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.
“I saw Gran Torino last night,” says HE reader Andrew. “It’s clunky and heavy-handed at times, but very effective. Eastwood the actor has never been better in a moving and often hilarious performance. This kind of reminds me of the Million Dollar Baby syndrome. Like Flags of Our Fathers, the hyped Changeling underwhelmed me. But like Baby, the out-of-nowhere Gran Torino completely works.”
Gran Torino is having its first big L.A. press screening next Monday night (12.1). Those of us on the other coast, per custom, will have to wait.
In the view of Variety‘s John Anderson, Darnell Martin‘s Cadillac Records (TriStar, 12.5) “approaches the blues with the enthusiasm of an overcaffeinated brass band, [but] nonetheless makes some kind of music, mostly because she mines a righteous, mythic sensibility out of the story of Leonard Chess, Muddy Waters and the birth of the Chicago blues.
“Jeffrey Wright‘s Waters is unforgettable, Eamonn Walker gives an unnerving performance as rival bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, and Beyonce Knowles‘ Etta James should put bottoms in seats.
“The second feature this year to focus on the same musicians, Cadillac Records takes a far broader approach than Jerry Zaks‘ Who Do You Love, which concentrated more on the conflicted character of Chess than on the artists he hired, promoted, profited from and, some say, exploited.
“In Cadillac Records, Adrien Brody cuts an appropriately oily figure as the man who founded Chess Records in 1956, while Wright delivers a performance of eloquent, simmering dignity as Waters — the first Chess star, one of the great vocalists in American music and the dramatic engine of Martin’s film.
“As a racial parable that couldn’t be timelier. Chess Records was a mixed marriage — the owner was a Polish immigrant, his artists were African-American, and much of the America they inhabited was hostile to any such arrangement. This all comes to a head after Chess signs Chuck Berry (a dryly funny Mos Def), whose hybridized pop sound had some promoters thinking he was a white country singer.
“Berry is the guy who puts Chess over the top; as someone says, they’re not sure what he’s playing, but it’s not the blues. But it sells, and it bridges the racial divide: In a scene duplicated in Who Do You Love, the velvet ropes separating whites and blacks at a Berry concert are toppled by the audience.
“That Martin later has Knowles reprise the entire racial psychology of America through James and her seemingly insoluble identity problems, by contrast, is overkill; Knowles gives a soulful portrayal, but her part of the movie seems to exist in another dimension entirely.
“The music — most of it performed by the actors themselves — has a real richness to it, if not quite the muscle of the Chess records themselves. Recording sessions are shot like live concerts; the club gigs feel sweaty and smoky. And Def’s Berry performances succeed in capturing what it felt like when the blues had a baby and they named it rock ‘n’ roll.”
L.A. Times guy Geoff Bouncher wrote yesterday that original director-writer Michael Crichton “had worked recently on a script for a remake (and, at one point, Quentin Tarantino was approached to direct) but the author’s death in November may mark the end of the reboot effort.” Why? We all fall sooner or later, but art (or hugely enjoyable cheap-thrills entertainment) is eternal.
My second wanna-see is Darren Aronofsky‘s Robocop re-do. Breck Eisner’s The Creature From The Black Lagoon might work if it’s cheesy enough. (That means a guy in a rubber creature suit — no CG enhancements!) The new When World Collide will be ruined, I predict, by the hand of the demonic Stephen Sommers , who’s set to direct. Guillermo del Toro ‘s Frankenstein may work, but how many times can we sit for this Mary Shelley story? The rest hold no interest.
Shame enough that MCN’s Gurus of Gold haven’t supported Steven Soderbergh‘s Che as one of their Best Picture favorites, but it is absolutely infamous that not one of them voted for it, even as a ninth or tenth-place choice. History will not judge them charitably, much less kindly.
The reportedly awful Defiance gets a #7 ranking from Sean Smith and #9 rankings from Kris Tapley and Anne Thompson, and Che, which is so much more than that Ed Zwick film that comparisons are a waste of breath and brain cells, is blanked by these three? This is unconscionable. I know what I know.
N.Y. Post critic Lou Lumenick, incidentally, has given a #9 ranking to Valkyrie. A faith vote based on admiration for director Brian Singer, or has he seen it?