I didn’t comment on the 5.28 theatrical debut of Alejandro Amenabar‘s Agora because I was in Europe, but now that I’m back and domesticated I may as well re-run my 5.18.09 Cannes Film Festival review, which began with my calling it “a visually ravishing, intelligently scripted historical parable about the evils of religious extremism.
“And I don’t mean the kind that existed in 4th century Alexandria, which is when and where this $65 million dollar epic is set. I mean the evils of the present-day Taliban and the Neocon-aligned Christian right, and the way Agora metaphorically exposes these movements for what they are.
“As Adam Curtis‘s The Power of Nightmares sagely explained, these two extremist faiths are similar in their loathing for liberalism and militant yearning to turn back the clock and to above all hold high the flag of religious purity. The 9/11 attacks kicked off their holy war against each other — a war that fortified their positions in their respective cultures during the Bush years.
“And now comes Agora, dramatizing how purist zealotry among 4th Century Christians led to the persecuting of Jew and pagans, to the sacking and burning of the great library of Alexandria, and to the murder of Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), the first widely-noted female scholar who taught philosophy, astronomy and mathematics. (Note to whiners: Noting a well documented event that happened 1600 years ago can’t be called a spoiler.)
“Amenabar’s film, an English-language Spanish production that was shot in and around Malta, seems to me like the most thoughtful and intellectually-talky big-screen epic ever made, although there’s a fair amount of strife and sword-stabbing and mob violence all through it.
“The intense conflicts, exacting and cultured dialogue, dashing visual energy and top-notch performances from Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Evans, Ashraf Barhom, Rupert Evans and Michael Lonsdale make Agora more than gripping for its entire 141 minutes. I was surprised, really, that it moved as fast as it did.
“Some are calling it too talky or insufficiently emotional, which translates into the imprecise term known as ‘boring.’ It isn’t that, trust me, although I admit it’s hard to imagine the U.S. fans of sludge entertainment being keen to see it. You need to be keyed into what it’s saying about our world and to be rooting against the bad guys (i.e., old-time Christians) to really get into it, I suppose, although the high-quality sheen is unmistakable in every department. It’s well worth it for the CG alone.”
Leon Gast‘s Smash His Camera, the HBO doc about the legendary, fearless, pain-in-the-ass paparazzo Ron Galella, does a solid, professional job with the usual portraiture. Who he is and was, career recap, what his friends and detractors think and remember, etc. It’s smart, tight, well assembled.
Describing some thorny-tough Vietcong he’d fought in Vietnam, Kurtz said “you have to have men who are moral, and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment…without judgment! Because it’s judgment that defeats us.”
Replace “kill” with “take pictures of celebrities” and that’s a pretty good summary of Galella’s approach to his rather sleazy profession. He doesn’t judge himself — can’t, won’t, doesn’t know how. And for what it’s worth, he seems like a relatively happy guy. Partly because he does what he does with real feeling and passion. He loves his work.
For decades Galella’s rep among celebrities — including, in their day, Jackie Kennedy and Marlon Brando — has been (a) he is/was New York’s most famous and notorious celebrity photographer, and (b) is/was some kind of Ultimate Insect — an obnoxious thief, invader, stalker, mosquito.
But their scorn doesn’t get through to him. You can see that in his manner and words. Either he’s incapable of understanding what people find infuriating about a paparazzi pest, or he’s shut down that part of him that could understand it.
For the last 40-plus years Galella has presented himself as just a regular New Jersey guy (cannoli-eater, a bit of a primitive, lacking sophistication, not well-educated) who does what he does and gets paid for it, period. He could be a brick-layer or a cab driver, except he lives in an ornate Tony Soprano house and has questionable taste in furnishings and God knows what else.
But he’s a king in his world — renowned, successful — with his photographs published in books and shown in galleries woldwide. And all due (or at least partly due) to the fact that he’s never undermined himself with doubts or concerns. A lesson in this?
In an age in which every paparazzo shoots digitally, Galella — 79 years old — appears to still be shooting on film. Strange. He has a darkroom in his New Jersey home, just like the one that David Hemmings‘ character has in Blow-Up. Quaint.
Smash His Camera will begin showing on HBO on Monday night at 9 pm.
With the story of Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair back in the cultural soup via HBO’s The Special Relationship (which I still haven’t seen), it seems allowable to re-state HE’s longstanding opinion of President Clinton’s fibbing about the Monica Lewsinky mess.
My view is this (and I’m not just saying this to drive up page views): Clinton’s refusal to talk plainly or honestly to Ken Starr‘s inquisitors was one of the moral high points of his administration.
I’ve always thought it slimey and wrong to dredge up the private lives of political candidates. The press corps was right not to pester JFK for his randiness. Jimmy Carter shouldn’t have taken heat for admitting to “lust in his heart.” And beating up on Clinton for Lewinsky was wretched and absurd.
The real issue in ’98 and ’99, of course, wasn’t oral sex, but whether or not an American President should be impeached for lying about having received same, or having otherwise fudged certain particulars under oath. Clinton was not only entitled to lie about this matter; by any standard of dignity he was absolutely honor-bound to do so, given the absolute inappropriateness of such a matter being investigated by lawmakers and given the gutter-grovelling character of many of Clinton’s opportunistic pursuers.
In recent months The Cove, winner of the Best Feature Doc Oscar, has reportedly been a victim of organized agitation in Japan, mostly likely due to fishing-industry interests paying goons to stir up trouble. With “two more movie theatres having cancelled screenings,” director Louie Psihoyos has recorded an explanation/response:
“In recent months, protesters with loudspeakers have been shouting slogans at the Tokyo office of Unplugged, the distributor of The Cove, criticizing the film as a betrayal of Japanese pride,” the story says.
“Unplugged said Friday the cancellations at Cinemart theaters in Tokyo and Osaka were triggered by worries about safety of moviegoers and businesses nearby. The Tokyo cinema where the movie was to open changed its mind Thursday after getting angry phone calls and warnings of protests.
“Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat. But some believe killing dolphins and whales is part of traditional culinary culture and resent the interference of outsiders focused on species protection.
“The Cove screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in October and at smaller events in Japan but has not opened to the Japanese public. The Japanese version blurs the faces of some people on screen to lessen the possibility of trouble.
“Unplugged said talks were under way with other theaters to show the film, although details weren’t released.”
Enough with the Inception-is-coming clatter. We’ve all been sold on the idea that it’s the only decent summer flick on the horizon, and now it’s time, dammit…time to quit farting around and show it to somebody somewhere. Warner Bros. has to be extremely careful about early look-sees because they don’t want reports about the big third-act surprise getting out. But they need to start having little peek-ins — i.e., not “screenings” per se but carefully controlled, outside-the-box witnessings.
Show it to some boomer-aged Swiss scientists in Geneva who can be trusted not to blab online. Take a print (or a hard drive) to Beijing and show it to some Kentucky Fried Chicken employees after closing. Have a surprise outdoor screening in some small Montana town — show to some grizzled old guys with calloused hands who won’t be able to comprehend most of it. Show it to some big-name directors and producers on the Warner Bros. lot — Steven Spielberg, Bryan Singer, etc. — and then have an after-party and allow some media people to mingle and report what they’re saying.
I’m just feeling a little snippy about reading yet another here-it-comes piece. “Give us some more hints, Chris,” whoa-hoa!, “It’s actually a love story…going soft in my old age…On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” blah, blah.
They really should have shown a 25-minute Inception product reel at Cannes. That would have sated the troops, and people like me wouldn’t be snorting and grumbling as we speak.
“Here’s our latest take on what [the story] could mean,” writes The Playlist‘s Rodrigo Perez. Oh, God…exactly what I’m talking about!
“Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) specializes in the secretive art of constructing and entering dreams in order to extract information. He is given an intriguing proposition: take a job where he won’t extract anything, but rather, insert an idea.
“Then things become complicated. DiCaprio’s character presents himself to Cillian Murphy‘s business magnate character as an expert in ‘subconscious security — the ultimate in corporate espionage'” In truth, Cobb has been hired by rival of Murphy’s character (Ken Watanabe) to insert an idea. That job also somehow offers DiCaprio’s dream thief character some kind of personal redemption connected to the fate of his wife (Marion Cotillard).
“And it’s pretty clear that while DiCaprio and Watanabe are allies at first, somewhere along the lines, they become foes.
“Another potential hint lies in Ellen Page‘s architecture character, and ‘assistant’ to Cobb, the aptly named Ariadne, who was you might remember from your school days, is the girl in Greek mythology who aids Theseus’ escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth. We think her ‘assistant’ role will be more than she bargained for and more than what we have been led to believe thus far.” Wait…secretly in the employ of one of Cobb’s rivals or adversaries?
DiCaprio has the best line: “[The script] reminded me of Insomnia and Memento, but on steroids.”
Inception opens on July 16.