James Cameron has said more or less the same thing to MTV.com’s Josh Horowitz as he recently said to PBS’s Charlie Rose, to wit: “It’s an irresistable opportunity for the Academy to annoint a female director for the first time. That is a very, very strong probability, and I will be cheering when that happens.”
Roman Polanski‘s The Ghost Writer (Summit, 2.19) is a brilliant and masterful adult thriller. I just saw it this evening, and less than ten minutes after it began I knew I was once again in the hands of perhaps the most exacting filmmaker alive today, and as sharp as he’s ever been. This film is so gloriously not run-of-the-mill-Hollywood I can barely stand it.
Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer
Anyone who says “very well made but not enough action, not emotional enough and not a big enough payoff” is asking for commonality from the wrong guy. Polanski has never been one to massage and titillate the Eloi. He makes films for people who get what he’s up to. The Ghost Writer knows exactly what it’s doing and how to play cerebral thriller chess. It really is a masterpiece of its type.
It’s now a settled issue in my head that Variety‘s Derek Elley is a highly unreliable reviewer. I’m basing my judgment on the fact that Elley wrote that Polanski “brings not a jot of his own directorial personality or quirks” to The Ghostwriter. That is a complete flabbergast. The film throbs with Polanski’s personality and mentality. The same calmly intelligent approach to story — the sharp dialogue, subtle hints and clues, exacting narrative tissue, patient accumulation of facts and intuitions — that characterized Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown are here in abundance.
I’m in an Upper West Side cafe that’s closing down but I’ll write more about this tomorrow. I haven’t had such a complaint-free time with a thriller of this type in ages. The crowd I caught it with was totally enraptured — I could feel the concentration in the room — although I suspect that the Eloi will sidestep it for the most part. (Isn’t that what they generally do? Avoid intelligent adult fare?)
So often the protagonist in this type of thriller will be slow on the uptake or speak clumsily or be tongue-tied in some way when the occasion calls for the opposite, but Ewan McGregor‘s lead character — a bright and astute Brit hired to ghostwrite a political memoir for an ex-Prime Minister in the Tony Blair mold (Pierce Brosnan) — is wonderfully alert and articulate all the way through, even when he’s scared or uncertain or conflicted.
And the story never loses or confuses you. It moves along step by intelligent step. I can’t for the life of me figure why Marshall Fine called the middle sections “frustrating.” The film is never that. As long as you’re not looking for a Michael Bay or Martin Campbell-esque experience, The Ghost Writer delivers a kind of heaven that smart moviegoers will flutter over.
The only bad element during the screening was a 60ish asshole with swept-back gray hair who kept going “uhm-hmm” out loud whenever a significant detail or direction was revealed. He was sitting on the other side of my aisle — seven or eight feet away — and he really wanted everyone in his vicinity to know that he was getting all the twists and turns. I hate guys like this. Every so often I would look over and burn death-ray beams into the left side of his head.
I spoke a couple of hours ago with FIND exec director Dawn Hudson about the swanky new downtown venue for the annual Spirit Awards. For years the independent film award show has been happening under a huge tent on a beach-adjacent parking lot in Santa Monica. This year it’s moving downtown to a “panoramic event deck” atop a building at L.A. Live, AEG’s downtown Los Angeles’ events complex. And on the evening of Friday, 3.5, rather than the usual Saturday afternoon. Two nights before the Oscars rather than 24 hours.
An alleged shot of L.A. Live’s facade; FIND exec director Dawn Hudson
The Spirit Awards will air live on IFC at 8 pm Pacific and 11 p.m eastern. Hudson says that the evening idea was mainly about attracting a larger televised audience. She also believes that “late-night is primetime on IFC” so the 11 pm slot is no sweat. In fact, it’s party time!
What the actual Spirit Awards rooftop space will look like is a bit of a mystery. There are no photos, or at least none of the actual temporary venue.
L.A. Live is adjacent to the Staples Center — I know that much — but there are too many names and acronyms associated with this damn place. AEG, L.A. Live, Nokia Theatre, Regal…blah-dee-blah. Why don’t they just call it one thing? This is big-swagger corporatism for you — corporatism and territorial markings and no sense of bijou showmanship.
Here’s a link with directions.
Hudson says there will be seating for 1500 to 1600 people, which is a bit more than what the Santa Monica tent used to hold.
It’s apparently somewhat cheaper to hold the event at the AEG multi-acronym, multi-named mystery venue rather than pay for a tent to be put up plus all the other expenses. But Hudson says she mainly wanted to avoid a feeling that the event was going stale, and felt it best to start anew before that feeling settled in.
So to sum up, the Spirits are heading downtown because (a) it’ll be somewhat cheaper, (b) there’s an ability to accommodate more people, (c) the nighttime viewing audience will/may be larger, (d) swankier setting, and (e) no worries about going stale.
I think that just about covers it. I’d like to attend myself but it means hauling my ass out there on a jet and spreading it around to the tune of six or seven hundred bucks. When I lived in West Hollywood it didn’t cost me a thing.
It’s been 33 or 34 years since I first saw John Carpenter‘s Assault on Precinct 13. It’s a well-admired…make that beloved Howard Hawks/wild-in-the-‘hood exploitation film, of course, but is especially memorable for Darwin Joston‘s tersely sardonic Napoleon Wilson — a performance that encompassed a kind of studly melancholia, ironic machismo, flitting comic asides and a riveting aura of existential cool. And delivered with a sort of movie-conscious, wink-winky tone, but no less legendary for that.
I just watched Assault on Blu-ray last night, and was reminded what a beautifully iconic hard-boiled egg Joston and Carpenter managed to create in Wilson. I would have a guy like Joston in movies today. I really miss that steely-folksy quality of his — that steady, working-class, no-bullshit and not-too-beautiful Warren Oates vibe.
A New York-trained actor who hailed from North Carolina, Joston kicked around and then got lucky with Assault but never caught on like he should have, and movies of the ’80s and ’90s were poorer for that. He was 38 or 39 when he made Assault — he was 61 when he died of lukemia in 1998.
A little less than two years ago Matthew Kiernan of Headquarters 10 wrote a great Joston tribute. Here’s a portion:
“Joston started in the late 60s with roles on numerous TV shows like Rat Patrol and bounced around the industry like a lot of other actors, sometimes popping up in small roles in low budget movies but mostly sticking to the TV scene until he retired from acting to work behind the scenes (in film transportation) until his death from leukemia in 1998. Joston probably would have gone on to be another one of many forgotten actors if fate hadn’t placed him into the starring role in Assault on Precinct 13, the first real feature from writer/director John Carpenter.
“Joston happened to have been Carpenter’s neighbor in the same apartment complex, where the two became friends, and Carpenter wrote the role of Napoleon Wilson specifically for Joston, who Carpenter claims had inspired the character. You hear a lot of times about certain roles being written for certain actors, but that doesn’t mean they’re always perfect fits; however, Napoleon Wilson turned out to be the role that Joston was born to play, and even though the film lead to big things for Carpenter, whose next film ended up being Halloween, Joston went back to being another actor waiting for his big break.
“Although Carpenter gave Joston a small role in The Fog and planned to cast him as John Rainbird in his proposed film version of Stephen King‘s Firestarter (which obviously never happened), Joston never had a role that good again. But goddamn if he didn’t make something out of it when he did.
“While the actual star of Assault on Precinct 13 is Austin Stoker (who is also very good), Joston gets the best role, a villain with a set of principals who may not be the nicest guy in the world but is certainly the person you want on your side when your police station is under siege by street gangs.
“The entire film is Carpenter’s homage to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, with Joston sort of in the Dean Martin role (he sure ain’t Ricky Nelson), but the whole film is also Carpenter’s tribute to the entire western genre and the Children of George and Steven should take ample note of it because this is what a fucking genre homage is supposed to be like.”
Santa Barbara Film Festival chief Roger Durling caught a workshop version of American Idiot last September at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and liked it enough to recommend my catching the spiffed-up version when it opens next month.
Wednesday, 2.17, 1:05 pm
I’ll always be in awe of Harvey Weinstein‘s chutzpah, but Inglourious Basterds isn’t going to win the Best Picture Oscar. How do I know this? I don’t, not for certain. But I do know that the season has been dragging on and that entertainment journalists are getting bored and need to come up with scenarios that allow for some variation of the c.w. — i.e., the winner will be either Avatar or The Hurt Locker.
I’m also sensing that the Movie Godz, the aspirational angels of our nature, are feeling a wee bit antsy as we speak, and have taken to hovering like the monochrome Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander in Wings of Desire and intimating/whispering “don’t…don’t do this…not the baseball-bat movie…think of how you’ll feel the next morning.”
But if you want to trip out on an IG fantasy, consider Pete Hammond‘s Notes on a Season article that was posted seven days ago. Or Steve Pond‘s piece in The Wrap (which borrows most of its material from Hammond’s piece). Or Tom O’Neil‘s piece on Gold Derby/Envelope/L.A. Times. Or Jack Matthews‘ article for Moviefone. They’re all riding this bullshit horse.
“Harvey Weinstein has been pulling out all the stops,” Pond writes, “flatly proclaiming that Basterds is going to win Best Picture.” Fine — Harvey wouldn’t be Harvey if he didn’t strut around. “To that end, Quentin Tarantino has been making constant public and private appearances. Audi sponsored a packed party for film and director. Norman Lloyd and Roger Corman threw a smaller lunch at Musso and Franks.
“The latter gathering seemed to suggest that Tarantino has the approval of an odd subset of the Academy, voters like Mickey Rooney, who told the L.A. Times that he doesn’t see new movies.
“Weinstein also has suggested that the Academy’s newly installed preferential system of counting final Best Picture ballots might hurt Avatar and help propel his film to victory.
“Under that system, voters are asked to rank all 10 nominees from first to last. Unless one film gets more than 50 percent of the first-place votes – which, let’s face it, is virtually impossible in this year’s race – the film with the fewest Number One votes will be eliminated. Its ballots will then be redistributed into the pile of whatever film is ranked second on each ballot. The process continues, with the last-place film eliminated in each subsequent round, until one film winds up with a majority of the votes.
“The system means that Number One votes alone won’t be enough to propel a film to victory — it’ll also need to be ranked second or third on lots of ballots if it wants to hit that magic number.
“Avatar, it seems, should get lots of Number One votes – but it might also be ranked pretty low on the ballots of voters who don’t think it’s the best, leaving an opening for another film that’s more of a consensus favorite to ride to victory on the strength of more second- and third-place votes.”
When O’Neil predicted a Basterds win last November I wrote, “Trust me — it’ll never happen.” This morning he notes that “Mathews is saying it really might happen and I still say it will.” I’m fine with all this crap. The fever dream of a three-way race is better than an either-or. Without it things would be fairly flat, and we still have two and a half weeks to go.
Wells to Mickey Rooney: If you don’t see new movies you should resign from the Academy. No ifs, ands or buts.
I’ve seen nothing and know nothing, but it makes sense to beware of The Pacific. Beware of any miniseries that may be a nostalgic generational tribute in sheep’s clothing. Beware of all things Spielbergian — barring a miracle he’ll be nothing but trouble from here on. Beware of Hanks because he’s too wealthy and settled. Beware of 1940s stock characters that may have been created out of innumerable viewings of William Wellman‘s Battleground.
Niels Arden Oplev‘s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the 2009 European hit thriller that’s finally opening in the U.S. on 3.19, is, in the view of journalist Jeffrey Ressner, “the best movie of the year thus far. It’s The Silence of the Lambs with a punk-rock Clarice. The Swedes know how to make great films, and this is in the same vein of gripping genre genius as Let the Right One In.”
I blew off a Dragon Tattoo screening late yesterday afternoon in order to catch Noah Baumbach‘s brilliant Greenberg, but I’ll catch up with it next Monday. There’s a press junket two days later. The distributor is Music Box Films.
Dragon Tattoo “is 2 1/2 hours long but it zooms right by,” says Ressner. “It’s a combination thriller, feminist tract, journalism crusade and gorefest. The fanboys will go crazy over the title character, a hacker who swings both ways and is so punk she makes Joan Jett look like Cyndie Lauper. It’s a goodie.”
It was reported two months ago that Sony Pictures has optioned the rights for an English-language film adaptation with Steve Zaillian (American Gangster, Schindler’s List) in talks to write the script.
The story “follows Mikael Blomqvist, a disgraced journalist, and Lisbeth Salander, a bisexual female hacker with Asperger’s syndrome, investigating the 40-year-old disappearance of a industrialist’s niece on a remote island,” wrote Dark Horizons‘ Garth Franklin. “They uncover religious killings, Nazism, rape, child abuse and murder.
“The next two novels deal with a conspiracy within the government dating back to the Cold War. All three books have scored rave critical reviews, especially for the Salander character who’s considered one of the most compelling female characters of modern fiction.”