Newsweek‘s Devin Gordon does his part to help devalue originality while bumming out readers in the bargain by saluting…well, not quite…acknowledging with muted respect the increasing popularity of prequels, a slightly re-energized indication of Hollywood’s boundless tediousness. The latest include, in no particular order: Casino Royale, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Halloween (young Michael Myers), Friday the 13th (young Jason Voorhees) and Hannibal Rising (young Hannibal Lecter). I need to find a hole to get sick in.
On Saturday morning Breadly Moore wrote in and said he’d seen Saw III on Friday and that he was “stunned to find it booed at the very end by the full house.” (Not scattered boos, in other words.) He said it “made [him] happy” to hear this since he figured the type of people that enjoy these films would swallow any tripe the producers decide to shovel down their throats.” I was stunned by this news myself. Has anyone heard of audiences booing or sneering Saw IIIthis weekend? If so, what did the beef seem to be, other than the general fact they didn’t like it? What, I wonder, can a horror-gore film possibly do to earn boos?
Richard Donner showed up at ComicCon last summer to talk about the forthcoming “ Superman II — The Richard Donner Cut” DVD (Warner Home Video, 11.28), and now that it’s only a month away from delivery I’m wondering if there’s much interest out there among the HE smarty-pants regulars, or if the dismay some felt about Bryan Singer‘s Superman Returns (which I still think is a solid film in a spiritual sense, even if I came to the conclusion it was a bit too long after seeing it a second time) has diminished interest or what.
The new DVD will contain Donner’s original cut, which was never released because the totally nutty Ilya and Alexander Salkind fired him and got Richard Lester to finish it. It’ll include footage shot but not used (Donner showed a new Daily Planet rescue sequence at Comic Con), including a never-before-seen beginning, a never-before-seen resolution, 15 minutes of restored footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, additional scenes, commentary by Donner and creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz, plus a featurette called Superman II: Restoring the Vision.
During our Friday lunch Michael Sheen, who’s played British Prime Minister Tony Blair not only in The Queen but also in an ’03 British TV movie called The Deal, said that a “plan” is afoot between himself, Queen director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Peter Morgan to make a third Blair film.
This will be about Blair’s downfall due to his alliance with President Bush, his pitching the weapons-of- mass-destruction b.s. to the British people, and sending British troops to fight in the invasion of Iraq. It will begin with President Clinton‘s parting advice to Blair as the former leaves office to buddy up with Bush and find common ground. Out of this were sewn the seeds of Blair’s demise.
Nikki Finke has reported that among the 11.10 openers, Marc Forster‘s Stranger Than Fiction is tracking much better than Ridley Scott‘s A Good Year. Ironic given the unmistakable fact that Year is a somewhat better film — not a great one, but certainly better written, better assembled, and more in touch with itself and how to best say what it’s saying.
Year isn’t a comedy, like I said a few days ago, but a light mood piece about nurturing those things in one’s life that need nurturing. One of those tonic-for- the-soul movies about slipping out the back door and being a little bit happy at times, it left yours truly in a pleasant, sitting-outdoors-as-the-summer-sun-sets, enjoying-a-good-glass-of-wine frame of mind.
Fiction has some amusing moments but it isn’t “funny”, trust me — although the folks out there who buy books because of their covers are thinking it must be at least clever because it stars funny-guy Will Ferrell. When I saw it in Toronto I called it a middle-range mindfuck movie that isn’t especially clever or funny or up to anything that holds metaphorical water. That’s because the “imaginative” meta- physical scheme behind it doesn’t really add up or pan out. I almost hated it. In some ways I do hate it. It’s a half-assed little failure.
But Ferrell is biggger than Good Year star Russell Crowe, and Ferrell never threw a phone at anyone so there it is.
This has been kicking around for some time, but just for the HE record and in case somebody hasn’t read this on Defamer or elsewhere, there are indicators that strongly suggest Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Borat character is based on a real-life Turkish guy named Mahir Cagri, whose doofus-level web page attracted internet notoriety six or seven years ago.
Make your own assessment, but Cagri’s Wikipedia page says that “chief similarities between Mahir and Borat include facial hair and taste in formal wear. Borat also shouted out Mahir’s catchphrase ‘I like sex‘ to the crowd at the MTV Europe Music Awards in Lisbon and at a Savannah Sand Gnats baseball game. In Borat, Cohen not only quotes ‘I like sex’ and ‘You can stay my home’ in the introductory scenes, but poses during a game of ping-pong in revealing red shorts, referencing two of Mahir’s famous shots.
It’s been claimed, however, that the Borat character “has been in development since 1995, four years before Mahir’s page was online. Cohen has allegedly said it was based on a Russian doctor.”
Warner Bros. has decided to open Ed Zwick‘s Blood Diamond a week earlier — 12.8 instead of 12.15. Fine, whatever, no biggie. WB domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman apparently told somebody that the film has been generating good buzz and the studio wants to give Academy and guild members more time to see it before the Oscar game heats up too much. Except the good buzz thing is a fantasy — the buzz is good about Leonardo DiCaprio, yes, but iffy about the film. The Zwick factor (heavy-handed brush strokes, a tendency to emotionally over- bake, not a single machine-gun bullet hitting Tom Cruise in that final battle scene in The Last Samurai, etc.) leaves the prognosticators no choice.
Check out Denzel Washington‘s ‘fro in Ridley Scott‘s American Gangster. The photo is illustrating John Leland‘s N.Y. Times piece about the filming of Scott’s period (’70s to ’90s) crime pic, which costars Russell Crowe. Universal will open the film in November 2007.
Just as Burt Lancaster‘s Ernst Janning character finally spills his true thoughts at the end of Judgment at Nuremberg, it is time after days of sober reflection to speak of the Borat playdate scale-back that was confirmed by 20th Century Fox last Wednesday. Instead of opening Sacha Baron Cohen‘s rollicking comedy on the previously decided-upon 2000 screens on 11.3, Fox will now start with an 800-screen debut and then bump the run up to 2,200 screens the following weekend (i.e., 11.10).
My basic feeling is that Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is one of the most live-wire concoctions to come along in years — as much of an essential American comedy as Preston Sturges‘ Sullivan’s Travels — and an absolute must-see for anyone with a pulse. But it’s not especially embracable or familiar-feeling, truth be told. It’s clever, witty, often hilarious in a dumb-ass way…but sometimes it’s more astonishing than anything else.
I was a bit more amazed by Borat than in love with it, although I’m recommending it to everyone I see. You can’t not see it any more than a half-aware moviegoer could avoid seeing Dr. Strangelove when it came out in early ’64. To not see Borat is to say to yourself or your friends on some level, “I am dead…I am out of the ’06 loop.”
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The truth, I believe, is that red-state types (I’m sorry for ignoring the recently evolved p.c. decision that there’s no such thing as a red-state mentality…sorry, A.O. Scott!) may not find it as outrageous-funny as blue-state urbans. It’s a silly-goofy comedy, but Borat is fundamentally a satire about rural American values. It’s absurdist but snide. If nothing else, the Pentacostal conversion scene alone (which is more of a mind-blower than hah-hah “funny”) makes this fairly obvious.
Fox’s cutback happened, obviously, because the Borat awareness among regular Joe Schmoes wasn’t where it needed to be to support a big 2000-screen debut. I wrote about the sluggish tracking situation ten days ago (on 10.19). That 10.25 L.A. Times story by Josh Friedman and Lorenza Munoz said that a National Research Group tracking survey issued last Monday “showed that 27% of respondents were aware of Borat, well behind two competitors” — Disney’s The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and DreamWorks’ Flushed Away” — opening the same weekend.
Sacha Baron Cohen
This may seem like an extreme analogy to some, but the answer to Borat‘s apparent low awareness, I believe, lies in Ernst Janning’s statement about the proverbial claim that average Germans didn’t know what the National Socialist government was up to in the 1930s and early ’40s. “Maybe we didn’t know the details,” he declares, “but if we didn’t know, it was because we didn’t want to know!” Same thing here, I believe, and the root factor, as in Nazi Germany, is about tribal persuasions and inclinations and snap judgments.
I’m not saying average Americans are Nazis, for heaven’s sake…calm down. I’m saying they make gut-level decisions about movies they want to see based on deep-down primal factors. Like you or me, like anyone.
Average Joes (and I mean the generally overweight slow-on-the-pickup types…the “late adopters”) are aware of Borat, all right — how could they have missed the hoopla out of Cannes and Toronto, the internet buzz, that recent Entertainment Weekly cover? But somewhere deep down they’ve considered Cohen’s appearance — rug-trader moustache, Middle-Eastern ethnicity, extremely geeky — along with the arch, deliberately “impersonal”, somewat anti-emotional attitude of an outsider-hipster who’s aiming his jokes at those hip enough to get where he’s coming from, and they’re saying to themselves, “This guy’s not me, and he’s not trying to talk to me — he wants me to get into him.”
In other words they’re taking one look, they’re sizing him up…and they “don’t want to know.” Instinctually. That’s what’s going on with Joe Sixpack, with older rurals, with lazy boomers, with the hundreds of thousands of shallow young girls who laugh too loudly when they sit together at Starbucks. The only people who are naturally into him are educated (or at least curious), ahead-of-the-curve (or abreast-of-the-curve) urbans. That’s where the 27% awareness is from.
Of course, all the resistors have to do is see the damn movie and everything will change. They’ll mostly laugh in an “oh my God!” sort of way, and they’ll tell their friends and Borat will be on its way to wherever, on its own speed. That’ll probably start to happen when the 800-theatre break happens next Friday. I know it’ll do well in most cities, but one should never underestimate red America’s xenophobia — the deep-seated unwillingness to consider an exotic attitude or mentality. They like what they like if the movie/record/TV show reaches out and talks to them, and if it doesn’t….later, dude.
In short, Borat is largely a satire of American rubes, and the commercial reception that awaits should, I feel, be read as a referendum on the American character circa 2006.
Despite recent vigorous efforts by Paramount and Universal to promote World Trade Center and United 93, respectively, as Best Picture contenders, “an Oscar consultant not connected to either film” said to Hollywood Wiretap‘s Pete Hammond a few days ago that “this expensive grab for renewed attention by both films will result in a wash as neither is likely to get into the Best Picture circle.” Maybe not — I don’t entirely agree with whoever said this — but if sheer moviemaking craft mattered to anyone (and I don’t mean the application of nuts- and-bolts know-how but the knack of knowing how to make a picture work in just the right way so what it’s saying comes through without obstruction), United 93 would, no question, be a slam-dunk contender. The reason it’s not being talked up much is because a lot of people out there refused to go see it. I almost used the word “babies” but I thought better of it.
Michael Sheen, Montana & 14th in Santa Monica — Friday, 10.27.06, 2:35 pm
I sat down with Michael Sheen, a.k.a. Prime Minster Tony Blair in The Queen, for a quick lunch on Friday afternoon. I’ll be writing something about it tomorrow or Monday, as the recording of our chat was mostly ruined by clattering dishes and the loud, insistent voices of three or four women sitting two tables away. I don’t know if they were drinking wine or not, but they sounded like they were. At least they didn’t shriek with laughter. Not too much, I mean.
I can at least say two things about Sheen, who’s a very easy bloke to talk to. He seems more and more favored to emerge as one of the five Best Supporting Actor contenders for his performance in Stephen Frears‘ film. (And I’m not just saying that.) And perhaps even more importantly, the odds are very likely that he’ll portray David Frost in Ron Howard‘s feature version of the hit London play “Frost/Nixon”, to which Sheen will be returning fairly shortly, and in which he’ll continue to costar in (along with Frank Langella, I think) when it opens in New York City next March.
“The TV networks don’t want you to see ads for the Dixie Chicks documentary Shut Up and Sing. The movie theater chains don’t want you to see the fictionalized polemic Death of a President. The president of Kazakhstan doesn’t want you to see Borat. Just ask the people promoting the movies. Hollywood appears to have hit upon a fail-safe strategy for getting attention for just about any kind of film: get someone, anyone, to try to suppress it, and then rush to the news media with breathless warnings about the First Amendment coming under attack.” — from David Halbfinger‘s 10.27 piece in the N.Y. Times.