Every so often matters that don’t immediately concern or feed into the writing of the column gather mass and force like a huge wave swell. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but then the wave starts to break big-time and the roar becomes louder and louder and before you know it you’re being slammed and knocked upside down and gasping with water up your nose. This happens every so often. You cope with it as best you can. Not the end of the world, but it eats the day.
A reliable friend in the creative community (i.e., no suspicious agenda) has written two things in response to the 2008 roundup piece: (a) “I’m hearing Doubt is really good and a likely Oscar contender” and (b) “Also hearing excellent things about things about Milk. Everyone is flipping out about how great Sean Penn is.”
At the end of Monday’s business day (3.31), Variety‘s Pamela McLintock posted a story about the 2008 awards season starting to shape up. It’s impossible to find it through Variety‘s sluggish search engine, but here’s a rundown of the titles she mentioned and my thoughts about same.
I know next to nothing and can sense even less at this stage, but my blindshot hunch (based on a little siren call I’m half-hearing, like the sound of a mosquito) is that David Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Gus Van Sant‘s Milk are potentially the two strongest Best Picture contenders right now.
By HE bullshit meter standards, I mean. Hairs on the back of the neck, etc. Which isn’t to say they won’t morph into serious contenders down the line, which I think will happen. Probably. But it’s only April 2nd.
The first because an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald work bestows an aura of class and aspiration, because the reverse-aging story contains a powerful metaphor, because the de-aging process that Brad Pitt will go through may touch people on some level, and because Fincher is owed for the Zodiac blowoff at the hands of Paramount and the Academy. And the second because The Times of Harvey Milk, the 1984 Oscar-winning doc, makes people cry every time they see it.
Universal and Imagine’s Frost/Nixon from director Ron Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan, opening 12.5 with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen as Richard Nixon and David Frost. I’m hearing//deducing that it’ll more of an acting shot for Langella than anything else.
U and Spyglass’s Flash of Genius, opening 10.17, toplines Greg Kinnear as a fucked-over genius inventor of a special kind of windshield wiper. I’m spitballing here and now that dramas about geniuses getting screwed over my corporations, like Francis Coppola‘s Tucker or the possibly forthcoming The Farnsworth Invention, contain very little intrigue or suspense or emotional potential. We know the basic story going in. I’m presuming it’s basically a yaddah-yaddah unless the writing and acting are spellbinding. Life is unfair and corporations are run by pricks — we know that going in.
Sony’s Will Smith drama Seven Pounds, from Pursuit of Happyness director Gabrielle Muccino is almost certainly going to flirt with emotional manipulation. Flirt, not overwhelm. No call or premonition beyond this.
The Coen brothers‘ Burn After Reading isn’t Oscar material. Strictly a sardonic comedy.
The Duchess, a Keira Knightley-Ralph Fiennes drama opening on 9.12 (Paramount Vantage), may show at Cannes, so we’ll see what’s when if that happens.
Another Cannes possibility is Fernando Meirelles‘ Blindness (Miramax, 9.19) with Gael Garcia Bernal, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Nobody knows nuthin’, but I sense a competitive edge here. Meirelles is a first-rater.
Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise‘s Valkyrie (United Artists/MGM, 10.3) doesn’t strike me, script-wise, as Oscar material. It’s a well-written historical thriller, etc., but a question mark in terms of its emotional element.
Ridley Scott‘s Body of Lies (Warner Bros., 10.10) with Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe is basically another thriller also with a moral undercurrent. No comment beyond this. Haven’t read it, let it go for now.
Baz Luhrmann‘s Australia (11.14) with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman is…I don’t know. Does anyone? Haven’t read the script here either.
John Hillcoat‘s The Road (Weinstein Co., 11.26) with Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen and Guy Pearce. Cormac McCarthy again?
Sam Mendes‘ Revolutionary Road (Paramount Vantage/DreamWorks, 12.19) is looking, right now, like a fairly likely Best Picture contender because of the marquee power, the release date and so on. Unless, of course, it turns out to be Little Children or something close to that.
Another big contender, as previously noted, is David Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount, 12.19), which has an intriguing story and a certain high-pedigree aura.
McLintock reports that several possible awards contenders have yet to be dated, including Miramax’s Doubt, Focus’ Milk, DreamWorks’ The Soloist, Universal’s The Changeling, Paramount Vantage’s Defiance and Fox Searchlight’s The Secret Life of Bees. The Weinstein Co. hasn’t assigned release dates to Shanghai and The Reader.
Universal intends to make a movie about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the face of the moon and easily one of the dullest famous guys of all time. The film will be based on a book by James R. Hansen called “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong.” It will be adapted into screenplay form by Nicole Perlman — if the poor woman manages to stay awake while writing it.
In his 1971 book “Of a Fire on The Moon,” Norman Mailer compared Armstrong’s responses to questions from journalists to the way a cow grazing in a field deals with flies by flicking them away with its tail. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. Universal is essentially going to make a movie about that cow.
Whatever films he makes, however good his performances, Josh Hartnett never seems to score a bulls-eye. Either his movies never make big money (not counting Pearl Harbor) or they never score a 9 or 10 with the critics. They score sevens and sixes, and very rarely eights. He’s a good hombre with talent who’s trying to make quality movies and avoid crap, and my heart goes out to anyone who’s trying as hard as he seems to be. But something needs to happen.
Hartnett is working it, pushing it…he’s no easygoing Charlie. And I really loved his performance as a young guy with Asperger’s Syndrome in Mozart and the Whale. But sooner or later one of his films has to hit it out of the park…no? For him to stay in the game, I mean? As a player who counts?
I was thinking this after reading that August, a drama that Hartnett produced about an internet startup guy (played by himself) struggling with business issues, is finally being picked up by First Look for a July release after playing at Sundance last January. Another Hartnett film that has merit and respect but isn’t quite rock and roll?
His next shot is I Come With The Rain, a film written and directed by Anh Hung Tran (Scent of Green Papaya) that may play at the Cannes Film Festival next month.
Pearl Harbor had a great attack sequence and made money, but everyone hated it. O was “so?” 40 Days and 40 Nights was nothing. Black Hawk Down was quite good, but it wasn’t Harnett’s film. Hollywood Homicide wasn’t half bad, but Harrison Ford was funnier. Wicker Park was a better than decent film, but it felt like another place-holder. Sin City was a CG/film noir show. Mozart and the Whale was, I thought, an above-average heart film with a first-rate Hartnett performance, but no one saw it. The Black Dahlia was, due respect, awful. Resurrecting The Champ was a solid film with a good Hartnett performce, but it fizzled. I didn’t even see 30 Days of Night.
Hartnett has to do or make something that really scores. He can’t just keep dribbling the basketball and making the occasional jump-shot. He has to get people to jump to their feet and cheer.
I don’t know if this Annie Hall/iPhone spot is all that clever. I get it and all, but it’s just a couple of insert shots inside a very familiar clip from Woody Allen‘s 1978 dramedy. Plus the footage from the film is muddy and murky and the iPhone footage is sharp and clear, so it doesn’t even “marry,” which is a hallmark of any sustandard ad or short. You know something? The hell with this ad. Not good enough.
The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Sean P. Means has compiled a list of 27 film crickets who’ve been fired, retired, reassigned, pushed into freelance servitude or taken buyouts — in short, whacked — over the last two years. Not included are critics who died over that period (Good Morning America‘s Joel Siegel, Arizona Republic‘s Bill Muller) or critics “whose print publications were shot out from under them (e.g., Glenn Kenny, who continues at Premiere.com now that Premiere magazine has folded).”
This list has the same vibe as those occasional articles about military deaths in Iraq having reached a certain round number. The next big dead-cricket piece will happen when the tally reaches 50, I suppose. Hey, that’s an Esquire article. Get Jack Mathews, Kevin Thomas, Jami Bernard, Philip Wuntch, Dennis Lim, Michael Atkinson, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Michael Wilmington, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Jan Stuart, Gene Seymour, Bruce Newman, Nathan Lee and David Ansen to pose in a big wide-angle group shot and get them to talk about the whys and wherefores of the New Reality, what it’s like to live a different life, how they’ve adapted, etc.
I was a little shocked by a 4.2 Public Policy Polling survey that has Barack Obama edging Hillary Clinton among likely Pennsylvania Democratic voters by 45% to 43%. I thought the big hope for the Obama team was to lose to Clinton in the Keystone State by 10 percentage points or less. I called PPP’s Dean Debnan to ask what’s happening. He said his team was surprised also “so we went back and ran the survey a second time with a different group of respondents,” etc. And the numbers are the numbers.
PPP surveyed 1224 likely Democratic primary voters on March 31st and again on April 1st.
The survey claims that Obama is “narrowing the gap with white voters, trailing just 49-38, while maintaining his customary significant advantage with black voters, [leading] that group 75-17. Obama also leads among all age groups except senior citizens, with whom Clinton has a 50-34 advantage. The poll shows the standard gender gap with Obama leading by 15 points among men while trailing by 10 points with women.”
Public Policy Polling release says it has had “the most accurate numbers of any company in the country for the Democratic primaries in South Carolina and Wisconsin, as well as the closest numbers for any organization that polled the contests in both Texas and Ohio.”
A few cynical cheap-shotters wrote yesterday that the excerpts of Stanley Weiser‘s W script, provided yesterday in an ABC News article by Marcus Baram, led them to wonder if this was some kind of April Fool’s joke. These guys are monkeys, in my opinion, and they need to reel it in. Or better yet, consider what Weiser wrote this morning in an e-mail and what I wrote back.
“I’m glad that you see the potential in W,” Weiser began. “As the writer of the script, you saw an early draft. The ABC News piece only pulled out the whacky sensationalistic points from that draft, as you know.
“I’m also glad you nailed Ari Fleischer‘s denial of Bush talking about kicking Saddam’s motherfucking ass across the Mideast because this was sourced directly from Michael Isikoff’s book, Hubris.
“A few of your cynical readers think this is an April Fool’s joke. So will others in ten years, three trillion dollars and thousands more dead when they look back at this fiasco.”
“Thanks for your note,” I wrote Weiser back. “I’m constantly irked by some of those little right-wing bitches and cheap cynic contrarians who write in response to various Hollywood Elsewhere pieces. The draft I read might be an early stab, but I’ve gone over the 10.15.07 W twice now and it’s a lot deeper and fuller than it seems at first. It’s tightly written and clear of mind — everything is very choice and precise, and it never wavers from its focus.
“The general reaction has been ‘is that all there is’? In other words, because it’s an Oliver Stone movie, people want some kind of ‘holy shit!’ lightning-bolt element …and they feel this isn’t that. What they’re reading, instead, is 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).
“But in the modesty of this approach there is serious virtue. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the script precisely because it’s not wild-ass, because it really seems to have its ducks in a row and is carefully shaped and ordered, because the dialogue is very tight and pruned down, because you seem to have captured Bush’s speech style perfectly (or so it seems to me), because I believed each and every line.
“Not once did I sense the presence of Hollywood far-left liberals getting off on skewering Bush because it’s in their blood and it makes them clap their hands and say yeah. I sensed a real submission to documented or reliably sourced fact. I say this having only read Bob Woodward‘s two books about the Bush White House, but you seem to have done your homework.
“Yesterday Chris Matthews said during the news-review section of Hardball (in reaction to Baram’s ABC News piece) that “this being an Oliver Stone film, don’t expect a rigorous adherence to the facts” or words to that effect. Whether each and every line is precisely sourced or not (which would surprise me — a writer has to have a little leeway to make a script feel organically human and alive), this is precisely what I got from this 10.15 draft, that I’m reading a heavily-researched, straight-dope recounting.
“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.
“I can’t wait to see what Josh Brolin does with the role. And I keep seeing Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney. And I love the mention of Cats being Bush’s favorite stage musical. (Cats…asshole! He probably loves Mamma Mia also!) And the metaphor of the fly ball at the very end is just right.”
Almost exactly 13 years ago Oliver Stone and his publicist Stephen Rivers arranged for me to pay a brief visit to the Nixon West Wing — Oval Office, cabinet room, hallways, various offices, etc. Production designer Victor Kempster had built the amazingly detailed set (including an outdoor portion with grass and bushes) on a massive Sony sound stage.
I was let in just after Stone and his cast (including Anthony Hopkins) and crew had finished filming. It was sometime around February or March of ’95. I wrote up my impressions for an L.A. Times Syndicate piece. Nixon opened on 12.20.95.
The Nixon unit publicist (or somebody who worked for Rivers) escorted me onto the stage and left. Nobody was around; I had the place all to myself. I had a video camera with me and shot all the rooms, and took my time about it. I was seriously excited and grateful as hell for the opportunity because it was, in a sense, better than visiting the real Oval Office in the real White House (which I would have never been allowed to do even if I’d been best friends with someone in the Clinton administration).
Every detail was Eric von Stroheim genuine. Wooden floors, real plaster, ceilings, rugs, moldings, early 1970s phones, bright gold French aristocracy drapes, china on the shelves and mantlepiece, etc.
Five years later I was granted a visit to a replica of Jack Kennedy‘s West Wing that had been used for the shooting of Roger Donaldson‘s Thirteen Days. It was about the same time of year — February or March of 2000, roughly nine or ten months before the movie’s release in December. The set had been built by production designer Dennis Washington inside a warehouse-type sound stage somewhere in southern Glendale or Eagle Rock.
The difference between the Nixon Oval Office’s decor — creamy beiges and golds, a bright blue rug, gilded bric a bracs on the shelves (which contributed to a kind of effete, faux-aristocratic atmosphere) — and the subdued greens, browns and navy blues of JFK’s office (which even had a replica of the coconut shell that Lt. Kennedy used to carve out a message to command during his PT 109 adventure) will always stay in my mind.
Tacky, varied-grain wooden floor put in by Bush in ’05.
You can tell a lot about people from the decor in their homes and workplaces. Only an arrogant know-nothing would have installed the nouveau-riche wooden floor that Bush put in three years ago. The White House is a place of great history, echoes and ghosts, and it should look and feel like it’s been hanging in there for at least a century or so — stressed floors, old timber and dark varnish, like the early 20th Century and 19th Century homes that are found in the northeast.
These visits were as close as I’m ever going to get to the real Oval Office — they gave me a real organic window into recent history. Even if I’d been invited to the real White House I wouldn’t have had the chance to poke around and study everything at my leisure.