Joel and Ethan Coen have called George Clooney‘s characters in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty and Burn After Reading “my trilogy of idiots,” Clooney said in a 3.28 Screen Daily interview. “The only thing that made me feel better [about Burn] was that Brad Pitt is as stupid as I am in this one. I get to play Tilda Swinton‘s lover who hates me and is rotten to me throughout the whole thing. It’s a flat-out comedy. There’s not a message in it.”
In a 4.7.08 review, New Yorker critic David Denby is playing my Stop-Loss song, or vice versa or something in between. But Kimberly Peirce‘s film opened two days ago and didn’t exactly rewrite box-office history, so Denby’s support has come late in the game. Perhaps too late.
Stop-Loss “is not a great movie,” Denby says, “but it’s forceful, effective, and alive, with the raw, mixed-up emotions produced by an endless war — a time when the patriotism of military families is in danger of being exploited beyond endurance.
“This movie may become the central coming-home-from-the-war story of this period, just as The Best Years of Our Lives, made in 1946, became central to the period after the Second World War. Like that extraordinary work, Stop-Loss is devoted to the men’s hidden wounds — the wired-up tensions and nightmares that lead to drunkenness, fights, smashed love affairs and marriages.
“Throughout the Second World War, Hollywood made dozens of patriotic combat films, as well as occasional home-front movies (like Tender Comrade with Ginger Rogers) about gallant wives. The Korean War, except for B-movies by Samuel Fuller and Joseph H. Lewis, went undramatized until it was over, and this was largely true of the Vietnam War, too. During all these wars, none of the discomforts of the returning soldier, or the dismay of his friends and family, were shown on the screen.
Most of the recent feature films about Iraq (Rendition, Lions for Lambs, Redacted) have not been very good, and the public has stayed away from them. But audiences ignored Paul Haggis‘s sternly beautiful and moving In the Valley of Elah, too. Something more than the usual resistance to ‘tough’ subjects may be hurting these movies. The Bush Administration told us that we were waging a war for our survival, but it also suggested that most of us needn’t make sacrifices or even learn much about the conflict. Then again, some people may be so angered by the war that they don’t want to be confronted by it as entertainment.
“But Kimberly Peirce, whose younger brother has served in Iraq, has conceived her picture in popular terms that won’t be easy to ignore. Except for a few enraged sentiments that Brandon unloads on his commanding officer, Stop-Loss is not overtly critical of the war, but the way it uses the soldiers’ experience is inherently political. Peirce plays the antiwar game fairly. Indeed, she plays it as if she were a soldier herself.
“It’s hard to find the right tone for these movies, because even in victory there is loss. And the second Iraq war hasn’t yielded victory, nor is it likely to. For all the shoving and cursing and jangled videos, Stop-Loss has its own kind of tentativeness. Ryan Phillipe‘s Brandon King, who is both violent and highly moral (a classic American combination), struggles to understand what’s right, yet the movie doesn’t hold much hope that things are going to work out for him.
“At this moment, and maybe in the future, too, the resolution of an American warrior’s doubts is impossible to imagine. The soldiers are held together by their love for one another, and that element of Army life may make Stop-Loss popular with both liberals and conservatives, but no one, I think, will be happy about what the movie suggests is happening to some of the best young people in the country.”
Another big-name print critic has been trap-doored — Newsweek‘s David Ansen! One of the best critics in the country, certainly one of the wisest and most learned, a good fellow and a major voice on the big-time movie circuit since 1977 is being proverbially put out to pasture due to plummeting ad revenues and the general downswirling of dead-tree journalism. Ansen, 63, is one of 111 Newsweek staffers who accepted buyout deals last week.
Newsweek‘s David Ansen
Radar broke the story two or three hours ago. Variety‘s Anne Thompson is reporting that Ansen “will continue reviewing for the magazine until year’s end, at which point he starts a year-long contract as contributing editor delivering reviews and longer features.”
“Obviously the climate at newsmagazines is not great,” Ansen told Thompson. “More cost-cutting, more trimming.” He said he’s looking forward to writing books, teaching and “not going out to screenings every night,” he said. “I want to watch DVDs of movies I might actually like and read a book or two. Face it, a lot of movies are not that interesting to write about these days.”
“…and Hillary said if her pastor had been blown by Monica Lewinsky, she would have stayed.” Plus two or three other goodies from Bill Maher’s Real Time monologue the night before last.
And a joke in the same vein from Jay Leno: “James Carville was really upset the other day, really upset…he called Bill Richardson a ‘Judas.’ There’ve been a lot of Biblical references in this campaign. The latest one is they’re calling Bill Clinton ‘Jonah’ because he’s the one who got swallowed by a whale.”
According to this Slashfillm posting that went up Friday night, a clueless Ben Affleck was recently fooled by Sacha Baron Cohen during filming of Bruno. Or so claimed National Enquirer gossip Mike Walker during last Thursday’s Howard Stern show. Forget the Affleck b.s. — how can Cohen get away with this routine with anyone? What 30 year civil servant on the edge of retirement isn’t in on the joke?
Affleck allegedly called Sarah Silverman “after doing a sit-down interview with a person he was told was a ‘very famous openly gay fashion journalist,'” blah, blah. “Affleck called the interview ‘the weirdest sit-down he’s ever had with a reporter’ explaining that the interviewer’s (whom he refered to as an ‘idiot’) first question was ‘how do you like niggers?‘ After a stunned silence, Silverman asked Affleck, ‘Was this guy’s name Bruno?’ Then and only then did Affleck actually realize that the whole thing was a gag.'”
This You Tube clip of Cohen recently filming at the Wichita, Kansas, airport isn’t bad, however. Here’s a story about what happened there. Here‘s another one.
Yesterday was “a day that will live in infamy,” according to sagwatch.net, since it marked a huge split in the contract bargaining posturings of SAG and AFTRA over attempts to decertify memberships among TV show performers. An instant doze-off for most HE readers, I realize, but the allusion to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (12.7.41) caught my attention. Especialy since the statement uses the word “war.”
“The possibility of SAG and AFTRA engaging in joint bargaining with the industry collapsed today,” the statement reads, “after SAG’s Doug Allen refused to renounce raiding activity by which he and other representatives of Membership First are seeking to promote decertifications among AFTRA shows, including the long running soap The Bold and the Beautiful.
“Allen’s refusal to renounce raiding led to the cancellation of today’s scheduled joint SAG-AFTRA board meeting, which had been set to approve the package of bargaining proposals for the Primetime/Theatrical agreement.
“While the effort at fomenting decertification at the CBS soap opera is seen as doomed before it gets started, the refusal to agree to a no-raiding pact is seen as an admission that Allen plans other such attempts, in a move his critics say is reminiscent of his behavior helping to divide the NFL Players Association more than 30 years ago, when he crossed his own union’s picket lines during the 1974 NFL strike. That action created a divide between the well organized established players and Allen’s group of free agents and rookies who were trying to get a toe hold in the league.
“The effects of this war will likely be even far reaching and severe. Membership First will now have to fight not just externally with AFTRA, and, atop that, the festering internal battles with high profile members and the New York/RBD members are expected to explode.”
The Kids Choice Awards aired last night in Nickleodeon. I agreed with Ratatouille being named the Favorite Animated Movie. Otherwise I was fantasizing about being Jay Silverheels (a.k.a. Tonto) and rounding up all my renegade Indian pallies and getting on our horses and riding down to the place where the show was taped and kicking up dust and causing trouble. Which is merely a variation on my standard reaction to treacly pop plasticity, which is that the Taliban has a point.
Borys Kit-Carl DiOrio wrote a story for last Thursday’s Hollywood Reporter about Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio being signed to write a Lone Ranger movie for producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The news about the project itself, however, was revealed almost a year ago by Collider‘s Steve Weintraub.
I wrote in response that the idea is “an obvious non-starter for the simple fact that westerns haven’t mattered for decades.” Open Range showed that one could make a good solid western that stood on its own two feet, but the genre lost its cultural vitality back in the ’60s. Boomers in their late 50s and 60s have a sentimental thing for the classic TV series with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels (“What you mean, we?”), but GenXers and GenYers, I would think, are completely uninvested. It just boils down to being a title that has a certain marketability because it’s vaguely “familiar” in the dead-head sense of that term.
The other thing I wrote is that If Bruckheimer is really and truly married to the idea of reviving a 1950s-era western, he should remake Shane.
In a short q & a that ran two days ago, Wall Street Journal softballer John Jurgensen put the following pregnant question to My Blueberry Nights star Nora Jones: “Have you read any of your reviews?” To which Jones replied, “No. Never have, never will. This acting thing has been fun and if I never do it again, I had a great experience. If I do do it again, I hope I get better at it. But I don’t have ambitions to conquer Hollywood or anything.”
I saw Wong Kar Wai‘s My Blueberry Nights (Weinstein Co., 4.4) eleven and a half months ago at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s finally opening this Friday at limited venues. The best thing about it, honestly, is the title — the allusions to eroticism and delectability within. I was going to say I can imagine hip urban thirtysomething couples being okay with some of it, but I honestly can’t do that. Here’s are portions of what I wrote from the Orange Cafe so many months ago:
(a) “I could sense trouble fairly early on in Wong Kar Wai‘s My Blueberry Nights, a horribly written, woefully banal self- discovery mood piece (the word ‘drama’ really can’t be applied) about a young girl (Nora Jones) who leaves her home town of Manhattan and starts job-hopping across the country — waitress gigs in Memphis and I-couldn’t-tell- what-town in Nevada, with an apparently uneventful stopover in Los Angeles — in order to get over a bad case of breakup grief.”
(b) “That early ‘uh-oh’ comes when Jones, playing a lady named Elizabeth with a certain doleful sincerity, is on the phone with her soon-to-be-ex. She asks him, ‘Are you seeing somebody else?’ and then two seconds later she inquires, ‘Who is she?’ In other words, the boyfriend (whose voice we don’t hear) has quickly admitted to infidelity. Of course, guys never admit there’s another woman without being hammered and prosecuted by their betrayed significant other for hours, if not days or weeks, on end. The male genetic code prohibits it. We all know this. So right away it’s obvious that the human behavior and particularly the human dialogue will not have the cast of reality.”
(c) “The Blueberry strategy, in any event, is roughly this: the folks whom Elizabeth gets to know and feel for during her episodic journey — a Manhattan pasty-shop owner from Manchester (Jude Law), an alcoholic, deeply depressed beat cop (David Strathairn), the cop’s hysterically alienated wife (Rachel Weisz), a hard- luck Nevada gambler (Natalie Portman) — are all nursing broken hearts, and their combined pathos somehow will prod Elizabeth into relinquishing the mope-a-dope and deciding to look forward and live in the now.”
(d) “The ‘aha!’ she finally absorbs seems to have something to do with realizing how much worse off everyone else is than she, along with the futility of letting hurt be the dominant chord. The problem is that there’s no giving a damn about any of it, particularly since Elizabeth’s new attitude leads her back to a possible relationship with the flirtatious Law, with whom she spends the first third of the film with, trading sad memories and little bon mots of bittersweet regret about bruised feelings and whatnot.
(e) “There’s just no investing in Law these days — every character he plays feels like a sly, gently calculating hound — and it’s impossible not to feel cynical about any female character in any movie hooking up with this smoothie because you know where it’ll all eventually end up.”