With a five-day weekend about to start, Four Christmases is tracking at 82, 40 and 15 — not blockbuster numbers but the likely Thanksgiving winner. Baz Luhrman‘s Australia is tracking moderately well — 68, 33 and 12 — with the two strongest quadrants being older women and older men. Transporter 3 is 69, 42 and 15 — young males, better-than-decent business, neck and neck with Four Christmases.
I’m such a fool for Martin Ritt‘s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold that I’m thinking of buying the just-out Criterion DVD of same, even though the 2004 Paramount Home Video DVD has always looked fine to me. I’m mulling the buy on the half-chance that the Criterion may look slightly richer and more detailed. Neither DVD Beaver’s Gary Tooze nor DVD Talk’s Jamie S. Rich offer comparisons between the two.
This is old IMDB news, but the plot of Woody Allen‘s Whatever Works is about a May-December relationship (marriage?) between Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood, and her mother, played by Patricia Clarkson, somehow persuading a Manhattan-residing British actor, played by Henry Cavill, to try and seduce Wood in order to break up her marriage to David, whom Clarkson feels is too old for her daughter.
Contrary to what MCN’s David Poland reported on 11.14, L.A. Film Festival director Rich Raddon did not, I’m told, tender his resignation to the FIND board a day earlier over the revelation that he’d donated $1500 in support of Proposition 8 — the California gay-marriage-ban amendment that passed on 11.4. Raddon did, however, submit his resignation yesterday, and it was accepted.
Former L.A. Film Festival director Rich Raddon, Effie Brown
The Raddon/FIND/Prop. 8 situation was inflamed or at least re-addressed in a Sunday L.A. Times article by Rachel Abramowitz that ran two days ago.
Abramowitz wrote that Raddon “offered to resign last week.” Verbally, she apparently means, and not in the form of a letter that said “I resign.” What I’m told is that Raddon “never resigned, ever, so when the board voted unanimously, they weren’t voting not to accept the resignation, although they did decide not to fire him.”
In any case, the anger about the $1500 wouldn’t go away, and after Abramowitz’s article it was time to fold the hand.
“‘There is still roiling debate within [FIND],” distributor Howard Cohen, a gay advisor to the film festival, told Abramowitz. “Is it okay to let this go? There are a lot of gay people who work at Film Independent. The issue has not been closed.” .
Director Gregg Araki “has said he won’t allow his films to be shown at the L.A. Film Festival,” Abramowitz reported. “Others, such as Milk producers and gay activists Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, say they’re going to ‘study in depth all the facets of our specific situation before making a decision.’
Araki said that Raddon “should step down. ‘I don’t think he should be forcibly removed. The bottom line is if he contributed money to a hateful campaign against black people, or against Jewish people, or any other minority group, there would be much less excusing of him. The terrible irony is that he runs a film festival that is intended to promote tolerance and equality.’
Raddon declined to talk to Abramowitz, but Dawn Hudson, executive director of Film Independent, said, “Are we happy with his donation? No. But he has a right to his religious and personal beliefs.”
Outside Hollywood’s left-liberal, gay-friendly political arena, that is.
The shorthand take on Button is that it’s a technical knockout, atmospherically sublime, emotionally poignant, and yet — a key distinction — fundamentally a Gump thing. Artier, more elegant and far less mawkish and chewy than what Robert Zemeckis delivered 14 years ago, but essentially drawn from the Gumpian well. It is therefore not, in my head, as fully fresh and stand-alone bold as Steven Soderbergh‘s Che — a film that doesn’t play the movie game but is stellar and studly in that it owes nothing to anyone or anything else, and the fact that it is all muscle and fat-free.
Che is still and will remain my Best Film of ’08 choice, and if the will of the Movie Gods carried any kind of clout with the mortals scrambling around on terra firma it would be at the top of a lot more lists. The hell with “emotional delivery” in this instance. The hell with “movie moments.” No film has the balls, the clarity and the take-it-or-leave-it honesty of Che.
As I wrote last week, “Soderbergh’s lack of interest in even beginning to attempt to ‘entertain’ the popcorn-munchers is not a plus sign in and of itself, but critics and smart industry viewers should at least be able to see what’s going on here and at least give credit where due. Che is the pure and even made majestic, the telling of a two-act story that could only have been lessened by being shaped into ‘drama.’ It is naturalism in the rough, unpretentious verite magnificence, poetry in the details, a form of truth both literal and eternal.”
Revolutionary Road is my #2 for ’08. A movie about a glum situation and doomed characters that isn’t itself glum or doomed, but tight and true and searing. A film that reflects some aspect of the real grit out there. A film that says “this could be about you” and in fact is about you, suckah. The strongest heavyweight drama I’ve seen all year so far. A corrosive and heartbreaking masterwork.
My third-place favorite is Benjamin Button, fourth is Doubt and fifth is Slumdog Millionaire, followed by Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Visitor, The Wrestler and Nothing But the Truth. Forget The Dark Knight as far as the Academy is concerned — it’s not gonna happen.
“I saw your mini-review of Button and I have to say I disagree with the suspicion that under 30’s may not be cool with it. (Okay, okay, I’m 30 but same difference.) I found it touching and emotional in the best possible way (i.e., not sentimental). It’s a complete left turn for Fincher in his career, especially after Zodiac, which I also liked a great deal. I agree that the film is a gentle riverboat ride, but I liked that, and I was very happy that Fincher did not throw in a bucketful of Zemeckis schmaltz.” — conveyed in an e-mail by a friend who saw Button at last night’s MOMA Titus screening, and whom I’m not identifying unless he says it’s cool.
“When I say ‘trendy’ I mean Slumdog Millionaire is warmed-over Dickens with a multi-culti sheen, and critics (who are indeed gushing — 85 on Metacritic, with lots of 100 scores) feel good about praising something that takes World Cinema and throws it into a blender. Imagine the same story with a trailer-trash white kid in a setting of domestic rural poverty and meth labs — same reviews?” — HE reader MikeSchaeferSF.
Well, it was enough for me in a cinefile-ish, film-magic appreciation sense, but I can’t say that David Fincher‘s sublime and poignant new film truly — what is the phrase? — “reached inside and stirred the depths of my soul.” I will certainly see it again, but I can’t say I’m as hungry for a second immersion into this gently emotional death-trip movie, this dreamy-sad glide through time and memory and the textures and aromas of 20th Century America, as I was when I first saw Fincher’s Zodiac some seventeen or eighteen months ago.
Zodiac is a legendary art film — a deeper, fuller thing every time I re-view it because of how it never tries to overtly persuade its audience that it’s anything more than a whipsmart policier about a legendary cold case. Because the theme of obsession is simultaneously dramatized and embodied by the obsessive nature of the film itself. Because it’s settled and confident in its own skin and lets the story tell itself while Fincher, remarkably, builds it into something more than the sum of its parts.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, on the other hand, feels very caught up from the start in its attempts to mesmerize and create a burnished good-old-days atmosphere. And it works like a champ in this respect. I’ll never forget the ripe vibe this movie casts. And yet I’m not sure if I really know what it’s saying, or it’s really “saying” anything other than that life is an adventure to be savored and lived to the fullest. That’s a good thing to express in any fashion or medium, but I was saying to myself as I watched it unfold, “Yeah, yeah, I agree, yes….and?”
The basic idea behind the original F. Scott Fitzgerald story basically says that the best part of life comes at the beginning and the worst part at the end, and what would a man feel and learn if the journey was reversed?
Like Forrest Gump, which was authored by Button screenwriter Eric Roth, Fincher’s langorous tale is about a passive, good-natured fellow — Brad Pitt‘s Benjamin Button — who lives a kind of charmed (and at the same time somewhat cursed) life that’s rooted in New Orleans but involves much travel, traverses decades and nurses a lifelong, never-waning love for a beautiful spirited woman — Cate Blanchett‘s Daisy.
It starts with old-baby Pitt — a withered, carcassy, white-haired infant — being born in World War I-era New Orleans, and then watches him de-age and gain strength, enjoying the lusciousness of living more and more, as he moves through the ’20s and ’30s and into World War II as an old and then a middle-aged man. And then gradually as a progressively younger and hunkier guy who looks cool and likes to ride a motorcycle and whose blissful sensual peak comes at the height of youth and vigor in his early 40s, 30s and 20s, which manifest 40, 50 and 60 years after his old-man birth (and happily coincides with Blanchett’s normal-progression trajectory). And then he’s a teenager, a kid, a toddler and a baby.
The renderings of Pitt’s and Blanchett’s various age-states are just about perfect. Face-pasting, makeup, prosthetics, digital-wrinkle removing — all or most of it as exquisite as the wizardry of new and emerging digital technology can miraculously provide.
But you get used to all this. Pitt’s reverse-aging is endlessly absorbing, but it loses its wow-ness after a while, and once it levels off you’re basically left with a story about a guy just living a life. And like I said earlier this morning, his journey has little in the way of story tension and the rooting interest isn’t really there because all he’s trying to do is be with the love of his life, Daisy. Well, that happens finally when they’re both young and close in age. But then time pulls them apart, and then they’re together again and true-heart Daisy becomes his care-giver when he can no longer fend for himself.
Like I said earlier, it’s not that you don’t care for Pitt’s Button but he’s a watcher, an observer, an eternal quiet man. He’s there to absorb and experience and love and savor, but he’s nothing like a take-charge doer with any kind of primal goal or need. We’re talking decades here, and the movie is basically a Gump thing — a leisurely cruise on a slow riverboat down a pastoral but mostly rapid-free river. Many intense and eye-filling things happen. The randomness of life, the give-and-take, the eternals all bleed into the whole. But the story is basically a journey of chapters — this happens, that happens, shit happens.
Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton
Button is filled, yes,with all kinds of touching meditations and observational riches and a constant awareness of the here-today, gone-tomorrow thing. It is a moving film to sit through, but it provides only as much warmth and emotionalism as director David Fincher and screenwriter Eric Roth felt was right and true and appropriate.
Benjamin Button is a dream — rapturous, essential, eternal filmmaking. And with a heart that is kindly, charitable, gentle, open. It’s beautiful, it’s unique, it’s bold…and I’m not at all sure that it’s going to reign supreme as a Best Picture candidate. Nor am I persuaded that it’s going to make any kind of real money. It’s a fascinating, very brave and half-wonderful film, but it’ll be a real challenge selling it to the stooges out there, particularly the under-30s.
I agree with Variety‘s Anne Thompson that it’s “an historic achievement, a masterful piece of cinema, and a moving treatise on death, loss, loneliness and love” and that “it may pack a more powerful punch the older you are and the more people you have lost.” But it doesn’t feel like a Best Picture slam-dunker for reasons stated above and before.