Talk about some critics not getting it, about how some barely see a performance when it’s exploding right in front of them. I just this morning read Brooks Atkinson‘s complete N.Y. Times review of A Streetcar Named Desire (dated 12.4.48) — a play that gave viewers the first full-on encounter with a style of acting from a particular 24 year-old actor that would change the landscape forever. Talk about historic, and yet Atkinson only briefly mentions the actor in question, and only in the second-to-last paragraph. Amazing.
Clearly a small but persistent percentage of the film critic elite are gunning for Babel. This Mark Caro piece from his Chicago Tribune/Pop Machine blog (which has been nicely re-designed, by the way) is an example.
Caro thinks Babel is Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s (and Guillermo Arriaga‘s) least impressive film, and yet I’ve spoken to many bright and perceptive viewers (including Pan’s Labyrinth director-writer Guillermo del Toro) who think it’s truly their best. I feel this way myself because it’s the most poem-like. Who’s right? Obviously no one, but I know this: Caro & Co. are being overly harsh on a film that they know full well is, at the very least, quality merchandise.
Caro and his brethren know that Babel is spare, honest and carefully rendered in a raw, unfiltered fashion on a scene-by-scene basis. They know it’s well written (okay, except for the first scene between Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett), and that the acting is first-rate top to bottom.
And they know that Babel is expressing an eternal truism — a not-very-original one perhaps, but unquestionably the cosmic law of the jungle — about how we’re all reacting to each other’s hurt and that we’re all imprisoned in an endless action- reaction cycle that we can’t hope to control or fully comprehend in all its particu- larity, but which we can at least try to accept and perhaps consider our actions and reactions more fully in light of it.
And yet the elites are leading a charge against this excellent film because they want something else after seeing two similar interconected fate-thread movies from Inarritu-Arriaga before, and because they don’t think that the perfectly delivered Japanese section has enough of a strong story-line connection to the Pitt-Blan- chett tale in Morocco and the Adriana Barraza-Gael Garcia Bernal tale in Mexico.
Talk to any one of these elites in a bar and sooner or later they’ll admit that Babel is quality stuff all the way and that it’s operating on a plane that’s well, well above the level of Crash (Samuel L. Jackson‘s remark that Babel is “Crash Benetton” is facile and lazy) and still they’re dumping on it as a Crash-like slog. And it seems to me that a critic should always strive to be as honest with his/her readers as he/she is with a friend after a glass and a half of wine. Very few are.
Caro has written that he “assume[s] many moviegoers will disagree with me (as Tribune critic Michael Wilmington does), but I also think a lot of people will see Babel out of some sense of obligation only to feel guilty when they find themselves longing for actual entertainment.”
The best kind of entertainment for me (for most people, I suspect) is to be enthral- led by the “all” of a movie…to be caught up by every twist and turn, by the look and pacing and texture of a film…the clock stops ticking and you go into the film and emerge two hours later. Babel, trust me (and you really, really don’t want to trust Caro on this one), is, in this sense, a hugely entertaining film.
“If Academy voters truly believe that Babel is the best that the movie world has to offer — Newsweek‘s Sean Smith already is predicting that it’ll win best picture — I’ll be stunned as well as convinced that I’m even more out of sync with Hollywood’s sensibility than I thought,” Caro concludes.
Who knows which film will win in the end (hint: it won’t be The Pursuit of Happy- ness or Flags of Our Fathers ), but if Babel doesn’t win (and if it doesn’t it won’t be the end of the world — it is what it is and that’s a fulfillment and a completion in itself), the piss-head cabal can all meet at a bar in Cannes next May and buy themselves drinks and go yaw-haw-haw.
As indicated by the sudden rise in tracking over the last 10 days and by what my Morgan Stanley friend wrote yesterday, Borat‘s opening day was an explosion, and generally speaking the weekend’s #1 film is a monster. It’s expected to do $22,486,000 by Sunday night — a mere 837 theatres, 26,000 per print.
Fox had cut back on theatres a couple of weeks ago because of weak tracking and exhibitor concern about same, but then the numbers started to shooot up more and more starting about a week and a half ago. Obviously Fox will be expanding the shit out this puppy next weekend. They’ve obviously got a major hit on their hands.
Opening in 3458 theatres (more than four times the # of theatres Borat is playing in), The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (Disney) should have made $30 million but it will wind up with about $18,792,000. The #2 film will come in with about 5700 a print…a definite disappointment. This once-lucrative Tim Allen franchise seems to be kaput. Is one of the reasons it didn’t do better the fact that the word “the” is used twice in the title? I’m just asking.
But the reallly big disappointment is the performance of Flushed Away (DreamWorks). Playing in 3700 theatres, it will take in a projected $16,7550,00 by Sunday night with an average of $4500 a print…weak. It took in only $4,560,00 last night. The #3 film should have made at least $25 million if not more.
Saw III was #4 with a projected Sunday-night tally of $15,075,000.
The Departed, far and away Martin Scorsese‘s most successful film, has crossed the $100 million threshold — $102,400,000 to be more exact. The expected weekend tally will be about $8,118,000 in 2785 theatres.
The Prestige wil end up with $7,676,000 on Sunday night for a sixth-place finish.
The seventh-place Flags of Our Fathers added 185 theatres and still went down by 31%. (It would have been off 35%, 35% without the expansion.) The weekend tally will be about $4,370,000. A this rate it’ll be gone from theatres in a week or two.
$3,859,000 Sunday night tally for the eighth-place Man of the Year. For the weekend, I mean.
The Queen (Miramax) is now playing in 387 theatres (having added 235) and will take in an expected $3,026,000 by weekend’s end for a ninth-place showing, taking in about $7000 a print. The cume has crossed $10 million. The strategy is to keep playing as long as they can, and then enjoy the surge when and if Stephen Frears’ film gets a Best Picture nomination.
Open Season will have about 2,760,000 by Sunday night.
The limited release Babel (Paramount Vantage) expanded from 7 theatres to 35 theatres. It’ll take in about $831,000 ($23755 a print) by Sundaynight. Tracking is indicating that this is mainly an urban sophisticate attraction thus far. So far the general interest is 40 to 50 range and the definite interests are in the middle 20s It did $50,000 a print when it opened last weekend. The signs are that it’s going to perform only decently when it opens wide, but let’s see what happens.
Pedro Almodovar‘s Volver (Sony Classics) opened in 5 theatres and will do roughly 197,000,000 by Sunday night, or $39,500 a print. Obviously a very, very strong opening. Close to phenomenal.
Adrienne Shelly‘s Waitress, a comedy-drama about a pregnant, unhappily married waitress (Keri Russell) falling love with an intriguing stranger, was very nearly invited to show at last September’s Telluride Film Festival, according to what festival honcho Tom Luddy told me this morning. Given Luddy’s liking (or at least respect) for Waitress, the odds seem to indicate that it might be accepted by the ’07 Sundance Film Festival, to which it’s been submitted.
This, obviously is the kind of reception that indie-level director-writers dream of. Obviously something to not only live for but feel pretty good about. On top of which Shelly, 40, was in an apparently happy (or at least content) marriage to a solid, steady direct-mail marketing guy named Andrew Ostroy, and she was the mother of a three year-old daughter named Sophie. Doubly on top of which, I’m told, she had three step-children.
And yet sometime last Wednesday she left her Tribeca loft and made her way over to her West Village apartment, where she kept an office, and hung herself. A story in today’s New York Post said she “was found hanging from a shower rod in the bathtub of [her] apartment by her horrified husband, who cried out, ‘Why? Why?’, cops and witnesses said.”
I called around and talked to a couple of people who knew her pretty well and a couple who’d dealt with her on a business-y basis, and nobody wanted to specu- late why she’d taken her life. Nobody I spoke to would discuss her moods or temp- erament or anything that might have been going on. Nobody ever does in sad situa- tions like this. The “why” always leaks out later on.
“She was a very close friend but not so close in the last year or so,” a friend said. He declined to discuss his feelings about Waitress but they were clearly mixed. He said he attended an ’04 public reading of Waitress “and I gave her some notes, some of which went into the script. By the time I actually saw the film, pretty much every time the joke was over for me. But the reading went over like gangbusters” — there were actually two readings, I was later told — “and Keri Russell is astonish- ing in the film.”
I think I know what it means when someone hems and haws about their reaction to a film but then leaps out of their chair to praise the lead performance in it. I think I do but maybe not. In my book a modified thumbs-up from Luddy tends to signify something of value.
Shelly’s agent Rachel Sheedy (Ally’s sister) of Don Buchwald & Assoc. said the news was particularly mystifyihg because Shelly “had this incredible film that she loved…and she working with this amazing cast. None of it makes any sense at all.”
Shelly was part of “the Hal Hartley gang,” the friend commented. Shelly’s first two starring roles were in Hartley’s The Unbelievable Truth (’89, as Audrey Hugo) and Trust (1990, as Maria Coughlin). Elina Lowensohn, who starred in Hartley’s Flirt and Simple Men, was one of Shelly’s closer friends. The guy who spoke to me said he was thinking of inviting some pals of Shelly’s to drop by on Sunday, which is also when a Shelly tribute may happen, and watch a DVD of Trust.
There was always something slightly gloom-heady about Shelly, but that was also part of her allure. A lot of what she delivered as a filmmaker and a performer seem- ed to be about heartbreak, disappointment and sadness. Which isn’t to say she didn’t have a clever-chuckly side. “Adrienne was one of the funniest people I ever met ,” her friend told me today.
Shelly’s acting career flowered from the late ’80s to late ’90s (from her early 20s to early 30s) and then it began to wind down. She was an early ’90s indie darling. But ever before she began to downshift as performer, she began to develop herself as a filmmaker. Sheely directed and wrote three shorts — The Shadows of Bob and Zelda (’00), Lois Lives a Little (’97), Urban Legend (’94) — and three features — Waitress (’06), I’ll Take You There (’99) and Sudden Manhattan (’97). It’s not like she lacked for drive or ambition.
My favorite Shelly performance was in the indie drama Grind, in which she played a somewhat distant housewife married to a blue-collar guy (Paul Schulze) who falls into an affair with her visiting no-account younger brother (Billy Crudup). I actually found her performance a turn-on.
The New York Post story said that “law-enforcement sources said they are inclined to believe Shelly’s death…was a suicide, noting there was no sign of struggle or forced entry in the fourth-floor apartment.”
Sundance ’07 programmers will make start making calls to filmmakers in late November. Obviously it’s their festival to program as they choose, but the want- to-see on Waitress is — let’s be honest — higher now than it was last week. I’m hoping to see it somewhere soon, whatever the venue. This is a very sad story all around.
In his just-released Volver (Sony Classics), director-writer Pedro Almodovar “acknowledges misfortune — and takes it seriously — from a perspective that is essentially comic,” says N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott. “Very few filmmakers have managed to smile so convincingly in the face of misery and fatality: Jean Renoir and Billy Wilder come immediately to mind, and Mr. Almodovar, if he is not yet their equal, surely belongs in their company.
“Volver is often dazzling in its artifice — Jose Luis Alcaine‘s ripe cinematography, Alberto Iglesias’s suave, heart-tugging score — but it is never false. It draws you in, invites you to linger and makes you eager to return. It offers something better than realism. The real world, after all, is where we all have to live; for some of us, though, Mr. Almodovar’s world is home.”
Admirations pledged to star Penelope Cruz and costar Carmen Maura are nothing to sneer at either:
With her Volver performance Cruz “inscribes her name near the top of any credible list of present-day flesh-and-blood screen goddesses, in no small part because she manages to be earthy, unpretentious and a little vulgar without shedding an ounce of her natural glamour.
“What’s more, Almodovar has cast Maura, one of the stars of his early, madcap period, as Raimunda’s mother, who seems to have returned from the dead to add a touch of the gothic (and the surreal) to the proceedings . Maura’s warm good humor is a crucial element in the film’s emotional design. It is a chronicle, mostly, of tragedy and horror, rendered in bright, happy colors.”
A reader who works out of a Morgan Stanley office in Westchester County wrote the following this morning: “I’m no expert but I think 20th Century Fox made a big, big mistake in not giving Borat a wide release this weekend.” [Editor’s note: Fox had it scheduled to go out semi-wide but then got the heebie-jeebies and cut the exposure by 800 screens.] “I work in an open office and everyone is aware of it to the point that people may be skipping out to check an early show if they can find one.
“It looks to me like a blockbuster, in short, and what are these producers going to do when half the world wants to see it and can’t this weekend? Then the word-of-mouth will die down and what could have been a $25 or $30 million weekend will end up being $15 million or thereabouts.
“I could get to a show with a little effort since it’s playing in Manhattan and nearby. That’s not really my point. I just think that they are misjudging the output they would have gotten this weekend. Sacha Baron Cohen has obviously tapped into something that appeals to Roger Ebert i.e., the intellectual joke) plus the Jackass types that like slapstick. If you have something with that wide an appeal, why put in the governor by giving it a limited release?
“I know enough about movies that I will most likely see it at some point, and then buy the DVD on pre-sale, because it seems especially funny. If a movie is that good and that appealing, its just stupidity not to release it wide. There’s a big difference between ‘Hey, let’s go see that new Borat movie/” and ‘What was that movie that people were going nuts over a couple weeks ago? Didn’t it get great reviews?'”
“It might be big enough to get over the limited release, but with all this good press I would be kicking myself if I was one of the Fox distribution people.”
Two or three hours this morning talking to people about poor Adrienne Shelly, and then four and a half hours trying to re-launch my SAM broadcaster software to it funnels into my server so I can get into the occasional podcast thing again. Exasperating! But at least it’s done and the ordeal’s ever.
Does the box-office popularity of a film have much to do with its chance of being nominated for a Best Picture Oscar? Obviously yeah…it does. A movie that has shown itself to be a modest little-engine-that-could success can be nominated, and obviously being a huge success doesn’t hurt a bit, but a film that stiffs on opening weekend is pretty much dead in the water. Hollywood Wiretap‘s Pete Hammond looks at the winners and losers so far, according to this equation:
“The Departed‘s box-office cume “is near $100 million, and now the story goes if it gets to $150 million it could win the Best Picture Oscar. Before [it] opened to big numbers no one was saying that,” he observes. “Conversely this week many pundits immediately wrote off the chances of Focus Features well-reviewed apartheid drama Catch A Fire after a dismal $2 million dollar opening in over 1300 theatres.
“The same company’s other award hopeful, the September entry Hollywoodland also ‘underperformed’. You can see it now at the $3 house on Fairfax and Beverly.
“To its credit, Focus is undeterred and continues to support both films particularly in acting categories. Full page ‘For Your Consideration’ ads appeared in the L.A. Times Envelope newspaper supplement Wednesday and casts of both films are still busily promoting the movies on the q & a circuit. Keeping these kind of contenders alive as their presence in theatres fades becomes the key challenge.
“There were also media storm clouds forming over the Clint Eastwood war epic Flags Of Our Fathers this week, at least according to those same pundits who claim its less-than-boffo b.o. take will cost the former ‘sure thing’ a slot in the Best Picture race.
“The Last King Of Scotland is another contender slow to go at the b.o. Will its modest bounty be enough to land Forest Whitaker a nod? And what about the critically acclaimed, relatively little-seen Little Children? We naively thought/hoped awards were supposed to be about artistic achievement but, in the minds of many, the Academy is really just a microcosm of the ticket-buying public.”
Reactions to and explanations why Nicole Kidman has blown off promotional appearances on behalf of Fur (Picturehouse, 11.10), which, let’s face it, is probably dead anyway no matter what anybody says or does.
The most moving thing in Bobby is a recording of Robert Kennedy speaking about the pernicious effect of violence in our culture. It’s heard at the very end of the film. He gave this short speech on April 5, 1968 — one day after he delivered his famous impromptu remarks to a crowd shortly after the death of Martin Luther King was reported, and 29 days before he met his own end from an assassin’s bullet at the Ambassador Hotel.
“It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
“It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one — no matter where he lives or what he does — can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
“Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created?
“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this the whole nation is degraded.
“Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of other human beings. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
“But this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our souls.
“When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies that he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your home or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and to be mastered.
“We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, alien men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.
“Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution. But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.
“Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goals, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at the least, to look at those around us of our fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”
I tried to get a sound file of this speech from the Weinstein Co. publicity, but they didn’t have one to give me. If I were marketing this film I would make dead sure to issue a recording of this speech to every thoughtful-minded website in the world so it could be downloaded by millions and considered and absorbed. This speech sells the intended spirit of Bobby better than anything I’ve seen, heard or read from any source.
A friend was standing near Bobby costar Lindsay Lohan after she’d finished doing her on-camera interviews with E.T.‘s Jan Craft and the other Stepford Showbiz News ladies outside the Mann Chinese. What my friend overheard was somewhere between mildly amusing and “telling” — a mini-Eugene O’Neill drama played out in the space of two lines of dialogue and one bit of physical business.
Lindsay Lohan talking to E.T.‘s Jan Craft — Wednesday, 11.1.06, 7:26 pm
Several fans were yelling “Lindsay! Lindsay!” Lohan was aroused and moved to respond. “Oh, I have to go over and talk to my fans!” she said to Leslie Sloane Zelnick, her publicist who became (in)famous last summer for trying to explain away Lohan’s not showing up for work on Georgia Rule as a case of “heat exhustion.” But Sloane wouldn’t allow it “We don’t have any time [for that] and they’re not paying for the movie tonight,” she told Lohan.
Lohan didn’t respond except to give her publicist “a blank stare”, as if to say “What is your problem?” In response to this very slight act of defiance Sloane Zelnick “yanked her” toward the theatre, my friend says. Yanked her? If true (and I trust my source), this obviously implies a kind of strict mom-undisciplined daughter relationship between the two, which, to be fair, may be Sloane’s attempt at filling a gap left by Lohan’s mother Dina, who’s known the world over for not exactly being the responsilble-parent type.
Lohan rep Ruth Bernstein — Wednesday, 11.1.06, 7:40 pm — at Bobby premiere.
I saw a slightly shorter version of Bobby (Weinstein Co., 11.17) at the AFI Film Festival premiere last night. Shorter by maybe ten minutes, but it hasn’t made that much difference. This is a fairly square, somewhat old-fashioned film trying to do the right, heartfelt, semi-poignant thing with the legend of Bobby Kennedy , and either you can roll with this sort of thing or you can’t. I talked to a lot of people at the after-party who felt favorably disposed, so don’t take my view as the final word.
Sharon Stone at last night’s Bobby premiere — Wednesday, 11.1.06, 6:25 pm — at Mann’s Chinese.
I wasn’t that underwhelmed by it. I still feel that it’s more Love Boat ’68 than Grand Hotel, which is the model that Estevez was trying to emulate when he wrote it. It’s the best-crafted film Estevez has yet made, if that’s not, you know, damning with faint praise. I didn’t hate it. It’s an okay thing for what it is.
I said it the best with this Toronto Film Festival dispatch: “If you can sit back and go with the fact that Estvez is going to try and make you feel the allure of Kennedy’s Presidential primary campaign as well as the terrible shock of his murder on the night of June 4, 1968, by making you feel how it was to be an average person muddling through in ’68, and that Estevez will try for this immersion by showing you a series of Love Boat relationship stories — and I mean stories and situations that do nothing to illuminate or inform anyone about Kennedy or his ideals…if you can kick back and say, “Okay, I can roll with this…I’m ready to accept the banality of this approach,” then Bobby isn’t half bad.
And this one: “Archival footage of Kennedy is basically what saves it, along with a recording of an eloquent and very moving speech that he gave about the persistent presence of violence in American life. Despite the best of intentions and the worst of consequences, Bobby fails to undermine the actual Kennedy mystique. There’s a lingering potency to the RFK legend — who he was, what he said, the metaphor of his life and how it ended.”
The intrigue in the above photo, by the way, isn’t Sharon Stone, whose expression suggests that the blond-haired interviewer with the battery-operated recording device has just asked her something inane and she’s debating whether or not to give him a sincere reply or goof on it. The focus is the guy on the left spraying the breath spray.
The after-party at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel was superb in every respect. Poolside locale, scrumptious food, good people, not too crowded.