A couple of Sundays ago in the L.A. Times seasoned critic Stephen Farber praised The Help in a curious way. Rather than shrugging his shoulders and going easy on the fact that it’s a safe middlebrow film, Farber doubled-down and praised it for that. “Hmm, middlebrow…good!”
Appalled, Mark Olsen went to his LA Times editors and asked to write a retort. In so doing he managed to praise Amigo, Bellflower, The Color Wheel, Dennis Hopper and quote Neil Young. Here‘s what he wrote.
Olsen pull-quote #1: “The retort to Farber’s position is simply and obviously this: Today is not 50 years ago…and the best films should aim to reflect that with a clear-eyed awareness in their context and perspective and a strong reach for more.”
Olsen pull-quote #2: “The problem is not with the middlebrow in itself — and really, a film such as Bridesmaids likely represents the true New Middle more than The Help — the problem lies with opting for the obvious and becoming complicit with the incurious. Aiming for the middle is too often an excuse to aim too low.”
Earlier today a friend mentioned Tony Scott‘s interest in re-making The Wild Bunch. I speculated that just as Straw Dogs director Rod Lurie discovered through research that only about 2% of current moviegoers have heard of Sam Peckinpah‘s Straw Dogs, much less seen it, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is probably similarly unknown.
To a typical 19 or 23 or 26 year-old a landmark western costarring a group of saggy, middle-aged men that came out in 1969 might just as well have been released when Douglas Fairbanks was an action star, or when the Great Pyramids were built.
To them, a movie released 42 years ago is ancient history. It’s Land of the Pharoahs or the 1932 The Mummy. To them, older movies are ones that came out in the ’80s and early ’90s.
Recycling, re-branding and regurgitation have been Hollywood mantras since at least the mid ’90s if not long before. Nothing gets green-lighted unless it’s pre-sold, pre-recognized — a thoroughly saturated story or concept that’s ripe for re-packaging. Because nothing so terrifies studios and producers of pricey movies and Broadway plays as a semi-original idea, much less a fully original one. Because the vast majority of moviegoers out there (yes, here I go again) are under-educated, low-rent, ADD primitives who would rather take a bullet than open themselves up to something that doesn’t feel shopping-mall familiar and corporatized.
As Norman Mailer once said about Frank Borman, one of the original Apollo astronauts who had dissed Mailer’s “Of A Fire on The Moon“, “It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a new idea to get into Frank Borman’s head.”
I couldn’t remember at first where I’d seen this style of drawing when I first caught sight of this Coen brothers Bluray box set (out on 8.30). It was inspired, I later remembered, by those turn-of-the-19th-century-era or Victorian-era posters for circuses and carnivals (“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and all that) and/or those illustrations that accompanied Monty Python shows and films of the ’70s and ’80s.
Me to Drive publicist: “I’ve seen that ‘my hands are dirty’ / ‘So are mine’ clip maybe 10 or 12 times. I’m actually tired of seeing it. Would it kill the powers-that-be to come up with a scene that hasn’t made the rounds quite as much?” Drive publicist: “Hahaha…we have a bunch more coming out. Stay tuned!”
A five-star rave of Tomas Alfredson‘s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, written by Empire‘s Angle Errigo, hasn’t been posted on the Empire website. But it’s been scanned and posted by Romangirl88. Sum-up verdict: “Utterly absorbing, extremely smart and — considering this is a sad, shabby, drably gray-green world of obsessives, misfits, misdirection, disillusionment, self-delusion and treachery — quite beautifully executed.”
About 30 minutes ago an MSNBC reporter in North Carolina said that while Hurricane Irene was definitely wet, turbulent and howling, it was causing less damage than initially feared, and that this may be a source of some relief in the northeast corridor. As I said yesterday, Hurricane Irene will deliver the expected “driving rain and howling winds and tree branches snapping off and downed power lines”, but it may turn out to be “a little bit like Carmageddon when all is said and done.” It’s only a Category 1, for God’s sake.
The media likes scaring people a bit more than explaining the realistic likelihoods, I’m afraid.
My first-ever Telluride Film Festival begins in six days, my arrival there in five, and the first leg of my journey there will begin in four — i.e., a 12:30 pm Burbank-to-Albuquerque flight next Wednesday. Am I feeling jazzed? Yeah, sure, I was…until I read a summary of a recent “Telluride Best Bets” tweet by In Contention‘s Kris Tapley. He predicted that Alexander Payne‘s The Descendants, Steve McQueen‘s Shame and David Cronenberg‘s A Dangerous Method will play there…fine. Entirely welcome, looking forward. But then came the other three.
Tapley’s intuitive powers are telling him that…sputter, choke, cough….Sean Durkin‘s Martha Marcy May Marlene will play Telluride? I’ve paid $780 for a festival pass to see a film that played eight friggin’ months ago at Sundance 2011 and Cannes four months ago? He also half-detects, half-suspects, feels and/or believes that Pedro Almodovar‘s The Skin That I Live In — also seen at Cannes 2011, and deemed by most as a relatively minor entry in the Almodovar canon — will turn up. Tapley has also detected railroad-track vibrations indicating that Michel Hazanavicius‘ The Artist (Weinstein Co., 11.23) will play there.
I’m also hearing that Lynne Ramsay‘s We Need To Talk About Kevin — another Cannes movie that I described last May as “emotional rat poison” — will show at Telluride. Please. Telluride co-honchos Tom Luddy and Gary Meyer “love Tilda Swinton,” a semi-insider claimed.
Maybe Kris is right and maybe he’s not, but let me explain something. Telluride, for me and many others, is about discovering the most exciting or intriguing unseen, fresh-from-the-oven films that will matter to quality-seeking moviegoers over the next four months. The festival can sometimes be about prospective awards season contenders, but that’s a peripheral consideration. And I love the prospect of seeing whatever curio mood movies and/or classics or retrospectives that might pop up. But one thing this festival cannot and must not do is show much discussed, heavily vetted Sundance and Cannes re-runs. It won’t do to give people like me a feeling that they’ve been…well, at least partially burned.
Tapley is also hoping to see William Friedkin‘s Killer Joe, George Clooney‘s The Ides of March, Martin Scorsese‘s George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Rodrigo Garcia‘s Albert Nobbs, Roman Polanski‘s Carnage and Luc Besson‘s The Lady. I’m down with all of these.
I’m told that at least one movie that currently has no firm 2011 release date but is a semi-likely 2011 awards contender will play Telluride. The movie being referred to, by the way, is not Albert Nobbs, even though it hasn’t yet landed a U.S. distributor.
I’m not challenging the suspicion/belief that Tomas Alfredson‘s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy won’t appear at Telluride. Focus Features passed on Toronto and couldn’t wangle a showing at the New York Film Festival plus it’ll be a costly hassle to fly their talent all the way from the Venice Film Festival, etc. But it would certainly be welcome if Focus decided not to duck all the early-fall stateside festivals. Especially given my costly pledge to fly to England to see it on the weekend of 9.16 if it doesn’t play Telluride. If the Focus guys are cool about it, they’ll screen it for select U.S. journos and thereby save some of us the plane and hotel fare.
James Toback‘s autobiographical script of The Gambler, a fine 1974 Paramount film directed by Karel Reisz, is one of the most perfectly written, jewel-cut character studies to ever reach the American screen. Its portrayal of the typical gambler’s risk-junkie mentality, partially borrowed from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Gambler” and partly from Toback’s own compulsive past, is close to flawless.
James Caan ‘s first-act speech to his students, lifted directly from Dostoevsky, about how “sometimes a man knows, just knows without rhyme or reason but with poetic certainty, that two and two make five” is one of my all-time favorite dialogue passages.
Today Deadline‘s Michael Fleming reported that William Monahan (The Departed) is rewriting Toback’s script for a potential Gambler remake with Leonardo DiCaprio atached to play Caan’s character and (who else?) Martin Scorsese directing. Monahan is too good of a writer to just update or do touch-ups, so I’m wondering does Paramount, which will produce, want to make The Gambler into a somewhat different thing? Maybe they don’t, but the hiring of Monahan suggests that they do.
Maybe they want a different ending. Toback’s, however true to Caan’s character, is a bit downish and masochistic.
Paul Sorvino (playing a loan shark named Lips): “Listen, I’m gonna tell you something I never told a customer before. Personally, I never made a bet in my life. You know why? Because I’ve observed firsthand what with seeing the different kinds of people that are addicted to gambling, what we would call degenerates. I’ve noticed there’s one thing that makes all of them the same. You know what that is?”
Caan (as inveterate gambler and college professor Axel Freed): “Yes. They’re all looking to lose.
Sorvino: “You mean you know that?”
Why does it take so long to figure out when Hurricane Irene will actually hit Manhattan? I know it’s supposed to arrive Saturday around midnight or so, possibly an hour or two later (which would make it Sunday)…but why do you have to search around for this info? Why are news reports so averse to simply stating this likelihood in plain, standing-around-in- front-of-the-neighborhood-pizza-parlor dumb-guy language?
So it’s travelling around 15 mph, and it’s been downgraded to a level 2 from a level 3, and is expected to hit the general, all-spread-out New York City area by the end of Saturday Night Live? And it’ll be gone and on its way to New England by dawn or thereabouts? And that’s it?
So if you want to adopt a Hollywood Elsewhere “you only live once” attitude and experience the damn thing you’re going to have to forego sleep? And if you want to shoot video of Irene’s arrival you probably won’t get a damn thing because it’ll be pitch black? And the NY subway system is going to shut down at noon tomorrow, or roughly 12 hours before it hits? Why not shut down at 4 pm or 6 pm? And movie theatres will be closed?
If Roland Emmerich was handling the logistics for this thing you can be damn sure it would play out differently. I hope the flooding isn’t going to be too bad and all that, and I hope to God no one loses their life or gets badly hurt, but I can feel a little bit of an inkling of a letdown coming. Hurricane Irene is real, all right, and it might be awful, but I suspect it might be a little bit ike Carmageddon when all is said and done. Okay, maybe not quite that much of a shortfall. But a good portion of it, I suspect, is just going to be driving rain and howling winds and tree branches snapping off and electric power lines down and news reporters doing their best to
scare the shit out of alert people to the dangers. It will come and it will pass, and the biggest dividend will be “cause for the pause that we all should be taking anyway.”
The young-gangster-falls-for-nice-girl story in Rowan Joffe‘s Brighton Rock (IFC Films, opening today) has nothing — repeat, nothing — to do with the 1964 mod-vs.-rocker riots that happened in Brighton, England, in the summer of 1964. Joffe simply decided to mesh the original Grahame Greene story, set in 1938, with this tumultuous occurence, the mid ’60s being a hipper backdrop than the late ’30s, etc.
More than anything else my recent viewing of Brighton Rock recalled Franc Roddam‘s Quadrophenia (1979), which peaked with a rousing, contact-high recreation of the Brighton riots that is much more thrilling (and far more realistic and chaotic-feeling) than the one in Joffe’s film…no offense. I first saw Quadropehnia at Manhattan’s 8th Street Playhouse, and then I showed it to the kids about ten years ago. The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve come to realize that this film — loosely based on the Who rock opera and basically the story of Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) and his identity, friendship and girlfriend issues — belongs in the near-great category.
But what a shock to see this clip and realize that Roddam forgot to change the letters on a movie marquee while shooting a crowd scene, and so we read, however briefly, that Warren Beatty‘s Heaven Can Wait and Randal Kleiser‘s Grease — both released in the summer of ’78, when Quadrophenia was shooting — are the current attractions. What an embarassment for production designer Simon Holland (who’s now dead). I mean, it’s so easy to change the letters on a marquee. It’s not like it costs anything.