Hollywood Interrupted is reporting that Bruno Kirby has died from “recently diagnosed leukemia.” Kirby is best known for having played “young Clemenza” in The Godfather, Part II, for doing a good job with a fairly sizable role in City Slickersand for having played Albert Brooks‘ co-editor in Modern Romance who says to Brooks at one point, “The ‘ludes kicked in, right?” Kirby was only 57. A sad thing…sorry.
The Thursday night 10 pm showing of Snakes on a Plane is going to be one of the coolest events in the ticket-buying L.A. moviegoer realm in a long while. Every critic in town, I imagine, will be at one of the theatres where it’s playing, and will thereafter run straight home (or back to the office) to write the review at 12:30 am. I’m assuming that the Arclight will be Ground Zero that night. I want to be among a crowd of loud talk-backers, booers, cheerers, Samuel L. Jackson fans and hipper-than-thou’s who were into Snakes in March-April but have since gotten off the boat, etc. Hollywood Elsewhere is planning on being there barring some catclysmic event. I asked a New Line rep if they’re going to have a 10 pm freebie screening for critics, and I was told no. Watch them do this anyway and invite their friendlies.
Anne Thompson agrees with L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein that print critics should also write blogs to keep their connectivity levels up and running with cyber film fans. “Major news outlets should give their critics blogs and encourage them to weigh in before the official studio review dates,” she writes. “I love this idea! And it will probably drive the studios nuts.”
Sad news about that Nick Papac, a 25 year-old propmaster, getting killed in that crash with an SUV carrying director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) during shooting of The Kingdom, starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner. One thing these stories never to seem to reveal is what really happened (or what appears to have happened). The details always seem to emerge weeks or months later.
N.Y. Times DVD columnist Dave Kehr, whose dismissive snortings have prompted an occasional retort from this corner, has gotten it wrong again. In his current column he refers to Billy Wilder‘s The Spirit of St. Louis, a not-half-bad 1957 James Stewart flick about Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris, as “stunningly impersonal.”
In terms of auteurist brushstrokes, he means. And Kehr is right — the film has none of the wit or subversion in Wilder’s best films, and it does seem as if Wilder made it for the paycheck. But in its mid-1950s, earnestly stodgy way, The Spirit of St. Louis is moderately watchable — it moves along in a steady, workmanlike fashion — but also pays off emotionally at the very end. In a blatantly dishonest way, yes, but effectively. And I’ve always found this fascinating.
It’s mainly because of Wilder’s storytelling discipline — he was always one to plant seeds and make them pay off much later in a film — and also, partly, due to Franz Waxman‘s music. But Kehr can’t be bothered to mention this, perhaps because he never realized it or is too smug to pay attention. I only know that I hate it when smart critics diss a film that’s at least partly successful.
Just before the exhausted Stewart is about to land his plane at Le Bourget field in Paris, he starts to lose it — he starts freaking and whimpering over a sudden inability to focus on the basics of landing a plane.
The movie has briefly acknowledged about an hour earlier that Lindbergh was an atheist who believed only in his own aeronautical skills and in the engineering of planes. But just as Stewart is melting down above Le Bourget he thinks back to a “flying prayer” that a priest passed once passed on, and he says aloud, “Oh, God, help me.” And of course he lands safely.
And I swear to God it seems like the right thing to say at that moment — for Stewart/Lindbergh, for the audience, for the film. And I’m saying this as a half- atheist myself. (I found satori when I was 20 — I held universes in the palm of my hand — but mystical flotation fades over time.) It was shameless of Wilder and coscreenwriters Charles Lederer and Wendell Mayes to have pulled such a cheap trick (pandering to conventional religious sentiment, etc.), but it’s amazing when bullshit works despite it obviously being bullshit.
Jean Luc Godard had a somewhat similar reaction when he said he was seized with affection for John Wayne‘s Ethan Edwards at the end of The Searchers when he picks up Natalie Wood and says, “Let’s go home, Debbie.” That’s a dishonest moment also — Ethan is a racist sonuvabitch, and there’s no way he’s doing to do a last-minute 180. But the moment works anyway.
I’ve always felt that any movie that puts at least one lump in your throat is not impersonal. If the filmmakers are talented and clever enough to “get” you, they’re always coming some emotional place themselves. You can’t be totally cynical and touch people. You have to mean it on some level. And that means getting down to the “personal”.
A frank, astute, well-written piece by L.A. Times industry columnist Patrick Goldstein about why film critics seem to more and more irrelevant (or at least being seen as such), and what moves could be made to plug them into the cyber world — i.e., basically bring the learned brahmin types into more of a democratic give-and-take dialogue with the rude and unwashed masses.
Oscar Mashing at Paramount
Here it is not even Labor Day, and it’s looking more and more likely that the two strongest Best Picture contenders are going to be Flags of Our Fathers and Dreamgirls, which in itself is going to make this a phenomenal Oscar campaign year for Paramount /DreamWorks (a.k.a. “Dreamamount”), which is distributing both.
Shot during the filming of Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (DreamWorks/Paramount, 10.20)
Keep in mind also that one other Paramount release — Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu‘s Babel (Paramount Vantage) — is also regarded as a probable awards- level thing. Not to mention the possibility of Paramount’s World Trade Center eeking into one of the five slots as a kind of sentimental favorite. Four Best Picture finalists from the same studio — it could happen.
But I’m all but convinced it’s going to come down to a Flags vs. Dreamgirls thing — a mano e mano on Melrose Ave. I’m saying this because of fresh perceptions of extremely strong emotional currents in both. And because, as one strategist notes, “there’s such a shallow pool of obvious [Best Picture] contenders from our current vantage point of mid-August.”
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Some surprise movie may come along in a month or two and rewrite the picture — “”it happens every year,” the strategist says — but right now no one can see what film that might be. And I spend every damn day trying to figure this stuff out.
How do I know it’ll be Dreamgirls vs. Flags of Our Fathers? I don’t as far as Flags is concerned, having only read the script and seen this morning’s Japanese combo trailer (i.e., Flags plus Letters from Iwo Jima).
But count on this : (a) the personal-anguish-of-soldiers factor, which Flags is full of top to bottom, is going to resonate to some extent (maybe a large extent) in the hinterlands among the support-our-troops-in-Iraq contingent, and (b) this big-scale tribute to the World War II generation is going to sink in big with boomer-aged Academy members.
I wouldn’t be saying this if Flags was just standing on its own — it could fade or come up short, you never know — but the Flags-plus-Letters from Iwo Jima factor (joined-at-the-hip movies using the same history and locale) is going to impress the hell out of Academy members for the same reason that actors who gain weight or put on fake noses or speak in exotic accents always tend to get Oscar-nomina- ted — because the effort that went into it is so obvious, and because no director has ever done something like this before.
And having seen portions of Bill Condon‘s knockout Dreamgirls again last night I’m dead certain it’s a Best Picture lock. Four scenes were shown, and each was emotional, exuberant, tight as a drum, perfectly staged and performed, and edited with the skill of a diamond-cutter.
And yet when you think about the Flags vs. Dreamgirls competish, it feels like a bit of a muddle because their Oscar campaigns are going to be run by two execs collecting Paramount paychecks — DreamWorks marketing executive Terry Press and Paramount marketing chief Gerry Rich — and who will have to split their loyalties and energies in two directions.
Flags and Dreamgirls originated as DreamWorks projects, of course, and Press is going to be handling the marketing for both, but she and Rich will be making the Oscar campaign moves — and this may look to some like an operation at cross purposes.
Press listened to my questions and declined official comment, but let’s look at this situation as best we can.
One, there’s a huge influx of Miramax and DreamWorks marketing veterans on the Paramount lot these days, and these people know their way around the Academy rodeo. Paramount is a studio, remember, that hasn’t been in a major Oscar campaign since Titanic, which was nine years ago.
Two, there’s no Paramount logo on the Flags of our Fathers one-sheet. Think about that.
And three, Warner Bros. is is the international distibutor and co-financier of Flags of our Fathers, and Warner Bros. will be the the domestic distributor of Letters From Iwo Jima…so there’s that element to consider.
Simultaneous Oscar campaigns for films released by the same studio have happened before, of course. Miramax had its own Life is Beautiful vs. Shakes- peare in Love competing for the Best Picture Oscar in ’98. Disney had The Insider running against The Sixth Sense in ’99. Miramax had The Aviator vs. Finding Neverland in ’04. Universal had Field of Dreams vs. Born on the 4th of July in ’89.
But Life is Beautiful was never considered a Best Picture front-runner, and neither was The Sixth Sense or Finding Neverland. The only analogy that really fits is the Field of Dreams vs. Born on the Fourth of July one.
If it comes down to a Flags vs. Dreamgirls standoff, the ideal situation, of course, would be for Press and Rich to push both with equal vigor. Press is a pro and will naturally strive to do that. She seems to be making the right moves by hiring outside Oscar campaign consultants for both films — Amanda Lundberg for Dreamgirls and a not-yet-finalized hire for for Flags.
But one studio insider who also knows his way around the racetrack sees other forces at work.
“It’s really not Terry Press making the call here,” he said. “This is about Spielberg and Katzenberg and Geffen…this is Geffen’s movie, Dreamgirls…and it’s about how these guys are joined in the planning the future of this studio. Dreamgirls is going to get the big push — it’s a non-contest.
“And I think Eastwood knows that, and I’m not so sure he even cares about playing this game at this stage in his life. But look at the power DreamWorks has at Para- mount these days, and you have to consider the hard reality, which is that from the DreamWorks/Paramount perspective, Clint is a 76 year-old director who’s basically a Warner Bros. guy on hiatus.”
The other strategist says “the reality is not Clint’s age but the fact that he’s won twice” — i.e., Best Picture Oscars for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby — “and that he won last year.”
Japan Gets Clint Better Than We Do
This Japanese trailer — short and hard but quite intriguing, especially in its use of desaturated, close-to-monochome color — is very clearly promoting Clint Eastwood‘s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima (i.e., formerly known as Red Sun, Black Sand) as war films joined at the hip — as an epic-scaled, double-dip, you-can’t-see-just-one experience.
The emphasis in the Japanese trailer, naturally, is on star Ken Watanabe — he has the longest dialogue clip — and other Japanese actors who will (apparently) appear only in Letters. (The Flags of Our Fathers script I read earlier this year has no Japanese speaking parts.) The trailer shows glimpses of American cast members — Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, etc. — but that’s all.
Clint Eastwood during shooting of Flags of Our Fathers (DreamWorks/Paramount, 10.20)
What’s especially interesting are the Japanese release dates, as confirmed on the Japanese website: 10.28.06 for Fathers (which is odd because 10.28 is a Saturday) and 12.9.06 for Letters . The U.S. release dates, however, are 10.20.06 and sometime in January 2007, respectively. There’s no locked-in date for Letters at this point, or so I’ve been told.
DreamWorks/Paramount has kibboshed the idea of both films coming out on these shores in the same year — they want Letters to mainly be regarded as aesthetic support for Flags of Our Fathers, which, of course, is what the Oscar effort will be all about.
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Flags is the primary film in Eastwood’s head — a time-trippy art movie about how Iow Jima veterans feel about the notions of heroism and standing with their buddies — as well as the American side of the Iwo Jima issue, and DreamWorks/Paramount thinks (or so I gather) that Academy members will be confused as to which film to vote for if both films are released in late ’06.
Maybe DreamWorks/Paramount also figured Academy members would complain about having to digest two movies as a single thing. And that they might complain about sore rears. That sounds shallow, but you wouldn’t believe how some Academy members talk about moviegoing during Oscar season. Their irreverence is amazing.
Clint Eastwood directing Ken Watanabe during shooting of Letters from Iwo Jima
Maybe DreamWorks/Paramount is right but I don’t agree — cluelessness and shallowness should never be catered to — and I’ve been saying so for a while now.
I’ve thought all along that these films should both be released in late ’06, because they need to be absorbed as one big single war epic and regarded as a single entity by Academy members. I think these films should be released just as they’re being released in Japan — in late October and early December — and that they should appear on the Oscar ballot together — Flags of Our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima as a one-vote, one-movie deal.
That’s out the window, of course, and too bad but that’s that. But sooner or later the films will be offered together as a double-disc DVD, and it would be fascinating to see them shown as a big double-feature in theatres. I don’t think they can be cut together like Francis Coppola cut Godfather I and II into The Godfather Saga (i.e., that piece that ran on TV in the late ’70s) but maybe that’ll happen down the road…who knows?
I know that in my head, at least, I’ll always see Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima as the ultimate Siamese twin World War II movie.