A couple of weeks after I called director-screenwriter John Milius about that issue of seeing parallels between the Wolverines in his classic Red Dawn (1984) and the anti-American resistance in Iraq, he finally called back. I’ve been speaking to him off and on since the late ’80s or early ’90s. We danced around the question for a bit, but that’s often what talking to Milius is like — circling, veering in and out. He’s one of the greatest guys in the world to talk to about the psychology of war and military history. We eventually sashayed into the subject. “I’m one of the few people who think that the Iraq war is a good thing,” he said. “It’s not the goal of it [that’s bad], but the way it’s being conducted…conducted for the beneft of the Halliburton corporation, and the fact that there is no cohesive policy. The resistance in Irag is seen by militants as the Third Great Jihad. The first two happened in the seventh century and in the fifteenth century…but Americans don’t pay any attention to Islamic history.” We somehow got off Iraq and started in on the movie industry. “The people in Hollywood…I refer to them as the Westside Manchus. The reason kids are so fucked up today is becaus they’re prisoners of cool, and Hollywod is the epicenter of that…the ultimate prisoner of cool, prisoner of hip. If you go against the prevailing cool, it’s as if you’ve got bubonic plague.” What’s Milius working on these days? “A war movie, a Korean war movie for those 2929 guys,” he said. “Based on a true story…a couple of guys who get swept up in events…it’s War and Peace in Korea, about a couple of common G.I.s.” Back to the Wolverines and Iraqi resistance: “You can say they’re separated by tactics and they are, but terrible things happen in every war of resistance” he said. “In any rebellion, any resistance by partisans…it will be the same. I took Red Dawn mainly from stories of Russian resistance…the Russians fighting against the Nazi’s…all of those images in Red Dawn are out of World War II.” We strayed into the prime failing of the Bushies, which is that “they’re soft on white-collar crime. There’s a much greater danger to this country from white-collar crime than terrorism.” Back to Iraq and a thought that pointing out the differences between the tactics of Iraqi fighters and the Wolverines is “probably splitting hairs….look at the Roman occupation of Palestine, and the vicious resistance to the Romans. Desert Storm was a clean war. This is not that. Resistance wars are always costly and brutal and savage.”
I’m reluctant to get into this because I know how venting about weight makes me sound, but funny-guy Vince Vaughn looks too bulky in the trailer for The Breakup (Universal, 6.2). I was half focused on the premise, dialogue and jokes, and half trying to ignore a voice that wouldn’t stop saying, “Whoa…guy’s gotta hit the treadmill.” But I lost the battle and the “whoa” voice, in fact, kept getting louder and louder. Forget Vaughn’s Swingers physique — he hasn’t had that for ten years. The problem is that he looks heavier in this trailer than he did in The Wedding Crashers, in which he was close to the edge but okay. Vaughn can relax and be zen about who he is, but there’s a line at which a slightly gutty bear-like physicality tips over into the realm of “uh-oh…he’s gone too far.” The last time I felt this way about a big-name actor was when John Travolta showed up looking “like a bull walking around on his hind legs ” (my words in a Reel.com “Hollywood Confidential” column) in The General’s Daughter (1999).
(l.) Late ’90s — (r.) The Breakup
Being something of a talent-spotter, I agree with Anne Thompson‘s recommendation about Movie Marketing Madness. It’s a site about the latest scientific techniques to strengthen soil nutrients in water-depleted areas…a site about the business of selling movies, I mean…and it’s pretty damn good. The author is Chris Thilk, a 31 year-old Chicago-based writer and married guy with two kids. (I wrote earlier that Thilk is most likely single and lonely, since happy fulfilled guys don’t bang out blogs….not this time! Thilk has also never toiled in any ad agencies.)
The smartest thing that Business Week columnist Jon Fine says in his riff about New Line’s Snakes on a Plane (8.18) is “I can’t wait till this comes out…although on a certain level, I guess it already has.” Precisely. Snakes is the internet rumble about it…I’ve had lots of fun and laughed at a lot of hand-made songs and video spots…and I’m starting to think the hoopla has probably already peaked, in fact. (I told this to a Washington Post staffer who interviewed me for a Snakes piece yesterday morning — file it quickly!) Richard Williamson at Adfreak has suggested a headline for the final one-sheet, although he’s really suggesting an attitude: “You’ve read the title — why see the movie?” A certain snob know-it-all says the Snakes hoopla has been building for months (“since Comicon last summer”) and maybe it has, but by my sights it started to catch on only a couple of weeks ago. My son Jett (17) and Dylan (16) are only just starting to get wind of it, they told me last weekend, and they say their high-school friends in Brookline aren’t talking it up very much at all. Another week or two and the media will get bored, I guess, and then the Snakes thing will start to downshift…or will it? (Maybe not.) But the cynical view is that once the 2006 Summer of Hell begins it’ll be business as usual…one soul-suppressing, big-budget, heavily-branded film after another will open from early May and all through the hot months, and The Mob will run off the cliff like lemmings for each one, and then New Line will start in with the trailer and other aspects of the campaign in late June or July. I still say it would be smarter to get Snakes into theatres by June, say, rather than wait for August 18th to roll around. I’ve heard the estimates that the hard-core geek audience is only supposed to be worth $7 or $8 million dollars on opening weekend, but who’s not going to know about Snakes on a Plane two or three months from now? I’m just saying that four months and 20 days from now seems like a long time to wait.
There’s a boo-boo in Borys Kit‘s Hollywood Reporter story that’s partly about Stone Village Prods. having hired Bo Goldman to pen an adaptation of a forthcoming remake of Jules Dassin’s Rififi, which will star Al Pacino in the Jean Servais role. The piece names the director of the remake as “Walt” Becker. Referred to in the story as Pacino’s collaborator on Sea of Love and City Hall, the guy’s actual name is Harold Becker. Walt Becker, an actual guy, directed Van Wilder.
“Page Six” says in a lead item today that “embattled Paramount chief Brad Grey‘s days seem to be numbered” and that “speculation on a possible replacement for him is running rampant.” Okay, maybe…but does anyone really think Viacom president and CEO Tom Freston and the Paramount board are going to jettison Grey because federal prosecutors are rattling their sabers about some wiretapping mucky-muck that went on back in the ’90s when Grey was a talent manager, and because reporters are writing stories about this? LA Indie‘s Ross Johnson believes that upper-level executives relish wrestling matches of this sort, and that the pressure from the Pellicano case may actually strengthen the bond between Grey and Freston, who hired him. But all bets are off if prosecutors get the goods on Grey. “If the heat gets to be too much, they’ll all scatter,” a retired big-studio veteran believes. The “Page Six” item doesn’t even allude to the identity of the people passing this Grey-is-finished view along…just the usual “insiders” and “observers.” The only attribution mentions that week-old (3.24) scenario floated by British gossiper-blogger Toby Young about Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter being in the running — or wanting to be thought of as being in the running — to replace Grey. (I linked to this in a 3.25 item). It’s not wildly irrational, in any event, to suspect that friends of Carter (or Manhattanties with ties to the Tina Brown-Harvey Weinstein-Graydon Carter political demimonde) are pushing this buzz along. There’s a Vanity Fair story in the works about the Pellicano scandal, and Johnson believes that the writer (or at least a contributing reporter) is probably John Connolly, who has been reporting off and on about Pellicano since ’94 or thereabouts. “A damaging story” in Vanity Fair, the item warns, “could well be the nail in Grey’s coffin.” It also says that “while Carter’s name may be in play, others say it’s more likely the gig” — the top Paramount job now held by Grey — “will go to former Universal Pictures Chairman Stacey Snider, who’s due to start as CEO at Paramount-owned DreamWorks SKG on April 10. Some say Snider was brought over to Paramount specifically to replace Grey should the need arise.”
A seasoned talent who has his alliances and enemies like anyone else in this town, but in my estimation has always had a fairly profound understanding of Hollywood power games, and who now enjoys a certain priveleged insight into upper-stratosphere Hollywood maneuverings…this guy told me something yesterday about Paramount chief Brad Grey‘s former attorney Bert Fields, who’s being pressured these days by federal prosecutors over suspicions that he may have been doing the bidding of Grey (and possibly others) when he allegedly hired indicted investigator Anthony Pellicano to wiretap certain persons in order to provide Grey and other clients with information that could help them in negotiations over this and that. This guy, in any event, declared that Fields, a man in his mid ’70s who’s lived a very elegant Hollywood poobah life for decades, is “going down” and may actually be looking at hard time…unless he rolls. (Everything is a negotiation and nothing is final until it’s final.) Federal prosecutors look upon upper-level Hollywood “as a super-secretive society, kind of like the mafia,” this guy said, and the Pellicano-Fields-Grey case is seen as a lance with which they can possibly puncture the membrane of this society, and the idea of taking some of these big Hollywood guys down frankly gets them off.
I rather liked Greg McLean‘s Wolf Creek upon seeing it at Sundance ’05, and I said so right away. Very few in my journo circle agreed, though, and more than a few despised it. Which is why it feels oddly comforting, way after the fact, to read Christopher Kelly, film critic for the Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram, give it a thumbs-up. Mat Zoller Seitz was startled by Kelly’s piece, and then challenged him to discuss it online.
That guy who’s worked with N.Y. Times Manohla Dargis and has more to the point trashed the idea of her being worthy for the Pulitzer Prize in that Women’s Wear Daily piece has an enemy in L.A. Daily News critic Glenn Whipp. “Whoever this source is has a serious case of professional jealousy,” Whipp wrote this evening. “This person never hears that Dargis is the best critic the Times has? I hear it all the time.”
“Now that Peter Jackson’s King Kong has been released as a two-disc DVD, enterprising fans will undoubtedly find a way to upload the 188-minute film and trim it down to a more dynamic running time,” writes DVD/Laser Newsletter editor Doug Pratt. Please! If someone does this soon, I will provide a link and do my part to bring viewers to it. Jackson’s Kong is the ultimate example of a film that plays pretty well the first viewing (exciting after the 70 minute mark!…that fun dino run!), and gets weaker and weaker the more you think back upon it. Repeat after me — Jackson has no discpline, has no discipline, has no discipline. “As it stands, the film plays like Jackson had gotten confused in the production rush and released the ‘DVD Director’s Cut’ to theaters by mistake,” says Pratt. “Jackson achieved a pinnacle of motion picture art with his extended DVD editions of the three Lord of the Rings films, but he appears to have lost touch with the realities of moviemaking in the process. A good hour of King Kong, and maybe even more, does not belong in the theatrical release of what should have been a brisk, spectacular romp.” And who else to blame? Stacy Sher and the other executive cowards at Universal who saw Kong relatively early and said, “Great!”…instead of, “Peter? We love you and your film, but you need to trim that first 70 minutes down to 30 or even 20 minutes.”
Film critic Manohla Dargis has been been submitted by her N.Y. Times editors as a contender for a Pulitzer Prize, and someone “whos worked with her there” trashes her, saying “by no means do you ever hear that [Dargis] is the best critic [the Times] has…she’s known for synopsizing and giving stuff away. You’re not supposed to read her if you don’t want to know what’s going to happen.”