Owen Wilson showed up tonight — his first public appearance in several weeks — at the Darjeeling Limited premiere at the Academy. Snapped from the ninth or tenth row after the 7:35 pm screening of Hotel Chevalier (and just prior to the Darjeeling screening) — (l. to r.) Adrien Brody, Wilson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Natalie Portman. Darjeeling director-co-writer Wes Anderson was standing to the right.
“It’s forever being drummed into us that movies are a visual medium,” writes New Yorker critic David Denby. “Screenwriters are chastised with this half-truth all the time; they may be told to keep dialogue terse or suggestive or to drop lines altogether. After the movie is shot, directors may cut good as well as bad dialogue.”
But in Michael Clayton, director-writer Tony Gilroy “pitches us into a high-pressure world of law-firm shenanigans and corruption with irresistible relish, and the talk is copious, detailed, and both smart-assed and soulful.
“It takes a while to figure out who some of the players are and what, if anything, the big case and the London merger have to do with each other. Yet IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not actually complaining — it’s all fascinating. Gilroy is an entertainer, and he wants to show us everything — dirty secrets held by prestige law firms, the moral squalor of big-time corporate power and what it does to people, the moments of conscience and decency in messed-up lives.
“[Gilroy is] good with actors, and Michael Clayton has pace and drive — it’s enormous fun. But I hope that as Gilroy continues directing he will let his movies breathe more. I was grateful for a single uncanny pause, in which Clooney, driving around Westchester on a wild night, stops at dawn, walks up a hill, and silently confronts three horses, as if they were the only instance of reason in a convulsive world. Gilroy holds the moment, but only for a moment.”
“In The Darjeeling Limited, director Wes Anderson “toys with those who believe all fiction is autobiographical: Jason Schwartzman‘s Jack, a writer, is frequently protesting that his stories — which the audience knows to be taken directly from his life — are pure fiction.
“I don’t think I’d want to write about three brothers if it weren’t for the fact that I have two brothers and there were three of us growing up and that comes from my own experience,” Anderson tells Globe and Mail writer Simon Houpt.
“So does Anderson understand why he keeps gnawing at the theme of fractured families?
“He pauses as if he’s never been asked the question. ‘I guess, maybe — well, you know what? It’s very hard for me to answer,’ he says. ‘I certainly, you know, couldn’t help but be aware that that’s something that’s always in these movies, but umm, I don’t know why I feel that drawn to that material.’
“He pauses again. ‘Umm, I’ll think about it.’ He laughs quietly, to himself. Nothing more is forthcoming.”
I’m going to try and get the “pure” Oscar Balloon box (i.e., IF THERE WAS A GOD…) up by 5 or 6 pm. I have to go to a 1 pm screening of Things We Lost in the Fire, but if anyone wants to follow Ian Sinclair‘s example rom yesterday and list a bunch of deserving Oscar nominees that don’t necessarily correlate with what the Gurus of Gold and Gurus 2.0 are predicting will be Academy favorites (although it’s perfectly allowable to include a likely Academy pick), post ’em here and I’ll give them a full think-through.
I take back my concern, based on an early trailer and general word-of-mouth, that the Farrelly Brothers‘ The Heartbreak Kid might be “a much coarser and more slapsticky thing than” Elaine May‘s 1972 original film of the same title, as I said in a short piece that went up on 8.13.
Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman
I feared that it might have “fewer mixed-bag subtleties in terms of the characters” and might be…well, sort of crude and apeshit and anything-for-a-laugh commercial, in part because I’ve long felt attached to the Jewish-ness of the original and I didn’t want to see that tossed aside. And I was wrong for thinking this. I was wrong for not trusting the Farrellys. The Heartbreak Kid may not be a great comedy, but it has a tough point of view that it sticks to, and for this it deserves a salute.
Their film, which I saw last night, is significantly coarser than May’s, but it’s also a lot funnier. Not in an intimate, up-close-and-twisted sense, which is where May’s film was coming from, as much as from a typically perverse Farrelly Bros. place, which is to say adult and sophisticated but courting the constant notion that we’re all selfish and self-destructive to an amazing degree, and that fate and happen- stance can be horribly cruel forces.
In other words, the new Heartbreak Kid is actually darker — a good deal more sardonic and despairing of male-female relationships — than May’s film, and it has one of the blackest endings of all time with as good a closing line, in its own way, as “nobody’s perfect” was for Some Like It Hot. It’s a two-word line that I won’t repeat, but I was sitting there going “okay, okay” and then along came that closer (beautifully spat out by star Ben Stiller) and I laughed out loud and left with a smile on my face.
The fact that David Bowie‘s “Suffragette City” — one of my favorite all-time songs — plays over the closing credits only added to the pleasure.
I’m a Goyim, of course, but I’ve twice been called an honorary Jew by Jewish friends (due to my abundant Jewish guilt) and I strongly relate to Jewish humor, and I was afraid that the Farrelly Bros. Kid wouldn’t be as pyschologically grounded or neurotically character-driven as the ’72 film, especially in terms of Charles Grodin‘s self-absorbed, borderline deranged sporting-goods salesman who primarily saw women as challenges, and began to disengage once he’d won them over and/or possessed them
The theme of the film, as conveyed on the one-sheets,” has been thought to be “love blows” or “love hurts,” but it’s really about what a horrible slog it’s become in this day and age to make a relationship work. This is not a film that ends “with a kiss and black ink on the books,” in the words of the great Harry Pebbel, and I respect the shit out of the Farrellys and Stiller for taking things in such a dark direction.
Stiller, Michelle Monaghan
The central observational touchstone of the new Heartbreak Kid is spoken by a supporting character — Rob Corddry, who plays Stiller’s best friend “Mac” — in the third act. I didn’t write it down so what follows isn’t verbatim, but it’s fairly close: “I’ll tell you the secret to a happy marriage. It is grovelling and kowtowing and jumping through hoops whenever she barks for decades and decades as you wait for the sweet embrace of death.”
Because of this line, The Heartbreak Kid is probably going to have trouble with women once the word gets out, but again — you have to admire the cojones of the Farellys for putting it in there. You can call it a grimly realistic view of relationships or one that is at least somewhat (if not baldly) misogynist, but as soon as I heard this, I went “wow…ballsy!”
Stiller gives one of his better performances — alert, vulnerable, brave, inventive. Michelle Monaghan is also her usual engaging self, although the first time I said to myself, “What’s with the spazzy look in her eyes and her short teeth? She looks hyper and nerve-jangled.” Jerry Stiller is appropriately blunt and vulgar as hsi son’s on-screen dad. Malin Akerman is a howl as the insane and malignant blonde that the younger Stiller marries early on, much to his later regret. Corddry and Carlos Mencia give the two best supporting perfs.
Fearing possible reprisals that may be visited upon three young stars of Marc Forster‘s The Kite Runner by politically thuggish elements in Afghanistan, where the film is set, Paramount Vantage is delaying the film’s release from 11.2 to 12.14, at which point the boys will be out of school and free to leave Afghanistan for a presumably safe harbor.
A 10.4.07 N.Y. Times story by David Halbfinger says that Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Zekiria Ebrahimi and Ali Danish Bakhty Ari and their families are looking to get the hell out of Dodge — Kabul — “over fears that they could be attacked for their enactment of a culturally inflammatory rape scene.”
The move might possibly be permanent, Halbfinger adds, given those wacko Middle Eastern Islamics and their sense of holy vengeance about any form of art or propaganda (particularly the kind funded and/or distributed by a Great Satanic entity like Paramount Vantage) that is construed to be culturally offensive.
“Warnings have been relayed to the studio from Afghan and American officials and aid workers that the movie could aggravate simmering enmities between the politically dominant Pashtun” — allies of the Taliban — “and the long-oppressed Hazara,” writes Halbfinger.
Here’s a website that’s all about spreading information about the threat and getting funding to help the boys and their families blow that Kabulian pop stand and resettle somewhere safe.
“In January in Afghanistan, DVDs of Kabul Express — an Indian film in which a character hurls insults at Hazara — led to protests, government denunciations and calls for the execution of the offending actor, who fled the country,” Halbfinger writes.
Based upon a 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner spans 30 years of Afghan history, from a time just before the Soviet invasion of the early ’80s through the Taliban power grab that began in 1995 and ended in ’01.
The story hinges on a friendship between Amir, a wealthy Pashtun boy (Ebrahimi), and Hassan (Mahmidzada), the Hazara son of Amir’s father’s servant. The inflammatory scene shows Hassan being raped by an older Pashtun creep. Later, Sohrab, a Hazara boy (Bakhty Ari), is “preyed upon” by a corrupt Taliban official, Halbfinger writes.
Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada told AP writer Alisa Tang in a story that ran on 9.23 that he and his family could be ostracized or even attacked. His father, Ahmad Jaan Mahmidzada, told Tang that “in Afghanistan, rape is not acceptable at all. This is against Afghan dignity. This is against Afghan culture. When we argued, they said ‘We will cut this part of the film. We will take it out of the script. This part will not be in the film.'”
The Taliban “destroyed nearly all movie theaters in Afghanistan, ” says Halbfinger, “but pirated DVDs often arrive soon after a major film’s release [in the U.S. and Europe].”
I love this sentence from the Times piece: “Though [Hosseini’s] book is admired in Afghanistan by many in the elite, its narrative remains unfamiliar to the broader population, for whom oral storytelling and rumor communication carry far greater weight.”
Ahmad Jaan Mahmoodzada, the real-life father of the 12 year-old actor who plays “Hassan” in The Kite Runner
In other words, the broader Afghan population is illiterate and easily swayed by uninformed local sentiment, characteristics which tend to translate in this country into terms like “cretins,” ‘”ignoramuses” and “dumb-ass rednecks.”
George Clooney‘s Leatherheads, a romantic comedy set in the world of 1920s football, had been set to open on 12.7, but Universal is pushing it back to the spring. April, actually. The Universal guy who told me about this says that extra shooting is currently being planned. He’s also been told “there’ll be new actors hired as well.” Remember, now — it’s not real unless you read it in Variety! No word on why it’s been bumped, but with “new actors” being hired it ‘s not hard to put two and two together.
John Krasinski, George Clooney in Leatherheads
I could run a list of ten things I like or at least admire about The Darjeeling Limited (which I may do tomorrow — could a slightly positive backlash be manifesting?), but there’s nothing but good vibrations on the soundtrack, and I almost never mention CDs in this column in any context. (Unless it’s a new Springsteen album.)
The Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress prediction calls of the Gurus 2.0 are, for the most part, just as timid and safe and soft-bellied as the choices made the first-string Gurus. Okay, so In The Valley of Elah ranks a little higher and Zodiac got three Best Picture votes instead of one…big deal.
I know — it’s unfair to refer to Gurus 2.0 as second-stringers when what they are, basically, are “the other guys.” Is there another way to put it, something less dismissive? Thirteen smart critics and bloggers who’ve been labelled as…what, first-stringers who came second? There doesn’t seem any way around terms like “second choices,” “the farm team,” “the Bad News Bears” The term 2.0 implies advancement, but that’s a gloss, a con. Poland describes them as “serious” pundits who are “not quite as, uh, overexposed.”
Look for my “pure” Oscar nominee rundown box — I’m calling it IF THERE WAS A GOD… — sometime tomorrow, or at the latest by Friday. Nominees decided upon with no regard whatsoever for what the Academy might decide down the road.
Every once in a blue moon, David Poland gets it right about an end-of-the-year awards contender. American Gangster (which I went for big-time a week ot so ago) is one of those rare lucky recipients. Not quite “the undeniable classic [he] felt throughout was trying to emerge,” Poland says, and yet “a classic tale of the American dream on drugs…one of the very best gangster epics of all time…the work of a truly skilled filmmaker, some excellent actors, a great story, and a ’70s spirit of filmmaking that is a pleasure to see on the big screen in 2007.”
Ignore the observation about how Russell Crowe‘s detective character going through a custody suit interferes with the flow and the rich ingredients. The movie is constantly showing parallels between Crowe’s Richie Roberts and Denzel Washington‘s Frank Lucas — their private backwater moments as well as their professional dedications and drives. I felt that coming to understand that they’re not all that different and even kind of similar was the main point of Steve Zallian‘s script, which means that comparing this and that aspect of their family situations naturally follows.
Notice also how Poland subconsciously shows his animus for In The Valley of Elah by ignoring Josh Brolin‘s performance in that film while calling him “the comeback player of the year” who also scored big in No Country For Old Men? Three right-on performances in a trio of first-rate films released in the space of four months — talk about good career karma. (Let’s not muck things up by mentioning Brolin’s apperance in Planet Terror.)
With Halloween starting to approach, a reader asked an hour ago about my running a list of favorite horror films. Instant stopper. The term “horror film” has, of course, become a euphemism for slash-chop-gore, and most people need to be in a state of acute hormonal tumescence to be a fan of this. My idea of a cool high-end-end horror film is Juan Antonio Bayona‘s The Orphanage — a movie that mainlines fear into your spinal cord. (Especially that hide-and-advance scene when the kids make their appearance.)
Pumpkin display at the West Hollywood Pavillions on Santa Monica and Robertson Blvds.
Most of today’s horror-film fans, providers of testimony to our social and aesthetic devolution, will probably consider The Orphanage too restrained for their tastes. Their loss, cinema’s lament. The scariest things are the hints and omens and realizations that drop into your brain like water and spread like dye. They don’t seem like very much at first, but they sound a chord that quietly vibrates and then seeps right into the marrow.
Great horror moments, therefore, are worth savoring. For me, the word “horror” doesn’t seem to apply as much as “deep creep-out.” Four classics in my book…
(1) That four-second-long insert shot in Rosemary’s Baby of a diary or notepad written by a former tenant at the “Branford” — a very old woman — who’s recently passed away. As Mia Farrow looks down and reads we are shown an incomplete sentence — “I can no longer tolerate…” And right away the hook goes in. You know without being told that the thing she could no longer tolerate is probably the thing that snuffed out her life.
(2) That two-second moment when skeleton teeth and eyes are super-imposed upon Tony Perkins‘ face in the second to lastl shot in Psycho (the final shot being the one of the car being pulled out of the swamp).
(3) That entire prelude at the beginning of The Exorcist, and particularly(a) the face of that woman riding in the speeding horse-drawn carriage that almost runs down Max Von Sydow, and (b) those two dogs savagely growling and snapping at each other near the archeological dig.
(4) That moment in The Birds when the drunk at the bar says, “It’s the end of the world!” If Rod Taylor or Jessica Tandy or Tippi Hedren or even Veronica Cartwright had suggested such a thing, the audience would laugh (or perhaps even be offended by such twaddle). But because a pathetic drunk blurts it out, it sinks in.