Many people have written in and asked if I’ve seen Dylan Avery and Korey Rowe‘s Loose Change (2nd edition), a documentary that lays out a lot of suspicious maybes, intriguing indications, and clues of different shapes, weights and sizes to support a premise that neocons in the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks for their own political benefit. A lot of readers think it’s at least a disturbing piece (smart, disciplined, well-ordered), and probably the most famous member of this club is Charlie Sheen. Anyway, I’ve seen it and thought about it, and I know a lot of bright people who seem genuinely jazzed about it, but I just don’t accept — okay, won’t accept — the notion that this kind of demonic, cold-blooded Machiavellian plotting could emanate from the Bushies. Evil is necessarily a matter of dedication and passion, but deep down it’s most often about selfishness and greed and the willingess to look the other way. Like Louis Malle, I think evil is banal. It can be advanced by bureaucratic diligence and systematic planning (i.e., Nazi concentration camps or the Khymer Rouge slaughter of the mid ’70s), but I have never believed in evil manifested through the application of daring super-schemes requiring the utmost secrecy at the highest levels of government among a cabal of black-hearted right-wing fuckheads. The perpetrators of evil acts are almost never as brilliant as this documentary asserts. And I don’t believe that upper-level neocons are in possession of the necessary monstrous, heartless, Ernst Stavro Blofeld mentality to arrange for a slaughter of this magnititude, no matter how much their friends in the defense industry have benefitted, or how greatly the general neocon faction in the government would have benefitted. There are more than a few interesting claims and puzzling unexplained occurences brought up by this film, but with all due respect to Sheen and others who feel it just might be on to something, I have to respectfully pass. I just don’t buy it for the reasons stated. I guess I’m more of an Adam Curtis/The Power of Nightmares type of guy. But Avery and Rowe are smart guys, and it’s cool that they’ve turned as many heads as they have thus far.
Oh, and by the way: the allegedly brash nude footage of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2 isn’t that brash at all. I guess Columbia had to trim it down to satisfy the MPAA. All I know is that is that your eyes barely have a chance to feast before the editor cuts back to David Morrissey. It’s basically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. There’s a nice boob shot that lasts maybe four or five seconds, and I don’t know what that New York guy was on about when he told “Page Six” that “the only thing worse than the dialogue were Sharon’s implants,” one of which seemed “lopsided.” Bullshit — they’re fine. And they’re not over-sized, which is what’s wrong with 95% of the tit jobs out there.
Paul Greengrass‘s United 93, the 9/11 thriller hitting theatres on 4.28, will open Manhattan’s Tribeca Film Festival on 4.25. Tammy Rosen’s press release says that people whose family members died on Flight 93 will be there. Also attending will be “other 9/11 groups and family organizations and first responders whose lives were forever altered on that day.” (After I read this last sentence to a friend, he asked, “Will they be flying them in on United?”) It’s obvious why this downtown Manhattan film festival is looking to show United 93, but I sense a vague strategy in the presence of the victims’ families. There almost seems to be a selling-point message in this: “If these people who really suffered that day can roll with this film, all of you folks out there saying ‘no, no…too soon’ should be able to roll with it.” There are always going to be squeamish types saying “too soon,” etc., but artists have never waited for the hoi polloi to take a vote and announce, “Okay, we’re finally ready to see a film about a recent tragic event that touched us all.” It happened, life moves on…get over it.
David Fincher‘s Zodiac is absolutely going to be called that. Chronicles is just what it was called during casting and shooting, apparently…as a ruse. Movies do this sometimes. Just yesterday a breakdown came out for Transformers under the name Prime Detective.
Columbia had an all-media screening last night of Basic Instinct 2 (Columbia, 3.31) at the new AMC Century City plex. The hope was that it might be Showgirls bad…something deliriously awful…so bad it would make middle-aged men squeal like pigs. Alas, the verdict is that it falls short. At best, it’s Catwoman bad, which is what gossip columnist George Christy said to me after the show. But of course, that movie wasn’t bad enough either. The New York Post‘s “Page Six” reports that people laughed at some of the BI2 dialogue at Monday night’s premiere screening in Manhattan. Two or three times, I noticed, the L.A. crowd chortled at activity that seemed intended to elicit just that response. (Although you know something’s not quite working correctly when they giggle at a guy taking two slugs in the chest.) The usually accomodating Liz Smith wrote the following in her N.Y. Post gossip column today: “And though a number of people seemed impressed by the film, I feel it would be best if [Sharon Stone] now allows her character Catherine Tramell to rest on her laurels and her rumpled bed. The script, the harsh cinematography, the clothes and the hairstyle — not to mention Sharon’s decision to play the part with an unrelenting aggressiveness [and] no shadings at all — do her little justice. To be honest, I felt Sharon had come full circle in paying homage to her predatory screen past in Catwoman. I thought she brilliantly walked away with what there was to walk away with in that movie. I had hoped BI2 would provide the hothouse camp of Showgirls. It did not.” The upside is that I saw it with an actress pal, Fabiola Cayemitte, and she was okay with it. “I think it’ll go,” she said afterwards. You mean it’ll open the first weekend? “No, two weekends,” she said. “I think people are gonna be okay with it…have some fun.”
It’s not just David Fincher‘s Zodiac (Paramount, 9.22) that’s probably going to run about three hours, but also Andrew Dominik‘s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Bros., October), which stars Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard and Sam Rockwell. I don’t know anything rock-solid, but it seems fair to deduce that the James film will run long because Dominik’s script is a whopping 210 pages, whereas James Vanderbilt‘s Zodiac script runs about 190 pages…do the math. Here, by the way, is a well-written appraisal of a 2004 draft of the James script, posted six days ago by novelist and historian Frederick J. Chiaventone, a Missouri resident who’s been interviewed for an “American Experience” documentary about James.
Here are two edited reactions to Julia Roberts‘ stage debut in the very first preview performance of Three Days of Rain in New York on Tuesday night, 3.28: Guy #1 has written that Roberts “appeared nervous in the beginning but hit her stride in the second act. Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper [were] both outstanding. A standing ovation came at the end (of course), but Julia appeared very happy to get this one out of the way. A few lines were flubbed, but the show is in good shape considering it was the first preview.” Guy #2 wrote that the show is “good, not great…but that’s the play’s fault, not the actors’. All three were very good, although Cooper stole the first act as his character is very alive and confident. Julia really got to shine in the second act. There were several flashes of that smile and laugh but they worked for the character and weren’t just throw ins. There were two minor flubs — Cooper’s fly was half open for his first few minutes onstage, but he finally realized it and zipped up. (I love live theatre.) And in the second act Rudd dropped a plastic tomato and it rolled onto the stage prompting Julia to lose it for a second and laugh, which of course made the audience laugh. She was a bit nervous at first but got into it and by the second act was a natural. She’s a very good actor and reactor, and sitting in the second row I could really watch her eyes and facial expressions. The actors were about 10 feet from me — that made it worth the $101.00 ticket. I liked [the play], didn’t love it. Julia has proven she can do both stage and screen, but I would have liked to have seen her in a better play for her New York stage debut.”
Kim Voynar at Cinematical has spoken to Rebel Without a Cause screenwriter Stewart Stern, and reports that “the screen test Marlon Brando made in 1947″ — which will be included on a new double-disc DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire coming out May 2nd — “had practically nothing to do with the Rebel Without A Cause we’re all familiar with.” Stern tells Voynar that “Marlon’s 1947 test was not for Rebel Without a Cause as we know it. Dr. Robert Lindner wrote a book of that title in which there were several case histories, written in fictional form, of young offenders whom Lindner had treated psychiatrically in prison. One of these chapters — and the book — had the title, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. [But] the whole project fell through as undoable and was shelved for years. I hadn’t known that Marlon tested for that book adaptation — I didn’t know they even had a screenplay from it to test him with. Anyhow, fade out & fade in to 1954, when Nicholas Ray approached [Warner Bros.] about doing a story about middle-class kids in trouble and hired first Leon Uris and then Irving Shulman to write it. He wanted to call it The Blind Run but Warners didn’t like the title and someone recalled ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ so they took the title — they owned it anyway — and threw away the book.”
The Guardian’s Xan Brooks on how well Marlon Brando might have handled the Jim Stark role in Rebel Without a Cause.
It didn’t truly hit me until yesterday the degree to which public broadcasting TV affiliates (like L.A.’s KCET) are operated like medieval feifdoms, totally local and unto themselves with no regard for providing viewers with shared information about options to re-view or purchase popular shows. I’m saying this as a way of explaining that I was bizarrely misinformed yesterday by both a KCET spokesperson and a WGBH media relations executive named Lucy Sholley when I called about wanting to see a re-broadcast of Ric Burns’ Eugene O’Neill, a highly praised two-hour documentary that aired on PBS stations Monday night. Neither the KCET guy nor Sholley thought it was pertinent to mention that a DVD of Burns’ doc has been available for sale for over a week on various DVD-purchase websites like DVD Empire. (Oddly, the Amazon.com page says the O’Neill DVD won’t be available until “January 1, 2010.”) DVD Newsletter‘s Doug Pratt tells me copies of the show are sitting now at Best Buy, and I just spoke to a clerk at West L.A.’s Lazer Blazer who told me the PBS Home Video DVD was buyable at the store as of a week ago last Tuesday (i.e., 3.21), or six days before the doc’s nationwide airings. And yet I just spoke to another Johnny-on-the-spot bureaucrat at KCET and he didn’t even know about the DVD’s availability. Am I being pointed enough? The ignorance at these local stations is absolutely radiant. And so to reiterate again and to correct yesterday’s posting, you’re not out of luck if you missed Monday’s showing…all you have to do is go down to your video store and buy the damn DVD. And if you ever have a question about anything to do with repeat airings and/or DVDs of PBS original programming, it’s probably not a good idea to ask a rep from a local PBS station for help.
That $10 million Randy Quaid Brokeback Mountain lawsuit filed on Thursday, 3.23 against the makers of this widely honored, very profitable film (i.e., Focus Features, James Schamus, David Linde, Del Mar Productions), now enjoys a certain enhancement by the mere fact that Sharon Waxman has examined its merits in a N.Y. Times story out today (3.29). Boil the snow out of it, and the conclusions are these: (a) Randy Quaid is in no way a whinin’, groanin’ sourpuss actor but in fact has a bright, buoyant attitude about the lawsuit, as amply indicated by the photo that accompanies Waxman’s story; (b) The quality-films-for-cheaper-prices premise of indie “dependent” outfits like Focus Features, Fox Searchlight, Paramount Classics and Warner Independent depends upon producers being able to hire guys like Quaid for shitass fees (i.e., guild minimums); (c) The functioning of this economic system obviously requires an alliance of actors willing to cut their fees for films with substantial arthouse pretensions and/or credentials along with producers looking to exploit these actors for their own economic gain; (d) And yet this same system, essentially founded on a note of spiritual kinship (you and I care about making good films so we’re taking less money…especially the supporting actors, writers and below-the-liners), is ironically protected by standard big-studio accounting practices which have long made the idea of receiving post-release net point compensation (if and when a film goes into substantial profit mode) an industry joke; (e) And yet profit participation deals have been sculpted on smaller films — you just have to be a big-enough actor to rate being offered them. (Waxman’s story quotes “an executive from another arthouse studio” saying that “the most prominent actors [on a film have been] granted bonus fees for successful films, or a cut of the adjusted gross box-office receipts.”) When all is said and done, if you don’t get some kind of profit participation arrangement you’re happy with down on paper before you go to work, you’re not going to badger distributors and/or producers into paying you anything extra down the road. One final thought from a longtime veteran of big-studio operations, addressing the character of the people who negotiated Quaid’s cheapo deal without considering some way of paying him more money if and when Brokeback profits might materialize: “I think they’re pigs.”