“United 93 costar Christian Clemenson, an excellent actor, [has invoked] Tolstoy’s conviction that the aim of art is to state the question clearly — not to provide answers . I’m not sure what that question is in United 93. There’s the obvious one about why communications broke down. There’s a question about what these hijackers looked like, how they saw themselves. And there’s the central question: With more fictionalized 9/11 films to come, including one by Oliver Stone, is it too soon? My answer is that if they truly help us — as the brilliant, tightly focused, and momentous United 93 helps us — to fill in the gaps in our knowledge and to pose more incisive questions, then it is not soon enough.” — New York magazine film critic David Edelstein in the current issue. (Edelstein believes that World Trade Center is “fictionalized”? My understanding is that the script is substantially about what more or less happened. Maybe Edelstein meant “dramatically embroidered“?)
Dispatch from last night’s all-media screening of Barry Sonnenfeld and Robin Williams‘ RV (Warner Bros., 4.28): “RV is no Benchwarmers, I can tell you that! What’s shocking to me is that there have been about 12 pictures that haven’t been advance-screened for the press this year. Silent Hill, I think, was the 12th. And so this is the trend so far…they’re not screening lots of films for the obvious reason…and they turn around and screen RV? What were they thinking? The critics are going to hate it. This film is not funny. The people in the cheap seats — people they brought in on the hope they would probably laugh more than the critics — were laughing here and there, but nobody was laughing in the critics’ section There were long periods where there were no laughs anywhere…no laughs at all. There’s one good riff in the entire movie when Robin’s son is being taunted and he makes fun of ‘hood rap with the taunters. Poor Robin Williams has inherited Chevy Chase’s career, and it’s like the poor guy is in a straightjacket. It’s definitely a family picture, and that poster image of the RV teetering on the mountaintop…they actually have that scene. And there’s one with vicious racoons invading the RV. And one with a septic tank that explodes and lands all over Williams and he’s covered in shit. Look back on the last 15 years and I think Sonnenfeld’s peak was Get Shorty, and after that the Men in Black films. On the credits there’s a guy whose title was “consultant to Barry Sonnenfeld.” What was his consulting about? Telling Sonnenfeld that this crap is funny?”
Another brilliant “My Life, My Card” American Express ad, this one by Wes Anderson. Clever, dryly amusing, beautifully choreographed, a cast of dozens (including Jason Schwartzman and Anderson’s producer Barry Mendel) and obviously shot in France, where Anderson has been living and working over the last several months. Obviously very Wessy in terms of style, tone, attitude…in the same way that M. Night Shyamalan‘s AmEx ad, which I mentioned on 3.7, is very much his own. Theere’s a self-mocking thing going on (in the piece, Wes pretends to be a spoiled, relentlessly-catered-to, extremely-full-of-himself director on the set of an action film) but the undercurrent, frankly, is that Wes kind of is this guy…on some level. You tell me.
I didn’t leaf through each and every page of the “L.A. People” section in the current L.A. Weekly because the hand-held version looked too page-heavy and time-consuming, so I shined it when it came out last Thursday. But the insightful, extremely shrewd and ever-gracious Laura Kim — the Warner Independent marketing vp who co-authored of I Wake Up Screening with Jon Anderson — is briefly and affectionately profiled by Ella Taylor here, and it’s my lazy-ass fault I didn’t pay attention sooner.
And this one about publicist Mickey Cottrell, a crafty and diligent hombre who knows the right people, always manages to push the right buttons, has excellent taste as far as the films and filmmakers he represents, and is a mensch on top of all that. And he’s a pretty good actor besides. (In theatre productions, I mean.)
It’s kinda too bad Jack Black and Stanley Kubrick will never work together. Something in this Nacho Libre clip tells me Stanley K. would have made an effort to know Black and possibly cast him in something. The rolling-eyebrow thing aside, Black’s clear lack of interest in trying to be even half-funny in this clip, or even somewhat energetic, spells, to me, the mood of a fuck-you genius. (I realize that “genius” is a bad word…it’s a Larry King word …but I know it when I see it….”genius” is fuck you, leave me alone, I don’t give a shit…genius is always feeling bothered and unsettled about something.) Kubrick would have seen this, I think, because he knew and worked with a guy known for deranged genius moves in Lolita and Dr. Strangelove . (I should have had this and other postings up yesterday but I was at the damn passport office for six friggin’ hours .)
“So we” — corporate Hollywood, she means — “can’t put a bad blockbuster over anymore, as in the golden era of 2002, when The Scorpion King could open at $36 million, or Blade II at $33 million. And we have to kill our singular addiction to teenage boys. We need to diversify the meaning of ‘our audience.’ We have a few audiences. Baby-boomers have a movie habit and an IV hooked up to pop culture (look at Inside Man or The Interpreter ). You would have thought that Something’s Gotta Give proved that older women were worth making movies for, but one strike with In Her Shoes and we’re out. Young girls, reliable last year, have been rationalized off the screen (their tastes this year considered to be entirely driven by boys). And then there√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢√É‚Äû√É¬¥s the need to wean ourselves from other old habits and scapegoats. It’s the movie, stupid. Not the marketing. (Alhough marketers…can still kill a good picture.) We all have to go with our gut instincts, give up the fantasy of a formula. It√¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢√É‚Äû√É¬¥s harder, but not impossible.” — Lynda Obst, “We Lost It At The Movies,” New York magazine.
“A fair amount of distaste for [United 93] has been building in recent weeks. Would the heroic event — which ended when the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard — be exploited in some way? And why do we need to take this death trip? But United 93 is a tremendous experience of fear, bewilderment and resolution, and, when you replay the movie in your head afterward, you are likely to think that Greengrass made all the right choices. This is true existential filmmaking: there is only the next instant, and the one after that, and what are you going to do? Many films whip up tension with cunning and manipulation. As far as possible, this movie plays it straight. [It] is tightly wrapped, minutely drawn, and, no matter how frightening, superbly precise.” — excerpted from David Denby‘s review in the New Yorker
There’s a choice tonight between an all-media screening of Barry Sonnenfeld‘s RV (Columbia, 4.28), the new Robin Williams family comedy which looks like an absolute masterwork (you can sorta kinda tell from the website), or an Academy showing of a restored black-and-white Scope print of Jack Cardiff‘s Sons and Lovers (1960), an adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence work that costars Dean Stockwell, Trevor Howard and Wendy Hiller. (I’d forgotten it was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture.) And…uhmm, I think I’ll try and catch the Williams film at a plex this weekend, or on a plane five months from now. The RV tracking shows a 73% awareness, 29% definite interest and 7% first choice. Williams’ career has been going downhill over the last ten years, and — let’s face it — he’s basically over as any kind of box-office draw. He’s not where Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler or Vince Vaughn are, and everyone knows this. (I’m not gloating — it’s just fact.) Sons and Lovers is being shown under the auspices of an ongoing Academy program called “Great To be Nominated.”
I can’t find a link to Daniel Zalewski‘s brilliant sprawling piece in last week’s 4.24 edition of the New Yorker about Werner Herzog and the arduous, financially troubled shooting of Rescue Dawn in northwest Thailand last year, but it’s a fantastic read, and there must be some way to say this without sounding like Larry King. “Herzog likes to say that he is ‘clinically sane and completely professional,'” Zalewski writes early on, “but he is keenly aware that his reputation is otherwise.” A dramatic re-do of Herzog’s 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and set in Laos in 1965 or thereabouts, Rescue Dawn costars Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. The editing is nearly finished — obviously too late for Cannes but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns up at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Zalewski writes that Herzog’s career has been “consistently plagued by intrigue, peril, and disaster” and that, “perhaps unfairly, he is less renowned for his oddly brilliant movies than for the arduous, and sometimes savage, circumstances under which they were made.” In Thailand, Zalewski write, “The mood on the set was toxic.” Herzog, who typically works with a small crew and budget, was dismissive of the large technical crew that the film’s production company, Gibraltar Entertainment, had saddled him with. And, Zalewski writes, “At every turn, crew members let him know that they considered his directing habits strange, impulsive, even amateurish…as they saw it, Herzog was ruining a potentially lush adventure movie by shooting it like a quickie documentary.” Zalewski also gets into Rescue Dawn‘s financial problems as well. (I tried summing them up in 3.21 WIRED item.) By the end, some crew members had quit mid-shoot, Thailand’s governor of tourism had revoked the production’s work permits because of a dispute with a contractor, and producers and crew members were prevented from leaving Thailand until alleged taxes were paid. Zalewski writes, “Herzog believes that modern life has disconnected humans from their most elemental pleasures. His films, accordingly, attempt to connect modern cinemagoers to their prelapsarian selves: the emotions are always primal, and landscape is integral to the drama.” Herzog says, “You will never see people talking on the phone, driving in a car, or exchanging ironic jokes in my films…it is always bigger, deeper.”
Don’t get the Farrelly brothers to remake Francis Veber‘s The Valet — steer them back to that Three Stooges movie they were talking about making a couple of years ago. That‘s what the proles on the street want to see…not this dumb thing. The comic sensibility of Mssr. Veber is totally ’80s (at best), and movies about valets are from the 1930s and 40s. (Who knows anyone who works as a valet?) The fact that DreamWorks chief Stacey Snider brought this project to Dreamamount is seen as an act of one-upsmanship against Paramount chairman Brad Grey. See? All he does is fire people and bring bad press down upon the company with all those New York Times stories about him and Bert Fields and Anthony Pellicano back in the ’90s and arrange for a special new branch of The Grill to be built on the Paramount lot. But I bring in movies because I believe in the basics and building a brand, etc.
The “too-soon“-ers are obviously going to have an effect on the opening weekend gross of United 93 (Universal, 4.28), but tracking is improving somewhat, and it looks like an okay opening…the word is modest…1500 theatres, $5000 to $6000 a print, around $9 or $10 million. Monday’s figures put general awareness at 61%, definite interest at 30%, first choice at 10%, and definite non-interest at 14%.