There’s an attractive “Great Performers” gallery in Sunday’s N.Y. Times magazine with photos by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and a quickie intro by Lynn Hirschberg. Neat impressionistic face- and body-painting shots of Charlize Theron, Reese Witherspoon, Vera Farmiga (great in Down to the Bone), etc. But I don’t get the cat eyes on George Clooney. It’s just not in the same vein as the other shots…not decorative…oddball …creepy no matter how you slice it.
Just can’t do those Gurus of Gold inputs no more. Many thanks to David Poland for honoring me with an invitation to keep voting, but I’m Guru’d out, man. I’ve been Heath Ledger-ed, George Clooney-ed, Felicity Huffman-ed, Academy-soaked, Karen Fried-icized, Tony Angelotti-sized, Reese Witherspoon-ed, Philip Seymour Hoffman-ed and Paul Haggis-ed to death. Two weeks and two days and it’s over. I love the hoopla and those Oscar contention ads and the parties and all, but I can’t be the only one feeling this way.
Terrence Rafferty on Robert Altman‘s finally getting an honorary career achievement award from the Academy on March 5th, and how he “pretty emphatically qualifies as overdue…he has been overdue for 30 years.” Of course, Rafferty’s New York Times piece zeroes in on Altman’s great five-year period when he made M*A*S*H (’70), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (’71), The Long Goodbye (which was barely paid attention to when it opened in ’73), Thieves Like Us (’74), California Split (’74) and Nashville (’75), and says they “still look like the core of his achieve- ment…[films] we talk about when we talk about Robert Altman.” Rafferty trashes some others (Quintet, Health, Pret-a-Porter, The Company), and salutes Altman’s two later-in-life winners: The Player (’92) and Gosford Park (’02). The early ’70s worked well for the soon-to-be 81 year-old filmmaker because “the conditions were right for Altman’s loose-jointed, intuitive, risk-courting approach to making movies, and the planets over Hollywood haven’t aligned themselves in that way since. The wondrous opportunity those years afforded adventurous filmmakers like him was that studio executives, for once in their ignoble history, actually knew that they had no idea what they were doing.”
My favorite all-time Robert Altman film is California Split, closely followed by McCabe, The Long Goodbye and The Player. I haven’t seen Nashville in eons, and I’ve seen M*A*S*H* too often. My all-time favorite improvised line in an Altman film (which may have been written by Leigh Brackett for all I know): Elliot Gould‘s Phillip Marlowe is asking a small-town Mexican official about the alleged death of his amoral, sleazy friend Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), and the Mexican gentleman refers to Lennox as “the deceased” but it sounds like another English term. And Gould goes, “The diseased…yeah, right.” Side note: In the mid ’80s I rented an apartment on Hightower Drive (off Camrose, not far from the Hollywood Bowl) partly because Gould’s Marlowe lived in an amazing, high-up, elevator-access deco complex on Hightower in The Long Goodbye, and I thought it would be cool to live right down the street from this.
I attended a cinematographer’s seminar at the Newport Beach Film Festival a year or two ago, and asked a question of Vilmos Zsigmond, whose camerawork on Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye was entirely composed of slowly arc-ing tracking shots, always gently floating from right to left (or vice versa) and never sitting still. I told Zsigmond I loved this because it seemed like an apt metaphor for the fluid, always-moving impermanence of life in Los Angeles. And he said, “What you’ve just said is an intelligent interpretation, but when Altman and I talked about it there was no rationale of that kind. All he said was, ‘Let’s keep the camera slowly moving the whole time.’ I asked why and he said, ‘I don’t know but let’s just do that.’ I didn’t like it at all, but I do now.”
Jasmila Zbanic‘s Grbavica, a drama about a Bosnian mother and daughter struggling to make their way through the aftermath of the Balkan war, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday. And The Road to Guantanamo co-helmers Michael Winterbottom and and Mat Whitecross shared the Best Director award. Moritz Bleibtreu won a Silver Bear Best Actor award for his role as “a sexually disturbed teacher” in The Elementary Particles. Sandra Hueller was named Best Actress for her acting in Requiem, a fact-based story about a woman “who undergoes an exorcism after suffering a breakdown.” Great.
The March issue of Maxim magazine has a piece about Hollywood’s Great Movie Drunks (or words to that effect). W.C. Fields, Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, Paul Giamatti in Sideways, etc. Maxim doesn’t even mention Lee Marvin‘s Oscar-winning performance as the lushy gunfighter in Cat Ballou. Hilarious shit, except for the fact that Marvin was affected by alcohol in real life and died on the young side (63, I think) partly because of this, which makes his Cat Ballou shenanigans seem a little less amusing. Harry Nilsson‘s not-fully-conscious decision to drink himself to death for the last 20 or 25 years of his life (which is depicted in John Scheinfeld’s Who Is Harry Nilsson?) was a massive downer for all concerned. Dudley Moore‘s drunken playboy was funny in 1981’s Arthur, but less so in 1988’s Arthur 2: On The Rocks. Arthur was a fresher film, of course, with a kind of champagne-fizz attitude. The sequel was boozier and more “real.” Moore was obviously older in ’88, his career wasn’t going quite as well, the performance felt desperate and the mood wasn’t the same. Drunks aren’t funny in real life unless you’re 19 and hanging with your drunken friends and as drunk as they are. You have to be fairly young and unsullied, which sort of describes the Maxim readership, and why the editors are running this piece. A true story: I was staying with some friends at a beach house on the Jersey coast when we were all 17 or thereabouts, and there was this big guy named Richard Harris who was half-sitting and half-lying on the living-room couch and about to throw up from too much vodka. I was coming down the stairs and Harris was suddenly on his feet and making for the bathroom (or at least the kitchen sink), but he wasn’t fast enough. He put his hand in front of his mouth in an obviously futile, almost touching attempt to prevent the inevitable, and I can still see that torrent of chicken-rice puke spewing out of his mouth and cascading off the palm of his right hand and splattering on the floor and into a black grated-iron floor heater. A loud hissss sound resulted as the vomit dripped into the coal-burning furnace and the smell of it filled the house. We all and moaned and groaned at the aroma and ran outside to escape it, going “aahh!” and “oh, God!” I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life, but…I don’t know what my point is except that now that I’m no longer 17 and not much of a drinker, the Maxim piece kinda left me cold.
A DVD of Ridley Scott’s 190-minute director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven (which I reviewed on January 4th after seeing it the sub-run Laemmle Fairfax in West Hollywood) is coming out on Fox Home Video on May 23. I called it a “considerably better film” than the mainstream theatrical version that opened in May of last year, and said that “stand-up critics ought to review this version for history’s sake, for the sake of saluting top-grade filmmaking. This is an obviously improved version of what was a respected film to begin with, and from a major director… attention should be paid. When a film this admirable is deliberately gutted by a major studio, critics have an obligation to assess what was what.
Every good movie has a prime fighting weight. 190 minutes is what Kingdom of Heaven should have been all along, and seeing it at this length proves it.”
Timur Bekmambetov‘s Night Watch (Fox Searchlight, opening wide 3.3), a supernatural thriller set in Moscow, opened in Russia in the summer of ’04 and across Europe in September ’05, and here it is finally opening in Los Angeles…at the funky-ass Nuart in West L.A. That tells me plenty right there. But this quickie trailer (the entire movie speeded up) tells you it’s an eyeful, and I like this passgae from Kenneth Turan’s review, observing that Bekmambetov “has combined two things that never connected before. He’s taken a glossy Hollywood-type fantasy thriller about the battle between supernatural forces of good and evil right here on planet Earth and infused it with a homegrown, distinctively Russian soul. Think of it as a popcorn movie with a vodka chaser. A really strong vodka chaser.” The scary part is that Night Watch is the opening chapter of a trilogy (the second installment, Day Watch, just opened in Russia last month, and the third part, Dusk Watch, will hit theatres in ’07), and that’s something to regard with extreme caution. It means Bekmambetov probably has a Peter Jackson maestro complex (“I am prolific, I contain multitudes…my head is bursting with fanatstic images!”) and that’s been known to bring torture to some of us. I guess I have to go to the Nuart today and pay to see it. No one from Fox Searchlight sent me a screening invitation. Did a publicist think it over and figure that Night Watch‘s Jacksonesque qualities…? Naaah.
So those late January rumors about Universal honcho Stacey Snider coming to the Paramount lot and replacing Paramount president Gail Berman weren’t total hogwash after all. The L.A. Times‘ Claudia Eller and the Hollywood Reporter’s Anne Thompson have reported over the last couple of days that Snider is looking to take a production chief job with DreamWorks on the Paramount lot, but not replace Berman or anyone else on the Paramount team. Given that the rumors were about 40% true, Nicole LaPorte‘s 2.5.06 Variety story complaining about unchecked net rumors (including the Snider-moving-to-Paramount one) reads a bit more hair-trigger than it did at first glance. There’s a line in Michael Tolkin’s script for Robert Altman‘s The Player (1992) that’s echoing back right now — “All rumors are true…you know that.” Spoken by Sydney Pollack‘s attorney character Dick Mellon to Tim Robbbins‘ Griffin Mill, it implies that the talk out there may not be chapter-and-verse reliable, but there’s almost always something to it. “Talk” usually means that people are unhappy and looking to see something change, and there’s no waving it away. The precise meaning of drumbeats muffled by distance and atmosphere may not have been clear to Native Americans hearing them in the distant past, but the sound alone got their attention every time.