“Just when I thought I was out, the Clintons pull me back into their conjugal psychodrama,” writes N.Y. Times columnist Maureen Dowd in a truly fascinating column. The thrust of her 12.23 entry is that Bill Clinton, for the strangest and most tangled-up of reasons, may be subconsciously sabotaging Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign.
The seed of this suspicion is a friend of the Clintons having told Dowd that “for the first time since the Marc Rich pardon, Bill is seriously diminishing his personal standing with the people closest to him.”
“Is Bill torn between resentment of being second fiddle and gratification that Hillary can be first banana only with his help?,” Dowd wonders. “Their relationship has always been a co-dependence between his charm and her discipline. But what if, as some of her advisers suggest, she turned out to be a tougher leader, quicker to grasp foreign policy, less skittish about using military power and more inspirational abroad? What if she were to use his mistakes as a reverse blueprint, like W. did with his dad?
“When Bill gets slit-eyed, red-faced and finger-wagging in defense of her, is he really defending himself, ego in full bloom, against aspersions that Obama and Edwards cast on Clintonian politics?
“Maybe the Boy Who Can’t Help Himself is simply engaging in his usual patterns of humiliating Hillary and lighting an exploding cigar when things are going well. ‘They’re not Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who had jealousy as the lifeblood of their marriage,’ said one writer who has studied the pair. ‘The lifeblood of their marriage is crisis, coming to each other’s rescue.'”
Exploding cigars! Reverse blueprints! Sturm und drang! Terrific stuff.
“There is also a growing tension between critics — who take film seriously as art and are increasingly scornful of the vituperative blog culture — and Oscar pundits, who with their wacky statistical analysis come off more like breathless racetrack tipsters than film admirers. The root of all this evil, of course, is that everyone writes entirely too much about the Oscars (my newspaper included). With all those special issues and Oscar blogs to fill, the occasional astute observations are drowned out by the 24/7 blather.” — from a 12.18 Patrick Goldstein “Big Picture” column that I should have acknowledged earlier.
Sweeney Todd is not only consumed by vengeance but goes mad with it, finally destroying himself and taking others down with him. In a way the visual signature of his derangement is his white shock of skunk hair. It’s interesting to note that the last movie character who had the same skunk ‘do was also obsessed by vengeance, so lost in rage that he’s prepared to sacrifice his life, the lives of his crew members and even his ship to find and destroy his nemesis.
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd; Gregory Peck as Captian Ahab in John Huston’s Moby Dick
On top of which both men raged and obsessed sometime in the early to mid 19th Century. Has anyone ever tried to make a musical out of Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick?
There’s one more parallel. Both Sweeney Todd and John Huston‘s Moby Dick (1956) both have monochromatic color palettes. In Moby Dick, in fact, Huston and cinematographer Oswald Morris made the first color film with a subdued drained hue, an effect that was achieved in the printing process by blending the color negative with a “grey” (black and white) negative. The idea was to emulate the Currier and Ives etchings of the period.
I only wish I could find a decent color closeup of Peck and his Ahab skunk hair.
Two articles about There Will Be Blood appear in today’s L.A. Times/Calendar section — a Daniel Day Lewis/Paul Thomas Anderson profile by Michael Ordona and one by Paul LIeberman about the casting of young Dillon Freasier as Lewis’s “purported” son. A third piece by Reed Johnson examines how “the planetary and human costs of overconsumption [are] a major cultural theme” examined in Blood as well as Sean Penn‘s Into the Wild.
“Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will Be Blood, which I will write about in detail when it opens on Wednesday, and David Fincher‘s Zodiac, which I wrote about when it was released in March, together constitute my 1 through 10,” writes N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis in a 12.23 article.
“These aren’t necessarily the year’s best (impossible to determine given the glut of films), just the two that matter most to me, that dug in the deepest and rearranged my own givens. They made me feel like the woman in the start of Orson Welles√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s film Touch of Evil who says, ‘I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ve got this ticking noise in my head,’ just before she√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s blown to smithereens by a time bomb.
“I√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢m still intact (more or less), but these films shook up my world in the best possible way.”
Sweeney Todd suffered a disastrous 23% drop in terms of its projected weekend earnings from Friday to Saturday. This appeared to be a result of the Redville cognoscenti finally figuring out it’s not a London-based Jack Sparrow adventure of some kind but a (choke…gag) Stephen Sondheim musical. (Fantasy Mogul’s Steve Mason has reported an 11% Friday to Saturday downturn. The 23% drop is based on Friday’s projection of a $12 million weekend vs. Paramount’s own reported weekend tally of $9.3 million.)
Realizing they’d been boondoggled (after ignoring the internet chatter for months), a significant percentage of the slow-on-the-pickup crowd apparently went into shock after seeing Tim Burton‘s dark fantasia on Friday. They obviously passed along some negative comments to their friends (perhaps not only about the music but about the arterial garden-hose spurtings) and led a modest revolt against the Paramount/DreamWorks ad campaign.
Sweeney Todd had been projected to take in $12 million after Friday’s earnings were calculated, but the weekend projection is now down to $9,399,000. I’m told that DreamWorks marketers wanted to sell Todd for the grand guignol musical that it is and open it more slowly — starting with 200 theatres — but Paramount marketers insisted on a fake-out campaign with a bigger 1200-theatre opening.
The main Sweeney Todd trailer wasn’t a total fake-out, of course. The one I saw in theatres two or three times showed Johnny Depp singing the line, “I will have vennn-geance!” What did the dumb-asses think that meant? That the film would be a straight adventure drama about a bunch of pirate ships attacking London?
Other films went down as well. National Treasure was projecting $54 milion, is now projecting $48 million…a drop of 12% from Friday to Saturday. I Am Legend was projected to do $36,900,000, is now looking at $34,800,000. Alvin and the Chipmunks was projected to make $30 million for the weekend, now looking at $28 million. So everyone dropped 10% or thereabouts, but Sweeney Todd‘s 23% drop (calculated by the projected vs. actual weekend figure) was much more than the norm.
It also snowed yesterday in much of the Midwest, which much have hurt ticket sales also.
A final remembrance of The Lives of Others star Ulrich Muhe, whose death last July was, for me, the saddest and most unexpected of the year. Coming in the wake of having given one of the most moving performances of the 21st Century and experiencing the greatest international success of his career and then bam…over.
I felt a huge kinship with Muhe himself, partly due to interviewing him at the Toronto Film Festival (also chatting at a couple of festival parties) in September ’06, partly because I knew that his own disturbing history with the Stasi (they watched him very closely in the ’80s) was tied up in the role, and partly because I’ve got a German ancestry from my mom’s side of the family.
For the first time, Barack Obama has nudged ahead of Hillary Clinton in a New Hampshire primary voter survey. Behind her by 14 points in early November, now at 30% to her 28% according to a just-published Boston Globe survey. McCain is surging also in the Granite State. 15 points behind Mitt Romney in early November, he’s now trailing by only 3 points — 25 to Romney’s 28.
This Jamie Stuart video portrait of Atonement director Joe Wright is, as usual, “different”, personal, whimsical…a promotional piece that doesn’t promote or smooch celebrity butt as much as burrow in with some kind of view askew. One big problem: it was released two days ago, but it begins with a title that refers to a screening of Atonement that happened over three months ago at the Toronto Film Festival. My first reaction was “what…it took Stuart three months to slap it together?”
Check out this Top Ten of ’07 list at Movie City News. Growing and evolving, might rearrange in a few days. No Country for Old Men at the top, of course. But look at #2. So it’s not just the British critics and four or five other guys (myself included). The total absence of Zodiac as a Best Picture winner with all of the various award-giving groups so far amounts to some kind of disconnect.
Ten years ago James Cameron‘s Titanic had been playing for one week (it opened on 12.14.97) and had made $28 million and change. Nobody knew how far it would go or how deeply it would connect, but I suspected — as did a lot of movie journalists and industry types who were invited to the first wave of screenings — it would be huge.
I had first seen it on a rainy afternoon in late November on the Paramount lot. I took Matt Drudge as my guest, and I remember feeling shaken and moved as I walked back to my car in the early evening. I didn’t share my feelings with Drudge nor he with me, but we were both a little beside ourselves. I knew in my heart of hearts that 93% of Titanic was only good (or pretty good), but that the last 15 minutes were heartbreaking, and that the final sequence was a levitation.
Nobody will ever feel the Titanic vibe the way a lot of us did back then. It was ruined, in a sense, by the worldwide mob loving it so much. The more popular it became with K-Mart Nation, in fact, the less affection I was able to feel for it. Or express my feelings for with any freedom. I feel as if I’ve been living in a Titanic gulag every since. The hip backlash kicked in a month or two later, and now it’s hard to find anyone in the intelligentsia who will admit to even liking it. It’s a deeply despised film.
And yet the negative feelings about it — almost all of this coming from know-it-all film snobs — over the last ten years have convinced me with more certainty than almost anything else that I’ve seen and felt over my 27 years of writing about movies that the smarty-pants crowd is sometimes deeply full of it.
Titanic didn’t make more money than any film in the history of motion pictures because it provided cheap emotional junk-food highs to teenage girls swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio. It did this because it touched people (including my cranky, emotionally shut-off father) in a way that, like it or not, was extremely primal and shattering. I’m not going to explain the how and why of this. Everyone has their views pretty well sorted out about this film. I’m just saying that when a film that connects this strongly and deeply it has done something right.
At the very least Titanic provided a payoff in such a way that the first 90%, some of which was merely sufficient and some of which was admittedly mediocre, served as a mere preamble or build-up. The most affecting films always do something like this. They simmer and marinate and take their time with the various ingredients and themes, and then along comes the last 15 minutes and it all starts paying off like a slot machine.
Obviously you have to watch these films to the end or the whole effect collapses.
I was friendly and talking occasionally with Owen Wilson back then, and I told him over and over how great the finale was. I took him to a Titanic screening about a week or so before it opened, in the very same Paramount lot theatre. He hated it. He left the theatre without saying a word less than 30 minutes in.