L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke has startled the film world with a gut-punch quote from producer and longtime Steven Spielberg loyalist Kathy Kennedy that Munich (Universal, 12.25), which Spielberg directed and Kennedy produced, “could be his best.” The quote comes from a friend of Kennedy’s, who adds that Kennedy “wasn’t talking that way about War of the Worlds.” First, War of the Worlds was a pretty good film (except for the last ten minutes with the dipshit happy ending) so anyone who uses that film as an example of a big Spielberg miscalculation or letdown is a suspicious source to start with. Second, anything that Kennedy says about Munich (regardless of any perspective provided by Finke’s source) is obviously not to be trusted. Third, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, the Munich trailer strongly indicates that above and beyond the procedural aspects (Mossad agents out to kill the Palestinians who perpetrated the 1972 Munich Olympic Games masscare), it’s mainly going to be a guilt-trip movie with Eric Bana’s Mossad operative lamenting about his team having killed some innocents and the possibility of his daughter loving him less if she ever finds out, etc. The insect-antennae reading around town is that Munich will probably be pretty good, but that’s all. If it turns out to be much better or even masterful, fine…but I doubt it.
The comic tone of Lasse Halstrom’s Casanova (Disney, 12.25) isn’t exactly “farcical,” which, for some of us, means humor that’s cloddishly broad and frequently unfunny. Casanova‘s alchemy is more subtle; it’s selling laughs through the filter of a certain subdued old-world lunacy. It almost feels as if Hallstrom and his cast were on mescaline when they shot it. Does Casanova feel as whimsically stoned as Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers? Maybe not, but it’s a very close relation. I saw it earlier this week and concluded right afterwards it’s the most satisfying Lasse Hallstrom film since….I was going to say My Life as a Dog but let’s hedge a bit and say What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Ledger plays the legendary Venice cocksman with just the right portions of sincerity and insincerity…a very delicate brew. Costars Sienna Miller, Lena Olin and Jeremy Irons more than hold their own, but Oliver Platt gives the biggest standout performance as the pot-bellied Papprizzio. (A friend who just saw it in Sydney told me this morning he felt “more emotionally invested in Platt’s buffoon than Ledger’s Casanova.”) While I’m on the subject, the MPAA’s ratings board has again passed down an idiotic decision in giving this mildy frothy comedy an R rating because of a simulated oral-sex scene. My kids told me three or four years ago that oral sex is a total so-whatter among eighth graders (at the school they were attending in Tiburon, at least) so you’d have to think that kids who are 12 and 13 and 14 thesed days would barely raise an eyebrow at simulated off-screen oral sex in a film. Sorry, parents, but we’re no longer living in a Wonder Years world. A PG-13 would have been more than sufficient.
That rumor about Terrence Malick’s The New World (New Line, 12.25) having been shot in 70mm is only a little bit true. They used 70mm film only twice during the shoot, for FX shots. 70mm used to be a gold-standard way of shooting a prestige film (the clarity of image on older 70mm films like Lawrence of Arabia is ummistakable), but no longer because 35mm has become so light-sensitive and technologically tuned-up.
Stephen Gaghan’s Syriana (Warner Bros.) opens today with a 75% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating. I haven’t yet written my piece about it, but despite what you may be hearing about the narrative being a little oblique for some viewers, this a riveting and deliciously cynical geopolitical drama for the ages. The best people have been speaking about it in reverent tones over the last two or three weeks, and its reputation is only going to grow as the years advance…and for good reason. I did a pretty good phone interview with Gaghan last Saturday, which you can hear by clicking on the “archives” file right under the site’s Elsewhere Live ad. And read this review by senior critic Kenneth Turan. I totally agree with everything he says here, and he says it very well.
The town is shutting down for Thanksgiving already. Five days of friends-and-family kickback time (and a chance to catch up with all the movies and DVDs I’ve been putting off seeing) is about to begin. A friend sent me a “have a Happy Thanksgiving” note this morning and I replied, “I’ve been a Turkey-McNuggets-on-Thanks- giving guy for years, and the notion of holiday respite is a joke given the relentless demands of this column…but thanks for thinking of me, [name], and I hope you have a heathwarming time on Thursday as well.” The same sentiments are hereby passed along to the readership.
I love Chris Columbus’s Rent, but it has a 47% Rotten Tomatoes rating so all right, okay…I’m clearly in the minority. But at least William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer likes it and the Hollywood Reporter‘s Kirk Honeycutt is seriously supportive. And the New York Times‘s A.O. Scott is also, to his admitted surprise, a fan. “The lyrics to one of its frenetic, show-stopping songs celebrate the idea of ‘being an ‘us’ — for once — instead of a ‘them’,” Scott Begins, “and the world around Rent may be similarly divisible, into those viewers whose hearts beat faster as soon as the lights go down [on a production of Rent], and those whose heads begin to ache before the first note has even sounded. Approaching the film adaptation, which reunites most of the original Broadway cast to belt out Jonathan Larson’s lung-stretching songs about love, art, real estate and AIDS, I was inclined toward the latter category. Two hours later, I was pleased (and somewhat surprised) to find myself an ‘us’, for once, instead of a ‘them’. Some aesthetic objections still stand…but every time the film seemed ready to tip into awfulness, the sneer on my lips was trumped by the lump in my throat. [Columbus] as taken a source that is fiercely and jealously loved by its core fans and refrained from messing it up. It is not just that he shows dexterity and imagination in transferring the spectacle onto the actual streets of the East Village in Manhattan. The real key to his success is his utter lack of condescension. Rent is nothing if not earnest…it believes in itself utterly [and] is occasionally silly, often melodramatic and never subtle. Openhearted to a fault, it stakes its integrity on the faith that even in millennial New York, some things — friendship, compassion, grief, pleasure, beauty — are more important than money or real estate. But to chide Rent for its childish politics or its simplistic and instantly obsolete vision of the New York demimonde is to think like a ‘them’.”