Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In Character Special Edition: Erland Josephson

This past Sunday, minutes before the Oscar telecast was set to begin, news broke that Erland Josephson, a Swedish actor of incomparable skill, had passed away from Parkinson’s at the age of 88.

When I heard the news, I was utterly devastated. For fans of Ingmar Bergman (a group I most certainly belong to), Josephson’s work as one of Bergman’s troupe of actors was necessary to the success of every Bergman film he was in. And while I may find myself more enticed by Gunnar Björnstrand’s intensity and Max von Sydow’s innocence, there really was no other actor quite like Josephson.

So, for this very special edition of In Character, I’m going to change the format up a bit. Instead of examining Josephson’s entire body of work, I’m highlighting his best roles in Bergman films only. Josephson did incredible work outside of Bergman’s imagination, but it is here that I wish to stay.

Five Essential Roles
Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Baron von Merkens
Josephson made a career out of playing subtle creeps – quiet, stoic men who carry a single facial expression of inviting warmth and ultimate dread.

One of his earliest, and creepiest characters that fit this bill was Baron von Merkens, who, as the rich owner of an island, was privy to many exciting things, including hosting intimate dinners with neighbors, initiating psychosexual fantasies and (possibly) partaking in a little playful murder.

Not too many actors can scare the ever-living shit out of you by simply smiling amicably in a dark corner. But as soon as you see the Baron, you know to be afraid. Very very afraid.

The Passion of Anna (1969)
Elis Vergerus
Again playing the creepy, educated friend to Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann’s characters, Elis Vergerus is one cold, odd ball. Already a successful architect when we met him, Elis fancies himself an amateur photographer, taking pictures of very specific, very random acts of everyday life, like people eating or committing acts of violence.

He’s the type of man who has no hesitation in staring a person down beyond comfort, or who is completely unfazed (if not oddly overjoyed) that his wife cheated on him for roughly a year. Yet another morose, wildly engaging character from a man who often appeared to be doing a lot less than he actually was.

Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
There’s no point in mincing words here: Josephson’s role as Johan, one half of the marriage chronicled in Bergman’s epic masterpiece, is by far the best character the actor ever played.

Johan is a despicable man who holds little repute for his life partner, Marianne (Liv Ullman). He lies, cheats, fights, you name it. A fiercely proud intellectual who has no real idea how arrogant he is (or, possibly, exactly how arrogant he is). But that’s just one side to this deeply complicated man, and because Bergman spends nearly five hours fleshing Johan and Marianne out (five essential hours, mind you), we get to know Johan as well as we know any Bergman character.

I can’t dare continue to go into the trials and tribulations that are presented in the six scenes of this marriage. But know that the film is as honest a depiction of marital life as I’ve ever seen. It’s the (often) good, the (endless) bad, and the (heartbreaking) ugly. It’s the role of a lifetime, and Josephson nails it.

Face to Face (1976)
Dr. Tomas Jacobi
As the kind, loyal doctor who befriends Liv Ullmann’s renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Jenny Isaksson, Josephson does a good job at keeping Face to Face grounded, even when it goes off the rails. Oh hell, who am I kidding: Face to Face is a batshit ass crazy movie with a madass crazy lead character –  a woman who’s as completely fucked up as her very disturbed patients. And while Jacobi uses empathy to keep Jenny from going over the edge, she still manages to do just that a few times over.

To be clear: Face to Face is primarily Ullmann’s show (all due respect to Faye Dunaway’s Oscar-winning Network performance, but to even put her and Ullmann in the same category is a grand miscarriage of awards justice), but Josephson, as always, manages to leave his indelible stamp.

Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Isak Jacobi
Oh how I love Isak Jacobi, the moral center of Bergman’s operatic masterpiece, Fanny and Alexander. Josephson, as mentioned, was known for playing cold, domineering men with little regard to the people in his life, which makes his Isak such a welcome revelation.

As Isak, the nothing-but-kind Jewish art dealer who is a great friend to the expansive Ekdahl family, Josephson is affable, persistent and wholly essential. Without him, Fanny and Alexander would be void of its best, most magical scene, which involves Josephson kneeling in front of a large trunk, screaming at the ceiling, inexplicably making the impossible happen.

Fanny and Alexander is a remarkable film, full of more brilliantly grandiose sequences than any five films combined. And everytime I watch it, I find myself more drawn to Isak’s sympathetic sentiment than ever before. It’s no coincidence that once the film shifts primarily to the Jacobi residence, we’re witness to the film’s most magical moments. With Josephson at the helm, you see, there’s very little that can’t happen.

Best of the Best
Saraband (2003)
I avoided Saraband the same way I avoid reading the final chapter of a flawless book. Not only was it Bergman’s final film, but it was the last “well known” film of his (i.e., post-Smiles of a Summer Night) that I had left to see. I avoided it to the point that I had virtually no idea what was it about. A few months ago, I finally relented and, much to my surprise, came to find out that Saraband was a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage. It did not come as a surprise, however, that not only was the film remarkable, but that its two leads hadn’t lost an ounce of their edge.

Thirty years after we last left them, Johan and Marianne have been long divorced, leading very separate lives with very separate life philosophies. Marianne has grown into a kind, nostalgic woman, while Johan has evolved into a bitter, remorseless man who is loathed by his grown son, Henrik. And while the reemergence of Marianne into Johan’s life doesn’t hinder the tumultuous relationship Johan has with Henrik, it doesn’t help Johan become any more likable, either.

When I first drafted this edition of In Character, I instinctively placed Scenes from a Marriage in this slot. But then I sat and reflected. I remembered Josephson’s pained, weathered face in Saraband. The grumpy old man who sees no point in carrying on, but does so anyway with pointless bile. I remembered the scene in which Johan, after receiving a shocking bit of tragic news, furiously strips down naked in front of Marianne, only to climb into bed with her, resting gently into a fetal position, silently begging to be consoled. It’s as moving an image as anything found in Josephson’s impeccable career; one hell of a swan song from one of cinema’s finest actors.

Other Notable Roles (Bergman or otherwise)
In The Magician
The Magician (1958)
Cries and Whispers (1972)
Beyond Good and Evil (1977)
Autumn Sonata (1978)
Nostalghia (1983)
The Sacrifice (1986)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
Faithless (2000)

Previous installments of In Character include:
Richard Jenkins
William Fichtner
Guy Pearce
Shea Whigham
Viola Davis
Gary Oldman
David Morse
Michael Shannon
Emily Mortimer
John Hawkes
Jeffrey Wright
Elias Koteas
David Strathairn

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Love Crime

Alain Corneau’s Love Crime is one hell of an ingeniously crafted French thriller. The film tells the story of the affable, and borderline psychosexual, relationship between Christine (Kristen Scott Thomas) a top-level business executive, and her dedicated protégé, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). At the start of the film, Isabelle reverently hinges on Christine’s every word, doing what she’s told and doing it well.

We’re roughly 15 minutes in before things start to go a little mad.

Because Isabelle is apparently too good at her job, Christine decides to start fucking with her, just for kicks. She humilities her professionally in front of respected clients, privately in front of the casual lover they both share, and publicly at employee parties. It’s never made fully clear as to why Christine is doing what she’s doing. As played with expert precision by Scott Thomas, Christine is openly regarded as a cold-hearted bitch by those who know her, but her honed-in scare tactics against Isabelle are wildly without merit. She’s like Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, laced with venom.
Now, most of us have seen this film before. The employer-employee feud that ultimately ends with one of them ousting the other and raising their hands in victory. But Love Crime is no Working Girl. Point in fact, after the plot is set and the characters are firmly established, the film dives into an extended sequence of seemingly pointless planning.

To explain, when we get the sense that Isabelle has (finally) had enough, she starts to roam around her spotless apartment in a haze; popping pills, stemming roses, going to the movies, whatever. In short, she seems to be planning something, but with half-assed purpose, and we have no idea why, or to what avail. When Love Crime was released theatrically last year, most of the reviews I saw were moderate to negative, which reflects the shared frustration that critics must have felt from being left in the dark during this sequence.

I too felt detached, but when things start to click into place (and believe me, do they ever), Love Crime evolves into a splendid little thriller that’s never too smart for its own good. I’ve described roughly the first 50 minutes of the film, and I won’t dare continue. Just know that it is rather difficult for a film to trick me (which Love Crime did), and if I catch on to some of those tricks (which I did, in part), then it is very difficult for me to finish the film feeling satisfied. And to say I felt satisfaction when Love Crime’s final credits rolled is seriously understating my stance.
In a fantastic bit of Hollywood planning, Brian De Palma has signed on to direct Passion, an American remake of Love Crime. Noomi Rapace is set to star, with Rachel McAdams possibly filling out the other role. I’ll be curious as to which actress takes which role, given that they are one year apart in age (Scott Thomas is 19 years Sagnier’s senior). At any rate, you can wait for De Palma’s version (which shoots this summer), or catch Corneau’s very worthy thriller on Netflix Instant now. 

Love Crime is most definitely worthy, but I somehow think De Palma’s vision will improve upon the material. And really, when was the last time you felt pleased that an accomplished foreign film was getting an American treatment? B+

Monday, February 27, 2012

101 Things the Movies Have Taught Me

1. Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood.

2. ‘Forget about it’ is like if you agree with someone, you know, like, “Raquel Welch is one great piece of ass, forget about it.” But then, if you disagree, like, “A Lincoln is better than a Cadillac? Forget about it!” you know? But then, it's also like if something's the greatest thing in the world, like, “Mingia those peppers, forget about it.” But it's also like saying “Go to hell!” too. Like, you know, like “Hey Paulie, you got a one inch pecker?” and Paulie says "Forget about it!" Sometimes it just means forget about it. 

3. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

4. The .44 may be a little big for practical use, in which case, I’d recommend the .38 Smith and Wesson Special. Fine, solid gun – nickel-plated. Snub-nosed, otherwise the same as the service revolver. Now that’ll stop anything that moves, and it’s handy, flexible.

5. If you build it, he will come.

6. In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

7. There are two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace.

8. If you beat him long enough he'll tell you he started the goddamn Chicago fire, but that don’t necessarily make it fuckin’ so.

9. Coffee's for closers. 

10. Exactly two gallons in here, right? Leaving exactly one gallon of empty space, right? A full five gallons here, right? You pour one gallon out of the five gallon that’s in there and we have exactly four gallons.

11. Plastics.

12. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off. 

13. The hotel staff, they're all whores.

14. A wise guy don’t carry his money in a wallet.

15. It wouldn't have explained anything... I don't think any word can explain a man's life.

16. A broken nose don't hurt so much.

17. Fighter's fight.

18. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

19. Here’s the thing, if you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker.

20. There is a time to laugh, and a time to weep. A time to mourn, and there is a time to dance.

21. I'm the boss I'm the boss I'm the boss I'm the boss.

22. Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents told us is good, is bad. Sun, milk, red meat, college.

23. Marriage is an important part of getting ahead. You don’t want anyone thinking you’re a homo. Married guy seems stable. People look at a wedding ring and think, “Someone can stand the son of a bitch.” Ladies see the wedding ring and know immediately that you must have some cash and that your cock works.

24. You can either have the money and the hammer, or you can walk out of here. You can't have both.

25. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

26. You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets.

27. You never fuck the interns.

28. If you try to run, I've got six little friends and they can all run faster than you can. 

29. Number one: you can never have sex. Number two: you can never drink, or do drugs. And number three: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, “I’ll be right back,” because you won’t be back.

30. Everybody’s a suspect.

31. Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money.

32. We’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.

33. It’s confidence, just confidence.

34. Always do the right thing.

35. Nobody ever knows anybody else, ever.

36. Nobody’s perfect.

37. You don’t drive down Broadway to get to Broadway. You zig-zag.

38. I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning, if my face is a little puffy, I'll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1,000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water-activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask, which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after-shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion. 

39. When you get the money, you get the power, then you get the women.

40. Two people only hurt each other if they doubt the love they have for one another. 

41. A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies.

42. Erica Albright’s a bitch.

43. Respect… the cock.

44. They got the metric system, they don’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.

45. So, ladies and gentlemen, if I say I’m an oil man, you will agree.

46. This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass.

47. To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down.

48. Every war is different. Every war is the same.

49. Always. Be. Closing.

50. Everything's getting worse. Worse people, worse machines, worse wars... and worse weather. I'm glad I'll soon be dead. 

51. I think the world would be better without Dogville.

52. Happiness is only real when shared.

53. There are seven deadly sins – gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. You can expect five more of these.

54. You know why the Yankees always win? Because the other teams can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.

55. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t, so, it doesn’t.

56. You do not talk about fight club.

57. Son Number 1, this tall drink of cocksucker ain’t dead.

58. Okay so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s… chasing me.

59. Tough ain’t enough.

60. Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.

61. You're going to need plenty of legal advice before this thing is over. As your attorney, I advise you to rent a very fast car with no top. And you'll need the cocaine. Tape recorder for special music. Acapulco shirts. Get the hell out of L.A. for at least 48 hours.

62. Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.

63. Don't listen to what your schoolteacher's tell you. Don’t pay attention to that. Just see what they look like and that's how you know what life is really going to be like. 

64. What. We’ve. Got. Here. Is a failure, to communicate.

65. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide will bring.

66. I ain’t gonna be what anybody else want me to be. I’m not afraid to be what I want.

67. The dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all. 

68. Brooks was here…

69. …so was Red.

70. Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

71. Just because the fucker’s got a library card doesn’t make him Yoda.

72. “Out of order?!” I’d show you Out of order, but I can’t – I’m too old, I’m too fuckin’ blind.

73. You should go on with this part until it is played out, until it loses interest for you. Then you can leave it, just as you've left your other parts one by one.

74. The one thing I could do, and the only thing… was box.

75. Families are always rising or falling in America.

76. Some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a keyser blade.

77. AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes. 

78. Either he’s alive or he’s dead, or the cops got him… or they don’t.

79. A sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ‘cause I’d never eat the filthy motherfucker.

80. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you're bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It's a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school. 

81. If my fuckin' ex-wife asked me to take care of her fuckin' dog while she and her boyfriend went to Honolulu I'd tell her to go fuck herself.

82. Make sure you snort it back quick and hard…really fast, like this…it’s good though,’s the drip, the drip’s the best part…do one more in the other nostril…one more, then the water.

83. Wolfman’s got nards.

84. If it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.

85. Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.

86. That’s goddamn right.

87. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

88. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

89. Twenty-one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels. The weight of a hummingbird, a chocolate bar.

90. Maybe it's my brain chemistry. Maybe that's what's wrong with me. Bad chemistry. All my problems and anxiety can be reduced to a chemical imbalance or some kind of misfiring synapses. I need to get help for that. But I'll still be ugly though. Nothing's gonna change that.

91. I think of a man, and I take away reason, and accountability.

92. Baby, you are gonna miss that plane.

93. I've always wished I was gay – it would have been a lot easier. You know, it's just “Bing! Bing! Bing!”  Gay guys, no problem. They go to restrooms and truck stops and perform sex, it's like so easy for them and stuff. 

94. People grow, people move on. You’ve grown, it’s time for you to move on.

95. No one's private life runs smoothly. That only happens in the movies. No traffic jams, no dead periods. Movies go along like trains in the night. And people like you and me are only happy in our work. I'm counting on you. 

96. I’ll go home, and I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day.

97. My conclusion is: hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it.

98. I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success.

99. Please… wake up.

100. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

101. This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.


1.     Closer
2.     Donnie Brasco
3.     The Godfather Part II
4.     Taxi Driver
5.     Field of Dreams
6.     The Third Man
7.     The Tree of Life
8.     Reservoir Dogs
9.     Glengary Glen Ross
10.  Die Hard with a Vengeance
11.  The Graduate
12.  Fight Club
13.  Closer
14.  Donnie Brasco
15.  Citizen Kane
16.  Million Dollar Baby
17.  Rocky Balboa
18.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
19.  Rounders
20.  Footloose
21.  Raging Bull
22.  Annie Hall
23.  The Departed
24.  Casino
25.  The Shining
26.  Mean Streets
27.  The Ides of March
28.  From Dusk Till Dawn
29.  Scream
30.  Scream
31.  Heist
32.  Shame
33.  Confidence
34.  Do the Right Thing
35.  Rules of Attraction
36.  Some Like It Hot
37.  Cop Land
38.  American Psycho
39.  Scarface
40.  Dogville
41.  Annie Hall
42.  The Social Network
43.  Magnolia
44.  Pulp Fiction
45.  There Will Be Blood
46.  The Big Lebowski
47.  Love and Death
48.  Jarhead
49.  Glengary Glen Ross
50.  Fanny and Alexander
51.  Dogville
52.  Into the Wild
53.  Se7en
54.  Catch Me if You Can
55.  In Bruges
56.  Fight Club
57.  Kill Bill: Vol. 1
58.  Memento
59.  Million Dollar Baby
60.  Boyz ‘N the Hood
61.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
62.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
63.  Crimes and Misdemeanors
64.  Cool Hand Luke
65.  Cast Away
66.  Ali
67.  Casino
68.  The Shawshank Redemption
69.  The Shawshank Redemption
70.  Heat
71.  Se7en
72.  Scent of a Woman
73.  Persona
74.  The Hurricane
75.  The Departed
76.  Sling Blade
77.  Jackie Brown
78.  Reservoir Dogs
79.  Pulp Fiction
80.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
81.  The Big Lebowski
82.  Boogie Nights
83.  Monster Squad
84.  Heat
85.  The Shawshank Redemption
86.  The Shawshank Redemption
87.  Back to the Future
88.  The Usual Suspects
89.  21 Grams
90.  Adaptation.
91.  As Good As It Gets
92.  Before Sunset
93.  Grizzly Man
94.  Antwone Fisher
95.  Day For Night
96.  Gone with the Wind
97.  American History X
98.  Jerry Maguire
99.  School Daze
100. The Jazz Singer
101. 2001: A Space Odyssey