Another Hollywood entity has been lacerated by the dreaded “remains to be seen” in a New York Times Arts and Leisure article. In Dennis McDougal’s 11.21 piece about Kevin Spacey’s battle to make his Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea (Lions Gate, 12.17), he notes that Spacey “essentially becomes Darin in the film,” but adds, “Whether that will help revive his career, which has flagged in recent years as he spent his talent on routine fare like Pay It Forward, K-PAX and The Life of David Gale, remains to be seen.” That settles it…Spacey (and his movie, in all likelihood) are all but finito. Nobody survives “remains to be seen.” Less than a month ago Nancy Hass’s piece about Scott Rudin seriously wounded two upcoming prestige pics with the following sentence: “Whether Closer, with its searing look at relationships and adultery, or the zany Aquatic, directed by Wes Anderson and starring Bill Murray, will combine emotional depth with box-office magic remains to be seen.” Aaaahhhh!
I was in West L.A.’s Laser Blazer last night (Friday, 11.19) and I heard one of the clerks mention Natalie Portman. What about her? I asked. “My friend’s in love with her,” the guy answered. “Tell him to see Closer then,” I said. “So they didn’t cut her nude scene?” he asked. “No, they did cut it but it doesn’t matter,” I replied, “because what they left in is fine, trust me. She’s got a beautiful ass.” The guy and three behind-the-counter colleagues who were listening crowed in unison, “Whoaaa-hoohhh!” The guy said to me, “I think you just sold four tickets!”
Alexander (Warner Bros., 11.24) is tracking well and should open decently, but if it tanks the following week the studio marketing guys can always lay the blame on the pseudo-gay content, just like ’04 campaign handicappers (accurately) blamed John Kerry’s loss on gay-marriage initiatives. Right?
If you’re looking for insight into adolescent male sexuality and the influence of movies upon same, the Christian film-critic view is never less than four-square. Consider the suspicions of Bob Waliszewski, a film critic with Focus on the Family and www.pluggedinonline.com, as quoted by the New York Times‘ Sharon Waxman in her 11.20 story about Oliver Stone’s portrayal of a bisexual world conqueror in Alexander, to wit: “There will be people who see Alexander the Great’s bisexuality as applauding that lifestyle, and unfortunately it will lead some young boys, young men down a path that I think they’ll regret someday.”
Remember that scene in Jerry Maguire after Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr) fires Jerry (Tom Cruise) at lunch, and then they both run back to the office to beef up their client list — Sugar calling to dissuade his clients from signing with Maguire, and Maguire trying to persuade his clients to come with him, etc.? This is pretty much what’s been happening since PMK/HBH’s Pat Kingsley fired 23 year veteran Leslee Dart on Wednesday. The reason Kingsley acted so decisively and at such an inopportune time (i.e., right in the middle of Oscar season), I’m told, was because Dart had been talking to several clients about coming with her to a new p.r. company she intends to start up, possibly in partneship with former Miramax publicist Marci Granata but not, despite the rumors, with currently-employed Miramax publicist Amanda Lundberg, who says she’s flattered by the rumor but is pregnant (due next April) and under contract with Miramax until August ’05.
Thighs and Whispers
Forget the implications in Lou Lumenick’s 11.18 New York Post story about the allegedly pronounced gay content in Oliver Stone’s Alexander (Warner Bros., 11.24).
The opening line reads, “Is Oliver Stone’s $150 million epic Alexander too gay for mainstream audiences?”
In other words, will hetero stalwarts stay away out of some kind of vaguely anticipated discomfort factor? Alarmed, perhaps, by a line of Alexander narration spoken by Anthony Hopkins’ Ptolemy character: “It was said that Alexander was never defeated except by Hephastion’s thighs”?
First, the movie’s scenes of same-sex intimacy and affection aren’t that pronounced. If anything, they’re timid. They’re presented in any case within the context of ancient Greek warrior culture, which allowed for degrees of sexual intimacy but wasn’t “gay” as we know the term.
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One post-screening comment I heard from a critic friend after seeing the film last week was that Stone “didn’t have the guts to really show it.” Stone reportedly told a Playboy interviewer that “we may have had a few takes of them [Alexander and Hephaistion] kissing, but it wasn’t my intention” to show anything physically explicit.
Stone’s handling of suggested sexual intimacy between men in Alexander is no stronger than the way director Peter Glenville handled it 40 years ago in Becket .
I’m speaking of a first-act scene in which Peter O’Toole’s Henry II flops down on a bed inside a castle chamber room and then says to Richard Burton’s Becket, “I don’t want to be alone tonight, Thomas.” Burton nods and then picks up a candelabra and blows out the candles, one by one, as he quietly speechifies about his moral-ethical nature.
Alexander is said to be tracking very well, so it doesn’t appear as if anyone out there is particularly hesitant about seeing it.
But there is an element of spin, apparently, in what Alexander lead Colin Farrell said at the Alexander premiere last Tuesday in response to a question about gay content having been edited out. “”There was nothing really re-edited, man,” Lumenick quoted him as saying. “The film that you see is the film that was originally intended.”
A journalist friend told me a couple of days ago that an L.A.-based critic was shown a three hour and 40 minute cut of Alexander not long ago, and that the male-to-male intimacy in this version was more assertive that in the final version, which runs about 2 hours and 55 minutes.
Alexander was originally scheduled to open on 11.5. Lumenick writes that “there were widespread reports — since denied — that Warner Bros. postponed the release because of flak about the gay content at early screenings.”
“I don’t know how people are going to respond” to the film, WB production chief Jeff Robinov told an Entertainment Weekly reporter, “but I know Oliver didn’t run from who [Alexander] was.”
This is going to seem like a slightly weird piece to some, but I noticed something fascinating this morning as I was reading Stuart Elliot’s piece in the New York Times about Pat Kingsley’s firing of Leslee Dart from the big-time p.r. agency PMK/HBH.
What got me is a telling detail in a photo of Dart posing with PMK/HBH client Nicole Kidman (taken by Michael Caulfield of Wire Image) than ran alongside the story.
People can say what they want to say and believe what they want to believe, but body language never lies.
I’m not saying Kidman doesn’t support and admire Dart as far as it goes, and I’m sure she’ll be offering encouragement as Dart starts up her own agency in the coming weeks and months, but on some deep-down level Kidman was feeling ambivalent about an aspect of their relationship, or perhaps about publicists in general, when this photo was snapped.
The proof is in the positioning of Kidman’s left hand, which is draped around Ms. Dart’s left shoulder. What the tips of her fingers are touching (or not touching, I mean to say) says it all.
Only Kidman’s left index finger is touching — pressed upon — Dart’s sweatered shoulder. The other three fingers are curled under and resting upon it. Kidman’s left thumb is not touching Dart’s shoulder either — it is stiffly positioned in a kind of noncomitted limbo state and surrounded by air.
You can call me an obsessive, but I don’t fool around when I hug my friends or put my arm around their shoulder. My thumb might be in the air — thumbs are often ambivalent in a social context — but all four finger tips are always touching or pressed into their flesh. That’s a standard homo sapien way of saying, “I mean it.”
A gifted young director with a style and sensibility all his own doesn’t exactly hit the jackpot with his first film (which he co-wrote), but anybody who knows or cares about movies loves it.
The next film is damn near perfect…a jewel. It still has the reputation of being his best ever.
But the one after that disappoints in some quarters, the primary complaint being that attention paid to the director’s exacting and very particular brushstrokes (as well as a certain deadpan quality to the performances) has gotten in the way, to some degree, of what the film is trying to say or be about.
Then the fourth film starts making the rounds, and it’s clear to many viewers this gifted, very precise guy has painted himself into a corner with an even greater focus on detail and brushstrokes and deadpan acting, and in so doing has pretty much outsmarted himself.
The particulars are fine but the essentials are missing. The film feels dry and perfunctory and won’t lift off the ground. It’s a mathematical equation without the magic.
Then you hear from a guy who’s known him for years and also knows many of the behind-the-scenes players who’ve known or worked with this filmmaker, and he says the problems in the film are reflections of a basic problem having to do with how the filmmaker has come to operate as well as see himself over the last two or three years.
The basic situation, he says, is that Mr. Gifted and Particular has gotten caught up in his own mythology, that he lives in a special self-created membrane, and has positioned himself so that no one with any kind of challenging input can get through on a creative/collaborative level.
“And now he’s basically come to the end of this thing that he’s been doing these last few years,” the inside guy says, “and now he needs to find something else.”
Big vs. Small
As long as we’re running blind descriptions of filmmakers, there’s the case of a greatly respected director who’s been working in the big-budget realm over the last few years and, one presumes, pocketing big paychecks for his trouble.
But directing expensive widescreen movies with historical backdrops and lavish production values is not what this guy is best at. His calling is more in the contemporary urban realm, which he’ll apparently be getting back into for his next film. Good.
His latest big movie, which cost well over $100 million to make, is a difficult sit and will most likely tank after the first weekend. In fact, it may tank so decisively (partly due to the uncompromising way in which the darker subject matter is handled) that he may never be handed the reins of a $100 million-plus movie again.
This, I submit, will be an excellent thing all around. History has shown that he’s a much better filmmaker when he’s working with medium or lower-scaled budgets. He’s better at imagining or creating his way around a problem instead of resorting to the usual big-budget solution, which is to throw money at it.
A metaphor of what this director may be facing (may be about to face) can be found in Ulu Grosbard’s True Confessions (’81).
Robert De Niro plays a wheeler-dealer Catholic priest caught up in all kinds of real estate deals and political chess-playing in late 1940s Los Angeles. But he loses his job due to his involvement in a sex scandal, and the church sends him to a small Palm Springs church… for the rest of his life, it turns out.
The scandal was triggered by an investigation by his brother (Robert Duvall), a homicide detective. But the gray-haired De Niro is not angry at the film’s conclusion. He thanks his brother for saving his life and helping him find God again. He was lost playing power games and dealing with big-money contributors in Los Angeles, he says. Being sent to the desert purified him and got him back on track.
The filmmaker I’m speaking of needs to do the same thing.
Prick Up Your Ears
The same guy who was first to identify last Friday’s dialogue clips — Eddie Smith of Bainbridge Island, Washington — did it again just minutes after I posted Wednesday’s clips two days ago. I don’t like repetition. Stop Eddie Smith!
The philosophical riff in Clip #1 is spoken by Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956). Clip #2 and Clip #3 are from Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men (2003) and a conversation between Nicolas Cage and Bruce Altman; and Clip #4 is Charles McGraw, William Conrad and Harrry Hayden in Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946).
Among today’s clips, Clip #1 is from a very familiar classic from the early ’50s; Clip #2 features the voice of an actor with one of the most irritating regional accents in the history of motion pictures; and Clip #3 and Clip #4 are from the same film and feature the same actors.
Send in your answers quickly and I’ll post the winner next Wednesday, as long as he’s not Eddie Smith.
Hollywood Elsewhere is being re-designed to some degree. I had hoped that it would be up today (i.e., Friday, 11.19), but you know how these things go. I’m told the newbie will be up and viewable by sometime tomorrow.
The new Elsewhere is not going to look radically different. Mainly a slight upgrading in terms of this and that design element. The home page is being harmonized with the look of the other column pages. When you click from one page to the other it will all seem fluid and smoother. Gray gutters are being added, some new lettering on the navigation bar…stuff like that.
The guy who’s been doing all the work is Christopher Risdon. He’s from Georgia and has a Masters in Graphic Design, and I think he’s done a really excellent job so far. Any comments or criticisms anyone may have will be welcome. Sometimes it helps to hear from people who haven’t been involved in the step by step.
As I Was Walking…
…up Sunset Blvd. the other night in front of Tower Records, across from Book Soup, I happened to look up and there was this brand-new billboard. Million Dollar Baby is finally starting to be screened, and with any luck I’ll catch up with it early next week.
After that happens there will be just one more possible award-level contender to go — Jim Brooks’ Spanglish — but I’m told no one will see it until sometime in early December. I was also told I was wrong about the final music being on the version that was shown early last week in Orange. The final scoring session hasn’t happened yet.
Those who haven’t seen Kevin McDonald’s Touching the Void, hands-down one of the year’s finest films, should know it’s showing on PBS stations on Sunday evening, 11.21, at 9 pm. (L.A.’s KCET is showing it at this time, anyway — go to http://www.pbs.org/previews/touchingthevoid to see what your local airing time is.) Watch it closely, consider the dramatic devices it uses, and tell me if you think it meets the criteria for a documentary. I think it should be Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and not Best Feature Documentary.
There’s quite a contrast between Claudia Eller’s reporting in today’s L.A. Times about the firing of PMK/HBH honcho Leslee Dart by Pat Kingsley, and Stuart Elliot’s version of the story in the New York Times. The apparent fact is that Eller got the story and Elliot didn’t. Eller simply states that the 50 year-old Dart “lost an internal power struggle to take control of the agency from the 72 year-old Kingsley.” Elliot pussyfoots around and interprets what happened mainly through quotes from Kingsley and Dart. Kingsley tells Elliot there was “a difference of opinion about the direction of the company and what we wanted to accomplish” and Dart tlles him she and Kingsley “had different ideas about the future of the company.”
Letter from a smart movie-marketing guy in New York City: “You really should add The Incredibles to the Oscar Balloon for Best Picture, Best Director (Brad Bird) and Best Original Screenplay (ditto). It’s a lock for Best Animated Feature, of course, but I think something else is starting to happen. It reminds me of last year when Keisha Castle-Hughes got nominated for Best Actress against all predictions…because everyone who saw Whale Ridervoted for her, even if they thought nobody else would. This year, when I ask Academy members what they like most, only Sideways comes up as often as The Incredibles. Sure, a lot of people still need to see a lot of movies, but I think this one has hit a deep chord…and rightly so.”
Michael Moore’s coming to Los Angeles at the end of the month (i.e., just after Thanksgiving) to make the rounds, beat the bushes and work the town. With one presumed big-studio Oscar contender after another getting shot up or going down in flames, those who are paying attention are facing the likelihood that the five Best Picture finalists are going to be (Phantom of the Opera aside) four un-grandiose movies from the middle-ranks, which means Fahrenheit 9/11 has a shot, especially if Academy members are just into the idea of giving G.W. Bush a symbolic f— you by nominating it, but paying tribute to its place in history for being the first doc to earn north of $100 million.
Speaking of places in history, what about the Academy giving a Best Picture nomination to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ for the $300 million it earned? I don’t see it happening. People are too angry about Bush’s re-election to nominate a film that became a mega-hit largely by appealing to red-state moviegoers. Plus a good percentage of the New York-L.A. crowd thinks it’s a fairly deranged film anyway with all the blood and beatings and whippings..