This week’s Watercooler Musical Interlude is Irish tenor Frank Patterson singing “Danny Boy” with a Tommy gun accompaniment by Albert Finney. According to David Morgan’s interview with Miller’s Crossing composer Carter Burwell in his book Knowing The Score: Film Composers Talk About the Art, Craft, Blood, Sweat, and Tears of Writing for Cinema, the Coens originally only intended to use “Danny Boy” as a temp track for editing with the assumption they’d find a less familiar song to slip in later. Later came and nothing seemed to work as well so they brought in Patterson whose original recording they’d used for the edit and he agreed to record a new version just for the film. Patterson watched the already edited scene with Joel and Ethan giving him visual cues of what to hit when. He then recorded the song back by the orchestra while the scene played out. He apparently nailed it in just two takes. It’s hard to imagine any other song in its place.

Carter Burwell’s own work in the film too deserves a special shout out. It’s so full and lush, it compliments the rich visuals while giving an emotional counterpoint to the hard edged characters and violence. Miller’s Crossing is one of many Coen examples where words, pictures and sound all come together perfectly.

That’s all from me this week. The rest as always is up to you. Let me know what you’ve been up to at the movies since last Sunday.


21 Responses to “O Watercooler Boy”

  1. Lucille and I (and the kids for some) were again busy on the movie front. We saw:

    Habemus Papam **** (Tuesday night) IFC Film Center

    Keyhole * 1/2 (Tuesday night) IFC Film Center

    The Cabin in the Woods **** (Friday afternoon) Secaucus multiplex

    Monsieur Lazhar **** 1/2 (Friday night) Angelika Film Center

    The Three Stooges *** 1/2 (Saturday night) Chelsea Cinemas

    Footnote **** 1/2 (Friday night) Angelika Film Center

    One of the best weeks of the year rating wise, was dominated by a trio of foreign language entries, two of which were nominated for the Best Foreign language Oscar for 2011. Guy Maddin’s surrealistic Gothic horror KEYHOLE was the only downer, an experimental work was both torturous to sit through and a lesson of how to alienate an audience with disorienting images and distancing visuals. Maddin is an acquired taste for sure, but this film won’t be bringing him acclaim among the beginners.

    CABIN IN THE WOODS starts off plainly, but after the first half hour or so morphs into one of the most imaginative horror films of recent years. I plan to say more about the film soon enough. The French-Canadian MONSIEUR LAZHAR is that rarest of ‘inspirational teacher’ movies, one that earns it’s emotional resonance by way of acute observation and restraint. A refuge with a troubled political past in Algeria arrives in Montreal at a time of tragedy and through trial and tribulation makes a difference with a class enduring the death of their previous instructor. FOOTNOTE examines the results of a mistaken announcement for an annual award on an Israeli family, and of the betrayal that rewards familial loyalty. It’s an a riceting drama that builds in emotional intensity, an unusual film that works quite impressively. HABEMUS PAPEM is a wry film about a pope who is chosen by the conclave of cardinals only to question his own viability. The ending is brilliantly posed, and throughout there are some nice satirical touches about the church and the clergy, though some sequences are rather silly. But in large measure it’s very well done.

    After ten years in the planning stage, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who produced the broad and slapsticky Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary (two movies that were not very funny) came upon material that they figured would play to their own strengths while simultaneously paying homage to one the genre’s most enduring legacies in THE THREE STOOGES. The results are not achieved without some mis-steps, though the intermittent humor is more than these brothers have managed in their creative past. Of course, all it would really take for many hard-core affiiccianados is to replicate the spontaneity and the surprise that greeted some of the boys’ best gags and set-pieces, even taking into account the technological alterations a half century can bring. The new Stooges are set in an age of e mails and reality television, a time when their well-honed slapstick may initially seem like an anachronism, speaking as it did to Depression era economics and seemingly naive lay men and aristocrats who only perceived the menace of their integration when they were ravaged by the bumbling trio. In other words, people who encounter them gleefully play the game, a comforting deceit that allows the trio to invade all kinds of societal conclaves, including an orphanage where the three are raised since infancy after being left on the front porch. One of the Farrelly brothers’ best decisions was to cast the dour looking and acting Larry David as Sister Mary ‘Mengele’ -named after the infamous Nazi doctor who conducted experiments on prisoners held in concentration camps – as a foil who haunts the boys through their exploits in persistent Javert-Jean Valjean fashion, with the added zaniness of going drag. The Stooges’ bonding starts at an early age. There isn’t much of a plot, but there are some great gags (and lame ones to be sure) but the film’s three leads deliver impressive impersonations that for many brought the old magic to the present day and has confirmed why the Stooges were so special in the first place. Best of all is Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, who captures the tough guy, take charge demeanor of the character who was the brains of the outfit and the initiator of the dialogue that always let to physical recriminations, usually masked by sarcastic agreement. The actor’s take on “Why I oughta” and “you knucklehead” are hoots, and few could argue he sounds like a reincarnation of the group’s endearing Groucho Marx-like anchor, right down to his patented bowl-styled haircut. As the Harpo character, Curly, Will Sasso plays the lovable dimwit with remarkable agility and looks, and as always his absorption of the physical assaults generates much of the humor. Sean Hayes, with his bozo the clown appearance and nebbish personality, encores the blank-eyed stare of the chronic pushover, who rarely gets a chance to outwit Moe. (full review tops the Diary)?

  2. I love this scene from “Miller’s Crossing”. This is still my favorite Coen film, and one of the five best films of the ’90s for me.

    I caught a couple films on tv this last week. “Payback”, the Gibson cut, which I think is great. I watched the last half of “Matrix Revolutions” on sci-fi channel. The visual fx are still extremely impressive, but at some point I started thinking about how much better the 1st movie was. I watched “Small Time Crooks”. Not one of Woody’s best films, but it has a couple funny moments. I also watched “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down”, which is entertaining to a point. Banderas is great.

    And I posted a teaser trailer for my 35 minute short film, “Camille’s Image”. It’s like a neo-noir/drama and has a lead character who vents about his past by doing these freestyle raps. Check it out! :)

    I shot on the Red Camera, which I enjoyed very much.

  3. I had planned on seeing “The Raid” and “Cabin in the Woods” this weekend. I was a little under the weather, though, so mostly stayed indoors, and just saw the latter film today. I wish I’d made the other choice.

    I was lucky enough to catch “Shivers”, David Cronenberg’s first full feature, on IFC, however. It’s interesting to see how he transitioned from his more abstract, avant-garde featurettes “Stereo” and “Crimes of the Future” for this somewhat more mainstream effort, a seemingly trashy story of an island-bound apartment complex that falls prey to a parasite-infecting plague of zombies. There’s shades of Romero, obviously, as well as the original “Body Snatchers” for good measure, but what really stands out are three things– the transgressive sexuality, the oddball social science theories, and the emphasis that Cronenberg places on the materialist interiors of the apartments, shooting them with just the same clinical lens as he does his various bodily deformations. It’s the New Flesh by IKEA. It’s easy to see why guys like Scorsese were excited by him as a director even before he gained his cult following with stuff like “Scanners” and “Videodrome”.

  4. “This is still my favorite Coen film”

    I’m with you, Ari. It remains my favorite too. As Craig rightly notes Burwell’s score deserves a shout-out – it is so critical to establishing the film’s overarching poignant tone.

    The trailer looked really intriguing Ari. I don’t know exactly why but it had me thinking Jim Jarmusch – hope that’s not a bad thing.

  5. I’ve never seen Miller’s Crossing — must make it a point. Fortunately, though, I finally got to see Fight Club, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

    Sam, I’m glad to see you liked the Stooges — I’ve been wary of it for fear of being disappointed.

  6. I saw a couple of films this past weekend (Easter weekend in Bulgaria).

    Hunger Games – I liked the story and hated the visuals. It’s really something strange. Normally with big budget films it’s the story that bothers me. And the visuals are generally very well stylized. But in their attempt to recreate a POV of a sort and to be different, they kinda fail. Too much shaking of the camera. Just sometimes, a person needs a steady shot or two in order to avoid the motion sickness. Otherwise it was a nicely done social criticism of a sort. I liked it very much and I’ll surely read the books as well :)

    The Darkest Hour – It was okay. Nothing special. It was well done although I didn’t like the concept too much. Still enjoyable enough :)

    It was a slow weekend for me.

    Ari, well done. It doesn’t seem like my kind of film but the visuals looked good. How was shooting on RED? We were hoping to shoot something short in the fall and are currently hesitating between RED One and Nikon D4… Do you have any experience with the later?

  7. Congrats, Ari. Looks good so far.

    I saw The Cabin in the Woods. It amused me and featured some great individual moments, but I never really bought into the premise. The entire third act felt a bit perfunctory rather than inspired, and I sort of lost interest in it by the climax. I enjoyed all the homages to past horror films, but felt like it was more ambitious than it was inspired. I also think it will be good for Whedon to get out of his comfort zone with Avengers.

    Honestly, I enjoyed last year’s Tucker and Dale vs Evil more than Cabin, even though Tucker and Dale is more slapstick and sillier.

  8. Congratulations Ari. Nice work here!

  9. Joel– “The Avengers” is out of Whedon’s comfort zone? Why, because they don’t have the rights to the “X-Men” characters and he can’t do his typical Dark Phoenix heroine and Days of Future Past storytelling? But anyway, I pretty much agree on the premise and the film entire. Really, there’s not much here that hasn’t already been mined before in other genre movies.

  10. Nice work, Ari. Is this short going to be screening in the LA area at any point? Please keep me posted!

    I was surprised at how good the Gibson Payback was considering how revered the Lee Marvin “original” is.

    Sam, Maddin is a taste I have not yet quite acquired so I didn’t run out to see Keyhole. A largely agree with you on Lazhar except perhaps by degree. As I said in the review comments, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it only got me so far in terms of emotional resonance. Having said that, I loved the two little kids, especially the girl and the actor who played Lazhar was also wonderful. Imagine this film with someone like Robin Williams mugging his way through it. It would’ve been unbearable.

    As for We Have a Pope, I’m surprised it got beaten up so badly by US critics. Maybe the balance between drama and light comedy was offputting? I don’t know. I liked it, if somewhat less than you.

    Stooges I’m moderately curious about despite my dismissal in the weekend forecast. The thing is, classic Stooges for me are good for about 10-15 minutes of laughs when I’m drunk and then I’ve had enough so it’s hard for me to imagine 90 minutes of even the most respectful of updates.

    Bob, Shivers is an unsettling little number. It very much fits a certain 70s exploitation box, but it’s Cronenberg all the way.

    Pierre, how is it you stayed away from Fight Club for so long?

    Sartre, funny but I was thinking Jarmusch too. Mid to late 80s indie in general. Like She’s Gotta Have it which I just did an MQotD for. Stylistically Ari’s trailer is much cleaner (perhaps because of the Red camera instead of 16 or 35mm film stock) but there’s a ground level naturalism to the dialogue that rings a bell.

    Piro, I’m with you 100% on the cinematography in Hunger Games. Also, the look of the film in general felt like particularly cheap early 80s TV sci fi half the time.. I’m thinking original Battlestar Galactica here.

    Joel, I’m pretty much between you and Sam on Cabin. For pure entertainment value I liked it a bit better than you, but for significance I rate it a little less than Sam. All in all, I probably went in with expectations that were too high based on the glowing reviews. One fanboy apparently called it the best horror movie since whenever, which is absurd since it’s not even really a horror movie. Much more a black comedy in my book.

  11. Thanks guys. Craig, I still have to finish editing the final cut before I send it out to festivals, but hopefully it will screen somewhere. Sartre, if it brings to mind Jarmusch that’s a good thing because a) he’s one of my favorite directors and b) “Ghost Dog” was a movie I had in mind stylistically for certain scenes. :)

    Piro, I’ve never used the d4. I’ve used Canon 7d and Panasonic Gh1 and the Gh2. I’d say the Panasonic Gh2 is the best of the dslr cameras. That or the Canon 5d Mark II. I shot on the Red Epic and that camera is incredible. It’s very user friendly for what it is. It’s like operating a larger dslr that happens to shoot 5k data. And it has more options. Also highly recommended is the Red Scarlet. It’s cheaper to rent and shoots 4k and works almost exactly like the Epic.

    anyone seen Titanic in 3d? I’m interested to check it out, but then I remember it’s 3 1/2 hours or so and I’m not sure i can take a 3 hour movie in 3d.

  12. @Bob: Unless he’s going to really rewrite some of the existing characters and focus this on Natasha, Whedon isn’t going to have his usual character set to write to. And I’m crossing my fingers that this particular Whedon joint doesn’t involve a shadowy govt conspiracy or some uber-evil mega-corporation pulling all the evil strings.

    While I won’t put it past him to work in a geeky, nerdy smart-ass shlep who wins us over with his snarky repartee and lack of romantic skills, I’m hoping he can just graft that cleverness on to Tony Stark and be done with it.

  13. Ari, obviously it’s a different set of circumstances, but judging from the 3D that was done on TPM when I saw it, I’m not sure that post-conversion on “Titanic” or any film like this is going to work all that well, because the original film was done in 2.35. Stuff like “Avatar” that has a fuller frame manages to make 3D work a lot better because for the effect to really “pop”, you need to show as much as the subject as possible and not let the image get cut off too much. That’s especially advantageous in IMAX, where your whole peripheral vision is filled. 2.35, however, only gives you a lot of horizontal room, and not the vertical space you need, so conversions like these have tended to focus on adding more “depth” to the image, with whatever’s in front of the screen more or less standing as a value of 0. I mean, yes you can make things “pop” in 2.35, but it just becomes an eyesore after a while.

    There’s also the issue of the different depths of field each perspective adds, which is something directors can guage alright when working in 3D indigenously, but for conversions is trickier. Lots of shots in 2D films can frequently shift from covering distances of 10 to 20 or whatever feet from cut to cut, which would easily get disorienting in 3D if you were to try and match that exactly, especially with foreground imagery. And when you factor in how long lenses can flatten images in 2D, it can make it especially difficult to convert anything to 3D while also staying true to the aesthetics of the original film.

    In the end, I suppose it probably depends on how much you enjoy the movie being converted already. I’m a big TPM nut, so seeing it in the theater again was enough for me– the 3D wasn’t spectacular, and indeed at times wasn’t even noticeable, but that wasn’t the draw for me.

    Joel– Considering the turns the comics have taken in the past 10 years, SHIELD kinda already is a Shadowy Government Conspiracy, isn’t it? I mean granted, I doubt we’ll see them pull a “Civil War” on us anytime soon, but you never know.

    And yeah. I suppose perhaps we should be thankful that Spider-Man isn’t available to this gig, as he’d likely turn into another Xander-clone. Really, seeing “Cabin” just reminded me of how much I really detest Whedon’s characters, for the most part. I had enjoyed “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” somewhat, so maybe it’s just going into this monster mash territory that puts me off, with the increasingly dated horror gimmicks.

  14. Ghost Dog!!!! Looking forward to seeing it Ari and I trust you’ll let me know.

    “I’m interested to check it out, but then I remember it’s 3 1/2 hours or so and I’m not sure i can take a 3 hour movie in 3d.” Yeah that was kind of my response too, though it wasn’t the 3D so much as the first 2 1/2 hours of the movie. For the life of me I can’t think of a single reason this movie needs to be in 3D especially since it wasn’t conceived of to take advantage of 3D in the first place.

    I’m kind of curious to see it in 2D though… just not all 3 1/2 hours of it.

  15. I saw “TPM” in 3d and thought it was useless overall. In fact the pod race scene and some shots during the space battle at the end and also some establishing shots were the only points where I noticed a difference. but overall, yeah, I don’t think there was anything special about it. That said, I think James Cameron spent more money on the “Titanic” 3d conversion, so maybe there’s something to it.

  16. Maybe, but the bulk of what I’ve heard is that the emphasis is on “depth” in the image, which was the case in TPM. On the other hand, “Titanic” isn’t nearly as action-heavy a movie as TPM is, and action’s really a difficult thing to pull off in a 3D conversion for 2.35 for all the various reasons– keeping the image flat is kinda necessary to keep it from being an eye-strain. Again, I think the real question is whether the movie in question is one you want to see on the big screen or not. That was my real motivation with TPM– the 3D was just a bonus (not a free one, of course, but hey, I did get those Darth Maul glasses out of it).

  17. I don’t know what sort of effort was put into all the various 2D-to-3D conversions out there, but Cameron sunk $18 million and considerable time into getting Titanic the way he wanted it to be. I think normally these conversions cost a third of that and are done far quicker. Not having seen it, not being a fan of Titanic, and not being a fan of conversions or 3D in general, I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I just wanted to mention that Titanic is likely to be a better conversion than most.

  18. I think Lucas spent around the same amount of money on the TPM conversion, and these rereleases have been in the pipelines for years now, so I don’t think it’s a question of time either. Speaking as a big fan of the film, I can honestly say that the 3D didn’t make much of an impression at all. If “Titanic” does it better, I think it’s probably more of a case of the original film itself being more suited to the properties of 3D as a whole, which wouldn’t surprise me as it’s less of an action film and more of a slower suspense thriller (fewer cuts, longer takes being friendlier to 3D than rapid editing). I especially wouldn’t be surprised that Cameron was better at making a 2D film that converts to 3D more easily considering he’d already had experience in 3D before “Titanic”, doing that “Terminator” ride thingamajig.

  19. Yes Cameron spared no expense in his conversion… and as a vocal critic of such conversions he HAD to… I read some exact numbers somewhere and they’re eye-popping.

    Nevertheless, I have zero interest in the 3D other than to just prove what I already believe which is that it would be pointless.

  20. I really tried to hard to word that comment in such a way that it could not be perceived as an attack on Lucas or TPM, but without including a direct disclaimer I see I failed.

    Also, I have zero interest in 3D, conversions to 3D, or paying extra for the privilege. I was just mentioning it for the sake of relevancy.

  21. No Joel, I didn’t percieve anything like an attack there. I’m just saying that I think the main reason a conversion for “Titanic” would work better than TPM has less to do with how much time and money were spent, as they were likely similar, but more due to the qualities (not quality) of the original films themselves. “Titanic” is just likely much more 3D-friendly to begin with.

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