In Contention‘s Kris Tapley and Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson have posted their first Oscar Talk of the season (although Tapley calls it Episode 29). Best & biggest summer flicks, the upcoming festivals, potential awards contenders, documentary feature race, etc. Thompson’s Tree of Life quips: (a) It “may not” come out this year, and (b) “It might be Sundance.” She also lowers expectations on Clint Eastwood‘s Hereafter.
Facade of Thompson’s Rome apartment building.
Thompson is leaving today for Italy and eventually the Venice Film Festival, which starts on Wednesday, September 1st. The early departure allows for a three-day stopover in Rome — her first visit. I’m envious, of course. I introduced Thompson to a Roman apartment-provider named Giuseppe Amorosi Golisciani. He’ll be renting her a very nice one-bedroom apartment in the ancient section for a mere 75 euros per night.
Wrap columnist Steve Pond yesterday posted a rundown of some likely Best Feature Documentary contenders — Restrepo, A Film Unfinished, The Tillman Story, Inside Job, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Tabloid and — last but not least — Werner Herzog‘s Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
I’ve already made it clear that I won’t shed any tears if Restrepo doesn’t make the final list of five. Then again…who knows?…perhaps Academy liberals will want to vote for “a pro-war, support-the-troops, emotional-propaganda piece wrapped in allegedly neutralist observational verite clothing,” which is how I put it on 7.11.
I’m a huge fan of Jean-Francois Richet‘s two part Mesrine crime epic, the first part of which, Killer Instinct, opens today. (Part 2, called Public Enemy #1, opens on September 3.) It’s not a great film — just a lean, well-honed and fast-moving one. Never bores, awfully hard to resist. Largely because of the rascally confidence that Vincent Cassel brings to his lead performance. Locomotive energy and brash charm = contact high.
Legendary French criminal Jacques Mesrine (i.e., “Mayreen“) was some kind of raging ego-fiend, but Cassell can’t help but make him half-likable or at least oddly fascinating. He never quite turns you off. Cassel is playing the most charismatic bad guy since — no exaggeration — Al Pacino‘s Tony Montana. Easily one of the strongest male performances of the year.
I have a feeling, incidentally, that this flick is going to go over big with gay guys. I was talking to a gay critic after seeing Part 1, and one of the things he said is that he’d like get fucked by Mesrine, or Cassel’s version rather. We all looked at the sidewalk when he said this, but still….that’s magnetism!
Abdel Raouf Dafri‘s script is adapted from Mesrine’s autobiographical novel, called “Killer Instinct.”
The two-parter isn’t a great film because it’s mainly just a character study of a stone sociopath delivered in a series of episodes, one after another after another in which this happens and that happens and this and that, and it just keeps going on for years and years, from France to Canada to the U.S. and back to France. And it’s a kick to watch but all it “says” in the end is (a) this guy is charmingly nuts, (b) he’s ballsy as hell, (c) he can’t see any further than his own hunger for big bags of money and pretty girls and media-reputation-burnishing, and (d) he’s virile and relentless and has a great smile.
But what I really love about these two films is the way Richet handles the action, which is to say with a kind of analog ’70s attitude — fast and ferocious and quickly cut but without any of the crap techniques and influences that so many American directors have bought into. Richet directs action like he’s never heard of Hong Kong action films of the ’90s, like he couldn’t give two shits about the Pang brothers, like he’s never seen a Tony Scott or a Michael Bay film, like he doesn’t have the first clue what CGI might be. It’s wonderful.
An HE piece called “Genre in a Cage,” which I posted on 7.22, explained that “action films are caught in a trap because all they want to do is top each other, and the only way to do that is to go more cartoon X-treme, and credibility be damned…anti-reality, wilder, more CG-ish or acrobatic in a Cirque de Soleil or Pang brothers fashion, more crazy-ass.
“Very few action thrillers have operated beyond these constrictions and delivered by their own style and criteria. The Matrix, the only honorable film in the Wachowski brothers’ misbegotten trilogy, did this. So did Alfonso Cuaron‘s Children of Men. Ditto the Bourne films by Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass and Phillip Noyce‘s Salt. But for the most part the action genre has become a kind of entrapment — a minimum security prison patrolled by armed guards (i.e., studio executives) in which certain rules have to be followed…or else.”
We can now add the Mesrine films to the list of escapees. I don’t know if it’s possible for an American studio-backed director to make an actioner in the same no-frills fashion that Richet has done, but I don’t think it’s likely. The system demands perverse bullshit in the jibbety-jappity video-game mode, and it’s a relief beyond description to marvel at a film that does it the old-fashioned way — thrillingly and believably, and never calling attention to any audacious sense of style except, welcomely, a lack of one. More of this, please.
I did a phoner last week with Stone director John Curran. I’ll run it and a review in the final lead-up to the Toronto Film Festival — probably around 9.4 or 9.5, or the weekend before my departure. I wasn’t expecting all that much when I sat down, but Stone is an exceptionally brave and unusual film. I posted a too-long impressionistic piece that had to be taken down due to complaints from critics. I left a remnant in place but the bulk of it was gutted.
“The trailer for Stone (Overture, 10.8) makes it seem like a more-or-less conventional crime melodrama,” I wrote. “In the midst of evaluating an apparently psychopathic convict (Edward Norton) regarding an upcoming parole hearing, a retirement-age prison counselor (Robert De Niro) succumbs to sexual favors offered by the prisoner’s scheming wife (Milla Jovovich). We all know where this is likely to go. Exposure, revenge, moral ruin, chaos.
“Guess what? It goes somewhere else entirely. And I mean into a realm that, for me, is not far from the one that Robert Bresson mined in the ’50s and ’60s and early ’70s.”
This morning I tried again to get a response from Lionsgate’s New York-based home video senior publicity exec Jodie Magid about how and why Amazon.com’s Apocalypse Now Bluray page lists “Eleanor Coppola‘s Hearts of Darkness” among the special features. The 1991 doc was co-directed by George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr, which I explained yesterday in a piece called “Stunned.” “Surely the Amazon team posts whatever info is provided by the distributor,” I wrote Magid, “so it would seem that you and/or your office passed along this erroneous information.”
A few minutes ago Magid wrote me the following message: “All appropriate legal credits are included in the billing block of the packaging. Amazon is in the process of correcting their information.”
I wrote back with the following: “Thanks, but just to be double clear, by ‘appropriate’ legal credits you mean that the names of co-directors Hickenlooper and Bahr will be stated on the Bluray packaging?” Magid hasn’t responded to this as I post.
I’m also not satisfied by Magid’s 22-word response because she hasn’t addressed how the idea of Hearts of Darkness being “Eleanor Coppola’s” — an error that has been sitting on the aforementioned Amazon.com page for an undetermined amount of time — might have arisen in the first place. Somebody at Lionsgate or American Zoetrope must have sent this information along to begin with. Because the people at Amazon don’t make this stuff up as a rule.
An Apocalypse Now Bluray press release sent out by Magid’s office states the following: “INCLUDED ONLY ON THE FULL DISCLOSURE EDITION: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, including optional audio commentary with Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola — first time in 1080P High Definition.” So at the very least Magid’s release didn’t inform that the co-directors of the doc are Hickenlooper and Bahr.
It’s not provable but I’m fairly persuaded that Francis and Eleanor Coppola allowed if not encouraged a misunderstanding about the true authorship and creation of Hearts of Darkness to be included in the Bluray publicity materials. In their heart of hearts I think they’d be more or less content to see the names “George Hickenlooper” and “Fax Bahr” expunged from the record entirely.
(l.) George Hickenlooper; (r.) Eleanor and Francis Coppola.
Hickenlooper wrote the following on HE yesterday: “I think the more appropriate way to look at it is that Hearts of Darkness is Eleanor Coppola’s story. It’s not her film. Hardly. It’s her story. But that’s because I decided to make it her story.
“When I got involved with this project 20 years ago, Showtime was going to make it a one hour TV special called Apocalypse Now Revisited. It was going to be basically an hour-long special about how they did the war pyrotechnics. It was going to be dull and stupid.
“At the time I told Steve Hewitt and my partner Fax Bahr. “Nobody cares about a making of movie, especially one that is 14 years old.” I argued that the film had to have an emotional component. At the time, no one was familiar with Eleanor’s diary ‘Notes.’ My father had purchased it for me on my 16th birthday. I devoured it up.
“When I got involved with HOD, I advocated using her diary as the narrative thread. I got incredible resistance from Showtime, and I got initial resistance from Eleanor. Not much, but some.
“Once I was able to convince everyone that the film would best be told through her narrative voice, it was then and only then it became HER STORY.
“Eleanor did shoot the footage in the Philippines back in 1976, but she only stepped twice into our cutting room on the back lot of Universal. Twice. For a total of eight hours.
“I was there for a year, 15-18 hours a day. So it’s not a film by Eleanor, but I guess it’s sexier from a marketing angle to make it look that way.”
Hickenlooper elaborated upon the Hearts of Darkness history in a 2007 interview with laist correspondent Josh Tate.
In a followup this morning he also informs that “the reality is that Fax Bahr hardly had anything to do with HOD. He was writing for the show In Living Color at the time. He spent a total of about three weeks out of the entire year in the editing room. Eleanor spent two days. It was me and the two editors for an entire year.”
I’m front-paging a response that I wrote this morning to a reader about Mark Romanek‘s Never Let Me Go (and the Kazuo Isiguro book that the film is based upon). The film opens on 9.15, less than three weeks hence, so it’s time to start kicking things around.
It’s not a very well-kept secret that the book and the film deal with a grim-fate dynamic — an oppressive, locked-down situation in which “a long and happy life” doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the main characters. In response a guy named The Perils of Thinking brought up the notion that facing the fact that you’re going to die is a bracing and clarifying experience.
“The clarity that comes from recognizing where one is heading,” he said, “can allow one to prioritize and make the most of one’s most brutally limited resource.”
Yes, I replied. As in that famous saying about how “the clarity of mind that comes to a man standing on the gallows is wonderful.” As in face facts, sharpen your mind and prioritize.
I’ve always been one, however, to take it a step further and not just prioritize and all that, but to first and foremost revel and rejoice in the immediacy of the symphony. Death is something to be accepted, okay, but primarily fought and strategized against, frequently laughed at, lampooned and pooh-poohed, acknowledged but simultaneously “ignored” (in a manner of speaking), dismissed, despised and raged against (in Dylan Thomas‘s words) right to the end.
There is only life, only the continuance, only the fuel and the fire…only the next step, the next breath, the next meal, the next sip of water, the next hill to climb, the next perfect pair of courdoruy pants, the next adventure, the next hypnotizing woman, the next splash of salt spray in your face, the next staircase to run down two or three steps at a time, the next rental car and the next winding road to concentrate on and carefully negotiate, etc.
Knowing your time on earth is limited and that the clock is pressing down leads one to value the time left and to treat each day as if it’s your last…of course. But The Perils of Thinking also said that “as far as I’m concerned, resignation to (or, to use a less negative connotation, acceptance of) one’s ultimate fate is one of the more rewarding and true experiences any human can experience.”
Resignation and acceptance? I know what he means but somehow those terms sound more like what a person with terminal cancer has to come to terms with than a person living a robust life.
The basic premise of Ernest Becker‘s “The Denial of Death” (1973) is, to go by one summary, “that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of our mortality, which in turn acts as the emotional and intellectual response to our basic survival mechanism.
“Becker argues that …man is able to transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving his symbolic half. By embarking on what Becker refers to as an “immortality project” (or causa sui), in which he creates or becomes part of something which he feels will last forever, man feels he has “become” heroic and, henceforth, part of something eternal; something that will never die, compared to his physical body that will die one day.
“This, in turn, gives man the feeling that his life has meaning; a purpose; significance in the grand scheme of things.”
All to say that from one what I can gather, not having read the book but having read a couple of reviews and a couple of summaries, is that there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of dynamic go-for-it activity along these general lines in Never Let Me Go. Nobody seems to protest, creatively deny, fight against, counter-attack, escape from or anything like that. The young people in the book have been created to donate, and donate they do, and then they die. Great.
A friend who’s seen Never Let Me Go says, “If the film is difficult for some people, it’s not because of the movie’s quality, but simply because it deals with issues that most people are uncomfortable with. The performances are all fine. And the direction is subtle. It has a modesty. It’s all handled with humanity. The point isn’t to wallow in their tragedy, but to relate their experiences to our own. If you understand that, the film slowly builds its power as it progresses.”
In a piece explaining how there’s no actual economic recovery going on and that we’re actually sinking toward a possible douple-dip recession, NY Times columnist Paul Krugman admits that “it’s arguable that even in early 2009, when President Obama was at the peak of his popularity, he couldn’t have gotten a bigger plan through the Senate. And he certainly couldn’t pass a supplemental stimulus now.
“So [administration] officials could, with considerable justification, place the onus for the non-recovery on Republican obstructionism. But they’ve chosen, instead, to draw smiley faces on a grim picture, convincing nobody. And the likely result in November — big gains for the obstructionists — will paralyze policy for years to come.”
Yesterday The Oregonian‘s Mike Russell published a James Cameron interview in which the Avatar director revealed that a version running 16 minutes longer that the original theatrical cut — including a whole new opening on a polluted, befouled and Blade Runner-ish earth — will be sold in an Avatar box set out in November.
The extended 3D Avatar opening in theatres today is eight and 1/2 minutes longer than the version that opened last December.
Russell: I’ve read the Avatar screenplay that Fox posted online around Oscar season, and I’ll admit the thing I want to see re-inserted into the film are the opening scenes set on the polluted, dystopian Earth — the shots of lead character Jake in a sports bar — the polluted, crowded cityscapes. You shot this sequence, correct? Any chance we’ll be seeing that?
Cameron: Well, if you buy the box set in November, you can sit down, and in a continuous screening of the film, watch it with the Earth opening.
Q: Oh, really?
A: Yeah. It works very well. It just takes a long time to get the movie started. You have to be sort of predisposed to like the movie like a fan, you know what I mean? And then you can sit and you can have a great ride — a different telling of Avatar. Not inconsistent — it’s just the stuff that happened off-camera.
We call it ‘the Earth opening.’ It’s about 4 1/2 minutes of stuff. And it was in for the longest time. It was very late in the day that we took it out. I walked in one day and said to my two editors, ‘Guys, I want each of you to cut a new version of the start of the film, Reel 1, that doesn’t have any Earth in it at all.’ And they looked at me like I was out of my mind. And I said, ‘No — it’s gonna work.’ They had to figure out the details. I said, ‘Just grab a couple of things to use as flashbacks, and start it in space when Jake opens his eyes.’
Q: So wait – does [today’s] re-release start on Earth?
A: No. The re-release opening [today] starts the same way. But in November, you can buy a box set with all the bells and whistles. Plus it’s got like 45 minutes of unfinished deleted scenes that exist in a supplement where you can just play the scenes individually.
“But it’s all a big negotiation with the studios; how much money do they want to spend on these sort of revisionist versions of the movie? Because on the whole Earth opening, the visual effects weren’t done, and we had to go back and spend a million bucks or whatever to get those shots done. So there’s a price-tag dangling from anything that gets re-inserted.
“It’s not like Apocalypse Now, where they blow up a Vietnamese village and the footage is done – there are no visual effects after the fact. We’ve got to go back, and it’s our time and our energy and the studio’s money to re-create this stuff.
“But (in November) you’ll be able to watch a 16-minute-longer version of the film that’s a nice, flowing, cohesive version of the movie. If you just want to wallow in Avatar for three hours, I can get that for you.”