“A fair amount of distaste for [United 93] has been building in recent weeks. Would the heroic event — which ended when the plane crashed in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard — be exploited in some way? And why do we need to take this death trip? But United 93 is a tremendous experience of fear, bewilderment and resolution, and, when you replay the movie in your head afterward, you are likely to think that Greengrass made all the right choices. This is true existential filmmaking: there is only the next instant, and the one after that, and what are you going to do? Many films whip up tension with cunning and manipulation. As far as possible, this movie plays it straight. [It] is tightly wrapped, minutely drawn, and, no matter how frightening, superbly precise.” — excerpted from David Denby‘s review in the New Yorker
There’s a choice tonight between an all-media screening of Barry Sonnenfeld‘s RV (Columbia, 4.28), the new Robin Williams family comedy which looks like an absolute masterwork (you can sorta kinda tell from the website), or an Academy showing of a restored black-and-white Scope print of Jack Cardiff‘s Sons and Lovers (1960), an adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence work that costars Dean Stockwell, Trevor Howard and Wendy Hiller. (I’d forgotten it was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture.) And…uhmm, I think I’ll try and catch the Williams film at a plex this weekend, or on a plane five months from now. The RV tracking shows a 73% awareness, 29% definite interest and 7% first choice. Williams’ career has been going downhill over the last ten years, and — let’s face it — he’s basically over as any kind of box-office draw. He’s not where Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler or Vince Vaughn are, and everyone knows this. (I’m not gloating — it’s just fact.) Sons and Lovers is being shown under the auspices of an ongoing Academy program called “Great To be Nominated.”
I can’t find a link to Daniel Zalewski‘s brilliant sprawling piece in last week’s 4.24 edition of the New Yorker about Werner Herzog and the arduous, financially troubled shooting of Rescue Dawn in northwest Thailand last year, but it’s a fantastic read, and there must be some way to say this without sounding like Larry King. “Herzog likes to say that he is ‘clinically sane and completely professional,'” Zalewski writes early on, “but he is keenly aware that his reputation is otherwise.” A dramatic re-do of Herzog’s 1997 documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly and set in Laos in 1965 or thereabouts, Rescue Dawn costars Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. The editing is nearly finished — obviously too late for Cannes but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns up at the Toronto Film Festival in September. Zalewski writes that Herzog’s career has been “consistently plagued by intrigue, peril, and disaster” and that, “perhaps unfairly, he is less renowned for his oddly brilliant movies than for the arduous, and sometimes savage, circumstances under which they were made.” In Thailand, Zalewski write, “The mood on the set was toxic.” Herzog, who typically works with a small crew and budget, was dismissive of the large technical crew that the film’s production company, Gibraltar Entertainment, had saddled him with. And, Zalewski writes, “At every turn, crew members let him know that they considered his directing habits strange, impulsive, even amateurish…as they saw it, Herzog was ruining a potentially lush adventure movie by shooting it like a quickie documentary.” Zalewski also gets into Rescue Dawn‘s financial problems as well. (I tried summing them up in 3.21 WIRED item.) By the end, some crew members had quit mid-shoot, Thailand’s governor of tourism had revoked the production’s work permits because of a dispute with a contractor, and producers and crew members were prevented from leaving Thailand until alleged taxes were paid. Zalewski writes, “Herzog believes that modern life has disconnected humans from their most elemental pleasures. His films, accordingly, attempt to connect modern cinemagoers to their prelapsarian selves: the emotions are always primal, and landscape is integral to the drama.” Herzog says, “You will never see people talking on the phone, driving in a car, or exchanging ironic jokes in my films…it is always bigger, deeper.”
Don’t get the Farrelly brothers to remake Francis Veber‘s The Valet — steer them back to that Three Stooges movie they were talking about making a couple of years ago. That‘s what the proles on the street want to see…not this dumb thing. The comic sensibility of Mssr. Veber is totally ’80s (at best), and movies about valets are from the 1930s and 40s. (Who knows anyone who works as a valet?) The fact that DreamWorks chief Stacey Snider brought this project to Dreamamount is seen as an act of one-upsmanship against Paramount chairman Brad Grey. See? All he does is fire people and bring bad press down upon the company with all those New York Times stories about him and Bert Fields and Anthony Pellicano back in the ’90s and arrange for a special new branch of The Grill to be built on the Paramount lot. But I bring in movies because I believe in the basics and building a brand, etc.
The “too-soon“-ers are obviously going to have an effect on the opening weekend gross of United 93 (Universal, 4.28), but tracking is improving somewhat, and it looks like an okay opening…the word is modest…1500 theatres, $5000 to $6000 a print, around $9 or $10 million. Monday’s figures put general awareness at 61%, definite interest at 30%, first choice at 10%, and definite non-interest at 14%.