“Most conspiracy theorists don’t understand this, but if there really were a C.I.A. plot [involving the assassination of President Kennedy], no documents would exist.” — Author Gerald Posner (“Case Closed”) speaking to N.Y. Times reporter Scott Shane in a 10.16 story about whether the Central Intelligence Agency might be “covering up some dark secret” about JFK’s murder? “Probably not,” Shane writes. “But you would not know it from the C.I.A.’s behavior.”
My London trip allowed me to see Tony Scott‘s The Taking of Pelham 123 twice — on the way over and the way back. And don’t laugh but I think it deserves to be one of the ten Best Picture nominees. The idea in nominating ten is to promote and celebrate a movie or two that guys like Scott Foundas and Dennis Lim don’t approve of, right? That Average Joes paid to see and actually enjoyed?
This is precisely the kind of shrewd, sharp-angled, deftly layered urban thriller that high-end Hollywood filmmakers like Scott are better at making than anyone else in the world. And I’m convinced after watching The Taking of Pelham 123 that it’s a damn near perfect film for what it is. The sucker never lags or falls into clicheville, it has a crafty plot with well-massaged characterization, it’s always psychologically complex or at least diverting, it delivers first-rate performances and just rocks out up and down.
And so somewhere over the Atlantic I began asking myself why a film as well-made and fully engaging as this one can’t be nominated for Best Picture? Because it’s a summer movie and summer movies don’t win awards? Of course they don’t, and of course this one can’t. The suggestion is to pop Pelham into the ranks of Best Picture contenders in order to round out the pack and toss a bone to the lowbrows and guilty-pleasure fixaters like myself.
What are the most likely ten Best Picture nominees at this stage? Up In The Air, Invictus, The Hurt Locker, An Education, Nine and A Serious Man. These are the six locks, in my view. Then you have Bright Star (maybe), Up (maybe but what’s the reason to lift it out of the Best Animated Feature category?), Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (probably but it’s so grim and dark, and isn’t it more of a performance film than a rock-solid cinematic achievement?), and possibly A Single Man.
I don’t think these last four are locks at all, and you can argue, I suppose, that A Serious Man might not be a given either. But any way you slice it there’s not a popcorn-muncher among these, and shouldn’t there be? At least one, I mean?
Early last June I wrote that The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 is “an unquestionably better film — more rousing and flavorful, zippier and craftier — than the 1974 Joseph Sargent original. It’s a very satisfying summer-crime fuckall flick. A retread, yes, but with an attitude all its own…pow!
“Scott’s Pelham is first-rate crackerjack escapism because (a) it knows itself and is true to that, (b) it’s content to operate in its own realm (i.e., isn’t trying to top the chase sequences, effects and explosions in the last big urban actioner…it’s not playing that game) and (c) it’s just a solid all-around popcorn movie, full of focus and discipline.
“Scott exhibits the same precision and intelligent pizazz he used for Man on Fire and Crimson Tide. Is Pelham some kind of drop-to-your-knees golden fleece movie? No — just another urban slam-banger but smart, clever and muscle-car sweet.
“The New York subway-kidnap hostage thriller has more intricate plotting than the ’74 film, richer characterizations of the top MTA guy (Denzel Washington in the old Walter Matthau role) and top-dog hostage-taking badass (John Travolta in the Robert Shaw role) and a slew of supporting performances across the board that are much more vivid and interesting than those from the class of ’74, and at the same time less broad and farcical.
“Plus the Travolta and Washington characters are more psychologically layered; more work has put into their rationales and backstories. In hindsight Matthau’s performance seems humdrum and almost glib in comparison to Washington’s. And Travolta…my God, he’s a friggin’ madman in this thing! Fierce, irate, flying off the handle, lunging — his finest bad guy since the ‘ain’t it cool?’ guy in Broken Arrow.
“And James Gandolfini‘s New York Mayor isn’t the buffoon figure from the ’74 film — he’s playing a rationale, practical, somewhat full-of-shit politician, and he does so with an unforced attitude..
“The 2009 Pelham was made by a guy who understands and respects the original, and who sincerely wanted to make a better film — and he did! Integrating it very nicely and believably into a 2009 realm. And very grippingly and thrillingly. There’s no boredom to be had, and it never overcranks it. ”
This BBC story about the re-opening of the Pennan Inn in Pennan, Aberdeenshire took me back to Bill Fosyth’s Local Hero (’83). The inn is the one visited by Peter Reigert and run by Denis Lawson in this beloved film, which…good God, I can’t believe it’s been 26 years since I first saw it at the Warner Bros. screening room on 50th Street. Is there anyone who’s seen this poignant and bittersweet love story/fairy tale who hasn’t felt some kind of meltdown effect?
You can’t quite hear the ringing telephone inside the red booth on this YouTube clip (i.e., the very last shot in the film), but my eyes moisten every time I watch it, even without having seen the entire film beforehand. (Although I’ve seen the film at least seven or eight times.) It plucks a chord that feels sad, serene and melancholy all at once.
The caller is Reigert’s MacIntyre, a Houston oil executive who arrives in Pennan (called Ferness in the film) near the beginning to negotiate an oil refinery land buy. But he becomes disengaged from the mission and starts to just feel the mystical Northern Scotland vibe for what it is, and what he is, being of pretended Scottish descent. (His Hungarian grandparents chose the last name arbitrarily.) He slowly falls in love with the place and the people, and is all but heartbroken when he’s forced to return to Houston.
We’re all on the other end of that ringing phone, looking to know and touch something more primal and lasting in our lives.
Warner Home Video needs to upgrade the DVD they issued ten years ago, and put out a Blu-ray as well.
In an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., West Virginia) said it’s Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid‘s call whether or not to include a public option in the Senate health care bill. So it could actually happen? Rockefeller warned that stripping the public option simply to win Sen. Olympia Snowe‘s vote will cause Democrats “to lose our leadership and our momentum.”
Spike Jonze‘s Where The Wild Things Are, in the view of N.Y. Times cricket Manohla Dargis, “startles and charms and delights largely because Jonze’s filmmaking exceeds anything he’s done in either of his inventive previous features, Being John Malkovich (’99) and Adaptation (’02). [Now] he has made a work of art that stands up to its source and, in some instances, surpasses it.
It’s a film “that often dazzles during its quietest moments, as when Max (Max Records) sets sail, and you intuit his pluck and will from the close-ups of him staring into the unknown. He looms large here, as we do inside our heads. But when the view abruptly shifts to an overhead shot, you see that the boat is simply a speck amid an overwhelming vastness. This is the human condition, in two eloquent images.”
There are two indications of trouble in this trailer for Martin Campbell‘s Edge of Darkness (Warner Bros., 1.29.10). One is the way-too-blissful smile Mel Gibson wears as he hugs his grown-up daughter and says, “Let’s go home.” I know all about grown-children dad hugs and you never smile like that unless you’re an idiot — you keep it tucked inside and project an air of mild serenity.
The other problem is that Gibson takes his eyes off the road twice — twice! — in the middle of a heavy rainstorm in order to look at his daughter, who’s riding shotgun. The HE rule is that any time an actor tries for occasional for eye contact with a passenger instead of watching the road, you’re watching, at best, a mediocre film and possibly a mildly bad one. So that’s it — game over. Too much emotion and bad driving.
Edge of Darkness might be a decent, kick-ass revenge movie, but it looks rote in a Taken sort of way. I don’t watching older guys getting all outraged and tearful and consumed with the thought of bringing those responsible to justice or killing them, blah blah. The best film in this vein in the last several years was Man on Fire because it was cool-and-dry Denzel doing the thing.
So no more Penn/Pitt/dinosaur jokes until sometime next year (maybe) with Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life not so much bumped from a speculative/hoped-for late ’09 release date as much as Apparition’s Bob Berney finally deciding to tell a journalist (Indiewire’s Anne Thompson), “Wait…you thought it was coming out later this year? Wow, I could have straightened you out on that weeks ago.”
The noteworthy thing isn’t that Tree of Life won’t come later this year (that was becoming more and more obvious with no marketing materials anywhere in sight) but Berney admitting (a) “he doesn’t know when it will come out” and (b) that he hasn’t seen it either, despite Malick having been editing Tree for over a year (having shot it in the Austin area during the spring of ’08). Thompson speculates it may turn up in Cannes next May.
I presume that Berney was informed before signing to distribute Tree of Life that Apparition had no collaborative or consulting rights whatsover and should make no assumptions about being able to even see a cut of Tree of Life at some point in the late-in-the-game editing process (i.e., just to get an idea what they’ll be dealing with), or even expect to be informed when it might be ready before Malick feels like telling him. In short he agreed, it would appear, to a very open-ended, no-pressure deal…very lah-dee-dah, “que sera sera,” you-da-man-Terry, etc.
There’s a reason, of course, why Malick is still fiddling and diddling with Tree of Life to the point that his own guy — a respected/admired distributor of the highest order who is not only contractually but spiritually on the Malick/Tree team all the way — is still being kept waiting in the lobby with no apparent clue about what’s coming. The reason is rooted in the apparent fact that Tree of Life is a RADICAL, RADICAL FILM, and, I suspect, because Malick hasn’t yet found a way to make it fuse together as completely and seamlessly as he’d like.
I think I know what “over a year in editing” means. Ask any seasoned edtior — he/she will tell you what it means also, even with IMAX and dinosaurs in the mix. I don’t know anything at all — zilch — but a little voice is telling me that Malick may be going through what James L. Brooks went through when he was struggling with the musical version of I’ll Do Anything. How’s that for a juxtaposition?
I summed up the situation two months ago as follows:
“I was talking about the dino aspect with a journalist friend a couple of weeks ago, and we were both shaking our heads and acknowledging what a bizarre mind-fuck Tree of Life sounds like. On paper at least. And it’s not like I’m blowing the dinosaur thing out of proportion because there’s some kind of Tree of Life-related IMAX dinosaur movie due in 2010 that will augment or expand on some theme that’s expressed within the parameters of the Penn-Pitt story. Right? I’m just trying to sound like I have a clue.
“All I know is that it’s one hell of a transition to go from a story of angry, pained, frustrated people in the 1950s as well as the present and then to somehow disengage the spacecraft and travel into another realm entirely (like Keir Dullea did in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he soared through Jupiter space), and somehow float into a world that is pre-historical and pre-human, and have this time-trip somehow add to our understanding and feeling for the sad/angry/bitter people in the Pitt-Penn realm.
“I mean, if someone like me is scratching his head and going ‘what the fuck…?’ over the unusualness of a ’50s domestic drama mixed with footage of prehistoric beasts , imagine what Joe Popcorn is going to think or say. Don’t even talk about the Eloi.”
“The richest 1 percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth — five trillion dollars,” Michael Douglas‘s Gordon Gekko declared 22 years ago in Oliver Stone‘s Wall Street. “One-third of that comes from hard work, and two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do — stock and real-estate speculation. [And] it’s bullshit.
“You got 90 percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own. We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price per paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of the hat while everybody sits out there wondering how the hell we did it. You’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you buddy? It’s the free market. And you’re a part of it.”
As Hollywood & Fine‘s Marshall Fine observed in a 10.14 article, “This is the same message that Michael Moore is offering in Capitalism: A Love Story, except Moore is bemoaning, not celebrating, these ideas.
Gekko’s “bullshit” speech “was overlooked at the time because people were so enamored of the more sound-bite-friendly line, ‘Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,'” Fine writes. “As Douglas was prepping for Wall Street 2, he told interviewers that financial types regularly come up to him and tell him that his famous line inspired them to become corporate assholes like Gekko – thus missing the point of the film.
“But it’s that other speech that nails it. Gekko delivers it to calm Bud (Charlie Sheen), who’s angry at Gekko for dismantling an airline whose sale Bud engineered in order to save it. It’s all there — all the points that Moore makes. That our economy has become consumed with itself, with financial services and their assorted sordid byproducts. Stone was telling the future – and, as I recall, he was castigated at the time for being simplistic and alarmist.”
It’s an excellent piece — please read the whole thing.