Alexander Payne’s Sideways is fantastic in a lot of small little ways that add up to one big score. It’s not a rock-your-world, drop-your-socks, home-run type of thing, but at the same time it’s damn near perfect and it gets better and better the more you mull it over. People are grapes and vice versa, and shove that schnozz right into that wine glass, baby! David Poland may be right in calling it “the first true masterpiece of 2004.” Paul Giamatti (a master at conveying morose, cynical, self-loathing funkitude) is God, Virginia Madsen is a likely Best Supprting Actress nominee, Sandra Oh hits it on the head and Thomas Haden-Church is a total howl.
Who can think about movies at a time like this?
The bad guys are probably going to be running things for another four years and I’m supposed to shrug this off and bang out some kind of riff on this weekend’s openers — Wimbledon or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or Head in the Clouds?
Okay, let’s briefly do that. Except I don’t have much to say.
Paramount Pictures publicists let me come to their screenings but they don’t go out of their way to invite me either, so I haven’t seen Sky Captain because I haven’t made the effort, but I don’t think anyone needs my help in sussing this out. I’ll go this weekend, I suppose.
Head in the Clouds (Sony Pictures Classics), a 1930s and ’40s European wartime romance thing with Charlize Theron, Stuart Townsend and Penelope Cruz, is, in a certain sense, nicely written and directed (by John Duigan), but there’s no tension in the story, and so the movie tends to more or less lie there.
And there didn’t seem to be much reason to see Wimbledon, and I didn’t give a damn about seeing Mr. 3000 either so that just about covers it, I think.
Back to the “blues” feeling the blues…
I’m sure Moveon.org will disagree, but it’s obvious what’s happened over the last week or so. There’s a strong likelihood that election is over and Dubya — the worst President in the country’s history…the dumbest, the cockiest, the most deeply indebted to the most venal and loathsome people in the country, plus the most arrogant and dangerous…it’s very likely that Bush has it sewn up.
I can’t believe I just wrote that. I’m very angry about this. But look at this rundown — http://www.electoral-vote.com — and tell me I’m wrong.
As far as I’m concerned John Kerry is a major bad guy for letting this happen. He’s done a masterful job of out-Dukakis-sing Michael Dukakais with his idiotic inability not to see that the counsel of Bob Shrum, the Democratic candidate killer, was leading his crusade into quicksand, and this along with his regular-guy personality, awesome steadiness and clear-cut focus on his Iraqi War policy positions…he just won the swing voters over.
To the Bushie side, I mean.
Even if he turns it all around and wins, he’ll still be a jerk and a girly-man. I’m thinking I might vote for Nader out of disgust, and I never thought I’d say that. All right, I’m still a Kerry supporter but what a muddle-headed wimp he turned out to be.
A Connecticut guy named Jim Hammell saw my WIRED posting on this catastrophe yesterday afternoon and wrote back the following:
“You’re right on the money. Four months ago I was betting on a Kerry victory. Now I’m all but certain Bush is going to be re-elected.
“In my opinion, one of the big reasons for Kerry’s downfall (besides his less-than-stellar personality) is negativity. For the past six months, the Democrats, Michael Moore, Al Franken, etc. have attacked Bush relentlessly. Yes, it’s deserved. Yes, Bush has failed on virtually every level of being a President. Yes, he needs to go. But I got the message the first 10,000 times.
“From talking to swing voters (yes, there are a few in Connecticut) I’ve found that many are considering voting for Bush not because of his record, but out of spite. The constant attack by the Democrats, Hollywood, etc., have made them think of Bush as, believe it or not, an “underdog.” A ridiculous concept…but that’s the perception. They feel sorry for him. It’s maddening.
“With two months until the election, I have enough reasons not to vote for Bush. Now I need reasons to vote for Kerry. I need a reason to get behind him. The Democrats have to go positive at this point…despite the fact that it’s easier to go negative.
“Kerry has my vote regardless, but I really think we’re looking at a blown opportunity.”
Roger Ebert has called Undertow (United Artists. 10.29) a masterpiece. Director David Gordon Green definitely has his brief together and he may very well one day turn out a truly grade-A film, but forget the “m” word as far as this Terrence Malick-y, southern-fried, kids-on-the-run movie is concerned.
Call it an “s.i.,” as in somewhat intriguing.
Green’s thing so far (in George Washington and All the Real Girls ) has been to plumb the inner lives of rootless disenchanted kids in the South. This time he throws in action, violence, murder and a deranged low-rent villain, played by (was there a choice?) Josh Lucas. Green is obviously trying to go mainstream, and I like the gently spun character and atmosphere flavorings that he uses to make things feel real and lived-in, but the story is a so-whatter.
You’ve got two brothers (Jamie Bell, Devon Allan) being raised by their hee-haw dad (Dermot Mulroney) in a ramshackle, Tobacco Road-type farmhouse. Then along comes Muloney’s lower-end-of-the-gene-pool brother (Lucas), who’s just gotten out of the slammer and wants to move in. He’s trash, of course, and soon enough wants some gold coins left by his and Mulroney’s father for himself.
Then a very bad thing happens, Bell and Allan are soon running away from Lucas and he’s hot on their trail, and yaddah-yaddah.
And that’s it. I’m not saying there aren’t dabs of beauty in this film — there are — but it’s more in the dialogue, acting and pictorial mood stuff. I’m basically saying it’s a little bit boring, but in a quality-type way.
Part of my impatience with Undertow had to do with sitting through the umpteenth Josh Lucas performance as a fiendish psycho nutbag. He definitely seems to be Hollywood’s go-to guy for playing reprehensible assholes, but aren’t we all tiring of this?
Lucas played a relatively decent sort in A Beautiful Mind, a fairly likable dad in Jordan Roberts’ Around the Bend (Warner Independent, 10.15), and a somewhat tolerable guy(a dead one, possibly) in Lasse Hallstrom’s An Unfinished Life (Miramax, 12.24). And I believed in his character’s bottom-line decency in Around the Bend.
As Lucas is a pretty good actor, it seems a shame that he’s been typecast this way. I’m sure he’s played other non-offensive types…only they’re hard to remember. All I know is that he’s played nutters so often that all he has to do is walk onscreen and audiences go, “Yo…bad guy!”
He played Laura Linney’s dickwad ex-husband in You Can Count on Me. He played a malevolent type in American Psycho. He was a predatory gay guy hitting on a teenage boy in The Deep End. He played Eric Bana’s evil antagonist (a truly disgusting character) in The Hulk. His Wonderland character was so rancid you almost had to laugh.
I’ll bet Lucas has played more bad guys in the seven or eight other films he’s made; I just haven’t seen all of them.
I thought when he romantically hooked up with Salma Hayek earlier this year that he might get some power out of this alliance and possibly shake things loose. Maybe that process is underway. He needs something.
Sally Potter’s Yes, which showed at the Toronto Film Festival a few nights ago (but hasn’t yet landed a distributor), is a kind of lust story.
Set mostly in London, it’s about an affair between a married Irish-American scientist (Joan Allen) and a Lebanese doctor (Simon Akbarian) working as a chef in a London restaurant. Sam Neill plays Allen’s husband. Shirley Henderson has a curious little part as the couple’s maid who has a perceptive take on their personal undercurrents.
The finest things in Yes are Alexei Rodionov’s cinematography and Daniel Goddard’s editing. You could watch it without sound and…actually, if you did that you’d miss the iambic pentameter dialogue, and that’s supposed to be important, I think.
Anyway, Allen and Abkarian’s fuckathon eventually runs into difficulty when he starts to get enraged about a feeling that he’s being treated like, or regarded as, her Lebanese boy-toy. The whole post-9/11, Anglos-looking-askance-at-Arabs thing is harshly reviewed.
Yes is certainly not your usual older-white-woman-falls-for-somewhat-younger-Arab-guy movie. I especially liked the scene in which Abkarian has manual finger-sex with Allen in a restaurant with people and waiters nearby, and then licks his digits for dessert. Good bit.
But I have to say something: Abkarian doesn’t have the dignity, discipline and inner thoughtfulness of Chiwetel Ejiofor, the man of color who played the London immigrant and African doctor in Stephen Frear’s Dirty Pretty Things, had. Mr. Ejiofor had class; Abkarian has a lot less. He’s less considered, less carefully composed. I didn’t much like him because of this.
And his nose is too big. I kept staring at it. Cyrano! Durante! I’m sorry but he seemed common to me, like a chuckling rug merchant you might meet in the Marrakech medina. I hated a scene in which Abkarian dances for Allen on a table top. And I despised him for getting into an argument with a couple of guys in the kitchen, and he’s stupid enough to hold a knife like a weapon, knowing that he’s more likely to be found at fault if the authorities come, which of course they do.
Can I say this? I’m going to say it anyway. Abkarian isn’t good enough to copulate with Joan Allen, and she lowers herself appreciably in our eyes by spreading her legs for him. I’m sorry to voice this in crude stereotype terms, but he’s not my kind of Arab. (Did you ever hear the line that Woody Allen once said about Harvey Weinstein? “He’s not my kind of Jew,” he said. I got this straight from a guy who worked for Allen.)
I read over Sally Potter’s nicely written press notes about the film, and in some ways they frankly told me more about the film than the film itself did. That should tell you something right there.
Again, a movie I included in my Most Wanted DVD column of two or three weeks ago is now scheduled to be released on DVD. Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick (1973) is due from Universal Home Video on 12.28.04.
Here’s the link: http://homevideo.universalstudios.com/title.php?titleId=317
Here’s what I wrote about this 1973 semi-classic last month:
Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick, with Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, John Vernon, Andrew Robinson, Sheree North, Woodrow Parfrey and Norman Fell, is one of the best second-tier, no-big-deal crime flicks ever made.
Admired for its low-key tone and character-driven action, for the crackling tension from Siegel’s shooting and cutting of the opening bank-robbery sequence, and for Matthau’s easy-going turn as a wise, cagey, seen-it-all indie felon. But it’s Baker and Vernon who give the tastiest performances — the former as a suave, southern-fried, pipe-smoking assassin in a cowboy hat and cream-colored suit, and the latter as a Reno exec fronting for organized crime.
The dialogue in Vernon’s heart-to-heart scene with Parfrey, playing a wimpy Las Cruces bank manager to perfection, is so good that Quentin Tarantino ripped it off. “You know what kind of men they are,” Vernon informs Parfrey, whom he suspects may have colluded with guys who made off with $300,000 in mob loot. “They’ll strip you, tie you down and go to work on you with a blowtorch and a pair of pliers.”
It’s also worth noting that Universal Home Video has finally gotten around to putting out Costa-Gavras’ excellent 1982 film Missing, set for 11.23
Pittsburgh-based reader George Bolanis has written the following:
“Let’s look at the mini-trend of participle-based movie titles. (Of which the latest lifeless, imagination-less example I have seen in this group is Being Julia.)
“I will start with the contention that Being John Malkovich kick-started the trend as everyone who passed on that project salivated with envy and pounded their head with regret. From there on, people just saw a title-packaging strategy.
“I’ve tried to remember as many titles as I could recall along these lines. I decided to plot the titles on a bell curve showing the Originators (known in marketing parlance as early adopters) on the left against the Bandwagon-Jumping Laggards on the right. (See attached.)
“Should a producer-distributor even bother trying to buck a popular trend that might contribute to a more substantive fare falling flat because its title falls within an overused device even if it suits the art in the long run? Are a few bad apples ruining it for everyone else?
“I myself tend to get sick of any product (movie, snack food, whatever) that might even seem to be jumping on the bandwagon.” — George Bolanis, Pittsburgh, PA.
Hold The Line!
“I’m sympathetic to all the feelings you expressed about Kerry sinking and the fight already lost, because I’ve felt them myself over the past few weeks. But it’s time to for each one of us to cowboy up and fight, because this one’s going to be close and we need everybody we can get. Worry is healthy, but despair is toxic. Kerry is a good guy who thinks about what he does and then does what he thinks is right. He will make a much better president than the one we have. That’s what matters.” — Rob Thomas, Madison, WI.
“While I love your movie column, I have to say you’ve jumped over a cliff on this Kerry-has-already-lost thing.
“I’ve been following electoral-vote.com for the last month or so, and can honestly say that on any particular day it doesn’t tell you much of anything about which way the vote is going to go. Two days he had Kerry winning this thing. What changed? Two polls in Pennsylvania and Florida changed a few points. That accounts for a flip of almost 50 electoral votes. And yet both are very close to being in the margin of error of the poll.
“It could be a skewed poll (like some of the recent national polls that call more registered Republicans). It could be all the emergency aid money Bush is pumping into Florida. It could be people talking up Nader who may never get a chance to vote for him. So calm down on that one.
“As for Kerry losing it….well, just wait. His bump in the polls after the Demo convention was expected. As was the reverse after the Republican convention. And
don’t forget the polls from Iowa that said he wasn’t even going to compete in the caucus, and look how he made everyone look like fools on that one.
“As for him going soft, of course he has. Independent voters are more more likely to go toward candidates that offer hope rather than accusations and fear. That’s why Bush declared himself as a compassionate conservative four years ago, even though he’s been proved well wrong on the first part.
“And for your letter writer who said that people he’s spoken to in Connecticut are tired of the left the picking on poor Bush…what!?! Yes, the Swift Boat ads were against him. Yes, Cheney said if he’s elected terrorists will strike. Not to emntion the flip-flopper, unpatriotic liberal, didn’t deserve his medals, etc.
“This is a messy campaign with the attacks coming from both sides. Please don’t give in to it by pretending one side is getting it worse than the other.” — Mike Shea, Washington, D.C.
Wells to Shea: I hope it turns around, of course, but I’m enraged that Kerry isn’t scrappier and faster-on-the-draw with all this stuff flying at him. I don’t how to explain this even to myself, but I’m starting to really dislike him now because of his general hesitations and ineffectualness. If Bush is re-elected for another four it’ll be Kerry’s fault and no one else’s, and for this he will deserve a lifetime of condemnation.
“Your attitude is exactly what the Republicans are hoping would happen after their
bizarro-world convention. Check any of the latest polls and you’ll see not only has Bush lost any bump he got out of his convention, but he’s rapidly losing ground to Kerry once again.
“If you honestly believe this is an important election and if you think Bush deserves to be defeated after four years of unmitigated disasters, then you need to stop whining about it and do something. Call, write or email anyone you know in a swing state. Get them on board. Get off your ass.
“Nader’s not a solution — he’s part of the problem. The problem is George W. Bush.
“You write like you’re quitting. Now is the most important time of the election. Who gives a damn if you thought Kerry had it sewn up two months ago or if you think Bush has it in the bag now? The election is on November 2, dumbass. That’s the only time any of this matters, so do something now.
“Come on, Wells, I like you and respect your work, but this attitude you’ve got right now is bullshit.” — K. R. Olson.
Wells to Olson: I’m not quitting. I’m just angry at Mr. Candy-Ass and his dithering mind-changing manner. I’m sick of his equivocations. He’d better turn it around and get on the stick (and you’re right — so should I) and win this damn thing or else, or he should be exiled to the Solomon Islands and kept there under armed guard.
“Your Kerry depression is completely justified. I read with interest the rah-rah Kerry types you are scolding you, but those guys are living in dreamland.
“I have worked in public opinion polling for a decade and these recent polls (especially state polls) demonstrate a real certainty that Bush will not only be re-elected, but that he will probably have 2 to 5 more GOP senators to work with, and maybe 5 to 10 more GOP representatives.
“Kerry has stopped all media buys in Missouri — he’s written off the prototype middle-American state, and no president has taken the White House without winning Missouri in, like, 75 years. This is simply incredible for a candidate to do.
“Florida is lost to Kerry — the polls there are very bad now. A friend of mine who works on a Senate campaign there says the internal polls he has seen show Bush leading well outside the margin of error. Unemployment is lower in Florida than anywhere in America.
“The meta-problem revealed by these polls is that Bush has led consistently since the convention by margins far more pronounced than Kerry ever did. Kerry did not bounce like this after the Democratic convention. As the election gets near, the polls show people becoming more and more solidified in their choice, and polls have shown this for decades.
“Since the national and state polls appear to show Bush leading, one should expect that this lead will hold, as more and more people have made up their mind (I think in excess of 85% for both parties).
“Kerry’s focus on gun control the last week is a big indicator that even he knows he’s finished, he’s merely trying to rally the base now and hope to win a few close congressional races.
“While I am not fond of Bush, the Democratic party really insulted the intelligence of independent voters like me with Kerry. He’s an empty suit, passionless, with a far-left-wing voting record in the Senate….way too far left to win a national election. (Bill Clinton was the prototype they should have looked for.) Bush is no prize, but believe me, a lot of swing-staters out here who would have been happy to vote for a decent Democrat will be drinking Bush Kool-aid on election day.
“‘Anybody but Bush’ isn’t a road map to success if the anybody is a candidate and man as weak as Kerry.” — Kansas City Chris.
Can George Butler’s Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry make a difference? Answer: Probably not because it’s hitting theatres too late in the game. “Will audiences pay to see what amounts to a two-hour political tribute to a man spotlighted free on the news every night?,” asks Sharon Waxman in a 9.14 New York Times story. “Can a theatrically released feature film create last-minute momentum for a presidential candidate? Could the effort boomerang?” Bitter answer: Kerry is toast. It’s over. Butler’s doc, if you care, will open in 200 theaters on 10.1, less than five weeks before the election.
A Tuesday New York Post story says Harvey and Bob Weinstein are looking to stay with Disney now that Michael Eisner’s agreed to step down (and you can bet he’ll be gone well before ’06). The brothers are no longer considering splitting up, the Post story reported, and are looking for a way to stay within the fold. Miramax spokesman Matthew Hiltzik told the newspaper that the Weinsteins “remain dedicated to achieving an amicable resolution that will allow Miramax to perpetuate Eisner’s legacy, and their own.”
Val Kilmer will soon begin performing his singing role as Moses in The Ten Commandments, a “spectacular pop stage musical” that “tells the 3,3000 year-old story of Moses’ exodus from Egypt and his journey towards happiness, life and rebirth,” according to Broadway World.com. (It’s apparently based on the DreamWorks animated musical feature.) Moses was happy? The only time Charlton Heston’s Moses smiled was when he embraced Anne Baxter. This sounds like horseshit for the tourists. And Kilmer is doing this for…the money?
I’m feeling more and more enraged at John Kerry for emulating Michael Dukakis, blowing his lead and forcing his campaign into a last-ditch catch-up mode. There’s now a very real possibility that Bush-Cheney will be in for another four, and this is no one’s fault but Kerry’s. I’m so pissed at him I’m having to calm myself down with cups of Buddha Broth. Kerry is something like 6 to 10 percentage points behind Bush, largely, it seems, because he took the advice of campaign strategist Bob Shrum to not go overly negative against the Swift Boat and Vietnam atrocity sound-bite charges, in defiance of the general feeling that Shrum himself was a huge problem. My Presidential campaign feelings used to be focused on a basic anti-Bush posture. Now they’re half anti-Bush and half Kerry-is-an-indecisive-jerkwad.
You shoulda seen the 20-somethings congregated around Book Soup on the Sunset strip last night (Monday, 9.13) to catch a glimpse of Paris Hilton, who paid a visit to the book store around 7 pm to sign copies of “Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose” (Fireside). Men and women were looking to catch a peek through the window on the sidewalk, and a bunch of grungy guys were hanging around with digital cameras in the rear parking lot. Paris Hilton is just a rich ditz; people oohing and aahing her is a disease that really needs to be cured.
“September is way too early to declare an Academy Award winner,” admits N.Y. Daily News critic-columnist Jack Matthews, “but the Oscar engraver would do well to remember the spelling of Taylor Hackford’s star in the biographical drama Ray — it’s Jamie Foxx, with two Xs.” Foxx, he says, was “the talk of the town over the first half of the [Toronto Film Festival]. He gives such a complete performance as the late Ray Charles that you almost immediately forget you’re watching a performance by anyone other than Charles himself.” And yet Mathews also said that one of his big festival faves has been DreamWorks’ Shark Tale, and I haven’t been hearing that at all from other Toronto troopers. I’ve been hearing flip, facile, so-what and Will Smith can go diddle himself with his own fish tail (or words to that effect).
Hollywood Elsewhere has a new chat room called “Poet’s Corner” — currently up and running. It’s on the navigation bar — please sign up (or don’t sign up… it’s your call) and let fly. I’ve also gone live with the first Dispatches column, which has been written by Shall We Dance? director Peter Chelsom. And come Friday Kim Morgan, former film critic for Willamette Week and The Oregonian and a radio talk-show host for four years, will be be joining the fray with a new column.
So the Bond producers have lowered their sights sufficiently to allow for the hiring of Dougray Scott to play 007? (Whatever the accuracy of this story, it recently acquired the legitimacy of a printed account in London’s Sunday Mirror.) Bond casting has always been about the “it” factor. It’s obvious to me that Scott (check him out in Enigma or Liliana Cavani’s Ripley’s Game) almost has it, but not quite. Clive Owen had it in those online BMW “drive” commercials, but “it” seemed to have deserted him when he turned up in King Arthur. And forget Eric Bana. The Scott hiring is said to be about Bond producer Barbara Broccoli wanting to return to a “brooding” Bond in the vein of Sean Connery. Sheer delirium. The Bond franchise needs to die, not reproduce itself. And it needs to die with dignity, which is a total impossibility with Broccoli and producing partner Michael G. Wilson at the wheel.
Kevin Spacey “absolutely can sing,” says Roger Ebert, but Beyond the Sea, Spacey’s Toronto-screened biopic of Bobby Darin, “follows a fairly familiar formula.” It also “has some problems,” he says, “including a strange structure involving Darin as a child commenting on his own adult life, but it also has real qualities, including musical numbers that really deliver. The movie has many songs in it, and Spacey sings them…damned well. It takes nerve to put yourself on the line like that, but he knew what he was doing.”
Zap2it editor Michael Syzmanski wrote on his Toronto blog last Saturday (9.11) that Taylor Hackford’s Ray, the Ray Charles biopic with Jamie Foxx in the title role, “is the best thing I’ve seen this weekend. All the rumors about Foxx getting a Best Actor nod at the Academy Awards this year [are] definitely true…the film is probably a contender for Best Picture too.” Universal is releasing it on 10.29.