Before he became a successful director, a friend asked the late Hal Ashby for a secret tip about how to get an actress to emotionally deliver in a restrained but full-on way. Ashby said, “Tell her to do a scene with every last thing she’s got — scream, cry, pound the floor, no holds barred, pull out the stops. And when she’s done doing that, say to her “okay, now do it again only this time give me nothing. Shut yourself down and be a zombie.” And the residue of the wild take will still be there, and the zombie take will be just right.”
Let me get this straight: The man who sang Heroin, Venus In Furs, Perfect Day, Sweet Jane, Dirty Blvd. and I’m Waitin’ For My Man, and who recorded Metal Machine Music, The Bells and Berlin, is hawking an iPhone app called “Lou Zoom.”
Oh, and incidentally: Death to AT&T.
Marshall Fine has called Tim Blake Nelson‘s Leaves of Grass a “textbook example of a promising movie that takes a wrong turn from which it never recovers. Starting well, building good will, assembling a solid farce framework, Nelson’s script suddenly abandons all the comedic promises it makes in the first half and turns into a blood-drenched and sadistic action film.
“It’s like grafting the last half of Death Wish on to a stoner comedy (which, come to think of it, describes the similarly uneven — but much funnier — Pineapple Express).”
I didn’t like Leaves of Grass either, but tone-shifting can be a profoundly cool move. One of the finest, nerviest and neatest films of the ’80s — Jonathan Demme‘s Something Wild — pulled a major attitude-switch toward the last third when Jeff Daniels had to grim up, fierce up and put Ray Liotta down like a mad dog. I for one worshipped Demme’s decision to turn his light and quirky relationship comedy into Cape Fear.
I’m trying to think of other successful examples besides Wild and Pineapple. Need a little help.
Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have really, really reached their nadir. They can talk about going back to origins of a landmark 1954 Japanese monster flick all they want, but they’ve basically declared an intention to remake a 12 year-old deeply loathed Roland Emmerich film.
If you were a senior Warner Bros. production exec, would you have the stones to greenlight a new Godzilla film? I’d approve it on one condition. If Legendary commits to shooting it in black-and-white with a guy splashing around inside a Godzilla suit, like the 1954 filmmmakers did. Shoot the damn thing on sound stages with stupid-looking miniature buildings and fighter jets on wires and toy ships in the harbor. That I would honestly pay to see. Especially if the Godzilla suit has eyes with white pupils that roll around when the monster gets especially angry. And if they use the old Godzilla roar.
Dave McNary‘s Variety story about the project appears to be historic, however. It actually credits a horror-film website for breaking the initial news. I could be wrong but to my knowledge Variety has never does this — they’re famous for never crediting websites for anything. “Speculation about a new Godzilla has been active since last summer,” McNary writes. “The Bloody Disgusting web site reported in August that the project was in development.”
20 days ago a Wall Street Journal article by Tokyo-based correspondent Yuka Hayashi reported that The Cove‘s capturing of the Best Feature Documentary Oscar “could give the film an audience its makers had wanted to reach: ordinary moviegoers in Japan. The movie has had only a single viewing, at the Tokyo International Film Festival [last] October, and hasn’t yet been distributed in commercial theaters in Japan because of objections from the town it features.”
It further reports that “Japanese theaters have stayed away from The Cove because of protest from Taiji, a fishing town of 3,800 people in Western Japan that bills itself as the ‘birthplace of Japan’s commercial whaling.’ The town’s officials requested the film’s Japanese distributor to drop it, saying it was shot without permission of its people and constituted libel.
“To address Taiji’s complaint that the film was shot without permission from fishermen and other people in the town, their faces will be glazed over. It will also include a note pointing out the controversial nature of an expert’s comment in the film regarding the high mercury content of dolphin meat.” Controversial but not inaccurate.
I’m posting this because last night I ran into Cove producer Fisher Stevens (at the final performance of The Pride at the Lucille Lortel theatre), and he told me that Medallion Media, the film’s Japanese distributor, has postponed the Cove‘s theatrical release (reportedly set for “May or June,” according to Hayashi) due to some manner of pressure from some governmental agency, or perhaps from the courts.
Stevens said today that his sales agent has told him that Medallion had agreed to a May 15th release date, but has recently pushed it back to July 15th over apparent concerns regarding a possible Taiji libel suit. “We told them they have to release the film,” Stevens said. “They’re doing what they can but can’t keep postponing.” In fact, he said, “We’re pushing them to move it back up [to May 15th].”
Stevens also mentioned that pressure has been brought to bear to force the distributor to re-cut the film, alluding to what Hayashi reported almost three weeks ago.
To learn a bit more I wrote Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose negotiations with the Tokyo Film Festival led to The Cove being screened last October, but nothing so far. I also cc’ed Lincoln O’Barry, the son of Ric O’Barry — zip.
The front page of last Friday’s USA Today featured a small banner that called DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon a “3-D Pixar film.” I make mistakes like this from time to time, but I fix them within minutes. What this suggests is that the quality of page-editing and page-proofing at USA Today is slipping due to the general cost-cutting and downscaling that has afflicted print publications everywhere.
Nearly 26 months ago I debunked a then-current rumor about a DVD of Ken Russell‘s The Devils — a visually luscious, insanely flamboyant period melodrama about political persecution — coming out on 5.20.08 via WHV Direct. WHV spokesperson Ronnee Sass called her company’s brief online announcement a “mistake” but said “the title may make an appearance down the road.” Well…?
HE respectfully requests the honorable George Feltenstein to please reveal when, if ever, this perverse but astonishing film — which the religious right would absolutely despise and throw a shit-fit over if they were hip enough to watch it in the first place, which of course they’re not — will see the light of day.
The DVD jacket cover, sent by WHV to dvdverdict in February ’08, doesn’t look like WHV Direct art — it looks like art for a conventional commercial DVD.
The Devils (1971), which boasts superb performances top to bottom beginning with stars Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, is a highly literate, wildly impressionistic depiction of the rise and fall of Urbain Grandier, a 17th century French priest executed for witchcraft.
The Devils is based partially on Aldous Huxley‘s “The Devils of Loudun” (1952), and partially on the 1960 play The Devils by John Whiting, also based on Huxley’s book. If nothing else The Devils was enhanced by production design (done by the late Derek Jarman) that was drop-dead immaculate.
The Devils is a kind of political horror film. It’s about the crushing of freedom by political demagogues using every revolting trick in the book to whip up fear and ignorance among the religious faithful. Incredibly cruel and vicious things happen. The film has an acute atmosphere of evil and wickedness and corruption. It’s horrible and yet spellbinding. I’ve never felt such rancid vibes emanating from the pores of any film before or since.
Which is why it reminds me today on some impressionistic level of the Sarah Palin loonies and the rocks they’ve thrown through the windows of Democratic officials and reps around the country. There’s no question that Palin is the reigning fiend in American politics today. I have no doubt that if she was to be somehow time-machined back to Loudon during Grandier’s persecution (and was also made to instantly speak French), she’d scream for his death.
The Devils‘ Wikipedia page strongly suggests why WHV is still piddling around with the release of the DVD.
“Since the time of its release, the film has caused enormous controversy. In the United Kingdom it was banned by 17 local authorities, and everywhere attracted many scathing reviews. Judith Crist called it a ‘grand fiesta for sadists and perverts‘ while Derek Malcolm called it ‘a very bad film indeed.”
“However, it won the award for Best Director-Foreign Film in the Venice Film Festival, despite being banned in the country. The United States National Board of Review awarded Ken Russell best director for The Devils and his next film, The Boy Friend.
“In 2002, when 100 film makers and critics were asked to cite what they considered to be the ten most important films ever made, The Devils featured in the lists submitted by critic Mark Kermode and director Alex Cox.
“The Devils is a highly controversial film which has a history of censorship. The film is a strong condemnation of religious institutions such as the Catholic Church and organized religion in general. This, combined with its unrelentingly graphic depictions of sex and violence, has led to its history of censorship.
“The film’s combination of religious themes and imagery combined with violent and sexual content was a test for the British Board of Film Censors that at the time was being lobbied by socially conservative pressure groups such as the Festival of Light.
“In order to earn an X certificate, Russell made minor cuts to the more explicit nudity (mainly in the cathedral sequences) and removed some violent detail (notably the crushing of Grandier’s legs).
“However, the biggest cuts were made by the studio itself, prior to submission to the BBFC, removing two scenes in their entirety, notably a two-and-a-half-minute sequence of crazed naked nuns sexually assaulting a statue of Christ and about of half of a latter scene with Sister Jeanne masturbating with the charred tibia of Grandier after self-administering an enema. However, even in its released form, the film was considerably stronger in detail than most films released prior to that point.
“Its fate in the United States was even more stringent, with a further set of cuts made to even more of the nudity with some key scenes (including Sister Jeanne’s crazed visions, exorcism and the climactic burning) shorn of the more explicit detail.
“All of this material was presumed lost or destroyed until critic Mark Kermode found the complete ‘ape of Christ’ sequence and several other deleted scenes (including the fuller version of Sister Jeanne’s masturbation scene as well as additional sequences of naked nuns lounging around the convent and a bawdy dance performed by travelling players mimicking the bizarre events whilst Grandier is being lead to his death) in 2002.
“The artist Adam Chodzko made a video work in which he traced and interviewed many of the actresses who had played the nuns during the orgy scene. Although some material may have been lost forever, the NFT was able to show The Devils in the fullest possible state in 2004. This uncut version premiered at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film in March 2006.
“The British version remains the most complete one in circulation, although there are long promised plans to release the uncut version on mass-market DVD. On April 25, 2007, The Devils was shown for a second time in its fullest possible state to a group of students and staff at the University of Southampton, followed by a question and answer session with the director, AND moderated by Kermode. It was the first significant event to take place during Russell’s tenure as a visiting fellow at the University of Southampton in the English and film departments, April 2007 to March 2008.
“An NTSC-format DVD edition on the Angel Digital label appeared in 2005, with the so-called ‘rape of Christ’ scene and other censored footage restored, and featuring a documentary by Kermode about the film, as well as interviews with Russell, some of the surviving cast members, and a member of the BBFC who participated in the original censorship of the film.
“DVDActive.com announced on February 28, 2008 that The Devils would finally be released on DVD by Warner Home Video in the U.S. on May 20, 2008, in the uncut (111 minutes) version, but without additional material. However, a day later, a DVDActive forum post asserted that the release had been dropped from Warner’s schedule.”
Update: An industry friend believes that “one problem with The Devils is [Warner Bros. president & CEO] Alan Horn‘s overall conservatism, especially towards religion, as even The Hangover gave him problems, which is on record. So distributing a film on DVD that could incur the wrath of the religious right is not high on his agenda. He’s a thought-police kind of guy who has major issues with raunch.”
Variety‘s Brian Lowry is calling the 3D Clash of the Titans “pretty flat,” claiming that the “technical upgrade doesn’t improve the clunky mythological underpinnings. Result feels mostly like a very expensive kids’ pic.
Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-motion work in the original 1981 Clash of the Titans “is surely dated from a technical standpoint compared with the magic CGI can conjure; still, this Titans reboot merely demonstrates that building a more elaborate mousetrap doesn’t necessarily produce a more entertaining one.
Action- and spectacle-wise “everything is literally bigger but not necessarily better [here], including the gigantic Kraken, which now resembles Return of the Jedi‘s Rancor monster but remains every bit as anticlimactic as it was three decades ago.
“The effects are too frequently muddied by the pace at which they flash by, limiting opportunities to appreciate the combined animatronic, computer-generated and motion-capture visuals. The most satisfying creative element, actually, is Ramin Djawadi‘s operatic score.”
“While some critics feel personal relationships [with filmmakers] don’t affect what they write, that’s not been my experience,” writes L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan. “I’ve even found that meeting filmmakers in the course of writing stories from film festivals, though helpful in understanding creative decisions, can be problematic for reviewing. It’s not that you change your opinion of the film from black to white, it’s that friendship can make you take a little off your fastball, so to speak — make it harder to be as blisteringly candid as you ought to be.
L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan; Exploding Girl star Zoe Kazan.
“That’s why, as an astute colleague of mine once said, when Hollywood wants to influence a critic, they don’t do it with gifts or money, they do it with access to talent.”
Turan wrote the preceding as part of a 3.28 Critics Notebook piece about feelings of personal and professional conflict in reviewing Bradley Rust Grey‘s The Exploding Girl (Oscilloscope, opening 4.2 in Los Angeles). Turan has known the star, Zoe Kazan, most of her life as a result of a long friendship with her parents, director-screenwriters Nick Kazan (Dream Lover, At Close Range) and Robin Swicord (Jane Austen Book Club).
My initial reactions to the just-revealed official poster for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival are as follows: (a) “I like the monochrome-plus-neon blue, but it doesn’t exactly dazzle. Lacks pizazz. Juliette Binoche‘s expression is supposed to exude serenity or whatever, but it seems sedate and complacent.” (b) “Binoche is the 2010 poster girl because…? Oh, I get it. Because French photographer Brigitte Lacombe asked her. Fine.” (c) “Binoche’s black slacks seem a bit long — should have been finessed by a tailor.”
HE reader Andy Smith had the best reaction: “It looks like an ad for Binoche hosting SNL. Or, you know, one of those commercial-break cards they sometimes show during a broadcast.”