“Chinatown it ain’t, not in any department,” says Variety critic Todd McCarthy about Brian De Palma‘s The Black Dahlia, which had its big world premiere several hours ago at the Venice Film Festival.
“Based on James Ellroy‘s estimable fictional account of what was, for 47 years, Los Angeles’ most notorious unsolved murder, this lushly rendered noir finds De Palma in fine visual fettle as he pulls off at least three characteristically eye-popping set pieces while trying, with mixed success, to keep some pretty cockeyed plotlines under control. A literally ripping good yarn is [ultimately] undercut by some lackluster performances and late-inning overripe melodrama.”
Hollywood Reporter critic Kirk Honeycutt says that Dahlia “has the looks, smarts and attitude of a classic Brian De Palma/film noir thriller. During the first hour, the hope that the director has tapped into something really great mounts with each passing minute. Then, gradually, the feverish pulp imagination of James Ellroy, on whose novel Josh Friedman based his screenplay, feeds into De Palma’s dark side. The violence grows absurd, emotions get overplayed, and the film revels once too often in its gleeful depiction of corrupt, decadent old Los Angeles. Disappointingly, the film edges dangerously into camp. No, The Black Dahlia never quite falls into that black hole [but] the second half feels heavy and unfulfilled, potential greatness reduced to a good movie plagued with problems.”
All right, hold up on those no-one-cares- about-Lassie sentiments. It’s running a 92% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a critic I respect told me a couple of hours ago that he “bawled like a baby” when he saw it a few days ago.
Could this G-rated British programmer be made of the actual right stuff? You can’t blame me for presuming that this modest little film, opening 9.1 via the Samuel Goldywn Co., was just a run-of-the-mill family flick featuring auto-pilot paycheck performances by costars Peter O’Toole and Samantha Morton. Has anyone ever seen The Magic of Lassie (1978) with Jimmy Stewart? Stewart sang a song over the opening credits, and I haven’t forgotten that. It was horrible.
Please understand that HE is not preturnaturally cynical about dog movies, and that the two publicists at Rogers & Cowan who are handling the film for Goldwyn never even sent me a screening invitation (a man-about-town who goes to just about everything didn’t get an invitation either), and also that I tried to track them down a little while ago and they’re out and their voicemail isn’t working. I tried Goldwyn and they’re “out to lunch” also.
The only thing that gives me concern is a review by Onion critic Scott Tobias that says writer-director Charles Sturridge “doesn’t mess with the Lassie formula — he provides plenty of dog-porn shots of the collie bounding through scenery in slow motion.”
Every now and then a movie about a family and a lost dog can be okay, and if you can’t find a place in your heart for flicks of this sort then you shouldn’t be reviewing movies. You have to be emotionally receptive; you’ve got to leave your heart door unlocked in case the right movie comes knocking.
That said, I’m going to admit to something that perhaps I shouldn’t admit to. When I read the phrase “dog porn” I naturally…you know. And I think a lot of us would ike to see a Lassie movie in which Lassie’s brother Laddie develops a special relation- ship with Scarlett Johansson. She could play a rich Scotsman’s unfaithful wife who develops an extraordinary bond with Laddie, and it could be set, like Lassie, in the England and Scotland of the 1940s. I’m not suggesting a stupid dog-porn flick, for God’s sake. I’m thinking of a story that includes genuine tenderness and vulnerability and intimacy of a very special sort. We all know that animal eroticism is very big on the internet and is one of the last remaining taboos, and it’s just a matter of time before the right filmmaker approaches it with taste and discretion. I know it sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not. Not entirely, I mean.
Nagisa Oshima‘s Max, Mon Amour, a monkey-relationship movie with Charlotte Rampling , broke the barrier back in ’86, Given this precedent, going canine 20 years later, especially in today’s mock-salacious environment, wouldn’t even be seen as nervy.
In an article running today, L.A. Times guy John Horn has listed four likely Telluride Film Festival selections that I haven’t yet posted, to wit:
(a) Adrienne Shelly‘s Waitress , with Kerri Russell as a pregnant, unhappily married waitress in the deep south who falls into an affair with a visitor as an attempt to get out of her situation and redefine her life; (b) Susanne Bier‘s After the Wedding (sure to be strong and absorbing in the vein of Bier’s Brothers and Open Hearts); (c) Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck‘s The Life of Others, said to be “a black comedy about spying in 1980s East Germany”, and (d) Louise Osmond‘s Deep Water,a documentary about a catastrophic sailing race in 1968.
Horn’s other Telluride calls are Infamous (seen it), Fur (said to be a bit too arty for its own good), Babel (great), The Last King of Scotland (featuring Forrest Whitaker performance as General Idi Amin), Roger Michell‘s Venus, Asger Leth and Milos Loncarevic‘s Ghosts of Cite Soleil , and Christopher Smith‘s Severance.
“All of [the] power is lying in the last third of the movie, and you’re slowly ratcheting up the tension along the way,” Wicker Man director-writer Neil LaBute has told Coming Soon’s Edward Douglas. “You have to be very patient and say that I’m making a movie that people can watch and enjoy, but it’s not something that’s going to keep rattling the cage every few minutes. It’s just something that’s constantly twisting, twisting itself so that you’re very caught up in it.
“It’s knowing the genre, knowing how you want to approach that and how you want to surprise with it. You set up situations that look like very familiar ones where audiences are like, ‘I know what’s going to happen.’ You’re going to get close to that girl and then her eyes are going to open to try to spook me, and when that doesn’t happen, you go, ‘Now, why did they do that?’ Because you’re always trying to reward expectations and reward the audience a bit later with something. I tried to know that genre well, and then play against it a bit as well.”
The more Martin Scorsese‘s stock as a great American auteur has plummeted, the more he’s focused his energies on celebrating cinema culture by doing interviews and providing commentaries for DVDs. I realize, of course, that Marty is one of this country’s most devoted, impassioned and knowledgable cineastes, and that he’s probably done more than any other working director to preserve and restore great films and hail to that…seriously.
But deep down I think he’s investing in his cinematic-historian thing as compensation for the lack of genuine electric current in his strivings as a narrative filmmaker.
Let’s face it — the two best films Scorsese has made since Goodfellas have been docs — My Voyage in Italy and No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. When I think these days of the Marty I love and truly respect, I think of the guy who directed the great old ’70s and ’80s stuff (i.e., Goodfellas being the last high-water mark), and who edited and assembled these two fine docs. And I certainly don’t think of the guy who directed The Aviator and Gangs of New York and The Age of Innocence and the godawful Kundun.
It’s therefore all part of a downward-spiralling career trend that Scorsese has been hired as a Direct TV film critic “after complaining about Direct TV’s movie review system,” according to this Hollywood.com story. This is strictly an elder-statesman emeritus busywork activity. The Departed director will write a monthly column for On DirecTV, a magazine and program guide for people who subscribe to the service. Scorsese’s focus will be on overlooked films (i.e., get ready for torrents of prose about Samuel Fuller, Budd Boetticher, Nicholas Ray, etc.).
I sifted through my DVD screeners last night trying to find my copy of Al Franken: And God Spoke (Balcony, 9.13), the Chris Hegedus-Nick Doob doc about Franken’s political adventures over the last two or three years . The doc became a bit of a hot news item yesterday thanks to the censorious instincts of right-wing harridan Ann Coulter, as this Anthony Kaufman/Indiewire item explains.
My intent was to find that debate scene between Franken and Coulter taped at Hartford’s Connecticut Forum on 5.14.04. It’s being cut from the final release print because Coulter and/or moderator Steve Roberts (most likely the former) won’t sign a release form, and I wanted to at least provide a visual recording of this scene.
But I can’t find the damn screener…great. And nobody, surprisingly, has yet posted the video clip on YouTube.
The apparent reason Coulter has refused to okay the footage is because she looks small-minded in a clip in which Roberts asks she and Franken which historical figure they would like to be. Coulter says she’d like to be Franklin D. Roosevelt so she could prevent the New Deal, and Franken says he’d like to be Adolf Hitler so he could prevent the Holocaust. Critics have allegedly been advised to “not mention this scene in your reviews or coverage.”
We all run into films every so often that seem exceptional in a deep-down way. And not just in a particular-personal vein but smacking of some kind of profound life-lesson and/or greatness of theme that seems to reach out and strike a universal chord. Or they deliver an emotional connection that seems to reflect our commonality in some rich and resonant fashion. And yet — here’s the rub and the shock — much or most of the world doesn’t agree. Almost everyone you know and nearly every other critic seems bored, unmoved, mocking, snide.
And it just throws you into a funk. What’s going on here? I know this film nails it — why isn’t this more widely recognized? There are some who fell heavily for Phillip Kaufman‘s Quills, Gus Van Sant‘s Finding Forrester and Steven Soderbergh‘s Solaris…and they must have felt terrible when the world pretty much sneered and turned its back. Maybe we can hear some stories along these lines. Everybody’s got one or two or three.
With Roger Michell‘s Venus (Miramax., 12.15) now slated to play Telluride this weekend as well as Toronto, and all the talk about Peter O’Toole giving one of his career-best performances, you’d think the film would have its own website by now. But there’s nothing. Miramax needs to get the lead out. (And apologies for the fatigue that resulted in Harvey Weinstein being ID’d last night as the Venus distributor.)
Peter O’Toole, Jodie Whittaker in Roger Michell’s Venus (Miramax, 12.15)
This coming Friday is something like a Labor Day clearance sale with The Wicker Man, Crank, and Idiocracy — all opening on 9.1 — not screening for the press, and in the case of Lassie, barely screening for the press. (Nobody cares one way or the other.) Crossover , the basketball movie from Screen Gems, is screening this week. And of course, Kirby Dick‘s This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated has been screened a lot since debuting at Sundance last January. I called around today and tried to at least arrange to see The Wicker Man this coming Thuirsday night (there’s some kind of radio promoton fan showing somewhere) but Warner Bros. publicists won’t assist. Director Neil Labute is having a Thursday-night pally screeing in Manhattan. How bad can it be?
Christopher Smith‘s Severance (Magnolia, 3.07) , a reputedly witty horror-thriller, shot to the top of my Toronto must-see list earlier today when I found out it’s being screened at this weekend’s Telluride Film Festival. I don’t know when a horror film of any kind last played Tellruride, but obviously it wouldn’t have been accepted if it hadn’t been two or three cuts above the norm.
“Personally I think that horror comedy is veyr hard to do really well,” says a buyer who saw it at Cannes last May, “but I think Smith really nails it. And it’s intelligent to boot.”
I’m told that if you’re a fan of Dilbert and “Dilbert humor”, you’ll enjoy Severance‘s brand of humor a bit more fully.
Severance is about an international arms dealer who treats his six employees to a mountain retreat getaway in Eastern Europe. And of course, they all get knocked off one by one…but not by a monster. They’re attacked by a renegade band of mercenaries looking to settle a score with the arms dealer because he screwed them on a deal.
I haven’t quoted a review from the IMDB in a long time but fuck it. It’s from Kris60 from Berkeley, and it starts off by saying that “yes, it’s a slasher movie by definition: people meet horrific ends through discomforting means. But unlike slasher movies with sophomoric scripts, this one get points for smart dialogue, strong political perspective and a high humor quotient.
“The title might persuade some that it;s a reference to losing one’s job. And upon hearing it’s a slasher film, one might think the reference cuts more towards Marie Antoinette. Both are borne out, yet the title’s other reference — which comes quietly but cleverly to light at the conclusion — is somberly delightful.
“For the squeamish, give this one a pass — you won’t make it past the first bit of nastiness. For those who are a little braver, but wouldn’t usually attend a film in which most of the cast is guaranteed to wind up sprung from this mortal coil, do give this one a go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised! ”
The screenplay is by Smith and James Moran, and the costars are Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay and David Gilliam.
Kazu Workman of Crescenta, California, has passed along a review of the Ridley/Russell ‘s A Good Year, posted by Kellvin Chavez from Latino Review, And okay, all right…A Good Year may not be Oscar-caliber but at least there’s a notion afloat that it gives fans of quality acting and gorgeous cinematography something to look forward to.