“Few documentaries could be as different as March of the Penguins and Ghosts of Cite Soleil, a scary, fascinating documentary about gang life in Haiti’s worst slum. If only due to the access achieved, there has never been anything quite like Asger Leth’s film; it’s amazing it even exists and that the director is still alive. Rough as can be in both content and style, Ghosts will be welcome everywhere tough, provocative docus are shown.” — from Todd McCarthy‘s 6.26.07 Variety review.
Does the appointment of Bob Gazzale as the American Film Institute’s new president and CEO signify any kind of change? He’ll replace Jean Firstenberg this coming November and….then what? Will he re-think the idea of coming up with new variations of AFI Best Lists in order to produce more AFI Awards TV shows (i.e., revenue streams)? Or he’s just going to glad-hand and groove along and continue to let this once respected organization be seen more and more as a remnant of its former self, as something basically flabby and sleepy, as an organizational emblem of Hollywood’s over-50 milquetoasts?
Tarsem Singh wishes he could get more people to watch The Fall, which might lead to a distribution deal down the road. I don’t want to sound like more of a slacker than I already am, but I can’t even make myself read this Patrick Goldstein column about Singh’s situation, much less see the movie. It screened at last September’s Toronto Film Festival, but it sounded a little airy-fairy and nobody grabbed me by the lapels and said “see it!,” so I shined it.
Reminding for the last time about tonight’s Film Independent Poolside Chat at the W Hotel at 7pm. Variety‘s Anne Thompson will moderate, and the guests will be L.A. Observed columnist Kevin Roderick, former Oscarwatch.com columnist Sasha Stone (her site is now called Awards Daily) and myself. Don’t count on Perez Hilton showing — he’s in a very emotional place right now.
Nikki Finke and David Poland passed. I’m back on the bike at 8:05 pm in order to attend the Sicko premiere at the Academy, which technically starts at 8 pm.
In a press release about the forthcoming TCM documentary Spielberg on Spielberg (airing July 9th at 8 pm), George Lucas is quoted as follows: “Steven is the consummate filmmaker. He has an extraordinary ability to make brilliant movies — brilliantly artistic, brilliantly entertaining, and brilliantly successful. Steven’s genius is that he knows, innately, how to communicate through film. He is one of the few directors I know who can actually edit in his head while he is filming.”
Here’s HE’s compassionate revision of this statement, which I’ve sent along to TCM publicists: “Before he compromised and then totally muddied up his once-hallowed reputation with forehead slappers like 1941, The Color Purple, Always, Empire of the Sun, Hook, Amistad, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal and Munich, Steven Spielberg was once (i.e., from 1975 to 1982) regarded as a consummate filmmaker. He seemed to have an extraordinary ability to make brilliant movies — stylistically vivid (although not very artistic), often entertaining, and, of course, financially successful.
“The money part is what finally counts for industry mainstreamers who derive satisfaction from showing obeisance before power and kowtowing to the heavyweights. This is built into our DNA — monkeys do the same thing — so try and understand. At the same time please understand that if Spielberg’s films had not been so enormously profitable for so long, TCM would not have produced this documentary. You know it, we know it…and now our cards are on the table.
“Spielberg’s mid ’70s to early ’80s rep was based on the fact that he once knew, innately, how to communicate through film. There was a downside to this, however. What Spielberg communicated all too clearly by having Tom Cruise‘s son turn up alive at the end of War of the Worlds was that he’d turned into a total sentimental sap.”
It’s not exactly a bad time to push Mamie Gummer, but it’s not the greatest time either. She’s Meryl Streep‘s look-alike actress daughter who plays the younger 1950s version of her mom’s character in Lajos Koltai‘s Evening, which opens Friday. There are just two problems. One is that Evening, a baahing little lamb of a movie, is being sent out this weekend into a forest filled with wolves. Another is that Gummer’s obvious resemblance to her mom runs 100% counter to the idea behind Claire Danes portraying a young Vanessa Redgrave, since Danes looks nothing, nothing, nothing like Redgrave when she was in Blow-Up.
There are four or five cretins in this photo giving adoring, you-go-girl smiles to Paris Hilton as she got out of the slammer. Blowups of their faces (especially the vapid-looking blonde with the big white teeth and the large African-American guy with the light brown leather jacket) need to be put online and posted on telephone poles and construction sites all over Los Angeles.
No question about it — Ratatouille is going be the #1 film this coming weekend. It’s tracking at 82, 36 and 13, which is very high for a family film. Tracking never picks up on the full b.o. gobsmack of animated fare.
Live Free or Die Hard (20th Century Fox, opening tomorrow) will perform impressively this weekend, but I’m betting that opening day will be the biggest of the five. The word-of-mouth will half-help and half-hurt, and so the Sunday-night total will be strong but short of historic. 89, 40 and 16 means $25 to $30 million for the weekend, maybe $40 million for the five days.
Sicko did terrific business in Manhattan last weekend, but it’s tracking at 47, 20 and 4. Not bad but not great. “People don’t want to see a movie about health care,” blah, blah…but what people don’t seem to understand is that Sicko makes you melt in the final act. I’ve never once teared up in my life over the idea of regular people receiving lousy health care, but Sicko changed all that.
A marketing guy contends that “the real problem with Sicko‘s awareness and interest levels is that Harvey Weinstein “does band-aid spending” on ads and TV buys, and that “money flows through his hands like concrete.”
You Kill Me, expanding this weekend, could use a shot of some kind — 22, 21 and zero.
Evening (Focus Features, opening Friday), a relatiojnship drama aimed at older couples and mature women, doesn’t have much of a pulse…27, 22 and 2.
Transformers is going to be (big surprise) huge — 91, 42 and 13. The head-scratcher is the length — two hours and 20-something minutes for a picture that has to appeal to kids and young teens? The reason for this is that no one tells Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg anything — they’re surrounded by flunkies, cocooned in their own realm.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix is racking up monster numbers even though it doesn’t open until 7.11 — 91, 50 and 15.
License to Wed (Warner Bros., 73), the Robin Williams comedy that preemed last night at the Arclight, is looking weak — 68, 24 and 2. And Captivity, the latest torture porn entry, is at 25, 21 and 1.
After doing an above-average job with a romantic lead role in Catch and Release, Timothy Olyphant is back wearing his evil-and-dangerous mask in Live Free or Die Hard. One-trick-pony villains embody the very essence of movie boredom, and Olyphant has always been a multi-colored performer — a witty darkman with a touch of perversity, a clever kidder, an existential tightrope walker, an absurdist comedian.
I haven’t seen every last Olyphant performance, but his drug-dealer character in Go is, to my mind, still the best thing he’s ever done. He’s been fine in a lot of things since (I liked his work in Deadwood), but he’s never played anyone as darkly brilliant and funny and surprisingly vulnerable as Todd Gaines, the bare-chested wise ass with the Santa Claus cap and the ecstasy tabs. That character was written and performed with just the right balance and attitude.
“To be honest, of all the things I had to consider making the movie — the story, the characters, the actors — the hardest thing for me was the action sequences. There’s only so much left that you can do with action. I think we’ve done a good job, but I really had to rack my brains to try to think of something fresh.” — Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman speaking to USA Today‘s Scott Bowles.
One tactic Wiseman decided upon, according to Bowles, was to quadruple up on the explosions. “Just about everything blows up in Live Free or Die Hard,” the piece observes. “Laptops. Fire extinguishers. Nerds’ apartments. But the fourth installment of the franchise (20th Century Fox, 6.27) comes at a time when audiences are yawning at things that go boom. And this summer hasn’t exactly been kind to spectacle.”
Wiseman also jacked things up with a few CG cartoon-y bits, to go by the trailer.
Another way to make action seem hot and breathless and super-cool (even though this too is starting to feel old) is to to use a lot of jerky hand-held footage and cut it all together at an almost too-fast rate.
I could have gone to the Live Free or Die Hard all-media screening in Westwood last night, but I felt it was more important to see another action flick that’s been getting good buzz. And this film (I can’t write about it just yet) definitely goes the jerky-fast route. And as far as it goes, it works pretty well. There are explosions in this new film also, but they’re relatively few so when they happen, they count.
I was particularly impressed by the action in the third act. Everyone will be; it’s the big selling point. There’s one action scene in particular that ups the ante on that scene in Phillip Noyce‘s Clear and Present Danger when Harrison Ford and a bunch of government guys are trapped and fired upon by gunmen on a small street. We’ve obviously seen it before (in “Grand Theft Auto” as well as on the big screen), but it’s good rock ‘n’ roll.
(Jesus H. Christ — I agreed not to write any kind of review of this film, and last night David Poland went up with a full-on review with all the trimmings. The movie I’ve been speaking of is Peter Berg‘s The Kingdom. Here’s how the game works these days: (1) The publicist says “see our movie, but please don’t review it yet,” (2) You say, “Thanks” and “okay, I won’t,” (3) The movie is screened and a competitor goes home and writes about it immediately, title and all, and (4) You call up the publicist and say, “What the…?”)
One thing Len Wiseman doesn’t seem to understand is that only one relatively recent action film has really and truly blown minds ands raised the bar: Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men.
At no time did this landmark film make you feel as if the director and the cinematographer were trying to throttle your pulse rate with a torrent of explosions, whiplash photography and crazy machine-gun cutting. It made you feel as if you were there, neck deep in it, and it was all really and truly happening. It wasn’t invested in “action” as much as the reality around it, trusting the audience to absorb the fear on their own terms and to stay with the story as it moved along. Emmanuel Lubezki‘s photography was relatively smooth and continuous but without the cut-cut-cut — scenes went on for seven or eight minutes straight.
Aesthetically and technically, atmospheric “belief” is the new end-all and be-all in the action movie realm. Forcing it doesn’t really work any more. The more it seems as if the director is trying to work you over every which way, the less engaged and excited you’re going to feel. And the more that a director tries to really put you in the middle of a seemingly “realistic” situation — one that smacks of the real deal in dozens of different ways — and is also open to unpredictable and sometimes chaotic shifts, which is how any real-world action-and-death situation feels, the more you’re going to buy into it. For now.