“I’ve seen Watchmen twice now and enjoyed it as much the second time as the first,” writes the usually perceptive and tough-minded Marshall Fine. “I’m a fan of the comic, if not a devotee. But I think it will divide audiences right down the middle, inspiring either love or hate, with little middle ground. Love is a strong term but it was as satisfying a distraction as I can remember.
“And yet what is Watchmen but yet another distraction – a bit of apocalyptic storytelling meant to take our minds off the apocalypse now?
“That’s what I hate about this moment in time: There’s no such thing as simply seeing a movie like this and enjoying it on its merits. Watchmen comes with prefabricated momentum — it’s practically mandated. But I’ll admit I was happily surprised.
“This movie delivers as a splashy, bloody comic-book adventure that stays true to its roots without being slavish about it (despite numerous images taken directly from the comic’s pages). It’s both headlong and thought-provoking, attacking the notion of heroism and the role of the hero in society in ways that The Dark Knight only talked about.”
Field of Dreams “is only movie I’ve seen that makes me cry every time I see it,” writes Arizona Star critic Phil Villarreal in the first of a series. “And instead of hardening over time I grow more pliable to its potent father-son sentiment.
“Each viewing, I sob not only when Kevin Costner asks his time-traveling ghost dad (Dwier Brown) for a game of catch, but also during James Earl Jones’ passionate, nostalgia-sopped ‘people will come’ speech about baseball and its relationship to fleeting childhood memories that haunt your soul, as well as when the young Moonlight Graham — energized that he gets the chance to fulfill a dream of youth and play with the big leaguers — bows to his fate by stepping off the diamond to become a doctor and save the choking girl.
“The first time I saw the movie it was with my family the Saturday after it opened, which almost never happened in the Villarreal household. Money and especially time were tight, with softball tournaments, YMCA basketball and the like always distracting us from sitting down together on the couch, let alone in the theater.
“Maybe once or twice a year the stars would align enough for us to get out of the house together, usually to see the all-consuming blockbuster of the day (Jurassic Park, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Dick Tracy or Speed) and almost always it was a vote between me and my two younger sisters that determined the film.
“But it wasn’t so April 22, 1989, when my dad, inspired by a trailer he’d seen while falling asleep to Letterman, demanded we’d see some weird baseball movie none of us had ever heard of. My sisters and I, as well as my mom, bitched his ears off all the way down Interstate 10, as we made our way to the Century Park 16 to indulge our patriarch’s rare flash of whimsy.
“And afterward we were silent, awash in tears just like the rest of the crowd. Well, all except for my dad, who is and always has been too tough to cry, at least in front of his son. On the way back home we all thanked him for making his crazy choice. To this day, when a family quorum happens to be assembled and one of us brings up the Field of Dreams story, my dad gets a wistful, knowing look in his eye.
“When I moved out of the dorms and got an apartment with three friends I bought the movie on VHS and watched in alone in my apartment, embarrassed to have tears dripping down my cheeks as my roommates walked in while the credits rolled. I remember blubbering through it when I penned my review for the Star in 2005, then again in 2007 I saw the movie while cradling my sleeping infant son, Luke. It was three months after he’d been born, and Jessica was finishing out the semester teaching middle school science. I’d adjusted my schedule to stay home with him Fridays, as well as several hours each morning, and most of the time he was either sleeping, sucking down bottles or screaming.
“He fell asleep during the movie, and rather than placing him in the bassinet as I usually did I kept him in my arms, looked down at him and wondered how long it would be until he’d play catch with me, and when he’d decide he was too old to play with me anymore. I wondered if I’d ever say anything dumb enough to convince him to stop talking to me, and what I’d say to get him to hear my apology. Luke woke up crying for a bottle, and I was sitting there crying as well. We were such a mess, and I realized then that I’d never forget that moment, and I had a movie to thank for it.”
This is the jukebox tune heard over the opening credits of Lone Scherfig‘s An Education, which Sony Classics probably won’t be showing anywhere until the Toronto Film Festival. I’m not going to name the cut except to say it was released close to the time that Nick Hornsby‘s story takes place. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since Sundance.
The only reason I’ve posted a video of this morning’s snowfall [see below] was that I hoped it might be able to capture the visual density of the falling muckflakes, but no. Cameras never capture what the eye sees in this respect. I guess you need IMAX or Showscan for that.
If the New Yorker‘s Anthony Lane doesn’t like a film, he’ll disdain it to death. He never gets worked up, not really, although every so often he’ll allow a current of profound disgust to seep into his prose. Which is why, for me, this just-posted Watchmen pan is such a kick-and-a-half. Lane hates it! He’s all but vomiting on the sidewalk.
“The world of the graphic novel is a curious one,” he begins. “For every masterwork, such as Persepolis or Maus, there seem to be shelves of cod mythology and rainy dystopias, patrolled by rock-jawed heroes and their melon-breasted sidekicks. Fans of the stuff are masonically loyal, prickling with a defensiveness and an ardor that not even Wagnerians can match.
“The bad news about Watchmen is that it grinds and squelches on for two and a half hours, like a major operation. The good news is that you don’t have to stay past the opening credit sequence — easily the highlight of the film. In contrast to all that follows, it tells its tale briskly, showing how a bunch of crime-fighters formed a secret club known as the Minutemen, who in turn were succeeded by the Watchmen. This entails a whisk through history from the nineteen-forties to the eighties, with shots of masked figures shaking hands with John F. Kennedy, posing with Andy Warhol, and so forth; these are staged like Annie Leibovitz setups, and, indeed, just to ram home the in-joke, we later see a Leibovitz look-alike behind a camera.
“But must we have ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ in the background? How long did it take the producers to arrive at that imaginative choice? And was Dylan happy to lend his name to a project from which all tenderness has been excised, and which prefers to paint mankind as a bevy of brutes?
“Watchmen, like V for Vendetta, harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering nineteen-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear — deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation — is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along.
“The problem is that [director Zack] Snyder, following original author Alan Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon. The result is perfectly calibrated for its target group: nobody over twenty-five could take any joy from the savagery that is fleshed out onscreen, just as nobody under eighteen should be allowed to witness it.
“You want to see Rorschach swing a meat cleaver repeatedly into the skull of a pedophile, and two dogs wrestle over the leg bone of his young victim? Go ahead. You want to see the attempted rape of a superwoman, her bright latex costume cast aside and her head banged against the baize of a pool table? The assault is there in Moore’s book, one panel of which homes in on the blood that leaps from her punched mouth, but the pool table is Snyder’s own embroidery.
“You want to hear Moore’s attempt at urban jeremiad? ‘This awful city, it screams like an abattoir full of retarded children.’ That line from the book may be meant as a punky retread of James Ellroy, but it sounds to me like a writer trying much, much too hard; either way, it makes it directly into the movie, as one of Rorschach’s voice-overs. (And still the adaptation won’t be slavish enough for some.)
“Amid these pompous grabs at horror, neither author nor director has much grasp of what genuine, unhyped suffering might be like, or what pity should attend it; they are too busy fussing over the fate of the human race — a sure sign of metaphysical vulgarity — to be bothered with lesser plights. In the end, with a gaping pit where New York used to be, most of the surviving Watchmen agree that the loss of the Eastern Seaboard was a small price to pay for global peace.
“Incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny, Watchmen marks the final demolition of the comic strip.”
But please, read the whole thing.
“It strikes me that many of the surviving critics at metropolitan dailies are bloggers,” Variety‘s Anne Thompson wrote last night. “It may be coincidence, but critic/bloggers are able to make claims for their readership numbers. Bloggers can build measurable fan bases, interact with readers in a more personal way, and demonstrate their strength with online traffic stats.
“Among the more robust critic/bloggers: The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Sean Means, The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Carrie Rickey, the Oregonian‘s Shawn Levy and the Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr. And let’s not forget the most aggressive blogger of all: the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Roger Ebert, who also pays close heed to what’s happening in film journalism.”
I’ve just clarified the source of a 1995 Los Angeles magazine article about Terrence Malick that “TheJeff” excerpted last night, called “Waiting for Godot.” And I may as well make this a front-pager. The ’95 article was essentially based on a 1991 Malick piece I had worked on for months but failed to sell, called “Malick Aforethought.” A spruced-up, cut-down version was published by a Los Angeles editor, Andy Olstein, which I was pleased with and conflicted about at the time. The backstory still bugs me a little bit.
Terrence Malick (l.), myself sometime around in the mid ’90s (r.). If there’s a photo of Andy Olstein on the web, I couldn’t find it. Too bad the Los Angeles staff didn’t run a hand-drawn visualization of Olstein’s “Joe Gillis” figure back in the day.
I worked for Olstein at Los Angeles in ’95 and, I think, into ’96. Andy felt, as did many others, that my original Malick piece was a little too turgid and term-papery. (He was right.) So he enlivened it by pruning it down and inserting a narration penned by Andy’s Joe Gillis persona (Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard creation reborn as Andy’s hard-boiled alter ego, sipping mai tai’s at the Formosa Cafe). I think I was given a “researched by” or “reporting by” credit at the very end of the piece. I needed the money and the activity so I accepted the diminished status.
During the preparation of this piece I had managed, incidentally, the almost unheard-of feat of getting Malick to come to the phone. (He was staying at Mike Medavoy‘s, and I had just rung Mike’s house one afternoon, hoping I might get lucky.) Our conversation barely happened because of Malick’s historic aversion to sharing with journalists (then, before, now, forever), but I taped and transcribed what we said to each other. Olstein, committed to the Gillis authorship and keeping me out of the picture except as an assistant/researcher, used the transcript, of course, but as a conversation between Malick and Joe Gillis (!) And so people naturally presumed it hadn’t happened and was made up. Brilliant, Andy! My eternal thanks
Here‘s the portion of the article as it relates to Malick’s Q, which has manifested in some form in Malick’s forthcoming The Tree of Life. Full disclosure: I rewrote (i.e., pilfered) a paragraph or two from a first-rate piece called “Absence of Malick” by David Handleman, which ran in California magazine in November 1985.
“In the summer of 1978, Malick had begun work on Q — easily his most ambitious project. The original concept was a multicharacter drama set in the Middle East during World War I, with a prologue set in prehistoric times. But after dispatching an assistant for 10 weeks to scout locations, Malick chucked the Middle East section. By the end of the year, the prehistoric prologue had become the whole script.
“‘Imagine this surrealistic reptilian world,’ says Richard Taylor, a special-effects consultant Malick hired. ‘There is this creature, a Minotaur, sleeping in the water, and he dreams about the evolution of the universe, seeing the earth change from a sea of magma to the earliest vegetation, to the dinosaurs, and then to man. It would be this metaphorical story that moves you through time.’
“Malick covered a lot of ground and spent a bundle of money preparing to film Q. By midsummer 1979, Paramount had become very frustrated trying to reconcile the mounting bills with the director’s ever-evolving concept.
“‘It got to the point that whatever people wanted, he wouldn’t give it to them,’ Taylor remembers. ‘Because he was expected to make a movie, he’d say, ‘I don’t want to.’ One day he went to France, and that was it.” What was thought to be a brief vacation turned into a permanent one. Says screenwriter Bill Witliff: ‘I think the more applause he got, the more frightened he got.’
“Much of Malick’s life since has been spent avoiding that fright. He lives now with his second wife (a former Parisian guidance counselor whom he married in 1988) and her daughter. He writes and travels, spending half his time in Paris and the other half at his apartment in Austin, with stopovers in Oklahoma to visit his brother and father. Or he pops up on either coast.
“In the last few years, Malick was said to be in New York working as an adviser on an experimental film; visiting Sam Shepard (the farmer in Days of Heaven) in Virginia armed with a 250-page version of Q that Shepard thought ‘absolutely brilliant but virtually unfilmable,’ according to mutual friend, writer-director Chris Cleveland; and attending a Pasadena Playhouse production, where screenwriter Tom Rickman asked him what he’d been doing lately. ‘Nothing’ was the reply.”
“We’re just starting work on a project for Terrence Malick, animating dinosaurs, the film is The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. It’ll be showing in IMAX — so the dinosaurs will actually be life size — and the shots of the creatures will be long and lingering.” — from an Empire magazine interview with VFX artist Mike Fink that some sources claim to have read but which can’t be located by the mag’s search engine.
Some 18 years ago I over-wrote a very long piece about Malick, a where-is-he? thing called Malick Aforethought. It later ran in truncated form in Los Angeles magazine in ’95 or thereabouts. I don’t have a copy of either version, but I remember researching and describing an ambitious film that Malick wanted to film in the wake of the 1978 release of Days of Heaven, called Q. (A title later appropriated by Larry Cohen when he made Q, The Winged Serpent .)
And I remember a passage about a dinosaur sleeping and dreaming in a sea of magma — I remember that much. The story spanned millenia. We all know there’s a 20th Century portion in which Pitt (I think) plays Penn’s dad in flashbacks. I realize this all sounds a little vague.
“Rush Limbaugh is the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party. He has laid out his vision, he’s been very up front and I compliment him for that. He’s not hiding. He’s called for President Obama to fail. He has been up front and hasn’t stepped back from that. And that’s what he has enunciated. And whenever a Republican criticizes him, they have to run back and apologize to him and say they were misunderstood.” — “Rahmbo” speaking this morning in CBS’s Face The Nation.
Casting rumors about the Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges project have been circulating for so long (four or five years now) that they go in one ear and out the other, but a well-placed friend confides that Bobby and Peter “have been talking to Johnny Depp for the role of Moe and Sean Penn as Larry.” Variety‘s Michael Fleming reported last November that the Stooges film had been revived with MGM financing and that the new film would be released in November ’09.
Perhaps the key reason why audiences were so moved by Gone With The Wind when it opened in late 1939 was because they saw the Civil War agonies endured by Scarlett O’Hara as a metaphor for the deprivations of the Great Depression. On top of which they knew from experience that what matters in hard times is backbone and gumption, which is why they saw Vivien Leigh‘s Scarlett, a selfish but feisty survivor, as one of their own.
Which is why Gone With The Wind is probably striking the same sort of chord today as well, given our current travails with Great Depression 2.0. And why Molly Haskell‘s new book, Frankly My Dear: Gone With The Wind Revisited, may sell better now than if it had come out, say, five or ten years ago.
“Scarlett is the perfect character for the times,” Haskell recently told MacLean‘s Peter Shawn. “She has that combination of suffering, glamour and hope that people are looking for. Even though the story was set in the Civil War, audiences saw it as a Depression-era fable. This was a story speaking about their situation and their problems.”
Which is why a similar reception may greet the release later this year of a newly remastered Gone With The Wind Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.
In a 2.17.09 interview with High-Def Digest’s David Krauss, WHV’s George Feltenstein said that a GWTW Blu-Ray would be among a “murderer’s row” of classic releases later this year (along with The Wizard of Oz and North By Northwest).
Both Oz and Gone With The Wind “were remastered in 2K Ultra Resolution three or four years ago for splashy DVD releases,” Krauss writes, “but have been completely overhauled once again to make sure they meet all of Blu-ray’s exacting standards.
“‘What was perfection two to three years ago is not now,’ Feltenstein says. ‘We thought Gone With the Wind would be good to go on Blu-ray with what was done previously, plus $200,000 for dirt cleaning. But to look perfect, we had to start all over from scratch at enormous cost. I took it to management and there was no hesitation. Having a film like Gone With the Wind on Blu-ray will set a new standard and pave the way for more classic releases.”