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AMAD Special Tribute: Rian Johnson on A NEW LEAF (1971)
Carbon on the valves!

Published at: Jan. 14, 2009, 3:25 a.m. CST

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of the week-long series of A Movie A Day Tribute articles. Yesterday, SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ director Edgar Wright took a look at Brit-Sexploiterror flick VIRGIN WITCH (click here to give it a read!) and today we have Rian Johnson, director of the great BRICK and the just as great upcoming BROTHERS BLOOM who is chiming in on an obscure gem starring Walter Matthau and directed by Elaine May called A NEW LEAF. Now, AMAD regulars will recall the pairing of these two in one of the final AMADs: CALIFORNIA SUITE. Their chemistry there was fantastic and reading Rian's description of the movie (and hear the audio clips he provided) really get me jonesing to seek this one out. Hope you enjoy today's Tribute! Here's Mr. Johnson!



Hey folks. Thanks to Quint for letting me hijack his Movie a Day column to bring you some thoughts on a little seen gem. You've probably seen Elaine May in the Woody Allen film "Small Time Crooks," playing a kooky woman named May who Allen (in a shocking blast of age-appropriateness) falls for. But in 1971 to most people Elaine May was just a voice. A dark, smokey, and very very funny voice. May first came on the comedy scene in the 1960s through her brilliant improv sketches with Mike Nichols. If you've never heard them before, I won't be offended if you go listen to a few right now. Click here now!This article will be here when you come back. In fact, I might insist on it. Do it. Go. Brilliant, right? Deadpan, dark and hilarious stuff. When May and Nichols broke up their act Nichols went on to direct a couple era-defining films, while May found success in the theater. Then in 1971 she made her directing debut, with "A New Leaf."

It's the story of Henry Graham, played by the great Walter Matthau. Graham is a New Yorker living for one thing and one thing alone: to be rich. He was born into money, and is perfectly content to live out his days doing nothing but spending it on expensive clothes, exclusive clubs, and a priceless Ferrari which he doesn't know how to drive. Like Chauncy Gardner with a dash of greed or Billy Madison in nicer suits, Graham is a simple and happy man. Until his money runs out. Faced with the abyss of a life without money, Graham hatches a plan: marry a rich wife, then bump her off. Unfortunately for him, the woman he chooses is Henrietta Lowell, played by May herself. Henrietta is a bumbling, sweet, absent minded botanist, and as you'd expect, when Graham puts his plan into effect, things get complicated. This is the hardest I've ever laughed at Matthau in a film. If you're as big a fan of them man as I am, you'll understand the magnitude of that statement. There's something about the way his particular brand of set-upon dead pan humor is played, as an amoral and totally oblivious man-child with all the mannerisms of a self important sophisticate, that makes this essentially the equivalent of Matthau comedy porn.

There's a scene early in the film where Graham's lawyer is trying to explain to him that he's broke which is pitch perfect.
Click here to listen to this scene
And the movie is full of these, they just keep coming. And watching it through a second time for this review, I was laughing even harder. May herself does an endearing turn as the loopy Henrietta that manages to be both totally insane and very sweet, which is no easy trick. She plays well as a foil to Graham's heartless gusto.
Click here to get a taste of May's Henrietta
James Coco has a fantastic scene as Graham's nemesis uncle who torments him over a loan, and George Rose is great as the butler and confidant. But at the end of the day this is Matthau's movie.
Click here to treat your ears to Matthau's genius
The filmmaking doesn't quite have the confidence of May's later efforts, though it doesn't get in the way of the humor. Also it's hard to know which of the awkward elements to chalk up to May and which to the man Patton Oswalt immortalized as "cokey mcsnortfuck," the one and only Robert Evans. Originally May delivered a 180 minute cut of the film that was much darker, involving a subplot that actually had Matthau's character bumping off two other characters, and putting a darker spin on his fate at the end. It was a Paramount film, and Evans took it away from May and had it chopped down to 103 minutes with the bleaker elements extracted. Honestly it's hard to imagine the 180 minute version playing better, three hours is a long time to be laughing. But still, it would be interesting to see what was lost. Unfortunately not only is the 180 minute version lost, but even the shorter cut is not available on DVD. The copy I had was ripped from VHS by a friend (thanks, Ted.) This deserves remedying, and if anyone wants to meet up in front of the Paramount gates later this month, I'll bring the pitchforks. In the meanwhile, VHS and bootleg DVD copies are floating around, and you can find a few scenes on youtube. If you love Matthau, or are a fan of May's comedy or her later films ("The Heartbreak Kid" is a masterpiece, "Ishtar" is absolutely worth another viewing) it's worth going to any lengths you have to to track this one down. Having watched it twice in the past few weeks, it's already well on its way to becoming one of my favorite comedies. Thanks for reading, and big thanks again to Quint, both for letting me write this up and for a year of AMAD. I don't know about all of you, but my Netflix queue has been a richer place for it. -Rian

Thanks, Rian! Great job! See you folks tomorrow for the next in the line of Tribute AMAD columns! Previous A Movie A Day Tributes: Edgar Wright discusses 1971's VIRGIN WITCH


Readers Talkback

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  • Jan. 13, 2009, 2:46 a.m. CST

    I love you, Rian Johnson.

    by Knuckleduster

    You complete me.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 2:47 a.m. CST

    I love A NEW LEAF

    by Hercules

    "I'm poor ..."

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:10 a.m. CST

    My Hopes Have Been Dashed

    by Bungion Boy

    I've always loved this movie and seeing this article at first gave me hope that this had been put on DVD without me hearing about it. I couldn't wait to watch it again. Oh well. Someday perhaps. But thanks for the great article and review. I had no idea about the longer cut. Fascinating.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:15 a.m. CST

    Dear Mr Rian Johnson, a question

    by drturing

    is it true that the original script for brothers bloom rinko kikuchi's character was named "the chink"? I have heard that multiple times, and am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt it's not true.<p> If it is true, however, will you please tell me why I or any asian american should see your movie?

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:23 a.m. CST

    Racism is bad

    by raw_bean

    But is a film with racism *in it* necessarily bad? I submit American History X as the counter to that.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:23 a.m. CST

    Dear drturing

    by Knuckleduster

    I take it you're not much of a Sarah Silverman fan, then.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:46 a.m. CST

    Fuck leaf I want buds

    by NomoredirtyjokespleaseweareYanks

    leaf just gives me a headache.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:48 a.m. CST

    The only thing 'new' leaf is good for is....

    by NomoredirtyjokespleaseweareYanks

    hash oil. I may have a problem.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:57 a.m. CST

    Rian! Much respect making a great film

    by Broseph

    can't wait to see brothers bloom

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 5:11 a.m. CST

    Brick

    by sonnyfern

    My favorite movie EVER. Seriously. It's my comfort movie, I watch it when I have a bad day, when I'm down and out, for some reason that movie just pulls me out of slumps. Maybe it's just cause I'm a serious sucker for noir movies (and Bogart). Great seeing Rian Johnson tackle a AMAD! What a great surprise!

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 6:21 a.m. CST

    Loved Brick, but I'm bracing myself for Brothers

    by CreasyBear

    Bloom to be pushed back yet again, and again, and again. It's what I've come to expect at this point. It's a release-date companion piece to Trick R Treat. If I ever do see Brothers Bloom, and it has half the style and visual / editing smoothness of Brick, I'll be more than satisfied.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 8:47 a.m. CST

    Most 70's Matthau films are great...

    by quantize

    word

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 9:24 a.m. CST

    Brick is great , but Bloom

    by Kraken

    Bloom played at Fantastic Fest and my wife and I are totally in love with the movie. The film has a huge heart and is epic fun.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 10:15 a.m. CST

    How the hell did he get it on Netflix?

    by TheContinentalOp

    It's been on my queue as "Unavailable" for the past two years. I can't find it on Amazon, either. Little help here?

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 10:26 a.m. CST

    continentalop

    by jpdisco

    Did you read the article?

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 11:37 a.m. CST

    Please!

    by laraz

    Could you please talk about films people will actually watch! Or see for that matter! Who ever heard of this shit! Who cares about this movie! If your going to talk about older films, talk about ones that still hold up today! & can be viewed by an audience that is younger and still has the attention span to view the dam thing! No one I know would even sit down and watch this stupid fucking movie! From what year was it! Who cares! Talk about better films of rememberence please! If not, eat shit and die!

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 11:57 a.m. CST

    Elaine May is brilliant

    by Lovecraftfan

    I'm surprised she hasn't gotten the Criterion treatment.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 1:03 p.m. CST

    TheContinentalOp

    by Continentalop

    My evil dopplegÄnger is still out there.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 1:11 p.m. CST

    laraz

    by Continentalop

    This column is about OBSCURE films that cinephiles might enjoy to watch. Most of us have seen or heard about the majority of films that are considered essentials, so we don't need a column that reminds us to just go see something that is already listed on a AFI list (although once in a while Quint's column would cover film you were surprised he had yet to see). <p> You might not appreciate it, but me and many other people (including a good number of filmmakers I might add) love to find hidden, forgotten gems. Its called expanding your knowledge. So maybe the problem is actually that this site is a little to advance for you. You should probably sit down and watch a lot more TMC and rent some classic films, then come back here and appreciate what this column has to offer.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 1:27 p.m. CST

    I LOVE BRICK

    by SpawnofAchilles

    The movie, not the Anchorman character, well I love him too. But Brick is seriously one of my favorite movies of all time, I love it and it's a really cool concept executed well that could have easily failed. So my hat is off to you good sir. Nice AMAD too. So is Joseph Gordon Levitt as awesome in real life as he seems on film??

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 1:40 p.m. CST

    Laraz

    by SpawnofAchilles

    The whole point is people probably haven't heard about it. That's half the reason I come to this site, to find out about movies I would never hear of otherwise. The other half is for the cool geek shit. Grow up, brah.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 1:41 p.m. CST

    oh and...

    by SpawnofAchilles

    cannot wait to see Brothers Bloom and whatever else you're cooking up. Okay I'm done slurping.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 1:46 p.m. CST

    films about racism are ok

    by drturing

    except for Crash. Paul Haggis. That retard scilon flew his private plane up to Montreal to try and convince Arcade Fire to put their song in his show. Oh, and Soul Man.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3 p.m. CST

    Brick would be on my list, if would make AMAD.

    by DerLanghaarige

    One of the many DVDs that I got at home, but haven't watched yet.<br> Yeah, I should do my own AMAD (with Blackjack and hookers), but a.)nobody would read it, b.) I wouldn't blame them for this and c.)I can't even watch the werewolfmovies for my book fast enough, so I doubt that I would be able to watch a movie a day! Shit, if I would spend less time with sleeping and masturbating, I wouldn't be such a loser.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:48 p.m. CST

    Brothers Bloom is FANTASTIC.

    by s00p3rm4n

    And why oh why do the awesome movies that only get better (and campier) over time remain unreleased? Why isn't A NEW LEAF on DVD? Where is SKIDOO? This shit is gold, son, and it only gets funnier over the years. I'll have to seek out a bootleg of this apparently delicious slice of Matthau. Re: BROTHERS BLOOM, I have to tip my hat. That movie is fantastic, exhilarating and witty as the best of them but filled with great character work (writing and acting). To DrTuring: Rinko Kikuchi's character is laugh-out-loud funny, but not one chuckle comes from a stereotype or caricature. See the movie and judge for yourself.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 3:59 p.m. CST

    SpawnofAchilles&Continetalop!

    by laraz

    Since you did not attack me directly I will spare your screen names shame! Your wisdom is wise! Obscure films should get a second chance! I watch alot of films, especially old ones, silent films! I just have never heard of this one in paticular! You two are not fuck-faces like alot of the douchbags on this site are! My attacks on the column will stop, due to your bravery of understanding and explaning! THE WRATH OF LARAZ has spared you! Now go in peace and spread the word! This Column is safe! As for the others, the torture is just starting!

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 4:32 p.m. CST

    drturing

    by yoko knowles

    Please promptly get over yourself.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 5:03 p.m. CST

    DrTuring

    by CorpseRide

    Boycotting movies based on rumours about early drafts? Amazing.</P PS: 'I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt' - er, apparently not?

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 5:04 p.m. CST

    PS

    by CorpseRide

    'I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt'. Apparently not?

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 6:16 p.m. CST

    A New Leaf

    by CorpseRide

    This looks great. Sadly NetFlix do not have it, so I had to look elsewhere. I expect I'll be watching it in...oh, let's say 8 hours 23 minutes and counting. Thanks Rian!

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 7:13 p.m. CST

    Crap! I thought this was an Arbor Day movie.

    by Uncle Stan

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 8:31 p.m. CST

    yoko by name...

    by scottishnutjob

    drturing is allowed to be annoyed about a character being called the chink, its a derogatory term and its a fair question. if he doesnt want to support a film whose creator makes such decisions then he's entitled to find out. the silence is deafening btw. i guess the answer to your question drturing is yes he did call a character the chink, over to you.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 8:32 p.m. CST

    by the way

    by scottishnutjob

    btw brick was good, i love AMADs and the guest spots are brilliant so far.

  • Jan. 13, 2009, 10:26 p.m. CST

    I love this movie

    by Napoleon Park

    and the extremely short story it was based on.

  • Jan. 14, 2009, 12:41 a.m. CST

    coincidence...who knows

    by DrBrianOblivion

    just by an odd bit of chance I was going to put brick on my netflix que to give it another viewing when i clicked on roger eberts review and saw this. http://rogerebert.s untimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060406/REVIEWS/60403003/1023 . Ive never posted a link before but people always delete a space and then say remember to delete the space. It was just funny seeing these two things together after reading this AMAD.

  • Jan. 14, 2009, 12:45 a.m. CST

    in regards to that link

    by DrBrianOblivion

    ..there are 3 spaces you need to delete...which seems a bit tedious I realize...

  • Jan. 14, 2009, 1:25 a.m. CST

    "No, don't let them out! "

    by Andy Travis

    My favorite Matthau film by far.

  • Jan. 14, 2009, 2:31 a.m. CST

    Sounds awesome

    by seppukudkurosawa

    I love my comedies black. This kinda reminds me of Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. Any influence? They both feature middle-aged guys marrying rich chicks and bumping them off for their dough. From the sounds of it, the original cut would probably have been closer though.<p> I wish I had an address book full've celebs. Lucky bastard, Quint.<p> I'm going to guess that David Gordon Green might do one of these at one point... He did the intro to Vern's Seagalogy, so it wouldn't be too unfeasible.

  • Jan. 14, 2009, 11:02 a.m. CST

    drturing, Rian has invited you to discuss the matter.

    by Donnacha

    He has said so on his own message board, as he doesn't have a Talkback username and registrations are apparently closed. http://preview.tinyurl.com/784u9e As for "The Brothers Bloom", there's a simple reason for why anyone, including Asian-Americans, should see the film. It's terrific.

  • Jan. 14, 2009, 4:17 p.m. CST

    laraz, whats it like being a functioning moron?

    by quantize

    thats probably the douchiest dumbest ass post ive read here in a while congrats!