“I share your feelings about The Last Temptation of Christ and I’m far from what anyone would consider a rightie fundamentalist Christian, but I don’t think the discovery of this ancient Gospel of Judas text is quite as faith-shaking or earth-shattering as you believe or hope. The legitimacy of the content by the highly- biased Gnostic group can be likened to the objectivity of an account of Ronald Reagan by, say, Rush Limbaugh, and at best it exonerates Judas from nearly two thousand years of loathing. As someone resigned to his own persecution and capture is it so blasphemous to believe that Christ turned to a close ally for assistance? Baptist and Presbyterians may believe so, but those with a more flexible attachment to the Bible, including Roman Catholics, probably won’t be running out to their local Scientology chapter for conversion so quickly.” — Chris Fontana, Philadelphia, PA.
“Not sure if you’ve heard about this, but before this afternoon’s showing of Lucky Number Slevin there was a new trailer for United 93 that should really open some eyes.” [Editor’s note: this is apparently “A Look Inside“, the alternate trailer than went online a week or so ago.] “It’s all director Paul Greengrass and the widows/relatives of some of the people who actually died in the crash of United # 93 explaining why this film is important and why it should be seen. If anyone has the right to complain about this movie being ‘too soon’ it’s the people most impacted by the deaths, and they’re in favor of the movie. I found the piece very refreshing and a terrific response to the criticisms that the regular movie trailer has run into.” — Craig Finerty
I meant to get into Nicole Holofcener‘s Friends with Money (Sony Classics) on the occasion of its limited opening yesterday, but I dropped the ball or vegged out or whatever. And it’s…well, an honest, well-observed relationship drama I enjoyed in some respects, but that I wanted to like more. And yet I’m glad it was made because of its here-and-there satisfactions. (During these portions it seems to almost approach the level of wholeness and character refinement found in Joseph L. Mankiewicz‘s A Letter to Three Wives.) But as much as I tried to roll with Friends I found it hard to like all but one of the characters, and that’s what’s known as a stopper. Frances McDormand‘s “Jane”, an unhappy middle-aged clothes designer with lots of anger issues and a very curious English husband with the worst hair I’ve seen on any screen actor in my life, was the only one I really went for. I wish the film had been primarily about her and only peripherally about her pallies. The male characters (played by Jason Isaacs, Gregg Germann, Simon McBurney, Scott Caan and Bob Stephenson) are either weird or arrogant pricks or vaguely undecipherable, or a combination of all three. Jennifer Aniston‘s “Olivia,” a single, relatively poor house-cleaner, is hard to like or respect because she lets Caan’s “Mike”, a complete asshole, treat her like dirt and use her like a whore. Catherine Keener ‘s “Christine”, an unhappy screenwriting mom in a bad marriage to Isaac’s character, expresses herself in a third-act scene in one of the dumbest ways I’ve ever seen a bright, self-aware female character express herself in any movie, ever. Joan Cusack ‘s very wealthy “Franny” character is a nice considerate sort, but I couldn’t get a handle on her or her empty-vessel husband, played by Germann. And what’s with McBurney’s character apparently being gay (he’s pegged that way by all the female characters, and he seems repeatedly inclined to strike up relationships with new men) but Holofcener never resolving this issue one way or the other? I’ve seen Friends twice and I still don’t get it. I think it’s fair to say that Holofcener has as much interest in writing fully-dimensioned male characters as Oliver Stone and Michael Mann have in writing fully-dimensioned women. I was speaking to Isaacs at the Friends premiere after-party and told him I was sorry his character disappeared from the film after divorcing Keener’s. Holofcener happened to walk by at that very moment and Isaacs jokingly said, “Hey, Nicole, what happened to my character after the divorce?” and she said, “He fell off a cliff!” We all laughed, but I think Holofcener was showing her cards to some extent. And yet at the end of the day Friends with Money isn’t a bad way at all to spend your movie money. Not perfect, incomplete, annoying at times…but at least a film trying to say or capture something about life in 2006 as it’s actually being lived among affluent L.A. westsiders, just as A Letter to Three Wives was on some level a reflection of what life was like for educated, upscale middle-class marrieds in 1949.
Feeling half-good about Friends With Money, I spoke last week to Sony Classics co-chief Tom Bernard the day after last week’s Friends with Money premiere screening and after-party. We got into how the “dependents” — the studio-funded indie divisons — aren’t making or distributing “indie” films as much as smart, character-drivien middle-budget films for upscale audiences…the kind of movies that the big studios used to churn out but pretty much gave up on sometime in the early to mid ’90s.
Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ is a film that stood gleaming and transcendent the day it opened in 1988 and has done nothing but gain ground over the last 18 years, but now it’s looking all the wiser. The relationship between Willem Dafoe‘s Jesus and Harvey Keitel‘s Judas Iscariot is pretty much as described in the recently uncovered, just-revealed Gospel of Judas, which says Judas was a close and respected Jesus homie and ally who was acting on orders from the Nazarene to carry out his Garden of Gethsamane betrayal and thereby help him fulfull his earthly mission. “Look, you have been told everything,” J.C. reportedly told J.I. “You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” I wonder how Mel Gibson , the hardcore Passion freaks and particularly the fundamentalist-wacko Christian demonstrators who did everything they could to discredit Scorsee’s film when it first opened feel about the ancient Judas papyrus. Whatever the truth of it, it warms my heart to think of them as feeling uncomfortable and confused, and perhaps even resentful. Stew in it, chumps.
“It’s hard to feel sorry for celebs with oceans of money who employ armies of sociopathic [expletives] to call you up and bitch about every little item. You sign away your privacy when you become a star or boldface bigshot and agree to play this game. You took our money, so we own you. If you don’t like it buy an island and stay on it.” — quote attributed to embattled “Page Six” reporter Jared Paul Stern by way of a Washington Post piece about the scandal that exploded in Stern’s face a couple of days ago.
Here we go with another Dead Sea Scrolls newspaper article that first appeared about 36 hours ago on the N.Y. Times website, making it barely worthy of comment due its withered condition and sad lack of relevance to the constantly evolving here-and-now. Written by director-screenwriter Nora Ephron, it nonetheless reads like a fairly acccurate piece of reporting, and amounts to yet another reason why it often seems like a more sensible idea to watch a DVD on your big-ass flat-screen rather than fork over $10 or $11 bucks at a neighborhood theatre. Ephron had a bad experience at Manhattan’s AMC Loews Orpheum 7, at 86th Street and Third Avenue…and I’ve been there. Oh, have I been there! And I know that indifferent ticket-taker as well as I do my brother (who’s currently living in Norwalk, Connecticut). But I have a different attitude than Ephron’s when it comes to pointing out that the framing or the focus isn’t right, or that the sound is too soft. This is where the fun starts, you see. It’s a game…heh-heh. You have to go up to those chunks of two-day-old Wisconsin cheese wearing those polyester AMC lounge shirts, and you have to be Sam Jaffe in Gunga Din. You have to smile and bend over slightly and apologize for being such a complication in their lives, but could they please ask the “projectionist” (i.e., the kid keeping an eye on the platters and other facets of the theatre’s totally automated projection system) to adjust the blah-dee-blah? And after the kid in the booth has either ignored your request or failed to tweak the projection so that the movie you’re trying to watch looks roughly 75% as good as it did when you first saw it at an industry screening room (or at an all-media theatre screening), you get to go back to the same ticket-taker or some dead-head assistant manager and be Sam Jaffe all over again. And all this back-and-forth, which can eat up as much as four or five minutes and sometimes a bit more, is what moviegoing sometimes is these days…what movies are like every so often if you’ve been unlucky enough to walk into the wrong plex at the wrong time. I’ve been saying for years there are three moviegoing realms — the first-class one you take for granted if you’re a journo-critic going to industry screenings all the time (or if you pay to see films at Hollywood’s Arclight), the second class one you get when you go to a not-sublime-but-pretty- decent theatre, and the unaccceptable third-class one in theatres like the AMC Loews Orpheum 7 (or even the AMC Empire on 42nd Street, where the projection standards vaguely suck also from time to time). In any event, Ephron’s piece almost made me forgive her for directing and co-writing Bewitched.
Case in point about shit-level projection: the first time I saw David Cronenberg‘s A History of Violence was at the Grand Theatre Lumiere in Cannes, and it looked pretty close to perfect. Then I saw it again at the Pacific Grove in Los Angeles and did a reaction piece, and somehow this local experience overwhelmed my recollections of Cannes because I included the following: “One beef with this film: Peter Suschitzky‘s cinematography looks like it was soaked in Bolivian coffee during lab processing. I started to wonder if the projector lamp at the Grove’s theatre #1 was dying, but the lamps in the other theatres were fine. The last film I remember being this muddy- looking was Fight Club.” Four or five days ago I rented a DVD of A History of Violence and it was back to looking like it did at the Lumiere again. So the coffee-soaked appearance was the Grove’s fault after all, and this is a theatre, mind, with a reasonably okay reputation.
I felt a bit deflated, frankly, after Thursday night’s “101 Greatest Screenplays” tribute at the Writers Guild theatre in Beverly Hills. It was nice to be there, and the WGA staffers were gracious, and I spoke to some good people during the pre- and after-parties (screenwriters mostly…Larry Karaszewski, Holly Sorenson, L.M. Kit Carson, Brian Herzlinger). But the the film clips were all AFI-level mainstream groaners. (I’m going to lose it if I see a clip of Marlon Brando‘s Terry Malloy lamenting his squandered boxing career one more time.) And the “101 Greatest” list is basically the same oppressive “best films of all time” list we’ve all been beaten over the head with for decades. It’s not that these screenplays aren’t crackerjack…of course they are…but there’s something oppressive about the same movies being toasted again and again, decade after decade. Who wouldn’t agree that Casablanca is a beautifully written work, but screenwriting instructor Robert McKee pounded this into my head 20 years ago (and probably a lot of other people’s heads) and I’m sensing a knee-jerk consensus. That and typically lazy choice-making. Paddy Chayefsky‘s script of The Hospital is a distinctly finer script than Network…less grandiose, funnier, more down-to- earth, a better ending…but Network has the money lines and has gotten much more hype over the years, so naturally it wins out. And like I said in yesterday’s lead piece about Zodiac, the bypassing of Andrew Kevin Walker‘s Se7en — the greatest cop-hunt movie of the last 15 years, and a major groundbreaker in that genre — wasn’t right. Why wasn’t Walter Newman, Lesser Samuels and Billy Wilder‘s Ace in the Hole on the list? It’s nice that the WGA membership saluted the relatively recent Sideways , Memento, Adaptation and Being John Malkovich… ahhh, forget it. I’m sweating this too much.
Poor Jared Paul Stern. A smart, on-top-of-it gossip journalist who, according to all the news accounts, has voluntarily and stupidly fried himself by recently trying to solicit $220,000 from billionaire Ron Burkle in return for a year’s “protection” against “inaccurate and unflattering items” about him in the New York Post‘s “Page Six” gossip column. Walked right into it…putz. And out of this comes a report that Harvey Weinstein , the co-chief of the Weinstein Co., has “finessed” his dealing with “Page Six” in the past. A 4.7 New York Times story is asserting that “while the accusations against Mr. Stern [are] serious, it’s the specter — raised by at least three people who said they knew what was on the tapes — that Mr. Stern [has] implicated several celebrities and New York power figures in an undisclosed, symbiotic relationship with ‘Page Six’ that prompted an extraordinary day of full-throated and at times gleeful gossip among those who love, hate and avidly read it. Those who said they know what is on the tape said Mr. Stern named Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax films, and Ronald O. Perelman, the chairman of Revlon Inc., as among those who had finessed their coverage on the page. Through a spokesman, Mr. Weinstein flatly denied any improper relationship with the page and its main editor, Richard Johnson.” And Deadline Hollywood‘s Nikki Finke is disputing, based on recent research, whether Harvey’s statement to the Times was entirely candid.
A smart, attractive professional woman I know is into HBO’s polygamy series Big Love. She finds the notion of having a committed relationship without the full-time, the day-to-day maintenance vaguely appealing. And my ex-wife is a hard-core watcher. I haven’t read about any research but is this the Big Love deal? A show over-30 women? It’s not exactly surprising, but…