“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” — Julius Caesar (Act II, Scene II, 32-37)
USA Today‘s Suzie Woz flew to Toronto to watch John Travolta in a drag fat-suit sing and prance around to “You Can’t Stop The Beat”, a musical number in Adam Shankman‘s Hairspray. “It’s good,” Travola told her. “The effect that I caused is fun and all, but it’s a lot of work, man.” The film costars Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Nikki Blonsky. The filmic re-do of the Broadway musical (based on the ’88 John Waters film) will continue to shoot through early December, and is slated to open next July.
John Travolta as the “generously proportioned” Edna Turnblad — the role created by Divine in the non-musical original film and by Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway show
“I’m the guy who wrote you a few weeks ago after seeing Ed Zwick‘s Blood Diamond, and I wanted to add that I actually think the film has a good chance of being pretty successful,” reader John Robie wrote earlier today. “Although I wasn’t very high on it, it very well could get good word-of-mouth from people who will be persuaded into thinking it’s an important film.
“Blood Diamond is in the realm of The Last Samurai, which had a lot of support from mainstream filmgoers. A lot of my friends who don’t go to movies often and who tend to stay away from critical hits like Babel really liked Samurai a lot. Some even list it as one of their favorite films. I know, I know — I need to stop hanging with people like that.
“Point is, Zwick knows how to make movies that average folks think are works of art. Blood Diamond is a film for people who were bored by The Constant Gardener or preferred Crash over Magnolia. Not a bad film by any means — just not as powerful as it should have been. I don’t think it’ll be nominated for any awards, but I can definitely see people going to see it and recommending it to their friends.”
Letter to Clint
Some feel that journalists aren’t supposed to make before-the-fact suggestions. They’re supposed be good sheep and just eat the grass that’s in front of them ….baahh! But I’ve got one anyway, and I think it sounds pretty neat. I mentioned it to a fairly big wheel at Paramount the other day and he thought it was pretty cool also, so please give it a think-through.
My dad, a Marine Lieutenant who fought all through the battle of Iwo Jima, saw Flags of Our Fathers last weekend. He didn’t like it that much. The combat footage was bulls-eye, he said, but he didn’t care for the cutting back and forth between the battle and the war-bond tour. I was sorry to hear this on some level. I felt the same way but I thought his reactions might nudge me into a fuller appreciation of some kind. Lamentably, we were pretty much on the same page.
But after we spoke last night, I said to myself, “Wait a minute.” That idea I had three weeks ago about someone re-cutting Flags and blending it with portions of Letters From Iwo Jima came back, and the more I kicked it around the better it sounded.
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Six months ago…hell, six weeks ago your two Iwo Jima films were looking super- formidable. Not so much now. I’m not saying this with any relish whatsover, but the fact is that the tent has deflated somewhat. Flags is a pretty good film for the most part and certainly deserving of respect. But a little voice is telling me something better and fuller can be made from the footage you’ve shot.
A clear majority of the venerated critical community has done cartwheels over Flags of Our Fathers and it’s entirely possible (though not certain) that it will land a Best Picture nomination, but it’s sagging commercially all the same, and, let’s face it, this will have an effect on Academy nominations. You worked hard and long on Flags and put your heart into it, but facts are facts. It earned $6,300,000 on 2100 screens last weekend, which is a drop of just over 40% from last weekend despite an addition of 300 screens. I can’t be the only one thinking that Oscar glory may not be in the cards.
And Letters From Iwo Jima (Warner Bros., 2.9), a Japanese-troop POV drama about the same conflict, is being regarded by its handlers and marketers as a smallish art film — a sideshow. (There was a brief mention of it being offered to Sundance ’07.) I’m not saying it won’t be as widely admired as Flags; it may turn out to be even more so. But I’m sensing that however it’s received by critics, the industry and the paying public, it’ll be mainly regarded as a back-up maneuver. On these shores, at least.
My suggestion is this: sometime early next year go back to the Avid with your gifted longtime editor-collaborator Joel Cox (who cut Flags) and put together a third movie that willl be strictly about the battle of Iwo Jima — a new synthesis that will draw solely from the combat footage in both films, cutting back and forth between U.S. and Japanese troops.
It won’t even need a story. With experiences of this sort, “story” is over-rated. I’m thinking that the third film — rip off the title of that old John Wayne movie and call it Sands of Iwo Jima — could be a seriously kick-ass, impressionistic, here’s-how- the-battle-really-went-for-both-sides type deal.
The lack of a story will be a plus factor, actually — the terrible ragged honesty of the combat footage will be enough. That and the slamdunk theme, of course — the shared terror and common humanity between the U.S. and Japanese troops.
You don’t even need an “ending” to this film, or a beginning even. You just need to take us back there once again and just stay with the battle this time, and just let the raw truth of it soak in on its own terms.
In my Flags review I imagined that someone out there will someday take the DVDs of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima and recut them into Sands of Iwo Jima and put the finished product up on YouTube. I’m suggesting a recut third version because you should do it, not some kid from NYU film school.
Every director knows there’s no such thing as a final cut of any film — there’s only the version he/she has to settle for when it’s taken away by the distributor and duplicated into release prints. The deck can always be re-shuffled, and why not? We’re living in a fluid world of endless digital re-imaginings and alternate versions these days. And Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima are your movies, your material. It should be yours to do or not do.
I’m not saying you need to commit to assembling and releasing a DVD of Sands of Iwo Jima. It may not work out. It may be a lousy idea. I’m saying you and Joel should at least try it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, no harm done. But if it does, you’ll obviously be happy and satisfied that you gave it a go. And so will your fans.
New tracking data arrrived this morning, and it contains good news for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Fox, 11.3). It’s tracking better than those recent press stories have indicated, I mean — 40 general awareness, 39 definite, 10 first choice. Room to grow but that’s fairly decent for an 800-screen starter. Flushed Away is 59, 27 and 5….better. The Santa Clause is running 87, 33 and 9 — still the strongest of the bunch.
Babel goes into the top 15 markets (San Diego, SF, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Washington, Montreal, Philly, etc.) this Friday, and then a national (1200 screens) release on 11.10. Awareness is still building and will be accumulating over the next 10 days until it achieves, in the arcane jargon of the trade, “maximum weight drop.”
As noted previously, Stranger Than Fiction (56, 34, 3) is going to open better than A Good Year (44, 22, 2). Harsh Times is facing a tough slog…23, 24, 1. Night of the Living Dead, The Return.
Casino Royale (11.17) is doing pretty well for a big release that’s two and half weeks out, but not all that terrifically for a Bond film — 69, 35, 7. Happy Feet is looking very strong for animated kids film…50, 32, 4. Let’s Go to Prison (11.17 also)…13, 18, 0. (Well, how are you and yours about a movie called Let’s Go to Prison?)
The ridiculously drawn-out Becket saga (thanks to those ass-dragging dilletantes at MPI Home Video) is at an end, thank fortune. Peter O’Toole‘s Oscar campaign team — i.e., the Miramax publicists pushing his Best Actor candidacy for Venus — will be comforted to know that this 1964 multi-Oscar nominated film, in which O’Toole arguably gave the finest performance of his career as King Henry II, will open at Manhattan’s Film Forum on 1.26.07 and then L.A.’s Nuart on 2.9.07.
O’Toole’s Venus performance must sink or swim based on its own merits, of course, but reminding Academy voters what a brilliant, world-class performance he gave 42 years ago (plus the fact that he was flat-out robbed of the Best Actor Oscar when My Fair Lady‘s Rex Harrison took it instead) clearly enhances the brief.
Peter Glenville and Hal Wallis‘s widescreen historical epic, which was remastered in ’03 by the Motion Picture Academy’s Bob Pogorzelski, will also open in several Landmark theatres in February, March, April and May via Marty Zeidman‘s Slow Hand Releasing, which was hired by MPI to handle theatrical as a promotional prelude to the Becket DVD release.
MPI spokesperson Christie Hester stated earlier this year — disingenuously — that MPI “intends” to release the Becket DVD in the first quarter of ’07. The more likely release will be next fall. Perhaps MPI should announce a release during the first quarter of ’08, just to give themselves a little leeway? Make it the summer of ’08 — then they’ll really be covered.
L.A. Times columnist Claudia Eller has written a fairly glowing, nicely observed profile of Paramount Vantage chief John Lesher, who’s used his talent relationships (i.e., nurtured during his many years as a hot-shot Endeavor agent) to build the former Paramount Classics into a formidable producer and distributor that’s easily on the level of Fox Searchlight and Focus Features. Here’s hoping that Paramount Vantage’s Babel, which goes wide on 11.10 into 1200 theatres, does as well en masse as it did last weekend.
New Line Cinema appears to have pulled back fairly radically on its Little Children bookings. The Oregonian‘s Shawn Levy is reporting that Todd Field‘s Cheever-esque drama is “getting a very scattershot release from its distributor and, frankly, may be in trouble. It was meant to open in Portland on 11.3, but that date has been pulled and no new date has yet been announced.”
We all know Children hasn’t done much business, or been given much of a chance to, I should say. Since opening on 10.6.06 it’s only been booked into 32 theatres, and has taken in a total of $801,000, according to www.boxofficemojo.com. I understand that a film of this stripe might not play in the boonies, but it’s been fairly well reviewed (it has an 88% positive on Rotten Tomatoes) and is widely respected, and you’d think, given this, New Line would at least give it a limited art-house opening for Chrissake in a major city like Portland, if for nothing else than to prime the market for the DVD release in early ’07.
I called four New Line people in a position to know something and they were all in meetings.
A Mystic River-ish childhood anecdote from Little Children director-writer Todd Field, passed along to Oregonian critic Shawn Levy and posted on his “Mad About Movies” blog:
“I remember coming home one day on my bicycle along this gravel path, and this Ford Falcon pulled up, this white Ford Falcon with two guys in it, and they said ‘Come ‘ere kid, come ‘ere.’ And you know when you’re near trouble, at any age. And I knew they were bad, and I knew they were gonna get me in that car, and I knew that no one was every gonna see me again and they would do bad things to me and I would be dead. And I was screaming and tried to get away, and my bike fell in the gravel and they started chasing me, and lo and behold the next-door neighbor started coming down the street and saw me, and these guys ran and they sped off. And they didn’t catch them.
“And I went home and I told my parents and they didn’t show the fear that they had about the situation, but they didn’t stop letting me have my independence. And that’s what formed me as a human being: being allowed to have that childhood. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’d just as soon have gone off in that car and not exist as not have the childhood that I had, which was tremendous — a great, great childhood. And [yet] as I’ve observed other parents in places I’ve lived — Los Angeles, New York and even London — it was a rare childhood.
“It didn’t have to do with my parents being good consumers and going out and buying everything and making you safe. They let us be as children and let us be feral and let us figure out who we were. They let us fight our own battles and some of them were hard.”
For the two-month shoot of Borat (20th Century Fox, 11.3), Sacha Baron Cohen “was in character from early in the morning until night,” reports Time‘s Joel Stein. “The crew shot so much footage that director Larry Charles is trying to sell the unused parts to HBO as a series. Even when the cops came, Baron Cohen never dropped character. It’s an impressive, perhaps insane, performance: Johnny Knoxville with a sense of humor, Andy Kaufman with a desire to please, Peter Sellers set loose on the public instead of David Niven. “It’s like Marlon Brando‘s performance in On the Waterfront,” says Charles. “Before that, everything was stylized, the John Barrymore school. After that, you couldn’t act in the old style anymore. I believe that Sacha’s performance does the same thing.”
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