In Contention‘s Kris Tapley, currently in London and working in some capacity for the Times Online, has assembled some of the better Sydney Pollack tribute pieces that came out within the last 24 hours.
The best overall belongs to Time‘s Richard Schickel. The bluntest and least gentle is from the Guardian‘s David Thomson. (All the delicate souls who went into cardiac arrest over my comments about the passing of Bob Clark should definitely read this.) Bloomberg News‘ Peter Rainer delivers a straight and wise assessment. Some Came Running‘s Glenn Kenny delivers an intriguing thought or two.
Jett hadn’t seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so we caught it yesterday at the UGC Les Halles. (19 euros for two, or roughly $28 US.) It sank in estimation on my end. I was half-okay, half-unsatisfied with it after the 5.18 Cannes screening. Yesterday’s second viewing convinced me that it’s just too silly and George Lucas-y. Anyone who had a fairly good time after seeing it last week or weekend….don’t go a second time! No film infected with the Lucas-collaboration virus ages like fine wine. Precisely the opposite, in fact.
Is Steven Soderbergh‘s Che “an unreleasable dud in its current form? Or is it ‘virile, muscular filmmaking,’ as Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian?
“Guess what: It’s both. Based on trade journal reports and on-screen evidence, Soderbergh’s massive undertaking wasn’t really ready for Cannes. The director barely made the deadline, and you can tell. The result is a shaggy beast — maddening, incomplete, the work of a historical ironist who has no taste or interest in conventional biography.
“Another American competitor, director Clint Eastwood‘s Changeling, is severe ’20s-style pulp [that’s] guided by a fearsomely committed performance by Angelina Jolie. But Che is the more interesting work. It is defiantly non-dramatic as well as a commercial impossibility. And it√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s the most vital work Soderbergh has done in years.” — from a 5.23 Michael Phillips Chicago Tribune piece.
A Fandango survey of 2800 Sex and the City ticket-buyers reports that (a) 94% are women, (b) 67% plan to see it with a group of women; (c) 16% of the female respondents said they are going with a single woman friend; and (d) 6 % said they were going with a man. (I feel sorry for those guys.) It’s expected to do slightly better on its first weekend than The Devil Wears Prada, which did $27.5 million in its opening frame and took in $124.7 by the end of the domestic run. Sex is expected to earn more than $30 million by Sunday night, and possibly exceed $35 million.
I’ll be seeing it for the first time at a noon show in Paris tomorrow, and will file sometime tomorrow afternoon.
No screening invites since the good people at Warner Bros., who apparently ran screenings for this New Line/HBO co-production, have kept me on their don’t-invite-him for several months because, as I explained a while back, I had the temerity to write this ten-month-old piece about an abrasive ad/trailer for No Reservations. Former WB marketing chief Dawn Taubin (a.k.a., “the village idiot”) apparently became offended. The ban officially kicked in three months later (it takes Warner Bros. distribution execs a long while to get around to making decisions), and that was that.
I wouldn’t mind as Warner Bros., like other studios, is basically out of the game of making movies for hip or even halfway-hip adults. It has CG’ed and downmarketed itself into the cultural pig trough. Hey, Jeff Robinov, I have an idea — how about about making Grand Theft Auto 4: The Movie? You could make some money with that and honor the Warner Bros. legacy (which is being honored by You Must Remember This, a Richard Schickel documentary about the good old tyrannical Jack L. Warner days) at the same time.
The ’08 exceptions to not being in the WB groove will be missing out on press screenings of (a) The Dark Knight and (b) Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino. And I regret, of course, that the WB advertising that I used to get during Oscar season is now history.
Fox News’ Liz Trotta making her initial Sunday gaffe about certain parties wanting to “knock off Osama…er, Obama…well, both, if they could.” And yesterday’s apology. For those who, like me, have been off in a realm of their own.
How do you say something like this — how does a savvy adult of either gender think something that flippantly toys with the idea of a presidential candidate’s death? — and then dismiss it as merely an aspect of a “very colorful campaign”?
It’s not that this red-band trailer for M. Night Shyamalan‘s The Happening (20th Century Fox, 6.13) has footage that’s especially jolting. But it feels more engrossing (being eerier, grabbier, more fluidly cut) than the teasers and trailers have come before. Here are the Windows, Quicktime and Real Player versions.
I woke up this morning — late, around 9 am — to news of the death of Sydney Pollack. Which we all knew was coming for a long while. The thing about “death’s honesty” (a Bob Dylan coinage from the mid 60s) is that all dread and preparation are forgotten once that solitary walk across the footbridge has been made. Then it all comes washing in. Sydney wasn’t a “friend” but a confidante and supporter, a guy I could always call and, I felt, a warm acquaintance.
As difficult as approaching a threshold always is, once it’s been surmounted there is only peace and tranquility for the traveller. The burden is over, the pain is over. In finality, serenity. And yet it feels…I don’t know, like I’ve lost a favorite uncle or something. I’m feeling that fluttery thing inside.
But if you had told me 18 months ago that Pollack and Anthony Minghella, partners in Mirage Enterprises who worked together on The English Patient, Cold Mountain, The Quiet American and several other quality films…if you had told me then that both of these guys would be lights-out by May 2008, I would’ve said “what…?” Both of them were too active and alive. They had too much talent and know-how, too many miles to go.
People always bring up the Oscar-winning Out of Africa (’85) and Tootsie (’82), the hugely successful comedy with Dustin Hoffman as a straight cross-dressing actor, as Pollack’s finest, best-known films. They’re both solid and accomplished (Tootsie especially), but the Pollack pics that I’ve most enjoyed are the genre thrillers — Three Days of the Condor, particularly, and The Firm — because they exceed their boundaries and then some. They’re about Pollack adding shrewd and surprising things rather than just meeting expectations.
Both have melancholy emotional currents — feelings of loss and regret — and some graceful resignations, courtesy of the wry and understated dialogue by David Rayfiel, Pollack’s pinch-hit rewrite guy for decades. Plus they’re both driven by character as much as plot.
Gene Hackman‘s confession to Jeanne Tripplehorn in The Firm that he plays around “because my wife understands me.” (Too well, he meant.) European Condor assassin Max Von Sydow working with miniature models in his New York hotel room. Condor CIA guy Cliff Robertson asking his superior, played by John Houseman, if he misses the “action” he encountered during the World War II years, and Houseman responding, “No — I miss that kind of clarity.” Both films teem with this kind of stuff.
After these my favorites are (a) Sketches of Frank Gehry (Pollack’s wise, affectionate, layman-level appreciation of our greatest architect), (b) Jeremiah Johnson, (c) the final voice-over moment in Havana, (d) the first half of Random Hearts, (e) all of The Yakuza, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and Castle Keep, (f) the bomb-on-the-bus scene in The Interpreter and (g) portions of The Way We Were, particularly the final scene.
And, of course, there were Sydney’s first-rate performances — the divorcee in Husbands and Wives, that red-felt pool table scene with Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, a pair of cynical and corroded seen-it-alls in Changing Lanes and Michael Clayton.
Here’s an mp3 of a chat I did with Pollack about the Gehry doc.
The last contact I had with Pollack was four or five months ago, sometime around Christmas. I e-mailed him and asked if he’d seen 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. When he said no I asked him if he wanted a DVD to look at and he said sure. A few hours later I drove over to his Pacific Palisades home — a sprawling, well-fortified Cape Cod-like place with tall trees and beautiful grounds — and dropped it off with his wife. I didn’t ask to see him. He was pretty sick at that point.
I first got to know Sydney a little bit in the summer of ’82. He’d heard I was writing a couple of stories about how Tootsie had been a chaotic shoot (which it was) and had cost an astronomical $21 or $22 million — this at a time when a typical mainstream studio film cost $10 to $12 million to make. I hadn’t yet tried to reach him — he’d heard I was calling around and so he called me. He was pissed off but enough of an adult and a strategic player to get right into it and try to spin things his way.
Pollack and Robert Redford during the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.
We became friendly in the mid ’90s when I wrote an L.A. Times Syndicate piece about Rayfiel, whose lamenting and soulful dialgoue had always moved me. Pollack thereafter helped me with an article I did about Mike Arick‘s restoration of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? I sent him a note when he busted his hip after a bicycle-riding accident. I once gave him a heads-up about the poor quality of a digital master of On The Waterfront that was shown on TCM’s “The Essentials,” which he hosted for a season or two. He talked to me a bit about the making of Eyes Wide Shut, and laughed when I told him the Lars von Trier story about why Harvey Keitel left the film (i.e., the Legend of Mr. White, “an honest misfire,” etc.).
Four years ago Sydney gave me an admiring quote to use when I started Hollywood Elsewhere. He brought me in and showed me a cut of The Interpreter before it had gotten around, and then did a guest appearance up at my UCLA class when I screened it. And we did that phoner about Sketches of Frank Gehry, etc. A steady guy, dependable…about as adult and un-flaky as they come.
He was one of the best DVD voice-over and making-of commentary guys in the business. Sydney was a fretter, a kvetcher. Anxiety-ridden when he was working on something. Always very concerned about fucking up or falling short. Being this kind of person myself, I obviously related.
This quality comes through, in any event, in his commentary tracks — a tone that says, “Look, I don’t know everything but I do know this much, and I’ve been around enough to understand what tends to work and what doesn’t, and I tried to make this particular aspect work. I don’t know if I succeeded or not but people have told me I did so okay, maybe. But what I really love is the process — the shaping and refining — even though it gives me gray hairs. And I believe in having a sense of humor, or at least a sense of irony.”
He was a Paris lover, so we had that in common. He was a pilot (or so I recall him saying), and told me once about flying to Paris once in a private jet of some sort.
Pollack was healthy all his life, I’ve been told by his friends. He ate well, cooked well, didn’t drink much, hadn’t smoked for decades. I don’t know where the cancer came from or why it took him when he had a good 10 or 15 years to go, at the very least. Death knocks on the door when it damn well wants to, whether you’re ready or not.
As Woody Allen said during the just-finished Cannes Film Festival, “We’re hard-wired to resist it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t resist us.”
Heartfelt, pared-down dialogue by David Rayfiel. Superb acting, in particular, by Robert Redford — has he ever shown such feeling in his eyes in any other performance? (Toward the end of this scene, I mean…obviously. The first part is all about set-up.) Marvin Hamlisch‘s score gets what’s going on, but I’ve always felt that its sappiness works against the film’s emotional potential. But it’s one of the most moving man-woman scenes in cinema history, and it’s all the work of Sydney Pollack, who passed yesterday.