Marina Zenovich‘s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which HBO opened in Manhattan and Pasadena last Friday in order to qualify the doc for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar, was reviewed by plenty of people at last January’s Sundance Film Festival, but N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis has taken advantage of last Friday’s very limited, zero-profile opening to formally review it.
The doc “gets at the strong, curiously divisive reactions” that the famed director of The Pianist, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown “has long inspired, reactions that have as much to do with the disturbing power of his best work as his own history as a victim and a survivor,” she writes. “Mr. Polanski survived the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson. It was the American legal system that almost did him in.”
With his direction of Leatherheads (Universal, 4.4), George Clooney has attempted “one of the hardest things there is to do — re-create the fizz of old Hollywood screwball comedies,” notes Variety‘s Todd McCarthy. The result, lamentably, is “just a mild buzz.”
Indeed, the best screwball comedies play as if everyone in the cast is (a) slightly deranged and (b) on some kind of light flutter drug. Like the effect of two or three sips of champagne and a half-quaalude. Or a half tab of ecstasy. His Girl Friday, Some Like It Hot, 20th Century, The Lady Eve, My Man Godfrey, Bringing Up Baby, Ball of Fire and The Awful Truth all feel like this. They’re so stoned that they provide a kind of contact high. That’s the trick of these films, and why the best ones are still loved.
Leatherheads doesn’t quite manage this. It’s too good-hearted, too “charming,” too quick to smile. You want Clooney to pull back on the game and get real. A comedy without a serious foundation can feel too much like a jape, and so the mood humor in Leatherheads has a kind of ceiling. You want to give yourself over to it, but you can’t. The movie won’t let you. Because it only wants to make you feel good and spritzy, after a while it almost makes you feel a little bit bad. Even though it’s mostly “likable.” A curious effect.
“A larky romp about the early days of professional football, Leatherheads aims only to please and proves perfectly amiable, but the ultimate effect is one of much energy expended to minimal payoff,” McCarthy writes. “Arch and funny in equal measure, Leatherheads looks like a theatrical non-starter that Clooney fans and football devotees might be tempted to check out down the line on DVD or on the tube.”
George Clooney‘s Leatherheads (opening Friday) is tracking well at 73, 40 and 18 — it should do close to $20 million, maybe a bit more. Nim’s Island, a kid’s picture with Jodie Foster, is running at 59, 27 and 7. The Ruins is at 44, 22 and 6…doesn’t look like much. Among next weekend’s (4.11) openings, Prom Night is at 59, 28 and 5; Smart People is running at 39, 22 and 2, and Street Kings (Fox Searchlight) is at 47, 35 and 3. 4.18 openings: 88 Minutes at 42, 33 and 4, Fobidden Kingdom is at 59, 39 and 6, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall is running 47, 28 and 3.
As it must to all men, death came today to the great Jules Dassin at age 96. A Greek-descended, Hollywood-employed, highly-rated noir director, Dassin was blacklisted in 1949 only to bounce back with Rififi (’55), the greatest heist film ever made. (Rififi was actually released in France in ’54.)
The Paris-based melodrama re-ignited Dassin’s career and led to subsequent hits such as He Who Must Die (’57), the lightly comedic heist film Topkapi (’64), Phaedra (’62),and the legendary Never on Sunday (’60). He also directed Uptight (’68 — a Harlem-based remake of John Ford‘s The Informer), Promise at Dawn (’70), The Rehearsal (’74) and Circle of Two (’80).
Dassin’s noteworthy Hollywood-era films include Brute Force (’47), The Naked City (’48) and Night and the City (’50). Forget noteworthy — these three are essential if you haven’t yet seen them.
I’ll forever be grateful for having attended Dassin’s special visit to the L.A. County Museum of Art in 2004, during which he spoke on-stage for about 90 minutes before a screening of Rififi. A 40-minute video of that visit can be found on the Criterion Collection’s 2007 DVD of The Naked City.
One of Dassin’s more ardent admirers was Alexander Payne, who felt a kinship based on their common Greek heritage. Payne told me this afternoon that he recently lobbied for Dassin to be given a special honorary Oscar from the Academy, but it was no-go.
In view of the Academy having given a politically controversial honorary Oscar to Elia Kazan, who was despised in some corners for having named (or confirmed) names to HUAC, Payne feels “it would have been nice for the Academy to have acknowledged both sides of that very difficult coin — a director who stayed, and another who was forced to leave.”
Dassin was married to Greek actress Melina Mercouri until her death in 1994. He was a very wise, charming and elegant man, to judge from his comments during the LACMA interview. He deserves some kind of special posthumous tribute on next year’s Oscar show, considering how the Hollywood community came close to ruining Dassin’s life during his creative prime.
Dith Pran, the real-life Cambodian-born photographer whose story of capture, enslavement and eventual escape from the hands of the psychopathic Khmer Rouge was dramatized in Roland Joffe‘s The Killing Fields, died yesterday of pancreatic cancer.
Dith Pran (l.), Haing S. Ngor (r.)
I never met him, but I interviewed Haing S. Ngor, who not only played Dith in the film but knew him as a close friend, for an Us magazine piece in ’84.
A lovely hard-core guy who wore his memories and emotions on his sleeve, Ngor had gone through the same kind of Khymer Rouge horrors as Dith, and later wrote a book about this called “Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey.” It was ironic as well as extremely tragic that Ngor survived his ghastly Cambodian ordeal only to be killed by Los Angeles gang-bangers during a robbery assault in 1996. Dith said upon his death, “He is like a twin with me…He is like a co-messenger and right now I am alone.”
Now with the 65 year-old Dith gone, it’s as if some kind of circle has been sealed with twin souls laid to rest, paired for eternity.
It may as well be acknowledged that Hillary Clinton has a brief appearance in Shine a Light (Paramount, 4.4), Martin Scorsese/Rolling Stones documentary that I reviewed on 3.26. (She and Bill have a handshake moment with Mick Jagger and Keith Richard on the Beacon theatre stage before the show begins.) She’s also told reporters she’s a big Stones fan, and admires Jagger’s “incredible presence…he’s very disciplined, he works out, and he’s incredibly devoted to what he does.”
Art from leecamp.net
Nothing wrong with this and nothing to fret about, except that it sours my feelings about the film. It really does. It makes it seem, almost, as if Scorsese, Mick and/or Keith are Hillary backers on some level. Which may not be the case at all. They may not give a damn one way or the other. I don’t want to be petty or presumptive about this, but since I plan on seeing Shine a Light in IMAX again this weekend, I’ll have to work at flushing out the Hillary associations. Her presence mucks things up only a bit, but imagine the tainted atmosphere if, say, Eliot Spitzer or Karl Rove had dropped by for a handshake.
HE’s Moises Chiullan participated in one of the many mismanaged and frustrating Texas county delegate conventions two days ago (i.e., Saturday), and has promised to provide an account of how it all went down. Here‘s a site that’s keeping tabs with the latest Texas delegate tallies, but the long and the short is that despite his narrow loss in the Texas primary popular vote, Barack Obama has scored a clear delegate victory over Hillary Clinton so far, making it more
than likely that when the process is finally completed in June, Obama will have more Texas delegates going to the August Denver convention than Clinton.
“Look at Yahoo or Google or CNN, [and] take away the branding and just look at the headlines, and they’re very similar. But if you take away the branding of The Huffington Post and the signage, you’d probably still recognize us.” — Huffington Post editor Roy Sekoff says in a 3.31 N.Y. Times profile of the site and its co-founder Arianna Huffington, by Brian Stelter. “We’ve always wanted to be part of the national conversation,” Sekoff also says.
This is pretty much what every successful site does — provide a distinctive attitude-personality and a community vibe, offer a scan of the daily happenings, and start and fuel a conversation about the topics that matter (or about angles on topics that are unique to the site).
Given a theoretical choice between a sublime dinner of Herb-Roasted Amish Chicken with White Wine Jus, Sauteed Wild Mushrooms, Green Market Arugula and Parmigiano Bread Pudding at Manhattan’s Union Square Cafe and a steak and lobster meal at any evening-trade restaurant in the country, most Americans would choose the latter. Not because they have peon-level taste buds (although this could be argued) but because known quantities trump surprises every time.
By the same token, Fandango’s list of Most Anticipated Summer 2008 Movies (conducted on Fandango.com from 3.13 to 3.30) is made up of nothing but brand-name lazy-boy movies, 60% or 70% of which are almost sure to let moviegoers down in a big way, as in “back to the salt mines,” “I’ve seen this before,” “why do I subject myself to crap like this?,” “how far is the nearest tall building?,” etc. The news came in a press release e-mail without a link to a feature story on the Fandango website.
82% of respondents picked Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — the summer’s most anticipated film. No surprise there. Honestly? This seems like the summer’s safest bet to me also, but with the timid hacksmanship and increasing predictability of director Steven Spielberg and those Hollywood-style cobwebs in that ancient-tomb-scene still, you can’t predict a moon landing with this one. It looks more like a moon orbit to me, and it could even be an Apollo 13 mission (turn around and head for home at mid-point due to lack of oxygen).
The Dark Knight was a somewhat distant second with 42% rating, followed by Iron Man (38%) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (37%). Of these three, I’m guessing/presuming that Chris Nolan‘s Knight will be a high-quality wow, and that Iron Man (Jon Favreau directing, Robert Downey starring) is a reasonably safe bet. But I don’t know about another Narnia, frankly, especially with the word “Prince” in the title.
The fifth most anticipated film, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, which got a 30% rating, will almost certainly smell. The sixth-place Get Smart (29%) might be okay, although the scripts haven’t indicated this. The seventh-place Incredible Hulk (22%) is certain to play better with the fans than the deeply despised Ang Lee version. The untitled X-Files sequel (20%), Speed Racer (19%) and Sex and the City (19%) came in eighth, ninth and tenth.
Not surprisingly, Sex and the City ranked highly on the women’s list but didn’t make the men’s list at all.