Yesterday producer Glenn Zoller, an always thoughtful and generous fellow, sent me a short called Valibation, directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) and produced by Ken Franchi.
“Valibation is pretty good — well acted and professionally produced with a certain visual discipline — and in some ways is very good, but it runs 21 minutes. Short films should not run longer than 14 minutes, and if you can bring them in at 10 or 12 minutes, so much the better. I was told this a long time ago. This could be trimmed down to 12 or 14 minutes and still make its points. Leaner is always better.
“It’s basically David Cronenberg‘s Videodrome with a tech update,” I went on. “I regret to admit the early part, before the gross stuff begins with the iPhone embedded in the guy’s hand and all, is a lot like me and my obsessive life. The CG messaging stuff is cool. I get it, it hits home. But the joke or the metaphor has more or less been delivered by the 11:00 mark, and after that you’re just waiting for it to end.
“And then towards the end the lead actor starts watching Singin’ in the Rain at 1.78 to 1? Stanley Donen shot it in 1952 at 1.33 and this bozo is watching it with the tops and bottoms chopped off? And then we get a close-up of his ass as he whacks off? The guy is a self-absorbed dick. This short is about basically about self-loathing. Ir’s basically really good for the first few minutes, then it’s pretty good until until the 10- or 11-minute mark and then it starts to slowly go downhill because we get it and can sense what’s coming.”
Chelsea Davison as Lena Dunham as Hanna Horvath riffing on “Maya” in a “sort of…uhm, feel my way into it?” improvisational audition for Zero Dark Thirty. Davidson (here’s her Twitter page) is a New York-based actress-comedian–copywriter with a Cleveland-area phone.
There are three kinds of pain-in-the-ass parking-lot drivers out there. I hate them with every drop of blood in my heart, and I’m just trying to decide which is the worst.
Is it (a) the person who eases into a space and yet doesn’t turn their car off for some reason and just sits there idling, which indicates to others that he/she may be pulling out and which sometimes creates parking-lot jams because people stop and wait when they see a car just sitting there with the effing tail lights on? These stationary idlers are perfectly aware of the trouble they’re creating, and they do it anyway.
Is it (b) the person who walks up to their car, gets in, turns it on and does absolutely dead fricking nothing for two, three or four minutes? Just sitting there endlessly, pondering life and death and the whereabouts of Godot as they try to remember if they need to buy more cat litter?
Or is it (c) the person who parks in a space and then just chills like a department-store dummy, keeps the car running and then, after sitting there for 45 or 60 or 120 seconds, very slowly backs out about six to eight feet — ahhh, they’re leaving! — and then drives back into the space again because — ohh, I see! — they wanted to park a bit more precisely parallel to the white lines.
Once you’ve parked your car, turn it the hell off. And if you’re getting into your car to leave, turn on the ignition and then carefully but expeditiously pull the hell out without any of that middle-aged lady “sitting there and checking your phone messages for two or three minutes” crap. I swear to God people should be given tickets for pulling this stuff.
I ran into producer, director, actor and one-time legendary resturateur Tony Bill at JJ Abrams‘ Irish shindig last week. I reminded him that we’d done an interview in New York in ’82 when he was promoting Six Weeks, a Dudley Moore-Mary Tyler Moore drama that Bill was hired to direct more or less at the last minute. In any event I felt a nice easy vibe, and this led to my calling the next day and suggesting a little phoner. We got around to it a day or two ago — here’s the mp3.
Tony Bill, James Franco on the set of Flyboys (’06)
I wish I could remember to just take it easy and stop yapping so much when I interview someone.
I know Warren Beatty (or I call him from time to time at least) and he and Bill know each other and are roughly from the same Hollywood generation, having broken into the film business in the early ’60s. So there’s that. And I knew Julia Phillips really well, or well enough for her to fire me as her friend two or three times, and she and Bill and Michael Phillips co-produced The Sting (’73). So there’s that also.
Plus I used to love going to Bill’s celebrated 72 Market Street restaurant, which he managed from ’84 to ’00 or thereabouts. Plus I’ve always respected his directing of My Bodyguard (’80), Five Corners (1987), Crazy People (1990), A Home of Our Own (’93) and Untamed Heart (’93, also know as Baboon Heart). I never saw his most recent effort, Flyboys (’06), which he shot digitally at a relatively early stage in the digital revolution.
Bill and his second wife, Helen Buck Bartlett, co-run Barnstorm Films in Venice. Being a guy who flourished when virtually all movies were “execution dependent,” Bill ruefully admits that those days are gone. The kind of films favored by mainstream producers these days — low-balling, pre-sold, non-execution-dependent stuff about vampires and monsters along with your standard CG-driven films based on comic books and fairy tales and action franchises — are, Bill says, not exactly in his wheelhouse. But he’s still at it, still banging away and looking for whatever. And he’s very easy to talk to.
Bill’s performance in Shampoo as Johnny Pope, a low-key, faintly sardonic Hollywood producer who gently romances Goldie Hawn and spars with Beatty’s seductive but clumsy hairdresser, is his best, I think. He wore a moustache and drove a hot car and had a smooth manner, and never offered anything more than a very faint grin. There’s a great scene in which he and another guy are interviewing Hawn for a possible job on a commercial to be shot in Egypt, and Hawn’s flaky, space-case answers indicate that she’s more than a little distracted, if not intellectually challenged. After she leaves Bill looks out the window, exhales, shakes his head slightly and goes, “Wow…this town.”
“Fee-fi-fo-fum, this fairy-tale retread is pretty dumb,” says Variety‘s Justin Chang about Bryan Singer‘s Jack the Giant Slayer (Warner Bros., 3.1). What happened to the Bryan Singer of yore…the hip clever guy who made The Usual Suspects, Apt Pupil and Valkyrie even? God help us but this is the world in which we live right now — a world in which the only films that seem to get funded are (a) aimed at the submental, milkshake-slurping family trade and (b) aren’t in the least bit “execution dependent.”
“Feeding the recent appetite for revisionist screen fantasies (Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror Mirror, Once Upon a Time), Jack the Giant Slayer feels, unsurprisingly, like an attempt to cash in on a trend, recycling storybook characters, situations and battle sequences to mechanical and wearyingly predictable effect,” Chang comments. “A disappointment coming from the usually more distinctive Bryan Singer, the Warners release will struggle to score the mammoth returns needed to recoup its not-inconsiderable budget, with an indifferent 3D conversion unlikely to offset f/x fatigue even among the youngish audience being targeted.”
Everyone knows by now that Antoine Fuqua‘s Olympus Has Fallen (Film District, 3.22) and Roland Emmerich‘s White House Down (Sony, 6.28) are both basically Die Hard in the White House (with supplemental action scenes happening in and around Washington, D.C.). Fuqua’s version opens three and a half weeks hence as well as three months prior to White House Down, which obviously gives it an edge. The New York press junket happens in 11 days.
For all I know Fuqua’s version is the one to see. To be fair, his reputation is actually pretty decent as far as ensemble action pieces (Training Day, Brooklyn’s Finest) are concerned. But it seems as if Olympus Has Fallen might be a little clunkier than White House Down because (a) fairly or unfairly, any film starring Gerard Butler is automatically suspected of being problematic because Butler has (with the exception of Coriolanus) starred in so much crap, (b) it costars Morgan Freeman as the Speaker of the House, and we all agree that Freeman has shot his wad as a wise, calm governmental authority figure (plus his hair is too white — he looks like Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained) and (c) it was shot in Shreveport, Louisiana, which indicates budgetary constraint and therefore a possible cheeseball quality.
Emmerich’s version will almost certainly look pricier, and it has a tonier, slicker-sounding cast (Jamie Foxx, Channing Tatum, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal) but let’s not go overboard here — it’s still a Roland Emmerich film.
Olympus Has Fallen synopsis: “When the White House (Secret Service Code: Olympus) is captured by a terrorist mastermind and the President (Aaron Eckhart) is kidnapped, disgraced former Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerald Butler) finds himself trapped within the building. As the national security team scrambles to respond, they are forced to rely on Banning’s inside knowledge to help retake the White House, save the President, and avert an even bigger disaster.”
White House Down synopsis: “When a paramilitary group led by Stenz (Jason Clarke) take over the White House, John Cale (Channing Tatum) a Secret Service agent, must rescue the President of the United States James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx).
Buter peaked with his performances in Phantom of the Opera and as the muscular King Leonidas in 300, but then came the romantic flyweight flicks (P.S. I love You, The Ugly Truth, Playing for Keeps) plus Law Abiding Citizen, The Bounty Hunter, Machine Gun Preacherand Chasing Mavericks, which nobody even saw. Preacher, I think, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Four days ago The Hollywood Reporter‘s Gregg Kilday posted nine films likely to be Best Picture contenders. I posted the same and then some on January 7th — John Wells‘ August: Osage County, Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher, Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska, George Clooney‘s Monuments Men, Ryan Coogler‘s Fruitvale, Paul Greengrass‘s Captain Phillips, John Lee Hancock‘s Saving Mr. Banks, Martin Scorsese‘s Wolf of Wall Street and the Coen brothers‘ Inside Llewyn Davis.
To Kilday’s I would add Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day, Alfonso Cuaron‘s Gravity, Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years A Slave, Richard Linklater‘s Before Midnight (a major Sundance 2013 highlight and an all-but-guaranteed Oscar contender for Best Original Screenplay) and David O. Russell‘s Abscam movie (which starts filming around March 1st, although a voice is telling me it probably won’t be completed in time for release in November or December). Plus, just possibly, Peter Landesman‘s Parkland. Plus one or two or three wild cards that will presumably pop through and cause excitement at the 2013 Cannes or Telluride/Toronto festivals.
Anyway, I’ve read Inside Llewyn Davis (which is very low-key and art-filmy without much of a “narrative” that turns or delivers a payoff in the usual sense) and Parkland (which is very well written but is totally “execution dependent”), but I’d like to read the others. If anyone with relatively recent PDF scripts for the above 14 or 15 films, please send along & thanks.
I was told yesterday afternoon that Penske Media’s Variety would issue a big announcement. It came this morning with three bullets: (a) the daily print edition is being scuttled, (b) ditto the online edition’s paywall (except it’s been more or less gone for several weeks now) and editor Tim Gray is being shunted aside to international to make room for a new editorial triumvirate of Claudia Eller (film), Cynthia Littleton (TV) and Andrew Wallenstein (digital media).
The only time I’ve even seen copies of Daily Variety in recent years is when I’ve walked by the print-giveaway table at the Sundance Film Festival, or just down the hall from media credentials inside the Park City Marriot. Advertisers attached to the idea of dead-tree exposure are henceforth going to have to be content with Variety‘s once-weekly edition.
The absence of print and paywall revenue means “deep” editorial cuts. Deadline‘s Nikki Finke wrote this morning that “Penske’s idea is to transform Variety into a thumb-sucking weekly about the entertainment business, leaving breaking news coverage to Deadline Hollywood.”
Reuters reported today that the Senate Intelligence Committee has “closed its inquiry” into the CIA-sourced information given to Zero Dark Thirty producer-screenwriter Mark Boal as he researched the script. The decision came “one day after Zero Dark Thirty failed to win major awards at the Oscars,” the story noted.
The Senate committee launched its review of ZD30 after chairperson Sen. Dianne Feinstein condemned scenes implying that torture of CIA detainees led to information indicating the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. There’s no question that in so doing Feinstein single-handedly killed ZD30‘s award prospects, including Kathryn Bigelow being snubbed for a Best Director nomination.
Washington politicians will do almost anything for press coverage that shows them being assertive and decisive when it comes to hot-button issues. ZD30 offered an opportunity, and Feinstein (who turns 80 on 6.22.13) grabbed it. She and her staffers got what they were looking for, and then dropped it when the story had no further relevance or media-heat.
Towards the end of this Jay Leno-Russell Crowe segment there’s a cutaway to a Mattel action figure based on Crowe’s Jor-El character (i.e., Superman’s dad) from Zack Snyder‘s Man of Steel (Warner Bros., 6.14). The studly, armour-plated outfit (Hero Complex called it “alien meets steam punk”) is the same get-up that other manly fellows have worn in God knows how many other cheesy sci-fi fantasy flicks.
Crowe’s Jor-El, in short, hasn’t been re-imagined as much as rendered according to a standard factory concept, and that tells us where Man of Steel is coming from. Crowe is playing Jor-El for the money and the career-fortification, of course, while pinching his nose as hard as he can stand it. All the designer had in mind was “stay as far away as possible from those flowing white robes that Marlon Brando wore in the 1978 Superman.” Which had to happen, of course, as today’s comic-book machismo factor could and should never allow for anyone wearing Liberace-style white robes and a Seigfried and Roy white wig. Poor Brando — he was well paid by the Salkinds but playing Jor-El surely made him fantasize about dying sooner rather than later.
I’ll most likely loathe and suffer through Man of Steel. Reason #1: the dog-eared Superman franchise closed up shop after Bryan Singer‘s reboot so cranking out another is a ludicrous move on Warner Bros. and Chris Nolan‘s part. Reason #2: Sucker Punch convinced me that Zack Snyder is 90% about high-idiot style and bullshit comic-book cliches and 10%, if that, about delivering the hard, solid, human-scale, heavy-lifting stuff that makes for a truly good film. I’ll admit that Snyder is as stylistically innovative as Brian DePalma was in his ’70s and early ’80s prime, but just as problematic as DePalma turned out to be — he’s a “me!, me!, me!” type of guy. Yes, I loved the proscenium-arch beginning of Sucker Punch but it was all downhill after that.
From my 3.24.11 Sucker Punch review: “Snyder is a kind of visual dynamo of the first order who has created in Sucker Punch a trite-but-fascinating, symphonic, half-psychedelic, undeniably ‘inspired’ alternate-reality world — gothic, color-desaturated, Wachowski-esque — that is nonetheless ruled by so much concrete-brain idiocy and coarsely “mythic” cliches (i.e., an evil father figure so ridiculously vile and gross beyond measure that he makes the cackling, moustache-twirling villains of the Snidely Whiplash variety seem austere if not inert) and ludicrous, charmless, bottom-of-the-pit dialogue and cheaply pandering female-revenge fantasies that you literally CAN’T STAND IT and WANT TO HOWL and THROW YOUR 24 OZ. COKE AT THE SCREEN.
“Snyder is a masterful visual maestro (loved the proscenium arch ‘theatrical’ touches at the very beginning) but also — this is crucial to the Sucker Punch experience — an Igor-like, chained-in-the-basement, genius-level moron at dumbing things down. The movie is a digital torture device for those seeking at least a hint of compelling narrative, a tendril-ish remnant of logic, a tiny smidgen of story intelligence, and dialogue with a hint of flair or some kind of tethered-to-the-world normality.”
If I’d produced ABC’s red-carpet Oscar segment I would have never in a million years hired the teensy-weensy, bird-like, goody-two-shoes Kristin Chenoweth — she stands 4’11” — to do interviews. She made just about every actress look like Attack of the 50-Foot Woman (even Reese Whitherspoon looked big) and every tallish guy (like the 6′ 2″ Bradley Cooper) look like Gulliver’s Travels.
My heart went out to poor, plus-sized Adele, who’s 5’9″ but was closer to six feet in heels, when she spoke with Chenoweth. You could see what she was thinking — “All right, put your best face on and you’ll be okay, but my God, this little button-sized pixie is making me look and feel like a moose.”
I’ve said before I’m not a fan of Thumbelina girls, and especially those who speak with those squeaky little peep-peep voices that so many ladies use these days. That’s because GenX and older-GenY guys like Seth MacFarlane and LexG/Ballsworth think that munchkin girls with peep-peep voices are hot. If the culture was decrying right now that it’s cooler and hotter to sound like Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck or Rosalind Russell, the peep-peep women would be doing whatever they could to affect a deeper, sultry-er, cigarette-smoke voice.
On top of which I don’t care for Chenoweth’s general Middle American shopping-mall vibe. “I’m a cute vivacious singer and very positive minded and up with people!,” blah blah. She’s a Christian who hails from Oklahoma (i.e., probably a political conservative) who’s basically a singer(!) and stage actress(!) and an ebullient personality(!) who’s big with tourists who wear shorts. The only thing interesting about her is that she once went out with Aaron Sorkin.