I saw Isbael Coixet‘s Elegy (Samuel Goldwyn, 8.8) twice before it opened — once at a screening, again at the Aero theatre –and in so doing told myself and two or three friends that I rather liked it, or at least was okay with it. But I haven’t been able to write a darn thing about it. Despite the fine lead performances by Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz and the secondary Patricia Clarkson, Peter Sarsgaard, Dennis Hopper, etc. Despite enjoying the upscale pedigree, the obvious intelligence of Nicholas Meyer‘s screenplay (based on Phillip Roth‘s “The Dying Animal”), the tasteful nudity, the general atmosphere of cultivation, manicured toenails and older-guy gloom.
Why did I blow it off? Because there was something too glum and quiet and resigned about it — something overly subdued, sensitive, talky. I enjoyed the quality vibe, I had no real problems with any of it, but it didn’t turn me on in the slightest.
And because — here we go with another shallow thought (and what would this site be without such things on an occasional basis?) — I didn’t like the idea of a fetching 30ish brunette like Cruz going to bed with an old coot like Kingsley. He’s too weathered, too nuts (Kingsley will always be Don Logan, and vice versa), his nose has gotten too bulbous with age (it was just the right size when he made Betrayal and Gandhi in the early ’80s) and I didn’t like the bedroom scene with Clarkson when the camera just sits there and stares at the puffy soles of his white feet and his pushed-together toes for a couple of minutes straight. Call me empty, but that’s why more people haven’t paid to see it.
Early yesterday afternoon I sat down with Jordi Molla, a bearded, blue-eyed, remarkably serene Spanish actor who plays a Bolivian commander in Steven Soderbergh‘s Che. No one in Soderbergh’s four-hour-plus epic has any real “movie moments” — it’s a movie about being there and hanging with Che Guevara during the two most vivid dramatic chapters in his life — but he’s basically a bad guy who has a lot of Guevara’s men shot.
Jordi Molla at Le Pain Quotidien — Thursday, 8.20.08, 12:25 pm
Molla still hasn’t seen Che, and won’t see until it premieres in Spain. Molla was shooting a film in Cannes during the festival and therefore could have seen Che when it showed at the Grand Palais, but the shooting days were long and demanding and he likes to get a good eight hours sleep when he’s working.
There was immediate comfort for me because of Molla’s European attitude — settled, moderate energy, not eager to project positiveness or buoyancy like most actors (but at the same time not sour or downish), okay with the flow of the tide, low-key, que sera sera. Due to his attitude or whatever, the L.A. vibe around us seemed to recede on some level, and I began to feel if I was sitting in an outdoor cafe in downtown Barcelona.
Molla was initially cast by Terence Malick four years ago to be in his Che film, which Malick had been looking to shoot for years although it eventually became Soderbergh’s after Malick fell out. Molla has been in tons of Spanish-produced films (including one for Pedro Almodovar) but his big appearances stateside have been in Blow, The Alamo and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. He’s been in the game since he costarred 16 years ago with Javier Bardem in Jamon Jamon.
I said something about having visited Cadaques, Spain, which isn’t too far from Barcelona, where he first studied acting. I think he said he’d visited there as a youth. If he didn’t say that then whatever, but Cadaques is a great little town either way.
Molla paints well enough to have had his work exhibited at Sotheby’s Gallery, Madrid (’07) and Galeria Carmen de la Guerra in Madrid. Molla has also directed two short films (Walter Peralta and No me importaria irme contigo) and written two books (Las primeras veces and Agua estancada).
“Mr. [Blankety-blank], we have rules that are not open to interpretation, personal intuition, gut feelings, hairs on the back of your neck, little devils or angels sitting on your shoulder. We’re all very well aware of what our orders are and what those orders mean. They come down from our Commander in Chief. They contain no ambiguity. Mr. [Blankety-blank], I’ve made a decision, I’m captain of this boat, now shut the fuck up!” — an oft-repeated quote from (a) Run Silent, Run Deep, (b) The Enemy Below, (c) Captain Ron, (d) Two Years Before The Mast, (e) Crimson Tide, (f) Billy Budd.
Both Variety‘s Robert Koehler and CHUD’s Devin Faraci have recently driven out to Claremont to see Religulous, and have today posted poz reviews, Koehler calling it “brilliant” and “incendiary” and Faraci saying that anti-religion barbs aside, it “stacks up really well” as a film.
On top of which The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil, who caught the Bill Maher-Larry Charles doc at a New York screening in Tuesday, is saying it’s clearly “in the derby” due to this week’s Oscar-qualifying bookings, the rave responses and the fact that savvy big-time publicists Michele Robertson and Jeff Hill have been hired to push an awards campaign.
“The only recent comparable example of entertainers venturing into such serious cultural-political territory is Penn & Teller‘s Showtime series Bullshit!, which skewers sacred cows from a skeptical-libertarian perspective,” Koehler notes. “Charles’ previous smash, Borat, used funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen to make satirical/political points, but the particular intensity and seriousness of Maher’s project are nearly unprecedented.
“Indeed, its arrival shortly after the death of George Carlin — a profound influence on Maher’s standup act and politics — suggests the kind of film Carlin might have made in his prime.
“Considering he was once a minor comic on the circuit and a supporting thesp in generally awful film comedies, Maher’s transformation into one of America’s sharpest social critics is remarkable. He takes no script credit, but his periodic monologues to the camera are undeniably written, and written well.
“Ending minutes, though, will catch auds up short: Suddenly, the laughs die down, and as in his closing monologues on Real Time, Maher turns deadly serious with a final statement that will stir raging arguments in theater lobbies.”
Laemmle’s Claremont during construction phase prior to opening last year.
Faraci notes that “the basic concept has Maher traveling around the world talking to believers about what they believe, and most importantly why (or how they can believe it, for that matter). From the Holy Land to the Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida, Maher goes where the believers are and engages them on their home turf. That makes a huge difference in how the film feels, as does the fact that he actually confronts them.
“Religulous is directed by comic genius and Borat helmer Larry Charles, and it would have been easy to do this movie in a similar vein to that one — letting these people dig themselves a ridiculous hole with their own words — but Maher isn’t interested in that. He wants to interact with these people, to confront them with the logic-hating aspects of their faiths and see what they come back with.
“That’s where I think the movie succeeds the most, but also one of the main places where detractors will come after it. They’ll say that Maher is looking just to clown these people, but that isn’t the case. He’s more than slightly exasperated with the cop-out answers that people give him (to the point where he actually gets kind of excited when a Jesus impersonater explains the paradoxical Holy Trinity by comparing it to the three states of water — it’s bullshit, Maher says, but it’s interesting and new bullshit to him).
“This film is supposed to be funny so he’s being funny, but he’s also being fair. He’s asking these people straight, direct questions. In return he’s getting garbage like ‘What if you die and find out you’re wrong?'”