Hats off and a smart salute to Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel for her blunt condemnation of Minnesota Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota and her attempt to paint Barack Obama and other liberal legislators as somehow un-American. The debate happened earlier today on Chris Matthews‘ “Hardball” on MSNBC. Pat Buchanan also weighed in, didn’t agree with the anti-American statements, etc. But Vanden Huevel was beautiful.
Vanden Heuvel’s remarks: “Chris, I fear for my country. I think what we just heard is a congresswoman channeling Joe McCarthy, channeling a politics of fear and loathing and demonization and division and distraction. Not a single issue mentioned. This is a politics at a moment of extreme economic pain in this country that is incendiary, that is so debased, that I’m almost having a hard time breathing, because I think it’s very scary.
“Because this is a country I love, and this woman had no sense of the history of this nation, which is one of struggle, of trying to fulfill the great ideals of this nation, of movements that have brought about the civilizing advances of this country, and she doesn’t even know who Saul Alinsky is — a community organizer who channeled the views of the people from below.
“I think Barack Obama is going to win, and he’s going to have a lot of work because there is an extremism unleashed in this nation which you just heard on this program, which could lead to violence, and hatred, and toxicity. And against the backdrop of the Great Depression we’re living through, it could lead — and I don’t use this word lightly — to a kind of American fascism, which is against the great values of this nation, and which people like that are fermenting.”
A website gathering signatures to urge a Congressional censure of Bachman has been up since yesterday — 10,028 signatures as of Saturday morning.
“It’s interesting to see how each of the actors exhibit their own distinct variation of portraying gay men,” says a Playlist review of Gus Van Sant‘s Milk (Focus Features, 12.5). “Diego Luna is the most flamboyant, James Franco is understated, and Emile Hirsch is the most precocious. And playing the father figure to these Lost Boys is Sean Penn, who has Milk’s exaggerated podium gestures and Long Island accent down perfectly.
“Penn does a magnificent job of dividing himself in two, as Milk had to also manage, splitting his time and attention between his personal life and his career as a political figure; and on top of that even his career was divided. He was a sidewalk activist who worked for the government and preferred it this way.
“Delivering perhaps the most unexpected performance is Josh Brolin as city supervisor Dan White who murdered both Milk and Mayor Moscone (played by Victor Garber). It is hinted that maybe Dan White was a closet case and jealous of Milk’s freedom. Brolin gives just enough evidence that this might be true before covering it up quickly, hiding it almost too well.
“Brolin’s turn makes you really feel empathy for White and understand the pressure he underwent. He watched Milk succeed in making sure Proposition 6 was not passed, and yet he couldn’t get a simple pay raise.”
Culture Pulp‘s Mike Russell has written the following about Fox Searchlight”s The Secret Life of Bees, which opens today: It “falls into a loose, annoying subgenre of movies I’m going to call ‘Ya-Ya Sisterhood Bullshit,'” he says. “These movies tend to be based on the sorts of books Oprah likes to endorse, and they contain some or all of the following:
* A precious, self-consciously offbeat title (Fried Green Tomatoes, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood).
* A condescending Hollywood interpretation of life in the South, in which people are either abusive racists full of hate or quirky saints full of hospitality.
* Hollywood stars putting on Southern accents like they’re doing dinner-theater Tennessee Williams.
* A fetishy relationship with lovingly photographed food.
* A magazine-spread approach to agrarian labor, which is much nastier and more tedious in real life than the movie makes it out to be.
* At least one moment in which a character lays out a really obvious metaphor about Real Life while describing a cooking or farming technique or the behavior of a plant, animal, or insect.
* Tragic deaths or marriages that Teach Us Something About Ourselves.
* And, most importantly, a hug-filled affirmation of the power of sisterhood.
I could smell all this from the trailer, which is why I didn’t bother to see Bees in Toronto or attend screenings here in town. No offense.
True story: a conversation among three or four guys with film-industry ties happened a couple of days ago in a major southern-region city. Included was a sound mixer who’s been around a couple of decades. The subject was upcoming movies, and the sound mixer interjected at one point, “Guys, guys, I’ve seen the Best Picture Oscar winner, okay? And it’s Benjamin Button.” You’ve seen the whole thing? he was asked. “Most of it but that’s enough,” he answered. “Forget it, it’s over. It’s an eight-hankie movie and it’s going to win.”
Hurricane Season (Weinstein/MGM, 12.25) , a Lousiana-based sports saga with Forrest Whitaker as real-life basketball coach Al Collins who assembled a winning team composed of players who’d been displaced by Hurricane Katrina, has gotten the hook and been re-scheduled to open in early ’09.
Whitaker told a friend a day or so ago that the 12.25 release date has been scuttled due to the film being “not ready,” and that a tentative March 2009 release has been decided upon. The film was previously called Patriots.
The film costars Isaiah Washington, Bow Wow, Khleo Thomas, Courtney B. Vance, Lil’ Wayne and Taraji P. Henson.
As I’ve said before, Clint Eastwood‘s Gran Torino has the stuffings of a Best Picture contender because it appears to be a story about change and redemption, which is what most Best Picture nominees are about. But it also seems to have a little built-in momentum because it deals with racism, which has been been a bigger hot-button issue this year than any time since the Civil Rights era of ’64 and ’65.
Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign has obviously brought the issue to the fore. Everyone has been talking about it, particularly with those YouTube videos showing the ignorance and ugliness of rural Americans and people wondering about the Bradley Effect at the polls, etc.
And now a month and a half after the election will come a movie, directed by America’s most esteemed, long-running filmmaker, that will address this subject (if I know Eastwood) in plain, regular-guy, no-bunk terms. In short, Gran Torino may luck out. Just as The Road may not fit the cultural-political mood at the end of the year, it could be that Eastwood’s film will. Maybe. I obviously don’t know anything, but I’m feeling a certain current.
Eastwood was quoted about the plot particulars last week. Nick Schenk‘s screenplay is the story of snarly blue-collar racist, a Korean War bet named Kowalski (Eastwood), gradually working through dark and dismissive feelings about his neighbor, a Hmong teenager who early on tries to steal Kowalski’s ’72 Gran Torino.
As I wrote earlier, a drama of this sort is “right out of the change-redemption playbook.” The only thing that might work against Gran Torino are Academy members scratching their heads about Eastwood’s alleged admiration for Sarah Palin.
In Contention‘s Kris Tapley recently reviewed the Gran Torino script. He’s also posted a couple of Eastwood pieces about the film’s ensemble cast — article #1 and article #2.
The script “has some silly stuff in it,” he writes, “but according to those two pieces, Eastwood improvised on the set somewhat. That’s helpful.”
Weinstein Co. reps didn’t have anything to say this morning about whether or not they’re opening John Hillcoat‘s The Road, an adaptation of the post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel with Viggo Mortensen, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce in the lead roles, in November or December or next year or what. I was told I’d hear something later today.
A release-date decision was supposed to be resolved yesterday, according to a 10.15 Stephen Zeitchik story in the Hollywood Reporter. Pic was originally skedded to open limited on 11.14 with an 11.26 wide release, but it was recently shifted to sometime in December (as this Coming Soon page states). Over the last couple of days there’s been talk that an ’08 release may be scuttled altogether.
Possible (purely speculative) reasons: (a) The Road isn’t playing as well as it could and needs more time to be “finished”; (b) The Weinstein Co. can’t afford handle two Oscar-angled campaigns at once (with The Reader presumably being priority #1); (c) It’s too gloomy for an end-of-the-year film and doesn’t it the mood of the country, especially in the event of a possible Obama triumph on 11.4.
N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis doesn’t claim that Oliver Stone‘s W. is outright fiction, but she seems to imply it’s the next thing to it. This doesn’t square with my understanding that 98% of W. is taken straight from verified historical accounts. There ‘s a certain amount of dramatic embroidery all through W., of course, but the only baldly fictional portions are the Cheney/Dreyfuss conference room speech (“There is no exit strategy — we stay”) and the Oval Office dream sequence at the end, or so I’ve understood.
“Mr. Stone’s take on the president, as comic as it is sincere, is bound to rile ax-grinders of every ideological stripe, particularly those who mistake fiction for nonfiction,” she writes. “History informs its narrative arc from Texas to Iraq, but it should go without saying that this is a work of imagination, a directorial riff on real people and places complete with emotion-tweaking music cues, slo-mo visuals and portentous symbolism. It says nothing new or insightful about the president, his triumphs and calamities. (As if anyone goes to an Oliver Stone movie for a reality check.).”
Where’s that scene-by-scene W. fact-resource site?
N.Y. Press critic Armond White is calling W. “the best example of American filmmaking courage since Munich.” Intriguing thought, but the remainder of the graph indicates that White, incredibly, is in the tank for Bush. I’ve heard about White’s pro-Iraq War positions from a colleague, but hadn’t really read one of his political testaments until just now. It takes balls of steel to be a Bush guy at this stage of the game, especially for someone working in a liberal racket like film criticism.
“Our mainstream media’s vindictiveness toward George W. Bush has dismantled even the illusion of fairness,” he says. “For the past eight years, the media elite have fought back against Bush winning the presidency in 2000, corrupting the purpose of journalism and entertainment by being vehemently partisan and ferociously illiberal. By opposing the mob mentality that would hang Bush in effigy, W. imaginatively sympathizes with the most maligned president in modern history. It might be too late to restore respect for the office, but Stone knows that until we learn that Bush is like us, we learn nothing.”
I got about ten to twelve seconds of face-time with Senator Joe Biden at last night’s Pacific Design Center $5000-per-person fundraiser (which I was invited to but didn’t pay for). I asked him if he’d seen Oliver Stone‘s W. and he said nope, not yet, how is it? And I told him it’s more or less a Greek tragedy with a little comedy thrown in, and well worth seeing. Biden is obviously a little busy these days. I knew the drill before asking, of course, but I asked anyway.
Sen. Joe Biden during his Pacific Design Center speech at last night’s fundraiser — Thursday, 10.16.06, 8:05 pm
I loved a line in a speech Biden delivered to a sizable crowd in the open-air plaza area. It’s from Irish poet Seamus Heaney, and expressed a dream that if things go well on Nov. 4th, “hope and history” might “rhyme. The exact line: “History forbids us to hope this side of the grave. But once in a lifetime, the longed-for tide of justice can arise and hope and history rhyme.” Here’s a partial mp3 of Biden’s remarks.
Biden, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (l.) during Biden’s open-air speech — Thursday, 10.16.08, 8:02 pm