Woody Allen and his Match Point cast — Scarlettt Johansson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Emily Mortimer, Brian Cox, Mattthew Goode — did a post-screening q & a last night at the Arclight with Variety Screening Series moderator Pete Hammond. Most of the questions went to Woody, and here are some of his answers. Once a standup comic, always a standup comic — Allen really knows how to tell a story and give the crowd just what they want.
The Munich pile-on is turning into a shocker. I’m quite surprised by what’s happening here. A rebellion of the critical elite…a refusal to fall into line…a resounding f.u. to Steven Spielberg and his media pal, Time‘s Richard Schickel, who sang the film’s praises last weekend. The New Republic‘s Leon Wieselteir (i.e., “The Washington Diarist”) says that “the fakery is everywhere” in this Oscar-bait drama. He calls it “powerful in the hollow way that many of Spielberg’s films are powerful. He is a master of vacant intensities, of slick searings. Whatever the theme, he must ravish the viewer. Munich is aesthetically no different from War of the Worlds, and never mind that one treats questions of ethical and historical consequence and the other is stupid.” And Boxoffice Magazine critic Ray Greene is calling it “a shockingly mediocre and schematic movie…a bad pastiche of James Bond and John le Carre than the drama of ideas its director so admirably aimed for.” I was mezzo-mezzo about Munich, calling it a pretty good film but definitely not a slam-dunk in the Best Picture, but man… these other guys really don’t like it. Who could have foreseen that a presumably Oscar-worthy end-of-the-year Spielberg statement movie that was called a “secret masterpiece” by Time would be getting jabbed and maybe even bruised this early in the game? I’m shocked at this, and I’m told that more blows are yet to come.
Fox Home Video…bad. First they dropped the ball with that barely passable DVD of Alfred Hitchcok’s Lifeboat (it came out dirty, speckled and scratchy in the early portions), and then on 11.15.05 they issued an absolute dogshit-quality transfer of the magnificent Todd AO, 70 mm 30-frame-per-second version of Fred Zinneman’s Oklahoma! (1955), by transferring it at the wrong frame rate. (Or so I gather. I called Fox’s Shawn Belston to get the lowdown but I haven’t heard back.) Oklahoma! isn’t a near-great or even a pretty good movie, but the blue-chip Todd AO version of it (shot in 30 frame and on 70 mm stock) is clean and smooth and beautiful as the Oklahoma sky. (I saw it projected on a big screen in Los Angeles in the mid ’80s. Almost no frame flicker or pan blur!) And yet, appallingly, Fox Home Video’s new DVD rendition of this version is soft and fuzzy and basically crud-level. The Fox Home Video executive who refused to do the transfer correctly (I’m guessing he/she wanted to save money) should be canned, and Fox should offer rebates to everyone who paid for this two-disc set in the naive expectation that they would see a DVD facsimile of what the 30-frame version looked like on the big screen at the Rivoli theatre in 1956. (The second disc contains the standard 24-frame-per-second CinemaScope version of the film, which was shot separately and therefore contains slightly different versions of this and that scene.)
Sharon Waxman’s reporting that Chris Rock won’t be returning as the host of the next Oscar Awards show. I think most of us knew that halfway into his shpiel during last February’s telecast. And Gil Cates doesn’t know who he’s going to hire. “I’m trying to get a handle on what it is this year, and it’s a tough year to get a handle on,” Cates told Waxman. “The movies are broad — there are big movies, small movies. I have to get my hands around what this year is like.” Zzzzzz. Just hire Steve Martin already. Or Jimmy Kimmel.
More slings and arrows and sprays of buckshot are going to collide with the hide of Steven Spielberg’s Munich between now and opening day on 12.23. I’m getting the feeling that some critics may have been riled by the word “masterpiece” on that Time cover. They saw it and then saw the movie and went “what the…?” Who knows how it’s all going to shake down in the end, but it probably wasn’t the wisest decision from Universal’s perspective (not that Time‘s editors are obliged or interested in serving anyone’s interests but their own) for that word to be printed on the cover and flashed at every critic out there like a red flag in front of a thousand bulls.
Brokeback Mountain‘s opening-day reviews are overwhelmingly positive at 82%, but when a movie this sad, classy and penetra- ting comes along, it’s not the percentages that count but the passions it seems to ignite. The movies you want to pay attention to and single out for awards are the ones that hit a nerve, and any film that has more than a few top-dog critics describing it as “groundbreaking”, “landmark”, “heartbreaking”, “masterpiece” and “zeitgeist-capturing moment for Hollywood” is obviously up to something extraordinary. You have to hand it to a film that has so many straight guys out there saying “no way, ain’t goin’, fuck no” and so on…there’s something shuddering in the earth when a movie can make so many guys this uncomfortable without anyone buying (or even contemplating buying) a ticket. The irony once again (and this is the last time I’m going to repeat this) is that Brokeback Mountain couldn’t be less “gay” if it tried, and it’s fortifying to read New Yorker critic Anthony Lane talk about his having been “surprised by its tameness.” When L.A. Weekly critic Ella Taylor calls it “at once the gayest and the least gay Holly- wood film I’ve seen,” she’s acknowledging the basic storyline (two cowboys have it bad for each other) while appreciating the unforced and delicate way that director Ang Lee finds the ordinary, ain’t nothin’ universality of the thing.
Here we were beating a dead horse, but in the case of Memoirs of a Geisha (Columbia, opening today) it seems fair to note in the wake of the overwhelmingly negative reviews that the chances of this production-designed-and-costumed-to-death period chick flick rating as a Best Picture contender are close to virtually nil. Salon ‘s Stephanie Zacaharek, expressing the general consensus, says that Geisha has “no life, no juice. Instead of tempting you into submission, it merely drugs you.” Academy members can put it up for this or that tech award, but with Geisha getting slammed by the vast majority of big-gun critics (including the New York Times‘ Manohla Dargis, the L.A. Times‘ Carina Chocano and the Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern) and racking up a sad 31% Rotten Tomatoes rating, anyone looking to seriously push it for Best Picture is going to look like some kind of clueless clod. Even Zhang Ziyi’s performance won’t have much heat either after today. “Ms. Zhang…shows none of the heartache and steel of her astonishing performance in Wong Kar-wai’s 2046,” Dargis observes. “When her character crumbles with desire in that film, Ms. Zhang’s face seems to break into pieces — you can scarcely believe she could put it whole again. Here [in Geisha], you can hardly believe it’s the same actress.”