Steve Buscemi keeps getting bumped off in his movies, and when he directs movies (like the upcoming Lonesome Jim) he always seems to make them about loser gloom-heads…but the thing moviegoers love about Buscemi…his ace-in-the-hole material…is when he plays extra-smart guys saying really sassy lines. Reservoir Dogs‘ Mr. Pink explaining why he doesn’t tip, that psycho killer in Con Air explaining the meaning of irony, his high-IQ mobster Tony Blundetto imploring Tony Soprano, “Put me in, coach!” I once suggested to him during an interview that he make and act in a short film about that bar fight he got into two or three years ago standing up for Vince Vaughan, and Buscemi gave me a look that said, “What the fuck are you talking about?” And I’m saying to him right now, “What are you doing directing movies about low-life downer types all the time? Fuck that…play a really sharp wise guy, or direct a movie about one.”
Basic Instinct 2 (Columbia, 3.31) “will almost certainly be hailed as unforgettable — though not, perhaps, for the reasons that Stone and the filmmakers intended. The movie, directed by Michael Caton-Jones, finds Sharon Stone‘s oversexed ice-queen author, Catherine Tramell, squaring off against a criminal psychologist (British actor David Morrissey) as she goes on trial for the murder of a soccer player. If you expect an erotic thriller, you may be sorely disappointed. But if you expect soft-core camp, you will be rewarded with a showstopper nearly in the league of the weirdly mesmerizing Showgirls. Stone prowls, purrs and struts through every scene, delivering a performance so over-the-top that she elevates a bad movie into a must-see diva extravaganza.” — Newsweek‘s Sean Smith in the current issue.
Will Smith may have another half-decent film opening later this year, and perhaps more: Pursuit of Happyness (Columbia, 12.15), directed by Gabriele Muccino and written by Steve Conrad. It’s about a salesmen having a tough time (Smith) as he takes custody of his son (played by Smith’s son, Jaden). In any event, Mike Sampson at JoBlo has seen an early cut and reviewed it. An excerpt: “Will this be an Oscar contender or a blockbuster? I’d say Smith has a good chance of being nominated, though nothing else really stuck out to me as being great. A blockbuster? Smith might be able to bring in the crowds, but as it’s Smith as you’ve never seen him before (the man pretty much made me cry), tough to say if it’ll break the bank. The relationship between father and son might be the best ever filmed, and as it’s based on a true story, it really is inspiring. You’ve heard of rags-to-riches stories before, but most times they gloss over the rags part. Not here. This is a movie about struggles, about fatherhood, about being a provider, about being a man and above all else, about the pursuit of happiness.”
We’re all tired of hearing that Sofia Coppola‘s Marie-Antoinette (Columbia, 10.13), which will play at the Cannes Film Festival in mid May, is going to be a stylized take on the life of the young Austrian-born woman (Kirsten Dunst) who became the Paris Hilton of her day when she married King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman), and not a “historically accurate” capturing of any kind except for the 18th Century sets, clothes and hairstyles. What’s instructive, perhaps, is that before deciding to use Lady Antonia Fraser‘s biography of the ill-fated empty vessel and party girl –“Marie Antoinette: The Journey,” which adopts a view that Antoinette was misunderstood and suffered some tough breaks and met her demise with a touch of class — that Coppola first considered using Stefan Zweig‘s “Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman,” but then decided it was “too severe” for her. Judgment-wise, did she mean? Zweig’s book declared that Antoinette was “flawed, egotistic, intellectually limited and indiscreet…her greatest passions were for clothes, vast flowery gardens, [fancy] jewelry and good-looking Swedish men; she was a compulsive spendthrift; her political self-awareness was zero and her policy meddling was uniformly disastrous.” Whereas Coppola, it seems clear, is looking to cut the girl a break. “I’ve always loved the story of Marie-Antoinette and the decadence of Versailles on the brink of revolution, and the fact she was just a teenager when circumstances forced her to play a significant role in history,” she said last year. “Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were lost children in a crazy world…Marie-Antoinette was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Like I said weeks ago, I’ll be willing to roll with this sympathetic confection (which is apparently scored with pop music tunes in the vein of A Knight’s Tale) if Coppola gives us a nice, blood-spattered head-dropping-into-the-basket shot when it comes to the guillotine sequence…like Andrezj Wajda did with the executions in Danton.
Roadside Attractions will distribute the Berlin Film Festival hit The Road to Guantanamo in the U.S. of A. sometime early this summer. Which means, of course, that only people in the big cities will see it in theatres and everyone else will rent the DVD through Netflix. Co-directed by the always-slightly-irritating Michael Winterbottom, it’s a docudrama about three British Muslims who were nabbed by U.S. authorities during a visit to Pakistan and were held as suspected terrorists at the U.S. base in Guantanamo for two years because…well, see the film. The victims weren’t exactly British gent types (with their Arab-y features and black squiggly beards, Paul Greengrass could have cast them as the terrorists in Flight 93) and people make mistakes, but c’mon…two years? Road was co-directed by Mat Whitcross. Pic won the Silver Bear award at last February’s Berlin festival.
If Derek Wan‘s Shadow: Dead Riot, a lesbo women-behind-bars zombie flick, is half (or even a third) as entertaining as Nathan Lee‘s review in the 3.22 New York Times, I’d really like to see it. The opening graph reads, “A cult classic is born in Shadow: Dead Riot, and so is a rampaging corpse baby. Written by Michael Gingold and directed by Derek Wan, this berserk little B-movie is obviously the greatest zombie flick ever set in an experimental women’s prison, easily the underground treat of the season, and totally off its rocker.” But can the film’s distributor, Media Blasters, manage to get a print out to Los Angeles, considering that Dead Riot‘s web page was apparently once functioning but is now no longer among the living? If Wan and anyone at Media Blaster is reading this, get in touch and send me a DVD already.
“Because Netflix relies on subscriber ratings and recommendations, and can offer an almost limitless array of product, it creates a level playing field, allowing a tiny indie film to compete with a multiplex monster. It’s a great example of what Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson calls the Long Tail. Put simply, our culture is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of blockbusters at the head of demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.” (Cool concept, nicely expressed.) “If you go to a movie theater or a Blockbuster, the vast majority of business comes from a few dozen films. But at Netflix you can see the Long Tail in action — its subscribers rent more than 95% of its 55,000 titles every quarter.” — from Patrick Goldstein‘s 3.21 “Big Picture” column about Netflix in the L.A. Times.
“It’s funny you mentioned The Hospital because I just bought the screenplay off Amazon (as part of “The Collected Works of Paddy Chayefsky, Vol. II”) and am reading it for the first time. (I’ve never seen the movie but will as soon as I finish.) The impulse came from rewatching the brilliant Network special edition DVD released two or three weeks ago. The speeches were so mesmerizing I just had to see how he wrote them on the page. Chayefsky’s writing is definitely ‘a little show-offy at times but pleasurable as hell,’ but what struck me more was the anarchic wit of his whole worldview. His mentality is basically ‘we all live in the shitter but I’m still not going to give up on this place.’ No one does this kind of thing anymore, especially with Big Ideas. I’m sorry I’m a bit too young to have been a moviegoer when Chayevsky was in his prime.” —
Matthew Morettini, New York City.
Will Smith as “a charming rogue who is blackmailed by the government into doing covert larceny for the good of his country”? God…the old Cary Grant debonair-thief concept again? No offense to the producers (Kevin Misher, John Davis, Joe Singer), but the mentality beneath a project like this is what everyone with a smidgen of taste or a half-functioning brain hates about Hollywood, and is exactly the sort of vehicle that has made Smith into the most vapid African-American superstar around. Smith peaked in ’93 when he did Six Degrees of Separation, and with the exception of Enemy of the State in ’98 and Ali in ’01 it’s been one odiously slick, aimed-at-the-dummies vehicle after another. (Life is full of uncertainties, but if it’s an expensive high-concept flick and Smith is starring, you know for sure you’re going to start feeling a little bit sick to your stomach after watching it for 45 minutes.) It doesn’t matter if Smith is a gazillionaire and his movies make money hand-over-fist — he is an international emblem of high-concept fizz and hollow posturing. One hopes that the two screenwriters hired to write It Takes a Thief, David Elliot and Paul Lovett (Four Brothers) are at least going to be well compensated.
I came across these two dialogue files by accident this morning — two clips from Paddy Chayefsky‘s The Hospital (1971), and it hit me all over again how wonderfully particular and penetrating and needle-sharp these soliloquies are. George C. Scott‘s confession to a colleague about what a wreck his middle-aged life has become is about as masterful and genuine-sounding as this sort of thing gets, and I love the the cadence he brings to some of the lines. (The almost imperceptible pause he inserts between the words “pushing” and “drugs” is sheer genius.) And the “murder by irony” confession by wacko doctor-patient Barnard Hughes is a wow, particularly at the end when he recites a litany of medical ailments (one after another after another…no end to it) that comprise, metaphorically or otherwise, “the whole wounded madhouse of our times.” There’s a fair amount of good dialogue in movies today, but the super-pungent, intellectually flamboyant stuff that Chayefsky used to write — a little show-offy at times but pleasurable as hell — has…well, maybe it’s out there and I’m just not running into it. Or maybe it’s just gone.