A sizable Time magazine piece by Belinda Luscombe called “Who Killed The Love Story?” went up yesterday. It’s a state-of-the-industry lament about what Hollywood has been giving mainstream audiences in the way of good, affecting love stories, and with a dispiriting answer — damn few. Luscombe goes all over the map, mentions a lot of titles and talks to a lot of people, and nowhere — not even anecdotally or parenthetically — does she mention Once, the most affecting romantic movie in ages.
That’s because Once hasn’t made enough dough to qualify, in Time‘s eyes, as a bona fide romantic film. This is an absolutely idiotic way to look at it. Once has only made $6.5 million, but it’s held onto screens since opening last May by continuing to pull in urban singles and couples and ubers. It obviously has a following, and some (like Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone) are even talking about it being a possible Best Picture contender.
If I were Luscombe’s senior editor, I would give her a tongue-lashing and then put her on suspension for two weeks. Reporters Hilary Hylton and Rita Healy should be ashamed also. I mean this. This is one of the dumbest omissions I’ve ever seen in a major news weekly — crass, clueless.
This is the first half-decent still I’ve seen anywhere from Tim Burton‘s Sweeney Todd (Dreamamount, 12.21). Have others turned up elsewhere? I like it that the colors are nicely muted. I can’t tell if dp Dariusz Wolski is going with one of those almost-monochromatic color schemes (in the vein of the one used by Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima) or not. But if he is, this is the first thing I’ve liked about the smell of this film so far.
Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
There are now two Abraham Lincoln movies in the pipeline — that serious weighty thing that Steven Spielberg will direct with Liam Neeson in the title role (i.e., the one I’ve been writing about since ’05), and a weird-thoughtful comedy from director Mike Binder about Lincoln being somehow brought back to life by an electric charge of some kind or another, and grappling with life in 2007. I’m not kidding, and I think its an excellent concept. But what would you call it? Remancipator?
My first thought was “cool…Abe’s back” but then I thought about this. A great legend of the 19th Century comes face to face with the mind-blowing and the tragic aspects of what this country has become is….not funny. A man from a world of sabers, horse and buggies, hoop skirts and top hats encountering obese people and SUVs everywhere, McMansions, global warming, George Bush, celebrity meltdowns, junk food, etc.? That’s a kind of horror film.
But the more I thought about it, the funnier it became. A fish-out-of-water piece with all kinds of strange cultural undercurrents. Lincoln driving a car, visiting Banana Republic, taking a Pilates class, dealing with an iPhone, etc. He can’t meet a nice bank teller and fall in love like Malcolm McDowell‘s H.G. Wells did in Time After Time. What would be do with himself? Become a pot dealer? A horse breeder?
In any event, Binder and Spielberg are sort-of bonded now. Binder says that Spielberg told him he’ll start work on the Lincoln film as soon as he finishes work on Indiana Jones 4, which would be next summer or next fall.
Summing up his feelings about Rush Hour 3, Time’s Richard Corliss says that “the first Rush Hour was a pretty good movie, the second one pretty lame [and] the threequel is somewhere in between — nothing special but with a high amiability quotient.” Plus Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker “know they click, [and] it’s no crime for them to extend and exploit that good vibe one more time.” That constitutes a “red” Rotten Tomato review? I’m asking because Corliss is one of the few major critic whose reviews haven’t been rated as “green” (i.e., thumbs down). Variety‘s Robert Koehler and the Philadelpha Inquirer‘s Carrie Rickey also gave it a pass. Brett Ratner‘s actioner has an 18% positive rating overall.
Ridley Scott‘s American Gangster (Universal, 11.2) screened last night at West L.A.’s Landmark, and it’s “really, really good,” a friend says. Denzel Washington is superb in his second big bad-guy role as Frank Lucas, a real-life Harlem drug-dealer who reigned in the early to mid ’70s. The Best Actor Oscar heat is Washington’s to run with, he says, although Russell Crowe‘s performance as Washington’s nemesis, Det. Richie Roberts, is way up there also.
It’s “just a really good, really well-made” crime movie that isn’t a high-style Ridley Scott showcase as much as a top-grade 1970s Sidney Lumet film — accents, atmosphere, facts, character, flamboyance. The trailer shows it. Forget Toronto. Screenings will probably start in mid September or thereabouts, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they show it again between now and Labor Day
The only thing that pops through in Patrick Goldstein‘s damage-assessment piece about New Line Cinema — what went right and wrong during the Russell Schwartz era, and what will be different now that he’s out the door — is a little morsel of information about Rendition, a Reese Witherspoon-Jake Gyllenhaal thriller due in October that “was so mystifying to preview audiences that its ending has been re-edited to allay audience confusion.” A friend who saw it three weeks ago can’t remember any confusing elements. Maybe the problem had been fixed by the time he saw it.
Back in the creaky old analog days of the ’90s, I used to rant about the “too much lead” syndrome in action movies and the occasional western. Bullets have to matter somewhat. Too many gunshots in a movie leads to a kind of fatigue in the soul, and even a kind of nausea. But nobody cared and the syndrome continued unabated. Too many guys and too many bullets going for the whammies. Except whammies are like jelly babies. Too many and you feel ill. I was in a state of almost permanent indigestion there for a while.
Then along came Unforgiven, a western that took the matter of death from gun shootings very seriously. Killing another human being is a horrible thing under any circumstance, and while we all understand that a certain ironic cinematic distance is necessary to deliver violent thrills in unserious genre films, the number of movies that have tried to absorb what it’s really like to cause or observe death at close range have been very few.
Which is why Clint Eastwood‘s Oscar-winner felt so refreshing. As with Shane, which has a total of ten shots fired (and five of these fired at a white rock on the ground) and the Mike Hodges version of Get Carter, the gunfire in Unforgiven was not only spare and select, but you could feel the hurt. The killings sank in.
This less-is-more aesthetic is pretty much out the window these days, of course. You have to blam-blam it fairly relentlessly or young guys will tell their friends that the other shoot-em-up movie is cooler. (Much in the way that twentysomething Roman guys in 100 A.D. probably compared the gladiator and wild-animal killings they’d seen in the Collisseum.) Caution, regret and thinking twice before you pick up a gun are for pussies.
If a violent film is a brilliant anarchic cartoon like Shoot ‘Em Up, then hundreds of gunshots is the satirical point and therefore not a problem. I can roll with cool gunplay as well as the next guy — “good” being the key term. For me “good” means “done carefully and within limits.” I also know that too much shooting is a turnoff. There are no hard and fast rules, but if there’s too much of it, you can always tell. A little voice says, “This is getting to be too much.” And then you start disengaging.
That said, there’s nothing like a much-desired death happening at the right time. There are a couple of real beauties in this respect from the hand of Russell Crowe in James Mangold‘s 3:10 to Yuma. I disliked the characters he dispatches, and when the moment finally comes…good stuff!
Is that a contradiction or what?
Billy Wilder‘s Ace in the Hole, a very cynical 1951 drama about a hard-bitten reporter (Kirk Douglas) exploiting the life-and-death situation of a trapped miner, came out on a long-awaited Criterion DVD on July 17th, and then 20 days later — last Monday, 8.6 — a cave-in trapped six miners inside a Utah mine, and within hours the media descended and began delivering the same kind of ticking-clock, hand-of-fate reports that Douglas and a horde of newsmen filed in the Wilder film…odd.
Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, shot taken near mining disaster situation in Huntington, Utah.
One thing reporters have learned since the 1920s (when the original trapped-miner incident that inspired the Wilder film occured) is to show heart and empathy, and there’s certainly been plenty of that coming out of Utah over the last five days.
Sadly, the real-life survival situation is starting to show similarities between the fate of the single trapped miner in Ace in the Hole as well as those radio reports about a little girl trapped in a hole in Woody Allen‘s Radio Days. “A tiny microphone lowered deep into the earth early Friday picked up no evidence that six coal miners are alive four days after they were caught in a cave-in,” a N.Y. Times story reported an hour or so ago. And while “an air sample indicated enough oxygen to breathe was present in the chamber where the miners are believed to be trapped, it also did not pick up carbon dioxide, the gas exhaled when people breathe.”
Paul Greengrass, the director of The Bourne Ultimatum, “told the Times of London that he purposely tapped into the mistrust the world has of the USA. In my opinion, Mr. Greengrass has used his skills as a filmmaker to create a slick propaganda package that will make him millions of dollars. And standing between Mr. Greengrass and real-life terrorists who would slit his throat are, of course, real-life American intelligence people.
Former CIA director Richard Helms (pictured here with Robert Redford) served as technical advisor on Three Days of the Condor
“In the end, the America-haters will love The Bourne Ultimatum and apolitical others may enjoy the action and carnage. The movie is a perfect storm of mis- guided ideology, silly plotting, and absurd conclusions. In other words, it’s a blockbuster.” — from an 8.9.07 Bill O’Reilly column called “The Bourne Buffoonery.”
O’Reilly is irked because his view of CIA operatives — good fellows looking to protect Americans from the Islamic baddies — sharply conflicts with Bourne‘s portrayal of upper-level CIA guys (Scott Glenn, David Strathairn, Albert Finney) as coldly calculating Machiavellian sociopaths. Well…? Has there been much substantial reporting over the last 45 or 50 years to lend credence to this observation or not? Are pharmacies selling denial pills over the counter these days, or do you still need a prescription?
Mistrust and even loathing of CIA operatives been part of the standard American belief system over the last 35 or 40 years, certainly since the gray paranoia days of the Nixon and Ford administrations in the early to mid ’70s. The first significant Hollywood manifestation was Sydney Pollack‘s Three Days of the Condor (’75). Greengrass and Bourne screenwriter Tony Gilroy (plus the others) are simply drawing from the same mindset 32 years evolved.