Casting rumors about the Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges project have been circulating for so long (four or five years now) that they go in one ear and out the other, but a well-placed friend confides that Bobby and Peter “have been talking to Johnny Depp for the role of Moe and Sean Penn as Larry.” Variety‘s Michael Fleming reported last November that the Stooges film had been revived with MGM financing and that the new film would be released in November ’09.
Perhaps the key reason why audiences were so moved by Gone With The Wind when it opened in late 1939 was because they saw the Civil War agonies endured by Scarlett O’Hara as a metaphor for the deprivations of the Great Depression. On top of which they knew from experience that what matters in hard times is backbone and gumption, which is why they saw Vivien Leigh‘s Scarlett, a selfish but feisty survivor, as one of their own.
Which is why Gone With The Wind is probably striking the same sort of chord today as well, given our current travails with Great Depression 2.0. And why Molly Haskell‘s new book, Frankly My Dear: Gone With The Wind Revisited, may sell better now than if it had come out, say, five or ten years ago.
“Scarlett is the perfect character for the times,” Haskell recently told MacLean‘s Peter Shawn. “She has that combination of suffering, glamour and hope that people are looking for. Even though the story was set in the Civil War, audiences saw it as a Depression-era fable. This was a story speaking about their situation and their problems.”
Which is why a similar reception may greet the release later this year of a newly remastered Gone With The Wind Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.
In a 2.17.09 interview with High-Def Digest’s David Krauss, WHV’s George Feltenstein said that a GWTW Blu-Ray would be among a “murderer’s row” of classic releases later this year (along with The Wizard of Oz and North By Northwest).
Both Oz and Gone With The Wind “were remastered in 2K Ultra Resolution three or four years ago for splashy DVD releases,” Krauss writes, “but have been completely overhauled once again to make sure they meet all of Blu-ray’s exacting standards.
“‘What was perfection two to three years ago is not now,’ Feltenstein says. ‘We thought Gone With the Wind would be good to go on Blu-ray with what was done previously, plus $200,000 for dirt cleaning. But to look perfect, we had to start all over from scratch at enormous cost. I took it to management and there was no hesitation. Having a film like Gone With the Wind on Blu-ray will set a new standard and pave the way for more classic releases.”
An HE reader passed along some kind of official casting notice for a new Alexander Payne film called Downsizing. I’m going to assume that it has nothing overtly to do with cutting people from the payroll, but check out the topliners — Sacha Baron Cohen, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon. It’ll be cool if this cast comes together, although a very-close-to-the-action source says it’s a little early to say.
(l. to r.) Paul Giamatti, Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep,. Sacha Baron Cohen.
“Nothing is locked down at this juncture, not even script, certainly not cast,” the source says. “[Payne is] still working on screenplay, although he’s close.” When the script is done and gets sent around, I’d very much like to read it. Naturally.
Here’s how the info looked as it came to me in the e-mail:
“DOWNSIZING (AKA UNTITLED ALEXANDER PAYNE PROJECT) (BL,RG)
D:Alexander Payne, CD:John Jackson, T:Sacha Baron Cohen, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon.”
The casting director is John Jackson, who served as casting director for Payne’s Sideways and worked in the casting department on three earlier Payne films — Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt.
If Downsizing is Payne’s next film I’m not sure where this leaves Fork in the Road, a Dublin-based romantic drama based on Dennis Hamill‘s 2000 book of the same name. The adaptation is by Kerry Williamson. The IMDB has Payne listed as director-producer.
In a just-posted N.Y. Post column film critic Kyle Smith praises Ross Katz‘s Taking Chance, currently airing on HBO, as “a work of transcendent sorrow and infinite dignity.” Smith has made no secret in the past of his conservative-minded views, but here he’s right in a more basic sense.
There’s a reason, he says, why Taking Chance was watched by roughly two million viewers during its first HBO airing last Saturday, which is the best for an HBO original flick in five years. It’s paying tribute to America’s Iraq War casualties with an understated economy that’s very respectful and affecting. You’d have to be some kind of emotionally shut-down monster not to feel and realize this — and that’s me talking, not Smith.
This somber drama about a 40ish Marine Colonel (Kevin Bacon) escorting the body of a young soldier killed in Iraq back to his home in Wyoming is everything Smith says it is and more. It’s a low-key reminder of what a terrible thing it is for any young soldier of any nation or cause to end up dead with so much life yet to be lived.
The “more”, however, is what Smith is missing, or pretending to miss. He swipes at me for “taking the Silver Star for snark” for stating my views about the film’s under-agenda. I’m presuming he knows exactly what Taking Chance is “selling” in a subliminal undertow sense, but since he agrees with it, being a righty and all, he’s giving it a pass.
Make no mistake, Mr. and Mrs. America. For all its honor and dignity, Taking Chance is a sneaky Iraq War sell-job in sheep’s clothing.
It may be, as I wrote earlier, “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.”
I admire Taking Chance “for the respect and sadness it shows for our fallen dead — don’t get me wrong,” I said in my initial piece about it. Its understated eloquence is very moving, in fact.
But there’s a double deal going on here. You can’t honor a tragically fallen soldier without paying a kind of oblique respect to the conflict he fell in. There’s no separating the two, and the people standing up for this film know this full well. Taking Chance gives voice to red-state sentiments about the valor of war, to wit: if you serve your country by putting yourself in harm’s way, you’re a man of honor. But how can that service be honorable without the war he’s fighting in sharing that same honorific glow? How do your divorce the two? How can they not bleed into one another? At least in the minds of the parents, wives and close friends of those who’ve died.
The under-message of Taking Chance is a very old shell game used by war-minded governments for centuries. Did you love your fallen son or daughter? Then you must honor with a stiff salute the motives of those who put him/her in harm’s way. Oh, and by the way, here’s a nice flag to drape over his/her coffin. So you’ll know how much we care.
This is why I said Taking Chance is “finally about simple grief and dignity in the same way that Scientologists offering free stress tests are just trying to make your day go a little more smoothly.”
It’s all here in the philosophy of Charlie Madison, a character played by James Garner in Paddy Chayefsky‘s The Americanization of Emily (’64). Smith doesn’t mention Chayefsky’s words in his article because…well, who the hell cares about the antiwar views of some Jewish left-wing nut screenwriter? Smith is blowing a special kind of smoke, and he needs to keep it pure. But Chayefsky wasn’t buying this hash even in ’64, before the Vietnam War erupted and the nation split into two camps — the antiwar left vs. the conservative hinterlanders who felt that honor had to be given to a war that had taken so many of its young.
“We shall never end wars as long as we make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields,” Garner says in this key scene. “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.”
Yesterday an HE reader named Ephemerinko called me out on being too conventional in my choices about what to see at the big film festivals. “I’d like to see you take more chances, “he wrote. “True, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs, as they say, but when something pays off there’s no better feeling in the world. Festivals are about discovery, not being force-fed what the studios want you to see. Your site would certainly be better for it.”
He had a good point but he was also missing the particulars. Yeah, I could take more chances and kiss more frogs, I responded. I could do that. Maybe I should do that. But I feel at root that I have to try and see the films that have a real shot at being distributed and seen by Average Joes in Terre Haute, or at least seen by sophisticated ticket-buyers in New York and other towns that cater to people with actual taste buds.
That means seeing movies with brand-name directors (and by that I mean guys like Carlos Reygadas, Bela Tarr and Brillante Mendoza, even though their most recent films have been seen by maybe 1% or 2% of the hip moviegoing public) and actors and screenwriters with some distinctive history of accomplishment.
You have to make choices at film festivals, and you have to file like mad during the eight or nine days that you’re there, which usually translates into seeing maybe 18 to 20 films, at best. 25 if you’re superman.
There’s a decent possibility that the following films will be at Cannes: Agora (no U.S. distributor), d: Alejandro Amenabar; The Road (Weinstein Co.), d: John Hillcoat; Brothers (MGM), d: Jim Sheridan; A Serious Man (Focus Features), d: Joel and Ethan Coen; Bright Star (no US distributor), d: Jane Campion; Whatever Works (Sony Classics), d: Woody Allen; Ondine (no US distributor), d: Neil Jordan; Forgiveness (no US distributor), d: Todd Solondz; Love Ranch (no US distributor), d: Taylor Hackord; Coco avant Chanel (Warner Bros.), d: Anne Fontaine; Nailed (Capitol Films), d: David O. Russell; Inglourious Basterds (Weinstein Co.), d: Quentin Tarantino. Plus Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, Cristian Mungiu’s Tales From the Golden Age, Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, a new Michael Moore documentary about profligate Wall Street bankers, Fatih Akin’s Soul Kitchen, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control, Ken Loach’s Looking For Eric, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank; and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs a tire-larigot.
I’m counting 22 films, meaning if they all turn up I may have to shine two or three. Which ones would you recommend not seeing if it comes to that?
By your standard I should ignore the Tarantino because it’ll be opening in August. My response to that is, “Are you fucking nuts?” Maybe you’d say ignore Taylor Hackford‘s film about Nevada prostitution (if and when it shows there). But Helen Mirren won the Best Actress Oscar a couple of years ago and I suspect HE readers (and those beyond the periphery) would want to hear about this film. But if I followed your thinking, I would say, “Naah, fuck the Hackford and find a nice little frog that may surprise you and turn into a prince.” Right? I get that way of looking at things because that’s how you discover the odd pearl (it’s true!), but it sure seems ill-advised right now.
Even the Gilliam film, which I suspect probably delivers in a nutso flipped-around way that even the most Gilliam-friendly critics will have a slight problem with, is of interest because it has the very last performance of Heath Ledger, which people are naturally interested in. Who wouldn’t be?
On the other hand you hear things at festivals about films that you hadn’t necessarily planned on seeing (not as a priority) but you go to anyway on a hunch. I hadn’t firmly decided on seeing the public showing of An Education at Sundance, but I decided to go at the last minute because it was written by Nick Hornby and directed by Lone Scherfig. It turned out to be a very good call on my part. Last year at Cannes I decided I had to finish a piece I was working on rather than see Gomorrah. That was a bad call as it turned out.
But you’re always juggling, always wondering, always on edge during festivals, always running with or behind your schedule but never ahead of it. You never see everything you wanted to see, and you always miss a couple of really good ones. Happens every time.
I’ll never forgive myself for failing to see Anton Corbin‘s Control during the early stages of the ’07 Cannes Film Festival at the premiere of Un Certain Regard. (Or was it Driector’s Fortnight?) I just blew it and didn’t go. I could have gone to the second screening but Robert Koehler told me not to bother. Hands down one of the best films of that year, and Koehler told me not to bother! I wound up seeing it on my last day there, at a market screening on the rue d’Antibes.
Again, let’s presume that each one of the above films is shown at Cannes. Which ones would you shine, and why? I’d like to hear your thinking on this. Because I don’t think you know more than what I know, and I don’t think your instincts are any better than mine either.
“It’s not rocket science,” USC academic Martin Kaplan tells N.Y. Times reporters Michael Ceiply and Brooks Barnes. “People want to forget their troubles, and they want to be with other people.”
Kaplan is explaining two facts: (1) 2009 ticket sales are up 17.5 % over last year for a tally of $1.7 billion, according to Media by Numbers, and (2) attendance has also jumped by nearly 16 %. Ceiply and Barnes conclude that “if this pace continues through the year, it would amount to the biggest box-office surge in at least two decades.”
Which underlines the old adage about the movie business being recession- or depression-proof and then some.
Except it’s not. Movie advertising has been down even in the online sector, there’s a general feeling of belt-tightening and weltschmerz out there, Warner Bros. recently fired a ton of people, long- and short-term loans are obviously harder to come by due to the general economic slump, fewer journalists attended Sundance six weeks ago and far fewer will attend Cannes, and so on. The bottom line is that the film business is booming as far as ticket sales are concerned, and yet things are looking lean and scary regardless.
Are we clear on that?