I don’t how to break this except to just say it. When things happen I write about or at least mention them, and something happened today. Last March my younger sister Laura died of cancer. Last June my father, James Wells, passed away from old age and disease. And today I was told that my younger brother Tony, a house painter who was having a very tough time with the recession, died yesterday at his home, apparently from advanced swine flu (although no one is currently certain what got him). But it happened. It’s there to face and deal with. And now I have to get into Manhattan to catch a screening of Amelia. I don’t believe in folding. Keep moving, stay with it.
Unlike the recently released Wizard of Oz Blu-ray super-package, the North by Northwest Blu-ray (which just arrived via FedEx a half-hour ago) doesn’t come with goodie knick-knacks. It’s just a disc in a hard cardboard case with a nicely written and illustrated booklet. And no, I haven’t popped it in yet.
But if goodie knick-knacks had been part of the package, it would have been great to find that white matchbook with R.O.T. — the initials of Cary Grant‘s advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill — printed on the cover. (Robin Wood‘s brilliant but very literal-minded essay on North by Northwest, included in Hitchcock’s Films, contends that R.O.T. is also an arch metaphor for Thornhilll’s spiritual state as the film begins.) That I would have treasured. That I would pay for.
Here, by the way, is an amusingly touched political essay by Rob Giampietro comparing North by Northwest with The Limey.
“Some of the most heated debates of the ’60s/New Wave were Marxist-Capitalist debates,” it begins, “but in these two films Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Soderbergh actually visualize these opposing ideologies by consistently placing them in formal opposition to one another and moving their characters between them.
“North by Northwest, made in 1959, came at a cusp point of the Atomic Age amidst the post-WWII prosperity in America, and its finale, in which both Communism is thwarted (though it’s not said outright) and a marrage is made, reckons with these twin late-’50s predicaments. The Limey, made in 1999, came after the end of the Cold War and amidst a wave dot-com prosperity in America. That the Marxist is a villain in one and a hero in the other speaks volumes about these thrillers. That both films are thrillers helps determine exactly how.”
Wait…Terrence Stamp plays a Marxist in The Limey? Oh, right — that line he says about “at one time I was into re-distributing wealth.”
“Again and again, Soderbergh and Hitchcock use the idea of exchange over time, and, more importantly, over space to discuss Marxist and Capitalist ideologies. By coupling movement — which is concerned with the formal kinetics of the characters, camera, and shots — with ideology — which is concerned with the social implications of the films’ content — both directors formulate a relationship between the way things move on screen and what they ideologically represent.”
I was invited a while back to take part in Sasha Stone‘s Awards Daily “Virtual Oscar Roundtable,” but with London and moving to a new place and my usual crazy-hair ADD I wasn’t able to muster the focus to participate. On average I’d say that I fail to do about 40% of the things I plan to do every day. Even when I write them down in the morning. Each day is a struggle in this regard.
Stone’s request, in any event, was for participants to pick/spitball the directors with the best chance right now of being of the five Best Director nominees. It’s a little early to do that, but not really — the only formidable unknown right now is Clint Eastwood (Invictus), but a little caution is advised for now. I’m not certain that Rob Marshall (Nine) sounds like any kind of given contender, given the vaguely uncertain rumble about the film. Nor am I picking up signals that Lovely Bones director Peter Jackson has any kind of favoring headwind.
My selections as we speak are (1) Jason Reitman (Up In The Air), (2) Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), (3) Lone Scherfig (An Education), (4) Eastwood and a three-way tie between Jane Campion (Bright Star), Joel and Ethan Coen (A Serious Man) and Lee Daniels (Precious). A voice is telling me that Precious may not be the comer/keeper that some think it is. But I don’t know anything. Nobody does. Well, two or three.
Here are some other calls from Stone’s poll along with HE commentary:
Damien Bona: “I hate to wimp out, but it’s still way too early to make credible predictions. October front-runners often fall by the wayside come January. One has to wait for critics awards to get a better gauge. But I do suspect that Kathryn Bigelow and Jason Reitman will still be in the mix come February.” HE commentary: Damien “suspects” that Reitman and Bigelow will be in the mix? Careful, bro — don’t go out on a limb.
Ed Douglas: “Jason Reitman, Joel and Ethan Coen, Lee Daniels, Quentin Tarantino, Lone Scherfig? (I’d alternately replace Tarantino with Bigelow which would make it the first year with two female representatives helping the odds, though I think Reitman will win based on having seen all the movies). HE commentary: The Movie Godz would frown but okay, it’s faintly possible that Inglourious Basterds could wind up as one of the ten Best Picture nominees. But there’s no chance in hell that Tarantino gets nominated for Best Director….just forget it.
Scott Feinberg: “Even though we haven’t yet seen Invictus, the clear favorite is Clint Eastwood. The last two times he teamed up with Morgan Freeman (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby) he won both best picture and best director, so I wouldn’t bet against him. It seems likely that the rest of the field will be filled out by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Rob Marshall (Nine), Lee Daniels (Precious), and Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), but James Cameron (Avatar) and Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones) — both past past winners coming back from long absences — are obviously big wild-cards. HE commentary: Cameron for Avatar?
Pete Hammond: “Kathryn Bigelow, Clint Eastwood, Rob Marshall, Jason Reitman, Quentin Tarantino or Lee Daniels.” HE commentary: Again — Tarantino.
Peter Howell: “Jason Reitman, Kathryn Bigelow, Lone Scherfig, Jane Campion and Tom Ford (A Single Man).”
Craig Kennedy: “Bigelow, Reitman, Coens, Scherfig, Jonze (I know I mentioned Campion above as a possible winner, but I’m hedging my bet here).”
Tom O’Neil: “The five nominees for best director will be James Cameron (Avatar), Lee Daniels (Precious), Clint Eastwood (Invictus), Peter Jackson (The Lovely Bones) and Rob Marshall (Nine). Avatar and Nine are both grandly ambitious productions that will probably be appreciated by fellow directors for their scope. Precious is this year’s Slumdog Millionaire, so Daniels goes along for the ride. Jackson and Clint get automatic nominations just because, well, they’re Jackson and Clint. Sad to say, but it looks like women will be slapped down again this year by the ole boyz in the directors’ branch. Only thing that can change that is Amelia flying higher than current expectations.” HE commentary: Kathryn Bigelow will not be slapped down this year — she’s a Best Director lock. And I’m fairly convinced that Scherfig is good to go also. Due respect but Precious is NOT this year’s Slumdog — it’s way too sad and grim to be regarded in such a light. A Cameron nomination won’t happen unless Avatar turns out to be much more than what’s been promised by the trailer and Avatar Day preview. Jackson is a maybe, at best. Ditto Marshall.
Kris Tapley: “Jason Reitman, Kathryn Bigelow and Lee Daniels have the best shot of those listed here, I think.”
Anne Thompson: “Kathryn Bigelow, Joel and Ethan Coen, Peter Jackson, Clint Eastwood, Jason Reitman.”
Susan Wloszczyna: “Of this group, Jason Reitman, Kathryn Bigelow, Lee Daniels and Lone Scherfig.”
Hollywood and Fine‘s Marshall Fine is calling Jonathan Parker‘s (Untitled) “a laugh-out-loud satire with a dry-martini wit [that] manages the neat trick of poking wicked fun at the worlds of experimental music and art — from all angles — even as it gives a humorously sympathetic look at the plight of the serious artist working far outside the commercial mainstream.
Adam Goldberg in (Untitled).
“His name is Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg) and he’s an experimental composer in New York, whose brother, Josh (Eion Bailey), is a successful painter. But both men have artistic frustrations.
“Adrian works in the realm of atonal music, using sounds like shrieks, squeaks, tearing paper and a chain being dropped into a metal bucket in his compositions. His concerts are ill-attended — with even fewer people sitting through the whole thing. His music earns laughter as often as it wins applause.
“Josh, meanwhile, earns big paychecks painting large, innocuously amorphous swatches of color that are sold by art dealer Madeleine Gray (Marley Shelton) to hotel chains and hospitals as decoration. Josh begs her for a show at her trendy gallery, saying his goal is to be a great artist.
“‘That’s not a goal — it’s a gift,’ she tells him, coating harsh words with sweet tones. And it’s a gift he doesn’t possess.
“Adrian falls for Madeleine but finds himself appalled at what passes for art in her Chelsea gallery. She sells Josh’s paintings out of the back room for wads of cash to keep her gallery afloat — but devotes her display space to outre efforts by of-the-moment emerging artists whose work is as much about the theory as the execution. Madeleine doesn’t blink when someone refers to Josh’s work as merchandise — but explodes at Adrian when he refers to her gallery as ‘your store.’
“It’s that dichotomy between creativity and commerce, between art and product, that Parker nails again and again in smart witty ways. Yet even the people he pokes fun at are treated affectionately — like the clueless collector (Zak Orth), who is unfamiliar with Matisse (‘I’m only interested in art of my time’) and is using art to diversify his investment portfolio: ‘Art doesn’t look as good when its value goes down,’ he notes at one point.
“No one is spared the needle of the script Parker cowrote with Catherine di Napoli. Adrian is a sympathetic figure, a seeker struggling to take his own work seriously in a world that treats him as a joke.
“At one point, he sees his future when he attends a concert by his idol, an elderly experimental composer — and listens to self-appointed critics ask this legend the same kind of stupid questions they routinely ask Adrian. Yet even Adrian is given to pompous pronouncements like, ‘Harmony is a commercial plot to sell pianos.’
“The script finds all the humor it can in art-world pretension — but also recognizes where the comedy lies in the raging insecurity, frustration and self-doubt of these characters.
“Goldberg is particularly good at making Adrian funny — not because he’s a fool but because he’s not. Shelton brings a calculating sexiness to the role of Madeleine, while Orth, as the collector, and Vinnie Jones, as a preeningly overconfident artist (whose work incorporates hilarious pieces of taxidermy) steal all the scenes they’re in.
“Intelligent and provocative, (Untitled) is consistently surprising and funny without pandering for laughs.”
Three thoughts about the widely respected Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives Of Others) being chosen to direct The Tourist, a Spyglass-produced espionage thriller starring Angelina Jolie, with filming expected to begin next February for a 2011 spring/summer release.
The first thought is “excellent news.” Florian, whom I personally know (and who’s been living in Los Angeles since, I think, sometime in early ’07), is a brilliant, gracious and good-natured fellow, and it’s a good thing (and frankly about time) that he’s landed the proverbial follow-up gig.
The second thought or question, really, is why did it take the director-writer of one of the finest adult dramas of the 21st Century (a political thriller plus a deeply emotional love story) between 30 and 36 months to firm up the right project?
If you’ve directed a great award-winning film (Lives took ’07’s Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar for 2007) and you’re in Los Angeles and haven’t been in Argentina writing a 2,000-page novel, you’re supposed to lock your next film down within six months to a year — certainly no more than 18 months hence. Two years is almost certainly pushing it, and if you’re still mulling things over as the three-year mark approaches…well, you know.
Florian told me last year that he was grappling with The 28th Amendment, a Tom Clancy-esque Washington, D.C. thriller written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (and commonly referred to as “The Firm within the White House”). It was reported last March that Warner Bros. had finally given the green-light to the stalled/troubled project with von Donnersmarck set to direct. But nothing further’s been announced over the last six months. Is Amendment kaput again?
There’s a 28th Amendment/Phillip Noyce/Angelina Jolie fate factor within this latest Von Donnersmarck story.
Roughly 18 months ago Noyce was planning to direct The 28th Amendment with Tom Cruise starring as the U.S. President, but WB was feeling a bit skittish at the time about the couch-jumping factor. Then Noyce shifted over to Edwin A. Salt, a high-throttle spy thriller with Cruise as a supposed Soviet assassin, but Cruise left that project and Jolie stepped in as a female version of the same character. The Sony-produced film, which Noyce and Jolie wrapped a month or so ago, is now called Salt.
And now Von Donnersmack is joining Jolie on The Tourist, another spy thriller that Noyce, one imagines, could have easily directed. It’s about a female Interpol agent “who draws an unwitting American tourist (Sam Worthington) into her attempt to locate a criminal who was once her lover,” per a Variety synopsis.