I watched a DVD of Michael Haneke‘s original 1997 Funny Games last night. Some of it, I mean. Haneke’s English-language version (which opens tomorrow) is such an exact remake — shot for shot, line for line — that I couldn’t stay with it. It’s simply too ugly to absorb twice. I’ll never see the new version or the old version ever again. And yet the game Haneke is playing is undeniably about something that matters. If you can take it, you should see it.
“Can a movie be gripping and repellent at the same time?,” asks Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman. “In Funny Games, a mockingly sadistic and terrifying watch the middle class writhe like stuck pigs thriller, the director Michael Haneke puts his characters in a vise, and the audience too. I wouldn’t recommend Funny Games to a lot of people, yet I won’t dismiss it either. It’s been made with brutal fascination and skill, and a kind of sick-puppy suspense.”
From a visual standpoint, the Wachowski brothers’ Speed Racer (Warner Bros. 5.9) looks like interesting comic-book candy. Here’s the high-def trailer, and the Quicktime version. I can’t say I’ve seen a feature film with this precise visual scheme (live actors-meet-cartoon reality) ever before. It’s like Sin City in color, minus the noir attitude. The more it went on, the more I was willing to overlook the McDonalds’ logo on Emile Hirsch‘s helmet.
I got into a fierce argument with an attorney friend yesterday about Obama vs. Clinton. He voted for Obama in the California primary, argues his case with friends and may donate to his campaign, he says. But he doesn’t agree with my feelings about the malignant tone and spirit of the Clinton campaign. He doesn’t exactly believe that Obama and Clinton are tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee, but he feels they’re more or less cut from the same cloth. So I wrote him a letter this morning to apologize and explain where I’m coming from.
Several HE readers have claimed I’ve never precisely said why I’m an Obama guy, so I figured I’d post this e-mail and shut them up forever.
“I’m sorry for being excitable and losing my temper and shutting down,” I began. “I should treat you with more respect and affection. It’s just that whatever Obama’s faults may be (not aggressive enough, not macho enough), to me he’s a guy with a special light around him. Whatever else he may actually be or will show himself to be down the road, he is, I believe, smart, temperate and innately wise about human nature, political gamesmanship and managerial matters. Most importantly I believe him to be an immensely important bringer of symbolic change.
“Obama is not just another guy hustling his way into power who isn’t that different from Hillary Clinton, blah, blah. It truly repulses me to hear you say that. That is the lawyer in you, and I really hate that kind of talk.
“Obama is the guy, I believe, because history is not just telling us this — it is grabbing us by the lapels and shouting in our faces, ‘Will you crawl out of your pathetic little foxholes and listen, please?’ Obama is a tough Chicago politician with some over-zealous people on his team, probably, but clearly (to me anyway) his own man. My intuition (which I trust greatly), my sense of things, my psychological perceptions tell me he’s the closest thing to ‘the guy we’ve been waiting for’ in decades, in part because he says things like ‘we are the people we’ve been waiting for.’
“My understanding of history says that major choices and bends in the road appear very rarely. Only a fool would say that this way is the absolute pure-beautiful-right way to go and the other way is the way of agony, falling dead frogs and rancid toilet water, but Obama, I believe, represents a primal generational gearshift — a bringer of significant change in how we think, see ourselves and deal with our own problems and those of other nations. He represents, at the very least, a generational passing of the torch. And let’s face it — a guy with his middle and last name alone in the White House would do more to humanize and rejuvenate our profile with Europe, the Middle East and Asia than anything Clinton or McCain could do, policy or legislation-wise.
“Bush-Clinton-Bush is over…it has to be.
“God knows that Hillary Clinton has shown herself to be a detestable party member by suggesting to Democratic voters that if she doesn’t win the nomination, they might want to think about voting for the only other candidate with a lifetime of experience — John McCain. She has shown an apparent willingness to bomb Dresden, burn the house down and poison the pond before the battle with McCain even starts. She has shown herself to be sociopathic in he apparent belief that her winning the nomination is all. There seems to be no little voice inside her that says ‘you’re taking this too far….this isn’t just about you.’ Her kitchen-sink campaign has been avaricious, two-faced and despicable. She’s played to fear and lied and misstated and failed to stand up for even her own personal dignity.
“On top of which I cannot stand the idea of having to listen to that braying voice and look at those awful bags under her eyes for the next four to eight years. I weep at that prospect. I deflate. But she could be the most physically and vocally appealing politician in history and she’d still be repulsive.
“The race cards have been played repeatedly, and if you haven’t kept up with this, I am not going to educate you. She’s not playing Strom Thurmond race cards — she’s dishing her own race cards out in her own way, and in so doing is appealing to the lowest and least educated and the most fearful people out there. She is divisive, creepy, overly scripted and throughly hated by Bubba males. Obama is the one with Republicans and independents ready to vote for him, not she.
“Obama, yes, will fuck up, and fail to do things the right way, in some people’s opinion. His supporters will get him in trouble sooner or later and he will have to correct his course, and maybe fire some people. He will piss people off for this, that or whatever. But the record shows that Obama has run the wiser and smarter campaign. He is cool, measured, programmatic, decisive. (I didn’t agree with his firing of Samantha Power — she only said what millions believe — but at least he did it quickly.) He’s the new guy with the new attitude, and it is time to go with that, cross our fingers and hope for the best.
“It is certainly time to take the reins away from the selfish boomers who have screwed things up beyond belief. We’ve been left with an economy in a total shambles (we’re about to suffer a recession, we owe the souls of our children and our grandchildren to the Chinese, the dollar is at 1.55 against the Euro, gas was at $1.40 a gallon when Bush came in and now it’s now a bit more than $4 dollars a gallon), we’re choking ourself to death with greenhouse gases, there’s no money for the social welfare of my sons’ generation….the greedy boomers have polluted and/or taken it all. It’s really time for the boomer greedheads to go away, and a GenX guy (Obama was born in ’62, which actually makes him a cusp guy) to come in and maybe do some good while fucking things up according to his own flaws and inclinations.
“In this context I believe that Bush-Clinton-Cheney-McCain represents, in a manner of speaking and perception, one thing (with Hillary representing more hate and divisiveness and right-wing animus and dysfunctional-obsessive tendencies, despite her liberal-progressive inclinations), and Obama represents another. It will be a kind of death of the soul to cast our lot once again with Bush-Clinton ….truly a death of the soul, a swallowing of the ‘nothing changes and we’re all screwed so kick back and have a drink’ pill, a death of belief in possibility and constructive tomorrows and turnabouts, a renewal of the old battles and bullshit.
“The election is not a snore, and you are betraying a very rancid attitude by saying this. We are facing a major split in the road, and what happens next November couldn’t be more important. Obama is a turner of the page, an emblem of our better and fairer selves. There seems to be something fundamentally temperate and wise about the guy. He seems more down with the here-and-now than Hillary or McCain. He will really get rolling with arresting global warming, restoring the economy, getting us out of Iraq. I applaud his statements that he’s not reluctant to negotiate with the bad guys.
“Do I worry that he’s not macho enough? Frankly, yes…but no one’s perfect. He’ll obviously need to improve on that score. But I believe in his capacity for growth.”
Alejandro Amenabar, director of The Sea Inside (winner for the ’05 Best Foreign-Language Oscar) and The Others, is about to begin filming Agora, an historical epic starring Rachel Weisz. They’re kidding, right? A title that means absolutely nothing to anyone except ancient-history scholars? Did I not just quote Jack Lechner‘s observation that one should never choose a title that’s “incomprehensible until you see the movie, but not intriguing enough to make you want to see it”?
An 1885 painting of Hypatia by Charles William Mitchell.
Weisz will play Hypatia of Alexandria, a mathematician, astronomer and philosopher of ancient Egypt. The story will be about the religious revolts of Roman-ruled Alexandria, where Hypatia battles to save the wisdom of the ancient world contained in the city’s famous library. Agora will also star Max Minghella, Rupert Evans and Michael Lonsdale.
If anyone’s interested and not concerned with spoilers, consult the Wikipedia page about Hypatia and scroll down to the portion that describes her death. Echoes of Braveheart; not for the squeamish.
Hormonally-driven, sensation-seeker, risk-enjoyer — three characteristics of the type of guy (like former New York governor Eliot Spitzer) who tends to cheat, according to this 3.12 Newsweek article by Mary Carmichael. Cheating on a partner you’re commited to and care for is obviously hurtful and destructive and deserving of condemnation. But I have to admit that the person being described here is me. I’m easily bored, and I find myself saying more and more often, “Is that all there is?” The things that did it for me ten years or ten months ago don’t seem to satisfy as much today. I need more. I’m not proud of this. I wish it were otherwise.
I meant to get into Jack Lechner‘s piece about bad movie titles yesterday (posted by Variety‘s Anne Thompson). It was apparently inspired by Quantum of Solace, the admittedly terrible title of the next James Bond film, but I can riff about movie titles for hours.
You know a movie title is bad, says Lechner, when (1) it’s incomprehensible until you see the movie, but not intriguing enough to make you want to see it; (2) it sends a misleading signal about tone or content (example: Cinderella Man); (3) it’s boring or (4) it’s Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. But the reason some are bad (or at seem bad to some of us) is that they all have to be short and punchy. Which I tend to agree with, for the most part — vague blah-blah titles turn me off as much as the next guy. I just don’t see why it has to sort and punchy all the time.
I would also blame a general refusal among general audience to respond to titles with poetic elements — metaphor, alliteration, allusion. Every movie title has to have a meat-and-potatoes quality, or no sale. Which means, generally speaking, that it also can’t be too long.
Can anyone imagine a new movie being called This Sporting Life? (Not specific enough, what kind of sport?, too thoughtful) or If…? (way too vague and imprecise.) Or The Loneliness fo the Long-Distance Runner? Or The Dark at the Top fo the Stairs? or How Green Was My Valley?
I’ve never gotten over the decision to remake Jacques Tourneur‘s Out of the Past — a title with a vaguely eerie, haunting quality — and call it Against All Odds, which seethes with machismo and feels like a sports allusion of some kind. That, to me, was the ultimate example of a movie title dumb-down.
Mark Caro‘s Pop Machine’s ran a Worst Movie TItle Ever poll a few months ago — here. And here‘s the sum-up of the many nominees.
It is hurtful and degrading, I feel, to evaluate the sexual attraction levels of humans like a trade critic might evaluate the features of a new car or cell phone, but since Ashley Alexandra Dupre (a.k.a. Ashley Youmans), otherwise known as the prostitute who spent some private time with former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, being in the business of offering her sexual wares for big money, I want to clarify a point I made yesterday, which is that her nose is too big.
She has a kind of Beagle Boys nose, which is to say a nose that looks a tiny bit canine. If a professional cartoonist was to draw a charicature of Dupre, he/she would almost certainly give her the same kind of black-tipped dog nose that Disney’s Goofy character had. Many cartoonists, in fact, have used dog noses.
I have one other comment. If I were a john about to pay $4500 for her services, which, in my mind, should result in the company of a woman with the most exquisite and delicate Michelangelo features imaginable (i.e., Kate Moss-level), I would also have concerns about her fingers, which are too thick. I’m not the first person to use the term “thick-fingered vulgarian,” but it’s a physical distinction everyone is familiar with. Refined, upscale, top-of-the-line women don’t have thick or semi-thick digits, which come from being big-boned in general.
I wouldn’t say this unless we were talking about a woman in the trade. AAD is currently famous in part because of how she looks and, of course, her willingness to offer intimacies for money, so I think it’s fair, this one time, to offer views on this topic. Full disclosure: I’ve never paid for the company of a pro in my life, although it’s hard to argue too strenuously with that famous Robert Towne line in The Last Detail, spoken by Otis Young: “Any [female intimacy moment] you get in this world you’re gonna have to pay for, one way or the other.”
I asked the independent producer quoted below to elaborate on the eternal trusim that anyone who smacks of any kind of competitiveness or type-A ambition is always threatening to the person above them. She passed along an allegedly true story about a senior production vp who’d just taken over the job of studio president, having arranged to get his previous boss fired. Obviously not wanting the same thing to happen to himself, he had to decide which of the studio’s production vps he could trust and which he couldn’t. Who stays and who goes?
The studio chief decided on a brilliant deciding strategy. As an ostensible gesture of support, he offered all of the studio production vps a new car on the studio’s dime, telling them to choose whatever they’d like. Almost all of them asked for a super-expensive prestige car — BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, etc. But one studio vice-president asked for a VW Cabriolet. The studio chief decided to keep that guy and fire everyone else. He knew that anyone who would choose a Cabriolet is not that ambitious and probably a guy who deep-down sees himself as some kind of second-rater, and would therefore not scheme to get the studio chief fired down the road. He was probably right.
Variety‘s Michael Fleming has written that “insiders have been surprised to find WB brass aggressively courting New Line production prexy Toby Emmerich to run a scaled-down version of New Line” on the Warner Bros. lot. Except Fleming doesn’t explain why the surprise. Is it because running a vastly scaled-down operation is being seen by industry players as a comedown for Emmerich?
No, says an insider I spoke to this morning. “Why would [WB production chief Jeff] Robinov want a New Line player in there?,” he asks. “His way of doing things is to put his own people into posts, like putting Polly Cohen into the top Warner Independent job. It’s all about control for him. He’s about protecting his own turf. Mark Gill would be the first one to tell you that.”
An independent producer has another view. “Tobey was never been popular in the town, not at first anyway, in part because Mike DeLuca [the previous New Line production president] was so popular,” she says. “He doesn’t return a lot of phone calls, or didn’t. He became imperial overnight and people were saying ‘who the hell’s this guy’? Now, things evened out over time but he didn’t start out well.
“Since then Tobey has gotten very good politically at being one of the guys, and that’s what works in this town. Clearing out out the house is quid pro quo when a company is revamped or taken over, but the new chiefs usually hold on to at least one person who knows the history of the projects and knows the talent, and that person tends to be the weakest and most non-threatening of all.”
In a 3.13 N.Y. Times article by Bill Carter, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels and writer Jim Downey have tried to quash talk about the show’s satirical sketches having favored Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. Which — hello? — has obviously been the case. Michaels tells Carter that he’s “sensitive to the suggestion that we’re in the service of Hillary Clinton this year….that obviously is not the case…we don’t lay down for anybody.”
Fred Armisen and Amy Poehler in a recent SNL sketch.
I don’t believe that at all. I think Michaels and Downey laid their cards and feelings on the table with those sketches, and columnists and others reacted as they did, and now they’re blowing smoke up everyone’s ass by trying to sell the idea that everyone misunderstood.
Except I’ve understood all along that Michaels is a Hillary supporter. (Am I wrong?) Downey has told Carter “he would definitely vote for [Obama] if he were nominated,” which means, most likely, that he’s not supporting him now.
Michaels and Downey are just a couple of bullshit artists doing a little deck-reshuffling and back-pedaling. They got their licks in and found contentment, but now they’re trying to protect the brand and shore things up. They make me sick.