At tonight’s really big La Pizza soiree (yes, a second one), thrown by either IHOP’s Jeff Hill or MPRM’s Mark Pogachefsky, or maybe they split the tab, or maybe it was two sit-downs side-by-side. (l. to r.) Warner Independent publicist James Lewis, MPRM’s Karen Oberman and Jessica Kimiabakhsh, MRC’s Brooke Blumberg, and Pogachefsky himself — Wednesday, 5.16.07, 10:25 pm. Hill is pushing Juan Antonio Bayona‘s The Orphanage, Gus Van Sant‘s Paranoid Park, Ocean’s Thirteen and Sony Classics’ Persepolis; MPRM is promoting Ramin Bahrani‘s Chop Shop, DreamWorks’ The Bee Movie (i.e., that Jerry Seinfeld thing), and Leonardo DiCaprio‘s The 11th Hour.
I could sense trouble fairly early on in Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights, a horribly written, woefully banal self- discovery mood piece (the word “drama” really can’t be applied) about a young girl (Nora Jones) who leaves her home town of Manhattan and starts job-hopping across the country — waitress gigs in Memphis and I-couldn’t-tell- what-town in Nevada, with an apparently uneventful stopover in Los Angeles — in order to get over a bad case of breakup grief.
That early “uh-oh” comes when Jones, playing a lady named Elizabeth with a certain doleful sincerity, is on the phone with her soon-to-be-ex. She asks him, “Are you seeing somebody else?” and then two seconds later she inquires “who is she?” In other words, the boyfriend (whose voice we don’t hear) has quickly admit- ted to infidelity. Of course, guys never admit there’s another woman without being hammered and prosecuted by their betrayed significant other for hours, if not days or weeks, on end. The male genetic code prohibits it. We all know this. So right away it’s obvious that the human behavior and particularly the human dialogue will not have the cast of reality.
The Blueberry strategy, in any event, is roughly this: the folks whom Elizabeth gets to know and feel for during her episodic journey — a Manhattan pasty-shop owner from Manchester (Jude Law), an alcoholic, deeply depressed beat cop (David Straitharn), the cop’s hysterically alienated wife (Rachel Weisz), a hard- luck Nevada gambler (Natalie Portman) — are all nursing broken hearts, and their combined pathos somehow will prod Elizabeth into relinquishing the mope-a-dope and deciding to look forward and live in the now.
The “aha!” she finally absorbs seems to have something to do with realizing how much worse off everyone else is than she, along with the futility of letting hurt be the dominant chord. The problem is that there’s no giving a damn about any of it, particularly since Elizabeth’s new attitude leads her back to a possible relationship with the flirtatious Law, with whom she spends the first third of the film with, trading sad memories and little bon mots of bittersweet regret about bruised feelings and whatnot.
There’s just no investing in Law these days — every character he plays feels like a sly, gently calculating hound — and it’s impossible not to feel cynical about any female character in any movie hooking up with this smoothie because you know where it’ll all eventually end up.
Most of the “trouble” moments in My Blueberry Nights are rooted in the script by Wong and Lawrence Block. I can’t remember the last time that a film co-written by a major director was the cause of so much internal groaning. (I made no sounds during the screening although I did lean forward a lot, often with my hands covering my face.) There’s a lot of precious talk about abandoned apartment keys and blueberry pies, and way too many line that begin with the word “sometimes.” As in “sometimes the thing you’re running away from is the very thing that will save you. This line line isn’t literally spoken used in the film, but you get the idea.
Allusive wounded-heart dialogue has been woven into Wong’s films before, of course, but there’s a big difference between reading it via subtitles and hearing it spoken in English. All I can say is, the Blueberry dialogue is so bad that it makes the talk in Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard‘s Don’t Come Knockin’, which I saw and didn’t much care for in Cannes last year, seem much, much better in retrospect, and that’s saying something.
The only player who delivers any sense of scrappy believability is Portman, but even she can’t overcome the H.M.S.Titanic vibe flooding this thing. Strathairn is one of our very best character actors, and yet his portrayal of drunkenness here is painfully actor-ish. Weisz, working with a stagey Memphis drawl, is nearly as bad, and I never thought I’d say this about an actress as talented as she. They’re all sad pawns in this thing, having almost certainly agreed to appear in My Blueberry Nights on the strength of Wong Kar Wai’s exalted rep.
I don’t know which is worse — the whole waitressing-in-Memphis section of the film, or the endless soul-searching section with Law in the pastry shop. But put ’em together and wham, you’re looking at your watch and going “holy bejeezus, this is dreadful.” It’s time for Kar to say “okay, it didn’t work” and hightail it back to China. He doesn’t get America (he’s not the first foreign-born director to distinguish himself in this regard) and he sure as shit doesn’t get how people talk here. He was never obliged write or use “realistic” dialogue, of course, but every director has to be careful to use lines that don’t constantly defeat a skilled cast.
Even Darius Khondji‘s photography is irksome, or maybe the way Wong’s editing just makes it seem so. There are two or three shots of milk (or melted ice cream) cascading over a collapsed slice of blueberry pie, the heavy-handed allusion being semen making its way through a woman’s inner cavity. And there are several passages with “fake” slow motion, as if Wong only realized in post-production that he could give the film a more dreamllike quality with this technique.
The biggest howler comes when Jones goes into a Las Vegas hospital to ask whether Portman’s con-man father has died or has told a friend to pass along a message that he’s dead in order to get his daughter to pay a visit to a hospital he’s been staying in. Jones learns he’s actually left the earth from a couple of doctors. After describing what caused the dad’s demise, he tells Jones, “You should have come earlier.” Yes, she should have. That way she and Portman could have spoken with him because, you know, he wouldn’t have been dead.
“Periodically — about twice a year, by my calculation — someone tries to breathe new life into the movie musical by putting together a lavish song-and-dance spectacle like the ones they used to make, full of big numbers and bigger emotions. (See, most recently, Dreamgirls and, before too long, Hairspray.) Against this trend, Once, a scrappy, heart-on-its-sleeve little movie directed by an Irishman named John Carney, makes a persuasive case that the real future of the genre may lie not in splashy grandeur but in modesty and understatement.
“Filmed with more efficiency than elegance on the streets of Dublin, Mr. Carney√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s movie, a favorite at Sundance earlier this year, does not look, sound or feel like a typical musical. It is realistic rather than fanciful, and the characters work patiently on the songs rather than bursting spontaneously into them. But its low-key affect and decidedly human scale endow Once with an easy, lovable charm that a flashier production could never have achieved. The formula is simple: two people, a few instruments, 88 minutes and not a single false note.” — from A.O. Scott‘s N.Y. Times review.
So far, the Fox Searchlight release has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Some cream-of-the-cropper will eventually ding it — the best movies always take hit or two — but it’ll be fascinating to read whatever complaints or reservations may be in the offing. Here’s KennethTuran‘s L.A. Times rave.
L.A. Times Calendar editor Lennie LaGuire is cleaning out her desk, partly due to the cost-cutting syndrome at that besieged, downward- spiralling daily but also, according to an industry rumor passed along by Variety‘s Mark Graser, with an intention of accepting the top editing gig at the Hollywood Reporter, i.e., the one vacated by Cynthia Littleton earlier this year.
“Thanks to the collapsing dollar, mandatory first-class travel to the Cannes Film Festival for both movie stars and their countless handlers and friends, the price tag for a Cannes unveiling can be staggering, often four times (or more) the tab for an equally lavish Hollywood premiere,” reports the L.A. Times‘ John Horn. “A suite at the popular Majestic Hotel costs about $2,500 a night, while a big room at the swank Carlton can run up to $3,000. The tiniest room at the ultra-luxurious Hotel du Cap is more than $1,000 a night, with suites logarithmically higher.
“Mark Wahlberg, the costar of this year’s Cannes entry We Own the Night, asked that he and his five-member entourage stay at the Hotel du Cap. But the film’s producers, 2929 Entertainment, said it was only willing to pay for Wahlberg and a few assistants, not his entire retinue. Wahlberg has now told 2929 he won’t be attending the festival. The production company declined to comment, and Wahlberg’s talent agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”
Ten minutes before the start of Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights in front of the Salle Debussy, and the tan-suited festival officials were still keeping everyone with pink press passes in a long long cattle line outside. Elite journos with white passes and pink passes with a yellow dot are always let in first. Snapped today — Wednesday, 5.16.07 — at 9:50 am
One of the reasons it took so long to get rolling today in Cannes (apart from being occupied this morning with seeing Wong Kar Wai‘s My Blueberry Nights, a mystifying shortfall for a respected, world-class director and a full-on mediocrity that comes close to being a rank embarassment) is the absurd wi-fi situation at the American Pavillion and, for what I’ve been told, inside the Grand Palais press room also.
Everyone with a badge has been given a five-digit user ID and a three-digit password, and none of them work. But the AMPAV tech-head volunteers have a list of five-digit and three-digit codes that do work…as long as nobody else tries to log on with the same numbers. Except everyone at the American Pavillion is going up to these volunteers and asking for working code groups and using them, and every time a new person logs on with a given code it kicks off the previous person who used the same numbers.
Right now I’m connected with a 19585 user ID and an 871 password, but if somebody else comes along and logs on with these numbers, I’ll get kicked off. This has happened to me seven times within the past hour, and I in turn have kicked off seven oothers. It’s obviously insane all over here, and the situation won’t be fixed, I’m told, until later this afternoon, which is a euphemism, I’m sure, or sometime tonight or tomorrow morning.
A gathering of like-minded souls at La Pizza — Tuesday, 5.15.07, 8:40 pm. (l. to r.) Toronto Star critic Peter Howell, friendly face whose name strangely escapes due to jet-lag mind melt, Santa Barbara Film Festival director and AMPAV event booker Roger Durling (blond hair, glasses), SBFF’s Jeremy Platt, AMPAV publicist Carol Marshall, Variety columnist Anne Thompson, Toronto Film Festival communications chief Andrea Grau, and Grau’s good friend Noah (his last name has also vaporized). And brief grainy video taken around the same time.