What’s the first thing anyone does when they go into a DVD store? They head for the rack with the just-out releases to they can scan the jacket covers, etc. Everyone in the world does this, but there is no DVD-fan website I know of that displays jacket cover art of the latest DVDs at the top of its main page. All the major DVD sites list new releases, but you have to search around for them…which is not analagous to your typical DVD store experience. That said, DVD Journal is my favorite because the main page gets right down to business with the new titles listed on the middle-left margin. They also have a prominent Release Calendar option right at the top of the navigation bar, and the reviews (read Mark Bourne’s piece about Fox Home Video’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) are always perceptive, knowledgable and sharply written.
It sounds way unlikely, but Nicole Lampert of London’s Daily Mail is reporting that Russell Crowe is “expected” to pay an out-of-court settlement of 6 million pounds to Nestor Estrada, the candy-assed porter who suffered a traumatic nick to the cheek when Crowe threw a phone at him last June during a stay at Manhattan’s Mercer hotel. This column doesn’t support big-name actors who can’t control their tempers, but it also deplores, at the same time, hotel employees who use the term “whatever” when a guest is unsatisfied with some aspect of the service. And particularly hotel employees who hire attorneys for the purpose of financially extoring celebrities because they know they’ve got them over a barrel. Bad tempers are bad news, but guys weenies like Nestor Estrada are just as bad in their own snivelling, little-girlish way.
Here we go with another sad-irony weekend at the box-office…
The big openers are Four Brothers (spirited action crap), Asylum (British wife self-destructs from hunger for crazy sex with an emotionally unstable asylum inmate), Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (simian-level geek-sex comedy), The Great Raid (passable, historically-invested World War II heroism drama), Pretty Persuasion (cynical time-waster about a pair of soulless manipulative high-school heathers) and The Skeleton Key (disposable southern horror crapola).
And oh, yeah…Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (Lions Gate, limited), for which internet ads aren’t even being composed because no one wants to stick their neck out.
Timothy Treadwell during one of his many Alaskan taping sessions, in a monochrome still from Werner Herzog’s living-color Grizzly Man.
This riveting doc is, of course, the best new film of all…and it’ll probably end up selling the smallest number of tickets (which will be only partly due to the number of screen it’s showing on). Of all the newbies, this is the one least likely to leave you feeling burned or under-nourished. But don’t let me stop you….Deuce!
It may not sound nourishing to involve yourself in the fate of a guy who got mauled and eaten by a grizzly bear but…
It happened less than two years ago in the Alaskan wilderness to an oddly brave, vaguely-loony former boozer named Timothy Treadwell, 46. He had become known in naturalist circles as a guy who’d gotten into communing with grizzly bears on their native turf and had published a book about his exploits (“Among Grizzlies,” co-written with Jewel Palovak) and landed himself a guest slot on Late Night with David Letterman, etc.
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And it all ended like that because a certain bear was hungry and didn’t care and just charged right over and slashed and tore into Treadwell and then got down to business and started biting in and chowing down.
And then he moved onto Treadwell’s girlfriend, Amy Huguenard, who was cowering in a nearby tent when it happened and for some reason didn’t run.
Guys like Hideo Nakata and Wes Craven dream up and manufacture horror presentations, but all their films put together are spit in the wind compared to the blind shrieking agony of what Treadwell and Huguenard endured in their final minutes.
Nature is not always sweet and calming, Herzog is telling us. It is often beautiful but it is what it is, and woe to the man or woman who expects it to behave according to their own neurotic imaginings.
Most of the Grizzly Man is composed of Treadwell’s videos, and they’re a fascinating window into all sorts of realms…not the least of which is Treadwell’s wacked but serene psychological state during his bear face-offs.
Timothy Treadwell and companion Amy Huguenard
“They’re challenging everything, including me,” he says at one point as a couple of grizzlies prowl around nearby. “If I show weakness, if I retreat, I may be hurt, I may be killed. I must hold my own if I am going to stay within this land. For once there is weakness, they will exploit it…they will take me out, they will decapitate me… they will chop me into bits and pieces.”
But Treadwell’s camera time with the bears was about proving to viewers (as well as himself and maybe God) that he was nature’s Exception Man…the guy who so loved and understood grizzlies that the usual laws and likelihoods didn’t apply.
Herzog has been drawn his entire life to stories of men who dig into their souls by traveling to exotic dangerous places and searching for something ecstatic or obliterating…or both.
Treadwell is cut from pretty much the same cloth as that manic 16th-century explorer in Aguire, the Wrath of God or the opera-loving fanatic in Fitzcarraldo (both played by Klaus Kinski) or that helium-balloon guy, Dr. Graham Dorrington, who was recently profiled by Herzog in The White Diamond.
Herzog’s documentaries, which he’s been making since the early `70s, are always extra-personal, intense and down to the marrow. Check out his authorized site or do a little reading about the guy, especially if you’re just discovering him. He’s a madman in the best sense of that term.
A friend who’s had dealings with Herzog says he’s not especially nice and is in fact an obstinate manipulative prick….whatever. Very few artists who are heavy drill-bitters are sweethearts. I will never forgive deliberate cruelty, but otherwise I believe in cutting artist eccentrics all the slack in the world.
I obviously can’t prove that Herzog will be one of the few filmmakers that people will speak of in hushed respectful tones 100 or 200 years from now, but I’m fairly certain of it.
Werner Herzog during last January’s Sundance Film Festival,where Grizzly Man had its U.S. premiere.
The thing about Treadwell is that his life only started to come together when he began to seriously invest in something greater than himself, and yet, paradoxically, at the same time began to celebrate an imagined sense of himself…when he began to invest in performance art that portrayed the power of his personality and sensitivity to this corner of nature.
There is arrogance and foolishness in what Treadwell was doing in the Alaskan wilds, but also a kind of serenity. Herzog knows nature can be savage and unforgiving and that only fools risk their lives to prove otherwise, but he also regards Treadwell as a kind of kindred spirit, or at least treats him with understanding.
I still say this is finally a movie about a meal, and that viewers of the Grizzly Man DVD should be allowed to sample the horror straight-up.
I’m referring to that audiotape of Treadwell and Hugenard suffering their last…the one that Herzog is shown listening to in Grizzly Man but doesn’t share and in fact recommends, on-camera, that it be burned. That is nothing but showmanship on Herzog’s part. I don’t believe the sensitivity angle for a second.
Leonard Cohen is coming to the Toronto Film Festival. And I don’t just mean that Lian Lunson documentary about Cohen called I’m Your Man. I mean Mr. Zen-Cool himself.
Or…how else can I put it?…Mr. Former Buddhist Monk who couldn’t quite handle the austerity thing with the robes and seclusion and just had to go back to wearing suits and shades and inhabiting the persona of that guy who wrote “Susanne” and “Everybody Knows” and “I’ve Seen The Future, It Is Murder.”
Falco Ink is handing interview requests, if you’re so inclined.
Cohen, architect Frank Gehry and stoner-comedian Tommy Chong are among the subjects receiving documentary attention at the festival, which unspools September 8th through 17th.
The Gehry doc, Sketches of Frank Gehry, was made by director Sydney Pollack (The Interpreter, The Firm). I love Gehry’s work, as far as I know it. Director Phillip Noyce, a friend, lives in a very cool Gehry creation on Melrose Avenue.
Josh Gilbert’s A/K/A Tommy Chong will focus on Chong’s bust and imprisonment for selling bongs online.
Here’s my idea of a must-visit site — a showcase for the work of the great Saul Bass.
If you don’t know this guy, you oughta. He’s the main-title-sequence designer who gave birth to all those iconic visual concepts for all those cool ’50s and ’60s Otto Preminger films (Bonjour Tristesse, The Man with the Golden Arm, etc.) as well Psycho, Spartacus and so on.
It doesn’t have downloads of the actual credit sequences, but it lets you click along on each one and savor the still images as they were presented on film. There are also a couple of essays about Bass’s work.
Congrats to website creator-editor Rumsey Taylor, editors Matt Bailey and Leo Goldsmith, and contributing editors Thomas Scalzo, Beth Gilligan and Rich Watts.
“There are still drive-ins, Jeff! I’m sure you were speaking in general terms and not meaning to proclaim their utter distinction. But as I pointed out in my sidebar on drive-ins in this week’s Entertainment Weekly, there are still over 400 in the U.S., representing about 600 screens.
“That’s a pretty serious comedown from 4,000-plus at their peak, obviously. And it’s mostly a small-town phenomenon at this point, since the land was too valuable in bigger cities for these lots not to become Walmarts. But there are plenty of small bergs across America where the drive-in is the only place in town to see a film.
“And plenty of big cities still have one or two — including L.A., which has the Vineland in the City of Industry and, a little further out, the Mission out in Pomona/Montclair (both four-screeners).
“There are still those of us who look at a trailer and think, ‘Probably sucks… but it’d be fun at the drive-in,’ then make good on that.
“Right now I’m in Massachusetts and I’m considering going to the Northfield Drive-in near the Mass./New Hampshire border to see The Dukes of Hazzard a second time, just because I love the experience and Dukes is a quintessential ’70s-style drive-in movie, at least for someone like me who grew up on Dirty Mary, Crazy Mary and other car-crash/chase films in the great outdoors.
“But Four Brothers? I don’t know if even a night under the stars would be worth braving something that smells from that far away.” — Chris Willman
Wells to Willman: I haven’t driven by a drive-in and seen a movie playing in the darkness in I don’t know how long, which is why they seem dead to me. But I’m glad to hear there are 600 or so still kicking. Four Brothers is first-rate crap. The Dukes of Hazzard isn’t crap — it’s gas.
“I was staring at the photo of Abraham Lincoln on your site this morning, trying to place the not-Liam-Neeson actor it reminded me of. There was something about the way his lower lip plopped out on the left side that set off the dead-ringer alarm in my head. Finally it hit me: Harrison Ford.
“You don’t have to look any further than the picture on Ford’s IMDB page to see that, facially, Ford has a lock on this role.
“The lips are a match, from the plopping lower to the philtrum above the upper. Neeson’s nose, though prominent, is too chiseled and lacks the squat, bulbous nostrils of Lincoln and Ford. With the amount of weight he’ll likely lose for the role, Neeson will develop Lincoln’s hollow cheeks naturally, but the prominent cheek lines on Ford’s face compare exactly to those on Lincoln’s.
“Finally, Neeson’s eyes are crystal clear and alive, and will leap past whatever facial prosthetics and bushy eyebrow makeup he is outfitted with. Ford’s eyes are more closed up and less expressive, much closer to the beleaguered, blunt eyes of Abraham Lincoln in the photo on your page.
“But when you stop comparing the photos and evaluate the two actors on a performance level, Neeson books the role hands-down. While I’d much rather see Ford and Spielberg re-team on this project than the inevitably regrettable Indiana Jones 4 we’ve been promised, it’s been obvious for years that Ford is not at all interested in the stretch that a role like this would demand of him as an actor.
“Can you imagine how he would react, for instance, to the note you passed along to Neeson about the pitch of Lincoln’s speaking voice?” — John C., Brooklyn, NY.
“Ford did play Lincoln on the cover of George magazine back in 1997. You’re right…he’s perfect.” — Rob Thomas, Entertainment Writer, Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin.
[Note: I don’t know why the link won’t work but one URL for the Ford/George cover is http://www.apartment42.com/images/hf-pics/mag-geo97.jpg.]
“Glenn Close would make a fine Mary Todd Lincoln, but Cherry Jones would be even better.” — Richard Hashagen
“It wasn’t on your Toronto list but Terry Gilliam’s Tideland is premiering there on September 9.
“I’ve been looking forward to it since reading Mitch Cullin’s novel last year. It’s a terrific ballsy little book about a little girl whose father dies of an overdose and leaves her stranded in a country house in the middle of nowhere.
“If the film is even half-true to what I read, it’ll be the darkest, most twisted thing Gilliam’s ever done, and that’s saying something.
Tideland director Terry Gilliam and star Jodelle Ferland.
“It’ll definitely be a divisive film, it’s not gonna break any opening weekend records, and it might even cause controversy among the League of Decency types, but it should be interesting.
“The little girl is played by Jodelle Ferland. Her adult costars are Janet McTeer, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Fletcher and Jennifer Tilly.
“If you’re going to Toronto I’d love to hear your take on it, even if you trash it… actually especially if you trash it.” — Max Evry.
“Jeff, sometimes you are truly confounding. You railed on Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a piece of harmless fluff, for what seemed like years, and then you turn around and give a pass to a piece of worthless shit like Four Brothers…a movie that is fucking
garbage from start to finish.
“It’s impossible to care about their mother because she is gunned down in the first scene and we never get to know her. The attempt to humanize her by having her lecture the kid she catches stealing candy is laughable.
“The action scenes are horribly shot and poorly edited. It’s one of those movies in which the bad guys can’t hit anything despite having automatic weapons and outnumbering the good guys.
“The story is totally predictable the whole way through. Walhberg is okay, but his fag jokes get old after about ten minutes. The villains are a joke. There isn’t an original moment in the entire flick. The emotional scenes are unintentionally funny. I could go on and on.
“Four Brothers is an awful, awful movie with no redeeming qualities at all. There’s clearly a reason it’s an August release.” — Paul Doro
Hollywood Reporter columnist Anne Thompson with daughter Nora (center) and a friend, waiting for the L train at the 14th Street and 8th Avenue station last Monday evening, after we’d all visited the Reel Paradise party and hung with John Pierson, Kevin Smith, Ming Chen and the gang.
Underneath the graffiti another person wrote that “the 4th Amendment really isn’t that important” and that the other person should “get over it!”
A dull photo…really and truly nothing.
I’ve been thinking all along that Seann William Scott is going to give his career a fresh infusion when he appears in Richard Kelly’s currently shooting Southland Tales, but damn…that haircut! It makes his ears look juggy and his teeth a bit more feral than usual.
“What I’ve read so far about The Constant Gardener has left me wondering if Fernando Meirelles could make the first genuinely kickass Bond film in ages.
“And by the way, maybe it’s the color correction or just a light
trick, but does he have violet-colored eyes? On my monitor, that’s what they look like, or are they just intensely blue?” — Lindsey Corcoran
Wells to Corcoran: I know you mean well, but you don’t ever want to use the term “Bond film” in any sentence containing the words “Fernando Meirelles.”
“I’m amazed that the helicopter banner for Lifetime’s Beach Girls resulted in your declaration that ‘apparently it’s not too bad.’ I watched the two-hour debut with my girlfriend, and we both agreed that it was almost unwatchable.
“And I know from where I speak. I regularly watch the teen/parents soap opera One Tree Hill on WB to see what my production friends in Wilmington, NC are up to, and while I admit it’s a mere guilty pleasure, this show at least knows how to create dramatic tension beyond just providing backstory conflict for characters.
“Beach Girls seems so flat and all the actors come off badly, either through poor direction or the leaden dialogue (you would think George Lucas was the ghostwriter). Searching around after your comment, I found that it is getting surprisingly okay reviews, but this one from the Boston Globe agrees with my assessment. Here are the key quotes:
“And much of the dialogue feels like heavy-handed psychological exposition — in case we can’t deduce their emotional states, the characters will make it all very, very clear. ”Aunt Stevie and Aunty Maddy were Mom’s best friends,” Nell tells her father during one confrontation. ”They have all these memories, all this information about her. If I can’t see them, it’s like you’re taking her away from me all over again.”
“Like most scenes, this one smacks of actors reading lines: too many awkward pauses, too little chemistry. Nobody behaves like a real person, which might be acceptable if Beach Girls was either highly literary or highly schlocky. But it’s neither. It’s far too dull and heavy for a hot summer night.” — Jay Smith
“I was pretty surprised to see Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger on your list of upcoming releases. I’ve thought about that film often. I don’t think it’s available on DVD, but knowing your fondness for Antonioni (I just looked at L’eclisse after your mention of it…a treat), and wondered about your thoughts on it.
“I saw The Passenger when it first came out, and was left cold. It seemed an attempt to capture all the clich√É∆í√Ç¬©s of foreign films.
“But then I went back to the same theatre a while later to catch a sneak preview of The Wind and the Lion (which I, of course, liked a lot) and said to the folks with me, when the regular feature started after the sneak, ‘I’ve seen this, it isn’t any good, let’s just stay till you get bored and we’ll split.’
“But the movie came alive and opened up. For whatever reason I had the patience or stillness of mind to follow along the second time. We stayed for the whole film.” — Joe Hanrahan, Phoenix Creative.
Wells to Hanrahan: I don’t think The Passenger is in quite the same realm as the Antonioni films of the ’50s and ’60s, but second-tier Antonioni is still worth it. And that last shot that tracks slowly toward the hotel-room window and then goes through the window bars is a classic.
Lunch at Pastis, the lower west-side French joint where Woody Allen filmed that bookend scene for Melinda and Melinda
The Cagle family performing near the R train entrance at the underground Union Square subway station on Wednesday, 8.10.
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features, 12.9), the “gay cowboy” movie with Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger, will have its first-anywhere showing at the Telluride Film Festival, I’ve been told. The four-day festival will unspool Friday, September 2nd and conclude on Monday, September 5th. Brokeback will also visit the Toronto Film Festival.
There’s also talk about some kind of informal screening of Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust at Telluride, but that’s a bit up in the air. Towne has had difficulties getting the right musical score for his period film, which is based on John Fante’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, but the music problems have been solved (the finished score, says Towne, is “not anything you’d associate with normal scoring for a 1930s movie…it’s a bit like taking Nino Rota and filtering him through Kurt Weill”) and whatever happens, happens. I’ve been waiting to see this drama, which stars Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, for a long time…and I guess I’ll have to wait a tiny bit longer.
Alright already…so Rockaway beach with the lousy waves is in Queens and not Brooklyn. I don’t get it. I’m in my neck of Brooklyn, which is Williamsburg, and I head southeast and go to a beach not that far from Coney Island and I’m in friggin’ Queens? I thought Brooklyn had the southwest of Manhattan area across the East River area and Queens had the area due east and that was that.
Nothing kills your interest in seeing a new film faster than to watch a trailer that has that oozing maple-syrup narration from that guy…that cloying, raspy-voiced bullshit artist who always narrates these things. And those grotesque Hallmark platitudes they always have him say…to think that someone actually gets paid to write this crap…amazing! It’s all in this trailer for Lasse Hallstrom’s An Unfinished Life (Miramax, 9.9).
Love Come Lately
I’ve already mentioned I was pretty much blown away by Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener (Focus Features, 8.26). What’s hitting me now about this film has more to do with irony.
Gardener is essentially a political murder-mystery that achieves a very unique payoff because it also invests in an unusual kind of love story (i.e., a widower falling more profoundly in love with his wife after she’s dead than when she was alive).
The Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles, during interview in Regency hotel lounge — Tuesday, 8.9, 4:25 pm.
In so doing Gardener delivers what seems like precisely the sort of freshness that audiences, fed up with the usual usual, are said to be especially hungry for these days. I’ve seen it twice now and if anything it gained from a second viewing.
Mostly set in Kenya, it’s about the brutal murder of a mouthy British activist named Tessa Quayle (Rachel Weisz), who was also the wife of a milquetoasty British diplomat named Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes).
Prior to her death, Quayle has lived within a cloistered and genteel world that doesn’t permit any rude socio political intrusions. But once he starts looking into her killing, he discovers who she really was and gradually finds himself trying to follow her ethical lead as his investigations lead into some complex and dangerous mucky-muck involving the pharmaceutical industry (i.e., Big Pharma).
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The irony is that this visual tour de force (beautifully shot by City of God‘s Cesar Charlone and edited by Claire Simpson) may be too thoughtful and complex and emotionally subtle to play with a popcorn audience.
There’s also the concern we’ve all been hearing about releasing a high-toned fall movie in late August plus the old saw about the two leads, Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, not being marquee names, etc.
You might think you’ve seen this kind of thriller (i.e., man/woman is determined to find out who killed a loved one) fifty or sixty times before, but there’s such a feeling of adult complexity and discovery in this thing that memories of all those other what-really-happened? dramas are fast forgotten.
I sat down with Meirelles at Manhattan’s Regency hotel on Tuesday afternoon to mainly talk about the cinematography and the editing, which are worth the price of admission in themselves.
There’s a fine line between hyper photography and super-fast cutting being very cool and very annoying. Some of the cutting in The Bourne Supremacy was in the latter category. It seemed that it was cut faster than any big-studio action film that had come before so people would notice it was cut faster than any big-studio action film that had come before.
Simpson’s cutting of The Constant Gardener doesn’t ever feel this way and there’s not much difference between the two so I’m talking about some very slight quantifications. Good editing is like good music and it’s always hard to explain musical quality…but most of us know it when we hear it.
Meirelles and Simpson arrived at the shape and pacing of The Constant Gardener very slowly, he said. At first they told the story in a standard sequential way start to finish, which ran about three hours…but it was “boring.”
They eventually decided to hop around during the first half and start with Tessa’s death being discovered, which, of course, is exactly how the John Le Carre novel begins. They edited it for a total of six or seven months, including two months in Kenya last summer and three months in Meirelles’ native Brazil.
Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weicz
Meirelles is sensing an evolving receptivity to faster and faster cutting. “People wouldn’t understand” Gardener‘s editing style, he says, if it had been released in the 1950s. He supports wholeheartedly the influence of MTV videos over the past 20 years or so, which have brought about a new visual discipline among directors.
Nonetheless, something tells me there’s a limit to this. Velocity in and of itself can be extremely bothersome without a really masterful conductor keeping time.
Meirelles’ next film will be a multi-character piece that will try to explore the effects of globalism, or the gradual eradication of local culture at the hands of corporate multinationals. Meirelles may be kidding or not, but he says the title will be Intolerance: the Sequel.
I’ve said it twice and I’ll say it a third time: The Constant Gardener is the best theatrical adaptation of a John le Carre novel since The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1966), partly because it’s the most emotionally involving. Forget the last John le Carre adaptation, which was John Boorman’s sluggish The Tailor of Panama. Gardener is of a much higher order.
John Singleton’s Four Brothers is quality crap, and I mean that respectfully.
It’s basically a John Wayne western…a likable, stupid-ass gunfight movie that nonetheless works because it turns the cliches around just enough in each scene, and because the acting and dialogue between the actors playing the bi-racial brothers (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Garrett Hedlund, Andre Benjamin) is warm and spirited and funny now and then, and because the action scenes are organically slam-bang — fast and hard with a kind of ’70s verismilitude.
This would be a great movie to see at a drive-in if there were still drive-ins. It’s also the kind of film that probably plays a little bit better if you’re drinking beer.
If you’re a slightly older genre buff, the action-driven plot of John Singleton’s Four Brothers will remind you of…
It’s a formula revenge thing about four Detroit guys going after the gangsta scum who were behind the shooting death of their mother. It’s all pulp but I didn’t mind it, and I was expecting to hate it because I haven’t trusted Singleton in a long time. I could feel the audience at last night’s all-media screening having a good time. It’s going to do pretty well this weekend.
David Elliot and Paul Lovett’s script seems pretty closely modeled on Henry Hathaway’s The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), which was about four rambunctious brothers avenging their father’s death and untangling a financial swindle that had victimized their mother.
Kindly but tough-talking Evelyn Mercer (Fionnula Flanagan) is fatally shot for absolutely no reason during a random grocery holdup, which means, of course, that she’s the victim of a hit. The movie starts with her four sons coming home for her funeral, and we know they’ll eventually get wise and take action.
…Henry Hathaway’s moderately entertaining The Sons of Katie Elder, which co-starred John Wayne, Dean Martin, Earl Holliman and Michael Anderson, Jr. (One kink in the rope was the fact that Wayne and Anderson seemed way too far apart in age to be sons of the same mom.)
What wins you over is that Singleton takes his time getting to this point, paying attention first to character-building with good humor and easygoing acting and even some surreal stuff.
When the action stuff kicks in (the highlights are a nighttime car chase during a blizzard and a ferocious attack on the family home by the baddies with automatic weapons), he goes for balls-out vigor but in a non-martial-artsy, forget-John-Woo way that feels refreshing as shit.
As an ex-con with a hair-trigger temper, Wahlberg pretty much carries every scene he’s in. Steady backup is provided by Gibson (Baby Boy, 2 Fast 2 Furious), Benjamin (mainly known as a rapper with OutKast) and Hedlund (the kid with the asshole father in Friday Night Lights).
Also good (if under-utilized) are Hustle & Flow alumni and Singleton pals Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (last in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda, and before that in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things) pretty much kills and is even amusing a couple of times as a Detroit gangster who keeps his troops in line by occasionally humiliating them a la Warren Beatty’s “crawl and bark like a dog” routine in Bugsy.
I’ve spoken to Liam Neeson about his upcoming portrayal of Abraham Lincoln twice this week — once at Focus Features’ Constant Gardener party on Monday night and again at last night’s small-scale soiree at Michael’s for Paramount Classics’ Asylum.
And the second time I passed along a tiny piece of information about Lincoln’s speaking voice that Neeson thanked me for, and which might affect his performance on some level. Hey, it’s conceivable.
Neeson is playing our 16th President in a Lincoln biopic that Steven Spielberg will most likely begin shooting, Neeson said, sometime in March ’06. There was an earlier plan to begin filming in February, he added, but with this, that and whatever (including, probably, some Oscar campaigning for Spielberg’s Munich movie) this date will probably get bumped.
Liam Neeson (not as he appeared at Monday night’s Constant Gardener soiree or at Tuesday’s Asylum party…I didn’t have the brass to take his picture), and a former White House resident known for tallness, eloquence, greatness, etc.
Spielberg has been talking about making a Lincoln movie since `01, when DreamWorks bought rights to a bio being written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. That book will come out in the fall, reportedly under the title “Master Among Men: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.”
Apparently the most recent screenwriter on the Lincoln script has been the British playwright Paul Webb, who has written at least two previous screenplays, Four Knights and Spanish Assassins.
Neeson says the film will be an inspirational thing. “I think his story really speaks to our time,” he said. “About the separation in this country” — I took it he was referring to the red vs. blue culture wars – “and the sacrifices made and the losses of [the Civil War]…160,000 men killed…the losses, my God.”
He believes that Lincoln’s story “shows we can come through this” — an apparent reference to the war against terrorism — “because it shows men at their best and what we could be again.”
I mentioned that Edward R. Murrow, another honorable historical figure, will soon be portrayed in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. Neeson said he was interested in seeing this.
Rendering by Hollywood Elsewhere columnist Michael Felsher (“Cinema Obscura”) of how Liam Neeson will most likely appear in Steven Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln biopic, which will probably begin shooting in March 2006 and hit screens in ’07.
What part of Lincoln’s life will the Spielberg film cover? “From his inauguration to his assassination,” he said.
How long will it be? “I’m not going to get into that,” he replied.
Has anyone else been cast in any roles? Not that he knew of, Neeson said. (I’ve read a suggestion somewhere that Ben Stiller would make a good John Wilkes Booth. I think Glenn Close would make a good Mary Todd Lincoln.)
Lincoln “spoke very well with his hands,” Neeson said. I recalled a certain hand gesture that Jack Kennedy used to use during speeches — not the famous index-finger jab but an easygoing palms-up gesture, and Neeson said, “Because his palm was up it was non-aggressive and sent an appealing message.”
We eventually talked about Lincoln’s voice, which is where my little sprig of information came into play.
Neeson said that the writings of a contemporary of Lincoln’s named William Herndon said that he had “a clear, higher-pitched voice.” I found similar views during internet research the next day. Lincoln didn’t have a bass or baritone voice, apparently, but a tenor voice. It was described by another witness, Abram Berggen, as “high-keyed.”
Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois.
Neeson briefly mentioned Raymond Massey’s Lincoln performance in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940) and Henry Fonda’s in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (’39). That led to me to look up Massey’s no-frills biography on Wikipedia. On it I found the following passage:
“Early in Massey’s career, Abraham Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926), heard Massey perform and was struck by the close similarity of Massey’s speaking voice to that of his father.”
Neeson was enthusiastic and grateful when I told him about this last night. Massey had a twangy tenor voice mixed with a certain forlorn tone, like he was hoping for something he knew was unattainable.
If I were about to play Lincoln I’d probably want to come up with a voice something like Massey’s, or at least one that doesn’t sound overly “shrill, squeaking, piping [and] unpleasant,” which is how Herndon described Lincoln’s voice as he gave a speech just before assuming the Presidency.
“Just weighing in with my opinion on Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, which screened late last week in Sherman Oaks. I gave it mostly ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ marks on my feedback card. It’s clearly a smart, haunting, well-acted, handsomely produced modern war film.
“The acting is solid all the way around, especially from Peter Sarsgaard. On my card, I encouraged a strong Oscar push on his behalf.
Jake Gyllenhaaal (r.) eyeballing a noncom who just might be played by Jamie Foxx (l.) in Sam Mendes’ Jarhead.
“As others have noted, many of the musical selections compliment the film nicely (much in the same way Coppola found the right songs for Apocalypse Now). In fact, young Nirvana-lovers like your son may be able to enjoy this film a bit more due to the music.
“You were right on the money when you suggested that this was a Full Metal Jacket for the Gulf War. This is both good and bad. The audience loved the opening scene, despite the fact that it directly rips off R. Lee Ermy’s famous boot camp tirade. (For this, I jotted down a scathing remark to Sam Mendes on my card…not that he’ll ever read it personally.)
“Overall it works very well and needs only to be tightened ever-so-slightly. Let’s all hope it finds a broader audience than David O. Russell’s unjustly ignored Three Kings.” — John McGilicutty
“All praise to you! That’s right, all of it! You hit the goddamn nail on the head. Bad year for Hollywood? No, no, no…great year for Hollywood.
“So tickets are down. You know why? Movies are down. I haven’t been this happy since The Real Cancun tanked in theatres and my fear of reality movies taking over film as they did television subsided. In professional sports these are called rebuilding years. Hopefully this is a year where the business realizes it doesn’t have a championship-caliber team after all.
“Hopefully after this we will bear witness to studio executives keeping their noses out of the cookie jars and letting the creators do what they do best…fucking create. They might create a piece of shit, but you know what? At least that piece of shit might be more original, instead of a watered-down piece of shit that doesn’t have an identity. That’s what we’ve been getting. I want ambitious failures! Give me Heaven’s Gate!
“Hopefully — I might be hoping a bit too much with this — we might see a new age of creativity come out of this. One that reverts film from the blockbuster template back to the nitty gritty, I’ve-got-an-idea-let’s-shoot-it-no-matter-how-crazy-it-sounds stuff from the 70’s.
“Here’s to a great bad year of cinema!” — Sean Whiteman
New York Daily News gossip columnist George Rush (i.e., “Rush and Molloy”) speaking with The Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles (r.) at post-premiere party thrown by Focus Features at Compass on West 70th Street — Monday, 8.8,10:25 pm.
Asylum star Natasha Richardson at tres elegant post-premiere party at Michael’s, 24 East 55th Street on Tuesday, 8.9, 10:40 pm — delivering her thank-you-all-so-very-much, this-is-a-wonderful-moment remarks about her many satisfactions in making the film (a descent-into-madness sexual affair movie set in a British facility for the mentally un-hinged) and especially from the rigors of sinking her teeth into an especially ripe character. Paramount Classics co-prez Ruth Vitale stands to the right in semi-darkness.
Jazz band letting go across the street from Cooper Union — Saturday, 8.6, 2:15 pm.
If I hadn’t gone to Rockaway Beach last Sunday and seen this large banner being dutifully pulled across the skies by a helicopter, I would probably never have known about, much less watched, Beach Girls. But I’ve read up on this Lifetime six-hour miniseries and apparently it’s not too bad. Here’s a review by the Baltimore Sun‘s David Zurawik.
Director-writer Kevin Smith, producer and producer John Pierson at Wellspring party for Reel Paradise, Steve James’ doc about Pierson’s running a theatre in Fiji a couple of years ago. Party followed a premiere screening at Tribeca Cinemas, just south of Houston.
Waiting to see the 10 pm show of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist at the Film Forum — Saturday, 8.6, 9:40 pm.
Rockaway Beach — 8.7, 2:20 pm.
“I have a few questions/observations about your WIRED piece about the failure of Hollywood’s big-budget, high-concept theme-park movies:
“1. Are these really failures? Of course they’re artistic failures, but it’s my understanding that crap like Stealth still makes money, especially once you factor in the overseas haul. The much-debated domestic box-office slump may be a reflection on how bad these blockbusters have gotten, but unless the international receipts also dry-up, Hollywood will never learn.
“2. Given the importance of the international audience, what are the odds that these films will go away any time soon? You know as well as I do that if it’s loud and dumb, it translates well to the overseas market — you don’t need to subtitle an explosion. Cheap seats are still filled with mouthbreathers whether they’re in Times Square or Thailand.
“3. I sense in your words a lament that these piles of disappointment have constantly pushed out worthier, more artistic films of merit. I disagree, in part. The independent artsy films are still getting made in droves, and while they may not make it to the multiplex in the hinterland, they are making it into homes in both blue and red states via cable and DVD.
“The real casualty here is the intelligent action movie or thriller. These are increasingly difficult to find. Critics such as yourself frequently point to Jaws and Star Wars as the culprit, but such highlighting always fails to recognize that those were actually good films, deserving of their success.
“James Cameron’s Aliens or the two Terminator films or the original Die Hard are reminders that Hollywood has put out compelling, intelligent, and entertaining action films, and a whole lot more recently than the 1970s. Hell, these movies look like absolute classics in comparison to dreck like Stealth, which would have been straight-to-video back in the day (with Michael Dudikoff, most likely).
“Yet there are far fewer films of this quality today, and even the ones that come close — like Spielberg’s War of the Worlds — often fall apart upon closer reflection.
“4. Finally, given the problems with getting audiences into theaters, what do you think the solution is? Do you offer them a quiet introspective talky film that plays exactly on DVD at home as it does on the big screen, or do you offer them a big, loud, brash explosion-fueled adventure movie that exploits the THX sound and big screen? There’s a reason why Hollywood relies on this swill: they’re the only things that can get moviegoers to the theater. Geez, this dynamic has been out there for years, I’m surprised I hear so few critics talk about the distinction between movies that are rentals and those that demand to be seen on the big screen.
“Of course, as home theaters improve, more films are going to fall into the rental category regardless of their quality. And as ticket sales fall, Hollywood will inevitably raise ticket prices, killing the golden goose. Meanwhile, the only thing that can possibly save the theater from complete irrelevancy– improving the movie-going experience for people who actually enjoy seeing more than one movie a year on a big movie screen, regardless of subject– that core audience will be ignored.
“Alas, that core audience may paradoxically be the first to abandon theater-going — speaking for me alone, I used to see about sixty movies a year in the theater, but I made less than fifty last year, and in 2005 I’m on pace for less than forty. At these prices and in these conditions (bad lighting, bad sound, bad timing, scratchy prints, inept concessions, annoying patrons), not even a die-hard fan of the big screen like myself is likely to spend money on crap like The Dukes of Hazzard, a film I would have probably seen on a lark as recently as a few years ago.” — Dave, Arlington, Virginia.
Johnny Cash during the Folsom prison performance he gave back in ’68. I’ve been in and out of a Cash head-space since seeing James Mangold’s Walk the Line last Thursday. I’ve pledged not to say anything about it until Toronto, but I wouldn’t want the lack of even a hint of any enthusiasm about it to say the wrong thing, so let me just say without really saying anything that it tells Cash’s story the right way.
Broadway and… I forget, but roughly two or three blocks north of Houston.
I’m starting to have some serious aesthetic doubts about these slow-exposure blur shots.
At the IFC Center last Saturday afternoon, around 4:30 pm. The former Waverly Theater is a brand-new indie house with a cool
restaurant featuring the servings of chefs Claudia Fleming and Gerry Hayden.
Is this the only shot of whatsername, the tattle-tale Jude Law nanny? I read somewhere she’s going to spill to the tabloid news shows…terrific.
I never even went inside when I took this last Friday or thereabouts, but it’s located on West 15th just east of Eighth Avenue.
Whenever a one-sheet art serves up a concise iconic image, it’s easy to accept a notion that the film has its shit together.
The poster for Sam Mendes’ Jarhead (Universal, 12.15) shows dog tags with what looks like blood stains at first, but upon closer study is a reflection of the burning oil wells in Kuwait that Iraqi troops ignited at the end of the Iraq war of ’91…very neat.
It’s also clear that the tone and texture is going to be very male and gritty, especially with that slogan. It’s an encouraging take-it-or-leave-it way to start things off.
The contrast with the one-sheet for Rob Reiner’s Rumor Has it (Warner Bros., 12.25) couldn’t be sharper. Reiner’s film is for couples and women and maybe guys, if it’s funny. Jarhead is…well, I’d like to think that women will get into it also.
I should have linked to this piece two weeks ago when it first popped up on Slate, but it’s extremely thorough and brilliant here and there and deserves everyone’s attention. Written by Field Maloney, the article (called “The O Factor: Was Owen Wilson the key to the Wes Anderson phenomenon?”) wonders if the biggest problem with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was Anderson’s having co-written it with Noah Baumbach and not Wilson. The theory is gaining some ground as people recall the reaction to Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale at last January’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s a fairly good piece, but it’s very Wessy…maybe a little too Wessy here and there…and that it needs is what Aquatic probably needed, which was Wilson’s “sharp-edged intelligence gleaming underneath the chilled-out Texas veneer.”
The punctuation police have finally gotten through to George Clooney and his producers, the result being that his Edward R. Murrow drama is now being presented as Good Night, And Good Luck, and not, as they had it before, Good Night. And, Good Luck…which was awful.
Is this going to be an awesome Toronto Film Festival or what? The selections will include Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown with Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst; Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble; Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride; Michael Winterbottom’s Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; George Clooney’s Good Night, And Good Luck; Mary Harron’s The Notorious Bettie Page with the rediscovered Gretchen Mol; Liev Schrieber’s Everything is Illuminated; John Turturro’s Romance & Cigarettes with James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet; Abel Ferrara’s Mary; Stephen Frears’ Mrs. Henderson Presents; Phyllis Nagy’s The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet with Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley; Neil Jordan’s Breakfast on Pluto with Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson and Stephen Rea; Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s Bee Season; John Gatin’s Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story; James Mangold’s Walk The Line; Niki Caro’s North Country; Udayan Prasad’s Opa! with Matthew Modine; and Roger Donaldson’s The World’s Fastest Man with Anthony Hopkins as New Zealand motorcycle maven Burt Munro. Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a smart-and-quippy-but-no-great-shakes genre piece, will also be shown.
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