My Valkyrie reaction is that it’s…uhm, not too bad. A passable sit, relatively okay, decent enough, I wasn’t in pain. Except it feels as if this World War II-era thriller, about an effort by a group of patriotic German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler in the summer of 1944, is taking place inside an underground bunker. There’s something muffled and suppressed about it. As Tom Cruise and his co-conspirators go about to trying to bring down the Nazi regime, it just doesn’t feel all that suspenseful. As much as I wanted it to be The Day of the Jackal, it’s not.
Okay, it’s “interesting” as far as it goes. But I’m sitting in a Manhattan screening room in late 2008 and going, “What does this have to do with me?” And I didn’t say that while watching WALL*E.
But I just figured out how to make Valkyrie work. It’s too late to do anything now, of course, but if Singer and that king-shit, full-of-himself screenwriter Chris McQuarrie had only come to me two or three years ago…
My idea would have been to go the Quentin Tarantino/Inglorious Bastards route and tell the story of Cruise’s Col. Claus von Stauffenberg as a realistic wish-fulfilment fantasy along the lines of Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge .
In other words, show Hitler being killed by the briefcase bomb, the subsequent coup d’etat succeeding, the Nazi higher-ups fleeing for their lives, a truce being struck between the new German government and Allied forces, and Russian troops agreeing to stand down and not invade Berlin. Have it all work out just peachy with Tom von Staufenberg hailed as a national hero…and then jerk the chain 20 minutes before it ends and show that the plot in fact failed, that von Stauffenberg was in fact executed, and so on.
That movie, at the very least, would have held my attention a bit more.
The three biggest problems I had with Valkyrie are (a) I can’t quite accept Cruise as von Stauffenberg — the Jerry Maguire/Vanilla Sky/Mission Impossible factor simply checkmates his believability as a German military guy; (b) I didn’t care for Newton Thomas Sigel‘s mildly drab cinematography (unless there was something wrong, that is, with the projection standards in the bunker-like screening room I saw it in) — I just know that the photography seemed a little murky and shadowed down; and (c) the accents aren’t uniform — Cruise speaks like the right-wing U.S. Senator he played in Lions for Lambs, the British actors speak in their native British accents, the German-born Thomas Krentzman speaks German-accented English, etc.
This last shortcoming is a very important and persistent one. All you need to do if you’re making an English-language movie set in a foreign-language culture (or in an ancient one) is to set up an across-the-board system and have everyone stick to it.
In Vicente Amorim ‘s not-yet-released Good, set in Germany of the 1930s and early ’40s, everyone speaks in British accents — and it works fine. In Edward Dmytryk‘s The Young Lions (1958), the German characters all speak English in German accents — and it’s more or less okay. In Spartacus, all the elite Romans (except for John Gavin‘s Julius Ceasar) speak with British accents, and all the slave warriors speak Americanese. In Oliver Stone‘s Alexander, the Macedonian soldiers speak with Irish accents — and it pretty much works.
But the accents are catch-as-catch-can in Valkyrie, and I found that hugely distracting.
Yesterday Fox 411‘s Roger Friedman said he’d been “banned” from seeing Bryan Singer‘s Valkyrie, and then Patrick “Big Picture” Goldstein had a discussion with Mike Vollman about the Friedman situation, during which Vollman said that the New York-based columnist “just wasn’t invited…screenings are a privilege, not a right, and [if Freidman had] indicated a desire to be open-minded and not telegraphed his intentions ahead of time, we would’ve acted differently.”
The interesting part comes when Goldstein writes that he doesn’t “like the idea of studios banning writers from screenings, since judging from the state of my frosty relations with a couple of studios right now, it’s quite possible that, ahem, I could be next.” I don’t believe that for a nano-second. Nobody would dare ban Goldstein because of the lingering (i.e., actually much diminished) don’t-tread-on-me factor stemming from his L.A. Times employment. On top of which he’s finally too much of a political chess player and not nearly enough of an emotionally free-swinging, Miles Davis-styled loose cannon to get banned by anyone. I know, having experienced a few temporary freeze-outs by some major distributors in my time.
Friedrich Nietzsche once said words that I’ve always lived by: “When in danger, always move forward.” If a studio bans you, my advice is to just go “okay, whatever” and focus your energies elsewhere. Keep your head down, keep moving. Most of the time the anger over the banning issue subsides and the studio reconsiders after three or four months. I’m proud to say that right now I am no one’s shit list right now.
In a 12.15 petition, Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Alec Baldwin and more than 125 other SAG members urged guild leaders to deep-six a scheduled strike authorization vote. “We support our union and we support the issues we’re fighting for, but we do not believe in all good conscience that now is the time to be putting people out of work,” the petition said.
If an Academy member or press person allows a watermarked screener in his/her possession to be pirated and is thereafter busted for this, we the people (a) want to know the name and profession of this person, partly so we can speculate on his/her idiocy levels or circumstance, and (b) want to see the perp severely punished. But no such satisfaction has come out of the Quantum of Solace screener situation, that was recently reported by Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil, and which involves a female Academy member.
We didn’t need to hear any details back in ’04 when former Academy member Carmine Caridi was popped for participating in the pirating of several screeners. It was all but impossible to avoid the implications of his last name. A guy who probably had Godfather and Goodfellas posters on his den wall, was possibly mobbed-up, maybe had a cousin who worked for a Tony Soprano type back in Jersey — something along those lines. But we don’t know zip about the errant female.
The San Francisco, San Diego and St. Louis film critics announced their best-of lists yesterday, and I have to confess to a sense of growing tedium. Okay, there are two or three variations (thank God), but mainly they’re all marching in lockstep with the status-quo faves. Half award-giving, half photo-copying.
At least the St. Louis gang gave their Best Supporting Actress award to Doubt‘s Viola Davis — good call. And their Best Actress award to Revolutionary Road‘s Kate Winslet — check. Their Best Picture award went to The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button…okay. But their remaining awards were the same old Slumdog/Boyle/WALL*E/Man on Wire blah-dee-blah. Wait…they gave Burn After Reading their Best Comedy award! Agreed and then some.
I respect the judgment (as well as the local sentiment) that led the SF contingent to pig out on Milk — i.e., Best Picture, Best Director for Gus Van Sant , Best Original Screenplay to Dustin Lance Black, Best Actor (tied with The Wrestler‘s Mickey Rourke) for Sean Penn. But too many critics orgs have tumbled for Happy Go Lucky‘s Sally Hawkins . It’s starting to feel like a cross between a personality fetish (how can anyone actually fall for Hawkins’ Poppy character?) and a herd mentality thing.
The only stand-out calls from the San Diego film critics was handing their Best Actress award to Kate Winslet for The Reader and not Revolutionary Road — figure that one out — and Tom McCarthy‘s The Vistor winning for Best Original Screenplay.
Otherwise they went the lazy conformist route — Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture, Danny Boyle for Best Director, The Wrestler‘s Rourke and Tomei for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively, Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, etc. The Best Documentary award went to Man on Wire…of course. Best Animated Film, WALL*E…what else?
The San Diego-ans also handed their Body of Work award to Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Burn After Reading, Step Brothers, The Tale of Despereaux) as a sop for not winning Best Actor.
I suck at this Bush Shoe-Throwing Game. My highest score has been 13 or something. You think it’s easy? The trick is to throw the instant Bush pops up; hesitate and he drops right down again. He’s very agile, good reflexes, no easy target. Plus the soundtrack is distracting, messes with your concentration. And the blood-hit effect is unnecessarily vicious.