The great critic F.X. Feeney told me the other day about a short film about 9/11 called The Falling Man, and that it was about to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. With Paul Greengrass’s United 93 set to open the festival on Tuesday, 4.25, I thought right away, whoa…I should see this. So I did on Friday afternoon (4.21), and I went “whoa” again.
Directed and written by Kevin Ackerman, The Falling Man is an M. Night Shyama- lan-styled spooker about a real-life guy who bought it on 9/11…probably the best known of the 200-something people who jumped from the burning towers because his picture was in the New York Times and everywhere else the next day.
Rick Ojeda as Windows on the World employee Jon Briley in Kevin Ackerman’s The Falling Man
Taken by AP veteran Richard Drew, it showed a tallish, goateed, light-skinned African-American guy, falling upside down in a white shirt, orange T-shirt, black pants and black high-tops, dropping at close to 150 mph in a perfectly vertical posture, not flailing (in this particular shot, at least) and seemingly resigned to his fate, or at least not desperately fighting it.
Part flashback and part flash-forward, The Falling Man is a trippy life-death riff, and well worth seeing.
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It’s about a waiter (Rick Ojeda) working at Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top floor of the north tower, who’s sent down to the 103rd floor to the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald to deliver some food, but he can’t find anyone. Vacant. Empty desks, papers on the floor, silhouettes behind smoked glass but no one there. He’s Earl Holliman in “Where Is Everybody?”, anxious and starting to freak out.
Then he runs into a woman with gray skin who looks like a zombie out of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and it hits you after a second or two that her skin isn’t zombie-gray but ash-gray. And then spookier things happen, all leading to a realization.
It’s September 11, 2001, of course. Sometime around 9:41 am…or in some nether place made of memory, premonition, and flashbacks thrown together. But most of it is happening in the mind of the waiter, who existed and was named, in all likeli- hood, Jon Briley.
There was natural curiosity in the public mind about who he was because of the photo, but Briley’s identity was in question for the better part of two years, partly because his body was destroyed, partly because the photo was pulled from circulation, and partly because his father and others in his family didn’t want to know or deal with it.
But then Esquire‘s Tom Junod wrote a piece about the photo called “The Falling Man“, which ran in the September ’03 issue (with Colin Farrell on the cover). Junod came to the conclusion it was probably Briley, and then a British documentary, also called The Falling Man, ran last month and concluded it was probably Briley too. The makers based their findings on testimony from a top chef who worked at Windows on the World named Michael Lomonaco as well as Briley’s older sister, Gwendolyn.
Then came a filmmaking contest sponsored by Esquire a few months later in which contestants had to make a short film based on one of a selection of short stories and features that had appeared in the magazine.
Ackerman, who had recently directed a low-budget noir called Lonely Place, decided to make a film about Junod’s piece. The idea has come to him in a flash during a visit to the downtown LA set of In Good Company, when he realized that a suite of offices in a tall building he was standing in could double for the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald.
Falling Man director-writer Kevin Ackerman; 9/11 victim Jon Briley
Ackerman shot the film in April 2004 over a couple of days, just before the contest deadline. It cost him about $6000 at the end of the day. Ojeda and Ron Sanford produced it with him. It was shot by John Hale and Steve Smith and edited by David Miller.
Although Esquire‘s contest specified that the shorts be no longer than five minutes, Ackerman’s ran eight minutes. It meant he couldn’t win the prize money (a piddly $2500) but the judges — among them director Alexander Payne (Sideways), former Paramount Classics chief Ruth Vitale and Endeavor agent (and Paramount Clas- sics honcho-to-be) John Lesher — saw it anyway, and were impressed.
By September 2004 Ackerman had moved on to other things, but Payne got in touch that month and said he was really taken with The Falling Man (“This film is fantastic”) and urged Ackerman to shoot additional footage in order to round it out and fulfill his vision.
So Ackerman did that. He added some new footage (a sequence with a 9/11 memory wall was a significant addition, I can say) and finished the extra lensing in September 2005. Naturally, he felt the Tribeca Film Festival was the best place to premiere it, especially given a stated interest by festival honcho Robert De Niro in wanting to see 9/11-themed films submitted. De Niro saw a rough cut of The Fall- ing Man last December and it was accepted soon after.
Falling Man admirer and supporter Alexander Payne
Ackerman just finished the final, fussed-over version — transferred to 35mm film, in anamorphic scope — earlier this week. He flew to New York this weekend with the print.
The Falling Man will have four showings during the festival — on Sunday, 4.30, 9 pm at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, on Tuesday, 5.2, 6 pm at Pace University’s Schimmel Center, on Wednesday, 5.3, 10 pm at AMC Loews Village VII, and on Friday, 5.5, 11 pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park 5.
It’s not an absolute masterwork but it’s a very penetrating film, obviously because it draws on 9/11 emotions, but also because it adds a surreal, Twilight Zone-ish feel- ing to a familiar canvas, supplying a kind of fresh echo…producing a result that’s unnerving but on some level very “real.”
Ackerman can be reached via Tried & True Productions at 323.466.1602. His email is email@example.com.
Aroma, Sizzle, Steak
I used to love movie poster art, but there are so few today that pop through in any kind of sexy or distinctive way that the fun, for me, just isn’t there any more. Or not enough.
Take five or ten minutes and browse through this British website devoted to classic one-sheets, and you’ll see what I mean. (Make sure you check out the Saul Bass page.) A lot of them were standard primitive sells, but the better ones from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s had flair, smarts, suggestiveness…a kind of art-gallery urbanity.
Movie posters that were hanging in Hollywood Museum on Thursday, 4.20…but are gone now because it was just a one-day, one-shot deal.
Many of today’s posters, of course, are geared to mall-heads. They get your attention but in a much more rudimentary way. Many of them are basically about emphasis over enticement, and always seem to use the primary colors, emotions and attitudes that are likely to appeal to younger, less educated viewers with shorter attention spans.
But I figured I’d go down to the Hollywood Museum anyway to check out the 2005 posters that have been submitted for the 2006 Hollywood Reporter Key Art Awards. The winners will collect their trophies at a big swanky ceremony held June 16 at the Kodak Theatre, with Kevin Nealon serving as m.c. (Click here for more info.)
I got there around 12:30 on Thursday, and ten minutes later I was almost ready to leave.
The first and second floors were stuffed to the gills with posters and standees for cinema primitivo — primarily big-budget action, horror, FX and teen-market crap. Precisely the kind of films I loathe. I read books, I’ve been to college and I’ve stood inside the Pantheon in Rome, and every poster and standee on those floors said, “C’mon, man…you’re a gorilla. You know you are. Here, have a banana.”
Then my hosts — Hollywood Reporter publicists Lynda Miller and Alisha Maines, and mPRm’s Shari Mesulam and Wendy Martino — took me to the third floor and finally…some good stuff! Posters with a semblance of art and finesse and sophis- tication.
My choice for the best one-sheet is the one pictured above, for Transamerica. I’m also a fan of the one-sheets for Capote, Jarhead, Inside Deep Throat, et. al. But very few of them had that capturing-the-essence, vaguely highbrow approach. I mean, a few did.
The one-sheet for Warren Beatty’s Bulworth (1998) had that element, that way of compressing the soul or attitude of a film into a single chord.
I asked what percentage of the posters submited were from the indie sector and and big-studio distributors. An answer never came back, but Key Art Awards Coordinator Marc Romeo, who’s been facilitating the entry and judging process for six years, says that 70% of this year’s 1,423 entries received (in 29 categories) have been submitted by agencies and vendors and 30% were submitted by studios.
I happened to notice two posters hanging on a stairwell for a couple of broadly commercial films from the ’50s that no one wants to see these days, that aren’t on DVD and that I’ve either forgotten about or never heard of. One was All Hands on Deck, a 1961 Navy comedy with Pat Boone and Buddy Hackett, and You Can’t Run Away From It, a remake of It Happened One Night with Jack Lemmon and June Allyson.
These movies may have been popular in their day but they’re dead now — unknown and unwatched by even the cultists. I mean, you could send a messenger with a basket of fruit, a bottle of champagne and a new DVD of All Hands on Deck to my door, and I really doubt if I’d watch it.
We all have ideas, I’m sure, about which films playing today are not only disposable by today’s standards but certain to be forgotten by history. Most of the films that have come out over the last couple of months belong in this category, February, March and early April releases being what they are. It’s a desert out there.
Anyway, my four hosts took me to Mel’s after our tour, and we all sat down and ordered the healthiest foods we could find on the menu. And then mPRm honcho Mark Pogachefsky dropped by to say hello, and then Hollywood Reporter ad sales exec Lynn Segal came in with friends for some lunch. And it was basically a nice visit.
But it would have been nicer if Saul Bass had been there.
What are the odds that Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon (Warner Bros., 5.12) will be an above-average thrill ride? Pretty good, I’d say. And if you scan the saleable elements it looks like something a lot of people are going to want to see.
The trailer tells you the effects are going to be cool. (That rogue wave gives me the creeps.) Petersen is nothing if not a dependable craftsman, and the movie he’s made, to judge by the trailer, has the look and feel of something fairly well-rigged.
Kurt Russell (front & center)), Josh Lucas (behind Kurt), Emmy Rossum (rear) and Richard Dreyfss (lower right) in Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon (Warner Bros., 5.12)
I tend to shy away from big-budget effects movies, but even I’m half into seeing this thing. I really like Kurt Russell, I’ve always enjoyed Richard Dreyfuss (especially if he gets angry) and I’m cool with Josh Lucas playing the lead. If I didn’t expect to see it at a press screening within a week, I’d be okay with buying a ticket.
Why, then, are the Poseidon tracking figures in the toilet?
This is a very expensive film ($150 million? more?) and it needs to have a huge opening weekend. And yet recent figures say the overall general awareness is 54% compared to 92% for Mission: Impossible III , which opens a week earlier. The definite interests are at 23% — they should be somewhere around 40% at this stage. And the respondents calling Poseidon their first choice are around 3% when this group should be more around 10% or 11% (M:I:3‘s first-choicers are currently at 13%).
Warner Bros. has three weeks to rectify things, but right now they have reason to be worried.
They’ve been advertising on TV, the trailer is playing in theatres all over, and that upside-down-and-underwater-ship one-sheet is already iconic. (If you ask me it deserves to be a nominee at the Key Art awards next year.) And yet so far, the audience waiting to see it doesn’t seem hefty enough.
So what’s happening? Are audiences saying no to big loud disaster movies for some reason? Are people seeing some kind of 9/11 echo in this thing? (It’s not that much of a stretch.) Maybe the same folks who are frowning at the idea of seeing United 93 are doing the same here?
I think you have to lay at least some of the blame on that lousy TV movie, Hall- mark Entertainment’s The Poseidon Adventure, that aired last November. It was critically trashed, it didn’t draw that many viewers and it may have poisoned the well. It was produced by Larry Levinson, directed by Jon Putch and starred Rutger Hauer, Adam Baldwin, Bryan Brown, Steve Guttenberg, Peter Weller and C. Thom- as Howell.
I wonder who greenlit their Poseidon first — Levinson and Hallmark or the Warner Bros. people?
The cast of the Wolfgang Petersen film is of a higher calibre than the TV movie, but not that much higher. Russell will always be Mr. Cool in my book but he’s a long way from his Snake Plissken heyday. And Lucas didn’t show much drawing power last summer when Stealth , a $130 million Rob Cohen thriller that he starred in, ended up with $31,704,4316 (domestic) last September.
Warner Bros. obviously decided to sink most of the money into special effects rather than big-star salaries, but this may not be enough at the end of the day.
This isn’t a matter of how good the film will be. It’s a matter of marketing, about how many millions of people can be persuaded to pay to see this film on opening weekend based on ads, interest levels, trailers, TV spots, anticipation…whatever.
If the movie plays well and sells itself, it would probably help to sneak it across the country a week before. I mean, that’s as far as my thinking takes me.
Paramount Studios parking lot, snapped just after Wednesday morning’s Mission: Impossible III screening — 4.19.06, 1:15 pm.
J.J. Gittes: “Not that Mulwray?” Evelyn Mulwray: “Yes, Mr. Gittes…that Mulwray.”
I saw Mission: Impossible III (Paramount, 5.3) this morning at screening room #5 at Paramount Studios, and I’m not dissing anyone or anything with the title of this piece. Not even a little bit.
The MacGuffin of J.J. Abrams’ power-packed thriller, after all, is a smallish device called “rabbit’s foot”, and Tom Cruise’s hard-wired performance as IMF agent Ethan Hunt feels, to me, like something new: he’s made himself into the energizer bunny of action heroes. And it works.
Keri Russell, Tom Cruise in J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III (Paramount, 5.5)
The advance buzz about M:I:3 being awfully damned good has turned out to be true, I’m afraid — as shallow but very expensive action films go, this is about as good as it gets. But I would hold up on the talk about Phillip Seymour Hoffman stealing the picture from Cruise.
Philly is super-cool — cold and snarly with style to burn — but he hasn’t been given enough ammo — not enough scenes or killer lines — to help him stand up against M:I:3‘s 43 year-old star.
It’s no secret Cruise has been getting (“generating” is closer to the truth) a lot of bad press over the last year or so, with most of it centering on the perception that he’s become overly manic…that his stability is perhaps open to question on some level.
Well, guess what? Cruise answers that perception straight-on in this frenzied summer action film and then rolls right over it like a tank.
He’s made Hunt into a kind of mirror image of hard-core tabloid Tom. It’s like he’s saying, “Okay, fine…you guys think I’ve gone around the bend? All right, then I have! And I’m into it! Being hard-core, I mean.” And this leaves you with feelings of respect for the guy. He may be this or that, but is standing his ground. No backing off! I am what I am!
Hunt is a “character,” yes, but based more than ever on the pumping piston rods of Cruise’s personality. A guy who’s all about focus, juice, intensity, endorphins. Sca- ling walls, rapelling down walls. Plotting strategy, eyeballing his costars, running for his life (in more ways than one) and turning tomato red in the face. Neck veins! Neck veins!
And you’re fine with all of this because…I haven’t said this in so many words, have I?…Mission: Impossible III is easily the best of the three M:I‘s. No, I’ll go further: it’s one of the best high-torque summer action films ever.
Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible (1996) had two or three brilliantly staged sequences, especially the CIA break-in-and-robbery and the chunnel-train sequence, but some of it was in and out and a lot of people felt confused by the plot.
John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II (2000) was an okay spin on Notorious with Thandie Newton as Ingrid Bergman and Dougray Scott as Claude Rains, and my memories of it aren’t that vivid, so it couldn’t have been that great.
Costar Michelle Monaghan, Cruise
This new one, directed and written by Abrams, is far more relentless and slam- bammy than its predecessors. You’re supposed to give your audience a little downtime between action beats, but this sucker won’t rest. You know the old analogy that action films are like musicals? Mission: Impossible III is almost an opera.
Okay, there’s a mildly relaxing party sequence in the beginning and one or two dialogue-with-Laurence-Fisburne-as-the-obligatory-company-asshole-riding-the- IMF-team scenes, but that’s pretty much it. The rest is all on the treadmill running at 10.
There are four beautifully composed set pieces — a rescue mission in a factory in a Berlin suburb, a kidnapping in the Vatican, an aerial attack on a causeway over Chesapeake Bay, and a break-in and a rescue in Shanghai. But there are always tangents and side-shows connected to these main events, and something riveting is always going on.
This is the kind of summer “ride” movie that even sourpusses like me can sit back and roll with. Shrewd, inventive and into punching the gas. It’s empty, yes — it’s basically just one technical challenge after another, with arguments and a couple of “I love you”‘s thrown in — but this is one of those films in which depth would get in the way.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Maggie Q, Ving Rhames
When I hear a film is a “check-your-brain-at-the-door” thing, I know I’m going to hate it. This is not that. It exemplifies what a good geek-level action film should be. Abrams, the director-writer, keeps playing to slightly higher intelligence levels than these films are usually geared to.
Harry Knowles has called M:I:3 “the best damn retooling of True Lies that will ever be done.” Funny, but the only thing I remember about True Lies is liking Tom Arnold’s dialogue and attitude and Bill Paxton’s character begging for mercy in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger by saying he had a “little dick.”
Hold on…it’s coming back to me. Arnold was a secret operative who hadn’t told Jamie Lee Curtis what he really does, and then a job he’s on turns bad and Jamie Lee gets brought into it and so on. Michelle Monaghan is the Jamie Lee character, I guess, but…you know what? Screw this analogy. I’ve never once seen True Lies on DVD, and for a reason.
M:I:3 is about the IM force trying to shut down a ruthless arms and technology dealer named Owen Davian (Hoffman), who’s about as lethal as they come. The story is basically a tit-for-tat game. I’ll kidnap and try to squeeze you for inform- ation, and then you’ll come after me or my girlfriend and try to squeeze me for information, and we’ll see who’s smarter and craftier.
Rhys-Meyers, Rhames, Cruise, Maggie Q in, I think, Shanghai
Abrams starts things off an extremely fierce and intense tone. Right away you’re saying to yourself, “This is good…Abrams clearly knows what he’s doing.” As far as hero-being-tortured, tell-me-what-I- need-to-know-or-else scenes go, I would say it’s up to the level of Laurence Olivier pulling Dustin Hoffman’s teeth out in Marathon Man.
Hoffman’s Damian is the torturer, and it’s a little odd that this is his best scene in the film. He’s nearly spellbinding in just about every scene he’s in, but after Capote and all you’re kind of waiting for Philly to really step up with something climactic and classic…and it never comes. He kicks ass with the lines and scenes he’s been given, but somebody wanted this to be Tom Cruise’s film.
The IMFers — Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q — hold up their end. Billy Crudup is perfunctory as Cruise’s home-office ally. Simon Pegg (last in Shaun of the Dead) has the obligatory computer-geek-who-saves-the-day-with- crucial-key-punching-in-the-last-act role.
Michelle Monaghan has the meatiest female role as Ethan’s initially clueless wife. Keri Russell burns through strongly in the first act. Maggie Q (Around the World in 80 Days, Rush Hour 2) is…well, she’s fine, but the best thing she does is wear a very hot red dress to a black-tie affair at the Vatican.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Owen Davian
I laughed three times out loud — not at anything “funny” but because I was really enjoying the moxie that went into the writing or acting. I won’t spoil them by sharing.
I had a good enough time with this that I’m going back to see it a second time this evening.
Too many cheerleading pieces and people will start to think I’m a professional kiss-ass, but I have to say it: Tom Cruise’s image problems aren’t going to vanish like that when Mission: Impossible III opens 16 days from now, but they’re probably going to be put on hold.