I meant to post the Stephen Colbert South Carolina primary decision-to-run thing earlier today, but the truth is that I’ve stopped grinning at the routine. The reason is that there’s something tiring about somebody “doing a personality” over and over. I’m not saying Colbert has become a bit like Professor Irwin Corey was in the ’60s and ’70s, but now that I think of it, this might actually be the case. I just know I’ve been starting to go “yeah, hmmm” when I watch the show.
Slate‘s Kim Masters has asked around and come up with three theories about why Tony Gilroy and George Clooney‘s Michael Clayton underperformed last weekend. That’s easy to answer, but let’s first consider the content of the piece.
Theory #1: Clooney isn’t a star, in part because he hasn’t nurtured the fan base by making movie-star movies. Theory #2: A “former studio chairman” says Michael Clayton didn’t have an idea to sell so nobody except people who like complex, sophisticated adult dramas (i.e., roughly 2% of the population) gave that much of a shit. “When you look at the marketing, you don’t know what it’s about,” the f.s.c. says, which is understandable “because Michael Clayton is a really well-executed movie that’s not about anything.” Theory #3: There are “too damn many grown-up movies.”
My own theory is that most people prefer downmarket movies with color, humor, excitement and personality, and Michael Clayton seemed overly muted and not funny, thrilling or charming enough. In a word, it looked like too much of a high- brow thing. Too smart, too subtle, too low-key, too corporate. There was no one in ithe cast who wore a backwards baseball cap or had a pot belly or drove a muscle car or who listened to Bruce Springsteen.
As N.Y. Times media columnist David Carr observed on 10.10, movies about rock bands and troubled musicians are pouring out like mad these days. And now, according to Spinner magazine, there’s a Blondie/ Deborah Harry biopic in the pipeline with Kristen Dunst as Harry and Michel Gondry directing.
Kirsten Dunst; Debbie Harry
And the story will be what exactly? Harry never ruined her career through drug addiction, never committed suicide, never went to jail, never stole someone’s husband, etc. You can’t just make a rock-band movie that says “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” You need some kind of undercurrent or thematic flow-through.
Blondie fans have reportedly been bitching about Dunst, apparently out of concern that she may not be soulful or sassy enough. I think Dunst is probably sassier than the Real McCoy. I spoke to Harry at an Oscar-night after-party about 12 or 13 years ago, and it wasn’t easy. She seemed pretty alarmed at the idea of a little chit-chat with a journalist. It was a very big deal between myself, Harry and her antsy personal publicist. After ten minutes of negotiating terms and time limits, I was thisclose to saying “forget it.”
I never met Patti Smith, but if I had something tells me she wouldn’t have been such a chicken.
The #1 rule of director-actress relationships is simple. If a film they make together fails at the box-office (or if one they’d like to make fails to get financed), the relationship will start to to disassemble sooner or later. It’s like a couple giving birth to a child with a debilitating lifelong ailment.
Case in point: the relationship between slovenly downmarket B-movie director Robert Rodriguez and his actress-fiance Rose McGowan is probably in some kind of jeopardy because Universal has backed out of financing their costly Barbarella project because they don’t believe McGowan has enough star power to justify the film’s $100 million budget.
In short, the studio has not only nixed a deal, they’ve also squeezed a drop of poison into the conjugal well.
McGowan has always struck me as a descendent of Mary Astor‘s character, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, in John Huston‘s The Maltese Falcon. As Caspar Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) says to Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart)…well, such thoughts are best whispered.
The proposed Rodriguez-McGowan Barbarella flick, like the 1968 Jane Fonda-Roger Vadim original, is about a futuristic intergalatic hottie getting into Star Wars-ian intrigues and adventures. New York Observer writer Spencer Morgan wrote yesterday that actress considered for the part — before Rodriguez insisted that McGowan be cast, that is — have included Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and Jessica Alba.
“It’s ort of embarrassing for everyone involved,” a source has told Morgan. “No one thinks Rose can carry the movie, but Robert won’t listen.”
Sam Raimi has told MTV.com’s Larry Carroll that Peter Jackson directing The Hobbit “makes the most sense,” but if “he didn’t want to direct and wants to produce it, I’d love to be considered for the project.” In other words, New Line will be pissing on its own financial future if it doesn’t make peace with Jackson, especially after Jackson’s recent legal victory over New Line in his battle with the producer over alleged hidden revenues.
There are some things in life you need to accept as inevitable. All the same, the idea of sitting down and actually watching The Hobbit, when and if it finally gets made…
From Maxim‘s exacting, occasionally contrarian but mostly big-hearted film critic Pete Hammond, Robert Redford‘s Lions for Lambs (which I saw yesterday but won’t be reviewing until 11.1) has gotten its first glowing quote. He’s calling it “an urgent, impassioned wake-up call for America, a hot-button politically incendiary work that is certain to become the most controversial and talked-about movie of 2007.”
Hammond doesn’t mean that friends and families from Vancouver to Key West are necessarily going to debate the merits over dinner starting early next month. He’s saying that right-wing commentators are going to jump all over it, which is probably true. If I were MGM, I’d be screening this film to every last Washington, D.C., conservative I could find. The film will be opening on roughly 2000 screens on 11.9.
“Current big star-laden Hollywood films rarely take the kind or risks this one does,” Hammond says. This is true — Lions for Lambs is unusual in this respect. By choosing not to push certain buttons, Redford has made, in a certain fashion, a daring film.
“It’s been over three decades since Redford made The Candidate and All The President’s Men,” Hammond concludes, “but clearly he’s still out there, using motion pictures to try and make a difference. Agree or disagree, love it or hate it, you won’t be able to turn away.”
Redford was young, very handsome, well-sculpted and blonde-haired when he starred in and produced those two landmark political films. Now he’s 70ish, slightly barrel chested, copper-haired and — I don’t mean this critically but as a mere statement of fact — diminished. And it’s just not the same equation. It’s not just the content of a political film but the look and style of it (including the man doing the talking or pitching) that matters. Everyone agrees that Al Gore had “it” in An Inconvenient Truth. I wonder if audiences will say that Redford exudes the same power and authority.
My favorite line in Lions for Lambs, spoken by Redford’s college professor character, explains the title. A German general, being more an admirer of World War II British infantrymen than their commanders, was heard to say, “Never have I seen such lions led by such lambs.” That’s George Bush and Dick Cheney for you — draft dodgers in their youth, still in the rear with the gear.
Rome is burning, son.
The Reeler‘s Stu Van Airsdale, on fire after his Chinese paparazzi run-in two or three weeks ago, bitch-slapped director Michael Haneke following a screening of his original 1997 version of Funny Games (which Maneke has remade in English for Warner Independent) at the kick-off of MoMA’s Modern Mondays program.
“Haneke loves to think of himself as a master manipulator,” Van Airsdale writes. “But adherence to convention is not the same thing as smugness, which is why Funny Games‘ climactic upshot — wife Anna (Susanne Lothar) steals a gun and blows one of her assailants away, only to have the survivor grab the VCR remote control, rewind the film, anticipate the coup and wrest the firearm away — is such a gross betrayal. Almost to the end of his grueling psychological horror film, Haneke introduces a time machine.
“In fairness, the MoMA audience clapped in support of her attack, and the filmmaker got the sense of deflation he wanted after its sudden reversal. But this isn’t exactly a spiritual precedent to the paralyzing movie-within-a-movie in [Haneke’s] Code Unknown, or the surveillance-cum-class war propelling Cache. Instead it’s the cheapest, most embarrassing technical stunt of Haneke’s career.”
In a Youth Without Youth-promoting interview with GQ magazine, director Francis Coppola has trashed (in a non-vicious, somewhat distant, we-used-to-be-friends sort of way) Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson for not being hungry enough.
How does an artist stay hungry and keep the creative fires burning? Two years ago Coppola told GQ’s Jeff Gordinier that “few filmmakers who become known for some great work do work later on in life that equals it. And why? Partly because everyone has a certain thing that they can do, and after they express it, unless they’re William Shakespeare or Akira Kurosawa, it’s not easy to reinvent yourself.”
Speaking of De Niro, Pacino and Nicholson in the current issue, Coppola says, “I don’t know what any of them want anymore. I don’t know that they want the same things. Pacino always wanted to do theater … (He) will say, ‘Oh, I was raised next to a furnace in New York, and I’m never going to go to L.A.,’ but they all live off the fat of the land.
“I think if there was a role that De Niro was hungry for, he would come after it. I don’t think Jack would. Jack has money and influence and girls, and I think he’s a little bit like (Marlon) Brando, except Brando went through some tough times. I guess they don’t want to do it anymore.
“You know, even in those days, after The Godfather, I didn’t feel that those actors were ready to say, ‘Let’s do something else really ambitious.’ A guy like (38-year-old No Country for Old Men star) Javier Bardem is excited to do something good: ‘Let me do this’ or ‘I’ll put stuff in my mouth, change my appearance.’ I don’t feel that kind of passion to do a role and be great coming from those guys, because if it was there, they would do it.”
Control‘s Sam Riley having won the Chicago Film Festival‘s Silver Hugo Best Actor award tells us three things. One, there are others besides myself who believe Riley’s performance as Ian Curtis is not just phenomenal but award- worthy. Two, Chicago Film Festival voters are clearly too eccentric to influence industry thinking about ’07’s Best Actor finalists. And three, this “Chicago flake” factor will allow the Gurus of Gold and Envelope prognosticators to continue saying, “It’s very nice that you admire Sam Riley’s acting, Jeff, but c’mon, get real…we’re talking likely winners here.”
Control director Anton Corbijn, star Sam Riley in Toronto last month.
If a performance like Riley’s is imbued with that special something (which it obviously is), nothing else should matter. Certainly not at this stage of the game. The only reason people are saying “Riley’s too new” or “he’s not a serious contender” is because the Weinstein Co. is seen as a precarious player these days and particularly because they’re not spending big money to support Control and its makers.
Being new to the business doesn’t matter if there’s money behind you. Did people say 45 years ago, “Forget Peter O’Toole as a Best Actor contender for his Lawrence of Arabia performance…he’s too young and too unknown”? No, and the reason they didn’t is because Columbia Pictures was behind the Oscar campaign big-time, and so the industry sat up and showed obeisance before power and nominated O’Toole. It was that simple, and it’s this simple here and now. Sam Riley is, in a manner of speaking, the wet-behind-the-ears Peter O’Toole of 2007. He just doesn’t have big-studio pockets backing him up. That’s the only real difference.
On top of which is my old saw about there being plenty of time to play the status-quo Oscar prediction game after Thanksgiving. Now is the time for prognosticators to stand up for people who deserve the awards-consideration attention. Right now, I say to hell with the Academy fuddy-duds. Wave away all those people who “don’t know who Joy Division was and who will never see this movie.”
If I were king with dictatorial powers I would have all the Academy know-nothings identified and marginalized, if not expelled. Every organization is only as brave and vibrant and visionary as the amount of deadweight in its midst. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Purge the slackers and deadheads and the fog will lift.
The Chicago Film Festival website says the fest ends tonight (10.17), but the festival awards were announced last Sunday (10.14) on Michael Phillips‘ Talking Pictures blog/column, which is found on the Chicago Tribune site, and yesterday on Adam Fendelman‘s HollywoodChicago site.