A Matt Dillon interview by the AP’s Jake Coyle ran on 2.21, and of course — naturally! — the piece manages to refer to Dillon’s City of Ghosts, his directorial debut that I saw and quite admired in March of ’03, in terms of its financial failure instead of how atmospherically pungent and dramatically haunting it was as a film. I described it thusly: “A guy on the lam, a sense of existential flotation, an exotic Southeast Asian locale full of offbeat eccentrics, a running away from one’s self only to be faced with a final ethical reckoning — yup, this is Joseph Conrad territory, all right. Dillon has said repeatedly that the screenplay he wrote with Barry Gifford (Lost Highway, Wild at Heart) was inspired by Conrad’s novels (‘Heart of Darkness’, ‘Lord Jim’). They seem to have taken special inspiration from Carol Reed‘s Outcast of the Islands (1952), another Conrad adaptation in which Trevor Howard gave one of his finest performances as a Jimmy Cremming-like character hiding out in a South Seas paradise, a refugee from a morally compromised past. If this sort of film rings your bell, if you liked Phillip Noyce‘s The Quiet American (which Ghosts resembles in certain ways, particularly regarding Jim Denault’s cinematography, which is in the same league as Chris Doyle‘s), if you love Outcast and that whole ball of wax, City of Ghosts will in no way feel like a burn, and may even get to you like it did me.”
Variety‘s Ben Fritz noted last Sunday that “if there’s one thing the Academy can’t be accused of this year, it’s catering to popular whims,” adding that “in a year when the five best picture nominees combined grossed only about $200 million domestic- ally, and four of them can be called hits only compared with their low budgets, some argue there’s a profound disconnect between what appeals to the industry vs. the public at large.” What…that lament again? Oscar winners need to be big money-makers or they somehow aren’t legit? Shit, sonny. “But it’s not just the Best Picture nominees. Across the board, 2005 was a brutal year for all but a handful of prestige movies. Whether ultimately praised by Oscar voters or not, pics from respected helmers including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Curtis Hanson, Rob Marshall, Ridley Scott, Lasse Hallstrom, Cameron Crowe, Sam Mendes, Niki Caro, Roman Polanski and Terrence Malick all underperformed in American theaters.” And then the Bagger (a.k.a., N.Y. Times Oscar columnist David Carr) responded by saying, “You can say that again, although you don’t have to. Remember Jarhead? What about In Her Shoes? Still trying to forget, right? And Elizabethtown? Well, the Bagger is still trying to excise that sucker from his brainpan.” His basic point is that Fritz’s story “failed to bring up one immutable fact: A lot of the movies that came and went stunk.” Whoa, whoa…hold up there. In Her Shoes didn’t stink, not by a long shot. It’s one of the best chick flicks ever made (and still is..right up there with Terms of Endearment), which means it wasn’t a chick flick in the end because it so completely surpassed the usual quality levels common to that genre, and it contained two performances — Toni Collette’s and Shirley MacLaine’s — that should have resulted in Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. The idea that Keira Knightley was nominated in the former category and Collete wasn’t is nothing short of appalling.
Variety has finally run Robert Koehler‘s review of Who Is Harry Nilsson (and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? more than two weeks after it played the Santa Barbara Film Festival, but the review has two errors. The boozy rock genius died on January 15, 1994 (doc says that his funeral service happened on the day of the big ’94 California quake, or 1.17.94) and not ’92, as Koehler has it, and Nilsson’s hot song “Coconut” (as in “put the lime in the…”) was heard in Reservoir Dogs but was not “notoriously revived in the [Michael Madsen, ear-amputation] torture sequence” — that was the Steeler’s Wheel tune “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
Intriguing Guardian piece by Paul Hoggart about a new Nick Broomfield doc called His Big White Self, about Eugene Terre Blanche, the “hippo-shaped, rhino-tempered” leader of South Africa’s extreme racist Afrikaner Resistance Front. It’s being aired 2.27 on British TV along with a retrospective of Broomfield’s past docs (Biggie and Tupac, Kurt and Courtney, etc.) Hoggart mentions that`Broomfield is “busy editing his first original drama, based on the death of Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay, which is due to screen later this year.” This naturally raises the question, “Whatever happened to Indecent Exposure?” Two or three years ago Broomfield was developing and trying (with the assistance of producer Edward R. Pressman) to direct a feature about the tumultuous life and tragic death of Hollywood producer David Begelman, based on the David McClintick book. I read the script — it was 85% “there” and just needed a little psychological background material. It had a reading at New York’s Public Theatre by a group of respected actors (including James Gandolfini) and then…nothing.
It’s fair to ask why Patrick Goldstein’s Gail Berman column hasn’t been linked on Movie City News as of this morning (i.e., Wednesday, 2.22). The “Big Picture” author has gone after MCN’s David Poland two or three times (most recently in that piece he ran in December about blogs over-hyping the Oscar race). This history seems to imply that MCN (which links to just about everything and anything) is ignoring Goldstein as a kind of get-back. I find this surprising because Poland is nothing if not thorough — very little happens in the movie realm that escapes MCN’s linkage, and the response time is always quick. But it’s been 24 hours since Goldstein’s 2.21 piece first appeared and nothing.
Wellspring‘s theatrical distribution operation is being shuttered and the Weinstein Co.-controlled operation will henceforth be based in Santa Monica and focus entirely on DVD distribution. (And I never got paid for that Reel Paradise ad I ran last summer…shit. Has that train left the station or can I chase it down and talk to the conductor?) The spiritual loss will be felt. Any distributor that puts films like Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond, Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queen, Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny and Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (among many others) into theatres is a valuable one, and will be very much missed.
A decent, boilerplate, right-down-the-middle piece about the social legacy of Brokeback Mountain by USA Today‘s Scott Bowles (with help from Anthony Breznican). Many celebrity quotes, same old territory. But at the end of the piece along comes Judy Shepard, mother of the murdered gay martyr Matthew Shepard, telling Bowles that her son “gave her a copy” of the Annie Proulx short story that inspired the film. “She doubts the movie will have an immediate effect on gay rights ‘because some people are ashamed to go see it,'” Bowles writes, quoting Shepard. “‘Even some of my friends — my friends — say it’s just a gay cowboy movie and are afraid of something like that.’ But when people can rent it privately, ‘I think they’ll see it how I see it: as a story that’s trying to say that you can’t help who you fall in love with. If it opens just a few eyes to that, then it’s done a good thing.'”