I’ve agreed to a 12.1 review embargo on The Good German (Warner Bros., 12.15) but this Riskybiz item submitted by the Hollywood Reporter‘s Sheigh Crabtree about director Steven Soderbergh getting a “Bronx cheer” following a DGA New York screening two nights ago (i.e., Saturday) leaves an impression that this 1940s-era black-and-white drama is some kind of marginal embarassment and/or unintended hoot. (Crabtree reports that one guy in the audience went “puhleeze” and that a geezer asked Soderbergh during the q & a if he’d intended “to do a spoof or a parody of The Third Man?”) And it’s not.
I’ve seen German twice in Los Angeles, both times with seasoned industry types, and nobody’s gone into a dismissive neg-head chortle about it. Not in my pres- ence, at least. The reactions have been…well, okay, admittedly muted here and there but always respectful. No one I spoke to was deriding it or grumbling on their way out to the parking lot.
Set in the post-World War II rubble of Berlin, The Good German is a very period- esque, Third Man-ish experience, but it’s not spoofy in the slightest. It’s not Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and it’s not Young Frankenstein and anything like that. Except for the final scene it’s relatively earnest (as far as a film like this can be) and straight and about itself. It’s partly a tribute piece — a recreation of a military whodunit drama as it might have actually looked and moved if, say, Michael Curtiz had directed it in 1946 — and partly a Phillip Marlowe detetective story in uniform.
That’s all I’m saying for now. I just felt that a defense was necessary.
Producer Saul Zaentz has been quoted by a German fantasy-film website called Ebenwald that Peter Jackson will direct The Hobbit for the Saul Zaentz Company. (I tried finding a mention of Saul Zaentz on the Ebenwald site, but nothing turned up.) Zaentz appparently acquired the rights to one or more works by Rings writer J.R.R. Tolkien in the mid ’70s. The Hobbit “will definitely be shot by Peter Jackson,” Zaentz has apparently said. “Next year The Hobbit rights will fall back to my company. I suppose that Peter will wait because he knows that he will make the best deal with us. And he is fed up with the studios: to get his profit share on the Rings trilogy he had to sue New Line. With us, in contrast, he knows that he will be paid fairly and artistically supported without reservation.”
A couple of months ago I mentioned the snob syndrome among the elite big-city film writers. I said “there’s something vaguely arid and ingrown about this culture…a certain tendency to sidestep films with what an elitist would describe as plebian emotionalism.” And now here’s Time‘s Richard Corliss elaborating on this aversion as a prelude to a thumbs-up review of Darren Aronfosky‘s The Fountain.
“Movies critics can’t agree on much, but there’s one assumption most of them hold deeply without ever discussing it. It’s that a film that says life is crap is automa- tically deeper, better, richer, truer than one that says life can be beautiful.
“That’s a 180 from the prevailing notion in classic Hollywood, where optimism was the cardinal belief, at least on-screen. (It was in the front office that the knives came out.) Most movies, whatever their genre, were romances; they aimed for tears and ended with a kiss. But to serious critics then, and to the mass audience now, sentiment is suspect. Feeling is mushy, girly — for fools. To be soft- hearted is to be soft-headed.
“So critics will see a horror film with extreme violence, or (less frequently) an erotic film with extreme sex, and accept these as genre conventions, whether or not they’re grossed out or aroused. But a movie that tries to make them feel is some- how pandering to their basest or noblest emotions and, as they see it, deserves a spanking from any smart reviewer. These days, nothing is as easy to deride as dead-serious romance.”
“Animation came in for a number of reasons. There were certain moments that weren’t on film, especially the trial. We needed a way to show what was happening in the courtroom. We could have done it in renactments, or though talking heads, or we could have had courtroom drawings panned and scanned.
“But I thought animation would have served as commentary on the trial; Jerry Rubin called it a `cartoon show,’ and when I read that quote, the bells went off.” — Director Brett Morgen talking to John Anderson in the N.Y. Times about his long-in-preparation, partially animated documentary Chicago 10, which will open the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
A well-reported piece by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Ruthe Stein about odd bookings of specialty films. Basically about the “impact of a 7.8 earthquake” caused by the recent opening of the Century Centre plex, the overpowering of the indie-oriented Landmark chain, various trickle-down effects, etc.
“Devoted Bay Area moviegoers may feel like Alice Through the Looking Glass when they scan theater listings to locate the latest must-see specialty film [since] nothing seems to be playing where logic would dictate it should anymore,” Stein writes.
“Another shakeup is certain to occur when Sundance Cinemas completes renovations expected next spring on the Kabuki, formerly owned by AMC, and pursues the same independent fare the competition is vying for.”
No one seems willing to spit out the truth about Superman II — the Richard Donner Cut (Warner Home Video, 11.28), which is that it’s a so-so, patience- straining thing to sit through…at best.
The ’81 theatrical version was shaped by the fact that Donner, who had directed the original Superman and a good portion of part II, was fired by producer Ilya Salkind and replaced by Richard Lester. So it’s theoretically agreeable that the film Donner wanted to make has been slapped into some kind of form. Original visions should always be respected, and the effort that went into this new DVD deserves a salute.
The problem is that Superman II was never that great a film to begin with, and now it feels like a lesser thing in nearly every respect. And the technical fact is that the Donner version feels only a step or two up from a YouTube re-edit.
“He’s a murderer and an artist, he’s like a child and also like an old man, and he’s like an animal, but there’s something ethereal about him,” says Ben Whishaw in describing Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the character he portrays in Tom Tykwer‘s Perfume (Paramount, 12.27), in a chat with N.Y. Times writer Coelli Carr. “Because he hardly ever says anything, you start to read his behavior and look at those tiny things — posture, gait or the expression in the eyes — that are usually secondary to words.”
It is one thing to find fascination with Grenouille in the original Patrick Susskind novel, drawn in (as I was) by the well-sculpted prose and the fascinating evocations of aromatic transporation. It is another thing entirely to want to pay to see a movie about same and swim around in the head of a nearly non-verbal murdering creep for two hours. In talking with people who had seen the film, Whishaw found that “some had enormous sympathy for Grenouille, while others were repelled. ‘I like the fact that the film allows for those two very different responses,’ he said.”
Anne Thompson has linked to it, and Joe Leydon has linked to Anne Thompson linking to it. Here’s the thing itself: a blunt, perceptive and (if you ask me) very courageous Michael Moore piece called “Cut and Run — the Only Brave Thing to Do.”
Today — Sunday, 11.26.06 — “marks the day that we will have been in Iraq longer than we were in all of World War II,” he begins. “That’s right. We were able to defeat all of Nazi Germany, Mussolini, and the entire Japanese empire in less time than it’s taken the world’s only superpower to secure the road from the airport to downtown Baghdad.
“And we haven’t even done that. After 1,347 days, in the same time it took us to took us to sweep across North Africa, storm the beaches of Italy, conquer the South Pacific, and liberate all of Western Europe, we cannot, after over 3 and 1/2 years, even take over a single highway and protect ourselves from a homemade device of two tin cans placed in a pothole. No wonder the cab fare from the airport into Baghdad is now running around $35,000 for the 25-minute ride. And that doesn’t even include a friggin’ helmet.
“Is this utter failure the fault of our troops? Hardly. That’s because no amount of troops or choppers or democracy shot out of the barrel of a gun is ever going to ‘win’ the war in Iraq. It is a lost war, lost because it never had a right to be won, lost because it was started by men who have never been to war, men who hide behind others sent to fight and die.
“There are many ways to liberate a country. Usually the residents of that country rise up and liberate themselves. That’s how we did it. You can also do it through nonviolent, mass civil disobedience. That’s how India did it. You can get the world to boycott a regime until they are so ostracized they capitulate. That’s how South Africa did it. Or you can just wait them out and, sooner or later, the king’s legions simply leave (sometimes just because they’re too cold). That’s how Canada did it.
“The one way that doesn’t work is to invade a country and tell the people, ‘We are here to liberate you!’ — when they have done nothing to liberate themselves. When tens of thousands aren’t willing to shed their own blood to remove a dictator, that should be the first clue that they aren’t going to be willing participants when you decide you’re going to do the liberating for them.
“A country can help another people overthrow a tyrant (that’s what the French did for us in our revolution), but after you help them, you leave. Immediately. The French didn’t stay and tell us how to set up our government. They didn’t say, ‘We’re not leaving because we want your natural resources.’ They left us to our own devices and it took us six years before we had an election. And then we had a bloody civil war. That’s what happens, and history is full of these examples. The French didn’t say, ‘Oh, we better stay in America, otherwise they’re going to kill each other over that slavery issue!’
“The only way a war of liberation has a chance of succeeding is if the oppressed people being liberated have their own citizens behind them — and a group of Washingtons, Jeffersons, Franklins, Ghandis and Mandellas leading them. Where are these beacons of liberty in Iraq? This is a joke and it’s been a joke since the beginning. Yes, the joke’s been on us, but with 655,000 Iraqis now dead as a result of our invasion, I guess the cruel joke is on them.”
“Pour some extra vinegar on that popcorn — the Borat effect has begun,” observes the Toronto Star‘s Peter Howell. His basic thesis is that all comedic phenomenons and iconoclasts create spawns, and that Borat‘s success is unleashing a wave of imitators,wannabes and samplers. Hence the Michael Richards onstage “nigger” outburst at L.A.’s Laugh Factory. (Which led to Richards’ explanation the other night on “Late Night with David Letterman.”)
(l. to. r.) Michael Richards; still of Richards’ Laugh Factory appearance; Sacha Baron Cohen
“It may seem unfair or a stretch to link Richards’ appalling tirade to Cohen’s infinitely more clever satire,” Howell writes. “But the link is there and I’m not the first to make it. Paul Brownfield, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, coined the phrase “the Borat effect” this week to describe what happened in the Laugh Factory. (Brownfield also came up with an interesting phrase/tagline in his piece: “Cultural Learnings of Kramer to Make Benefit Wounds of America.”)
“The big difference between Cohen and Richards is that the former plays a ridiculous and naive journalist character, who says terrible things out of ignorance. Richards, unable to create a similar figure of levity, simply hurled insults like a schoolyard bully.
“Success breeds imitators, mostly inferior ones who want to push the envelope even further,” Howell writes. “Nowhere is this truer than in comedy, which forever follows the brave and the reckless. Just as true innovators like Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin and the Saturday Night Live troupe all spawned countless bad knock-offs, so will Cohen’s Borat schtick lead to a host of fish-out- of-water screenplays in which a buffoon with a funny accent and obnoxious ideas foists himself on unsuspecting victims.”
Doesn’t Mel Gibson‘s Malibu tirate also fit into this on some level? Obviously it was anything but funny (although I confess to having laughed when I first heard the term “sugar tits“), but didn’t it seem to pry open the Pandora’s Box subconscious of a lot of closet racists out there? Didn’t it nudge the “ironic” hurling of ugly racist epithets a wee bit closer to the mainstream realm?