Clint Eastwood didn’t arrive at this evening’s tribute event with any pomp or airs. A friend simply drove him up and dropped him off a block south of Santa Barbara’s Arlington theatre. Clint walked up the sidewalk and into a cluster of fans waiting behind metal barriers. Realizing he’d boxed himself in, he climbed over the temporary fence (with the help of said fans) to cheers and guffaws. This just happened about 25 minutes ago. I hope someone took a shot.
If Milk is in the midst of a come-from-behind, last-race-at-Hollywood Park surge that will overtake Slumdog Millionaire, it’s news to me. And this the first time I’ve heard of any symbolic linkage between a Milk win and the Brokeback Mountain loss that happened three years ago. Nothing can ever erase that injustice, that homophobic gravy stain upon the Academy’s rep.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich “says, ‘walk a mile in his shoes.’ Well, if I were innocent and I were in his shoes, I would have taken that witness stand and I would have testified and I would have told you why I was innocent. The governor didn’t do that.” — comment about today’s action that removed the Illinois governor from office.
A Blu-ray Straw Dogs will be available via Amazon.uk on 3.9.09. The 100% believable way Dustin Hoffman says the above (which could have sounded horrible in the wrong hands) is one reason why he’ll always have my respect. He says it with such amazement in his voice, such immense pride. He’s nothing less than profoundly happy. Elated, almost.
One reason why it would be very difficult for a Straw Dogs remake to be accepted by the critical elite is because the 1971 Sam Peckinpah original contained elements of pig-brute misogyny that simply won’t fly today, much less be financed.
Making a politically correct, woman-respecting Straw Dogs makes as much sense as making an NC-17 version of Toy Story. In other words, one of the reasons the original is still potent and disturbing — as least as far as Susan George‘s Amy character is concerned — is due to the fact that Peckinpah was a bit of a woman-hater. (Actually more than a bit.) And the days of even obliquely venting such feelings in a mass-market entertainment are over. Unless you’re talking Grand Theft Auto. Welcomely, all the air has been sucked out of that attitude over the last 38 years.
Clint Eastwood and his latest film Gran Torino are being honored tonight by the Santa Barbara Film Festival. (It’ll be my last SBFF event as I need to return to L.A. tomorrow morning.) It led me, in any case, to some quick surfing and this S. James Snyder Time piece that ran on 1.26. Three days ago!
“At some point this week, Gran Torino will pass the $100 million mark, easily surpassing the box-office receipts brought in by not only some of the Oscar front-runners (Slumdog Millionaire now totals $56 million, Milk $21 million) but also Eastwood’s last Oscar winner, Million Dollar Baby.
“‘It’s an amazing story that no one’s really talking about,’ says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst with Hollywood.com. ‘For a movie starring a 78-year-old to have a $29 million opening weekend in wide release, and in the process to beat out the likes of Anne Hathaway in Bride Wars, I don’t know if I’ve seen that before. It’s a testament to how people still feel about Clint Eastwood.”
“Originally released Dec. 12 in only six theaters and hyped by Warner Bros. as a major-awards contender, the film won Eastwood early recognition by the National Board of Review as Best Actor, but that’s been the exception to the rule. At the glitzy Golden Globes, Gran Torino was mentioned in just one category: original song. When the Oscar nominees were unveiled last week, Gran Torino was shut out of the competition completely.
“It is certainly one of the least likely blockbusters in some time. Starring Eastwood as a crotchety widower living in Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood — a veteran of the Korean War who eyes his Hmong neighbors suspiciously and launches into racist tirades when provoked — Gran Torino was filmed on location in a mere five weeks on a slim budget of $35 million. The majority of its Hmong characters were played by nonprofessionals. In addressing such tumultuous issues as racial strife, gang warfare and urban blight, it can hardly be categorized as escapist entertainment.
“The film confronts issues that are very timely, from racial violence to economic struggles. It’s a working-class world that we may not see all that often in blockbusters, but it’s something a good many people can relate to,” says Karie Bible, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
“Surely Eastwood could not have predicted, when he first set out to make the film, that Detroit’s economic woes would be making national headlines by the time Gran Torino arrived in theaters (his character is a retired Ford assembly-plant worker), nor that the movie would be launching into wide release the same day the U.S. government released the darkest unemployment report in 16 years.
“Audiences, though, have embraced the film’s realism. Bible’s firm projects that the title will soar north of $150 million before it leaves theaters — making Gran Torino the biggest haul ever for an Eastwood film. By then, it may well pass the box-office totals posted last year by such summer tent poles as Mamma Mia!, The Incredible Hulk and Sex and the City.
“‘Slumdog and The Wrestler are these Cinderella stories that have overshadowed Gran Torino, and yet here is another Cinderella story all its own,’ Dergarabedian says. ‘You look at Eastwood, and here he is directing Changeling, which got Angelina Jolie her Oscar nomination, and starring in this blockbuster where he proves again that he’s one of the biggest box-office stars. To become a leading man again at 78, I think it’s a story that’s unparalleled in cinema.’
“Eastwood has been quoted as saying that this could mark his last outing as an actor. If that’s true, he will be going out on top.”
“There is a kind of moral certainty to the film — deeply corrupt, remarkably brutal — that makes everything make sense within the four corners of the movie. It’s full of likable, familiar types, but they just happen to have the habit of blowing people’s brains out. What does it say about culture when primordial evil expresses itself in a kid who might live right down the block?” — N.Y. Times Oscar columnist David Carr — a.k.a., “the Bagger” — riffing yesterday on Matteo Garrone‘s Gomorrah. Fairly well said.
I made the error of going to a Jack in the Box on Milpas last night around 11:30 pm. It was ill-advised because (a) it’s extremely unhealthy for the body to eat a spicy jalapeno chicken sandwich at that hour, and (b) because you run the risk of having altercations with mentally challenged guys wearing knit skullcaps. Especially if you don’t look like a typical Milpas guy (i.e., working class Hispanic or lowball hand-to-mouther, Foot Locker shoes, pimply complexion).
My basic mistake was being dressed too uptown for the Jack — dark gray sports jacket, tight jeans, shiny black loafers, SBFF press pass and a jet-black Canon S515 with the wide-angle lens slung around my neck. If you’re going to a Jack in the Box on Milpas at that hour you have to wear homey jeans and Converse sneakers with a bad barber-pole haircut and no accessories.
I had ordered my stupid chicken sandwich and was standing there waiting when a young Hispanic guy who had ordered before me walked by and stared at my camera and then pointed at it, going “heh-hey!” He came to a stop just to my right, and then another guy — 22 or 23, drunk, wobbling — walked up and stood to my left. Was this a set-up for a mugging? They were standing just a little too close for comfort; they should have given me just a bit more room.
Then out of the blue the Hispanic guy turned to me and looked at the camera again and started giggling — “Hee-hee, hee-hee, hee-hee.” Doofus, I said to myself. Ignore him, stare straight ahead. He did it again, eyeballing and gesturing, “Hee-hee, hee-hee.” Good God. I decided not to retreat because I didn’t want to look weak or intimidated, but I was saying to myself, “S’okay, hang in there, it’ll be over in a few seconds.”
But when the skullcap guy eyeballed and hee-hee’d and pointed again, I’d had enough. “The fuck is your problem?” I snapped, glaring daggers. He was silent for four or five seconds, and then said, “What’s your problem?”
It’s my fault for coming here, I told myself. Live with it, tough it out. This guy is Lenny from Of Mice and Men so chill down, go easy. I stared again at the food sign. Then the damn sandwich was finally ready.
I fought with myself during the drive back to the hotel. Throw it out, throw it out. Don’t eat the damn thing. I lost the battle. I ate it back in the hotel room. That’s it for me and Jack in the Box for at least the next ten years.
“It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
‘Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise — depths unplumbable!”
“Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
‘I thought he died a while ago.’
“For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.”
Last night Viola Davis (Doubt), Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Melissa Leo (Frozen River) and Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) got the red-carpet treatment from the Santa Barbara Film Festival by the handing out of Virtuoso Awards.
The nakedly honest Shannon and Davis got the biggest laughs, although I managed to not capture their best moments on video. Jenkins was his usual elegant, self-effacing self. Leo radiated pluck, positivism, determination. DeWitt was clever and frank, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that she has truly great gams.
Davis made the fundamental point that when most of us think of actors we think of Brad Pitt or Meryl Streep or other marquee names. And yet they, the Big Five, are a much more realistic representation of the acting community. Devoted, hard-working, talented, not necessarily glamorous, etc.
Asked to describe his unique identity as an actor, Shannon said he’d seen Bronson at the Sundance Film Festival, “a movie about a hardcore prisoner who wanted attention and felt that fame was his due so he kept beating guys up, knowing that as long as he did this and was relentless at it that his fame would continue to grow. I’m glad I’m not that guy.”
Michael Shannon, In Contention‘s Kris Tapley at after-party.
Rosemary DeWitt speaking to SBFF director Roger Durling.