The people behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest have “made everything a little bigger, louder and more expensive. They’ve upped the archness ante, poured on the special effects, and [encouraged] everyone to follow Johnny Depp’s antic lead. The result is an overproduced movie that tries so strenuously hard to be ‘fun’ that it’s a chore to sit through. For all its razzle-dazzle production values, the story itself feels cluttered, hard to follow and hard to care about.” — Newsweek critic David Ansen in the current issue.
The link isn’t up yet, but Matt Drudge is excerpting a Sharon Waxman N.Y. Times story saying that attendance is rising at U.S. plexes after a prolonged draught. “Through the first 25 weeks of the year, domestic box-office revenue — helped by a boost in ticket prices — was up nearly 5 percent, to $4.6 billion, though it still trailed 2004,” the quote reads. “Movie attendance was up about 1.65 percent to 699 million for the first 25 weeks, after a sharp decline the year before. The totals grew last weekend as Warner Brothers’ Superman Returns took in $84 million over a six-day period (i.e., counting Tuesday night).”
David Benioff and David Ayer‘s script for the upcoming Wolverine movie only does a little sidebar origin-story about a twelve year-old Wolverine…fine. All origin stories have the same beats, the same payoffs…and producers in the superhero business have seemed notoriously blind in the past to how sick fans are of seeing another one.
Thank fortune the Wolverine guys aren’t contemplating any such notion. I realize that one description by Latino Review‘s El Mayimbe is hardly the last definitive word, but this is encouraging. The Wolverine flick won’t be out until sometime in ’08 due to Hugh Jackman’s crowded schedule, apparently.
A get-well-soon to Roger Ebert after an emergency operation he went through Saturday night (or Sunday morning…it’s not clear) to repair complications from an earlier cancer-related surgery that happened on June 16. The mid-June procedure was about removing a cancerous growth on Ebert’s salivary gland. Newsvine is reporting that a blood vessel burst near the area of the 6.16 surgery on Saturday night around 8 pm, and that Ebert went right into surgery to have this taken care of.
Here’s a piece listing the screen’s great pirate characters …dismissable. A more diverting subject stirred by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest are two other eye-filling films about ships at sea, both released in the early ’60s, that aren’t available on DVD.
The one I’d like to see the most is Peter Ustinov‘s Billy Budd, a 1962 Allied Artists release that bombed when it came out. I have fond memories of Budd ‘s widescreen black-and-white Scope (2.35 to 1) photography, and think it’s criminal — derelict — that it’s only been transferred on a pan-and-scan VHS basis so far.
Budd lacks the moral complexity of Herman Melville’s novel but I’ve always found it fairly satisfying. It has four or five fascinating performances including those by Terrence Stamp (Budd), Ustinov (a too-likable Captain Veer, but interesting for the specificity and discipline that Ustinov brings to all his performances), Robert Ryan (an especially dark and decadent Claggart) and Melvin Douglas (Dansker).
The other (and I’ve been mentioning this for years) is Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), which falls apart at the end but is moderately stirring in an obvious mainstream-Hollywood way for the first two thirds (or is three quarters?), the high points being the rounding-the-horn and mutiny sequences.
The thing that needs to be captured and restored by a good DVD producer is the high-quality photography, since Bounty was shot by dp Robert Surtees in the Ultra Panavision 70 process (which delivered a 2.76 to 1 aspect ratio) and has really never been seen in its full visual splendor since the roadshow engagements that happened during Bounty‘s initial run in late 1962.
Having finally seen Fabian Bielinsky’s The Aura Saturday night, I understand why IFC Films picked it up and will open it in early September. Quiet, low-key and haunting in the manner of a half-awake dream, it’s a very unusual hybrid by the standards of American films — a heist film mixed with a psychological spooker.
Bielsinky’s screenplay was obviously influenced on some level by Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger, which is about a journalist (Jack Nicholson) who abandons his life and identity in order to “become” a recently-deceased arms dealer whom he closely resembles.
The late Fabian Bielinsky (r.), director of The Aura, in a 2000 publicity shot taken to promote Nine Queens
The Aura is about a Buenos Aires taxidermist named Espinoza (Ricardo Darin, star of Bielinsky’s Nine Queens) with an active fantasy life (he dreams of pulling off the perfect bank job) who accidentally kills a complete stranger named Dietrich during a hunting trip in the Patagonian forest.
Instead of simply reporting the shooting to the authorities, Espinoza decides to poke into Dietrich’s life and learns fairly quickly he was involved in a scheme to rob an armored truck — a job due to happen in two or three days’ time. A bit curiously, Espinoza slowly begins to introduce himself to Dietrich’s friends and co-conspira- tors as a confidante whom Dietrich has asked to take his place.
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Suddenly immersed in a world of complex deceptions and lurking hair- trigger violence, Espinoza’s willingness to play this very strange game puts him in big danger, and it gets a little bit creepier with each lie he tells or is forced to cover up. On top of which Espinoza has periodic epileptic fits that send him into blackouts at the worst possible times.
The Aura is superbly acted, shot and scored — a big leap for Bielinski beyond the rote minimalism of his last hit, Nine Queens, which came out six years ago. The quietly creepy music is by Lucio Godoy, the superb color-desaturated photogra- phy is by Checco Varese, and it’s all been cut together in first-rate fashion by Alejandro Carrillo Penovi and Fernando Pardo.
The Aura star Ricardo Darin, director Fabian Bielinsky during shooting in early ’05 in Argentina’s Paragonian forest.
Nothing was going to keep me from seeing The Aura at its final L.A. Film Festival showing. I’d been keen to see it all along, but Bielinsky’s death last Thursday in Sao Paolo upset me and made me resolve to go no matter what, if for nothing else than as a tribute to a director I respected and a guy I didn’t know very well at all, but who was always friendly and gracious to me when we communicated.
Before the film began an actress named Hebe Tabachnik, who is serving as the L.A. Film Festival’s Shorts Programmer and Latin American programming consultant, told the audience about Bielinsky’s sudden death.
Trying for a dignified tone while fighting back tears, Tabachnik described Bielin- sky’s career as an assistant director on several films in the late ’80s and ’90s before getting his big break in getting the chance to direct Nine Queens.
I asked Tabachnik after the screening if she knew what had happened to cause his death. 47 year-old men generally don’t just keel over and die without warning. She said she had no information, although it can probably be said that Bielinsky either had a heart condition that he genetically inherited, or he simply didn’t know his body or chose to ignore the warning signs or whatever.
Bielinsky’s Variety obituary said he “reportedly had had hypertension for some time.”
He was in Sao Paolo casting for an advertising project when a heart attack killed him.
The Aura received six Condors de Plata on Monday, 6.26, at the 54th Argentine Association of Film Journalists Awards ceremony in Buenos Aires. The thriller won for best film, director, original screenplay, sound, cinematography and lead actor (Darin).
In the late ’90s director Jonathan Kaufer (Bad Manners) used to invite pallies and media allies to occasional DVD parties, at which everyone would decide which cool DVD to watch (films by Bresson or Antonioni or Wilder never seemed to make the cut) while sipping good wine and eating delicious Chinese take-out food.
The parties happened at a big McMansion on Summit Drive in the gated Beverly Park community which Kaufer was sharing with then-wife Pia Zadora and their children, and in going to these parties I got to know their swanky neighborhood a bit. It’s very soothing to bask in the aura of great wealth, but Beverly Park feels a little bit like something built for Disney World in Orlando — “Ostentatious- Rich-People-Who-Don’t-Quite-Get-It Land.” Flamboyant and luxurious and well- tended, but with a declasse faux quality everywhere you turned.
All to say this N.Y. Times Sharon Waxman piece about the residents of Beverly Park struck me as hilarious. The funniest part describes how some residents decided to get in the face of their neighbors Jeanette and Robert Bisno (who live next door to Pheonix Pictures honcho Mike Medavoy and his wife Irena) for essentially degrading the neighborhood with their appalling lack of taste (“Vegas”- style gates, a dinosaur topiary viewable from the street, “an eight-foot abstract sculpture in their front courtyard of what some interpret to be a woman on her back with her legs in the air“).
I was attacked last year when I wrote that aesthetic choices made by people whose last names end in vowels could rarely be trusted, but sometimes the proof is in the pudding. You can’t instill good taste in people. Taste is a result of a thousand distastes, and either you’ve been around and seen the world and developed a sense of some refinement and a respect for venerated aesthetic traditions…or you haven’t.
Zadora and Kaufer’s home, by the way, was built on land where Pickfair, the celebrated Spanish-style home of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, once stood. Zadora and her former husband Meshulam Riklis bought Pickfair in 1988 and destroyed it soon after to make way for their McManse.
I had a very funny Tom Arnold moment six or seven years ago when I was approaching Jonathan Kaufer‘s home for one of those DVD parties, and it convinced me for life that Arnold has a cool attitude. Kaufer would give his guests the number code to get them through the front gate, and yet a group of three or four people — Arnold among them — was standing that night in front of the gate when I arrived. They had the wrong code or something. It was very dark and all I could see were vague shapes. I said in a joking flippant way as I approached, “Hey, how come everyone’s just standing around?” And Arnold said, “Because we’re assholes?”
“I don’t know whether it’s just because I’m me, but I am surprised by what degree it looks familiar,” says Bill Nighy about his performance as the squid-faced Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, in an interview with L.A. Daily News critic Bob Strauss. What’s remarkable is that Nighy’s inflections come through anyway. “It’s spooky, obviously, because it’s a weird experience,” he says. “And it is satisfying to see that the movement, the physical stuff, and the attitudinal decisions that I made at the time survived . They’re in it, they’re there, even though they are delivered by this weirdo.” [Note to readers : MCN’s David Poland linked to Strauss’ article last night so that means he kind of owns it, and if anyone else mentions or riffs on it, they’re infringing on some level and a kind of poacher. HE recognizes that MCN linked to the Strauss piece first, and profusely apologizes for offending Poland’s acute sense of territoriality.]
Superman Returns did $19.3 million yesterday (7.1), which is a very good number…but as Travis Bickle once said, “Thank God for the rain.” It poured on the eastern seaboard yesterday and today it’ll be raining in the midwest and the south, and this obviously bodes well for exhibitors all over. The Devil Wears Prada took in $9 million, Click did $6.8 million, Cars $5.2 million, Nacho Libre $2.1 million…zzzzzz.