I wrote down the weekend projections on a yellow pad as they were told to me over the phone, but then the banshees of the Fifth Dimension flew in and took the pad away. But I remember one thing clearly. Twilight is the #1 ass-kicker of the Thanksgiving holiday with about $37.5 million expected for the upcoming 3-day weekend and $55 million projected for the entire five days.
The Newark Star Ledger‘s Stephen J. Whitty has concluded the obvious regarding the MGM team’s decision to keep Bryan Singer‘s Valkyrie out of possible critics awards contention (or for consideration by National Board of Review) by not screening it for junket journalists until December 12th, or to regular critics until December 15th.
Why does MGM continue to send out these distress signals? This is a movie made by the formidable Bryan Singer, Tom Cruise and Chris McQuarrie, for heaven’s sake. I’ve read an early draft of the script — it’s servicable, gripping, efficient as far as it goes. And yet MGM keeps telling everyone that something must be wrong.
The screening dates “seem timely, you might think, considering the film doesn’t open until Dec. 26th,” Whitty writes. “Except those screening dates actually send a subtle, but very clear message of defeat.
“The problem is that even the earliest of those shows come too late for the New York Film Critics Circle — of which I’m a member, and votes on Dec. 10 — to consider the film for awards. Unless special arrangements are made, a number of other awards groups — from the New York Film Critics Online to the National Board of Review — probably will be shut out as well.
“Now, first off, let me make clear — I’m not feeling snubbed, vexed or even slightly miffed. With dozens of serious movies jockeying for prizes, there’s a mad rush to see everything by Dec. 9. Having one film drop out of the schedule actually makes my life a little easier.
“And, quite frankly, courting awards with fresh-from-the-lab previews is a simple waste of time for some films. As of right now, for example, Adam Sandler’s Bedtime Stories hasn’t set any early screenings either. And that makes sense — Bedtime Stories is not expecting to be a major prize winner among reviewers, or Academy voters.
“But Valkyrie was supposed to be a return to serious drama for star Tom Cruise and director Bryan Singer, as well as a big, back-to-business triumph for the re-vamped but still reeling MGM. It needed to be a big prestigious hit, with lots of enthusiastic notices and at least the chance of an Oscar or two down the line.
“But then the release was delayed. Certain scenes were reshot. Rumors started circulating. A peculiar advertising campaign was launched, selling what had once been pushed as a serious study of the German opposition to Hitler as practically a buddy-boy caper film — Ocean’s S.S.
“And now, when the film’s strategy seems to be to deliberately avoid Oscar predictors like the NYFCC and other critics groups? Even when a schedule change of a few days could make it eligible? What does that suggest?
“Well, that they’ve become quite convinced they’d never have a chance anyway. And that the once invulnerable Cruise Machine seems about to take another, quite sizable hit.”
Clint Eastwood has been composing and performing music — melodies simple and clean, always with a catchy hook — for the soundtracks of his films for a long time. But now he’s apparently composed and sung a song for Grand Torino. The computer I’m on right now was made by slave-wage Koreans in 1997 so I can’t listen and check, but there’s said to be an mp3 of Eastwood’s performance on this filmdrunk page.
“What are your thoughts on Twilight having a Titanic-type hold on the hearts and minds of the 2008 American teen girl?,” a Manhattan friend wrote this morning. “Look at its numbers — it made $6 million on Tuesday, obviously not falling off the cliff. I realize this is an extended holiday weekend and all that, but still the similarities are kind of striking — doomed romance (in that death has consumed the boy and may eventually consume the girl), relative unknowns in the leads, just enough action for the guys to remain happy. I can see substantial business (and repeat business) through Christmas. What could it earn by the end of the run?”
As shallow and Hollywood-centric as this may sound, I’m wondering (as others have since yesterday) if the Mumbai terrorist attacks will have any effect on Academy voter thinking regarding Best Picture contender Slumdog Millionaire, which is set in Mumbai and does an excellent (and at times almost too persistent) job of capturing the chaotic sociological and temperamental stew of Mumbai (particuarly the social caste system) over the last 20-plus years.
I suspect the attacks will have either no effect or perhaps (cynical as this sounds) help the film a little bit because the horrible news pushes all kinds of how, why and what-the-hell? questions into everyone’s head, and Slumdog Millionaire is now a kind of touchstone — a movie at the center of the hurricane, although not one that touches even slightly on the subject of Muslim militancy.
Slumdog is a Dickensian fable that portrays, yes, hard times and much cruelty but also projects an optimistic fantasy that couldn’t contrast more strongly with the mindset and tactics of the Muslim wackjobs who yesterday shot and bombed that town all to hell.
In the view of N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott, Sean Penn “outdoes himself” in Milk, “playing a character different from any he has portrayed before. [But] this is less a matter of sexuality — there is no longer much novelty in a straight actor’s ‘playing gay’ — than of temperament.
“Unlike, say, Jimmy Markum, Mr. Penn’s brooding ex-convict in Clint Eastwood‘s Mystic River, Harvey Milk is an extrovert and an ironist, a man whose expansive, sometimes sloppy self-presentation camouflages an incisive mind and a ferociously stubborn will.
“All of this Mr. Penn captures effortlessly through voice and gesture, but what is most arresting is the sense he conveys of Milk’s fundamental kindness, a personal virtue that also functions as a political principle.”
For the last 25 years Penn’s name has summoned different ideas about fundamental natures — fundamentally pugnacious Irish, fundamentally contentious, fundamentally smoking no matter what the hotel rules are, fundamentally inclined to spit phlegm on the camera lenses of paparazzi jackals. You have to admit — it’s quite an achievement for Penn, even given his immense talent, to sell “fundamentally kind.”
Roger Ebert has posted one of the most persuasive, alarming, and best-written laments about the death of serious print film criticism, and the cancerous spread of trashy celebrity gossip-mongering. It’s Thanksgiving Day, we’ve got the time — here’s the whole article. Read it as the glory that was newsprint Rome burns to the ground.
“A newspaper film critic is like a canary in a coal mine. When one croaks, get the hell out. The lengthening toll of former film critics acts as a poster child for the self-destruction of American newspapers, which once hoped to be more like the New York Times and now yearn to become more like the National Enquirer. We used to be the town crier. Now we are the neighborhood gossip.
“The crowning blow came this week when the once-magisterial Associated Press imposed a 500-word limit on all of its entertainment writers. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and “thinkers.” Oh, it can be done. But withSynecdoche, New York?
“Worse, the AP wants its writers on the entertainment beat to focus more on the kind of brief celebrity items its clients apparently hunger for. The AP, long considered obligatory to the task of running a North American newspaper, has been hit with some cancellations lately, and no doubt has been informed what its customers want: Affairs, divorces, addiction, disease, success, failure, death watches, tirades, arrests, hissy fits, scandals, who has been ‘seen with’ somebody, who has been ‘spotted with’ somebody, and ‘top ten’ lists of the above.
“The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it. It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is indifferent to meaningful achievement. [Access Hollywood] has announced it will cover the Obama family as ‘a Hollywood story.’ I want to smash something against a wall.
“In Toots, a new documentary about the legendary Manhattan saloon keeper Toots Shor, there is a shot so startling I had to reverse the DVD to see it again. After dinner, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe leave the restaurant, give their ticket to a valet, wait on the curb until their car arrives, tip the valet and then Joe opens the car door for Marilyn, walks around, gets in, and drives them away.
“This was in the 1950s. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have not been able to do that once in their adult lifetimes. Celebrities do not use limousines because of vanity. They use them as a protection against cannibalism.
“As the CelebCult triumphs, major newspapers have been firing experienced film critics. They want to devote less of their space to considered prose, and more to ignorant gawking. What they require doesn’t need to be paid for out of their payrolls. Why does the biggest story about Twilight involve its fans? Do we need interviews with 16-year-old girls about Robert Pattinson? When was the last time they read a paper? Isn’t the movie obviously about sexual abstinence and the teen fascination with doomy Goth death-flirtation?
“The age of film critics has come and gone. While the big papers on the coasts always had them (Bosley Crowther at the New York Times, Charles Champlin at the Los Angeles Times), many other major dailies had rotating bylines anybody might be writing under (“Kate Cameron” at the New York Daily News, “Mae Tinay” at the Chicago Tribune — get it?).
“Judith Crist changed everything at the New York Herald-Tribune when she panned Cleopatra (1963) and was banned from 20th Century-Fox screenings. There was a big fuss, and suddenly every paper hungered for a “real” movie critic. The Film Generation was upon us.
“In the coverage of new directors and the rediscovery of classic films, no paper was more influential than the weekly Village Voice, with such as Andrew Sarris and Jonas Mekas. Earlier this year the Voice fired Dennis Lim and Nathan Lee, and recently fired all the local movie critics in its national chain, to be replaced, Variety’s Anne Thompson reported, by syndicating their critics on the two coasts, the Voice’s J. Hoberman and the L.A. Weekly ‘s Scott Foundas. Serious writers, yes, but…
“Meanwhile, the Detroit Free-Press has decided it needs no film critic at all. Michael Wilmington is gone from the Chicago Tribune, Jack Mathews and Jami Bernard from the New York Daily News, Kevin Thomas from the Los Angeles Times — and the internationally-respected film critic of the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum, has retired, accepted a buy-out, will write for his blog, or something. I still see him at all the screenings.
“My shining hero remains Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic, as incisive and penetrating as ever at 92. I don’t give him points for his age, which anyone can attain simply by living long enough, but for his criticism. Study any review and try to find a wrong or unnecessary word. There is your man for an intelligent 500-word review.
“Why do we need critics? A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should ‘reflect the taste of the readers.’ My friend said, ‘Does that mean the food critic should love McDonald’s?’ The editor: ‘Absolutely.’ I don’t believe readers buy a newspaper to read variations on the Ed McMahon line, ‘You are correct, sir!’ A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged.
“The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically. It is about the failure of our educational system. It is not about dumbing-down — it is about snuffing out.
“The news is still big. It’s the newspapers that got small.”
My mother lives in a sleepy compound called The Watermark, an old folks home located in the boonies of Southbury, Connecticut. It’s great to see her, of course, but I’m in wireless hell every time I visit. The AT&T aircard gets only one bar, and that gives me nothing. One bar only on the iPhone also — it’s awful. Even the wifi at the local hotel a mile away isn’t working. It’s like it’s 1994 up here. It’s Devil’s Island. One of the worst black holes I’ve encountered in this country.