“Bad buzz. Creative infighting. Superhero gridlock at the multiplex. For Marvel Studios, handling gamma rays is starting to look like a cakewalk compared to turning The Incredible Hulk (Universal, 6.13) into a movie franchise.” — the lead graph from Brooks Barnes‘ 4.10 N.Y. Times piece, which mainly focuses on negative fan reaction to the trailer and creative differences between star-screenwriter Ed Norton and Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel.
What’s the point of running a tribute to the original 1965 George Lois Esquire cover with Virna Lisi? It meant something in the mid ’60s, sort of — obviously a faint provocation or taunt aimed at forward-thinking women — but what does it mean for Jessica Simpson to repeat it for the May issue? Nothing. The Esquire website, which is always behind the curve, doesn’t even mention it.
A $30 million Ben-Hur mini-series has been launched by Alchemy TV, producer David Wyler (son of Willam Wyler, the director of the 1959 Oscar-winning classic) and director Christian Duguay. Fine…except for two problems.
Problem #1 is that the present-tense Wyler told Variety‘s Ali Jaafar and John Hopewell that “in my mind” the miniseries “is dedicated to my dad and [Charlton Heston]…we think it’s a great way to keep his memory alive.” Never, ever make a movie as a tribute to anyone or anything. Make it only for reasons that are tied to the present and future tense. Make it for your own reasons, because you have a vision or at least a concept that you’re burning to put onto a big screen.
Problem #2 — and certainly a major challenge — will be the chariot race sequence. The only way the miniseries version will stand up to the ’59 version will be if they shoot it entirely “live” and CG-free. And what are the odds of that happening, given the realities of present-day production?
I love that Wyler and Duguay intend to “downplay the religious aspects of the source material.” Well, naturally. The original Lew Wallace novel was subtitlled “A Tale of the Christ” but that kind of thing would only play in the Christian marketplace today. Besides, Ben-Hur always and always will be a story about revenge. What kind of dramatic satisfaction would the ’59 or ’26 versions have delivered if the evil Messala hadn’t been beaten and died from injuries in the chariot race?
“There is a strangely static and claustrophobic quality to the fiercely loyal cult Hillary Clinton has gathered around her since her first lady years,” writes Salon‘s Camille Paglia in a deliciously phrased diss piece [dated 4.9.08].
Camille Paglia; Hillary Clinton
“Postmortem analysts of this presidential campaign will have a field day ferreting out all the cringe-making blunders made by her clique of tired, aging courtiers who couldn’t adjust to changing political realities. Hillary’s forces have acted like the heavy, pompous galleons of the imperial Spanish Armada, outmaneuvered by the quick, bold, entrepreneurial ships of the English fleet.
“The male staff who Hillary attracts are slick, geeky weasels or rancid, asexual cream puffs. (One of the latter, the insufferable Mark Penn, just got the heave-ho after he played Hillary for a patsy with the Colombian government.) If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say Hillary is reconstituting the toxic hierarchy of her childhood household, with her on top instead of her drill-sergeant father. All those seething beta males are versions of her sad-sack brothers, who got the short end of the Rodham DNA stick.
“The compulsive war-room mentality of both Clintons is neurosis writ large. The White House should not be a banging, rocking washer perpetually stuck on spin cycle. Many Democrats, including myself, have come to doubt whether Hillary has any core values or even a stable sense of identity. With her outlandish fibbing and naive self-puffery, her erratic day-to-day changes of tone and message, her glassy, fixed smiles, and her leaden and embarrassingly unpresidential jokes about pop culture, she has started to seem like one of those manic, seductively vampiric patients in trashy old Hollywood hospital flicks like The Snake Pit. How anyone could confuse Hillary’s sourly cynical, male-bashing megalomania with authentic feminism is beyond me.
“Obama’s Rezko embroglio is certainly troublesome. But the splotches on Obama’s record are few and relatively minor compared to the staggeringly copious chronicle of Clinton scandals, a mud mountain that the media have shown amazingly little interest in exploring during this campaign cycle. For all their grousing about media bias, the Clintons have gotten off scot-free over the past year from any kind of serious, systematic examination of their sleaze-a-thon history from Little Rock to Foggy Bottom.
“Obama has actually served longer in public office than Hillary has. It’s very true that he lacks executive experience, but so does she. Her bungling of healthcare reform, along with her inability to control the financial expenditures and internal wrangling of her campaign, does not bode well for a prospective chief executive.
“Beyond that, I’m not sure that your analogy to professionals like doctors, accountants and teachers entirely applies to presidents. There is no fixed system of credentialing for our highest office. On the contrary, the Founders envisioned the president as a person of unpretentious common sense and good character. Hillary may spout a populist line, but with her arrogant sense of dynastic entitlement, she’s a royalist who, like Napoleon, wants to crown herself.
“I too wish that Obama had more practical experience in government. But Washington is at a stalemate and needs fresh eyes and a new start. Furthermore, at this point in American history, with an ill-conceived, wasteful war dragging on in Iraq and with the nation’s world reputation in tatters, I believe that, because of his international heritage and upbringing, Obama is the right person at the right time. We need a thoughtful leader who can combine realism with conciliation in domestic as well as foreign affairs.”
The formidable Tommy Lee Jones lets go with three choice comments during an interview with 02138‘s Richard Bradley — about Iraq and the draft, righties pushing for the building a border fence between the U.S. and Mexico, and the meaning of the ending of No Country for Old Men.
(1) Draft/Iraq: “About eight months ago, [New York Democratic congressman] Charlie Rangel came out advocating the reinstitution of the draft, and people were shocked. ‘Congressman Rangel,’ they said, ‘why would you argue for the reinstitution of the draft?’ He said, ‘It’s very simple. We have a volunteer army. We’re sending ’em back tour after tour after tour. We’re running our military into the ground, and if we would just reinstitute the draft so that it had some impact on American people — those who don’t do a lot of thinking — this war would be over in six months.’
“[And] think that’s right. We had the draft in ’68, we had a bullshit war, and it ultimately ended. And there were terrific repercussions throughout the government. The Bush administration has escaped those repercussions because the American people have a way to turn their head and say, “It doesn’t really affect my family. My daughter is in no threat of having her legs blown off. My son is in no threat of coming back with no face, no ears, no nose — because he didn’t volunteer.”
“If somebody were making them incur those risks, the votership might change radically.”
(2) Border Fence: “The idea of a fence between El Paso and Brownsville bears all the credibility and seriousness of flying saucers from Mars or leprechauns. Or any manner of malicious, paranoid superstition. In other words, it’s bullshit.
“[You hear the talk] and the talk is worth headlines, the talk is worth attention, and that might lead to votes. It’s a predatory approach to democracy by those who would instill fear and then propose themselves as a solution. It’s very destructive. Very, very destructive. And it’s the perfectly wrong thing to do.
“First of all, it won’t work. You can’t build a fence that I cannot get over, through, or under if I want to go to Mexico. In that [border] country, you cannot do it. It’s a complete folly. Ecologically, it’s a complete disaster, and sociologically, it’s a complete disaster. It’s an act of fascist madness.
“And the people who are being appealed to, the voterships that are removed from that country, are being spoken to as if it’s time to fence their backyard so the stray dog doesn’t get in. ‘Okay, let’s just build a fence.’ That’s as far removed from reality as can be, and entirely cynical by those who would manipulate these people. It’s a sad day for the democratic process to see people manipulated through fear and insecurity.”
(2) About No Country: “So there’s a lot of different ways of thinking about morality, is what we were saying last, and the conventional way is not always the right way. Morality might be bigger than you are. And I think the human being needs — I don’t know if he deserves, but needs — frequent reminders that the world ain’t flat and he’s not living in the center of the universe. I think that’s an important part about the last few moments in the movie.
“You’re asking me now about the last scene, which is essentially a speech by Ed Tom Bell recounting dreams about his father. And you have the feeling that Ed Tom is thinking about hope, about the future, and that no matter what evil might have transpired, or no matter what opportunities were lost for communication between father and son, or between brother and brother, sister and brother, that somewhere off ahead through the darkness and cold there’s a father who carried fire to create a warm place to welcome you. And that keeps you going, because you know he’ll be there.
“And after describing that beautiful picture, Ed Tom says, ‘And then I woke up.’ So, as always with Cormac, the question becomes more important than the answer. Was that dream an illusion or not?”
Democratic political consultant and former West Wing writer Lawrence O’Donnell has tapped out a short play about how things could go at the Democratic Party convention in August could go if there’s still a close contest going on between Hillary and Barack. Which won’t be the case, of course. It’ll be over sometime in early to mid June. But it’s good writing. It reminds me of the tone of Gore Vidal‘s The Best Man. The only it doesn’t have are lines like “there are no ends — only means.”
Barack: Hillary, I care about two things exactly as much as you do: the party and getting the nomination.
Hillary: You mean you don√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t give a shit about the party and you√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢d kill to get the nomination?
Barack (smiles): You wearing a wire? (beat) You know, all that ugly ink you√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ve been getting all summer about destroying the party, handing the election to McCain — there√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s only one person who can make that go away. Me. That brilliant acceptance speech you√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢re expecting me to give can put you back where you belong√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Ç¨¬ùhero of the Democratic Party — can put your husband back where he belongs — respected statesman. Nothing else can.
Hillary: Winning can.
Barack: If you got the nomination, you√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢d lose to McCain and the Clintons become the official destroyers of the Democratic Party. End of story. Have fun in the Senate after that.
Hillary: C√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢mon, I can beat McCain. I can…
Barack: Hillary, your negative is at 49 percent. You have the highest negative of anyone who√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s ever run. You cannot possibly win in November.
The best line comes at the very end when Bill comforts Hillary at the very end: “Don√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢t worry. McCain√É¬¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢ll kick his ass.”
“While researching an upcoming piece on the films of 1968, Variety‘s Todd McCarthy “noticed that The Green Berets was the 10th highest grossing picture of the year, and it struck me that this was very likely the last film about a contemporaneous war that actually made money. So no wonder all those Iraq movies are bombs.”
Which suggests…what, that a Green Berets-styled Iraq War film might succeed where others have failed? That if some director were to invent an optimistic fiction that had U.S. forces winning with someone like the Duke leading the charge, it might do some business? I wonder. I don’t think there’s a place for John Wayne in Iraq today any more than there’s a place for George S. Patton or Sgt. York or General Robert E. Lee. The only old-school guy who might fit into Iraq would be Steve McQueen‘s hard-assed loner character in Hell Is For Heroes.
There was no place for the Duke in Vietnam, really. Not in any straightforward heroic way. Oliver Stone, who was there, certainly didn’t think so. If anything, the Duke’s descendant in Platoon was the Tom Berenger character — the surly scarface who drank and looked down on the pot-smokers and wound up fragging Willem Dafoe‘s Jesus-like Sgt. Elias.
People seem determined to blow off any movie that has anything to do with Iraq. In my dreams I like to think that Average Joes might respond to (a) an old-fashioned 70mm Iraq War film — one that strictly prohibits cell-phone or handheld video footage, and goes instead for a 21st Century Apocalypse Now effect with Vittorio Storaro-level cinematography; and (b) one that delivers the excitement and intensity without the liberal finger-pointing about how we’re poisoning our souls over there. (Which is absolutely the case.) Something as good and jolting as the last third of Full Metal Jacket, say.
I only know that shitty-looking pixellated videos are over as far as Iraq War depictions are concerned. The cliche has been ground into the dust, and the only way to go now is to make that war look totally blue-chip, which is to say horribly and grotesquely “pretty.” Kathryn Bigelow and Paul Greengrass, take note!
I was thinking last night about all the rancor that goes on at this site. At least it’s proof that HE readers aren’t ones to nod off and say “tutto bene.” This led me for some reason to re-read Richard Brody‘s “Auteur Wars” in the 4.7 New Yorker this morning, and the following passage from a December 2007 Die Zeit interview (translated by GreenCine) with Jean Luc Godard:
“Arguing about cinema [is] something that’s stayed with me from the days of the nouvelle vague, even though it no longer exists in this form,” he says early on. “Because the beautiful thing about cinema is that it still always allows us to argue. Fundamentally. You can get far more upset about an opinion about a film than one about a painting or a piece of music.
“For example, when I say to someone, ‘It doesn’t surprise me at all that you like the new film by Robert Redford because I always knew you were daft.’ That sets things off immediately: ‘Who do you think you are! How dare you!’ And if I want to get to know someone, let’s say, for example, you, then I wouldn’t ask for your opinion about Iraq or Yugoslavia or the train strike, but instead ask you to name a film you like.”
To hear it from Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris, his new documentary about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Standard Operating Procedure (Sony Classics, 4.25 NYC, 5.2 in L.A.), basically says that U.S. soldiers based in Iraq who tortured and humiliated local terrorist suspects weren’t that bad. If you grade them on a curve, that is. Because we’re all that bad if given half a chance. We’re all about as decent and humane as the next guy until circumstances and dark guidance bring out our inner monster
“I made a movie about people like yourself or myself trapped in the middle of this — people we never would have seen or would have forgotten about, who we just would have assumed are really monsters,” Morris told Defamer‘s Stu VanAirsdale. “And I’ve brought them back across the line back into humanity. And I think it’s an interesting story, and a human story.”
And a movie that is almost certainly going to die because Joe Average doesn’t want to know about this stuff. Who does? Boiled down, isn’t this aspect of Standard Operating Procedure repeating the same message as Rod Serling‘s famous Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street“? Our willingness to turn on our neighbor when sufficiently motivated (i.e., scared)? Our capacity for malice and violence and savagery?
It’ll make for an interesting topic during my Errol sitdown tomorrow (4.10) at the Four Seasons hotel.
HE to that self-amused New York “Vulture” writer who tapped out yesterday’s item about how Stanley Weiser‘s script of W, the basis of Oliver Stone soon-to-shoot George Bush biopic, sounds like the comedy hit of ’09 that perhaps should costar Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen, etc.
Have you read Weiser’s script or merely Stephen Galloway and Matthew Belloni‘s 4.7.08 Hollywood Reporter story about the reaction of four Bush biographers to it, and perhaps also that link to the first four pages of an October draft of the W/Bush script?
If you’ve read Weiser’s script then I don’t know what to say to you. Your reaction suggests an incredibly thick head and an oafish sensibility. If you haven’t read it but would like to, send me an e-mail and I’ll fire it off to you. Keep in mind, naturally, that the draft is about six months old and has since undergone the usual revisions and refinements.
I ran my reactions to the script on 4.2.08. I didn’t see any comic aspects except for the darkly comedic, bordering-on-demonic ones that go with the territory of the Bush presidency. It is, as I said, “tightly written and clear of mind — everything is very choice and precise, and it never wavers from its focus of delivering a well-honed portrait of who this guy is, what’s driven him, what he’s always wanted, how he’s gotten to where he is, and what the central themes of his life seem to be (i.e., the drag-downs and the uplift).
“It seems,” I wrote, “to have its ducks in a row and is carefully shaped and ordered, because the dialogue is very tight and pruned down, because Weiser seems to have captured Bush’s speech style perfectly. Not once did I sense the presence of Hollywood far-left liberals getting off on skewering Bush because it’s in their blood. I sensed a real submission to documented or reliably sourced fact.
“Boiled down, W is a cogent dramatic summary of the significant chapters and stages in the life of an aw-shucks, smart-but-dumb, silver-spoon fratboy who, like all of us, has had his issues and limitations and hang-ups and challenges to deal with, but nonetheless managed to grow into a donkey demagogue of the first order.”