“In Jean Luc Godard‘s ‘return to zero’ film Le Gai Savoir, a pretty woman is shown reading a poem in front of a wall adorned with large images of Batman, the Hulk and Spiderman. Four decades ago none of those mutated heroes were well known outside culture mongers and kids reading comics. Flash forward to the present and those iconic images are what sell current movies. In fact they’re all present this summer if you replace Peter Parker with Bruce Banner. Name a filmmaker working now with a film that has a single frame that identifies the zeitgeist of 2048.” — HE reader Michael Bergeron.
I know one thing about Pat Dollard and his Young Americans footage (i.e., taken during his adventures in Iraq), which is that it’s taken way too long to show up in some format — TV series, feature doc, whatever. And I’m past believing it’s because entertainment-industry liberals aren’t being helpful because he’s an eccentric rightie who’s pro-war. Anything that takes this long to be put before the public has something wrong with it. I tried reaching him once and he couldn’t be bothered…hah!
“Critics of ultra-violent video games will not be the only ones watching carefully as the latest installment of the Grand Theft Auto series is released tomorrow,” writes the Guardian‘s Bobbie Johnson. This because “the suits in Hollywood are anxious that it may dent the profits of their summer blockbusters.
“Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest in the 18-rated crime series, which sees players take on the role of eastern European tough guy Niko Bellic, is expected to break sales records. Millions of fans of the GTA series worldwide are expected to shell out about 40 quid each for the game, making it one of the biggest moneyspinners in the industry.
“The latest instalment is likely to sell 6 million copies in its first week of release, which would make in excess of $1 billion profit for its creators and cement it as one of the biggest entertainment franchises of any kind.
“While the series is known for causing controversy, thanks to its adult content and uncompromising attitude, it has become a favorite of gamers who lust after its realistic graphics and tongue-in-cheek humor. The effect on the games industry has been dramatic, with more than 70 million copies sold in just over a decade.”
Iron Man (Paramount, 5.2) boasts a perfect Robert Downey performance and delivers some moderately satisfying summer-movie highs in a right-down-the- middle sort of way, but it’s been over-praised. It does a lot more clomping around than dancing or shuffling, and we’ve all had enough clomp to last a lifetime. This movie doesn’t deserve a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 94% from the regulars and an 88% from the elites. It’s more a B-plus type of thing. Which is not a put-down.
Iron Man is fine as far as it goes, but too often I felt underwhelmed. I was never twitching in agony, but the advance word had suggested it might lift me out of my chair. Forget it. I sat there with my legs crossed going “uh-huh, yeah, not bad, down with it, okay, pretty good, decent,” etc. All I’m saying is that the praisers need to take it easy. Iron Man is not some instant orgasm device. It’s okay entertainment, but it isn’t the least bit wonderful or groundbreaking or head-turning so…you know, calm down.
The two big gripes are (a) it slavishly follows the superhero-movie origin-story template, and I’m wondering why so many critics are so unbothered by this S.O.S. being trotted out again; and (b) why isn’t anyone saying anything about the jingoistic get-the-dumb-terrorists plot that John McCain or Dick Cheney will be totally delighted by if and when they see it? That’s supposed to be what….cool? We all need to climb into the Bush tank for a couple hours in order to enjoy this thing?
For my money Iron Man is a little too similar to….I was going to say Chris Nolan‘s Batman Begins, but we’ve all sat through the same formulaic superhero crap too many times.
Once again the affluent superhero-to-be has pronounced character flaws. Once more he’s oblivious to the fact that a good girl/good guy who’s been his/her friend all along is an ideal romantic match. Once again the superhero-to-be comes to an awakening, finding his alter ego and new purpose in life, by suffering a terrible trauma. Once again it takes a while for the superhero to perfect his superhero technology. Once more an older, vaguely sinister business colleague is revealed to be a villain at the end of Act Two. The superhero’s modest and self-effacing best friend stand by the superhero through thick and thin, occasionally dispensing sage advice and always coming through at some crucial moment. The superhero is nearly done in at one point — close to death — but he will rally like a champ, getting all of his strength back and then some in order to have a major face-off with the big villain at the end of Act Three. Thrillingly, lots of expensive stuff will get smashed or burned or blown to bits
It’s. The. Same. Old. Shit. Except it’s Downey as the superhero, and that means a cool-edge factor that you don’t usually get with films of this sort. I could go on and on about this but we’d all rather hang with Downey inside one of these big clanky superhero flicks than…I don’t know, a more straightforward actor. But it’s not all Downey. It’s also a bald and bearded Jeff Bridges playing a baddie, and I was bored stiff. I’ve seen and processed everything this guy has ever done and he just doesn’t have any fresh tricks left in his knapsack. Gwynneth Paltrow is more likable in this than in anything she’s been in since Shakespeare in Love. Terrence Howard is as auto-piloty here as he’s been in everything he’s made since Hustle and Flow.
Cheers to Jon Favreau for having developed his chops to the point where he can throw one of these films together and give it (by way of casting Downey or whatever) a little English and extra-ness. And for losing all that weight. But there’s no song begin sung inside this film. It’s just another big fucking lego movie with a cool guy in the lead role.
I love this David Denby description in his New Yorker review; “Downey, muttering to himself, ignores everyone else in the movie for as long as he can. Fixing his eyes, at last, on another character, he seems faintly annoyed that his privacy has been violated. Yet he delivers — to the camera, and to us. He can make offhandedness mesmerizing, even soulful; he passes through the key moments in this cloddish story as if he were ad-libbing his inner life.”
Bottom line: decent movie, great lead performance, and a realization on your way out to the parking lot that sounds like “wait a minute…I’m not sure if that was as good as I thought it was while I was watching it..why are my friends telling me this was so great?….what, are they desperate to like something?”
Last night I finally saw Recount (HBO, debuting 5.25), and I feel no hesitancy whatsoever in calling it totally crackerjack — a throughly engaging, first-rate political drama that gets you off. It’s also fair to use the word “brilliant,” I think. It’s no small feat to make a gripping film that’s mostly about a bunch of middle-aged political operatives bickering and maneuvering over vote counts, media statements, lawsuits, court decisions, dimpled chads and all that jazz. But director Jay Roach and first-time screenwriter Danny Strong have done this.
This despite the fact that in a flash-forward sense it’s telling an essentially grim tale about how the George Bush forces managed to finagle things in their favor at the end of the day. The result was that they took this country into economic ruin and international disrepute over the following eight years, a situation which ultimately led to my gassing up last night at the corner of Beverly and La Cienega and having to pay $53 dollars…good God!
You might presume that an HBO drama about the “street fight” (as it was apparently called by senior Bush operative James Baker) over the Florida returns in the wake of the 2000 presidential election might be a little too inside-baseball for most people. Well, maybe some will say that. But it struck me as brisk, engaging, dryly humorous and never less than gripping. It’s very specific in a political-junkie sense, but it gets into this realm with such verve that it’s impossible not to be affected in a contact-high sense.
That was my reaction, at least. It kept reminding me of Zodiac in its eagerness to burrow into detail and make that detail be the whole thing — the spring from which all meaning flows.
If Recount was a theatrical film I would definitely have it down as one of the year’s best so far. This kind of movie has been abandoned by producers of theatrical fare, of course. Moviegoing tastes have dumbed down to the point where putting a film of this type into the plexes would be seen as borderline suicidal.
It’s one of those no-frills historical recreation pieces in the vein of ’03’s The Pentagon Papers or ’79’s Blind Ambition with a little Primary Colors attitude and some of the biting political satire that I remember from Michael Ritchie‘s The Candidate.
Recount seems to pass along a good portion of the truth — it doesn’t seem to pussyfoot around in dramatizing what really happened — but it doesn’t feel to me as if Roach and Strong are totally in the tank for the Democrats. The Republicans (except, to be fair, in the case of Laura Dern‘s hilarious portrayal of former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris) are, it seems to me, honestly recreated and dramatized.
Recount is chock full of delicious performances. At the top of the list is Kevin Spacey‘s portrayal of Democratic operative and longtime Gore staffer Ron Klain (easily his most sympathetic role since American Beauty), Tom Wilkinson‘s superb performance as Baker, Dern’s Harris, Denis Leary‘s smartly engaging turn as Democratic strategist Michael Whouley, Ed Begley, Jr.‘s very stirring inhabiting of Democratic attorney David Boies (i.e., the guy who argued the Gore case in front of the Supreme Court), and Bob Balaban‘s completely solid rendering of Republican operative Ben Ginsberg.
Recount director Jay Roach, costar Tom Hillman, screenwriter Danny Strong
Not to put down the comedies, but for me this is the best thing Roach has ever directed. Some IMDB guy wrote that he “can’t wait to see the first TV spot that says something along the lines of, ‘A powerful political drama from the director of Meet the Parents and Austin Powers.'” But that’s putting it corrrectly.
I can’t see how this film won’t be seen as having done serious damage to the reputation of former Secretary of State Warren Christopher — and justifiably so if what it shows is accurate. After Recount gets seen and kicked around Christopher (portrayed by John Hurt) will be widely seen as the one of the great all-time wimps — a seasoned diplomat who knew how to speak elegantly about the foundations of good government and high moral purpose, but who fundamentally and pathetically didn’t get the fact that sometimes in life you need to fight and fight hard.
One of the small pleasures of watching Wilkinson’s Baker is that at least he understands this. He’s even given a little human dimension towards the end when he talks about how he became a Republican when Bush Sr. got him out of the dumps when his wife died by persuading him to work for him. It’s a first-rate performance. Deserving of an Emmy nomination.
Katherine Harris will not be pleased by Dern’s portrayal of her. Her life over the last eight years or so has been well reported and documented, and there’s nothing in this film that hasn’t been vetted. Nonetheless it’s probably safe to say that her reputation has been sullied by this film for all time, and good riddance to that.
The only thing I miss is that dissenting opinion from Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens regarding Bush. vs. Gore: “Although we may never know with complete certainty the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
96% of the people who write in about this are going to say “who cares?,” “get over it!,” “Bush won…stop whining” and so on. So I may as well respond to this in advance. Recount is not simplistic and one-sided by my sights. It doesn’t suggest that George Bush really did win the election in terms of the popular vote in Florida and across the nation because he didn’t. Nor does it say that the Supreme Court decision in his favor was totally impartial and unmotivated by political considerations.
You can put on the tap shoes and shilly-shally all you want, but if the entire state of Florida had been recounted, and if those Broward County fogies hadn’t voted for Pat Buchanan by mistake, and if all those African-American Floridians hadn’t been unfairly disqualified from voting, Al Gore would have been sworn in as president in 2001.
“Lawrence of Latin America,” my Huffington Post article about Steven Soderbergh‘s two forthcoming films about Ernesto “Che” Guevara, went up a few minutes ago. I’ve said some of the same things in previous postings, but here are two taster graphs anyway:
“If you love epic-styled movies you’ve certainly seen and loved Lawrence of Arabia, which also means you’ve been influenced by the great win-lose Lawrence theme. The first half of David Lean‘s Oscar-winning 1962 film is mostly about climbing the mountain — the dream, the struggle and the rush of an enigmatic hero fighting and winning an underdog battle. The second half is about tumbling down the other side as the cards — personal, logistical and political — turn against him.
“It’s the basic template for almost every ambitious life or grand adventure. Things are always glorious and heart-pumping when you start out with God or fate on your side, but sooner or later these same forces will hand you clouds, complications and downturns. Just ask Barack Obama.
“This theme is why I’ve been so enthused about seeing Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara films, The Argentine and Guerilla, for over a year now. Because Peter Buchman‘s two scripts, which I read in March 2007, made it clear that this two-part epic, which Soderbergh has been struggling to finish in time for the Cannes Film Festival and which reportedly runs over four hours, is essentially Lawrence of Latin America.
“Benicio del Toro, the moody and mesmerizing Marlon Brando-ish actor whose work keeps getting deeper and more fascinating, is all but certain to stir Oscar talk for his performance as Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the legendary Argentine/ Cuban firebrand. Even if the Che movies turn out to be problematic, Del Toro can’t not whip ass. He’s too strange, too gifted. Guevara is too perfect a role for him. All the stars and planets are aligned.”
Nicole Kidman is intending to star in a Dusty Springfield biopic (’60s music, manic perfectionist streak, lesbian longings, drugs and booze, early death) being written by Michael Cunningham. Great, but there’s a side issue. It isn’t mentioned in this New York “Vulture” piece, but it seems too coincidental for this project to be announced two and a half months after a play about Springfield called “Stay Forever: The Life and Music of Dusty Springfield,” played for three weeks last February (2.7 through 2.24) at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center.
Many industry people caught this show. CSI‘s William Petersen was there the night I attended. Previous Springfield biopic projects have come and gone, but a voice is telling me that the idea for the Kidman project probably came from this show. That or the show certainly goosed things along. The star, Kirsten Holly Smith, was excellent in the role. Looked like Springfield, sang and talked like her, etc. I can’t imagine Kidman being better than she.
After he finishes Mary, Queen of Scots, Phillip Noyce will probably direct The Art of Making Money, a DreamWorks project about Art Williams, a real-life Chicago counterfeiter who printed more than $10 million in fake bills, etc. The guy is currently doing time for this. Screenwriter Frank Baldwin is adapting Jason Kersten‘s Rolling Stone 2005 profile of Williams.
Mel Gibson isn’t Mel Gibson any more. The last time “that guy” appeared in a film was What Women Want. Since the Malibu DUI arrest he’s gotten too heavy and thin of hair to be an attractive box-office draw. To me he’ll always be the bearded wacko in the flannel shirt with a shave. The upside is that Edge of Darkness, an adaptation of a six-hour BBC miniseries, has been written by the great William Monaghan (The Departed) and the very competent Martin Campbell.
I worked for three hours this morning on a piece about Steven Soderbergh‘s Che Guevara films, The Argentine and Guerilla, for another website, hence my silence. It feels like a funny thing to write something longish (1700 words) and send it off and then…wait. I’ve become accustomed to instant gratification.
Come the fall Steven Soderbergh will direct The Girlfriend Experience — a 14-day quickie about “the world of prostitution from the vantage point of a $10,000-a- night call girl” (according to Variety‘s Michael Fleming). This will probably be one of Soderbergh’s interesting sidelight films, most likely. Soderbergh, who “gets” women, hasn’t mined this turf enough.
But it’s a 2929 Entertainment whatsis movie (Mark Cuban, Todd Wagner, HD Net) so let’s keep things in perspective. I say this as a huge fan of Bubble, by the way. As far as I’m concerned Bubble was Soderbergh’s big comeback film after being in a slump for God knows how many years. Soderbergh will direct The Informant with Matt Damon for Warner Bros. before doing the Girlfriend thing,