I thought with all the apparent lack of interest in Iraq/ Aghanistan/9.11-type movies that Against All Enemies, a film based on former terrorism czar Richard Clarke‘s novel about the failures of the Clinton and Bush administrations to stop the terrorist plotters who eventually brought about the 9.11 attacks, was dead. Indeed, Variety‘s Michael Fleming has reported that Columbia Pictures, “[which] had been developing the project, put it into turnaround last month.”
But the guys who run Capitol Films (i.e., the owners of ThinkFilm) have picked up the project and and are raising financing, and if and it all comes together Robert Redford (whose troubled Lions for Lambs opens on 11.9) has agreed to direct.
I ran a piece in April 2006 about James Vanderbilt‘s adaptation of Clark’s novel — a “gripping, pared-to-the-bone screenplay, which Paul Haggis was going to direct with Sean Penn as Clarke.
It has a 24-page opening sequence that kills in terms of tension and psychological suspense, showing the White House staffers in turmoil on the morning of 9/11. Then it rewinds back to start of Clarke’s government career in the late ’70s (when he was in his late 20s) and takes us on a journey of gradual discovery as Clarke learns more and more about the Mujahdeen, Islamic fundamentalists, offensive Jihad, “Usama” bin Laden and so on.
Then it’s back to 9/11 and Clarke’s confusion when the Bushies decide to use the attacks as an excuse to go to war with Iraq, and then his leaving the White House and writing his book and delivering his rant before a Congressional 9/11 committee, and finally his apology…even though he’s arguably the least guilty guy in the Washington establishment as far as 9/11 negligence is concerned.
George Hickenlooper (r.) and Paul Thomas Anderson (l.) at the Alamo Draft House in Austin last Thursday night after that already-fabled screening of There Will Be Blood. Hickenlooper had just come from an adjacent-theater screening of Mayor of the Sunset Strip. Sissy Spacek joined them soon after and, says Hickenlooper, “kept telling me how it was one of the most extraordinary films she had ever seen…she seemed completely blown away by it.” Spacek has been married to Blood‘s production designer Jack Fisk since 1974.
Universal gave The Kingdom a nationwide sneak a weekend or two ago and vigorously plugged it besides, and yet Dwayne Johnson‘s The Game Plan will ace it out this weekend. One estimate has the Sunday-night tallies for The Game Plan at $21,458,000 and $18,029,000 for The Kingdom.
More people simply liked the idea of a comedy over a Riyadh shoot-em-up, I guess, but it’s also hard to dismiss the implications of yet another Middle-East drama underperforming. I thought The Kingdom was going to be the exception to the rule. It’s also time to ask whether Kingdom star Jamie Foxx is an actual movie star who sells tickets. Another factor: The Game Plan snuck last weekend also.
Leonardo DiCaprio as “Roger Ferris” and an obviously chunky Russell Crowe as “Ed Hoffman” during filming of Ridley Scott‘s Body of Lies (Warner Bros.), a Middle East drama that’s been scripted by The Departed‘s William Monahan. It’s about Ferris being after Suleiman, a Muslim terrorist behind a series of car bombings. The title refers to a complex scheme instigated by Ferris in which false information is fed to the bad guys via a dead body of a decoy agent.
Somebody sent me a cpy of the script last spring and now I can’t find it. Anyone have a digital copy?
Juan Antonio Bayona‘s The Orphanage (Picturehouse) “won’t be released until the end of December, and there will be plenty of [similar-type] films before then — including the very big budget I Am Legend,” writes Newark Star-Ledger critic/columnist Stephen Whitty. “But I’m willing to already call this little Spanish film the best horror movie of the year.
The Orphanage director Juan Antonio Bayona following our chat in the Majestic Hotel lounge in Cannes — Wednesday, 5.23.07, 12:25 pm
“Admittedly, it’s not going to be a big hit with the blood-and-guts crowd (although there is one gory shock midway through that left even a Fangoria writer shaken). And its scares have more to do with suggestion than special effects. Then again, that’s exactly why I liked it.
“Watching it at the New York Film Festival, I kept thinking of classics like The Innocents and The Haunting, as well as the Spanish masterpiece The Spirit of the Beehive.”
Damn straight. I said exactly the same thing four a half months ago. I expect many others to join in as the release date approaches.
After seeing it twice at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, I wrote that The Orphanage is “hands down the creepiest sophisticated ghost story/thriller to come along since Alejandro Amenabar‘s The Others.
“If you ask me (or anyone else who’s seen it here) it absolutely deserves a ranking alongside other haunted-by-small-children classics as Jack Clayton‘s The Innocents and Nicolas Roeg‘s Don’t Look Now. It also recalls Robert Wise‘s The Haunting, although the ghosts in that 1961 film were all over 21.”
On the same day that a certain film about three American brothers in India is getting half-trashed, a smaller, possibly less affected film about a single American guy visiting India under professionally strained circumstances — John Jeffcoat‘s Outsourced — has also opened in Manhattan, Austin, San Francisco and various northwestern cities.
It opens in L.A. (and other northern California towns) next week and, of course, no one has told me about any screenings. N.Y. Times critic Matt Zoller Seitz has called it “a wonderful surprise.” I’ve decided to see it entirely because of this photo of Outsourced star Josh Hamilton in the feces-filled Ganges.
Hollywood Reporter guy John Defore was also at the Austin Draft House last night, and he’s written that the fans of There Will be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson “might not know what to do with this picture, which has none of the attention-grabbing flourishes of earlier films — no hailstorms of frogs or deus ex machina pianos here.
“The closest it gets to self-conscious showiness is its closing scene, a confrontation as memorably strange as the fireworks-popping, ‘Jessie’s Girl”-belting drug deal in Boogie Nights. Its setting is as visually spare (a highlight of Jack Fisk‘s brilliant production design) as the other was decadent and cluttered, and eventually the scene makes good on the title’s promise — but only after offering a virtuoso humiliation to mirror one that Daniel Day Lewis‘s character suffers earlier in the story.”
I was told on 9.19 that a Blood screening would happen sometime during Fantastic Fest. I was skeptical at the time.
Ridley Scott‘s American Gangster (Universal, 11.2) is, of course, naturally… hello?…an absolute Best Picture contender because it’s a straight, robust, high-velocity crime saga in the grand New York movie tradition of ’70s and ’80s Sidney Lumet. Which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a very cool and vogue-ish thing to be churning out right now, and not for ephemeral reasons.
This is not a first-rate cops-and-dealers drama by the director of Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down as much as a wonderfully focused and flavorful time-machine ride back to the gritty-stinky Abe Beame-Ed Koch world of Serpico, Prince of the City and The French Connection.
I’m not speaking of some sophisticated film-maven exercise but a dead-on, true-blue revisiting — a submission by a great director to an ethos and an aesthetic that feels absolutely real and true to itself, which is to say true to what happened and particularly the way life caused two dogged, determined locomotives — legendary Harlem smack dealer Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and his opposite number, the doggedly honest Det. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) — to crash into each other’s fate.
The result isn’t the craziest or most thrilling New York crime film you’ve ever seen, but one with a more authentic and character-rich sense of itself and its milieu than anything released in a very long time. It’s a film with absolute balls-to-the-wall integrity that can’t miss with audiences, and it tells a plain, strong story with a beginning, a middle and an end. It ought to score a bulls-eye with critics and the Academy and if it doesn’t there’s something wrong, and I don’t mean with the film.
On top of which it’s the best film of this type — complex, interesting, sympathetic good guy vs. complex, interesting half-sympathetic bad guy — since Heat.
Does this saga of the rise and fall of Lucas make you tear up and cry at some point? Does it unleash an emotional meltdown in your chest somewhere during the middle of the third act? No, and shame on anyone for asking. Did The French Connection or The Departed moisten tear ducts? American Gangster is what it is, and deserves a salute for this. It doesn’t pander or amplify or push buttons or pull any cheap tricks.
I was a wee bit disappointed when last Tuesday night’s screening came to an end. It had begun around 7 pm, and the closing credits were rolling north around 9:40 pm. What…only 158 minutes? I’d been given all the nutrition any moviegoer could possibly ask for, but I was Oliver Twist. I wanted more.
This is one of those movies that is so good and cocksure in its New York textures and tough hammer-like attitude, that you’re saying to yourself early on, “I don’t want this to end.” I wanted the indulgent director’s cut right then and there. I wanted Ridley to swing for the bleachers and make it three hours. Hell, I could have gone for three and a half. I wanted to pig out.
I mean, my God…even Cuba Gooding comes off pretty well in a co-starring role, and he’s one of those guys with an Irish banshee going “whooooo” behind his back.
Based on a New York magazine article by Mark Jacobson (“The Return of Superfly“) and working from a screenplay by Steve Zallian, Gangster follows the paths of Lucas and Roberts — step by step, chapter by chapter — and how they lead to a third-act showdown.
Lucas’s heroin-dealing heyday was from ’69 or so to 1976. He claimed in the Jacobson article to have grossed $1 million a day at one point. A lawman once described his operation as “one of the most outrageous international dope- smuggling gangs ever.” Lucas’s claim to fame is that he smuggled in his Vietnamese kilos (98% pure heroin) in the coffins of dead U.S. soldiers.
Lucas, we learn right off the bat, is a somewhat conservative guy. We first meet him as a driver/assistant for Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (a cameo role handled by Clarence Williams III), who’s instilled in Lucas a respect for the old way of doing things. We also see from the get-go that he’s perfectly capable of pouring gasoline over some guy, lighting him up and then filling him with hot lead. But he also gets up at 5 ayem, eats breakfast in the same luncheonette every day, and takes his mother to church on Sundays.
He’s a villain, sure, but he’s fairly likable (he’s Denzel, after all) and semi-respec- table. He’s not totally crazy, and he dresses conservatively and runs his business (i.e., providing a product) like any conservative businessman would. Selling heroin is like spreading a kind of death, but I’m of the libertarian view that people have the right to dope their souls to hell if they’re so inclined. I also think guys like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are just as evil as guys like Lucas, and perhaps even more so.
The first significant thing we see Roberts, a Manhattan detective, do is come upon a suitcase stuffed with a million untraceable bucks and promptly turn every last bill into his station chief. (Anyone who says they wouldn’t at least think about skimming a few grand is either stupid or lying.) Obviously he’s a very different bird than Frank, and yet the film gradually persuades us that they’re not so far apart.
Both adhere to a strict ethical code that sets them apart from comme ci comme ca colleagues, both see their friendships and family lives crack apart under the strain of their work and their single-minded stubbornness, and both run their own renegade teams to get a risky job done.
Deep down, American Gangster is really a procedural film about the ups and down of running a tough business. I challenge anyone who’s run his or her own business to watch it and say they don’t feel at least a little respect and sympathy for Frank, who is first and foremost a vulture and a scumbag, yes, but is also just trying to run a tight ship. It’s always the mark of a good film to persuade you to feel two ways about the same lead character.
Frank and Richie, in the final analysis, are guys who believe in discipline, hard work, integrity, family, adhering to a code. They both pay for being such hard- cases, but in real life Roberts wound up becoming a full-time attorney and wound up defending Lucas in some matter. Life is funny that way, and it sure as shit isn’t black and white.
This account of a snippy confrontation adjacent to the red-carpet for last night’s premere of Ang Lee‘s Lust, Caution is the best piece of writing that The Reeler‘s Stu Van Airsdale has ever posted. Great stuff. More of this, please.
Tang Wei, Ang Lee at last night’s Lust, Caution premiere
“No sooner had Lust, Caution star Tang Wei blown me and my decimated ego off then I felt a nudge at my right. That’s common, really; the carpet’s a claustrophobe’s nightmare, this time with seven writers squeezed into a space made for four (a portion of which was blocked by a security guard, further compromising the area). But no one complains; it won’t get you anywhere, and anyway, you don’t have time.
“Suddenly the nudge became a shove accompanied by an insect clicking noise. I turned to find a professional photographer — an Asian man — snapping photos of Tang.
“‘What are you doing?’ I asked. He looked down at his camera, studying his shots. ‘Hey, listen,’ I told him. ‘The photographers’ well is over there.’ I pointed across the carpet, at least three-quarters of which had been apportioned for cameras. It was crowded, naturally. He glanced over, then raised his camera again. ‘Dude,’ I said, ‘you wanna get here an hour early like the rest of us, then you can get your shot. But we’re doing a job. Get the fuck out of here.’
“He took a few more photos before stepping away. Minutes later he returned on my left-hand side, where a woman was interviewing Tang in Chinese. This time he was joined by two more photographers, younger Asian men, all but climbing over me and my colleagues from Radar and New York Magazine.
“‘What the fuck are you doing?’ I said, pointing once again. ‘That is the photographers’ well. You belong there. We can’t get our jobs done with…’
“‘We’re doing a job, too,’ one replied. The other muttered something in Chinese.
“‘Not here, you’re not. You don’t see us over there. We got here at 6. You’re an hour late. I’m not gonna ask you again.’ Now, you’ve seen enough of me on ReelerTV to know that I’d be the underdog in 100 out of 100 fistfights. But after two and a half years of dealing with animals with cameras at these events, I couldn’t take anymore.
“‘You guys, hey,’ the security guard shouted. ‘Pipe down.’
“‘We’re doing an interview in Chinese,’ the woman said as Tang walked away. ‘Can’t you hear that?’
“‘I don’t give a shit — these guys need to back off.’
The woman, the older photographer and the Chinese-speaking photographer finally went around to the photo well. The other photographer stayed behind, lowering his camera and peering on tiptoe at Lee, who was almost to the miserably congested writers’ well. I prepared my notes when I heard the voice to my left: ‘White trash!’
“I paused, processed. Did that just happen? I turned to the photographer. ‘What did you just say?’ He ignored me, continuing to stare at Lee. ‘Did you just call me white trash?’
His eyebrows arched a bit. ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ I said. He didn’t break his stare. I think I winced before telling him not to fuck with me — the lamest possible comeback, I know, but the only expression I could summon in the face of such immediate, lazy, unalloyed stupidity.
“A few seconds later he departed, saying something indistinguishable as he passed behind my back and disappeared into the Houston Street throng. I shook my head and got my cracker ass ready to interview Ang Lee.”
In this N.Y. Times video piece, Darjeeling Limited Wes Anderson discusses how he threw a scene together, partly, as it happened, in the dark.
I know things look bad for Wes right now. Critically Darjeeling seems to be faring roughly the same as The Life Aquatic, only the patience of the pulse-takers has worn thin. The film has a fairly crummy 50% rating from the Rotten Tomatoes cream-of-the-crop right now, it will almost certainly die commercially, the sharks are circling and I’m told that Wes’s attorneys are negotiating right now with industry prosecutors to keep him out movie jail.
But things will turn. They always do for hard-working people of faith. Wes is too smart and clever not to paddle his way out of this. He’s a gifted filmmaker. He made Rushmore. The Gods will help him bounce back.
I’m going to write something semi-substantial later today about it, but I didn’t despise Darjeeling Limited — it’s so carefully compsed and beautiful to look at, and I absolutely love those two songs (“Where Do You Go To, My Lovely?” and “Les Champs Elysee“), and there’s something to be said for a staid, airless film that’s obviously been made by a guy with a sense of style and impeccable taste.