If you’ve seen the extremely sad Amour it’s nice to think that costars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva were once beaming with youth. Riva, born in 1927, was 31 when she played a French actress disengaging from an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) in Alain Resnais‘s Hiroshima Mon Amour (’59). Three years earlier Trintignant, born in 1930, had popped through opposite Brigitte Bardot in Roger Vadim‘s And God Created Woman (’56).
All day long I’ve been hearing about the Arizona suicide guy, and what a terrible thing it was for Fox viewers to have witnessed a real suicide on live TV, and how a mortified Shepard Smith profusely apologized for exposing viewers to such horror. But viewers only saw a long-lens helicopter shot of a guy apparently shooting himself in the noggin and then pitching forward, but with no evident gore or cranial blowout of any kind.
For all the camera was able to see it could have been a kid shooting himself with a plastic toy gun. It was nothing.
The bottom line is that TV news stations love entertaining viewers with live car chases, and viewers are always drawn to this crap as long as it’s shown in PG form. Obviously the guy who shot himself injected an ugly human reality into a form of entertainment that most people regard on the same level as Daytona stock-car racing or the Keeping Up With The Kardashians. In movie rating terms he took things into a PG-13 realm, at most. If we had seen blood or brain matter or fluids of any kind, it would have been R rated…but we saw nothing except a guy performing a suicide pantomine.
So what was the big deal? TV stations and viewers love these stupid, low-rent animal spectacles as long as the helicopter camera is four or five hundred feet in the air and those little stick figures and thimble-sized sedans and SUVs and cop cars are seen as video-game abstractions and no real-life pain or shock or anguish is shown. This rule was broken when the guy shot himself…whoops! We just like the fun action stuff but not the sad or horrid or appalling facts behind these chases! Could you guys please cut to a commercial?
News flash: There are no car chases involving cops that don’t contain some kind of sad or horrid or appalling aspect as the ones being chased are almost always unstable, low-rent, substance-abusing, law-defying types. But cameras never take in these aspects when they’re several hundred feet above and not capturing any sound.
It’s so lazy for the Film Society of Lincoln Center camera guy to just hold on a single master shot and refuse to slowly zoom in on faces from time time. If they wanted to do it right they would have a second camera down near the stage to do another set of closeups.
Tapley isn’t as much of a fan of Life of Pi as Thompson is, and Thompson is a much bigger fan of Silver Linings Playbook than Tapley. But they’re too polite with each other. They won’t let fly. We’re looking for a little “incredulous parking garage rage” action.
Wells to Tapley: Looper does not “kick ass,” as you say at the end of your podcast. As I said on 9.6, “It’s a highly imaginative sci-fi action thriller in the Phillip K. Dick mode that’s a little too enamored of its originality and imagination, I feel — certainly more than it is enamored of being propulsive or thrilling.
“The biggest disappointment, for me, is that the great haunting concept of an older guy (Bruce Willis) being able to give counsel to his younger, stupider, less wise self (Joseph Gordon Levitt) has been almost completely ignored, and that’s really a shame.
“And Levitt’s made-up, CG-fortified Willis face is weirdly unformed and gets in the way of any potential investment. We all know what Willis looked like when he was costarring in Moonlighting and their faces, his and Levitt’s, just don’t match or seem even vaguely from the same family or country, even. The effect doesn’t work. Johnson should have cast Willis in both roles and CG’ed and de-aged him for his younger-self scenes.
“Boil Looper down and it’s just another violent whammy-chart actioner, albeit with a novel time-travel premise. The whammy chart thing is oppressive. It really feels as if someone shoots something or someone every seven or eight minutes, and that this is happening because the software insists.”
I don’t want to get in the way of praise for Ang Lee‘s Life Of Pi but these Life of Pi tweets are, I feel, a fair representation of the “easy lay” aesthetic. Joanna Langfield‘s tweet about Pi being “astounding” and Lee having “accomplished the impossible” strikes me as giddy and untempered, to say the very least. Coming Soon‘s Ed Douglas calling it “a guaranteed Best Picture nominee” might be accurate, but to call it “equal parts Slumdog, Benjamin Button and Titanic” is way too jizzy and geeky. I’ll buy Eric Kohn‘s analysis — “I’m no Oscar pundit, but Pi seems destined for the Hugo slot: F/X-driven, sentimentally involving, respected director” — but that’s as far as I can go.
Earlier today Deadline‘s Mike Fleming reported that Fox Searchlight is “courting” Natalie Portman to play Jackie Kennedy in a film about the former First Lady’s ordeal in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination. The project, Jackie, began life as a 2010 script by Noah Oppenheim, which I read and discussed on 4.15.10.
Jackie was originally going to be a Darren Aronofsky film with his then-wife Rachel Weisz as Jackie, but that went south when they broke up. “Portman likes the script,” Fleming writes, “but her participation will depend on who the director is.” No shit?
Here’s what I wrote two and a half years ago:
“Jackie does indeed follow the former Mrs. Kennedy’s experience from the day of JFK’s assassination in Dallas on 11.22.63 to his burial in Arlington Cemetery four days hence. I’ve read enough about those four dark days to understand that Oppenheim’s script is basically a tasteful re-capturing of what happened, and that’s all.
“It’s an elegant, almost under-written thing — straight, clean, dignified. The dialogue seems genuine — trustable — in that it’s not hard to believe that Jackie or Bobby Kennedy or Larry O’Brien or Theodore H. White or Jack Valenti might have said these very lines in actuality.
“The portrait that emerges isn’t what anyone would call judgmental or intrusive, or even exploratory. Jackie Kennedy is depicted as pretty much the same, reserved, quietly classy woman of legend, determined to honor her husband’s memory by making decisions about aspects of his state funeral in her own way, according to what she feels he would have wanted, or what would be appropriately dignified.
“I don’t mean to sound like a smart-ass, but it’s more or less in the same wheelhouse as Roger Donaldson‘s Thirteen Days, the drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I had a feeling that while writing this Oppenheim was mindful of the screenplay style of Aaron Sorkin, and how the latter has almost authored a ‘how to’ manual about writing emotionally reserved but affecting stories about people who live and work in the White House. The difference is that this time they’re well-known figures and the dialogue is based on historical accounts.”
A standard Zen 101 question is “why does the bird fly?” If your answer is “because that is the way for him…it’s his gift, his burden, his calling, his joy…the bird flies because he must,” you’ll probably have a place in your heart for Ang Lee‘s Life Of Pi. But if your reply is “what’s he gonna do, ride a Harley Davidson?,” then you might have issues with this 11.21 20th Century Fox release, which will have its world premiere tonight at the New York Film Festival.
Just as Anthony Minghella‘s Cold Mountain was described by the smart-asses as “a movie about a man walking through the woods” and Martin Scorsese‘s The Age of Innocence was called “a movie about cufflinks,” Life of Pi — a constantly eye-filling adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel — is going to be called “a film about floating in a lifeboat for months with a Bengal tiger.” By the primitives, I mean. It’s a spiritual journey flick, of course, but some people have no patience for that stuff. Thing is, I have plenty of patience for meditative musings and I still thought Life of Pi was kind of a languid, inconclusive, space-casey thing…although quite gorgeous on a compositional, frame-by-frame level.
I think that Life of Pi is going to be regarded as a major visual feast by the visual-delight-for-the-sake-of-visual-delight crowd — the pure cinema geeks — and as a visually enthralling curiosity by the vast majority of the viewing public, as a non-starter by a significant portion of the family audience (i.e., as a bore by kids and their legendary short-attention spans) and as a respectable also-ran in the Best Picture contest.
No one will dismiss or disrespect it. It is a reasonably sturdy work of art. It is worth seeing. It is food for thought. It might even kick in with religious types of all shapes and colors. But there’s no way it gets into the Best Picture game. Sorry.
That’s because it doesn’t tell much of a campfire story and it doesn’t really tie together, not for me anyway, and I’m saying this as one who experienced satori as a lad in my early 20s after taking LSD and reading the Bhagavad Gita, and therefore one who will always welcome notions of the mystical and the concept of clear light. But as God and Vishnu and Sri Krishna are my witness, I found it to be a mild little parable about the brutal, bestial nature of life and the relentless rough and tumble, and how we have to a choice to live in this world and be governed by these brutal terms or to see beyond these terms and achieve some level of transcendence — and that’s fine.
I also took to heart the lesson about how it sure sharpens your survival game if you have a hungry Bengal tiger to feed while you’re floating across the Pacific ocean. That’s true. I myself have been sharpened by this and that tiger on my own path.
But I found little or nothing mystical (or even mystically allusive or intriguing) in Life of Pi. What I found was heaps and mounds and waves of delirious CG eye candy in service of a very slow-moving tale children’s tale — honestly, this is a Sunday morning Clutch Cargo cartoon writ large and flamboyant and visually state-of-the-art — with a sluggish middle section on the high seas.
I’m not going to recount the story beat for beat (look it up) but 17 year-old Suraj Sharma plays young “Pi” Patel, and Irrfan Khan plays the adult Pi who tells his story to an author, played by Rafe Spall (and previously played by Tobey Maguire before Lee decided his performance wasn’t working).
The opening in the zoo (even the animals in this section look CG-ish) to Khan’s chat with Spall to Sharma sampling various faiths and religions as a kid to the sinking of the cargo ship takes…what, about 35 or 40 minutes? Then we have what seems like a full hour of struggling to survive on the boat and raft. And then a final 20 minutes of so talking to Spall again (who says the story is “a lot to take in”) and to the Japanese investigators and their surprising decision to choose a metaphorical story over a literal-sounding one.
Life of Pi is constantly inventive and diverting and obviously eye-filling, but there is next to nothing revelatory in the tale except that we all are given a choice to choose between a tale of the tiger and the hyena and the zebra and the open seas, or a tale about hunger and thirst and desperation and murder on the high seas, and that most of us tend to prefer a more literal and less metaphorical version of things.
I’m a tiger guy myself, but I appreciate the point of view of the meat-and-potatoes crowd who will snort and say, “Aww, horseshit…tell us what really happened!” I could write a review of Life of Pi by Joe Pesci‘s character in Goodfellas and/or one of Denis Leary‘s pals in the Rescue Me firehouse, and I could make it funny. But I don’t want to be snide or disrespectful. But you know what one of those guys would say.
In a letter directly to Martel, Barack Obama described his book as “an elegant proof of God, and of the power of storytelling.” I’m going to vote for Barack Obama, but if he says the same thing about the film I would challenge him to explain in detail precisely where the proof of God is.
What this movie delivers without question is proof of devotion to and obsession with CG visuals. If there is “proof of God” in Life of Pi, there is also proof of God in Happy Feet, Jurassic Park, Come Back Little Sheba, Who’ll Stop The Rain, T2, Hatari!, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Elmer Gantry, The Rains of Ranchipur, Titanic, The Silver Linings Playbook, Siddhartha, Dude, Where’s My Car?, From Here to Eternity, Stanley Kramer‘s Judgment at Nuremberg and Cecil B. Demille‘s The Greatest Show on Earth.
In its most primitive and basic form, Life of Pi is magical realism by way of what can almost be described as a CG cartoon — none of it feels “real” except for the interview portions and the portions showing Sharma/Khan as a young kid. I understand that the “unreality” of most of the film is deliberate, of course — a visual correlative to an imagination and a mindset of a man who is enthralled by and determined to find the mystical and exceptional in his processing of life. But we’re still left with the fact that the majority of the movie doesn’t look “real”, and by that I mean less real than Avatar.
Life of Pi is “painted” up the wazoo, and I don’t care if there was an actual Bengal tiger who acted in certain scenes — I don’t believe it anyway. It’s all about the hard drive. It’s all about the paint and the brushstrokes and the hanging of the canvas on the art gallery wall.
To try again, Life is Pi is a parable about the savagery of life but not, by my sights, a movie that points to or articulates anything meaningful in a mystical sense. It basically says that it’s a dog-eat-dog, hyena-eats-zebra, tiger-eats-hyena and carnivorous-plant-island world out there….survival-of-the-fittest, tooth-and-claw, watch your back and be resourceful. But (I’m repeating myself) it sure sharpens your game if you have a hungry Bengal tiger to feed, etc. Life is hard (which is entirely God’s doing) but you don’t have to think or be “hard.” If you wish to rise above instinct and raw survivalism, you can. The choice is yours. The journey is there for the taking if you want it.
I respect enormously the commitment to a precise and particular vision on Lee’s part (and that of producers Gil Netter and David Womark, and before that producer-shepherd Elizabeth Gabler and directors M. Night Shyamalan and Alfonso Cuaron), and Fox 2000 in financing it and 20th Century Fox in distributing it. This is not a movie that dives right into commercial conventionality, and into what most people (certainly what most younger people) want. These things in themselves are to be respected, particularly given the production costs and whatnot.
After Wednesday afternoon’s screening I heard a colleague talking about how she’s an atheist but she was shattered by it. Another person in her realm was very impressed by it. So I may be in the minority and that’s fine. Life of Pi deserves respect and whatever hossannahs it can get. I don’t want to stand in the way of that.
Brian Bethune of Maclean‘s once described Martel’s book as “a head-scratching combination of dense religious allegory, zoological lore and enthralling adventure tale, written with warmth and grace.” That’s pretty much what Ang Lee’s film is if you substitute “written” with “composed.” It’s fine for those who will get off on it. It’s quite the visual feast but it’s really a doodle. It’s a movie that lights or doesn’t light a match in the head of the viewer, and if you’re one of those who gets that special “something” out of it, great.
But truly great movies deliver the goods to the perceptive and the not-so-perceptive simultaneously, and that is why Life of Pi is not Best Picture material. For the not-so-perceptive, it’s an CG-driven eye-candy adventure with a slow and even draggy middle section, and a story that’s kind of interesting but also kind of “meh.” That is what 80% to 85% of viewers will think or say.
Update: In response to HE reader Mark G., the 3D is very nicely rendered. The tiger leaps out, the chunks of meat pop through, etc. I just don’t feel that much enthusiasm for 3D these days…sorry. I could have easily gone with Life of Pi being screened in 2D. That’s not a comment about the quality of the 3D work — that’s a comment about me.
Further update: Variety‘s Justin Chang, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy and Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson have all posted friendlier reviews than my own. MCN’s David Poland is more on my side of the fence.
Michael Haneke‘s Amour really gains when you know what it is and what’s coming and when. It’s a masterwork, all right, but it’s no picnic. Everyone in Jimmy Stewart #23 filed out like zombies after it was over, like they’d been gut-punched into submission. Except they hadn’t been. Amour is about nothing if not compassion and tenderness.
My first viewing in Cannes was the first handshake and the first gulp, the first “oh, no” and “good God, I’m sorry.” Last night’s screening was about getting to know Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Rivas a little bit better, and settling in with their sadness more in the way of a neighbor than an observer.
I think it’s probably too rough to be a Best Picture nominee, but if this happened I would be amazed and proud of the Academy for manning up and recognizing its greatness. I think it’s a lock for Best Foreign Language Oscar. It was submitted three weeks ago by Austria, where the funding came from.
Amour is a sad, brilliant, diamond-hard thing about aging and dying. The diamond-hard aspects are in the fact that it’s quite spare and lean and yet it doesn’t avert its gaze when Haneke so chooses. It’s about love that won’t quit until it does, until it must. I still maintain that it’s a kind of compassionate horror film. Instead of filling our heads with nightmares of being killed by ghouls or vampires or serial killers, Haneke is telling us “this is how you’re actually going to end up unless you have the courage to overdose on something or put a bullet in your head or jump off a bridge like Tony Scott.”
Anticipating the audience dread factor, Haneke tells you at the very beginning that finality is in store and that the slow torture aspects won’t last forever, but it’s a lot easier knowing that a certain kind of payoff or release is coming at a certain point in the film.
Amour will open in NY or LA on 12.19.12. There’s a luncheon and press conference with Haneke happening here next Wednesday.
I still stand by these observations, which I tweeted after seeing Amour in Cannes:
Tweet #1: “Michael Haneke‘s Amour is a very finely made, corrosively honest and delicately realized Chinese water-torture movie about slowly dying and loving mercifully right to the end.”
Tweet #2: “Jean-Louis Trintingnant and Emmanuelle Riva deliver frank affecting performances as an 80-something couple coping with drip-drip finality.”
Tweet #3: “But who apart from that certain strata of cultivated urban filmgoers will pay to see Amour? My 80something mom and her friends at her assisted-living facility would turn it off if they saw it on DVD, trust me. They watch escapist dreck in their TV room. Musicals, TV trash, etc. Never films of substance, and they would probably take gas before watching a film like Amour.”
Tweet #4 and #5: “I spent half my Amour-watching time deciding what form of suicide I’ll choose when I get that old and my life becomes that pathetic. Pills. As romantic as it sounds, I don’t want to be torn apart by wild beasts. I want to expire on a nice couch while watching a Bluray of Derzu Usala.”
Tweet #6 and #7: “I don’t know how the boomers are going to handle death in their ’80s and ’90s, but I’m betting many will go by their own hand…but with flair. Amour is two hours and 7 minutes long. Sublime and refined and honest and sensitive, but old age and withering away with diapers is not for sissies. I know — I saw my father do it four years ago.”
Tweet #8 and #9: “Amour deserves and will get much respect critically, but nobody wants to die like this and I wonder how many will want to watch this process in a film. This is how it’ll possibly be, says Michael Haneke, if you’re lucky enough to have a partner who cares as deeply and tenderly as Trintignant does for Riva. Great! But I’m now thinking about driving to Montana and buying a Glock.”
This, quite naturally, is hanging in the lobby of the Sony building adjacent to the Overland gate. (I took this on my way into my second viewing of Michael Haneke‘s Amour.) It reminded me that Sony marketing has to come out with a really good trailer for Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s hit-sqaud drama before long. Sometime in mid-October, if not before. Because the teaser that broke in early August was somewhere between so-so and not that great.
Three or four years ago I heard that story about Katie Couric using “I’m a dinner jacket” to remember how to pronounce the last name of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But the “ah” is pronounced “ach” and the accent is on the “din” so it’s “ACH mah DINner jacket.” Less important now with his current term ending in 2013 and with no shot at running again.