A lot of early to mid-fall movies are screening but everyone is whispering, everything’s a secret…you didn’t hear it from me. Sleuth (much shorter than the ’72 Laurence Olivier-Michael Caine version) is screening, and I’ve been included. There’s a chance I could see Michael Clayton sometime soon. Noah Baumbach‘s Margot at the Wedding is screening but not for me. Francis Coppola‘s Youth Without Youth is screening “but please don’t tell anyone…we’re just showing it to get reactions.” I saw 3:10 to Yuma yesterday afternoon before Shoot ‘Em Up. Gone Baby Gone has been screening a lot but only for feature writers and editors, or so I’ve been told. Control is screening and I’d love to see it again even though I saw it last May in Cannes. The Darjeeling Limited has screened but not for me. Robin Swicord‘s Jane Austen Book Club is screening, and I’ve been invited. No Country for Old Men…I’ll just get yelled at. The Brave One has been screening forever. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford has been shown so many times that Warner Bros. projectionists are sick of watching it. David Schwimmer‘s Run, Fat Boy, Run (9.28) is screening, but I’ll have to call and plead to get into it. And you didn’t hear it from me.
Slate‘s Jessica Winter on how Al Pacino got typecast as “Al Pacino.” I’m apparently one of the few who’s always enjoyed Pacino’s florid performances — every syllable, every shout, every flying saliva bullet. Scent of a Woman, Devil’s Advocate (I can almost recite Pacino’s big soliloquy word for word), those two scenes in Heat (“”By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be risin’!”…”‘Cause she has a great ass!”), Tony Montana in Scarface. Pacino’s own words at a Devil’s Advocate press conference: “I don’t mind ham as long as it ain’t spam.”
“Art movies are gone, gone with the wind. In some cases, what once seemed suggestive and profound now feels tortured and pretentious. For example, why should the rivetingly supersophisticated Jeanne Moreau have to drive her car off that damned bridge at the end of Francois Truffaut‘s Jules and Jim? It’s factitious and absurd. All of the major European directors hit the skids in the ’70s. I, for one, had little interest in late Bergman, Antonioni or Fellini, who seemed to decline into pastiche and self-parody. With Bergman in particular, the austere turned sentimental. But why should any artist have to compete with his or her peak period? We should be satisfied with the priceless legacy of genius.” — from Camille Paglia‘s 8.8 Salon column, called “Art Movies: R.I.P.”
Michael Davis‘s Shoot ‘Em Up (New Line, 9.7) is a brilliant, ultra-violent Buster Keaton comedy, but the late-blooming Davis is, I feel, up to a lot more than just giving action fans a good ride. What he’s serving is basically satire, and we all know how that plays with people who just want the straight dope. In fact, I won’t be surprised if I hear about some action fans being irritated by Shoot ‘Em Up when it opens early next month. In a good way, I mean. Anything that pisses off the faithful is up to something right.
Action fans respect quality merchandise — I’m an absolute worshipper of The Bourne Ultimatum — but Shoot ‘Em Up is a movie about movies that peddle second- and third-rate material, and is therefore not very respectful of the action genre as it has existed since the early ’90s and the rise of Hong Kong action directors like John Woo.
The irony, of course, is that Shoot ‘Em Up was largely inspired by Woo’s Hard Boiled, a 1992 classic that was about a lot of crazy stuff, but partly about its fast-moving hero, played by Chow-Yun Fat, protecting an infant from predators filling the air with hot lead. In the current version Clive Owen is the Fat guy (i.e., a taciturn, totally gifted action machine), Paul Giamatti is the manic heavy and Monica Belucci is the hooker/ally/sexual comfort-giver.
Davis provides a good fast ride, but Shoot ‘Em Up is only somewhat interested in making its audience feel the heat. What it’s mainly about, deep down, is Davis saying to the action crowd, “Do you understand what a bunch of lowlife dipshits you guys are? Do you understand that your taste buds are up your rectum? Do you understand what a pestilence guns are, and that they provide the cheapest and dumbest movie thrills imaginable?”
There isn’t a single drop of sincerity in Shoot ‘Em Up, and yet Davis is sincerely saying the following with each and every shot: “It is completely impossible to take you, the young-guy thrill-kill action fans, or the hardcore, aerial-ballet Hong Kong genre that you love seriously any more, but I do feel three things…ready? I am genuinely aroused by the challenge of constructing great action choreography, purely as a technical exercise. But it does nothing more than amuse me, and my basic attitude is one of laughing derision for the whole Woo-aping circus. ”
Most high-octane urban thrillers do the same old double-track — half trying to excite audiences with extremely well-choreographed violence and half winking at them with self-referential goofery. Davis is almost doing this, but at the same time he isn’t. He pushes the action antics and the hard-boiled genre attitudes to such extremes that he’s made the next thing to a Road Runner cartoon.
And I loved it. I loved that Davis is simultaneously good at this crap but at the same time is anything but a devoted churchgoer. He doesn’t give a shit about the genre (not really, not in a true-disciple way), and is unable to invest anything of himself in the story, which is another one of those stories about a lethal lone wolf with a damaged soul trying to do a good deed, which goes all the way back to Shane.
(l. to r.) Owen, Bellucci, director Michael Davis
Shoot ‘Em Up is emphatically not the grindhouse movie that Harvey Weinstein thought he was going to get when he gave free reign to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Those guys really love high-kicking action movies and all the pulpy fever that goes with them. Davis, by contrast, is a very clever elitist in a silk smoking jacket who is 40% disgusted and 60% howling with laughter at this type of thing. He’s obviously good natured and energetic and clearly loves to make a film rip all over the place, but he’s not into “explosions.” He’s too excited by dry, low-key wit and the joy of writing awful action-movie puns to do the usual-usual.
Davis, in short (or so I believe), can’t be bothered to aspire to the class of Tarantino, Rodriguez, Michael Bay or Live Free or Die Hard helmer Len Wiseman. He would probably be very depressed to be regarded as “one of those guys.” I honestly feel that he’s above them, and coming from a much more interesting place. The invisible subtitle of Shoot ‘Em Up, after all, is Contempt.
I read the Shoot ‘Em Up script in March 2005, and it felt at the time “like a great New Line genre film in the tradition of The Hidden, the first Rush Hour, Blade and so on. It’s fast, punchy, sardonically funny, and aimed at younger guys and connoisseurs of action choreography-for-its-own-sake.” I was partly right and partly wrong in saying that. It is nothing like Rush Hour or Blade. It’s a little like The Hidden, but only a bit.
“The crusty, cynical noir-flavored tone is familiar, but the big action scenes have a kicky ‘haven’t been here before’ quality,” I wrote. “They take the Hong Kong Woo aesthetic to absurd new heights, but in a way that feels freshly insane, oddly logical and edgy-funny. It’s screwball formula nihilism with a twist.” That’s a little closer to the mark.
Shoot “Em Up isn’t just the work of director-screenwriter Davis. As I’ve heard it, it’s very much a collaboration between himself and king-shit producer Don Murphy along with tadpole producers Susan Montford and Rick Benattar. Editor Peter Amundson was also a major player. They had to go back and shoot extra footage, and so what? It was worth the effort.
The soul of Shoot ‘Em Up is in the constant editorial asides when Owen goes “you know what I hate?” and he goes off on numerous aspects of modern life that greatly piss him off. Belligerent rich guys who drive black Mercedes coupes but can’t be bothered to flip a turn signal, for instance. My favorite comes when he slaps down a fat guy who’s been sipping soup and going “aahhh” after every slurp. (I hate guys like that myself. So much so that I’ve told myself for years whenever I’m eating soup to not slurp and not go “aaahhh.”)
But the biggest “you know what I hate?” in Shoot “Em Up isn’t spoken in so many words. It’s in every scene of the film, and not hard to discern.
To promote a big fat Comic-Con piece by critic Luke Y. Thompson, the Orange County Weekly has put the the rainbow-haired critic on the cover of this week’s issue. A very flattering illustration (i.e., Thompson isn’t exactly a hard-bod superhero type in actuality) but I shouldn’t quibble. I’m presuming that journo-critics everywhere are envious. The article catches the old San Diego “Con” vibe, but I’m still not sorry I skipped it this year.
This trailer for Terry George‘s Reservation Road (Focus Features, 10.19) is made up of fairly persuasive stuff. Sorta looks like this year’s Little Children, but with the icky-dweeby sexual predator factor replaced by parental grief (followed by obsessive rage) over a lost child. Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jeinnifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino costar. Focus needs to hope and pray it doesn’t get an early rave from David Poland….aaahhh!
Where are the high-def trailers? The low-rez trailer up now looks more than a little shitty. Plus Reservation Road is opening only two months from now and there’s no official website in sight. Focus marketing needs to shag ass.
Getting this straight once again: Reservation Road, an emotionally intense adult drama set in Connecticut that’s based on a respected 1999 novel by John Burnham Schwartz, will open on 10.19. Sam Mendes‘ Revolutionary Road, an emotionally intense adult drama set in Connecticut that’s based on a respected 1961 novel by Richard Yates, will open sometime in 2008 via DreamWorks. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are costarring.
Everyone knows Once is (a) one of the most affecting audience “heart” movies of the year and yet (b) it can’t push its way past $6.5 million so far, which means it hasn’t even been seen by a third of the hip urban indie audience, much less a sizable percentage of the schmoes who only go to broad-ass, heavily marketed, big-name movies from the major distribs. So how can Fox Searchlight cajole the reluctant masses into seeing John Carney‘s little musical?
(l. to r.) Kidman, Damon, Linney, Clooney, Hanks, et. al.
A good idea hit me over lunch yesterday, and it came from Steven Spielberg‘s willingness to give a Once-plugging quote to USA Today‘s Anthony Breznican in a piece than ran three days ago. In a phrase, Once can get moving with mainstream viewers through celebrity endorsements. Print ads and perhaps even internet video spots that would basically say, “Hey, some people you know fairly well are really into this film.”
If the great Spielberg is willing to give it up by telling Breznican that “a little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year,” why can’t other big names be approached and asked for a friendly little quote as well? And then Fox Searchlight could make a little ad campaign out of all the celebs who are willing to stand up. Pure alpha, no money involved, and no agents pulling their usual selfish crap. The celebrity roster wouldn’t even necessarily be limited to actors and directors who are in business with Fox Searchlight. If you’re a recogni- zable name and you love the film, you’d simply say this (over the phone or email, or on camera), and that would be that.
Films like Once are obviously good for everyone’s spiritual health, and I’m given to understand that a lot of industry above-the-liners are heavily into it (as indicated by that Spielberg quote). So why not say this out loud? If folks like, say, Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts or Ron Howard or Tom Hanks were to offer testimonials it would be almost analogous to signing their names on a stop-global-warming petition.
What would a typical big name actor say if 20th Century Fox came to them and said, “Hey, how about giving us a personal endorsement of Live Free or Die Hard? We need to boost business.” Any self-respecting pro would either laugh in their face or be so disgusted by the low-rent cravenness of such a proposal that he/she probably wouldn’t even respond. But Once is different. Once is a vibe, a song…a poor little church. Once is something you see and get or you don’t. Once exists in its own realm.
If any agent says to his or her client, “You absolutely can’t do this because if you do it’ll open a floodgate and the indie marketing crowd will never leave you alone,” tell them this is a Once-off, one-time thing and that’s all. No debate, no ifs or buts …just stand up and say it and put a bloom on your day.
And as long as we’re kicking this around, the best way to do this would be to shoot a series of video spots in which the celeb would riff about the film for a couple of minutes the way others have done for spots about movies and politics for the great Errol Morris, and then cut together a series and run them on the internet. TV would presumably be too expensive for Searchlight’s Once budget but they could always go that way down the road.
Note: Apologies to Breznican for confusing his name with Scott Bowles‘ when this thing first went up.
Daddy Day Camp opened and closed yesterday — 2000 theatres, $350 a print, $700-odd thousand, dead.
General awareness in Superbad is still low — eight days until the 8.17 opening and it’s still at a lousy 51% — but the definite interest is up to 35% and the first choice has shot up to 5%, so it’s getting there. And Balls of Fury (Rogue, 8.29), a comedy about extreme ping-pong, is showing early strength — 53, 37 and 2. It could move.
Rush Hour 3 (8.10) still looks like it’ll do a healthy $50 million plus…97, 50 and 22. Skinwalkers (8.10 also) is at 28, 22 and 2. Stardust (ditto) is at.67, 29 9…modest business, $10 million-plus.
The Invasion (8.17) is 64, 27 and 2….very weak. The Last Legion (8.17) is nowhere…21, 22 and 1 The Superbad uptick is good but it needs a lot more heat than it has right now.
Mr. Bean’s Holiday (8.24) is 46, 20 and 1. The Nanny Diairies is at 47, 20 and 2 Resurrecting the Champ is at 22, 25 and 1. September Dawn….16,14 and 0. War…37, 35 and 3
I would like to challenge any film critic or blogger who strongly disagrees with me about the excellence of In the Valley of Elah (particularly in the snobby-ass, Paul Haggis-hating, nyah-nyah manner in which Slant‘s Ed Gonzalez has recently expressed himself) to a bare-knuckles, John L. Sullivan-styled fist fight. I really and truly would be willing to bleed and get bruised and maybe knocked down over this. I know what I know and right is right, and I for one would be willing to stand up and go to the mat to defend my cinematic principles.
If I wasn’t such a wuss, I mean. Saying I’d “like” to challenge an Elah hater to a fist fight doesn’t mean I’m actually doing that. My knuckles would get all swollen and I wouldn’t be able to type for a few days, and then where would I be? I haven’t been in a fight since the seventh grade.
But I theoretically support the idea of settling movie debates this way. There is no right or wrong opinion about anything, of course, but God would “render the decision” on Elah, so to speak, because God always decides who wins all fist fights. If I were to get whupped by Gonzalez or whomever, then perhaps I’d be wrong about Elah (or more wrong than right) and that would be that. I would abide by God’s law, I suppose, by agreeing to shut up about it, and Gonzalez would have to do the same.
All serious writers should be willing to duke it out over their opinions, I feel. Not in some low-rent Uwe Boll way but in an elegant, old-school Ernest Hemingway fashion. Scott Foundas can do what he wants, but he should be willing to put on boxing trunks and gloves and meet a Brett Ratner hater in the ring. Stephanie Zacharek should be willing to do the same over one of her strongly held views. I for one would love to see Jonathan Rosenbaum or Shawn Levy or A.O. Scott in the ring. Who would beat who in a match?
Call it the Movie Fight Club. Meet down in some industrial warehouse in Long Beach, or out on Long Island somewhere. Rule #1: You don’t talk about Movie Fight Club. Rule #2: You don’t talk about Movie Fight Club.
Fighting is brutish and beyond pathetic, of course, but there’s something I like about it regardless. Something about surrendering the rightness and wrongness of your cause and convictions to a rudimentary hand of fate.