Timothy Gray‘s potential-Oscar-nomination piece for Variety (dated 6.28) starts off by naming three Best Actress favorites — Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, Julie Christie in Away From Her and Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart.
I fear that number is going to be narrowed down to two. We all know when a picture dies a quick box-office death the high-calibre performances in it tend to droop in estimation, so as unfair as it may sound I wouldn’t be surprised if Jolie (who gives her best performance ever as Heart‘s Marianne Pearl) falls off the list by Labor Day.
I’m not getting any kind of reading about how the other Iraq-Afghanistan movies are going to play, but if “quality of performance” were the only criteria (it never is, of course) Charlize Theron will be right in there for her single-mother/hardnose cop role in Paul Haggis‘s In The Valley of Elah. It’s not her film — the deed of possession belongs to Tommy Lee Jones — but she delivers a good deal more in the way of believable bite and conviction in Elah than she did in North Country.
I don’t know if things will also fall into place for Susan Sarandon as a Best Supporting Actress contender for her Elah peformance as Jones’ wife. But they could. Sarandon has three or four scenes, at most, but in one she lets go with a blast of radiant anger that takes your breath away. Such that it’s hard not to think of her in this light.
ABC-TV critic Joel Siegel has left the earth — dead from cancer at 63. Tough break, sad news, nice guy (if a little too nice to too many movies), too soon. Condolences to friends, family, colleagues. The last time Siegel was on my radar screen was when he got into that snarl with Kevin Smith over Siegel walking out on Clerks 2. I could mention this and that but let’s let it go for now.
I can’t write about this until tomorrow, but the hype has turned out to be absolutely true — Stephen Walker‘s Young@Heart is the reigning heart movie of the LA. Film Festival (and in both senses of the term, delivering both warmth and sadness) and will be a guaranteed winner when it goes out commercially.
And sooner or later, trust me, it will do that. If it comes out later this year, it’s almost guaranteed to end up as one of the five nominees for Best Feature Documentary. I’m serious. It’s not a “great” documentary, but it touches you big-time.
I’m just going run John Anderson‘s Variety review for now (it went up last night), and put something up myself over the weekend.
“Viewers have seen a lot of rock ‘n’ rollers onstage carrying bottles, but they’re not usually full of oxygen,” John begins. “Of course, the average age of most rock groups isn’t 80, as it is for the subjects of Young@Heart, an irresistibly joyous, tearful and, most importantly, musical doc about a band of senior pop singers whose repertoire includes ‘Golden Years, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ and ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ Theatrical odds may be long, but no one would exit this British TV production feeling they’d wasted their money.
“The narration, by director Stephen Walker, suggests an NPR feature, and the episodic structure is pretty pat — several members of the Young@Heart chorus are picked out for closer study during the six-week lead-up to their annual public performance. But the performers are all charmers, singing or just speaking their way through music by Radiohead, Jimi Hendrix, the Clash and James Brown.
“When asked, those performers admit a preference for classical music, but when they attack a song like the Ramones’ ‘I Wanna Be Sedated,’ they do so with passion. Gusto. They throw away their walkers.
“Where Young@Heart goes totally right is its inclusion of special music videos directed by the film’s producer, Sally George, which feature the aforementioned Ramones song as well as Talking Heads’ ‘Road to Nowhere.’ The very image of these aging headbangers in an MTV format is funny and melancholy — two members die during the final week before the big show, and membership is euphemistically said to be ‘in flux.’
“But their humor is so genuine and their enthusiasm so infectious, it would seem impossible for an aud not to be swept away — especially when, following the death of one member, the group sings ‘Forever Young’ at a prison near their base in Northhampton, Mass.
“The leader of the group is the much younger Bob Cilian, who’s a “taskmaster,” as one member puts it. Cilian gets frustrated during the weeks-long rehearsals of the Pointer Sisters’ ‘Yes We Can Can,’ the song’s 70-odd ‘cans’ confusing the group (and at least one viewer). Eventually, though, most of the kinks are worked out.
“Production values are fine, if not spectacular, but applying a high gloss to Young@Heart wouldn’t make sense, anyway.”
I saw Michael Bay‘s Transformers (Dreamamount, 7.2) at 10 pm last night in that big spiffy theatre on the Paramount lot — the one with really superb sound and projection quality that was built in ’97 or thereabouts. Movies are always presented at their very best in this theatre. I was beaming start to finish as I watched a digitally-projected Zodiac there last March. So on a high-quality projection level at least, I was honestly looking forward to seeing Bay’s latest, even if it is about Mustangs and boom-boxes and helicopters turning into giant robots.
So it came as a surprise to realize that aside from the spectacular CG footage, Transformers doesn’t look all that good. The color has a rote, clammy, flatly-lit quality that suggests it was shot too fast to allow the dp to deliver anything more. If you’re into the pleasures of blue-chip action cinematography (my favorites include Paul Cameron‘s work in Gone in Sixty Seconds and David Tattersall‘s in Con Air), forget Transformers. It’s not in the least bit luscious or painterly or anything along these lines.
Bay obviously knows how to make films look first-rate, but he handed the dp reins to Mitchell Amundsen, who’d done nothing but second-unit action-flick photography before this. Obviously he wanted a guy who would just do as he was told.
The cutting style of Transformers is, for me, too fast and raggedy and fragmented to provide any kind of gripping-narrative effect. Even some of the standard insert shots (like an early one of President George Bush‘s red-socked feet) look inferior. There’s a lot of backstory and a lot to explain, but the film lurches and leaps from setting to setting at too breathless and spazzy a pace.
I know, I know…I’m not rolling with it because I’m not in my 20s and didn’t play with Transformer toys when I was a kid in the late ’80s or early ’90s, right? I used to buy the action figures for Jett and Dylan when they were five, six and seven years old. I’ve lived through it; I remember it well.
I quite liked the opening action scene (set in Qatar) in the beginning — it’s a lot of fun. Jett, who stayed all the way through the 140-whatever minute length, says the big Optimus Prime vs. Megatron showdown in downtown LA definitely kicks ass. This element alone will do it for the target audience. The theatre last night was filled with under-30s. I could tell they didn’t give a damn about anything as long as Bay was delivering the metallic bonks and thonks and heavy crunches.
There’s some simple-dick dialogue in this thing that would choke a horse (including a couple of astoundingly stupid Optimus Prime lines about the internet and E-Bay), but who’s going to care aside from guys like myself?
I can’t talk about the performances (I could only feel sympathy for Shia LeBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, Anthony Edwards, etc.) or the theme or the plot particulars because it’s all chemically-treated milkshake crap flying in your face. The bottom line is that I can’t deal with an action movie that doesn’t at least look cool — cool between the CG spectacle shotts, I mean — and so I left the film in my head before I finally did the Big Bold Thing and walked out at the 90-minute mark.
Transformers is going to put big money in a lot of pockets, but Michael Bay is digging himself deeper and deeper into that Michael Bay hole that he needs to climb out of. Are you reading this, Bay-o? You’re obviously a very skilled guy and you’re having fun with the logistics and of course you’re getting rich, but you’re going to hate, hate, hate yourself by the time you’re 55 if you don’t start making movies with a semblance of a soul. Jacob Marley’s ghost said it to Ebenezer Scrooger — save yourself!
As I came out of the theatre producer Tom DeSanto was standing in the lobby. “Hey, Jeff!” he said aloud. I just waved and half-smiled and said “hey!” and kept walking. It was embarassing, but what was I going to say?
I’ve tried to play this brand-new Lions for Lambs trailer six times (it’s currently an AOL Moviefone exclusive) and the hell with it. I have a perfectly functioning laptop with Windows XP and all the major media players and no time at all for trailers that don’t play free and easy. I saw the green MPAA logo, a silent MGM lion and then nothing…and then I heard the lion and then Tom Cruise saying a line and then nothing. So I went back and tried to play it twice more and it failed both times.
Gut reactions from the priveleged who are able to play it?
The waiting-in-line-at-the-Grove-to-pick-up- an-I-Phone-on-opening-day story turned out to be a dud. Not that many bodies, no shoving or pushing or raucousness of any kind, nobody shouting “open the doors!” Just 70 or 80 nice people sitting on the curb and on fold-up chairs, waiting patiently under the hot early-morning sun and…you know, quietly shooting the shit or reading or checking e-mails on their I-Books or soon-to-be-yesterday’s-news handhelds
A couple of TV news guys and two or three Apple flunkies were standing around outside the door. I was doing the same and asking myself, “Why did I come here?” It was nothing….a big zero.
The first I-Phone hounds arrived last night but were told to leave by Grove security. The second wave arrived at 5 a.m. but were also told to leave. A uniformed security guy told me the line was permitted to form at 6:30 pm. At first people weren’t permitted to unfold and sit on their lawn chairs…but then Grove security backed off and said “okay.” Grove security also passed out free loaner umbrellas and bottles of Smart water to any “waiter” than wanted either one.
Roughly 75% of the the critics are supportive of John Dahl‘s You Kill Me, the dark and somewhat skewed Ben Kingsley- Tea Leoni comedy about a Buffalo-based hitman trying to recover from alcoholism during an attempted dry-out in San Francisco. I mean, 75-25 is a pretty good RT average.
Ben Kingsley, Tea Leoni
That’s more or less how I feel myself, having found it mostly likable, amusing, agreeable…but with a few undeniable speed-bumps. And yet Kingsley is one of our absolute best — he seems incapable of delivering a line or an emotion that doesn’t have some kind of unexpected edge or inflection or flavoring — and the film itself is a nicely sardonic, above-average adult dramedy, which is enough to warrant a pass.
And yet I’ve had trouble trying to write something about it the last week or so. And there’s always a reason for the foot-dragging syndrome. In this case “reasons,” which I’ll get into shortly. But being the son of an alcoholic and a veteran of more than a few Al-Anon meetings over the past few months (and during a period in the mid ’80s), I feel a certain kinship with You Kill Me.
So to pay it the proper respect, I finally got off my ass and arranged (with the much-appreciated assistance of publicist Karen Oberman) to do a phoner with director John Dahl, and here it is.
I said after seeing You Kill Me that I’m feeling “hit-manned out” — tired of character studies of personable, regular-joe, emotionally vulnerable professional assassins in mainstream movies. There’s no recognizable metaphor in making a film about a hitman — it’s just a stock, post-Tarantino convention that conveys a generic dark- thrill factor. I think it’s lazy to go there at this point in time.
The sympathetic portraits of gangland assassins by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction was, I think, the first in this vein. Three years later John Cusack played a broadly comedic GenX hitman in Grosse Point Blank. I’d begun to tire of the idea by the time Richard Shepard‘s The Matador — a dark comedy about a burnt-out hitman (Pierce Brosnan) who beriends a middle-class married guy (Gregg Kinnear) — came along. So it was hard for me to absorb You Kill Me with any kind of fresh, open-to-new-things attitude.
Plus I didn’t believe that Tea Leoni‘s youngish-looking character (Leoni is 41 but looks 35) would fall for Kingsley’s with Kingsley himself being 63 and pretty much looking it, and also being an alcoholic assassin. I wanted to buy it, but I couldn’t. I could see it happening if Kingsley looked ten years younger and had lied to Leoni about the seriousness of his drinking problem and what he does for a living… maybe. But no relatively sane woman would be so self-destructive as to hook up with a guy like Kingsley’s soused hitman…no way.
Plus I found it silly that Kingsley’s character would admit his profession to his Alcoholics Anonymnous group on the presumption that no one would tell anyone else about it because of the AA confidentiality thing.
But I worship Kingsley the actor and I can’t help but warm to stories about healing (my all-time favorite being Tender Mercies), and so here I am banging this out at 8:58 ayem, knowing I have to get out of here and down to the Apple store at the Grove so I can take a picture or a video of the I-Phone customers lined up outside.
I meant to run Thursday’s tracking summaries yesterday, but nothing had changed very much since my last report so I kind of lost interest. Ratatouille is assured of a commanding #1 status (never in question), but it’s probably going to end up with a Sunday-night total of $50 million, give or take. In some quarters that will be seen as underperforming by Pixar standards. I was estimating Live Free or Die Hard to earn a weekend figure in the mid 20s and the high 30s for the five days. Sicko will do pretty well ($10 million, perhaps a touch higher), but it will also finally begin to generate the word-of-mouth (i.e., it’s selectively but fundamentally true and very touching at the end) that should keep it rolling for a good while.