Susan Siedelman‘s Smithereens, which I saw at a Daily Motion/Cinetic rooftop party last Wednesday night, is now streaming free all weekend. Susan Berman ‘s Wren is one of the most self-involved, alienating lead characters of all time, but the film is a mildly diverting time-capsule thing. It’s cool seeing the young (i.e., 32 year-old) Richard Hell again.
Is Steven Seagal: Lawman an actual A & E reality series? “The show’s real real…this is not a joke,” Seagal says in the clip. No script, no stunt double, no second chances. It’s getting to a point in which everything is suspect. Nothing is “real” and everything is in quotes. Even if several news sites are writing about it with a straight face. I trust no one. This must be a put-on…no?
Kansas congresswoman Lynn Jenkins yesterday tried to backpedal her 8.19 remark about fellow Republicans seeking a ”great white hope” to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012. The woman was obviously caught in a Freudian slip and is a flat-out liar for saying the remark has been misunderstood or taken out of context. There’s no shortage of ugly in this country. There is in fact a bottomless well of the stuff, most of it coming these days from the white hinterlands. (I should have posted this yesterday.)
“I just watched Guillermo Arriaga‘s The Burning Plain with Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger on VOD last night,” entertainment journalist Lewis Beale wrote this morning. “I was surprised it had suddenly popped up on my local cable system, so I went to the IMDB and found it had gone the festival route (Venice, Toronto, Seattle), and that the official TV premiere release date was 8.21.09.
“Okay, it’s not that great a film. Another one of those circuitous, three-stories-that-come-together-eventually plotlines that Arriaga seems obsessed with, except in this case a linear approach would definitely have been more effective. But sheesh…a film with two female Oscar winners doesn’t even get to play the IFC Center or whatever? What happened here? Any interest in looking into this?”
But I didn’t have to “look into it.” I saw The Burning Plain at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, and it was clear to everyone that while it was a mildly intriguing heavy-cat drama in some respects (Theron’s promiscuous restaurant hostess tries and fails to suppress teenaged traumatic memories of having unwittingly caused her mother’s death), it just wasn’t laser-beamed or emotionally affecting enough to warrant impassioned reviews or any kind of limited-hang-out awards campaign.
There’s something a little too schematic and bluntly telegraphed about Theron’s past coming back and insisting that she face up to things. We know where stories of this sort are going and that it’s all going to come out in the wash, and so a half-hour into it you’re muttering to yourself, “Okay, all right, what else can you show me?” But there’s nothing else. The story is the story. And you have to ride it out.
Plus there’s a sense in watching it that the spaghetti-narrative trick that Arriaga used with collaborator Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu in Amores perros, 21 Grams and Babel has been overworked and is maybe running out of steam. The Burning Plain performances (particularly by Theron, Kim Basinger and Joaquim de Almeida) are very good, and I don’t see any way to fault it craft-wise but there’s not just enough oomph and pizazz to make it a must-see drama.
In short The Burning Plain — a not-bad, half-decent film in some ways — fell between the cracks esteem-wise, and so the Magnolia guys took a hard look, got out the calculator and figured it would make sense to do a VOD and a limited theatrical thing around the same period. (Some kind of limited theatrical opening is set for 9.18.09.) I wish I could have felt more positively about it. It’s far from wretched; it works in some respects. Everyone involved was clearly trying to make something solid and truthful and earnest.
Bizarre as it may seem, the comic material in Grant Heslov‘s The Men Who Stare at Goats (Overture, 11.6) is based on reported truth, or more precisely Jon Ronson‘s 2004 non-fiction book about the U.S. Army’s exploration of New Age concepts and the potential military applications of the paranormal. Does the trailer convey a verite element? You tell me.
Trailers always rely on the crudest and broadest selling points, of course, but this one is clearly suggesting that the tone of Heslov’s film may be on the unsubtle and slapsticky side, almost in a Blake Edwardsy sense. Okay, in a sort-of dry and deadpanny vein. The straight-up, no-funny-business look on George Clooney‘s lean and moustachioed face tells you that.
But what about that shot of an animatronic goat tipping over and falling on its side? That’s an Eloi joke on the level of I Love You, Beth Cooper. And the fact that the Kevin Spacey-Jeff Bridges courtroom confrontation about girls and drugs isn’t funny? And that guy running into a wall? And while I’m sure there’s a no-big-deal explanation, why are formally uniformed Army guys shown wearing long sideburns and facial hair in a wedding reception ceremony? This sets off an alarm bell.
All I can tell you is that before watching the trailer, I was semi-pumped about seeing this film in Toronto. I had presumed Heslov, a very smart guy on Clooney’s wavelength and vice versa, would play down the inherently bizarre material and keep it real and let the wackazoid stuff speak for itself. But now, having seen the trailer, I’m feeling a little bit worried. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be. Maybe this is just a matter of the Overture trailer guys looking to bring in the dumb-asses.
Heslov directed from a script by Peter Straughan. Ewan McGregor costars with Clooney, Spacey and Bridges. Set in Iraq (but filmed in New Mexico and Puerto Rico), it’s about Bob Wilton (McGregor), a reporter working on a story about Lyn Cassady (Clooney), who claims to be a former secret U.S. Military psychic soldier re-activated post-9/11. Bridges is Bill Django, the founder of the psychic soldier program and Lyn’s mentor. Spacey is Larry Hooper, a former psychic soldier who runs a prison camp in Iraq.
I found this official release poster for Capitalism: A Love Story on In Contention. And then I read some of the comments. Every In Contention reader who says the one-sheet is cool but they need to remove Moore is dealing from a short deck. One, Moore is always the star of his films. His mentality/attitude/snark is the point. He’s the roly-poly Gary Cooper figure ready to stand up to City Hall and/or the Frank Miller gang. And two, he’s depicted as a small-scaled monochrome figure, which suggests a contained ego.
“In Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino has gone past his usual practice of decorating his movies with homages to others,” writes New Yorker critic David Denby. “This time, he has pulled the film-archive door shut behind him — there’s hardly a flash of light indicating that the world exists outside the cinema except as the basis of a nutbrain fable. The film is skillfully made, but it’s too silly to be enjoyed, even as a joke.
embarrassment: his virtuosity as a maker of images has been overwhelmed by his inanity as an idiot de la cinematheque. Basterds is a hundred and fifty-two minutes long, but Tarantino’s fans will wait for the director’s cut, which no doubt shows Shirley Temple arriving at Treblinka with the Glenn Miller band and performing a special rendition of ‘Baby Take a Bow,’ from the immortal 1934 movie of the same name, before she fetchingly leads the S.S. guards to the gas chamber.”
Jeremy Piven‘s Speed-The-Plow/sushi defense debacle — a p.r. embarassment that will color Piven’s reputation for the rest of his life — has come to an official end. No more legal threats or fines or procedural hassles…done.
Variety‘s Gordon Cox reported this afternoon that independent arbitrator George Nicolau has found that the actor did not breach his employment contract with producers of Speed-the-Plow, the Broadway revival Piven that abruptly abandoned last December, blaming sushi poisoning.
Let me explain something. No one has ever believed and no one will ever believe Piven’s mercury-poisoning excuse for leaving that show. (It’s never been a secret about high mercury levels in raw fish, so what kind of moron consumes huge amounts of sushi and sashimi on a daily basis without understanding there will be a physical reaction?) Just as Robert Mitchum was never able to fully escape memories of the pot bust that landed him in jail in 1947, Piven will be regarded as Hollywood’s ruling sushi bullshit artist for the rest of his days.
Nicolau also exonerated Piven for having breached the collective bargaining contract between thesps’ union Actors’ Equity Association and the Broadway League, the trade association of legit producers and presenters. “While we respect the decision, we strongly disagree with it,” the Plow producers said in a statement.
In a press release from Fathom Studios, the Atlanta-based production company behind Delgo, a spokesperson says that “from what we have seen, we are amazed by the visual similarities” between Avatar and Delgo, “and we are reviewing what legal options may be available to us.”
Fathom certainly has a case, but this p.r. release is bullshit. If they were going to sue James Cameron and 20th Century Fox, they would be making private backrooom maneuvers instead of rattling their saber. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, talk to the press. (HE wasn’t deemed important enough to receive the press release directly. I read about it from Movieline’s Stu VanAirsdale.)
There’s an 8.27 Onion piece written by “Meryl Streep” that argues she’s never starred in a truly classic film. Which all legendary stars have managed at least once or twice. Al Pacino in The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon. Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All The President’s Men. Gene Hackman in The French Connection. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull and Taxi Driver. Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist. Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.
Run down the list of Streep’s finest movies and none can really be called classic. Good films and in some cases very good films, okay. But none truly for the ages. Not Kramer Vs. Kramer. Not Sophie’s Choice. Not The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Not The Deer Hunter. Not Out Of Africa. Not The Bridges Of Madison County. Not Marvin’s Room. Not Doubt. Not The River Wild. Not The Devil Wears Prada. Not A Prairie Home Companion. Not A Cry in the Dark. Not The Seduction of Joe Tynan. Not Mamma Mia. Not Heartburn. Not The Manchurian Candidate. Or at least, as “Streep” writes, “not the one I was in.”
True, Streep costarred in the undeniably classic Manhattan, but she wasn’t the lead and that’s the distinction.
Not that Streep doesn’t have another 10 or 15 years to go. Or 20 years even. Tomorrow is another day. I was just surprised to read the Onion piece and find myself more or less agreeing.
The blue-background, unambiguously hetero Humpday DVD cover doesn’t surprise me. Magnolia marketers are making the assumption that the average DVD browser is a stone monkey who hasn’t heard word one about Humpday over the last seven months, or read a single Humpday review. Of course not! Why would anyone? And so he/she can’t be expected to know it’s a straight bromance. So Magnolia is spelling things out — that’s all.
Humpday DVD cover art; original theatircal poster
In short, they just don’t want anyone getting the idea that Mark Duplass and Josh Leonard, like, bone each other. I didn’t want to see it myself before last January’s Sundance for this reason. Just not into plots about guys spreading cheeks…sorry.
And so they’ve naturally made the background boyish blue instead of gay pink. On top of which they’ve put Alycia Delmore, who plays Duplass’ wife, between the two. This isn’t a cheat but an accurate indication of what the story’s about. She’s very much part of things start to finish so it all fits. The Humpday DVD is out on 11.17.08.
If someone can find a higher-quality, larger-pixel rendering of the DVD jacket, please advise.
Every time somebody posts a great movie-deaths piece (the latest is a Rope of Silicon article by David Frank), I post my dog-eared “nobody died like Marlon Brando” piece, the first version of which I ran back in ’95. Why stop now? I haven’t posted it since 3.1.07, or two and half years ago.
My suggestion was that Brando’s best death scene was in Edward Dmytryk‘s The Young Lions (’58), and that no one has died with such remarkable delicacy and finesse since.
Brando’s Christian Diestl is in a forest not far from a recently abandoned concentration camp, sick of war and bashing his rifle against a tree in a mad rage. Then he then runs down a hillside and right into the rifle sights of Army G.I. Dean Martin, who opens up and puts several bullets into Brando’s gut and chest. The blonde-headed Diestl tumbles down the hill and lands head-first in a shallow stream.
The camera goes in tight, showing that Brando’s mouth and nose are submerged. A series of rapidly-popping air bubbles begin hitting the surface — pup-pup-pup-pup-pup-pup-pup — and then slower, slower and slower still. And then — this is the mad genius of Brando — two or three seconds after they’ve stopped altogether, a final tiny bubble pops through. There’s something about that last little pup that devastates all to hell.
Brando also died brilliantly in Viva Zapata, tucking himself into a kneeling fetal ball with his arms outstretched and his palms facing up as he’s riddled with bullets fired by an ambush posse of several Mexican soldiers. But of course, it’s hard to see Viva Zapata because it’s not on DVD. It seems that Fox Home Video, the rights holder, isn’t inclined to put it out. Which makes them the bad guys, of course. One of the strongest performances by our greatest American actor, and they’ve been sitting on it for decades.
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