Is Oscar-show producer Gil Cates planning any kind of special tribute to the late Marlon Brando for the 2.27 telecast? You’d think this would be a no-brainer (the guy was easily the most influential and iconic actor of the last 55 plus years) and maybe Cates has decided to do the right thing. But Oscar-show editor extraordinaire Chuck Workman (the fast-montage guy who also directed A House on a Hill and the brilliant ’50s doc The Source) hadn’t been told a thing as of 12.26. Mike Shapiro, the guy who usually cuts the Oscar death-tribute reel, wasn’t reachable on Sunday morning (imagine that!) and Cates was in Mexico, but let’s hope Cates is planning a special Brando salute of some kind, as he did for Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn.
“‘We’re all of us sentenced to solitary confinement…inside our own lonely skins for as long as we live in this earth,’ muses Val, the drifter Brando [played] in Tennessee Williams’ The Fugitive Kind. As a statement of majestic desolation, it seems a fitting epitaph for a man who never quite escaped his own raw presence.” — Daphne Merkin on Brando in the 12.26 New York Times Magazine.
“What happens now? It’s just too early to tell. I’m at a crossroads. And I feel good. I feel like I’ve got something out of my system. I feel that I achieved a mountain for myself. A mountain. No matter what, I feel very proud of what I’ve written. I’ve achieved something I’ve wanted to achieve all my life. Whether it’s understood or not — maybe there’s a degree of mysticism in the movie that’s meant to be. And maybe it will be understood better over the years. I’m not sure. But I felt moved. I don’t feel the need to do that thing — that big thing. There’s other ways to go. Maybe more to the self, more personal. You know, retreating to where filmmakers in Europe — Truffaut and Fellini — went: inside. And they dramatized themselves. The question is, would the Americans tolerate that? No.” — Oliver Stone to the New York Times A.O. Scott.
Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (Warner Independent) has been named the year’s finest film (or the #1 film) by the Village Voice 6th Annual Film Critics Poll. The two-character dialogue piece set in Paris had far and away the highest number of points (564), compared to the 4th place Sideways (381)and the eleventh-place Million Dollar Baby. Great for Linklater, great for his costars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy…great all around.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m sounding, but an awfully high percentage of the folks queried for the Village Voice Film Critics Poll, although they know their stuff cold and are undeniably brilliant and independent minded…not very many of them seem like average-Joe, salt-of-the-earth, Boston-Red-Sox-fan type guys. Know what I’m saying? A tiny bit snobby and elitist, wouldn’t know what to do or say in a working-class bar, pencils up their butt, etc. Dave Kehr and John Anderson are okay, and David Sterrit’s got a little Aaron Copeland, fanfare-for-the-common-man in him, but how come Matt Zoller Seitz isn’t in the group?
For the second time during the Xmas holiday, Hollywood Elsewhere has been hacked. But it’ll all be back to normal within hours, maybe only two or three.
For the record, this is being written at 3:06 pm Pacific, on Tuesday, 12.28.04.
The most recent Hollywood Elsewhere column (the one that went up on Friday, 12.24) will be restored and back up by 4 or 5 pm Pacific. The rest of the site, including the proper ads (the currently viewable ads are from our server’s last fully-backed up version of the site, dated December 3rd), will be up and rolling in their proper and timely configuration by the end of the day.
I apologize to all concerned for not being fast or vigilant enough to stay ahead of the hackers or, in this instance, the Fanty worm. For what it’s worth, this latest hacking has happened today on hundreds of other sites. I will be doing everything I can do (and spending everything I can) to keep this from happening again.
I think it’s only fair to lay part of the blame for this latest disruption on the lack of vigilance of the folks at Interland, our Atlanta-based server. They failed to install a protective (or preventive) software called php5 in the wake of the last hacking, which was the weekend before last. If they had things might not have turned out so badly today.
33 and 1/3
It√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s too much of a task to forecast √¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢05 altogether, so let√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s just concentrate on the first third. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s giving in to kick-back holiday feelings right about now.
Movie quality tends to slack off (okay, plummet) between January and April, but I√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m spotting at least seven films during this period that appear to be worth the price, and two that might qualify as half-decent throwaway√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s.
Upside of Anger writer-director Mike Binder guiding costars Kevin Costner (l.) and Erika Christensen and Keri Russell (r.) during filming.
All but two will open in March or April, so grim up for a dud January and a fairly tepid February. In the order of scheduled openings…
Inside Deep Throat (directors: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato — producer: Brian Grazer), Universal, 2.11. Serious minded, fully considered documentary about the social impact and cultural legacy of Deep Throat, the 1972 porn film that ranks as the most profitable feature of all time. Hard-luck star Linda Lovelace was grossly under-compensated, and the mafia wound up taking almost all the serious profit. Talking heads include Erica Jong, Norman Mailer, Gore Vidal, John Waters, Harry Reems, etc. World premiere-ing at ’05 Sundance Film Festival.
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The Upside of Anger (director-writer: Mike Binder), New Line, 3.11. Terms of Endearment with four daughters and without the cancer. Feisty, middle-aged mom (Joan Allen), randy suitor (Kevin Costner), and four Wolfmeyers — Andy (Erika Christensen), Lavender (Evan Rachel Wood), Emily (Keri Russell) and Hadley (Alicia Witt). Great performances, should have been released last fall, will probably put Binder (now finishing Man About Town with Ben Affleck) on the map. Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence and some drug use.
Melinda and Melinda (director-writer: Woody Allen) Fox Searchlight, 3.18. Acclaimed by Screen International as Woody√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s best in a long while. A discussion between playwrights about the nature of comedy and drama leads to the story of a woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell, said to be terrific), and a look at her life as a piece of tragedy and comedy. Has already played in Spain, will have played everywhere in Europe by the time it opens here. As a character in the movie puts it, a certain character is “despondent, desperate, suicidal…all the comic elements are in place.” Co-starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Johnny Lee Miller, Josh Brolin, Will Ferrell, Wallace Shawn, Amanda Peet.
Nicole Kidman in Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter
The Weather Man (dir: Gore Verbinski) Paramount, 4.1. Not about a radical planting bombs in the early √¢‚Ç¨Àú70s, and at least partially about the stand-out toupee worn in this film by star Nicolas Cage. Gore Verbinski√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s direction of The Ring) has given him newfound respect. Word around the campfire is that this one√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s okay…maybe better than okay. Cage is a Chicago weatherman named Dave Spritz with an extremely chaotic personal life. I don√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t know what this involves precisely, but the writer is Steve Conrad (Wrestling Ernest Hemingway) and the costars are Michael Caine and Hope Davis.
Sin City (directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez) Dimension, 4.1. Any genre movie shot in black-and-white gets my vote sight unseen, and I love the straight-from-a-comic-book visual style of this thing, and the Dick Tracy-like prosthetics worn by some of the actors (Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro). Based on three stories taken from Miller√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s graphic novels, the likely emphasis will be on “look” over story and character, but disappointments of this sort are par for the course with comic-book adaptations. Lots of violence, pretty girls, partial nudity, etc. Briefly appearing costars include Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Brittany Murphy and Rosario Dawson. Pic won√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t be press-screened until mid-March (Rodriguez likes to tweak until the very last minute) so who knows? GenX comic-book freaks will lap this one up.
Hope Davis, Nicolas Cage in Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man
The Interpreter (dir: Sydney Pollack) Universal, 4.22: A smart, politically sophisticated thriller set within the United Nations community, with a exotic-accented Nicole Kidman and a straight-ahead Sean Penn in the leads. Pollack at the helm means this one will be intelligently assembled and that the characters will have (I√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m assuming) unusual angular aspects, if his past work (like his last New York-based thriller, Three Days of the Condor) is any indication. Universal bumping this from February to mid-April prodded mild concern, but I’m now told this happened only because Kidman will be working in Australia on Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Eucalyptus through the end of March, and wouldn’t have been around to promote a February Interpreter opening.
Crash (dir: Paul Haggis), Lions Gate, 4.29. Screened at Toronto Film Festival, bought by Lions Gate, and kept under a cloak of secrecy since. Not to be confused with David Cronenberg√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Crash, it√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s about a group of L.A.-ers united by their involvement in a multi-car pileup. Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Jennifer Esposito, Thandie Newton, William Fichtner, Ryan Phillipe, Larenz Tate and Keith David costar. Written and directed by Paul Haggis, the Canadian-born screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby.
And the possibly passable duo…
Be Cool (dir: Gary Gray) MGM, 3.4. Chili Palmer (John Travolta) shows some low-life L.A. types how to do that preternaturally calm Zen street-guy thing…again. Elmore Leonard, the Michigan-based author of Get Shorty (the basis of the 1995 Barry Sonenfeld film with Travolta, Gene Hackman, Ren Russo) and his hard-bound follow-up Be Cool, tells me Gray√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s film is playing well with audiences, so we√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ll see. The trailer makes it look as if Gray pushed the slapstick humor stuff a little too hard. The best Leonard adaptations have been about character and criminal mood, not hah-hah pratfalls. But trailers can be deceptive, so let’s hold our water. One promising sidelight: Travolta re-united with his old Pulp Fiction dance partner Uma Thurman. Costarring Vince Vaughan, Harvey Keitel, the Rock, Danny DeVito. I just don√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t trust Gray — how can anyone after A Man Apart?
Assault on Precinct 13 (director: Jean-Francois Richet), Rogue Pictures, 1.19. A remake of John Carpenter√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s admired 1976 noir shoot-em-up, itself an homage to Howard Hawks√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ Rio Bravo, has to retain some of the genetic inheritance…right? Plus it has a first-rate cast — Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Maria Bello, John Leguizamo, Drea de Mateo, Gabriel Byrne, Brian Dennehy, Ja Rule. Carpenter√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s original was set in a South Central L.A. police station, but the synopsis for the new one says it takes place √¢‚Ç¨≈ìduring a snowy New Year’s Eve,√¢‚Ç¨¬ù so I guess that deep-sixes L.A. Screenplay by the not-related to-James-Monaco James DeMonaco.
I was going to run a spring-summer piece, but the summer slate depressed me. It√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s looking even more formulaic and lowbrow than usual. Keep your head down, hold your nose and hope for the best. And may God protect us from Peter Jackson√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s on-the-nose instincts in his direction of King Kong…whoops, unnecessarily negative!
New Chat Room
Hollywood Elsewhere has a brand-new live chat room going. It can be reached through a link on the Poet’s Corner page. There’s something wrong with my Java or whatever because every time I go the chat room my browser freezes up and crashes. HE’s Ohio-based consultant and column editor Brian Walker says it’s working fine and I’m the problem. If anyone else has any complaints, send ’em in.
I ran this a couple of weeks ago in the WIRED column, but just to be extra-clear everyone should know that the currently-playing War of the Worlds teaser is, from a strict visual-content perspective, almost entirely b.s.
I’m speaking of two elements: (a) those middle-American families standing in their nightgowns and bathrobes on a small-town neighborhood street at night, looking with concern at those flashing sky lights in the clouds on the far horizon, and (b) those shots of various European capitals.
An insider has told me that the middle-American milieu stuff is horseshit because they’re not in the movie and don’t really represent the film at all. Ditto those images of Paris and London and whatnot, since the film never strays from the limited viewpoint of Tom Cruise’s lead character, a New Jersey longshoreman who just happens to be the grandson of Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy. (Kidding!)
As reported in a New York Times story about the Worlds shoot in Bayonne, New Jersey, director Steven Spielberg has gone to great lengths to avoid suburban settings. The action takes place largely in Cruise’s blue-collar neighborhood — rusted, down-at-the-heels — and, in certain portions, out in the Jersey countryside.
“I’ve seen the upcoming remake of Assault on Precinct 13, and it blows.
“Unlike Carpenter’s original — a spare, stripped-down ‘B’ pic which understood its iconic origins — the new one is just a bunch of action set pieces strung together, none of them particularly memorable.
“Filled with cliched characters — the oversexed secretary (Drea de Matteo), the guilt-ridden cop who feels he’s responsible for a partner’s death (Ethan Hawke), the geezer cop due for retirement (Brian Dennehy, totally slumming) — the film also features Laurence Fishburne as a kingpin drug dealer, but he’s still doing his stentorian Morpheus thing!
“For this they got some French director I’ve never heard of?
“If I were Carpenter, I’d be really, really pissed at the rape of what is, I think, one of the best ‘B’ films ever made.” — Unsung (in this instance) New York journalist
“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou didn’t look like a masterpiece in the trailer. It didn’t look like director Wes Anderson was trying to perfect the same old riff. It looked like Wes was changing the format and the ground rules. It appeared to be an adventure movie with explosions, stop-film animation, and like it was taking its cues from Spielberg and Fellini. None of the above can be said about his previous films.
“I hoped there would be Wes touches. He has a personality and a voice, and it seemed as if he was trying to hit a new register with this one. It might be a little off key, I thought, as I’d only heard a touch, but it sounded like a new melody.
“And then I saw it, and now I largely agree with what you’ve said. It felt like Wes was trying to break out of his past, but he failed. But if this turns out to be his worst movie, then he’ll have a great run. Then again, Bill Murray said on Letterman that he had to see it three times to really get it. That’s asking a lot of people, but I’ll check it out again and maybe I’ll change my mind.” — Christopher Lee.
Wells to Lee: Aquatic is the same old Tenenbaums melody with modifications. Wes has a voice — that’s what makes him good, makes him Wes — but the boat and Italy and the deep blue sea don’t interfere with the increasingly detail-minded Wes aesthetic. It’s the same basic thing, only less charming and less emotionally involving.
The Other Shoe
“Million Dollar Baby is a powerful and rewarding film, and superior to Mystic River, but I√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m starting to roll my eyes at all the critics fawning over Eastwood√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s bare bones, not-one-superfluous-frame method of storytelling.
“Did every little scene and fragment of dialogue — from Frankie√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Gaelic to the number of Scrap√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s fights, to pie at Ira√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s diner — require greater significance on the other end? When it√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s so stripped down, I felt myself waiting for payoffs.
“One of the last great character-study movies, The Insider, could have easily been trimmed down 50 minutes. The scenes in that movie that don√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t necessarily drive home the plot, but they still add to the richness and complexity of the overall.
“And am I the only one wishing that Jim Brown had played Scrap? I suppose you can never go wrong with Freeman, though I never saw him as a boxer, and I wasn√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t buying it when he won his last fight.” — Mark Frenden
“I ended up watching my VHS copy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle the other day. It’s such an amazing gem and deserves a great DVD. But Paramount’s DVD division has a few putzes on the payroll. They couldn’t even produce great extras for the Saturday Night Fever DVD. And promoting it? Beyond their skills. It’s a shame that Warners didn’t release Coyle.” — Joe Corey.
Notice to marketing guys and trailer editors: if you cut together 50 or 60 snips from a film and shoot them out machine-gun style, like 90% of the trailers do these days, you can make a film seem interesting or sexy or whatever. Except this trick has used so often it’s not interesting any more. To me, rapid-fire machine-gun cuts in trailers are a coded message that says, “Watch out, this film may have something to hide.”
There are sad films and depressing films. Sad movies make you hurt in a good way…a basically gloomy feeling that nonetheless doesn’t feel oppressive, and comes with an emotional anchor that puts you in touch with some aspect of your past. Depressing movies make you feel like you don’t want to feel anything. They make you irritated, skittish, cynical. In short, the final act of Million Dollar Baby isn’t depressing but sad. Unless, of course, you’re one of those who doesn’t distinguish between the two.
Everyone’s telling me that Meet the Fockers (Universal, 12.22) is funny, agreeable, harmless, etc. (I missed the all-media screening and my Universal p.r. pals had no other options.) But now Dustin Hoffman’s “thing” quote is boomerang-ing back in the from of these two remarks by the L.A. Weekly‘s David Chute: (1) Fockers, he says, is “a big-budget Dharma & Greg episode with toilet jokes,” and (2) “the desperation is occasionally leavened by the charms of the star cast: Robert De Niro, for example, does incredulous disgust better than anyone on Earth, and entire sequences here are choreographed to inspire his slow burn. In the next installment he should play a movie critic.”
It’s time to weed out the weaker sisters among the Best Actress candidates, and they are…sorry to say this and I mean no offense…Vera Drake‘s Imelda Staunton and Being Julia‘s Annette Bening. Staunton gives a two-note performance in that Mike Leigh film — loving, easygoing Vera before she gets busted, and freaked-out, zombie-like Vera after the bust. Not good enough! Bening is pretty good as the grande dame of the 1938 British stage…okay, very good, but the film is undeniably weak, and Bening is resultantly fading and that’s a fact. The topliners are three: Million Dollar Baby‘s Hilary Swank, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘s Kate Winslet, and Maria Full of Grace‘s Catalina Sandino Moreno. And totally forget Kill Bill‘s Uma Thurman….get outta here!