Hollywood Elsewhere strongly endorses the notion of Cenk Uygur, the liberal, blunt-spoken, sometimes combative host of Young Turks, being given the up-for-grabs 10 pm slot on MSNBC. The guy is in the same general bright-nervy-mouthy ballpark as Chris Matthews, only younger. (No offense but I don’t know the other big candidate, Air America’s Sam Seder.) MSNBC needs a young smart-ass GenXer on the team. Somebody to counter-balance the attitude and presence of David Gregory, a.k.a. “monkey mouth.”
“There are press embargoes on many, many films, ” writes Tom Shaw in response to Matt Selman‘s “My Own Private Watchmen” piece, which went up yesterday afternoon. “Usually because the studio thinks that any early reviews would hurt attendance. Just like they would here.
“Sure, we all hold Watchmen dear in our hearts, but consider [the view of] someone who has never read it before.
1. “Far from the ‘all action, all the time!’ previews, the actual movie itself has only a handful of fight scenes, none of which are fair. A young dude beats up an old dude, God beats up the Vietnamese, two people wail on near-incapacitated law officers doing their job, etc.
2. “The setting confuses everyone. What’s Nixon doing being president in the 1980s? I thought the Soviets weren’t a threat and drank themselves into irrelevance? Who are all these ridiculous gang members….extras out of Death Wish?”
3. “The ending: Not really ‘everyone lives happily ever after.'”
4. “And the worst thing: The movie is best described as artistic. Which was the kiss of death to the last two artistic comic movies (i..e, Hulk, Superman Returns).
“So no, if I was Warner Bros. I wouldn’t have early reviews either. Of course, my issue is with the 5% Moore didn’t write. I just don’t see how that 5%, which is (a) all over the internet, and (b) in the last trailer logically ties in with the 95% they did keep.”
Now, that gets our blood going — CG footage of a centuries-old French building in Paris being blown to pieces. But honestly? The footage of that slowly sinking aircraft carrier and the jets alongside got me. It shows imagination. Otherwise it’s obviously a good thing that Steven Spielberg has his executive producing hooks into this film because it ensures he’ll make a lot of money, and if there’s one thing that Spielberg needs in his life right now…
Taking Chance is “austerely nonpolitical,” writes Hollywood & Fine’s Marshall Fine. “It’s [a movie] about honoring one man’s sacrifice, without getting into polemics of any sort. It’s about the shared humanity of everyone Chance Phelps’ encounters on his last ride home and its impact on his escort, played with understated anguish and strength by Kevin Bacon. I haven’t been this moved by a film in a long, long time.”
The fact that Fine, a very shrewd critic, swallowed the bait and wound up calling Taking Chance “nonpolitical” shows you how sly and tricky Ross Katz‘s film really is. It may be one of the most inspired con jobs of all time in the way it walks, talks and acts apolitical…and yet deep down, it’s a film that will warm the cockles of Dick Cheney‘s heart. Taking Chance is about simple sadness and dignity in the same way that Scientologists offering free stress tests are just trying to make your day go a little smoother.
Ross Katz‘s Taking Chance, a somber, well-made drama about youth, grief and terrible finality, is an infuriating film because it’s also, for me, a sneaky Iraq War sell-job in sheep’s clothing. It will have its premiere on HBO this Saturday, 2.21, at 8pm. So it seems time to re-run some of my original 1.17.09 review that I wrote at the Sundance Film Festival.
Kevin Bacon in Ross Katz’s Taking Chance
Taking Chance “moves you with understated eloquence about the profound and lasting sadness of a young man dying in a war (any war) with so many decades of potentially rich life taken from the soldier and his loved ones and his unborn children. But the movie does something else. It sells the honor and glory of combat death in a ‘sensitive’ way that is not only cloying but borders on the hucksterish. Which I feel is a kind of obscenity.
“One result of this sell job is that it lends an aura of dignity and nobility to a conflict that was launched upon lies and neocon arrogance and idiocy, and that war simply doesn’t deserve the respectful salute that Taking Chance obliquely extends.
“I’m not objecting to this film offering a modest and moving tribute to our fallen dead. I was in fact moved by this. But Katz knows full well that Bush, Cheney, Rummy and Wolfowitz will cream in their pants when they see this thing. Is he proud of this? Because I think Taking Chance is catering, in a roundabout way, to not just the red-state sentiments that have prolonged the Iraq War (and which certainly prolonged the Vietnam War) but the kneejerk neocon thinking that has also kept us in that terrible situation.
“The fundamental objection I have to Katz and the film is the underlying spin behind the general honoring of brave young men suffering ghastly death and mutilation under the wind-whipped stars and stripes.
“James Garner‘s Americanization of Emily speech [see above] talks about the obscenity of selling the valor of war death — the tributes, statues and Memorial Day parades that praise and worship the act of being killed in combat — because it perpetrates the carnage through decades and generations and centuries.
“We shall never end wars,” Garner says, “as long as we make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. The fact is that we perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifice. It may be ministers and generals and politicians who blunder us into war, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution.”
I’m ready to rock and rumble with anyone who’s caught an advance screener and doesn’t agree, or who intends to see it this weekend and wants to get into it then.
Last night Variety‘s Michael Fleming posted a story about an entertaining movie-to-be called Pride and Predator, a Jane Austen jack-off about aliens landing on earth and butchering 19th century men and women of quality. Elton John‘s Rocket Pictures will produce.
Director Will Clark, who made a moderately amusing short called The Amazing Trousers, wrote the Pride and Predator script with Andrew Kemble and John Pape.
Rocket producer David Furnish told Fleming that “it felt like a fresh and funny way to blow apart the done-to-death Jane Austen genre by literally dropping this alien into the middle of a costume drama, where he stalks and slashes to horrific effect.”
This morning’s announcement that Sundance Film Festival director Geoff Gilmore is jumping ship for a new gig as chief creative office for Tribeca Enterprises is a wowser, all right. He must have been offered a pretty rich deal to leave the top berth at Sundance, the biggest and most successful film festival in the country. Especially given Tribeca’s financial concerns over the last couple of years.
According to a release, Gilmore will be responsible for “Tribeca’s global content strategy and lead creative development initiatives and expansion of the brand.” That means…what, he’ll be trying to establish other Tribeca satelitte festivals like the one in Qatar that was announced last November? Tribeca Film Festivals (or TFF partnerships with local fests) in Beijing, Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Madird, Marrakech, etc.?
“I’ve had a wonderful nineteen years at Sundance,” Gilmore said in a statement, “and I will always be grateful to Bob Redford. For me this is a big decision, a huge change and an enormous opportunity.”
But what about that hoo-hah about Tribeca’s finances that came about when they raised their ticket prices a coiuple of years ago? Former Hollywood Reporter guy Gregg Goldstein ran a piece about this on or about 4.24.07, to wit:
“A Tribeca insider does claim that for the past few years, the cost of staging each fest has increased to about $13 million (20% of which is ponied up by the festival’s founding sponsor, American Express), and the event has been running a $1 million annual deficit,” Goldstein wrote, “which comes right out of the pockets of TFF’s Jane Rosenthal, her husband and co-founder Craig Hatkoff and co-founder Robert De Niro.
Hatkoff says that Tribeca “now costs three to four times what it did when it was initially conceived in 2002 as a five-day event that hosted some 150,000 attendees. By last year, it had ballooned to a 13-day event and more than tripled in attendance. And yet the festival has, according to the arithmetic, been bringing in $12 million in revenue to its $13 million in expenses.
“‘The rationale for a bigger scale is that there are fixed costs inherent in running it no matter how large we are,’ Hatkoff told Goldstein. ‘It’s Economics 101. Not having it grow will just exacerbate the cost structure. It’s not about making money for the festival.'”
To double-underline that I have no dog in the Watchmen hunt, I’m stating an obvious interest in posting any other reactions to the film — pro, con, whatever. Even a submission on the level of that detestable 2.16 article by Nerdworld‘s Matt Selman would be of interest. Obviously there’s more to Watchmen than the opinion of one journalist colleague or some alpha-brained Simpsons contributor. I’ve been told that another critique will land in my inbox fairly soon so I hope others will follow.
Has anyone noticed, incidentally, that Selman hasn’t written a word on Nerdworld since yesterday afternoon’s blow-up? What a lazy fuddy-dud candy-ass he must be. Can you imagine being silent after igniting a firestorm of this sort? Is Selman hiding out? Is he working the tension off at a local workout place? Did be buy groceries early last evening at Whole Foods and then go out to dinner with friends, with whom he drank California wine and laughed uproariously at their jokes?
Restoration guru and all-around film expert Robert Harris has seen and spoken out about William Freidkin‘s notorious visual re-imagining of The French Connection (’71), which will be viewable on Fox Home Video’s upcoming Blu-ray of this classic Oscar-winning film, due on 2.24.09.
Captured from the forthcoming Blu-ray French Connection — the color extracted, de-focused, reduced and blended with black-and-white.
Harris’s fundamental point is that “what one is seeing in this Blu-ray incarnation is no longer the Best Picture of 1971,” he writes. “It is a re-vision. Like many of the Disney animated classics, it has been visually re-imagined.
“What Friedkin, and his colorist have done is to cross-pollinate 1930s and ’40s dye transfer technology with the modern digital world, and the fact that they carried out this experiment shows just how talented Mr. Friedkin remains as a filmmaker and technician.
“Friedkin references John Huston‘s Moby Dick as the precursor to his work on The French Connection, and while true, the reality goes directly back to the mid-1930s and the period up to WWII. Moby Dick was not a Technicolor production. It was photographed on standard Eastman Kodak 5248 color negative, and then printed by Technicolor in dye transfer, but with the extra black & white record. [Note: Referred to in some circles as a “gray negative.”] I’m sure that [Friedkin] knows that.
“What is interesting here is that Friedkin and his colorist have taken things a step further. Not simply wishing to add the extra record, they also extracted the color, de-focused it, reduced it, and laid it back on top of the black & white, to yield a higher contrast with lower chroma.
From the 2005 standard DVD of The French Connection.
From the new Blu-ray version.
“This is not your father’s French Connection, but a very interesting and beautiful one. If I were able to make a single change, it would have been a simple one. I would add a third disc — the film is certainly worth it — with the original Academy Award winning version of the film, as seen in theatres in 1971. I would issue this, the new pasteled French Connection ‘redux’ plus the third disc of extras.”
Part of Freidkin’s commentary on the process he applied to the French Connection Blu-ray version has been quoted as follows: “The main reason, I think, I was drawn to this process is because of the skin tones. The skin tones on an average color film are usually too warm. The makeup look, pancake makeup, tends to make the skin look darker, richer, warmer, rather than pale.
“In The French Connection, nobody wore makeup. I wanted to say that a lot of you might look at this and say, ‘Gee, the normal version of that looked just as good.’ Well, it may, to your eye. But to my eye, and what I’m looking for here is less color, because, to my mind, bright and extravagant is associated more with a comedy or a musical. And for dramatic purposes, I wanted the pastel color that is achieved by this process.”
The fact that I was instinctually repelled by Matt Selman‘s whorish and insipid remarks about Watchmen (Warner Bros., 3.6) doesn’t mean I have a dog in this fight. I don’t. I worship any film that convincingly creates in its own realm and knows how to zap the audience into believing in its theology, so if Watchmen manages this feat, terrific. But a trusted journalist friend, aroused by yesterday’s uproar over Selman’s very suspicious testimonial, passed the following along this morning. Again — I have no stake in this. I’m just a guy on the sidelines.
“I’ve seen Watchmen,” he began. “And speaking as a huge admirer and devotee of the graphic novel, the film is a staggering failure. On the plus side, you’ve got a pretty literal adaptation of the source material. It is at times a meticulous and gorgeous recreation of Alan Moore‘s original work. Unfortunately it’s an empty, inert, meandering and, yes, boring 2 hours and 45 minutes.
“Oh, and it’s horribly acted throughout. Truly. Malin Akerman (i.e., Silk Spectre II) confirms whatever fears you may have initially felt after The Heartbreak Kid and 27 Dresses. Carla Gugino (the other Silk Spectre) just looks silly. Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II) is his usual blah self. Only Jackie Earle Haley‘s Rorschach and Billy Crudup‘s Dr. Manhattan register at all.
“Sadly even the presumed up-and-comer Matthew Goode plays Ozymandias, the world’s smartest man, as an arch and slightly bored Bond villain. I had high hopes after being wowed by him in The Lookout, but he’s bungled this great opportunity. (It’s clear in retrospect the part should have gone to a real star. Say what you will but Tom Cruise would have been perfect.)
“I say all of the above as a person who was very much into the 20 minutes they screened for all of us months ago. Sorry to confirm our worst fears but those scenes in fact remain the best and among the few that work on any level.
“Watchmen is just not much of a movie. It has no narrative pull and no characters to invest in. It uses rotely shoehorned-in action scenes, and has a sheen that doesn’t befit the dark material.
“So much for the visionary vistas of Zack Snyder. Oh, what Paul Greengrass could have done!
“And to reduce it all to dollars and sense, I’ll be shocked if this one plays to a wide audience after an admittedly huge weekend. Watchmen fans are in for a rude awakening.”