SANTA BARBARA: Directors on directing, Virtuosos, ‘Provinces of Night,’ Bigelow

Posted by · 3:41 pm · February 8th, 2010

Jamie Lee Curtis in Blue SteelThe fest feels incredibly easy-going this year.  More than last.  Maybe that’s because there aren’t as many films I’m interested in seeing.  After “The Secret of Kells” last week and Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe” later this week, nothing really strikes my fancy.

Yesterday before darting back down the 101 for a Super Bowl party in LA, I caught about an hour or so of the directors panel, “Directors on Directing.”  It was an engaging discussion between Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Lee Daniels, Pete Docter, Todd Phillips and Quentin Tarantino, and absolutely packed house.  Jason Reitman couldn’t make it.

The most interesting bit that I saw was Tarantino discussing the immersive experience of “Avatar,” how when filming “Kill Bill,” he was very interested in the experience of a movie and making the audience feel participatory in some way.  He said he thinks he failed to do that, though some sequences, namely the House of Blue Leaves sequence, were close, but when he saw “Avatar,” he said, “That’s it.  That’s the ride I was thinking about.”

I got back in town just in time for the Virtuosos after party at The Canary Hotel with honorees Michael Stuhlbarg, Saoirse Ronan, Carey Mulligan and Emily Blunt in attendance.  Shockingly I have not crossed paths with Mulligan all year long and it was nice to exchange some pleasantries.

She seemed most pleased to be in the company of the category, noting Meryl Streep and her self-effacing sense of humor as a particular high mark for the season.  One must keep in mind that “An Education,” much like “Precious,” has had a very long year and managed to keep enough fuel in the tank to push it across the finish line.  Mulligan is definitely enjoying the film’s ride but she’s ready to get back to work, she says.  She’s finishing up some looping on Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” this week.

This morning I saw Shane Dax Taylor’s “Provinces of Night” earlier this morning.  Well, I was at the Metro to see Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark,” actually, part of a retrospective on her work today, but it had apparently been moved to the Lobero and I was running late.  I knew T Bone Burnett had worked on “Provinces” and knowing absolutely nothing of the narrative, I figured I’d give it a go.

The film features a bizarre mish-mash of talent.  There’s Val Kilmer, pot-bellied, stalking the frame with his hilarious Nashville get-up and constant buzz-verging-on-binge.  Then there’s Dwight Yokam, who shows up for a scene of trademark tension before disappearing from the plot for convenience’s sake.

Great character actor W. Earl Brown (who also wrote the film) offers an over-the-top but nevertheless intriguing performance as a, well, lunatic, while Kris Kristofferson lurks here and there with an easy chair turn as a returning patriarch in rural Tennessee.

Oh, and Barry Corbin (the “can’t stop what’s coming” gent from “No Country for Old Men,” for those who can’t remember “WarGames” or “Northern Exposure”) has a brief cameo that’s positively hilarious.  And Hilary Duff is front and center, too.

What can I say?  It’s an overreaching story of a family ruined by the events of a mysterious past and the one young man (Reece Thompson) who might make something of himself.  The plot flies headlong off the rails after struggling to keep the ship righted throughout, but it also creates a definite sense of place and character that reminded me of the more accomplished “That Evening Sun” in some ways.  I was invested in the story, however elementary it felt at times.

See it for Val Kilmer if nothing else.  The guy will do just about anything these days, it seems.

Next I finally got around to some Bigelow action (there will be a celebration of her work later this evening), and it was the deplorable “Blue Steel,” rather than “Strange Days,” as the festival couldn’t get a print of the latter.  Man, I forgot just how BAD the Jamie Lee Curtis film is.  It definitely showed some early visual storytelling chops for Bigelow, but that script — ouch.  I guess every amazing filmmaker has some skeletons in the closet.

More as it happens.

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20 responses so far

  • 1 2-08-2010 at 4:21 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    It may or may not be your thing, but I heartily recommend “Lourdes.” Miles more interesting than “Chloe,” at any rate, which is pretty feeble stuff.

    “Katalin Varga” is worth a look too.

    And if it’s any consolation to Tarantino, I’ll take the House of Blue Leaves sequence over anything in Cameron’s (or many filmmakers’) filmography.

  • 2 2-08-2010 at 4:34 pm

    Conor said...

    I agree with Guy, and find it puzzling that Tarantino, a filmmaker so famous for his dialog and storytelling chops, has spoken so much praise for “Avatar.”

  • 3 2-08-2010 at 4:46 pm

    Rick said...

    Guy, Connor… you guys are pathetic. Seriously, a director can’t praise another director for immersing an audience into a film? Are you guys really that out of touch with film? Guy acts like Cameron and Avatar is the Black Plague while Connor acts like it’s blasphemy to speak highly of Avatar.

  • 4 2-08-2010 at 4:52 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Chill. I have very high regard for a number of Cameron films.

    I just think the House of Blue Leaves sequence is THAT good. One of my all-time favourites. That’s all I meant. God.

    Some of you guys are needlessly touchy.

  • 5 2-08-2010 at 4:55 pm

    Anna said...

    QT, don’t undervalue yourself.

  • 6 2-08-2010 at 5:07 pm

    Travis said...

    How was Duff in the film?

    I’ve been following her career since her post-Disney days, and I actually think she show’s some great potential (particularly with her performance in the unfairly maligned “War Inc”)

  • 7 2-08-2010 at 5:07 pm

    Loyal said...

    There’s been quite a bit of revisionist history in terms of K-Big’s filmography as of late.

    Nice to read a reasonable appraisal of her earlier work.

  • 8 2-08-2010 at 5:15 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Travis: She wasn’t bad. The script gets in the way at times but she showed some talent, I thought.

  • 9 2-08-2010 at 5:15 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Can we quit this awful habit of abbreviating people’s names to two-syllable bullets?

    “K-Big” and “SaBu” sound like SUV models, not human beings. Jennifer Lopez has a lot to answer for.


  • 10 2-08-2010 at 5:17 pm

    Loyal said...

    whatver G-Lo.

  • 11 2-08-2010 at 5:23 pm

    Ted said...

    Blue steel was a great great and exciting movie and Strange Days is one of the best movies ever made — so underrated.

    I still think Tarantino should win for best director

  • 12 2-08-2010 at 5:26 pm

    Megan said...

    “And if it’s any consolation to Tarantino, I’ll take the House of Blue Leaves sequence over anything in Cameron’s (or many filmmakers’) filmography.”

    Heck yes, Guy.

    By the way, I hereby dub you Gu-Lo.

    And don’t worry, I won’t be fooled by the rocks that you got.

  • 13 2-08-2010 at 5:49 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Good. I got none.

  • 14 2-08-2010 at 5:53 pm

    david said...

    Conor…let’s not forget that Avatar was more then a box-office sensation. It was also praised by the vast majority of critics. I don’t see why you think it’s so far fetched that Tarantino found value in it. He’s known for liking a wide diversity of films of all shapes and sizes. He was a big Bright Star supporter as well. I think more people would do well to embrace such an eclectic range of films. That’s the problem I have with so many critics. It’s not that they may dislike a film I find value in, but that they just don’t seem to embrace certain genres or styles or filmmakers. They like what they like, and that’s it. Peter Travers is about the only critic whose opinion carries much weight with me.

  • 15 2-08-2010 at 6:14 pm

    Conor said...

    Perhaps I misspoke. I was just slightly surprised he was so big a fan of Avatar, he compared it in higher regard to one of his own films that I found superior, even in the visual sense. He deserves kudos for his honesty, even if I completely disagree with him.

  • 16 2-08-2010 at 6:27 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***…and find it puzzling that Tarantino, a filmmaker so famous for his dialog and storytelling chops, has spoken so much praise for “Avatar.”***

    Cameron is a magnificent storyteller. But what’s more is that he can appreciate all kinds of film. Hey, I love “Avatar,” and I also love “The 400 Blows.” I love “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and I also love “Cache.” There are no rules saying if you like such and such you can’t like this or that. It’s about having an open mind.

  • 17 2-08-2010 at 6:57 pm

    Silencio said...

    I liked Avatar, but I’ll take both Kill Bill volumes, anyday. Yes, both. Long live Pai Mei.

  • 18 2-08-2010 at 7:41 pm

    Jasmine said...

    How big is Hilary Duff’s role in Provinces of Night? and how did she do?

  • 19 2-08-2010 at 8:20 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***I liked Avatar, but I’ll take both Kill Bill volumes, anyday. Yes, both. Long live Pai Mei.***

    Well, yeah, that’s a different matter entirely. But it depends on my mood. ;)