The final running time of Sean Penn‘s Into The Wild (Paramount Classics, 9.21) — the story of would-be Alaskan nature dweller Chris McCandless — is two hours and 28 minutes. There’s no such thing as a good movie that runs too long or a bad movie that runs too short, but 148 minutes is…well, attention-getting. Penn is the director, writer and producer. The cast includes Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt, Hal Holbrook, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart and Vince Vaughn.
Is there anyone who feels honestly excited about Kevin Spacey‘s intention to return as Lex Luthor in Bryan Singer‘s Superman: Man of Steel? Variety‘s Anne Thompson reported yesterday that Superman Returns screenwriter Michael Dougherty is writing the screenplay.
N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieipley is reporting that several Hollywood honchos are calling for the end of the industry’s decades-old system of paying residuals to writers, actors and directors for the re-use of movie and television programs after their initial showings. As Warner Bros. cheif executive Barry Meyer put it, “”There are no ancillary markets any more — it’s all one market. This is the time to do it.”
Cieipley said the suits “stopped short of saying they would demand an immediate end to residual payments in the upcoming, probably difficult negotiations with writers, actors and directors.” (A strike is looming.) “But they were emphatic in calling for the dismantling of a system under which specific payments are made when movies and shows are released on DVD, shown abroad or otherwise resold. Instead, they want to pool such revenue and recover their costs before sharing any of the profit with the talent.”
“When the history of this sun-baked Siberia is written, these shameful words will live in infamy — ‘No chopped chicken livers!’. No garlic pickles. No Lindy’s. No Madison Square Garden. No Yogi Berra. You know what’s wrong with New Mexico, Mr. Wendell? Too much outdoors. Give me those eight spindly trees in front of Rockefeller Center any day. That’s enough ‘outdoors’ for me. No subways smelling sweet and sour. What do you do for noise around here? No beautiful roar of eight million ants — fighting, cursing, loving. No shows, no South Pacific. No chic little dames across a crowded bar. And worst of all, Herbie — no 80th floor to jump from when you feel like it!”
Paul Haggis‘s In The Valley of Elah (Warner Independent, 9.21 or 9.28) is more than just a respectable true-life drama, and a helluva lot more than the sum of its parts. I think it’s close to an epic-level achievement because it’s four well-integrated things at once — a first-rate murder-mystery, a broken-heart movie about parents and children and mistakes, a delivery device for an Oscar-level performance by Tommy Lee Jones, and a tough political statement about how the Iraq War furies are swirling high and blowing west and seeping into our souls.
The best films are always the ones that don’t seem to be doing all that much, but then gradually sneak up on you, laying groundwork and planting seeds and lighting all kinds of fires and feelings. Elah is one of these. It’s a damn-near-perfect film of its kind. There’s one moment at the very end that could have been played down a bit more (i.e., a little less on-the-nose), but others I’ve spoken to don’t agree. I’m trying to think of other potholes but they’re not coming to mind.
Elah isn’t some concoction, some tricks-of-the-trade movie that’s mainly about pushing buttons and playing audiences like an organ. It’s primarily about respecting real-life experience and refining this into art. Haggis’s screenplay is based on a true story that happened in the summer of ’03, and was first reported a year later in a Playboy magazine article by Mark Boal, called “Death and Dishonor.” It came from Boal interviewing Lanny Davis, a former U.S. Army M.P., about the death of his son, who had been reported AWOL following a tour of duty in Baghdad. Haggis bought the rights and created a somewhat fictionalized version, although he stuck to the basic bones.
So let’s not hear any carping about this being another bleeding-heart, anti-Iraq War movie by a Hollywood leftie — it happened. In fact, to hear it from Davis (whom I called the day after I first saw Elah on 6.19), the real story is even darker and more damning.
Elah has been screening for critics over the last two or three weeks, and I know it’s definitely skewing positive, but this is one of those times when I don’t care if everyone understands how good it is or not. All right, I do care because it’s nice to be agreed with and I want to see this film break the Middle-Eastern conflict curse (i.e., the U.S. moviegoer mentality that apparently doesn’t want to know about anything Iraq or Afghanistan-y, an attitude that arguably killed or severely damaged A Mighty Heart at the box office) but I know what this thing is and that’s that.
Forget Crash, or rather forget whatever resentments you might have about Haggis’s film taking the Best Picture Oscar from Brokeback Mountain. And forget the beefs about Haggis writing scripts that are too explicit and surface-y with not enough subtext. Elah, trust me, is a much better, more plain-spoken film than Crash was. It’s about real people, real hurt, real tragedy. My first thought after seeing it was that Warner Independent should show it to all the Crash haters in order to put that dog to bed.
Elah is one of those very rare birds that starts out like a what-happened? procedural you may have seen before, and before you know it it’s doing something extra, and then something else and then another thing altogether. Before you know it Haggis has four or five balls in the air, and when it’s over you’re heading out to your car and going, “Hmmm…yeah…wow.”
I was thinking at first that Elah resembles David Greene‘s Friendly Fire, a 1979 TV movie based on a true story about the parents of a Vietnam veteran cutting through red tape to find out how their son actually died. But before the what- happened-and-whodunit? story even gets going you can feel the undercurrent of grief in Jones, whose character, Hank Deerfield, is based on Lanny Davis.
Jones’ weathered, old-guy face is full of the suppressed shock and grief and guilt that any parent feels when his or her son has gotten into trouble or otherwise done something inexplicable. And his performance, which is all about feelings being kept in check, like it always is with any old-school military guy, just keeps getting sadder and more affecting.
Haggis originally wanted Clint Eastwood to play Deerfield, but it’s a role that has Jones’ history and DNA all over it. He owns characters like Deerfield and that sheriff in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and the small-town sheriff he plays in Joel and Ethan Coen‘s No Country for Old Men, which comes out in November. All of them plain-spoken, craggy-faced Texas dudes with turkey necks, paunchy guts and wells of sorrow in their eyes.
The fact that In The Valley of Elah is a gripping investigative procedural is almost the least of its attributes. I felt I was swimming in holy water five minutes into it. Haggis’s early dialogue feels tight and true, and Jones and Sarandon’s acting in the early scenes feels like the playing of two master violinists. (There’s a sad phone call scene between them that choked me up, and Sarandon has a flash- of-rage moment that pierces right through). Add this to Roger Deakins‘ cinema- tography and Jo Francis‘s editing, and any half-aware observer can tell from the get-go that this is very high quality stuff. You just know it. You can feel it happening a hundred different ways.
Red-staters and blue-staters alike are going to get where this film is coming from — they’re going to feel it in their hearts, and make all the connections on their own without going off into specific tirades or defenses.
It’s not so much Haggis-the-Hollywood-liberal as the story itself that’s making the point here, which is that the Iraq War is primarily responsible for the terrible thing that this film turns on. It’s heartening to hear (as Jones’ character says at one point) that David sometimes does win out over Goliath — the title refers to the valley in Israel where their ancient conflict took place — but the Iraq War is a thousand plunderers and a thousand knives. It is obviously laying waste left and right, and will continue to do so for a long time to come, and for what?
(Iraq is going to suffer a blood bath — maybe like Ireland, maybe like Rwanda — and eventually break apart like Yugoslavia and become two or three countries. People have to tend their own nests. There’s no other way. It would be nice if it were otherwise, but the hard rain has only begin to fall over there.)
In some quarters In The Valley of Elah is going to be seen in the same light as Grace is Gone (dad-in-denial John Cusack mourning the death of his wife who was killed in Iraq), although it is much more powerful and assured.
Some might be more muted in their admiration, and they wouldn’t be wrong or right in expressing this, but I think In The Valley of Elah is an unmistakable Best Picture contender. It’s an American tragedy that every last person in this country, from whatever region or persuasion, is going to “get” deep down. Except with aberrations like Chicago, this groundwater quality is usually what gives a Best Picture nominee traction with voters.
I believe that Haggis is now a prime contender for Best Director and for Best Adapted Screenplay. Ditto Deakins for Best Cinematography and Francis for Best Editing. I can see Theron being talked up in the Best Actress category also (her role as a single-mom investigator is much less showy and grandstanding than the blue-collar character she played in North Country), and Sarandon, depending on the competition, could wind up in the Best Supporting Actress category.
Every Elah supporting player delivers a straight-up, no-fuss performance. The best are Jason Patric, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Jonathan Tucker, Frances Fisher, Rick Gonzalez, Barry Corbin, Wayne Duvall, Brent Briscoe, Mehcad Brooks, Brad William Henke and Kathy Lamkin. (Watching it is like a No Country for Old Men old-home week for Jones, Brolin, Corbin and Lamkin.)
Here’s the HD teaser-trailer for Roland Emmerich‘s 10,000 B.C. (Warner Bros., 3.7.08), which is about “a young mammoth hunter’s journey through uncharted territory to secure the future of his tribe.” Cliff Curtis, Camilla Belle, Omar Sharif, saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths, etc.
The long-awaited, double-disc Criterion DVD of Billy Wilder‘s Ace in the Hole (out on Tuesday, 7.17) arrived this morning. I had to immediately grapple with an instinct to stop work, turn down the lights, lock the door and spend three or four hours watching the feature and the supplementary docs and essays (including a 1980 Wilder doc by Michael Ciment called Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man). But as Richard Nixon once said to H.R. Haldeman, “That would be wrong.”
Paramount Home Video is releasing a boilerplate Zodiac DVD, containing the 157-minute theatrical version that played earlier this year, on 7.24.07. But the fans (i.e., guys like me) will have to wait until sometime next year to see the somewhat longer, even more obsessive version, which I’m guessing will be roughly three hours, give or take.
I’m trying to find out the particulars as we speak. Paramount Home Video is looking to siphon all the bucks it can out of this title, and that means doing the old double dip by delaying on the special edition. They all do it, it pisses everyone off, and nothing ever changes.
The “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama” video is obviously more upfront sexual (Daddy Lust, obeisance before power, lay down for the conqueror) than the Hot for Hilary (i.e., Hott 4 Hil) video parody, which obviously toys with the same psychology in a playfully gay vein. And yet there’s real emotional sincerity in these videos. I’m kind of torn about which is the more winning. Thoughts?
It’s common knowledge that many, many people in this country make their decisions about who to put in the White House based on reasonings that have nothing to do with policy and philosophy. John Kennedy surely got some of his vote plurality over Richard Nixon from women who thought about going to bed with him. If it hadn’t been for the notion that George Bush is a regular guy you can relax and shoot the shit with over a beer, he might not have been able to steal the election twice. Let’s face it — millions and millions of voting-age people out there are impressionable little lambs.
Maxim critic, Hollywood Wiretap columnist and Hollywood get-around guy Pete Hammond has done a podcast chat with The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil about some early Oscar favorites. His, not mine; I agree with only a couple of them.
O’Neil doesn’t specifically allude to Hammond speaking about the inevitability of Tommy Lee Jones as a Best Actor candidate for his Olympian performances in No Country For Old Men and In The Valley of Elah, but apparently Hammond does speak of No Country in the recording.
Hammond also pushes the “magnificent” Don Cheadle for his Talk to Me performance as legendary Washington, D.C. deejay Ralph “Petey” Greene. Trust me — it won’t happen. Cheadle almost always gives exceptional performances, but the character has to embody something that people relate to or believe in, and Greene is shown as a bright firebrand who ended up as a loser and a boozer with addictions that ended his life too soon.
Milos Forman‘s Goya’s Ghosts “is not going to go to the Oscars in anything but a technical category,” Hammond predicts. John Waters‘ Hairspray, however, “delivers…it’s a lot of fun.” No, it isn’t — it’s relentlessly fizzy, repetitive and droning, although I recognize that a lot of people are liking it. (I’ve had problems with Waters skin-deep films all along, so my reaction came as no surprise.) Hammond also calls it “a mid-July sleeper.” Okay, and what does this have to do with Oscar prospects?
Hammond is completely correct is predicting Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose and Julie Christie in Away from Her are almost certain Best Actress nominees, “no matter what comes up the rest of the year.” A Mighty Heart‘s Angelina Jolie “will get a big campaign,” yes, but it’ll be an uphill effort because of the film’s box-office failure.