A Canadian smarty-pants who reads a lot of scripts and with whom I’ve corresponded for three or four years says that (a) Vadim Perlman‘s In Bloom “is a mess…the only real value of the film is a strong Uma Thurman performance,” (b) that George Romero‘s Diary of the Dead “sucks,” (c) that The Girl in the Park is “a real bore,” and (d) that “acquisitions-wise this festival is dead…this could very well be the worst TIFF [in this respect] ever.”
I’m so far behind on my Toronto Film Festival opinions there’s no way I’ll catch up, so I’m going to just bang out a series of quickies. Tomorrow, I mean, as I don’t have any more time this evening. Okay, maybe a few quick draws. I saw Fugitive Pieces four days ago and ran a one-graph pan. I re-saw the finale of The Orphanage the same day and loved it all over again. I bailed on Amos Gitai‘s Disengagement after 40 minutes. Ang Lee‘s Lust, Caution isn’t a home run but a solid double — nothing wrong or seriously flawed about it — that deserves respect and patronage.
Control is flat-out awesome. Tony Gilroy‘s Michael Clayton is a nicely satisfying adult thriller — low-key, cleanly layered, “different.” No Country for Old Men will continue to be a brilliant landmark film for the foreseeable future. I’m still gung-ho for In The Valley Of Elah, and it’s good to know that other big guns are sharing that view. Rendition starts out well but devolves into a wank.
Juno is good — smart, spirited, cleerly written — but light-ish. Eastern Promises is, for me, second-rate Cronenberg with a cut-flesh-and-shar-knife fetish. Nick Broomfield‘s Battle for Haditha (which I saw this morning) is absorbing, bracing stuff, but the improvised dialogue feels a little too blunt and on-the-nose at times. Todd McCarthy‘s Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient doc is a tribute to full-hearted passion of whatever kind, and a pleasure as far as it goes. And Neil Jordan‘s The Brave One is a far, far better film that Michael Winner‘s Death Wish, and an occasion for another first-rate Jodie Foster performance.
Okay, so Steven Spielberg‘s long-awaited 4th Indy is going to be called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. My first two visual reactions (and they weren’t all that stirring) were (a) a crystal meth addict bouncing around his East Village apartment in 1969 after snorting two gigantic lines, and (b) Cpt. Jim Morrison leading a loyal crew across uncharted seas on the Crystal Ship. It’s forced and dopey-sounding at the very least. A movie about a skull made of crystal (crystal what?) that exudes such legendary power that a kind of kingdom has taken shape around or beneath it….get outta town.
I finally saw Alan Ball‘s Nothing Is Private this afternoon, and there’s no question about it being smart, thoughtful and high-grade. It’s not 100% flawless (I had two or three speed-bump issues) but it’s certainly a sturdy, complex character drama that’s 100% deserving of respect. It’s obviously one of the most original, daring films about adolescent sexuality ever delivered by a quasi-mainstreamer. It’s also a sharp look at racism (and not just the American-bred kind) and a sobering portrait of the rifts and tensions between American and Middle-Eastern mindsets.
Nothing Is Private director-writer Alan Ball prior to today’s Cineplex Odeon public screening — 9.10.07, 1:40 pm
And all of this out of a fairly simple period drama, set in a Houston suburb around the time of the Gulf War, about a 13 year-old half-Lebanese, half-Irish girl named Jasira (Summer Bishil), and what happens as she gradually decides, under the fiercely oppressive watch of her Lebanese dad (Peter Macdissi), to explore/ indulge her budding sexuality with two older guys — a randy but nice-enough African-American high schooler in his mid teens (Eugene Jones) and a sleazy neighborhood dad in his early 40s (Aaron Eckhart).
It’s based on Alicia Erian‘s “Towelhead,” a respected novel that was published three or four years ago.
The word around the festival is that Nothing Is Private is a problem movie because of the sexual stuff, and the latter relationship in particular. (“It’s too shocking and disturbing to get a strong release…nobody serious will dare touch it,” one guy opined earlier today). But it’s not exploitation…not even a little bit. It’s a smartly written thing with all kinds of intrigues, balances and counterweights built into each character, and an earnest residue of humanity seeping through at the finish.
Even Eckhart’s character, scumbag that he is, has tics and shadings that make him more than just a thoughtless statutory rapist. Even Jasira’s dad, a dictatorial racist thug of the first order, comes off as somewhat sympathetic at times. And each one is his own way cares for Jasira. And despite the dark sexual currents (and as odd as this sound), it’s also a fairly amusing film. Really. It’s really boils down to being a “neighborhood folks and their quirks” movie that…okay, is a little bit icky in two or three scenes but isn’t nearly as icky in a general sense as you might expect.
Summer Bushill in Alan Ball’s Nothing Is Private
Ball is careful not to fetishize Bushill’s Jasira character in any way, shape or form. She’s naked in a few scenes (doing the deed, getting pube-shaved, etc.) but next to nothing is “shown.” Bishil was 17 or 18 when the film was shot (she just turned 19 last July), and Ball has been very, very careful about not including anything that might be construed as even a faint turn-on.
Her acting throughout the film is somewhere between fine and quite good for the most part, but she also has scenes here and there that feel underplayed and awkward. Plus she looks tiny as hell — she seems about as tall as a typical eight year-old — and that’s obviously discomforting, given the context.
And I wasn’t that big on Newton Thomas Sigel‘s cinematography, which is all shadowy and burnished and amber-lit. It seems affected. Surburban Houston neighborhoods are dull, flatly-lit places (I’m sorry to say I’ve visited them), and I don’t see the point of trying to make the film look like the Vito Corleone sequences in Gordon Willis‘s The Godfather, Part II.
There’s no distributor on board (as far as I know), but why isn’t there at least a bare-bones Nothing Is Private website? And why can’t I find any photos?
But this is a film that definitely deserves a better rap than it’s been getting so far. It’s Alan Ball-ish every step of the way, and for me that means highly observant, well-acted, piercing, occasionally trippy and respectful of human beings. There are two TIFF press and industry showings happening tomorrow, so we’ll see what happens.
“Conflicted excitement” sums up my reaction to Gregg Goldstein‘s Hollywood Reporter story about Sean Penn being favored by director Gus Van Sant to portray the late Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco supervisor who was shot to death (along with SF mayor George Moscone) in ’78.
Penn will give the part hell, of course, but it feels like an odd call. He doesn’t look like Milk in the least (he’s at least a foot too short) and there’s something about Penn’s gruff Irish machismo vibe that doesn’t feel like a good fit. But it’s an intriguing prospect. Good acting is about transformation, and Penn has shown time and again he knows a thing or two about this.
Matt Damon is attached to play Dan White, the San Francisco supervisor who shot Milk and Moscone but was given a light manslaughter sentence (which outraged the city’s gay community, to put it mildly) and who later committed suicide. Damon seems exactly right for White (he gets working-class guys), although his participation in the Van Sant film is on the iffy side, according to Goldstein.
Michael London‘s Groundswell Prods. is financing the film, and Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks are producing from a script by Dustin Lance Black. Goldstein is reporting that “the filmmakers are now in talks with a leading specialty division to launch the project,” and that once a deal is in place the untitled feature “hopes” to begin shooting in San Francisco as early as December.
The idea, in part, is to beat Bryan Singer‘s in-the-works Milk biopic, The Mayor of Castro Street, which producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron will produce from a rewritten script by Chris McQuarrie. Warner Independent and Participant Productions will co-finance. I suggested a while back that Adrien Brody — a dead-ringer for Milk — would be a great casting choice on Singer’s part.
“I [recently] caught a very early screening (no end credits whatsoever) of The Heartbreak Kid and I wholeheartedly support Lisa Nesselson‘s Variety review,” Pete Hammond wrote this morning. “The ’72 Elaine May original was great, but so is this on its own terms. And it is grounded in reality, which is why it really works. I don’t think I ever actually saw people literally rolling in the aisles, but at this screening one guy was doing just that. It’s going to be huge and in the case of one performer in it, there’s even — drum roll, please — Oscar potential. I’m gonna save the rest for my own review.”
Jason Reitman‘s Juno, a likably spunky sit-dram that gradually deepens as it goes along, has corralled attention via a Borys Kit/”Risky Business”/Hollywood Reporter item as a possible Oscar nominee. I agree that Diablo Cody‘s script might compete in the Best Original Screenplay category, but I’m not yet convinced that Juno has the gravitas or philosophical reach to qualify as Best Picture material. Agreeability isn’t a problem; this is a very smart, warm-hearted film. But in the end a film has to coagulate into something more than the sum of its parts.