Former HE columnist and hot-shot Brazilian critic Pablo Villaca is asking if I think there’s “any chance the next Academy Awards could honor Michael J. Fox‘s fight for stem-cell research and a cure for Parkinson’s? The guy clearly deserves it, despite the recent Bush veto that put a crimp on research funding. I was deeply touched by watching Fox in this YouTube video. The poor guy is in an obviously advanced stage of Parkinson’s, and he’s talking about the subject so passionately. It seems clear that the attention the Oscars could give to his cause would be extremely important.”
Following the Ebert & Roeper and MCN early breaks, Variety ‘s Todd McCarthy and Hollywood Reporter‘s Kirk Honeycutt have posted thumbs-up reviews of Clint Eastwood‘s Flags of Our Fathers. McCarthy calls it sad, ambitious, powerful and exemplary in its physical aspects, and Honeycutt writes that the film “does a most difficult and brave thing and does it brilliantly…it is a movie about a concept…not just any concept but the shop-worn and often wrong-headed idea of ‘heroism.'”
“Tackling his biggest canvas to date with a pointed exploration of heroism — in its actual and in its trumped-up, officially useful forms — Eastwood’s picture welds a powerful account of the battle of Iwo Jima,” McCarthy writes. “This domestic Paramount release looks to parlay critical acclaim and its director’s ever-increasing eminence to strong b.o. returns through the autumn and probably beyond.
“One way to think about Flags is as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance of this generation. That 1962 John Ford Western is famous for its central maxim, ‘When the truth becomes legend, print the legend’, and Flags resonantly holds the notion up to the light. It is also a film about the so-called Greatest Generation that considers why its members are, or were, reticent to speak much about what they did in the war, to boast or consider themselves heroes.
“Such is the carnage at the initial Iwo Jima landing (the Americans suffered 2,000 casualties that first day alone) that there will be some temptation to compare the scene to current co-producer Steven Spielberg’s justly celebrated D-Day invasion sequence in Saving Private Ryan. But Eastwood does it his own way, impressively providing coherence and chaos, awesome panoramic shots revealing the enormity of the arrayed armada and sudden spasms of violence that with great simplicity point up the utter arbitrariness of suffering and death in combat.
“The visual scheme Eastwood developed for the picture is immediately arresting. Perhaps taking a cue from the island’s black sand, as well as from WWII’s status as the last war shot, from a filmic p.o.v., in black-and-white, pic is nearly as monochromatic as anything shot in color can be. Dominated by blacks, grays and olive greens, cinematographer Tom Stern‘s images have a grave elegance, a drained quality that places the events cleanly in history without diminishing their startling immediacy.”
Lloyd Grove‘s “Lowdown” column has has left the room. Grove told N.Y. Times media columnist David Carr that his next gig will be I will be “something that is multimedia, with components of internet and television and print media.” I called him just now to ask when that might happen, but apparently he’s already packed and out of the building.
Which reminds me: is Carr coming back to the Oscar beat as “the Bagger” again? If so, he should get back into it no later than November 1st.
“At the Los Angeles premiere of director Stephen Frears‘ The Queen Tuesday night, partygoers anointed Helen Mirren as the inevitable best actress Oscar winner for her bravura turn as the dowdily out-of-touch Queen Elizabeth II, but several Miramax Films marketing staffers were looking like deer frozen in headlights. That’s because the last thing anyone wants to have happen this early in the developing awards season is to be named the Oscar frontrunner.” — from Anne Thompson‘s latest Hollywood Reporter/Risky Business column.
Bring On Letters!
A couple of hours after Clint Eastwood‘s press conference last Saturday, I wrote that his latest film, Flags of Our Fathers (Dreamamount, 10.20), is a mature and very soulful meditation piece with its head and heart in the right humanistic place. It definitely is that…but I’m afraid this isn’t enough.
It’s not what it’s saying but how it says it that creates the problem for Flags of Our Fathers. It’s a fairly decent film and not a tank, but it’s not that satisfying because of a lack of strong story and strong characters, and because Paul Haggis‘s script is too diffuse and back-and-forthy.
Last April I wrote that Haggis’s script “is a sad, compassionate, sometimes horri- fically violent piece that’s essentially plotless and impressionistic and assembled like a kind of time-tripping poem — a script made from slices of memory and pieces of bodies and heartfelt hugs and salutes from family members and politicians back home, and delivered with a lot of back-and-forth cutting.
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“So it’s basically a montage thing that’s obviously more of an art film than a campfire tale, and that means that the sector that says ‘give us a good story and enough with the arty pretensions’ is going to be thinking ‘hmmmm’ as they leave the screening room.”
That seems to be what’s happening now among some who’ve seen Flags. But not among everyone. Three major voices — Emanuel Levy‘s and two guys who have yet to post their reviews — are fans, but I know of at least one major critic back east who’s feeling disappointed so let’s see how it all shakes out.
Some day down the line someone on YouTube is going to re-cut Flags of Our Fathers, take out the footage of Doc Bradley‘s grown son interviewing his dad’s war buddies in their 80s and all the narration, and then blend it with Letters From Iwo Jima, Eastwood’s forthcoming Japanese version of the same battle, into some- thing more linear and, I’m betting, truly hard and ferocious — a film that cuts back and forth between foes, revealing both sides and both cultures…and just lets the raw truth of that battle speak for itself.
Flags has many admirable things in it, but it doesn’t really make it as a unified entity. Leaving aside the son writing the book, it tells two not-very-strong stories — one about how the battle of Iwo Jima went for Doc Bradley (Ryan Phillipe) and his Marine buddies, and another about a fund-raising that tour that Bradley, Ira Hayes (Adam Beach) and Rene Gagnon (Jesse Bradford) were taken on after they and three others helped raise the U.S. flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mt. Surabachi — especially after a photo of this historic moment was published around the world.
The fighting scenes, no question, are more involving than the fund-raising tour scenes, and I know that the blending of these doesn’t build or gather much force as the film moves along. Eastwood’s unadorned style — his plainness and lack of pretension, just shoot it and move on — doesn’t work for him as well this time. Maybe if the story was more linear. Hard to say, easy to take shots.
I do know that the preparation-for-battle scenes feel bland and perfunctory, and so are the p.r.-tour-in America scenes. The battle scenes are the only real rock ‘n’ roll, but even these aren’t what anyone would necessarily call staggering. They’re very strong and intense, but they’re not legendary or mind-blowing because, frankly, they don’t put anything really new on the table. The ghost of Steven Spielberg‘s Saving Private Ryan haunts this film like Jacob Marley.
It seemed to me that the same points — all the top military p.r. guys care about are speeches and ceremonies and raising money, they don’t get what it was like over there, war is horrific — are made over and over. And except for the last five or ten minutes, which are okay but no great shakes, it stays on this same level all the way through. The narration (some of it read by Harve Presnell, who plays one of the elderly vets) that read nicely on the page — it was succinct and yet natural sounding — seems unnecessary and on-the-nose in the film. The movie isn’t saying “make of this what you will” — it’s spelling everything out.
Beach’s Hayes character is the only character with any poignance. He has a big weeping scene in a hotel room that feels more to me like a good try than a profound emotional touchstone. I felt Hayes’ pain, but I began to wonder after a while if he wasn’t just a weak sister who didn’t have a strong family upbringing and simply had a natural susceptibility (as some men do) for alcohol. It was distasteful and offensive and a dishonoring of the dead for the U.S. to launch that p.r. tour and take part in all that p.r. crap, yes, but was it really all that horrible? Bradley and Gagnon didn’t like it either, but they struggled through.
I think deep down that something told Clint he didn’t have as good a film as he thought he had in Flags of Our Fathers, and that’s where the idea of Red Sun, Black Sand — the film now called Letters From Iwo Jima — came from. Somewhere down in the core of his creative heart be knew he hadn’t quite captured the mother- lode with Flags, and a notion came to mind that there might be something better — something exotic and nervier, perhaps more poignant — in the story of the defending Japanese soldiers. These were young men who knew they probably wouldn’t leave that island alive, who had families waiting back home, who were just as terrified as the American soldiers, etc,
The Japanese movie is going to save the situation or not. It would be better, Oscar- wise, for it to be released this year instead of just Flags of Our Fathers on 10.20. It may or may not be the movie that turns the situation around, but I know this: Flags of Our Fathers doesn’t have a powerful right hook and doesn’t even box all that well, and even with the aura of this being Clint’s latest and all, I’m not sure its even going to wind up as a Best Picture nominee.
If it ends up with a nod, fine…but I really don’t think a Best Picture trophy is in the cards. Clint has proved over and over he’s a sublime filmmaker, but now and then even the best pitchers miss the strike zone.
There are obviously a lot of people in this town who reflexively half-bow their heads when Eastwood’s name comes up. I didn’t use to be one of these stone worship- pers, but I joined their ranks after Bridges of Madison County, I became a choirboy after Unforgiven, and I became a deacon after Million Dollar Baby. But Clint is not God, and not every single thing he touches turns to gold. Due respect, but this time I’m outside the church.
So let’s hear it from the other team. This year, I mean. Because right now the only thing that will save matters is a Hail Mary pass.
Daily Show host Jon Stewart yesterday told his would-be political base — i..e, the people wearing “Stewart/Colbert ’08” T-shirts — to forget about himself and Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert making a run for the White House, a la Robin Williams in Barry Levinson‘s Man of the Year (Universal, 10.13).
Stewart told New Yorker editor David Remnick on Sunday (10.8) that the T-shirts “are a real sign of how sad people are” with the Bush administration and the general drift of things. “Nothing says ‘I am ashamed of…my government’ more than ‘Stewart/Colbert ’08.'”
Just for the record — were the “Stewart-Colbert” T-shirts in any way inspired by Man of the Year, a comedy-drama about a Jon Stewart-like host being elected president, or have they been happening for, say, six months or longer? I ask because people started began talking and hearing about Man of the Year late last year, and interest in the film started cranking up in July-August.
Impact grenade, hot shrapnel, exploding black sand: MCN’s David Poland has just posted not one but two pans of Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and it’s fairly rough stuff. Not a disappointing film but a bad one, he says.
I was told after seeing Flags of Our Fathers last week that reviews most likely wouldn’t be “hitting the street” so to speak until next Monday, 10.16, so this took me aback. But the TV review that ran yesterday on Ebert and Roeper (Roeper gave it a thumbs-up, guest critic Zorianna Kitt was more mezzo-mezzo-neghead) blew that apart and suddenly the gates were down. Variety had been holding its review (said to be fairly positive) and will go out later today or tomorrow; ditto Hollywood Reporter.
“The good news is that even as I watched Flags of Our Fathers, I was craving Letters From Iwo Jima,” Poland writes at the end of one of his articles, referring to Eastwood’s Japanese Iwo Jima film that due in early February.
“My guess is that it will be a much, much better film because without the War Bond Tour as a focal point, it will have a clear focus,” he explains. “We, the Americans, are the villain. And death is the villain. And the villain will have a complete victory from their perspective. But the Eastwoodian element is that in that single focus, there will be honor and passion and faith√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√Ç¬¶ things truly missing from all but the surface of Flags of Our Fathers.
“If I were Clint Eastwood, I would be pushing to qualify Letters From Iwo Jima because Flags of our Fathers is now a long-shot, at best, for a Best Picture [nomination]. It just isn’t the kind of work that speaks to Clint’s strengths.”
Emanuel Levy went with a rave review late last week. On the other hand, The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil, obviously having called around, has run a piece asking if Flags of Our Fathers is this year’s Jarhead.
Man, is there a here-we-go-again feeling conveyed by Lorenza Munoz‘s prosecutorial L.A. Times article about monster cost overruns on Universal’s Evan Almighty or what?
This Steve Carell–Morgan Freeman mega-laugher about “a Noah-like congressman commanded by God to hoard hundreds of animals into an ark the size of a cruise ship”, Munoz says, will “probably become the most expensive comedy ever” because of a total tab (including marketing) of $250 million . The title of the article sounds rote: “Budget Overruns of Biblical Proportions.” If you ask me, the title in people’s minds reading this piece all over town is much better: Choppy Seas for Waterworld: The Comic Sequel.
Articles of this sort are like the starting gun at an Olympic swimming meet. On your mark, get set…crack! Into the water and beat this sucker down for being too expensive! Pound it in pre-release pieces like bombers strafing a Japanese-held island during World War II…softening up the defenses, preparing for the Big Assault. Pay close attention to research screenings and play up the numbers if they’re at all negative, and when the legit reviews start to show up on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes everybody needs to always mention the budget, the budget, the budget.
I’m cynical about this process, having taken part in similar assault campaigns for the last 24 years or so. (One of my first big stories in this business was a piece about why Sydney Pollack‘s Tootsie had cost a shockingly expensive $21 million.) On the other hand I’m kind of against Evan Almighty from the get-go because money isn’t funny.
The bigger and more costly a film is, the less witty and nimble-footed it tends to be. All the best comedies are smallish, human-scaled, character-driven. When’s the last time you laughed at something epic-scaled with tens of millions of CG propping it up? Remember Wild Wild West?
On top of which I half-dislike slick-ass directors like Tom Shadyac on general principle. He’s a pro-level studio guy and you know the movie will look like and sound terrific, and his last God movie, Bruce Almighty, had its moments. And you have to tipyour hat to the guy who directed Ace Ventura Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor and Liar Liar, which were all very big adn pretty funny at times. But keep in mind also that Shadyac directed Patch Adams, which I hated.
My idea of a just-right, quirky-hip, first-rate comedy is Little Miss Sunshine, and I don’t think Shadyac could have directed that film and made it come out right with a gun at his head.
My Sunday morning estimate was $25.8 million, but WB is saying Martin Scorsese‘s The Departed, showing on 3017 screens, finally ended up with just over $27 million…whatever. The reallly encouraging news is WB distrib chief Dan Fellman‘s claim that while Departed tracking had indicated its popularity would mainly be among older males, “we hit almost 25% in every quadrant.” My eyebrows went up slightly when I read that but fine, terrific…bodes well for the next three or four weekends.
16 year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes‘ announcement that she’s pregnant by her 19 year-old boyfriend and intends to give birth next year sounds vaguely creepy, yes. I don’t want to speculate how this may affect the reception to New Line’s The Nativity Story (opening 12.1), or if anyone will give a shit one way or the other.
But when you think about it and get beyond the young-girl-having-sex-in-her- early-teens angle, which is common behavior the world over, it’s not that strange.
Most younger people put off coming to grips with the heavy stuff until they’re 30 and sometimes older. This little girl is different. By the general standards of con- temporary western culture Ms. Hughes should be living a free and unencum- bered go-for-it lifestyle for the next 10 or 15 years before buckling down and shouldering the burdens of parenthood, but here she is getting right down to it with a child in her belly five years before her 21st birthday.
Unusual, to say the least. On one level I feel she’s making a mistake; on another she has my respect.
According to Variety reviewer John Anderson, “Robin Williams is not particularly funny” in Barry Levinson‘s Man of the Year (Universal, 10.13). “And, as if to compensate, Levinson and editors Steven Weisberg and Blair Daily cut to reaction shots each time [his character]cracks a joke.
“Williams comes off too stiff for a performer who has achieved such widespread popularity. His lines aren’t particularly fresh or crisply delivered, and his manner is, well, mannered. Although much is made of his bachelorhood during the early campaign part of the pic so that one assumes he must be gay, later he falls for [costar Laura Linney‘s character] — which is the smartest thing he does in the movie.
“The best scenes are between Linney and Williams; she raises his game, and his often mawkish sincerity suddenly becomes perfectly natural.
“While there are many implausibilities in Man of the Year, pic eventually overcomes an awkward start and turns into a satisfying candidate for the disposable movie dollar with a story that stays on your mind.”
As opposed to, say, an important, non-disposable movie-dollar attraction that doesn’t stay on your mind?