It certainly is wonderful news about Ricky Gervais having signed to host next year’s Golden Globe Award telecast. Okay, I was being facetious. It may be a good thing now that I’m actually thinking about it. Gervais can be agreeably blunt and cutting, and if he’s really and truly been given free reign, this could be good. Golden Globe nommies will be announced on 12.15. The show will air live on 1.17.10 from 5 to 8 pm Pacific, 8 to 11 p.m. Eastern.
In Contention‘s Kris Tapley said this morning that Lee Daniels‘ Precious is “the frontrunner of this year’s Oscar race.” Reading this prompted an involuntary leg-muscle spasm so sudden and fierce that it tipped over my black office chair and sent me crashing to the floor.
Precious is a film to sincerely admire and respect as far as it goes. It moved me more than I suspected it would (based on the first half hour, I mean), but Mo’Nique‘s mom-from-hell performance almost makes it into a kind of grotesque horror film. What she does is a bit like Mary Tyler Moore‘s emotionally frigid mom in Ordinary People not just withholding affection from her sad-sack son (i.e., Timothy Hutton) but talking like Lawrence Tierney and spewing pea soup out of her mouth.
Precious touches bottom and exudes compassion, but it’s nothing close to a masterwork…please. It’s a very good film fortified by strong discussable performances. It’s a contender, sure, but no way in hell is it any kind of front-runner. Not now, not next month or next year…forget it.
“Oscar pundits are going 10-slot crazy this year, wondering whether the additional spots will go to the multiplex or to the art house,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Zeitchik.
“Whatever answers emerge, it’s clear that with an expanded field, voters will have to make tougher choices than usual — if not when mentally filling out their list of 10, then when they start anointing movies from among that list. With the widened field, there’s a wider split between the feel-good contenders and the downbeat ones, between movies that depict the world as it is and those that show the world as we wish it to be.”
Zeitchik then startled me cold by suggesting that The Hangover might be one of the ten Best Picture contenders.
Voters, he says, “will have to choose between the story of an inner-city girl whose stepfather has repeatedly raped her and an old man who takes a magical, life-affirming balloon ride. They’ll have to decide between a group of male bomb-defusers drawn to the nightmare of the battlefield and a group of male friends drawn hilariously to the escapism of Vegas.”
Just a minute, hold on….Zeitchik has mentioned The Hurt Locker and The Hangover in the same Oscar-prognosticating sentence? Is the world coming to an end? Is it 2012 out there, causing Zeitchik to freak out and lose touch with his usually reliable perceptions?
“This choice won’t simply be a cultural statement,” he adds. “It’s no accident that, as the studio specialty business withers away, nearly all the downbeat contenders (Precious, Bright Star, The Hurt Locker) were made outside the studio system, while almost all those celebrating life’s aspirational side (Up, Star Trek, The Hangover, Invictus) were made within it.”
Star Trek? A nifty, neato zing-ding summer flick but a Best Picture contender? In what planetary system?
There’s something dark and malignant about a world in which reasonable professionals suggest that The Hangover and Star Trek might really and truly be serious Best Picture contenders while at the same time barely acknowledging the pristine perfection and world-class comedic gloom that A Serious Man divvies out in spades. There must be something in the air or the water. Some kind of mad swine flu of the mind.
There’s no ducking out of watching This Is It!, the Michael Jackson doc coming out Wednesday. Every instinct and intuition tells me it’s going to be a huge downer and a pageant of resounding phoniness, but it has to be seen and endured and commented upon regardless. I know I don’t believe a single word that director Kenny Ortega says to Ben Sisario in this N.Y. Times story about the film.
In a N.Y. Times profile of Willem Dafoe (which is more or less linked to a forthcoming Public Theatre production of a play called Idiot Savant), Dave Itzkoff discusses the actor being “dismayed” about last May’s Cannes Film Festival reception to Lars von Trier‘s Antichrist, in which Dafoe stars. The press screening was “a raucous” thing “that drew boos and mocking laughs,” Itzkoff notes.
“It’s a hothouse environment, and they like scandal,” Dafoe comments. “You see who holds the cards and what plays, what doesn’t play. Where the idiots are, where the thoughtful people are. And for the most part the idiots win. But that’s okay.”
That’s not a fair or correct assessment of the Cannes press corps. They might generate an uproar after seeing a film that seems ludicrously wrong or overwrought in some way, but they don’t go looking for scandal — the critics I know are low-key types who take ’em as the come. That said, if a movie happens to be a major wipeout on its own terms they won’t hesitate to point that out. Nobody gets a sweetheart pass in Cannes.
Dafoe says he “saw the project as a challenge to strike the right balance between controlling himself and letting himself go. How, for example, should he play a scene where he is spoken to by the carcass of a dead fox, or where Ms. Gainsbourg drives a rod through his leg and attaches a millstone to that rod?
“‘You just have to do what makes sense for you,’ Dafoe replies. ‘One man’s hammy overacting is another man’s passionate acting. One man’s boring, flat walk-through performance is another’s beautifully restrained performance.'” Phooey…that’s just evasion. Antichrist was a stacked deck against which no actor could prevail. There’s no way to play a scene with a bloody talking dead fox without looking like a fool.
A couple of hours after the infamous Cannes Antichrist screening I wrote that “there’s no way [the film] isn’t a major career embarassment for costars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and a possible career stopper for Von Trier. I know that if I had been in Dafoe or Gainsbourg’s shoes I would have come to my senses and walked off the film. I would have said ‘go ahead, sue me — I welcome a lawsuit!’ and walked home proudly and at peace.”
The one disconnect I’ve had with director-writer Paul Haggis (In The Valley of Elah, Crash, Million Dollar Baby) all these years was his being a member of the Church of Scientology. I presume I don’t have to explain the odious aspects of such a relationship. But being a major fan of Elah and the MDB script I didn’t want to contemplate it or go there, so I just pushed it aside.
Paul Haggis (l.); Church of Scientology lieutenant Tommy Davis
Now Hollywood Reporter columnist Roger Freidman has reported that Haggis has walked away from the Church of Scientology over two ethical issues — i.e., the church’s support of Proposition 8 (a.k.a. “Proposition Hate,” the California initiative banning gay marriage) and an order from the Scientology high command that Haggis’s wife Deborah Rennard had to sever all ties with her parents “because they’d violated some code of the sect,” Friedman explains.
Friedman has posted a letter Haggis wrote to Scientology “celebrity wrangler” Tommy Davis (i.e., the son of Scientologist Anne Archer), and is claiming that “the veracity of the letter has been confirmed by a friend of Haggis.”
I’ve read the letter twice and in my book Haggis is now a man of great courage and high honor. It takes balls to stand up to those vindictive mafiosos, those brain police, as they’re infamous for getting in your face and crawling up your ass. To go by Haggis’s letter, Davis sounds like a spineless hypocrite.
Haggis is currently filming The Next Three Days, a remake of Fred Cavaye‘s Pour Elle, about a professor (Russell Crowe) struggling to free his wrongfully imprisoned wife (Elizabeth Banks) from jail. Liam Neeson costars.
Late Sunday afternoon I attended a Word Theatre poetry reading called ‘Tongues on Fire” in West Hollywood. The big draw was actress-poet Amber Tamblyn reading from her latest volume, Bang Ditto. The passages she read were mostly about relationship rage (“I would sleep with your friends if you had any”) and were delivered with a certain arch-deadpan tonality, like pithy fire-drill alarms.
Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn following Sunday evening’s Word Theatre presentation of
‘Tongues on Fire: An Evening with California’s Finest Poets” at Restaurant3 in West Hollywood — Sunday, 10,.25, 6:25 pm.
Tamblyn’s writing is fierce, brilliantly honed and sometimes razor-hilarious. She also sang two duets with her mom, Bonnie Murray.
My admiration for Tamblyn began with her lead performance in Stephanie Daley, which I first saw at Sundance ’06. (Distribution mucky-muck delayed its release until April ’07.) I called her performance “awfully damn good…conveying a haunted, gloom-ridden, terrified emotional state, and she’s immensely watchable, attractively so, every second she’s on-screen.”
Amber has been seriously invested in poetry since 2005 or thereabouts. Her first poetry book, Free Stallion (Simon & Schuster), came out that year. She exec produces an annual L.A. poetry event, “The Drums Inside Your Chest“, and is the co-founder of Write Now Poetry Society. She’s hooked up these days with comedian David Cross. She currently lives in Brooklyn’s DUMBO district.
Amber’s actor-manager dad Russ Tamblyn (who’s partnered with Joan Hyler these days) was in the audience. Post-performance we briefly spoke about Robert Wise‘s The Haunting (’61), a landmark horror film in which Russ co-starred. An English home known for being actually haunted was used for exteriors, he said, with interiors filmed at Elstree Studios. We talked about that killer climactic scene in which a large wooden door bends and contorts from the pressure of ghosts, and what it might have actually been made of.
Amber Tamblyn, Bonnie Murray during yesterday’s Word Theatre performance at West Hollywood’s Restaurant3. The show was produced by Cedering Fox.
In a profile of The Box director Richard Kelly, N.Y. Times contributor Ari Karpel writes that his “trippy films” — Donnie Darko, Southland Tales — “have made people assume he’s like Edward Scissorhands living up in some weird castle.” Says Kelly: “That’s certainly not who I am.”
“In person Mr. Kelly comes across like a former fraternity guy, his torn jeans and gelled hair complementing a T-shirt that reveals an obsessive weightlifter. ‘My dream is to be able to have thought-recognition software that, as I’m exercising, will just write the script,’ he said.
“His Twitter feed (with more than 5,000 followers) has revealed his love of University of Southern California football, beer pong and the Coen brothers’ movie A Serious Man. (‘Oy vey! This goy is beyond smitten!’ he tweeted.)
“Everyone interviewed for this article mentioned the dissonance within Mr. Kelly. ‘A contradiction would imply something that would be understood,” Jake Gyllenhaal said, ‘two things that would be a yin and a yang. He’s not that.’ Mr. Gyllenhaal then took a moment to formulate an accurate description. ‘I sometimes feel like he’s out of the mind of John Hughes. He’s like the missing character in ‘The Breakfast Club.'”
I intend to buy the Public Enemies Blu-ray when it comes out on 12.8. I love the film itself and the high-def digital photography is sure to look killer-diller. But it would look even better if director Michael Mann decided to create the Blu-ray from the original digital images for the transfer (i.e., the pure video version) instead of the digital-converted-to-film version that played in theatres.
Mann’s idea in shooting digitally, as I understand it, was to provide a certain aliveness and immediacy that would sharply differ from traditional photography used in other 1930s-era features (like Bonnie and Clyde or Thieves Like Us) and take you into that period without the filter. So why not? Universal Home Video could issue a pure-video alternative version vs. a traditional thearical version. I know, I know…too much of an investment for a film that didn’t do well enough theatrically to begin with.
David Carr‘s decision to retire from his N.Y. Times Oscar-beat “Carpetbagger” column, announced on 10.21, threw me somewhat. I’m sure his replacement, Melena Ryzik, will perform brilliantly once the change-over happens on 12.1, but I like Carr and his writing alot and didn’t want to see him go.
(l.) David Carr; (r.) Melena Ryzik.
I finally got around to saying this in a note sent this morning. “So David, your strategy is to lower your profile,” I said, “and not continue to do the one thing that aside from your book has put you on the map as a personality/celebrity/character of considerable acclaim? Why? This whole thing floors me. What ‘s the real thinking behind this?”
Carr replied an hour or so later: “If you read the news, I think you know the media story has hit a critical inflection point. Carpetbagger may be that ‘one thing’ in the hothouse of Hollywood, but we all contain multitudes and I think that working as a media columnist and blogger for a national newspaper is a pretty big deal.
“I made the hand-off this year, which I always thought would happen at some point, because now would not be a good time to have my attention divided. I am moving toward the story that matters most to me and my employer accommodated with enabling a very graceful handoff to Melena. I made my desires known and we all agreed that she was the natural, easy choice.
“Melena is the Carpetbagger in blog and in video, and she will be smashing — mark my word. And Paula Schwartz will be the Baguette, as she has always been, working to help cover what ia a very big waterfront. She knows the territory, works the carpet and the phone like nobody’s business, and will be invaluable to Melena and the blog.
“As you may also have noticed, I have not lost my interest in popular culture. Last Sunday, I did Amelia and the new record from The Swell Season. I have two other movie stories in the works and will be reading the Bagger like everyone else. But most of my reporting will be spent on the media story, new and old, digital and not, and all of my blogging will be going into Media Decoder, which is a very big deal to us at a critical time on a story where we think we have a significant competitive advantage.
“I love movies, I love the Oscars, I love all my fake movie-star friends, and I really enjoy the people on the beat, especially my fellow bloggers. But spending the next five months trying to decipher the new math of 10 nominations, which I think is a fascinating story, would pull me out of the narrative on media matters at the precise time I should be paying the most attention. That story is happening right now at a velocity that will put us all to the test.
“I might write something here and there about the Oscars in the paper and am angling to attend the Oscars because I’ve never been other than the press room, but I’m on media, 24-7. All good things must end, even if you and others think its silly to walk away.
To which I replied: “Of course you’re on it. Of course you haven’t lost your interest in popular culture. And of course your filings rule. I was just lamenting your having forfeited the Carpetbagger handle. It’s really a thing of honor and lustre in my book, and it’s taken years to build it up to that level. And it was just a little bit of a ‘whoa…he’s throwing that hard-won identity away?’
“We all contain multitudes, I suppose (some perhaps more than others), and there’s no disputing that your Media Decoder stuff and general reporting has always been and always will be first-rate, but I’ll miss you in the Carpetbagger context. You lent a touch of class, erudition, seasoned judgment, distinction, etc.”
Carr then reminded “it was Michael Cieply who came up with the Carbetbagger handle, so it’s not like I own the concept. As Jack Nicholson would say, I just showed up and worked the uniform.”
I was genuinely startled this morning by the use of periods at the end of “the internet is under new management” and “yours.” Ad agencies these days are infamous for ignoring correct punctuation. I grind my teeth every time I see an ad sentence with a missing comma, dash or semi-colon, or one with poor construction. I took this shot because of this disregard; because it’s become so utterly routine.