Grooming for television is more intensive and exacting than just combing your hair in front of a bathroom mirror, but it shouldn’t take this long under any circumstance. Not an especially flattering moment for Presidential contender John Edwards. 15,272 people have watched this on YouTube.
I’ve never seen this column as strictly movies- and-nothing-but. Each and every wind and current in American culture routinely blows into the entertainment industry and back out again — it’s what makes it extraordinary turf. Movies are the basic concern, of course, but yesterday’s Virginia Tech massacre felt like a major tremor, and I probably should have responded in some small way, as some readers wrote yesterday.
The gist of some postings was how could I be angry about the alleged 170-minute length of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End with such a terrible real-life tragedy reverberating every which way?
The banal truth is that I was caught up in lots of other stuff yesterday (investigating video-conversion and editing software in the morning, an interview with La Vie en Rose star Marion Cotillard at the Four Seasons in the mid-afternoon, an early reception and then a premiere screening of Rose at the DGA) and so I only managed three postings.
Yesterday’s shootings were shocking, ghastly, horrific. Like everyone else I was shaken and saddened. But was anyone genuinely shocked by this? Another guy with easy access to firearms went postal. The body count of 33 (i.e., 32 victims plus the shooter, Korean student Cho Seung-Hui, taking himself out at the end) made it obviously worse than Columbine, but this kind of thing happening is not exactly a major mind-blower, given our history and especially given the easy access to firearms that some people in this country are still working hard to enforce.
Michael Moore will tell you that the likelihood of such a massacre happening in Canada is much, much lower than in this country, and he’s right, of course. A guy named Cho Seung-Hi lost his mind yesterday, but why do we support the right of almost any nerve-jangled psychotic to purchase enough guns and ammo to lay waste friends and family and work communities with relative ease?
European journalists “seem to agree about one thing,”a 4.17 Spiegel Online report says. “The shooting at Virginia Tech is the result of America’s woeful lack of serious gun control laws. Papers reserved their sharpest criticism for the 2004 expiration of a 10-year ban on semi-automatic weapons under the then Republican-controlled Congress. Others comment on the pro-gun lobbying activities of the NRA [i.e., National Rifle Association].”
The pro-gun lobbyists are the principal bad guys, of course, but a certain roundabout responsibility must fall on the entertainment industry. What money-making activity, after all, is more soaked in blood and shootings and all manner of horrific death than movies and video games? Movies have repeatedly sold the idea of the potency of firearms. They have certainly dramatized the scenario of a lone good guy (i.e., one who’s been wronged in some way) settling a score by shooting a lot of bad guys. We all love suspense and good action, but there has to be something wrong with you to really enjoy depictions of callous sadism and homicidal bloodlust.
One thing I couldn’t stand yesterday was a statement from President Bush yesterday (or from a Bush spokesperson) that said in part, “We ask a loving God to comfort those who suffer today.” Oh, I see….the loving God who steps in from time to time to give people heavenly hugs when awful things happen, but who most of the time steps back and sits on his hands and allows the human tragedy to fulfill itself according to natural immutable law?
I despise right-wing Christians who try to personalize the perfect cosmic unity of all things great and small by giving this wondrous order an earth-bound personality, and then portraying this entity as having some kind of compassionate agenda regarding earth-people affairs. God is in every man, every deed…in every bloody catastrophe and every act of random kindness. He/She/It doesn’t “root”….hello? I don’t want to be judgmental, but people who can’t grasp this elemental concept have, due respect, some kind of emotional or psychological blockage.
I’m especially taken with the fact some of these same right-wing Christians (Bush among them) happen to be major supporters of the NRA.
I convulsed after reading a listing on Film Jerk that says Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Disney, 5.25) is going to run 170 minutes. I called four or five Disney distribution people to check and they all did the shilly-shally, so let’s presume until we hear otherwise that Film Jerk has it right.
I’ve been hearing all along that POTC: ATW was going to be just shy of three hours, but I didn’t want to believe it and I still don’t. If the 170-minute report turns out to be true, I think it’s fair to start trashing this puppy sight unseen.
I knew director Gore Verbinski was arrogant, or at least indifferent to the general rule of thumb that light-hearted action romps shouldn’t run any more than 100 or 110 minutes, tops. The fact that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ran 150 minutes is what was mainly wrong with it. It showed, in any event, that Verbinski is profligate and undisciplined, and that producer Jerry Bruckheimer and top Disney brass had decided it was easier not to make an issue of the length because the movie would make money hand over fist anyway so why raise a stir?
In short, it didn’t matter if people’s butts were stiff when they came out of theatres because they’re going to pay to see it anyway and guys like David Poland will talk about how POTC: DMC filled them with ‘joy” so the hell with the negheads.
A goofball CG pirate movie running 10 minutes shy of three hours is obscene. Even though I love Bill Nighy‘s Davy Jones…even though Verbinski is an immaculate visual composer…even though it’s going to be “fun” and funny and eye-filling and whatnot. POTC: AWE is going to kill your sacrum, your sacroiliac and your hip joints, and will most likely make you stiff and grumpy. Unless, of course, you’re one of those moviegoers who can’t help but feel delighted by pure-entertainment, subtext-free movies, of course. In which you’ll be over the moon.
Again — it’s not the length in itself. I left Zodiac wishing it had been three hours or longer. It’s the idea of a jape wearing the clothes and the attitude of an epic, of a comedic CG romp that hasn’t quite pushed itself into the running-time realm of Lawrence of Arabia and Gone With The Wind but isn’t all that far from it either.
This is a little bit better than those grotesque teddy bear T-shirts, but it’s still not uptown enough for my tastes. Imagine being the manufacturer and after kicking ideas around for two or three days deciding that “I Love Nappy Headed Hos” is the best slogan you’ve heard. Imagine what kind of person you’d have to be to come to that conclusion. There’s also that Fruit of the Loom label. I’m not going to get into this because guys like Joe Leydon will get offended, but you know what I mean.
Westwood’s Mann National, a big single-screen house that once played the exclusive runs of The Godfather and The Exorcist, will close at the end of this week. This theatre has been dying for years. We live in a megaplex stadium-seating world, and sagging-at-the-heels behemoths like the National — a once-grand showplace that still has pretty good and projection quality — are all going to be toast sooner or later.
Mann’s National has a date with the wrecking ball
I mentioned the National’s closing to a twentysomething L.A. woman, and she told me she’d never been there. The crowds aren’t going to Westwood any more. I can let the National go but please don’t tell me this is going to happen to Mann’s Village also. If this is in the cards don’t want to hear about it. The same thing that happened in NYC is slowly happing to LA, the single-screen theatres are closing, and what LA will have left will be multiplexes like the Arclight, the Grove, teh AMC Century City and The Bridge.
The National was used last year for a scene in Zodiac. Mark Ruffalo can’t handle watching Dirty Harry and goes out into the lobby for a smoke, and then Jake Gyllenhaal comes up to him and chats him up about the case.
I’m sorry, but there’s no rebooting The Hulk. The cord has been cut; the faith broken; the legend poisoned. It was killed by Hulk and its well-meaning but ill-suited director, Ang Lee. Anyone who tries to bring this concept back to life will know that it is now and forever accursed. Director Louis Leterrier thinks that by casting Ed Norton as Bruce Banner/The Hulk for a new go at the legend — an untitled Hulk flick that Universal will open in the summer of ’08 — that things will be different. Hah! The Movie Gods determine these things for reasons we can’t know, much less challenge. Go, Leterrier. Give it up, Norton. Thine efforts are surely doomed.
As biopics about self-destructive artists go, Oliver Dahan‘s La Vie en Rose — the sad story of French songbird Edith Piaf — is above-average. It screams “passion” from every pore, and delivers in the way a movie like this should — superb period atmosphere (World War I to early 1960s), handsome production values, fine ensemble acting, skillful editing and, for a film about a very intense and event-filled life, appropriately longish (140 minutes). But it is essential viewing for one reason and one reason only — Marion Cotillard‘s bracingly vivid, wholly convincing, almost mind-blowingly hardcore performance as Piaf.
Marion Cotillard in A Good Year; as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose
A large-eyed, dark-haired hottie last seen in Ridley Scott‘s A Good Year, the 31 year-old Cotillard so physically resembles the diminutive Piaf — a frail, sparrow-like woman who stood only 4 foot seven inches — and so burrows inside this legendary singer’s aura of hurt in nearly every stage of her life that she blows you away in almost every scene. I’m making it sound like an overbearing performance but it’s not, trust me.
Matthew Smith‘s prosthetic makeup is certainly part of the effect, but Cotillard’s performance would be nothing without her capturing Piaf’s spiritual essence (or at least, what I’ve always believed that spiritual essence amounted to) . The result is one of those amazing-transformation, De Niro-as-Jake La Motta performan- ces that automatically gets Oscar attention. 2007 isn’t quite one-third gone, but there’s no way in hell Cotillard won’t be Best Actress-nominated.
La Vie en Rose (called La Mome in France) won’t open in this country until June 8. (Bob Berney‘s Picturehouse is distributing.) Nonetheless, the L.A. press junket happens tomorrow and its L.A. premiere tomorrow night.
Dahan, who co-wrote the script with Isabelle Sobelman, adopts a here-and-there, back-and-forth approach to Piaf’s relatively brief life (1915 to 1963), which didn’t quite span 48 years. He takes paintbrush stabs at her life with a kind of mosaic- pointillist technique.
There’s no way to deliver the kind of upbeat-ending finales that Ray and Walk The Line had when your subject winds up dead from morphine addiction and other lifelong abuses (and looking like death itself at the end), but the spirit of this enterprise is so fierce and trembling that using the word “downer” would be grossly off-the-mark.
I could pass along the plot particulars and describe the numerous secondary characters and raise a glass to each and every performer, but I’m not going to. Everything significant in Piaf’s Wikipedia biography has been rendered on the screen, and if you want to know the story before seeing the film, go for it.
Suffice that all the performances have a finely rendered, steeped-in-conviction quality. Gerard Depardieu‘s Louis Leplee, the Parisian nightclub owner who discovered Piaf, and Jean-Pierre Marin‘s Marcel Cerdan, the great love of Piaf’s life, are the best of the lot.
I was also taken with Catherine Allegret‘s performance as Louise, a Normandy brothel-runner who helped raise Piaf as a very young girl. (My first thought was how much Allegret resembles Simone Signoret; it was quite a mind-bender to read that she’s her daughter.)
“La vie en rose” (i.e., “life through rose-colored glasses”) is said to be Piaf’s signature song, although I’ve always thought that “Non, je ne regrette rien” was a much fuller, on-target summation of who she was and how she dealt with the ups and downs.
Picturehouse acquired U.S . distrib rights o La Vie in Rose in Cannes last year, and will be pushing it for Best Foreign Language Feature, no question.
Cotillard “delivers one of the best female performance of the past decade,” a guy who wrote me from the Berlin Film Festival insisted last February. “She’s the Penelope Cruz-in-Volver of this calendar year, except she could have a serious shot at winning.” I don’t agree. At this stage of the game, Cotiilard seems like this year’s Helen Mirren. Is that overstating things? I’m not so sure that it is.
It’s not in the least bit significant that Cotillard is 5′ 6 and 1/2 inches, or nearly a full foot taller than Piaf, since almost no one watching this film is likely to know this or be aware of any height discrepancy anyway. But it is significant that everything she says and does as Piaf is a complete immersion, an exceptional revisiting…an absolute knockout.
Variety critic John Anderson feels that the “substantive issue” to be taken with Vacancy, the Luke Wilson-Kate Beckinsdale homicidal- menace film from director Nimrod Antal (Kontroll), “is its reliance on inexplicable cruelty and viciousness.
“Seldom has criminal violence been so unabashedly used for entertainment, in a story in which the criminals are perpetrating violence to be sold as entertainment. It’s doubtful the filmmakers were intending to deliver an oblique moral argument against their own movie, but they did so all the same.”
That aside, Antal “proves himself an able director who has made a highly cinematic movie,” Anderson adds. “Shooter Andrzej Sekula‘s compositions are startling for a film of this ilk, the pace is appropriately brisk and everything clicks, at least visually. Antal may rely on closeups — and extreme closeups — more than anyone since Carl Dreyer, but what he creates is a sense that something is always looming just outside the strangulated frame. Whether it’s David Fox (Wilson), his bitterly estranged wife Amy (Beckinsale), or the crawlingly evil motel clerk Mason (Frank Whaley), neither they, nor viewers, ever seem to be alone.”
L.A. Times staffer Glenn Bunting got his hands on detailed budget documents for Sahara, a poor man’s Indiana Jones adventure flick with Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz and Steve Zahn that came out in 2005 and lost at least $78 million despite having earned $122 million. That’s because it cost $160 million to make and racked up $81.1 million in distribution expenses. This makes it “one of the biggest financial flops in Hollywood history,” Bunting writes.
A story based on tangible black-and-white data and the usual verifying and follow-up calls, and Movie City News is calling Bunting’s story “gossip.”
The second I saw the above one-sheet with McConaughey trying to affect a brawny man-of-adventure vibe with his arms folded (i.e., to hide the fact that his arms are disproportionately short — three or four inches shorter and he would almost have Thalidomide-baby flipper arms) and flashing that second-rate-macho, cock-of-the- walk, men’s-cologne-commercial smile, I knew right away I wouldn’t go to the free screening and that I wouldn’t rent it on DVD. I decided that instantly. But now I want to see it because of Bunting’s piece.
“Movie budgets are one of the last remaining secrets in the entertainment business,” Bunting writes, “typically known to only high-level executives, senior producers and accountants. ‘The studios guard that information very, very carefully,’ said Phil Hacker, a senior partner in a Century City accounting firm that audits motion pictures. ‘It is a gossip industry. Everyone wants to know what everyone else is getting paid.'”
Among the tidbits and line items…..
(a) the fact that Sahara has technically lost about $105 million to date, according to a finance executive assigned to the movie, [although] records show the film losing $78.3 million based on Hollywood accounting methods that count projected revenue ($202.9 million in this case) over a 10-year period”;
(b) That among the 1,000 cast and crew members who worked on Sahara, “the highest-paid was McConaughey, who received an $8 million fee, or $615,385 for each week of filming, not including bonuses and other compensation. Cruz earned $1.6 million. Rainn Wilson, who since has raised his profile through roles in “Six Feet Under” and “The Office,” was paid $45,000 for 10 weeks of work.” Hey….what did Zahn make?
(c) a 46-second scene showing the crash of a vintage airplane, shot in London in 2003, cost more than $2 million but was never used in the final film. “In the context of the movie, it didn’t work,” said director Breck Eisner.
This shot is out-of-focus ugly because I took it in a state of double duress. One, I was having a cardiac arrythmia attack due to a sudden realization that the Pacific Grove actually wanted $12.75 of my hard-earned money so I could see Disturbia. (I paid, but it felt really awful to shell out almost $13 to see a merely-acceptable thriller so I can reconsider Shia LeBouf.) And two, the ticket girl was saying to me, “Sir, you can’t take a picture of the board….sir! Sir!”
The Pacific Theatres execs who pushed this price-hike through late last year are delusional (they’re almost charging weekend Arclight prices, and the Grove is nothing close to the Arclight — it’s just another plex with stadium seating), odious and opportunistic (they’re basically piggy-backing on the Arclight-created public willingness to part with $13 or $14 bucks for a movie) and…I don’t know, can we throw in “evil” as well?
Go to the Arclight or the Bridge or to a play, or stay home and watch DVDs or YouTube instead, but boycott, boycott, boycott the Grove for this horseshit, and tell your friends. Wait…are the other theatres charging $12.75 on weekends also?
There’s no question, by the way, that Shia LeBeouf has “it.” Presence, focus, intelligence, discipline — a first-rate actor. No one knows what his role will be in Indy IV, but there’s no way anyone’s going to buy him as any kind of blood relation to Harrison Ford. If that’s the plan, I mean.
“I know it’s hard to believe that your rock band TV idea, which every writer in this town has thought of at one point, was not on my mind half a year after you told it to me. Yes, you thought of breaking the fourth wall. Groucho and George Burns stole it from you.
“Why don’t you sue the guys who have that new show How to Be a Rock Star on the WB? I must have told them your idea. Nobody has ever goofed on rock bands — not Spinal Tap or The Rutles or 800 Saturday Night Live sketches. I should have told everyone on the show, no rock band sketches, that’s Brazill’s area.
“So hold on to your hate and rage, even though it makes no sense. I’ll go back to my life of thievery and leeching. As for the cancer, I’ll wait till you get it and then steal it from you. By the way, that joke was one of my writers’, Rodney Rothman (see, I credited him). See, I have no original thoughts. Sorry I bothered to figure this out.” — a classic, possibly made-up 2002 e-mail argument between producer-director-writer Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) and producer-writer Mark Brazill, and published that same year in Harper’s.
A guy sent this to me yesterday. The first thing I did was laugh, and then I said to myself, “I’m not running this — you’re not supposed to be publish something that’s five days old these days, much less five years.” Then I figured “funny is funny” and fuck the late-publishing statute of limitations. For me, this thing almost neutralizes my Apatow resentments, which (as I’ve said at least three or four times before) are mainly about the grotesque first half of Apatow’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin (i.e., drunk girl spewing on Carell, nurse ripping off his chest hair, etc.)
Wow…this Jason Whitlock column (which ran in the Wednesday, 4.11 edition of the Kansas City Star) about the Don Imus brouhaha is perhaps the boldest eyeball-to-eyeball, take-it-or-leave-it view I’ve read about this whole mess so far.
The guy’s obviously a traditionalist-conservative of some sort, but he’s more or less saying the same thing I said a day earlier (Tuesday, 4.10), to wit: “It’s obviously malicious and insensitive to denigrate people in this fashion (or any fashion), but everyone is dumping on everyone else these days — why single out Imus? It’s a shitstorm out there.”
What follows is a portion of Whitlock’s column, but by all means read the whole thing:
“I ain’t saying Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and [Rutgers women’s basketball team coach] Vivian Stringer are gold-diggas, but they don’t have the heart to mount a legitimate campaign against the real black-folk killas.
“It is us. At this time, we are our own worst enemies. We have allowed our youths to buy into a culture (hip hop) that has been perverted, corrupted and overtaken by prison culture. The music, attitude and behavior expressed in this culture is anti-black, anti-education, demeaning, self-destructive, pro-drug dealing and violent.
“Rather than confront this heinous enemy from within, we sit back and wait for someone like Imus to have a slip of the tongue and make the mistake of repeating the things we say about ourselves.
“It’s embarrassing. Dave Chappelle was offered $50 million to make racially insensitive jokes about black and white people on TV. He was hailed as a genius. Black comedians routinely crack jokes about white and black people, and we all laugh out loud.
“I’m no Don Imus apologist. He and his tiny companion Mike Lupica blasted me after I fell out with ESPN. Imus is a hack. But, in my view, he didn’t do anything outside the norm for shock jocks and comedians. He also offered an apology. That should’ve been the end of this whole affair. Instead, it’s only the beginning. It’s an opportunity for Stringer, Jackson and Sharpton to step on victim platforms and elevate themselves and their agendas.
“In the grand scheme, Don Imus is no threat to us in general and no threat to black women in particular. If his words are so powerful and so destructive and must be rebuked so forcefully, then what should we do about the idiot rappers on BET, MTV and every black-owned radio station in the country who use words much more powerful and much more destructive?
“I don’t listen or watch Imus’ show regularly. Has he at any point glorified selling crack cocaine to black women? Has he celebrated black men shooting each other randomly? Has he suggested in any way that it’s cool to be a baby-daddy rather than a husband and a parent? Does he tell his listeners that they’re suckers for pursuing education and that they’re selling out their race if they do?”