Four days ago, in a piece titled “You Give Out Too Many Stars,” Roger Ebert offered the following to partially explain his general attitude as he sits down to watch a film: “I like movies too much. I walk into the theater not in an adversarial attitude, but with hope and optimism (except for some movies, of course). I know that to get a movie made is a small miracle, that the reputations, careers and finances of the participants are on the line, and that hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie. I do not feel comfortable posing as impossible to please.”
Nobody who loves movies goes into a screening with an adversarial attitude. I certainly don’t. I always feel at least a twinge of hope when the lights go down, and often a good deal more than that. But there’s no such thing as a totally virginal viewing. Anyone with their ear to the ground goes into a film knowing what the shot is and what the players have done before — their talent, potential, past glories and (now and then) regrettable tendencies. Every movie is a big ball of wax. And seeing a film with all this forearmed stuff in your head is what makes it an adventure, and sometimes a very special pleasure.
And due respect to Roger, but it’s never as simple as “hardly anybody sets out to make a bad movie.” Quite a few people make movies with the aim or hope that their film will work on its own low-rent terms, or at least that the studio chiefs will be happy with it given the hurdles that everyone had to deal with, or that it’ll at least be popular with the backwater ticket-buyers (if not the big-city critics and bloggers). Most people in any profession just want to keep working and get along. Very few people have the nerve or the vision or the talent to defy convention and swing for the bleachers. Fewer still have the focus and confidence to just hit the ball out of the infield with a clean crack of the bat. And as we all know, sometimes the greatest hitters strike out.
True, sometimes a director looking to make a good-enough film will surprise everyone (including himself or herself) and come up with something exceptional or delightful or at least better than expected. But it’s always sublime when a talented, ready-to-rock filmmaker has the heat and the inspiration (or used to have these things and has somehow found a way to get them back again) and walks up to the plate knowing precisely what’s about to happen.
I can’t speak with any authority about the forthcoming restored Godafther discs (being called “The Coppola Restoration” but more precisely the hands-on work of restoration guru Robert Harris) because, I’m told, the quality of the work isn’t that pronounced unless you watch it on Blu-ray with a 46″ or 50″ Plasma or LCD flat screen.
A DVD Beaver frame capture from the Blu-ray version of the restored Godfather.
A DVD Beaver frame capture from the DVD version.
And for the umpteenth time, I don’t own either of these devices. Maybe I’ll spring later this year. Depending. I know I have to get with it.
The word from properly-equipped reviewers with good eyes is that the the original Godfather and The Godfather, Part II do indeed look better than ever. Upgraded, finessed and made to look as terrific as they’ll ever look on a home screen. (I’m ignoring The Godfather, Part III for obvious reasons.) One reviewer said the restored versions have a bit more of a reddish quality.
On top of which Harris has told me that the various frame captures we’ve been seeing on various home theatre sites are not accurate representations of how the Blu-ray and DVD versions look. Not really. Too many tech variables, he says. One frame-capture that gets it half-right, he allows, is the one that ran on Brad Brevet‘s Rope of Silicon that shows the differing color schemes in the Paramount logo. The restored version has a sepia-tone thing going on, while the older version has a standard bluish-creamy-light gray scheme.
I did, however, see a 4K projection of the restored Godfather at a special, super-secret screening on the Warner Bros. lot last fall, and the truth is this: (a) it looked superb — those wonderfully burnished Gordon Willis colors have never been put forth with greater love or precision but (b) it didn’t exactly make my eyes pop out of their sockets on metal springs. It’s not like the Godfather films have ever looked that bad. For my money the last set of Godfather DVDs (i.e., the ones that came out in May 2004) look pretty damn good.
I’m trusting that the new Blu-ray versions will look somewhat (perhaps even strikingly) better, but the main reason for the Coppola-Harris restoration wasn’t to necessarily blow everyone’s socks off but to restore these films — to yes, make them look as good as they did when they first came out of the lab in ’72 and ’74 (again — forget Part III), but also to render the elements in their best possible condition, fully preserved and protected fur future generations.
The Paramount logos are they appear in the differing versions; the new restored version is on the right.
Now comes the heresy portion…ready? One reason — perhaps the reason — that the restored Godfather pics look very handsome but not necessarily drop-your- pants wowser is because Harris and Coppola went with the original, slightly grainy look of both. Grain purists believe that grain is integral, essential, vital — as important as needle-sharp focus or proper framing or the original colors not being drained of their vibrancy. Coppola and Harris did the absolutely correct thing, of course, by rendering the films exactly as they were shot and meant to be seen back in the day. It would have been a scandal if they hadn’t gone this route.
But I am not a fool for grain, and if I were running Paramount Home Video I would be issuing simultaneous grain-rape versions of the three Godfather films. Versions that would look that much cleaner, sharper, spiffier. The same darkness, the same amber-lit tones, the same Willis palette…only a bit less filmy. If PHV did release grain-rape versions, people would indeed be going “wow!,” “holy shit!” and “Jesus, this is really different!”
I realize this is a bad thing to be discussing, much less asking for. Only a Philistine who doesn’t understand or appreciate the natural beauty of celluloid — someone disrespectful, plebian, coarse — would even conceive of such a thing…right? But all I’m saying is that I’d like to be able to see grain-rape versions as a Philistine option. For people like me, I mean. I’m one of the few who really love and cherish the grain-rape version of PHV’s Sunset Boulevard, so you know where I’m coming from.
I’m not the only one to think along these lines. I’ve been told by an excellent authority that a few minutes of footage from the original Godfather — the third-act garden scene between Marlon Brando and Al Pacino (“He reads the funny papers,” “Senator Corleone, Governor Corleone…something,” “We’ll get there, pop”) — were given the grain-rape treatment, and that it was viewed by some on the Godfather restoration team, and that the result was fairly stunning.
Why was this even done, given the commitment to adhere precisely to the original look? Beats me, but I’m told it was.
I’m not challenging Summit Entertainment’s decision to wait until sometime in ’09 to release Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker, which, even with its modest shortcomings, is unquestionably one of the best crafted, big-jolt action thrillers of the year. Well, actually I am. Why not open it on a modest platform basis in December and then put it out in late January or February, say?
I understand Summit’s concerns. The fall and year-end periods are locked up tight in terms of theatres and heavy-duty competition. It’s a scary time for indie-sized distributors right now, and it’s a murderously expensive proposition to open a film over the next three and a half months. Plus there’s no guarantee that the ostriches who’ve refused to see other Iraq-themed films won’t do the same here. (I still believe that all the people who voted for Bush in ’04 should be forced to watch each and every Iraq War film, in the same way Alex was forced to watch violent films in Clockwork Orange with those eyelid-clamp devices and eyedrops.)
Summit’s decision feels disappointing for three reasons. One, The Hurt Locker is not just an Iraq War movie — it’s a first-rate thriller that works (at least partially) as a kind of revisiting of James Cameron‘s Aliens. Second, all strong movies based upon real-life experience and set in a fluid, ongoing situation like the Iraq War obviously lose potency and timeliness when they sit on a shelf. (Bigelow’s film began shooting, remember, in Jordan right after Brian DePalma finished filming Redacted, and that film played at last year’s Venice and Toronto festivals and opened ten months ago.) And third, it just feels wrong for a film as good as this to be kept out of the year-end derby, although I wouldn’t necessarily call it Best Picture material. (Thrillers never make it on this level.) It’s certainly good enough to potentially end up on Ten-Best critics lists, and it’s at least plausible that Jeremy Renner could drum up some Best Actor heat.
“Set in Baghdad and the full maelstrom of that godforsaken conflict,” I recently wrote, “this is a full-power, nail-biting, bomb-defusal suspense film that gradually becomes a kind of existential nerve ride about the risk and uncertainty of everything and anything, plus an explanation of the addiction that war is for some guys who go through it and can’t quite leave it alone.
“The Hurt Locker is absolutely a classic war film in the tradition of Platoon, The Thin Red Line, Pork Chop Hill, Paths of Glory and the last 25% of Full Metal Jacket, and it damn well better be acquired by someone and set for release sometime between now and 12.31. Because I’m getting tired of this shit.”
I’m sorry, but a major second-tier film festival like Zurich’s offering a big career achievement award to Sylvester Stallone is an all-around diminisher — half-comedic and half-grotesque. And Variety‘s Steven Gaydos trying to put a gloss on this is…well, business-as-usual for Variety, of course, but also, no disrespect, unseemly.
The number of titanic godawfuls that Stallone has given the movie world cannot be glossed over — Rhinestone, Cliffhanger, Victory, Over The Top, Cobra, Paradise Alley, FIST, Stop of My Mom Will Shoot, Nighthawks, Staying Alive, etc. Decade in and decade out, the man’s instincts and brush strokes have been crude and garish. He’s never once gone the dry, subtle, less-is-more route with anything….not once.
Out of 56 movies Stallone has acted in, directed or voiced, a grand total of seven (three of which are products of his own personal vision) are generally considered to be somewhere between very good, good and half-decent — the original Rocky, First Blood, Judge Dredd (Stallone’s performance was very droll), Copland, the voicing of “Weaver” in Antz, Rocky Balboa and the ’08 Rambo (an inspired looney-tunes, porno-violent comedy which the guy audience very much enjoyed).
The first Obama-McCain debate is on Friday, 9.26, at 9 pm eastern — eight days hence. A foreign policy focus, I’m hearing, because the Obama team didn’t want to get into domestic-cultural stuff at a debate held in Mississippi. Twitter.com and current.com are trying to get everyone to post twitters during the debate. Current is promising to “broadcast as many of your debate tweets as possible right over Obama & McCain, in real time, on our live broadcast.”
“The McCain camp has decided that its candidate can’t win honorably, on the issues, so it has resorted to transparent and phony diversions,” writes Time‘s Joe Klein. The resultant lies “have ranged from the annoying to the sleazy, and the problem is in both degree and kind. His campaign has been a ceaseless assault on his opponent’s character and policies, featuring a consistent — and witting — disdain for the truth.
The McCain team’s “persistence in repeating demonstrably false charges is something new in presidential politics.
“Ever since [Obama’s Iraq-European tour], McCain’s campaign has been a series of snide and demeaning ads accompanied by the daily gush of untruths that have now been widely documented and exposed. The strategy is an obvious attempt to camouflage the current unpopularity of his Republican brand, the insubstantiality of his vice-presidential choice, and his agreement on most issues — especially economic matters — with an exceedingly unpopular President.
“The good news is that the vile times may be ending. The coming debates will decide this race, and it isn’t easy to tell lies when your opponent is standing right next to you. The Wall Street collapse demands a more sober campaign as well. But these dreadful weeks should not be forgotten.
“John McCain has raised serious questions about whether he has the character to lead the nation. He has defaced his beloved military code of honor. He has run a dirty campaign.”
At Ted.com, psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains “the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we’re left, right or center. In this eye-opening talk, he pinpoints the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most.”
Boiled down, Haidt’s ultimate assessment — i.e., liberals and conservatives balance each other out and that we should try and respect this scheme — pushes aside the fact that most conservatives, to go by almost all appearances and allegiances, are heathens in the sense that many if not most of them are against conserving and preserving the sanctity of the planet earth. And that this can’t be tolerated because the survival of the planet is on a clock.
We can’t indulge ourselves to the hilt and then…whatever, let our grandchildren get around to finally preserving the planet 30 or 50 years from now. Procrastination is no longer an option. The tipping point is here and now.
The heavily moneyed conservatives I’ve observed, considered and listened to believe in dominion over the earth — in swaggering around in Hummers and shooting wolves from helicopters and doing what they want whatever and whenever, and that means they need to ignore and deny the irrefutable facts that tell us global warming is real and growing. They don’t believe in nurturing what we have — they stand for unbridled consumption and satisfying every lavish whim and appetite because it’s their right because they have the economic power, and who in this country is going to tell them different?
I think abortion is vile, and that traditional moral values must be respected at all times as long as everybody understands what Catholic priests seem to be about these days and as long as nobody frowns at the idea of sex on the first date. But global warming has changed everything. Which is why the selfishness that conservatives are so good at needs to be exterminated. The Cheneys of the world have to be pushed over a cliff.
Things are shifting in Obama’s favor, poll-wise. As MSNBC’s “First Read” noted this morning, “After the news of the crisis on Wall Street, McCain’s ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong’ stumble on Monday, the slip-ups yesterday by McCain’s two biggest economic surrogates and four days of sustained TV ad and email blasts by the Obama campaign and the DNC, the political worm seems to have turned a tad since the Palin bounce.”
And yet the results of recent battleground polls are mixed, and the fivethirtyeight.com state-by-state count is favoring McCain.
“A tight race?,” fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver wrote this morning. “It certainly is a tight race, and has been all year. But this, of course, is not really the lead story. The story is that there has been a rather dramatic shift in the national polling toward Barack Obama in the past 2-4 days, coinciding with the Wall Street financial crisis.
“Some pundits will love this, since it gives them something fresh to talk about. But others, like those cynical beat writers in the Wrigley Field press box, will be annoyed, because it means that the the story they were telling us just a few days ago — that the Obama campaign was in trouble, that Sarah Palin was the greatest thing since sliced bread — has now been more or less invalidated.”
The weekend’s near-certain winner, according to Fantasy Moguls’ Steve Mason, will be Neil LaBute‘s Lakeview Terrace (Sony). Given the obviously sour and malignant vibe coming off this film, interest levels can probably be attributed to the drawing power of Samuel L. Jackson‘s attitude schtick.
What else could it be? What could this movie seem to bring to the table that anyone would want to savor?
In the view of N.Y. Press critic Armond White, Lakeview Terrace “is tiresome largely because Jackson’s Belligerent Black Man antics are so predictable. He’s dug a lowdown niche; and movie after movie he keeps shoveling crap over himself. It also raises the leprous itch of director Neil LaBute, whose own predictable shtick is to scratch at society’s sore spots. LaBute is not the credited screenwriter of Lakeview Terrace; yet it carries his stench.
“LaBute isn’t skilled enough to direct an action-thriller that evokes real-world politics. Unable to create tension, he just exacerbates our uneasy social pacts — a stunt that could only be tolerated in a nihilistic age. It’s important to clearly state that Jackson and LaBute’s cynical routines in Lakeview Terrace offend human decency, but I’m brushing their dirt off my shoulder.”
“Because no one has the right to deny another their life even though they disagree with it, because everyone has the right to live the life they so desire if it doesn’t harm another and because discrimination has no place in America, my vote will be for equality and against Proposition 8” — Brad Pitt in a statement explaining his $100,000 contribution to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that would ban same-sex marriage.