I’ve never used the word “madding” in speech nor have I typed it out. Except, of course, when referring to John Schlesinger‘s 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s same-titled novel, which was published in 1874. In Hardy’s mind madding meant frenzied or manic. (It was oafish for the guys who wrote “Volare,” the 1958 Dean Martin single, to change the line to “away from the maddening crowd.” Dopes.) Now, of course, Thomas Vinterberg is lensing a new version with Carey Mulligan in the Julie Christie role (i.e., Bathsheba Everdene). Matthias Schoenaerts has the Alan Bates role (sheep farmer, man of the soil, no manicure), Tom Sturridge plays a caddish cocksman in uniform (i.e., the Terrence Stamp role) and Michael Sheen plays the prosperous William Boldwood (i.e., Peter Finch‘s character). Schlesinger’s film was regarded as a picturesque slog in its time, and I frankly can’t see Vinterberg’s version amounting to very much. A woman so desirable and fascinating she had three lovers and caused much romantic strife…big deal.
I was ready to run a piece about Jon Turtletaub‘s Last Vegas (CBS Films, 11.1) after catching it two weeks ago but it wasn’t cool to post, embargo-wise, until two days ago. Now I can’t seem to get it up. All I know is that I was expecting a piece of throwaway jizz, and it’s a little better than that. Not that much better, mind, but it’s likable and good natured — an unpretentious, decent enough hoot. Dan Fogelman‘s script is hardly inspired, but it’s not written stupidly or for apes with shopping-mall tastes. It’s still a semi-discardable thing — it’s perfect for an airplane flight — but it’s certainly better than a 41% Rotten Tomatoes rating would indicate. Kevin Kline and especially Morgan Freeman really get into the gleeful foolishness of making a stupid movie, and it’s catching. On top of which Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro and Mary Steenburgen handle themselves nicely. Douglas and Steenburgen’s scenes together have a curious but symmetrical undercurrent in that both have very clearly had “work” done, and so you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, they both feel the same away about plastic surgery so they might be a match.”
In reporting about a special David O. Russell tribute at AFI Fest on Friday, 11.8, L.A. Times reporter Mark Olsen has reminded that Russell’s The Fighter had a surprise screening at the 2010 AFI Fest, and that Hustle could “possibly be in line for the same unveiling.” A Russell rep has told me, naturally, that there will be “no surprise AFI Fest screening” of American Hustle, and that’s fine. (If they were to confirm it now it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, would it?) I know that if Hustle doesn’t screen at AFI Fest it’s going to look like Russell and Sony are a bit uncertain about things. Russell has been fine-tuning and test-screening this puppy for a while now, and I know it’s going to start to be press-screened in late November so why the hell not screen it as a surprise? Why go half-assed with a q & a and a tribute reel (including a few Hustle clips) during the 11.8 tribute? Does American Hustle kick the competition to the curb or doesn’t it?
Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day (Paramount, 12.25) “is a decently crafted, amber-lighted period drama, based on the 2009 Joyce Maynard book and set during the Labor Day holiday of 1987,” I wrote from the Telluride Film festival on 8.29.13. “It begins as a kind of home invasion situation that isn’t quite a hostage or kidnapping thing. It’s a family love story of sorts mixed with a criminal-hiding-out-in-the-home-of-a-single-neurotic-mom-and-her-son story. A spin on a yarn that sinks in every so often. It has a current of sincerity. It tries to do the right thing.
In his latest Grantland column, Mark Harris has advanced an idea about presumed Oscar-worthy performances that I’d kind of forgotten about or never really waded into. Academy members vote for an actor whom they admire for the skill and depth of his or her acting chops (as well as the degree to which they’ve physically disappeared into a character by losing or gaining weight or wearing a prosthetic nose) but also by the measure of how sorry they feel for the character he/she has portrayed.
Why do we feel sorry for a character or for anyone in real life? Because we’ve been there and we can relate. We know what it’s like to be in his or her shoes and what the shoulder weight feels like. Obviously Academy members vote for actors they like or admire or feel in awe of, but more often than not the deep-down thing kicks in and they vote for characters they feel closest to. Which is why, I’m suspecting more and more, All Is Lost‘s Robert Redford is probably going to win for Best Actor.
Last April I posted one of the most logical, sensible and fair-minded parliamentary suggestions in the nine-year history of Hollywood Elsewhere. (The column is 15 years old if you count the Mr. Showbiz version, which began in August of ’98, and the Reel.com version from ’99 to ’02 and the Movie Poop Shoot version from ’02 to ’04). It was about the need to minimize the impact of the likes and dislikes of out-to-pasture Academy members. Not in a dismissive or disrespectful way, but moderately and appropriately.
“If the Academy wants to be part of the world as it is right now and have the Oscar winners reflect this, it has to reduce the influence of people whose professional peaks happened 15 or 20 or more years ago,” I wrote. “These people will retain membership and all the priveleges that go with that, but their votes won’t count as much as those who are actively working and contributing to the films of today, or at least films made within the last five to ten years — simple.
The review embargo for Peter Berg‘s Lone Survivor (Universal, 12.27 limited) lifts on Wednesday, 11.13, but Universal had a big “hello, journalists!” screening last night at the TV Academy in Burbank, and apparently it’s okay to “comment” in discreet bursts. Here are three or four. Lone Survival is a blue-chip, this-really-happened war film in the tradition of Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, We Were Soldiers and particularly Black Hawk Down. It’s an expertly assembled, emotionally jarring wallop — it quickens your pulse and makes you go “whoa…that was fierce and heavy.” It throttles you all to hell and that ain’t hay. My mouth was open with a “good effing God!” look on my face (I wasn’t holding a mirror but trust me) for at least half of the two-hour running time. The two thoughts I had were “God help the guys who went through this nightmare” and “thank God I’m sitting warm and safe and dry in a theatre in Burbank.”
Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg, director Peter Berg & interviewer Tina Brown during last night’s q & a.
Is Lone Survivor an awards-season contender? Yes. Certainly. Or it damn well should be, at least. The honest gut-punch aspect plus the high level of craft and unmissable emotion that went into it demand this level of consideration.
The first significant media screening of Peter Berg‘s Lone Survivor (Universal, limited late December opening) happens this evening. All indications are that it’s another Black Hawk Down only darker — a tale of a failed Middle-Eastern military mission (i.e., 2005’s Operation Red Wing in Afghanistan) that led to a lot of American soldiers getting wasted. The highlight, I’m told, is a long unbroken battle sequence that lasts a good 30 or 40 minutes. (I’ll time it this evening.) I respected Black Hawk Down, but I’m a tiny bit suspicious of U.S. war films that focus on brotherly camaraderie and ignore the bigger questions. The Afghanistan War (which we’re finally extricating ourselves from) was pure quicksand from the get-go. U.S. forces could never hope to defeat the Taliban or reduce them to some level of insignificance because sooner or later all foreign invaders are out-lasted and eventually defeated by the natives. It’s brave and noble to protect and fight for your buddies, but it’s a sad thing to die for a no-win objective.
In the view of Nick “Action Man” Clement, Anton Corbijn‘s The American, Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and David Fincher‘s Se7en are spiritual brethren of Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor.
“Much like in The American, Scott and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy smartly subvert the audiences’ preconceived genre expectations: the chase has to be here, it needs to end there, this character needs to be killed by that character, etc. And as in Peckinpah’s down and dirty Garcia, the narrative in The Counselor comes to a rational (however disturbing and bleak) conclusion that has to be considered as ‘audience-unfriendly’ or ‘morally reprehensible.’ [But] it’s not the job of cinema or of filmmakers to only tell stories about the morally just and dignified.
I’m not saying that DVD Beaver‘s Gary W. Tooze has never criticized a Bluray in one of his reviews, but I can’t remember the last time this happened. The man loves to cheer and show affection whenever possible (especially if a Bluray image is covered in digital mosquitos). So it’s significant that Tooze has actually complained about the cropping on Warner Home Video’s The Best Years Of Our Lives Bluray. Tooze provides screen captures that show a modest but significant portion of the right-side area having been sliced off, and asks “why?” Tooze’s screen captures are generally reliable so I see no need to doubt his evidence. The trimmed section appeared on earlier DVD versions; it makes no sense to me that WHV technicans would decide to do this. (Tooze says the slicing is evident only “through the beginning.”) WHV’s Ned Price has been snippy ever since last spring’s Shane brouhaha but maybe the good-natured George Feltenstein can answer this. What’s the rationale for cleavering Gregg Toland‘s framings during the early portions of this 1946 classic?
Frame capture from 2000 MGM Home Video DVD — notice the breathing room on Harold Russell’s mid-back area on the right side.
Same scene on Warner Home Video’s new Bluray — Russell’s back has been sliced off. At the same time there’s more to see of Dana Andrew’s cap on the left side. Why crop the image at all? Why not show a generous portion of Andrews’ cap as well as Russell’s lower back area?
Late this morning I drove up to the Chateau Marmont for a brief chat with acclaimed Italian director Paolo Sorrentino about his latest film, The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellazza), which I discussed a couple of days ago (“Beauty in A Shoebox“). Pretty much everyone has called it a modern day, Berlusconi-era version of Federico Fellini‘s La Dolce Vita, but I barely went there. I just don’t have the nerve to ask obvious questions. (Sorrentino says virtually everyone has brought this up.) I mostly asked about Beauty‘s dazzling visual style, which is composed in a luscious old-school fashion. Sorrentino shot Beauty on film, but acknowledges this won’t happen again. Like his pallies the Coen brothers, who have also admitted they’ve thrown in the celluloid towel, Sorrentino is resigned to shooting his next film digitally. He has no clue what that next film might be about, although he says he intends to keep his partnership going with Toni Servillo, the star of Beauty as well as Sorrentino’s Il Divo (’09).
The Great Beauty director Pasolo Sorrentino at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont — Wednesday, 10.30, 11:25 am.
Last night I popped in the Kino Bluray of F.W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu (1922), which I’ve been absorbing by way of clips and stills since the ’70s but which I’d never watched whole. I’m glad I got it out of the way but I have to say that my respect for Nosferatu as a seminal German expressionist horror film has now been mitigated. The restoration by Luciano Berriatua presumably represents the best this 92 year-old film can look, but the best I can say about the content is that it’s a noteworthy, occasionally interesting slog.