CAMERON CROWE, HITS, MISSES AND INSPIRATION

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Cameron Crowe began his career at 16 as a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine, toured with The Allman Brothers, wrote his first script, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and went on to direct 13 films.  

We are not fans of all of his films. Some of the romances are over-thought, over-treacly, or over-weird (Vanilla Sky).   But when he’s in his sweet spot (Almost Famous) somehow it all balances out.

aloha ALOHA (2015)

Crowe wrote and directed his latest, out this weekend with. Bradley Cooper stars as a military contractor who botched a mission under the command of Alec Baldwin. He returns to the site of his greatest career triumph, the US Space program in Honolulu, to reclaim some of his lost glory and with hopes for a second chance. In true Cameron Crowe style his characters will fail at some point and come back to find redemption.

According to the press (just in) this is one of his worst films to date.   If you need further confirmation below is an excerpt from an Amy Pascal email, part of the infamous Sony leaks. 

“It’s a wrap,” “There is no more to do.” She goes on to trash the movie’s characters—”People don’t like people in movies who flirt with married people or married people who flirt…” Specific plot points: “The satellite makes no sense/The gate makes no sense”, and the script: “I’m never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous/And we all know it.” 

Oops.

iTunes

fast-times-image-1 

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) 

This was Amy Heckerling’s first feature (a stepping stone to Look Who’s Talking and Clueless), scripted by Crowe. The film was developed from a book that Crowe wrote after posing undercover as a student for a year. He was 22 at the time, never finished high school himself, and got a massive advance.

Sean Penn leads the cast that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Ray Walston and Nicolas Cage (then Nicolas Coppola). Sean Penn insisted on staying in character even off camera earning him the nickname Sean DeNiro.

Naturally this insider’s view of teenage American life in the 1980’s features a rocking soundtrack from The Go-Go’s, Oingo Boingo and The Cars. Fast Times was a definitional teen comedy and over the decades turned into a cult classic.

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Terms-Endearment-1983 

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)

Written and directed by James L. Brooks (Taxi, The Simpsons, As Good As it Gets, et al). Brooks would become Crowe’s mentor, executive producing his first feature, Say Anything. Like Crowe, Brooks cut his teeth as a journalist, working on documentaries for CBS. He also wrote a report on the Assassination of President Kennedy.

Terms is a ground-breaking matriarchal saga covering three decades in the lives of widow Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma (Debra Winger). They are both deeply flawed characters in search of love, one an over-protective mother and the other an overly-eager daughter. Throughout the decades, their relationships with each other and the important men in their lives drive them in unexpected directions.

The cancer subplot left viewers teary eyed (Academy Voters noted) and it went on to win 5 Oscars, three for Brooks as director, writer and best picture.

 

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say-anything

SAY ANYTHING… (1989)

Crowe’s directing debut, which he also wrote. He was clearly not finished mining the vein of high life in high school.

John Cusack stars as Lloyd, an underachiever who falls for the beautiful valedictorian Ione Skye… Surprisingly, she feels the same way. But hey, it’s a movie. Naturally there are some obstacles in the way, notably in the person of John Mahoney (Ione’s Dad).

One of Crowe’s strengths is his knack for creating iconic cinematic moments. Such is he final scene where Cusack stands outside her house with his ghetto blaster held high above his head blaring Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. Crowe had stumbled across “In Your Eyes” as he was making a wedding mix tape for his wife (Nancy Wilson). The story is that it was already in the film, but it wasn’t until the studio sent Peter Gabriel a cut that he OK’d the song.

For a refresher, take a look.

YouTube

Michael Walker in The New York Times called Crowe “something of a cinematic spokesman for the post-baby boom generation” because his first few films focused on that specific age group, first as high schoolers, then as young adults striving to make their way in the world.

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Jack Lemmon (left) and Shirley MacLaine (right) starred in the 1960 romantic comedy "The Apartment," which won five Oscars® including Best Picture.  Lemmon was nominated for an Oscar® in the Best Actor category for his portrayal of insurance clerk Calvin Clifford Baxter while MacLaine received a Best Actress nomination for her role as Baxter's girlfriend Fran Kubelik. Restored by Nick & jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans Website: http:www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

THE APARTMENT (1960)

Written and directed by Billy Wilder. Cameron Crowe has often cited Billy Wilder as one of his greatest influences, especially this film: Wilder’s masterpiece.

It stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in an sweet/tart comedy from the 60s. Jack “generously” lends his apartment to his philandering bosses and reaps the rewards for his discretion. That is until the day he bumps into the big boss’ mistress, an elevator operated played Shirley MacLaine, the woman of his dreams. Enter the moral dilemma… risk losing love or your career.

This film has a more scathing tone and satirical bite than any Cameron Crowe film. And it’s also more deeply moving. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Cameron Crowe tried to tie himself to the legacy of Billy Wilder by stating (everywhere) that his film Jerry Maguire was indebted to The Apartment – an audacious statement, considering the mile wide gap between their respective films!

But we’ll give him this – he’s got good taste.   

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 almostfamous

ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)

Once again, Crowe wrote and directed. A coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old fledgling reporter on tour with a rock band in the early 70s. It’s a lightly fictionalized autobiographical film about Cameron Crowe’s days on tour with The Allman Brothers, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and many other bands during his time writing for Rolling Stone Magazine.

Crowe’s pet project — it got greenlit after he struck gold with Jerry McGuire. Brad Pitt was set to play the young hero, Russell Hammond and worked with Crowe for months before finally admitting, “I just don’t get it enough to do it.” He was replaced by Billy Crudup.

During a party scene Russell Hammond cries out, “I am a golden god!” This is a reference to Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin, who said the same thing while looking over Sunset Strip from a hotel balcony.

This is our favorite Cameron Crowe movie, and not just because of fresh faced Kate Hudson and our boy Philip Seymour Hoffman playing legendary Creem editor Lester Bangs. Maybe it’s just the fantasy of falling into that dream world – but despite excess, the central character’s underlying sweetness and hope manages to shine through.

And, of course, it helps that there’s a pretty kick-ass soundtrack.

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SPOOKY LITTLE GIRLS

Watch it!

Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
Watch it!

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SPOOKY LITTLE GIRLS

 Here at The Thread, we definitely do not qualify as horror fanboys/girls. 

 And we do think that certain things benefit from being endlessly remade…  Hamlet, for instance (there’s even a ghost)…  

 But Poltergeist

 In what is clearly a knee-jerk reaction, this week we’re going to do a list of good spooky little girl movies that are a little more arcane.  In the interest of objectivity, we’ve even included a couple remakes. 

 

 

Poltergeist 2015

POLTERGEIST (2015)

There were some really good new horror films in 2014 (The Babadook, Oculus), so why would we go see a remake of Tobe Hooper’s 1982 classic?  Even with Spielberg and Raimi involved.

The answer to that question, of course, is that we were born before the original came out, so we won’t.

And since we don’t take long plane rides nearly as often as we used to, so the chances we’ll ever see this one are probably 50/50 – and that’s being generous.

Having said that, ghosts inside the screen stealing a suburban kid is still a great premise.  Early reviews in the trades are mixed.

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 toby-dammit
SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1968)

We told you this was going to be arcane.

Spirits of the Dead is a 1968 anthology — three short films based on Poe stories, by three major European directors – Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini.

The Vadim segment is kind of lame, but campy fun – Jane Fonda (Vadim’s wife at the time) and brother Peter play (shades of Game of Thrones) an incestuous noble brother and sister.

The Louis Malle segment is just plain bad. Its only saving grace is Brigitte Bardot.

But the Fellini segment – Toby Dammit – is genius.

A black-clad movie star (Terence Stamp) stumbles through some of the most Fellini-esque scenes the director ever shot.  And then rockets off into the Italian night in his convertible – haunted by an ethereal little blonde girl bouncing a ball.

A restored version of Toby Dammit was shown at the Tribeca festival in 2008 and hailed as a lost masterpiece.  Which, in our book, it is.

And well worth seeking out.  It’s not available through normal channels. You can buy a DVD on Amazon.  Or — you didn’t hear it here — we bet you could find it online with a quick Google search.

 

 

don't look now
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

 One of our favorite movies of all time, part tragedy, part travelogue, part love story, part psychic horror story.

Directed by the unreliable but spottily luminous Nicholas Roeg, based on a Daphne du Maurier short story.

There’s a spooky little girl – and a huge spoiler associated with her.  Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a couple whose daughter drowns, dressed in a red mac.  They go off to watery Venice, where they encounter a blind woman, brushes with death, and the recurrent image of the red mac.

The troubled couple come together again in their hotel room for a legendary love scene that is one of the most sensual ever filmed.  The legend is that Sutherland and Christie had been a couple and moved on – but that Roeg locked them in a closed room to shoot the scene.  At which point all of the thwarted longing came spilling out onto the screen, much to the consternation of Christie’s boyfriend Warren Beatty, not to mention censors on both sides of the Atlantic.

The movie is scary and haunting, all the more so because it’s a spiritual and psychological study in grief that reaches far beyond the usual constraints of the genre.

Don’t Look Now is scheduled for a remake this year — which alone is enough to give us the heebie-jeebies.  But that one we will have to see.

Google Play Vudu Amazon iTunes

SIDEBAR: SHAMELESS COMMERCE.
Is it just us, or has iTunes all of a sudden stopped renting most movies and started only selling them?
Should we keep on listing iTunes here?  Don’t Look Now is well worth $14.99 – but not if you can rent it for $2.99.
BTW – we don’t get any money for these links, at least not yet (dream on).  We do it for you, our loyal subscribers.

 

 

 

Let The Right One In
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)

Pivot subgenres to girl vampire, in this Swedish language film directed by Tomas Alfredson, who went on to do Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  It’s based on a Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay.   It takes its title from a Morrissey song.

Like Don’t Look Now, this movie makes its considerable impact by ignoring genre constraints. Essentially it’s a preteen love story.  Two pale young outcasts find each other, and what follows is so natural and affecting that the supernatural elements become even more shocking.  It’s like you’re encountering a vampire in real life.

The impact is enhanced further by the spot-on performances and the seductive visual style.

Let the Right One In won a slew of accolades across Europe and the U.S., including Best Narrative Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Festival.

Despite Alfredson’s reservations, the rights for a U.S. remake were snapped up at Tribeca.  Alfredson was offered the job directing the remake, but turned it down.

Amazon Google Play Vudu iTunes

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me In
LET ME IN (2010)

Maybe (like us) Alfredson just thought “Why?”  Or maybe he thought the American version would inevitably suck, because they usually do.  But there’s always an exception that proves the rule, and this is it.

The new writer/director, Matt Reeves, insisted at the time that this was actually a completely new movie based on the novel – but it turned out so close to the Swedish original that his claim is hard to believe.  Fortunately, that turns out to be a good thing.  Reeves kept the story low-key, the relationship front-and-center, and set a stylish but unpretentious tone.

The biggest changes are an American setting – Los Alamos, New Mexico — and rising stars Chloë Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the kids.

Most critics were openly surprised that the movie held up so well against the original.  But that may be why the remake didn’t work out so well at the box office – the movie pretty much tanked.  Nonetheless, nobody’s career was harmed in the filming of the movie.  Everybody involved has gone on to bigger things.  Moretz starred in the remake of Carrie, and Reeves is now in charge of the ongoing Planet of the Apes series.

Is it worth seeing both versions?  Not really.  Being arty types, we would say go for the original.  But the remake is a perfectly good substitute.

Meanwhile, the book continues to be adapted almost endlessly – a UK stage version has come and gone.  A comic book series is in the works, and an A&E TV series was recently announced.

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the ring
THE RING (2002)

This is the universally panned remake (of the 1997 Japanese cult hit, Ringu) that turned out to be a massive hit, brought in $249 million and spawned one sequel, with another on the way.  Gore Verbinski used it as a springboard to go on and direct the first three Pirates of the Caribbean, Rango, and (win some, lose some) The Lone Ranger.   Star Naomi Watts – this was her next film after Mulholland Drive — hasn’t done too badly either, and even came back for The Ring Two.

The premise is urban myth simple – a cursed video tape.  You watch it, and as you finish, the phone rings and a voice tells you that you will be dead in a week.

The ghostly child here is Samara Morgan, drowned in a well, who kills the tape’s victims through some unexplained psychic power, leaving their faces disfigured.

Fans of the film love the deeply encoded backstory – which seems to be exactly the same thing that drove critics crazy.  Supposedly it benefits from repeated viewings.  We only watched it once and found pleasantly creepy, even if it is kind of mystifying.

But then, we’re not fanboys/girls.  Even though we do like creepy little girls with dark hair.

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