Movable Type comment problem: There’s some kind of weirdness going on with Movable Type that’s been preventing HE readers from logging in to comment. We’re on it. Installing latest Movable Type version (5.031). The situation will hopefully be fixed soon. Well, by this evening.
It’s bad stuff and it doesn’t add up, but Lisa Blount, the Oscar-winning Arkansas native and actress best known as Debra Winger‘s best friend in An Officer and a Gentleman (’83), is dead. Blount’s mother reportedly found the 53 year-old actress-producer in her Little Rock home on Wednesday. The cause of death is a mystery.
On the 2002 Academy Awards telecast The Accountant, a short co-directed by Blount and husband Ray McKinnon, won an Oscar for Best Short Film, Live Action.
Blount and McKinnon met during the making of Needful Things (’93). They married in 1998. McKinnon appeared on HBO’s Deadwood and most recently as a high school football coach in The Blind Side.
Seven or eight years ago Blount and McKinnon moved from Los Angeles to Arkansas, reportedly “to make great Southern movies.” They collaborated on 2004’s Chrystal, in which Blount starred with McKinnon and Billy Bob Thornton.
Earlier today Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet asked the usual columnists whether Another Year star Lesley Manville — a glorious actress giving a very sad, world-class performance — should be pushed for Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress. Here’s the piece. Eight people chimed in. What I wrote is pasted after the page photo:
“You said, Brad, that you just got off the phone with Sony Classics co-honcho Michael Barker and that he said ‘at the moment they are going with lead based primarily on the reasoning Manville is supposedly in the movie more than anyone else.’ Well, none of that means diddly-squat.
“What matters isn’t screen time or whether or not Manville does play the lead female role in Mike Leigh‘s Another Year. What matters is what you can get away with in order to win an Oscar that will propel the film’s box-office and ancillary sales. That’s it, the whole game, end of story. And Sony Classics can EASILY get away with calling Manville a Best Supporting Actress in that film. EASILY. PIECE OF CAKE.
“And if they do this, the odds of their getting a win out of it will be very…okay, relatively high. That’s the whole thing, the whole game.
“Ms. Manville, with whom I’ve spoken, very much wants to win as it will do good things for her career-wise. Barker knows what the Best Actress competition is likely to be, and it’s no duck walk this year. No disrespect to Ms. Manville — she’s very, VERY GOOD in Another Year — but she’ll be facing some very tough opponents, and the odds of her winning will not be high — let’s face it. If Sony Classics wants her to win an Oscar, there’s really only one thing to do.”
Lena Dunham‘s Tiny Furniture (IFC Films, 11.12) is an earnest, well-sculpted portrait of urban misery by way of self-portraiture. (Or vice versa.) Dunham, who directs, writes and stars, plays a forlorn version of herself — an overweight 20something named Aura who lives in her mom’s Tribeca loft, aspires to filmmaking but has no income and is dealing with lazy and/or indifferent attentions from a couple of guys she’s half-interested in.
Dunham’s actual mom plays her mom, her actual sister plays her sister, and her mom’s actual loft is the main setting. And there are actual actors (like Lovers of Hate‘s Alex Karpovsky) in supporting roles. And every step of the way the pacing is steady and leisurely and unforced. That’s a polite way of saying not a lot happens, and the film takes its time about it.
Tiny Furniture is realistic and character-rich and low-key “cool” as far as it goes. It’s got an honestly dreary vibe. It reminded me of what spectacular misery being young and unsuccessful and not-quite-formed can be, and how humiliating it can be to have no money, or to have so little that getting a nothing job as a hostess for $11 an hour seems like a step up.
I mean, $11 friggin’ dollars an hour from a part-time job of 25 or 30 hours a week? That’s enough money for delicatessen sandwiches and toothpaste and well drinks and a monthly subway card and various other things everyone needs but which don’t add up to very much. That’s just maintaining-but-going-nowhere-and-fuck-me money.
I was thinking at the halfway mark that Tiny Furniture is what Susan Siedelman‘s Smithereens might have been if Susan Berman‘s “Wren” character wasn’t so angry and scattered, and if she had a rich Manhattan mom.
Dunham is a fine, real-deal actress. I liked her right away, and I believed her acting to the extent that it didn’t feel like “acting.” It was just being and behavior. She has my idea of sad, caring eyes and a quick mind and a likably unassertive, quasi-hangdog manner.
During a post-screening q&a at Goldcrest: (l.) Anne Carey, (r.) Tiny Furniture director-screenwirter-actress Lena Dunham
Dunham, Tiny Furniture producer Kyle Martin.
The undercurrent felt a little bit lezzy at times, but not in a pronounced way. The two guys are “nice” and interesting to talk to, but they’re both kind of into themselves and really not much of a catch. (The second guy she hangs with, a chef, is actually a bit of a dick.) And there’s this nice-looking girl with a great smile who’s obviously interested in Dunham in a romantic way who appears in a couple of scenes.
I’m just wondering why the obvious fact that Dunham’s character is bulky never seems to come up except in one scene when her best friend reads negative YouTube commentary about her shape. Is it somehow uncool to talk about this? It wouldn’t have been 20 or 30 years ago when largeness was relatively rare. Now it’s fairly common among GenY types and no one raises an eyebrow. (Dunham, whom I spoke to last night after the screening, seems to have slimmed down somewhat since filming.) But the basic social rules still apply. People with weight issues generally don’t get laid as often, and their choices aren’t as vast as those of slimmer folk. You can shilly-shally around this all you want, but being heavy is not going to make your life any easier or happier. It’s definitely a compromiser.
Tiny Furniture is a smart little low-energy thing. It has integrity, but it really could be titled A Life in Hell, I feel. I was sitting there going “this is awful, what a life, Jesus H. Christ” but at the same time I was saying “I believe this”, “this hasn’t been faked” and “Dunham knows what she’s doing.”
The opening of The Spy Who Loved Me was arguably the apogee of the Roger Moore 007 films. I remember watching this with a girlfriend in ’77 and saying, “Okay, I get it…this is going to be good.” It encapsulated the fresh idea that Bond films could and should be exercises in self-parody, and perhaps even out-and-out comedies with action sequences that deliberately challenged the laws of elemental physics (a new concept back then).
It’s the movie that said (a) “we’re throwing out any allusions whatsover to the serious-stud Bond playbook and going for a much more playful tone” and (b) “you’ll never see a Bond film as rugged and muscular as From Russia With Love ever again…get used to it. We’re in the mid ’70s now and nobody will buy a straight-with-no-chaser 007, so we’re having fun.”
Nothing said this as much as Richard Kiel‘s dopey Jaws character, who could have been a regular on the Jack Benny Show. Kiel’s giant lug could have fit right into Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy. And he anticipated the cool-monster attitude of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Terminator character in the ’84 original.
The movie, directed by the comedically inclined Lewis Gilbert, delivered all this but the opening — the idiotic ski chase followed by the main title with Carly Simon singing the title song — was a kind of overture or preamble that conveyed the new approach. It said “Okay, fans, here we go…new game!” And it had the most self-aware, self-amused and cocksure vibe since the hard-swagger days of the first three films — Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.
For me it was a long slow downhill trek after this. The Pierce Brosnan 007 films never quite figured a way to re-think the franchise as radically as The Spy Who Loved Me.
The song is cut off at the tail end of the above video. Here’s a version to plays it to the end. I love the chord changes when Simon sings “is keepin’ all my secrets safe tonight.”
Joe and Jane Popcorn don’t listen to film critics because they regard them as elitist, secular big-city monks who don’t speak to Joe and Jane where they live. I would dispute that notion when it comes to populist, “standing in the parking lot of a 7/11” columnists like myself, but Joe and Jane may have a point. And it occured to me last night that the ultimate poster boy for elitist, secular big-city film critic culture has to be New Yorker critic Richard Brody.
I get what Brody’s more or less about and enjoy his peculiar passions. I love it when he writes about the exquisite influential stylings of Wes Anderson, and describes Ishtar as “one of the most original, audacious and inventive comedies of modern times,” and calls Carlos “the most potent neoconservative film yet to reach screens.” This is great passion, great eccentricity. But if Joe and Jane Popcorn were to took a look at Brody with his big wacko John Brown beard and read some of his opinions (which of course they wouldn’t), they’d go “who the hell is this guy?”
Brody obviously needs to keep on being Brody, but there’s no working critic, I would argue, who so fully conveys the idea of being a “visitor to a small planet.” No one in the field seems more indifferent to ground-level creeds, commonalities, beliefs and concepts of reality than ones that he alone has imagined and constructed for his own satisfaction. Brody’s appearance and words scream “I am so not a person who gets or cares about what even semi-average people are looking for they buy a movie ticket. I am a movie-nerd insect of the highest and most discriminating order, and immensely proud of this.”
You know a dog is pretty damn dumb if it feels the need to protect its territory by barking at a jet plane flying 15,000 feet overhead. I once knew a collie in Connecticut named Trelawny who did that. We’d be sitting around the pool and Trelawny would suddenly sit up when he heard the faint whine of the jet engines, and then he’d stand up and start barking as the jet flew closer and closer.
The Dark Knight Rises, the just-announced title of Chris Nolan‘s next Batman film, really sucks eggs. It’s almost as if Nolan is trying to subliminally make fun of himself and the film by saying “here’s the lamest dorkiest title I could think of.”
Plus the new film will have no Riddler. Instead the apparent intention is for the villain to be played by Tom Hardy.
WB Marketing Exec #1: “We have to give it a title that immediately clicks with the fans of The Dark Knight. No Batman 3 titles. It has to say ‘same thing only newer and without Heath Ledger‘!”
Marketing Exec #2: “How about The Dark Knight, Only Newer and with a Different Villain?
WB Marketing Exec #1: “Are you gonna stop fucking around?”
Marketing Exec #2: “Okay, I got it…I got it.”
WB Marketing Exec #3: “Yeah?”
Marketing Exec #2 “We call The Dark Knight Rises!”
WB Marketing Exec #1: “Jesus, that’s fucking brilliant! The phallic thing, I mean. Total guy magnet. And gays too!”
Honestly? If I was Nolan, I would call it The Dark Knight Gets and Maintains an Action Erection. That has a certain ring to it, no?
Critic Pally: “Calling For Colored Girls the best thing Tyler Perry has ever done is pretty faint praise. Terrific performances buried inside an after-school special about abuse, sexual repression, rape, etc.”
Me: “A journalist friend said it has great performances.”
Critic Pally: “Except one character is a high-powered magazine exec whose lofty status apparently has emasculated her stockbroker husband to the point that he’s gay.”
Me: “He turns gay at…what, age 35 because his wife makes him feel unimportant and diminished? That sounds ridiculous. Does the movie feel like now or like a ’70s thing, which is when the play was written?”
Critic Pally: “Call me crazy, but I think that devoting a long segment to a girl getting a back-alley abortion — in New York City in 2010 — is a tad anachronistic. That had resonance in 1976, when Roe v Wade was still a recent thing — but it seems kind of clueless today, unless Perry means it as a pro-life statement.”
Me: “What about Janet Jackson?”
Critic Pally: “I have to say that Janet Jackson looks/sounds like a transgender Michael Jackson. She’s distractingly unnatural-looking.”
Me: “It sounds perfectly dreadful.”
Critic Pally: “I actually admire the original for what it is: a series of poetic monologues. But Perry, in adapting it, felt compelled to create characters with stories and intertwine them in trite and obvious ways.”
Me: “Perry is a mediocre director, at best, who feeds a niche audience (i.e., older African American women with no taste) and that’s all he’ll ever be. Lionsgate’s release and awards campaign is strictly a good-manners political gesture. They’re basically saying ‘thank you, Tyler, for making us lots of money with your previous terrible movies.'”
Bruce Harrison Smith, producer and screenwriter of The Fields, wrote and asked for my help in getting thousands of “we want to see this!” petition signatures that might persuade a distributor to cut a theatrical deal. An M. Night Shyamalan-type suspenser, The Fields is based on Smith’s real-life experience as a kid back in ’73.
Pic costars Cloris Leachman and Tara Reid. Smith wants to see play the midnight section at Sundance 2011. The trailer is obviously M. Night-ish. It tells you that the directors, Tom Mattera and David Mazzoni, are (a) into old-fashioned tracking shots and (b) are willing to let the camera just absorb the anticipation and the stillness.
The Fields “was shot last year from 9.15 to 10.27,” Smith informs. “It completed post two months ago. It’s not specifically a horror film as much as a suspense thriller based on what happened to me as a boy on my grandparent’s farm in the fall of 1973.” The press notes describe it as being about “a young boy and his family terrorized by an unseen presence emanating from the miles of corn fields surrounding their small farm.”
Smith said he’s looking for a million signatures, and I said “why so many? I would think 100,000 would suffice.” He replied that “in speaking with Ryan Buell of Paranormal State on his visit to the set, he felt 1 million was a target number as he had some involvement with Paranormal Activity‘s promotion.
“At the present time we have been courted by Indican distribution and have a number of sales agents including Shoreline, Showcase and Spotlight. We were accepted to the Hollywood Film Festival but feel we have a strong shot at Sundance.”
The slightly Elmer Fuddish-looking guy with the big gray beard in the second video is Smith’s uncle, Harrison “JR” Kline, Jr., who’s the actual son of the real Gladys whom Leachman portrays. “I am another Harrison also named after my grandfather,” Smith explains. “I am the screenwriter and not featured in any of the videos.”
Why do I feel vaguely bummed out by Variety‘s totally-confirmed report that James Cameron has committed to making two Avatar sequels, to hit theatres in December 2014 and December 2015? I can roll with it, but my first reaction was “oh, gee….that’s not the greatest idea.”
It’s a downer because it’s basically a corporate cash-grab move. (Rothman and Gianopulos: “They’ll pay to see this again…twice! Revenues! Hah-hah-hah!”) Because it’s a creatively lazy enterprise for Cameron as it’ll be no great feat to come up with a prequel and a sequel. Because Avatar was a great four-course meal, and I’m not feeling a need to go there again. Because the ending of Avatar was perfect (i.e., the opening of the transformed Jake Sully’s eyes), and I’m thinking “leave it there.”
And because a guy like Cameron committing to a two-movie, four-year rehash project that is primarily about making money (i.e., certainly on 20th Century Fox’s end) is a kind of capitulation to the golden-calf mentality.
Cameron is an adventurer — I get that. And I realize that he’s doing this because the task will be technically challenging and thrilling and draining and fulfilling in a whoo-hoo! sort of way, but what Avatar fan believes that the Avatar world needs to be re-visited two more times? C’mon, be honest.
There are two kinds of money that we enjoy in life — fresh and vibrant money from hard work and inspired enterprise, and rote somnambulent money that comes from some idea or conquering that somebody thought up or accomplished years or decades ago. All real adventurers understand that there’s something vaguely soul-killing about the second kind of money, however plentiful and comforting it may be. Every day God tells all living things that they must find fresh fruit, climb new mountains, and dig into fresh earth. This is the only way to live.
With so many stories happening in the world that he could explore as a director, and with so many tens or hundreds of millions in his bank account, why would Cameron, savoring the last four or five years of his sixth decade and in the creative prime of his life, want to do this?
What would have been the reaction to the idea of a Titanic prequel and sequel? The separate but fated-to-be-interwined adventures of Jack Dawson (kicking around in Paris) and Rose DeWitt Bukater (quietly miserable in English schools), and then a sequel in which Jack’s ghost gives counsel and support to Rose as she makes her way through her 20s and 30s? I’ll tell you what the reaction would have been. People would have jumped off bridges.
If I was Cameron and Fox had told me they’re making a couple of Avatar sequels with or without my participation, I would have agreed to produce — no more than that. This would give me the time and freedom to create the next fresh movie. But no. Cameron has decided to be the Super-Sequel Guy.