Does the firing of top Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn over his mucking around with the Columbian government over the possible passage of a bilateral trade treaty with the United States (which threatened to muddy by association Hillary Clinton‘s anti-NAFTA posturings) going to be read as a credibility compromiser by Joe Lunchbox voters in Pennsylvania, or is the story too complex to affect their understanding of things? I had to read this story twice to absorb all the angles. Working men like to keep things straight and plain and sound-bitey.
The Newark Star Ledger‘s Stephen Whitty has run a good story about Charlton Heston. “I’m waiting though — and wondering — if we’re going to hear from Michael Moore on this,” he writes. “I’ve enjoyed his books, and films, but I thought Bowling for Columbine was dicey, particularly when he went to interview Heston — and when I called Moore on it at the time, he insinuated that Heston was somehow lying or exaggerating the Alzheimer’s he announced he’s been diagnosed with.”
Young @ Heart (Fox Searchlight, 4.9) opens three days from now. I’ve seen it twice since catching it at last summer’s L.A. Film Festival (for a total of three sits), and I could see it another couple of times, no sweat. It so far the year’s most emotionally affecting film, hands down. Easily. And it manages this without resorting to anything treacly or mawkish or calculated.
You might have heard Young @ Heart is some kind of family film or an old person’s musical, or something for people with aging parents. What it is is a movie about a bunch of old coots determined to sing and perform and affirm their vitality until it’s gone or taken away from them. It’s about living your ass off while you still have a life to live. Like most of us are doing right now…right? (Except for certain arrogant teens, druggies and whatnot.)
The characters are the Young@Heart Chorus from Northhampton, Massachusetts — all retired and then some, from 73 to 90-something years old, singing classic ’70s and ’80s rock tunes for paying audiences, touring here and there (including Europe) and having a spirited and moving time of it.
There’s something about the way these old guys sing songs by Bob Dylan, the Clash, David Bowie, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, etc. that gives the lyrics added humanity and poignance. The height of this effect comes when the group does a performance in front of state prison inmates a day after a group member has passed. The group sings Dylan’s “Forever Young” much more movingly, trust me, than Dylan himself has ever managed.
After my last viewing I spoke to a journalist friend who found it “a little sad” because it’s about characters who don’t have a lot of time left. “Neither do we,” I replied. “Do you have some contractual guarantee in your filing cabinet at home that says you’ll definitely be alive next week?”
The fact that it aired on British TV in ’06 has apparently disqualified it from contending for the ’08 Best Feature Doc Oscar, but who cares? There’s nothing that radical about this film, really, except for the fact that it works. It kicks in. It will probably make you question whether you’re living your life to the fullest or not, or at least re-sell you on the idea keeping your heart and spirit open.
Here‘s what I wrote about it last summer. I was actually told not to review it at the time by publicist Mickey Cottrell. So I ran this little thing which amounted to an introduction to an excerpt of a review by Variety‘s John Anderson. Then other stuff happened and I forgot about Cottrell’s deadline and here we are, nine months later.
I managed to call it “the reigning heart movie of the LA. Film Festival (and in both senses of the term, delivering both warmth and sadness) and will be a guaranteed winner when it goes out commercially.” Some people are calling it “funny,” which it is at times. Chuckly-funny. Grandparent-funny. But it’s a lie to say it’s about a bunch of laughing octogenarians having the time of their lives.
The most infectious parts are the two music videos (which were directed by the film’s producer, Sally George). It’s “funny,” yes, to watch the group perform the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and the Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere'” but you can’t help but reflect on the echoes. As fate would have it, two members die a week or so before the big show at the finale.
The Young @ Heart director is a 53 year-old guy named Bob Cilian, who, like all visionaries, can be demanding. One of the oldsters calls him a “taskmaster.” But he does make it hard on the gang by choosing pretty difficult tunes. Rehearsing the Pointer Sisters’ “Yes We Can Can” (which requires the singing of 60 or 70 ‘cans’) drives everyone nuts. There are also problems when an 80-something gent has difficulty with Brown’s “I Feel Good.” Why doesn’t Cilian have them do Neil Young‘s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” or “Old Man”? Or…I don’t know, Roy Hamilton‘s “Don’t Let Go”?
If I had George Bush‘s job, I would join Nicholas Sarkozy in threatening not to attend Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony unless China agrees to (a) talk with the Dalai Lama, (b) free political prisoners and (c) put an end to an alleged brainwashing campaign for Tibetans “in an effort to end nearly a month of unrest.” Bush is far too mushy and committed to status quo cash flow to take such a stand, but I genuinely respect Sarkozy for standing up. I didn’t think he had it in him.
“Charlton Heston is an axiom. He constitutes a tragedy in himself, his presence in any film being enough to instill beauty. The pent-up violence expressed by the somber phosphorescence of his eyes, his eagle’s profile, the imperious arch of his eyebrows, the hard, bitter curve of his lips, the stupendous strength of his torso — this is what he has been given, and what not even the worst of directors can debase.
“It is in this sense that one can say that Charlton Heston, by his very existence and regardless of the film he is in, provides a more accurate definition of the cinema than films like Hiroshima mon amour or Citizen Kane, films whose aesthetic either ignores or repudiates Charlton Heston. Through him, mise en scene can confront the most intense of conflicts and settle them with the contempt of a god imprisoned, quivering with muted rage.” — French film critic Michel Mourlet, from a 1960 Cahiers du Cinema essay, quoted today by both Time‘s Richard Corliss and Dave Kehr on his own film blog (i.e., not his Times DVD column).
The main point in a 4.6 piece about the just-deceased Jules Dassin by Time‘s Richard Corliss is that aside from his reputation as the father of the sophisticated heist film, he was a gifted but not exceptionally talented in-and-outer who lived through a 40-year dry spell after his last big hit, Topkapi, in 1964.
That’s not an unfair verdict, but some of what Corliss says veers on the mean-spirited. He under-values, at the very least, the delicious aroma of first-rate heist films, and how grateful millions are for the survival of the genre, and that Dassin did something really special by simultaneously creating and upgrading in one fell swoop.
Corliss reminds that an official remake of Rififi is due out next year, with Al Pacino as the Tony le Stephanois character. Is that so? With Harold Becker directing and a screenplay by Bo Goldman? I thought that had gone by the wayside. I thought Al Pacino had been hypnotized and kidnapped by Jon Avnet.
A month and half ago Fox 411’s Roger Friedman wrote that several sources had told him that Paramount Pictures was negotiating with the Cannes Film Festival organizers to show Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as the opening-night attraction, and now a 4.5 Screen Daily report says that Crystal Skull costar John Hurt has told BBC talk-show host Jonathan Ross that “we will be opening the film at the Cannes Film Festival.”
Fantasy Moguls‘ Steve Mason is reporting a higher weekend figure for Martin Scorsese‘s Shine a Light — $2.15 million — than what I’ve been told it’s likely to be, which is something in the vicinity of $1.4 million. Even if Mason turns out to be right, it’s still lower than it should be. You can use terms like “limited success” or “IMAX hit,” but the bottom line is that it fizzled. And nobody under 40 cared what the boomer-aged critics had to say.
If Fox Searchlight’s Young @ Heart, which is also about performing rock standards, is the year’s most heartwarming film, Shine a Light is easily ’08’s most purely enjoyable — rousing, beautifully shot and cut, clap your hands and say yeah. And yet it didn’t do very well outside the IMAX theatres. The reason, of course, is that the Stones don’t mean much to younger GenXers and GenYers. It’s an older person’s rock concert film. The excitement, the charged energy levels and the Stones’ sublime aura of authority are transcendent — it’s one of the best films of this type ever made — and younger moviegoers didn’t want to know.
Jett saw it with a date in Syracuse last night (i..e, the flat version — no IMAX in Syracuse) and says he was mainly taken with the great photography and the editing. He said he didn’t like Mick Jagger showing his stomach (I argued with him about this) but said he was gratified that his forearms were more muscular than they seemed to be during th Stones’ half-time Superbowl performance in Detroit two years ago.
I’d like it known that as I tapped out yesterday morning’s box-office report, I considered and discarded the use of the word “fumble” in describing the opening- weekend performance of Leatherheads. Fair warning — anyone who uses this or any other football term (tackled, thrown for a loss, field goal) in their box-office summary stories will be facing a slight blowback factor.
Two or three days ago I passed along that comment about Sean Penn being “so great” in Gus Van Sant‘s Milk (i.e., from an actor-director friend with reliable early-buzz connections),and thereafter concluded that Milk could be regarded, if you’re into mindless spitballing, as the #2 contender for the ’08 Best Picture Oscar, right behind David Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The only thing that scares me about Milk is Van Sant himself, which is to say my uncertainty about who he is or wants to be right now. The c.w. is that there have been three significant Van Sant phases thus far — (a) the assured street-poet chapter that included Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, To Die For and Good Will Hunting, (b) the misguided, bordering-on-deranged ’98 to ’00 period when he made the Hitchcock-aping Psycho and the repulsive Finding Forrester, which led to a kind of spiritual withdrawal-or-collapse, and (c) the verite rebirth period, lasting five years so far, consisting of raw, deconstructed extended-take art films — Gerry, Elephant, Last Days and Paranoid Park.
If Van Sant who made Drugstore Cowboy is making Milk, terrific. If a blend of that Van Sant along with the guy who made Elephant is directing Milk, beautiful. But if the Finding Forrester Van Sant is anywhere near the Milk set, watch out.