screening it now.

(Keep up with the schedule, show times and announcements of special guests by visiting Edgar Wright’s official blog or at the Web site for the New Beverly Cinema.)


Saturday, January 15, 2011


Edgar Wright could be the most genial man in show business, a quality that certainly comes across in all three of his feature films, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. He has also, in the short space of those three films, established himself as one of contemporary pop cinema’s most innovative and intelligent visual stylists. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz recently wrote that “Wright—now officially three-for-three thanks to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz—is one of the few directors working at the studio level who can tell jokes with shots and construct rebus-like series of images that make arguments or express emotional states. (Scott Pilgrim) is filled with virgin moments—lines, images, and feelings that have no equivalent anywhere else in movies, past or present.”

I complained about the movie when I saw it this past summer (as did Seitz), about its barrage of references (many of which I admit I didn’t connect to) and about the overwhelming disdain I had for the film's main character, which certainly didn’t put me in the mood for the movie’s playful visual design. My mistake, revealed in a screening of the movie over the holidays, was in assuming that the movie itself didn’t recognize the asshole at its center, that because it played in the world of an indecisive, self-centered and immature man-boy that the movie itself was somehow guilty of the same negative qualities (including a careless cruelty to one of its obviously sweet, perhaps a tad obnoxious central characters) displayed by that man-boy. Upon second viewing it became clear that Wright’s empathy for his directionless hero did not preclude the recognition of his many flaws, or that the imaginative dreamscape in which Scott Pilgrim battles his girlfriend’s seven deadly exes, and his own fear of growing up, was full of sounds and images and sequences that were far more inventive, delightful and resonant than I ever gave them credit for. It’s still not a movie that touches me in the way that Shaun or Hot Fuzz do, but then it doesn’t have to be. That it is smart and good is plenty enough to keep me believing that Edgar has the right stuff. I talked with the director late this past week about Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim, playing an obnoxious junket journalist, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and, of course, all the delights and surprises that are part of his upcoming repertory series The Wright Stuff II playing through January 31 at the New Beverly Cinema. Here’s what he said.


DC: Are you back in Los Angeles working on a new film?

EW: It’s actually quite a busy work period, so I can only call The Wright Stuff II a pleasant distraction (Laughs). I’m writing furiously at the moment and facing a deadline, so it’s actually the only non-work thing I’ll be doing is going to these things. It’s quite a lot of work to put something like this together, and I’m still working on some other guests which hopefully will come together. But this is the way to do a series because the guests enter into the spirit of how I’m doing it. It’s pretty informal at the New Beverly—that’s one of the fun things about it. It’s really about giving everybody a good show and doing our part to keep rep cinema going in L.A., but also I just quite selfishly want to watch the movies.

DC: The New Beverly has become such a center for movie love here in L.A., and everybody seems to love it and get very excited when you come around.

EW: They’re great. They’ve been asking me to do it again for the last two years, since the last one, but there’s never really been a time that’s right. Since Scott Pilgrim the interest has been building about me coming back to do another season, so we decided on January 2011, and then when it comes to it I’m actually quite busy again! And I thought, well, if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.

DC: I first saw Shaun of the Dead several months before it opened here in the U.S., and I had no idea what it was. From the title I guessed maybe a sort of zombie version of Scary Movie, one disposable gag after another. It was such a relief to find that it was deeply hilarious and rooted in real characters. Both Shaun and Hot Fuzz are great movies that work as genre parodies but also as superb examples of the things themselves. How did they come about?

EW: What you said is precisely the intention, to make movies that hopefully can fit into specific genres rather than just “comedy.” We wanted to make comedies that were set in a specific world, but we always hesitated using the word “parody” or “spoof.” And in a weird way, one of the reasons there hasn’t been a third one yet is because it’s suddenly not as much fun anymore when people are trying to second-guess what a third film would be and saying, “What are you gonna spoof next?!” The answer to that, really, is, we don’t think of them as spoofs. They deal with subjects that we’re passionate about, characters that we want to really write about within those worlds. I would hope that there’s a big difference between Shaun of the Dead and… (Hesitates)

DC: Vampires Suck, maybe? Yes, I can confirm there is a difference.

EW (laughs): Thanks!

DC: Were you surprised by the popularity of the movies here in the States?

EW: Yeah. When we made Shaun of the Dead our first and only priority, really, was to make a movie that would a) be good and b) would do well in the U.K. Everything after that was an unexpected bonus. I still think that one of the best things that ever happened to me, one of the experiences I’ll never forget is going around the world with Shaun of the Dead for the first time and showing my work in another country. It was amazing, and it’s still something that doesn’t get old. Or showing Spaced nearly 10 years after the fact when it came out on DVD—it was a thrill to see it with an audience.

DC: In that vein, The Fuzzball Rally (the documentary made during the U.S. promotional tour behind Hot Fuzz) is one of my all-time favorite bonus features. Did that come about because of that experience you had with Shaun?

EW: One of the things that ended up happening after the Shaun of the
tour was that we wished we’d had some kind of a record of it. Also, the guy who directed The Fuzzball Rally was Joe Cornish, who is a friend and collaborator. What’s funny is, in the U.K. that documentary alone caused the rating of Hot Fuzz to be upgraded from, like, a “15” to an “18.” A box set came out just before Christmas of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim and the entire box was rated “18” purely because of the amount of swearing in The Fuzzball Rally.

DC: Well, if The King’s Speech can get an “R” here…

EW: Oh, yeah. I think the thing is, what happens, generally, when me, Simon and Nick talk is that— In the U.S. people don’t use the “C” word in an affectionate way the way we do in the U.K.! (Laughs) So that immediately caused a few problems.

DC: And speaking of promotional materials, the first time I ever put a face to your name was when I saw your performance as the Snotty Junket Journalist in the Superbad piece featuring Jonah Hill and Michael Cera. The whole piece was brilliant. Was it fun to do?

EW: It was, although it was absolutely nerve-wracking. I’d met Jonah and Michael before, and in fact had already talked to Michael about Scott Pilgrim, but Judd Apatow I had not met until the day I did that. He called me up with the idea—I don’t know who suggested me doing it— but it was really nerve-wracking. In fact, I was supposed to interview Seth Rogen and Christopher Mintz-Plasse immediately afterwards and I chickened out because I couldn’t— We only did one take of that Superbad thing. The publicists were just outside the door and they said, “You want to do Chris and Seth next?” and I said, “No, I don’t! I wanna go home!” (Laughs) So there was supposed to be a second one, but I was the one who bummed out on it!

DC: Jonah Hill’s reaction unnerved you to that degree?

EW: They cut it together really well, because that’s pretty much exactly what we shot, with no retakes. But there’s a couple of times where I made them crack up and vice versa. Whoever edited it did a good job of making it seem real. And Jonah Hill’s rage is extremely convincing, which is why a lot of people when they see it on YouTube still say, “God, that British reporter is such a douche!” Or some people think that it was Edgar Wright punking Michael and Jonah.

DC: Your first two movies are obviously very British, and you talked about how you originally had your eye only on making a movie that would do well in the U.K. And the movies are about specifically British concerns— where the societal lines are drawn between community and a xenophobic rule of law, or a society so much on autopilot that it takes a while to notice the cashier at the local shop is a zombie. Scott Pilgrim, on the other hand, isn’t Anglo-centric at all. Did you look at doing that movie as a sort of departure from the personal?

EW: Um, yes and no. Obviously it’s an adaptation from the graphic novels of Brian Lee O’Malley, who created this amazingly detailed world. But it also resonated with me and I felt a connection with some of the characters, particularly Scott Pilgrim himself. In a way it actually reminded me of Spaced, which Brian Lee O’Malley had never seen. But when I read the first book I thought, this is definitely in a similar vein to Spaced, especially the idea of directionless people living their own daydreams. That was the reason I was really excited to do that—I wanted to return to that mix of the mundane and the magical realism. Shaun and Hot Fuzz are both ridiculous, but they’re set in the real world, and Scott Pilgrim is more an extension of Spaced as this unspecified mix of fantasy and reality.

DC: Hearing you say that makes me think about my own reaction to the movie. The first time I saw it I had very little patience for Scott, the character, and that colored my whole reaction to it. But seeing it again over the holidays I began to think of it as Scott’s own self-critical assessment of his own life, where the boundaries between fantasy and reality are invisible and everything can be All About Scott—no one else in the movie seems to care much about anything except Scott and how things affect him. The new way of looking at the movie (for me) helped me deal with the fact that the movie and the character tend to be somewhat cruel, especially toward the character of Knives. So you thought of the movie as Scott’s dreamscape?

EW: Yeah, that’s exactly it, really. One of the things I thought was interesting about the books and the movie is that you’ve got a hero who is moving in a universe with its own rules. We’re watching what happens from his perspective. Brian O’Malley has said about his character, “Scott Pilgrim is the star of the movie inside his own head.” Essentially, the film is that movie. And I think what’s interesting is that the character is sort of deaf to the criticisms around him. There are two people in the film, Young Neil and Knives, who might worship the ground he walks on, but everybody else, including Ramona, gives him shit. And he’s seemingly deaf to it until the attacks, both personal and physical, become such that he can’t ignore them anymore.

The way he treats Knives, there’s nothing funny about it—it’s heartbreaking, especially with Ellen Wong playing that part. But the idea is that it builds up to him being forced to deal with his own shortcomings at the end of the film. The point of the movie is that Scott has demonized Ramona’s exes to the point where he’s fighting them in these huge showdowns, but ironically Scott himself is a hypocrite and he hasn’t dealt with his own baggage. He has as much turmoil in his past love life as she does. The film is less about a boy-meets-girl situation and more about an immature character having to grow up.

DC: If the movie is Scott’s interior world, he’s going to get the girl. But does he get the right girl? Did you consider a version where he ends up with Knives, or do you think it’s more to the point that he could become an evil ex himself?

EW: Well, there is an alternate ending in the original drafts of the script where exactly that happened. Then, as the comics developed, we actually came to believe that the original ending we’d written didn’t work. We intended originally to have an ending where he went off with Knives, Ramona left Toronto, and right at the end Scott’s smile fades slightly, as if to say he’s not sure if he did the right thing, in a sort of Heartbreak Kid/Graduate kind of way. But it didn’t work. And Ellen Wong is so charming in the role that it felt completely heartless, and not in a great, black comedy way. In fact, even the thing with the smile fading-- we didn’t even shoot it because it just felt wrong. We knew even as we were shooting that we hadn’t quite nailed it. Even Brian had a different ending for his books, and then he changed his own ending because he had a change of heart. And as soon as I read the ending of the books I said, okay, this is actually what we need to do. Because Knives actually grows up as much as Scott, and part of her growing up is that she becomes able to let Scott go and give up on her crush.

DC: So Knives’s “I’m too cool for you” comes from Brian Lee O’Malley?

EW: No. Weirdly, that line is not in the book. But we (myself, Michael Bacall and Brian Lee O’Malley) rewrote the ending, and that is Brian’s line. We had something similar, and then he rewrote it and came up with that line, which is genius. I love that line. So on an adaptation level there’s material in the film which Brian wrote which is not in the book. The main thing with the ending, as I see it, is that everybody has to grow up. Knives flowers into a swan that is at once more confident and also quite over Scott Pilgrim, and then Scott basically wants to start again on a different level of awareness with Ramona. The idea of the ending is that it’s a build-up to a second first date—we’ve dealt with all of our baggage now, and I’m hopefully now mature enough to have a relationship without the obsessive worry about the past. And it should be up to the viewer to imagine what they think is going to happen next. Scott and Ramona might not make it past the end credits, or it might be the start of a beautiful relationship.

DC: The movie really expanded in my head when I saw it at home on Blu-ray. My daughter and I saw it on opening night here in America, and the subpar projection where we saw it actually made it look dingy, almost as if there were a scrim in front of the screen, which to some degree affected my response to it. My memory afterward was that it was a strangely dark, literally dim movie.

EW: Oh, that’s too bad.

DC: But the Blu-ray disc revealed to me that the movie was anything but dim, and I was in a sense free to concentrate more on the visual poetry of the movie and what you were up to in that regard rather than allow bad technical presentation to literally color my perception of it and encourage me to impose my negative feelings about Scott and his immaturity on the movie as a whole. And it made me think about how a less visually inventive director might have taken concepts from the book and realized them in a far more perfunctory way than you did. How did you approach the movie visually? It’s a busy movie that feels almost effortless.

EW: We had amazing source material to work from, but the comics are in black and white (laughs), and they have no sound, and the music is such a big part of it. It was a great experience trying to bring to life this inspired artwork and Brian’s whole world, but also figuring out how to make it flesh, how to make it move, how to see it in color, what the bands should sound like. I thought a lot about the comic book adaptations that I liked and some I didn’t care for, and what was interesting is that there’s a huge range of styles employed in different adaptations-- Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is massively different from Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon. I felt that in what is essentially a comedy film, there was a chance to be very imaginative with it, to do something a bit more pop-arty. And yeah, I did think more about some of the more colorful adaptations, like Danger: Diabolik and Flash Gordon, to bring some of that into Scott’s world. The book is pitched somewhere between Ghost World and X-Men, and it was interesting to try and find the middle ground between those two.

DC: Both of the previous movies used the wide-screen frame to great comic and narrative effect. Why did you decide to shoot Scott Pilgrim in 1.85?

EW: Two reasons. One, because generally the panels in the book were more 1.85 than wide screen. But since there was a lot of information on screen such as graphics and titles, we thought it would actually be too much to take in 2.35. It would be more difficult to read text and images. Because of the density of information in Scott Pilgrim I thought that 1.85 was the way to go. And actually, because of that, within the movie we keep changing the aspect ratios. What’s funny is that the bits—I wouldn’t call them “fake” wide-screen, because the bits that are in 2.35 were shot in 2.35, but we added the black bars as a kind of style thing, because a lot of comics use negative space around panels. Also, there’s a thing that happens a lot in video games where the opening sequence in a video game will often have the fake wide-screen bars to make them seem more cinematic. In fact, we shot on spherical 35, anamorphic 35 and VistaVision, and also on the Phantom, which is a digital camera. But even on film we shot three different formats. All of the non-fight sequences are in spherical 35mm, and all of the fight scenes are in anamorphic. Someone at a Q&A asked me, “Why did you shoot it in anamorphic? Why does everything have to have flares these days?” And I said, “Watch it again. Only the fight scenes have flares. We only used anamorphic for the fight scenes.”

DC: Let’s talk a little about what’s coming up for The Wright Stuff II. The stand-by line for the sold-out Edgar Wright triple feature that opens the series on Friday and Saturday ought to be intimidating.

EW: Quentin Tarantino has picked the trailers for those three films, but I won’t know what they are until I show up on Friday and Saturday.

DC: He showed Inglourious Basterds at the New Bev last year and showed almost an hour of trailers before the movie, which meant the film didn’t actually start until about a quarter after 1:00 in the morning.

EW: I’m like him—I can watch trailers until the cows come home.

DC: What’s the double feature you’re most excited about?

EW: All of them! I did The Warriors and The Wanderers in Toronto before, when I was prepping Scott Pilgrim, and that worked brilliantly.

DC: I’m glad to see Philip Kaufman’s movie getting some love because it deserves it. But those movies were also in the marketplace at the same time in this country, part of one of those inexplicable convergences of similar material coming out at the same time that happen occasionally.

EW: Yeah, they’re both set in New York, one is period, one is contemporary 1979, one a cult film, one very underseen. It was great seeing them with a crowd who had seen The Warriors but who mostly had not seen The Wanderers, and The Wanderers played great. It’s a fantastic film.

DC: It’s not as out there stylistically as The Warriors, but it has stylistic flourishes that might take some people by surprise.

EW: I think those flourishes are probably exactly the reason I love it. I was particularly taken with the Ducky Boys, the Irish gang, and that whenever you run into them, there’s suddenly all this mist on the street. I always loved the idea that you could turn a corner in a bad neighborhood and there’s this omnipresent, terrifying gang who can seemingly teleport in a bank of fog into a scene-- I love it!

The other movie I’m excited about showing an audience is The Super Cops on Tuesday. That film we had to bring from London because there doesn’t appear to be a print in the U.S. I saw it on TV in the U.K. when I was very young, and at the same time I was really taken with the Batman TV series. Within the movie Ron Leibman and David Selby play Greenberg and Hantz, real-life cops who were nicknamed Batman and Robin. Ron Leibman’s character even takes to wearing a Batman T-shirt, which the real cop did. It’s not on DVD at all, so it’s very cool to get hold of. I’d seen it again more recently when I was writing Hot Fuzz, and it really stood up. And I hope that the kind of attention it could get from being shown in a situation like this might compel it to get released on DVD. It seems crazy that it’s not available. I was actually really thrilled when I saw The Social Network because David Selby is in it—“Oh, my God, one of the Super Cops is playing the Winklevii’s lawyer!” And Lorenzo Semple, who wrote The Super Cops and also wrote for the Batman TV series, is coming on Tuesday, so that should be fun. I’ve seen him in other interviews where he can be brutally self-deprecating about his own work, so I’m interested to hear what he has to say about The Super Cops, whether he remembers it fondly. I think it’s great.

DC: From what I’ve seen, he’s certainly not one to suffer fools gladly, not that you have to worry about that.

EW (laughs): I’m sort of mildly terrified about interviewing him, but it’ll be fun!

DC: I’m also very excited to see Frenzy on the big screen, and of course Dressed to Kill. That’s an inspired pairing.

EW: I’ve never seen Dressed to Kill on the big screen, and it’s one of my favorite De Palma films. And Frenzy is a really interesting one. Some Hitchcock connoisseurs are kind of down on it because they thought he went over the top. I think it’s fascinating. It’s a pitch-black comedy that I can always return to a lot, and some of the ways he deals with exposition are quite amazing. David Thomson made an interesting point about Frenzy in that even though it’s set in the ‘70s it feels like the London Hitchcock left in the ‘30s. It has a strange mix of contemporary flourishes, but it doesn’t feel like a film made in 1972 London. Even the Covent Garden flower market had closed by the time the film had come out, so it’s the last time you see the place on screen for real. It’s still there, but shops and entertainment instead of a market. That was a film I watched again before making Hot Fuzz because I love its sense of humor, its playfulness. Particularly there’s a shot toward the end of the film when Jon Finch is in court where we’re looking through double doors that are swinging open and shut, and you only hear the court when the doors are open. When they’re closed you can only hear muffled dialogue. Hitchcock’s playing with the language and saying, “You know what’s going on. This isn’t important.” We only hear the bits that are really crucial. For that touch to come in a film that was his second-to-last movie is thrilling—it’s really daring and playful.

DC: And you get that whole subplot of the sergeant sitting down to a series of inedible meals which he clearly finds repulsive.

EW: Yeah, that’s like a little chamber piece that goes through the film! (Laughs) And Frenzy might have pioneered the convention of someone suddenly appearing behind someone’s head—that kind of “Boo!” trick that’s been done so many times. I think Frenzy was one of the first times that was done, where Anna Massey comes walking out of the park, she turns and Barry Foster is right behind her.

DC: Who are some of the special guests you’ll have coming to the New Beverly in the next two weeks?

EW: There are a couple of surprise guests for shows that have already sold out, so I think I’ll leave them as surprises. And some have already been announced. (Just after this interview was completed, Wright called me to let me know that David Selby had been confirmed to join Lorenzo Semple, Jr. for The Super Cops at the New Beverly for the screening on Wednesday, January 18.-- DC) On Sunday, Richard Kelly is introducing Brazil with me because it’s his favorite film. He’s a friend of mine, but I’ve never talked to him about that movie. He once wrote a piece about it for a book, so I invited him to come down and talk about it with me. We also have another special guest talking about Dirty Harry with me on January 18. I promised I wouldn’t say who it was, but people will not be disappointed. (Laughs) Then we have American Graffiti and Animal House on January 20 with John Landis and George Folsey. The other one we just announced that is going to be a lot of fun will be on the 24th-- The Driver with Bruce Dern, Frank Marshall and director Walter Hill. And we have someone coming for True Romance too. You can keep an eye on my blog and, of course, the New Beverly schedule for updated information.

DC: But guest or no guest, these films are still going to be great to see on the big screen. Your enthusiasm for the movies, and these movies, is really infectious.

EW: A lot of these are dream double bills. And the last one, actually, is very special-- Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and Miami Blues, both much underrated films. And the reason I put those two together is not just because they’re both kind of comedic noir films, but because they both have actors in them who are legendary. I really want to see Miami Blues again now that Alec Baldwin has had a second life as a comic actor.

DC: And Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is visually splendid.

EW: Oh, it’s a brilliant film, that. And I think Jeff Bridges has a whole young following because of The Big Lebowski who have never seen him in this movie. People who love Lebowski will love Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. And it’s probably fairly clear from the programming what kind of directors I like. I’m definitely a big fan of the stylists—Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, Brian De Palma, Walter Hill. I love directors who are invisible and can tell a great story and effortlessly engage the audience. That’s an amazing gift, and some of the greatest directors of all time have that. Some of the most successful films of all time have that quality, where there’s nothing to distract people from the story. Yet on the flipside, there are directors who I think are like evil puppet masters in the greatest way, manipulating every second of the film. (Laughs) Hitchcock and De Palma have that in common, in the best way possible being master manipulators. I love that.


(The Wright Stuff II series screens through January 31 at the New Beverly Cinema. For details on schedule, showtimes and special guests visit the New Beverly Cinema calendar page, where you can also order advance tickets-- highly recommended-- for each performance.)