MSNBC switched over to high-def today, although it won’t show up on all the cable systems until early August. It kicked in with my provider, Century Cable, three days ago. So I tuned in this afternoon — channel 723 instead of the regular analog channel 23 — to see how good it looked, and it looked like hell. All pixellated and degraded — basically an analog image with a 16 x 9 aspect ratio. I know what the real thing looks like. This is crap.
Variety‘s Anne Thompson has a decidedly negative view of Michael Mann‘s decision to “immerse the audience” in the 1930s by shooting Public Enemies in high-definition video. “HD is clear, harsh, honest” she notes. “It works fine in a contemporary setting like Collateral or Miami Vice. But when audiences watch a period film, no matter how authentically recreated, they aren’t expecting it to look like this.”
On 6.24 I posted the same initial reaction — this is different! not my father’s 1930s! — except I found it exciting and audacious. “Public Enemies is out there with a radical use of razor-sharp, high-def digital widescreen photography that totally says ‘not the early 1930s!’ and ’55-inch LCD screens at Best Buy!’ But at the same time it says ‘actually, this is the real early 1930s without the rat-a-tat-tat Pennies From Heaven squawkbox atmosphere and embroidery and Jimmy Cagney-Paul Muni personalities that you’ve been conditioned to expect.”
Heath Ledger “was always hesitant to be in a summer blockbuster with the dolls and action figures and everything else that comes with one of those movies,” the late actor’s friend and agent, Steven Alexander, tells Peter Biskind in an upcoming Vanity Fair. “He was afraid it would define him and limit his choices.”
Alexander and other confidantes tell Biskind that “one of the reasons Ledger agreed to do The Dark Knight was that it would be such a long shoot it would give him an excuse to turn down other offers. Ledger had a pay-or-play deal on The Dark Knight — meaning he’d get compensated no matter what — so he felt he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted as the Joker.”
He hoped in fact, that “his performance would be so far-out he’d be fired, and thus become the beneficiary of a lengthy, paid vacation.”
Which is why his Joker performance was so great. Because Ledger didn’t care. The best creative work always….okay, often comes out of a fuck-it mindset. Worry about what you’re going to create or whether or not you’ll be good enough and you’re dead.
Not every day can be well organized and super-productive. I was going to bang out my Bruno review (the green light is up) but it wouldn’t happen. When the plane doesn’t lift off the ground and it’s suddenly 4:30 pm when it was only noon an hour earlier, you just have to suck it in and try to do better the next day. And now I have to catch a 6 pm screening of Nia Vardalos‘ I Hate Valentine’s Day. And my early-bird DVD seller still doesn’t have Lonely Are The Brave, which streets on 7.7.
There’s just no end to the ick factor in the Michael Jackson tragedy. Everything that’s being reported sounds sordid and sad. Or it’s been made up. The Sun posted a story today about the late pop singer’s ghastly physical state — appalling — and then TMZ reported that the story is fake. And 95% of the world is repeating the same mantra — “Ignore the facts, deny the damage, ignore what Michael Jackson became — just listen to the music and focus only on his peak-of-popularity years in the ’80s and early ’90s.”
I found it moderately unpleasant to watch Al Sharpton — Al Sharpton? — and Joe Jackson hold a news conference this morning about delayed funeral arrangements for Michael, matters of executorship and custody of the kids, etc. Because there was no shaking off the feeling that these guys are basically hustlers looking to self-promote, revive the MJ brand, get their cut, bask in media attention, spread around the b.s. and blah-blah.
And on top of all this Universal has decided to cut the 100% non-offensive LaToya Jackson scene out of Bruno altogether.
Denby Delighted: “Michael Mann’s Public Enemies is a ravishing dream of violent gangster life in the thirties — not a tough, funny, and, finally, tragic dream like Bonnie and Clyde but a flowing, velvety fantasia of the crime wave that mesmerized the nation early in the decade.
“The scowling men in long dark coats and hats, led by the fashion-plate bandit John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), march into a grand Midwestern bank with marble floors and brass railings, take over the place, throw the cash in bags, and make their getaway, jumping onto the sideboards of flat-topped black Fords — beautiful cars with curved grilles and rounded headlights that stand straight up from the cars’ bodies.
“It’s the American poetry of crime. Throughout the movie, blazing tommy guns emit little spearheads of flame, just as in a comic book. Men get their skulls bashed with gun butts, and get thrown out of cars, but, despite all the violence, the movie is aesthetically shaped and slightly distanced by the pictorial verve of gangland effrontery — the public aggression that Mann makes inseparable from high style. He keeps the camera moving, and the editing (by Paul Rubell and Jeffrey Ford) reinforces the speed without jamming ragged fragments together in the manner of hack filmmaking. As a piece of direction, Public Enemies is often breathtakingly fast, but it’s always lucid.”
Denby Troubled: “[The film] needed a charge of surprise, and I wish the filmmakers had more forcefully developed two ironies embedded in the material. For all of Hoover and Purvis’s talk of ‘scientific methods,’ the new F.B.I. wins the war not by arresting criminals and sending them to prison but by massacring them.
“And Dillinger, as the movie readily shows, is deluded about himself. He embraces the future, but, actually, his time is over; the new crime syndicates dismiss him as a troublemaking fool. And although the screenplay keeps insisting that he’s intelligent and shrewd, the movie demonstrates the opposite. The character doesn’t quite add up. If he had been given a wild destructive streak, the conception might have made more sense, but Mann seems to trip over his own story by making Dillinger so self-contained and cool. The problem with casting a star as low-key and attractive as Johnny Depp is that you can’t turn him into a man who is, at bottom, a loser.”
In recognition of Bernie Madoff having been sentenced to 150 years behind bars, here’s a re-link to that 3.14.09 piece about how I would have escaped and cavorted it if I’d been in Bernie’s shoes. Excerpt: “I’d hire three full-time prostitutes to travel with me, but they’d have to be prostitutes who know how to sail.”
Why didn’t Madoff get 500 years? Or a thousand? I’ve always loved the poetic ring of 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, which is the title of a 1932 Michael Curtiz crime-prison drama with Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis. It comes from author Lewis E. Lawes‘s 1932 novel.
I may as well join the crowd and post this HD trailer for Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson‘s The Invention of Lying (Warner Bros., 9.25). Trailers always seem to misrepresent what a film actually is (i.e., how it plays) so you always need to take them with a grain. But the basic impression I’m getting is that TIOL may be a little too on-the-nose — an explicit comic thesis going through the movie motions. But maybe not.