Tom O’Neil has posted two Gold Derby pieces worth noting. One, the results of a recent Gold Derby poll showing that right now the odds seem to be overwhelming that King’s Speech star Colin Firth will win the Best Actor Oscar. And two, an idea that arose from Tom talking with Sasha Stone and myself during the recording of Oscar Poker #7, which is that the year’s juiciest kudos battle is the rematch of Social Network producer Scott Rudin vs. King’s Speech distributor Harvey Weinstein.
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy feels that black men are portrayed horrifically in Tyler Perry‘s For Colored Girls. Milloy was “retching loudly,” he says, after seeing the film and “reading so many inexplicably glowing reviews.
“‘Oscar buzz, breaking news,’ read the Hollywood Reporter on Friday. ‘Will For Colored Girls blindside Tyler Perry’s critics?’ Too late. I was blindsided while watching the movie, especially when superstar Janet Jackson appeared onscreen looking like Michael Jackson with breast implants.”
Last Thursday the 2010 Brit List, a selection of the hottest unproduced British and Irish screenplays, was released. A big fat file containing most of these scripts arrived in my inbox today. The Tracking Board says that the most popular is Jonathan Stern and Jamie Miniprio ‘s Sex Education. I took about ten minutes to flip through it…nope. Any others?
Todd McCarthy‘s thumbs-up review of Tony Scott‘s Unstoppable (20th Century Fox, 11.12) was posted yesterday afternoon, so I guess I can post mine also. My reaction is slightly less admiring than McCarthy’s. The first two-thirds of Unstoppable deliver first-rate popcorn pizazz, but the last third feels too manipulative.
WARNING: All of the HE brainiacs who may be expecting a bad-ass Tony Scott thriller about a runaway train to end tragically with all kinds of death and dishonor and toxic poisoning are hereby notified that information to the contrary is contained in this review.
Unstoppable is about a runaway train carrying toxic chemicals through the Pennsylvania rust belt and heading for a heavily-populated city that has a sharp curve in an elevated train track that might cause a derailment. It’s also about a slightly older engineer (Denzel Washington) and a young and somewhat brash conductor (Chris Pine) on another train in the general vicinity getting involved in a general effort to try and stop it.
Most of Unstoppable is as thrilling and jazzy and macho-adrenalized as I’d hoped after catching the trailer. Most. The fact that it has no villain is a relief, in a sense. Bad guys always means jaded histrionics, and it’s nice for a change to not have to deal with that. And yet — here’s the irony — it’s also a challenge to make an action movie go without a villain. Scott’s solution is to make it about metal and mettle and dependable charisma, about speed and logistics and air brakes and intra-company politics and three big train-track collisions or crashes. And about the hilly topography and moisture and worn-down, rust-belt ambiance of cold-weather Pennsylvania. Which I loved.
Scott throws in his usual high-end ingredients. The photography is by Ben Seresin (Transformers 2). The ace-level cutting by Robert Duffy and Chris Lebenzon. And the supporting characters have the usual attitude and vinegar — an alert dispatcher/coordinator (Rosario Dawson), a belligerent corporate stooge (Kevin Dunn), a doofus who caused the situation in the first place (Ethan Suplee), a train-system inspector (Kevin Corrigan), a brave railroad employee trying to chase down the runaway (Lew Temple). Put it all together and you’ve got something.
But the first 65% or 70% is better than the last 30% or 35%. Because for my money, Scott tries way too hard to get the audience to cheer in the last third. He won’t stop pushing for a rousing, stand-up-and-howl finale, and after a while you start to feel resentment. I don’t wanna cheer…see? Leave me alone, mug.
The backstory, character-arc stuff worked out for Denzel and Chris isn’t all that gripping, to be honest. It feels thin. Pine’s estranged wife, we’re told, has taken out a restraining order on him because he “scared” her. (And because he used a gun to confront the cop he wrongly suspected she was seeing?) Denzel is fearful and resentful at the railroad’s tendency to jettison older-guy veterans like himself, and his daughter is angry at him for forgetting to call on her birthday. None of this is especially compelling.
The media covers the runaway situation like a Super Bowl game. Everyone watching TV knows exactly what’s going on via chopper coverage, instant computerized visualization and breathless blow-by-blow commentary. And then it all works out (of course…are you expecting it to end with a 9/11-styled toxic disaster?) and the train eases to a stop and everyone is cheering their asses off. Denzel’s daughters think he’s cool again and Pine’s wife falls in love with him all over again and everything is peachy keen, and Suplee, we’re told, got fired and is now working in fast food. But it’s always a sign of weakness when a film uses one of those “this is what happened to the characters” epilogues.
But the first two-thirds of this film rock out. It’s sensationally shallow filmmaking of the best kind. And the last third is…well, it’s all right. I just wish Scott had trusted the bones of the story a bit more and not tried so hard to jack everyone up.
All in all it’s a well-cut, high-octane, jolt-cola movie. If you isolate the last third and think of the first 66 percent as the essence of Unstoppable (which of course you can’t), it’s the best big-hurtling-train thriller since John Frankenheimer‘s The Train (’64). The technical jargon, the gears, the braking systems, the throttles, the engine power, the rumble of these great iron beasts…it’s all great guy-movie stuff.
McCarthy writes that “Scott may have missed his mark by a bit on his last cinematic train ride with The Taking of Pelham One Two Three but he hits his target dead-on in Unstoppable. The best blue-collar action movie in who knows how long, this tense, narrowly focused thriller about a runaway freight train has a lean and pure simplicity to it that is satisfying in and of itself.
“But in its incidental portrait of discontented and discounted working stiffs who live marginal lives on society’s sidings and are angry to varying degrees, the film carries an unexpected weight and could connect with Middle American audiences in a big way.”
All the MCN Gurus of Gold except for Sasha Stone and Emanuel Levy are now predicting that The Kings Speech will beat The Social Network for the Best Picture Oscar. Where, I ask, are the men of backbone on this panel? They know damn well which film is the more dazzling and audacious and still they bend over. Capitulators! Conventional wisdom followers! Zeligs!
I truly admire and respect The King’s Speech, I do…it’s a very well made film, and true to itself above all. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are close to perfect, and director Tom Hooper knew exactly how to get the most out of the material. But The King’s Speech has never made me feel aroused and dazzled and delighted like The Social Network has, and it never will. Be honest. It’s about comfort and tradition and respectablity and hugs. It’s the Best Picture of 1993.
Yesterday afternoon Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone and I recorded Oscar Poker #7 with guest Tom O’Neil, owner/editor of the recently relaunched GoldDerby.com, and Boxoffice.com‘s Phil Contrino. Here’s a straight link sans iTunes.
Our topics included a discussion of the likeliest Best Director nominees, the weekend’s box office (including the under-performing of For Colored Girls), the return of GoldDerby.com, and further discussions of Morning Glory and Rachel McAdams. There’s also an intriguing O’Neil riff on the growing importance of Hollywood bloggers.
Someone (Sasha or iTunes) has tagged the podcast as explicit because (a) I said the word “bumblefuck” and (b) Sasha said “give me a fucking break.” Is that fair?
I recorded my end from the Paramount/Morning Glory hospitality room on the 29th floor of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Thanks, Paramount publicists! But there was a lot of spirited chitter-chatter due to a farewell party for a Paramount staffer with champagne and the consumption of cupcakes and whatnot, so I created a kind of tent by putting my big gray overcoat over my head in order to muffle ambient sound. But again, the Paramount people were great.
Morning Glory producer JJ Abrams, star Harrison Ford at last night’s post-premiere party at the Boathouse, a Central Park eatery about 1/3 mile from Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street
(l.) Alluring companion of Morning Glory director Roger Michell who may or may not be Michell’s actress-partner Anna Maxwell Martin , and (r.) Michell himself at Morning Glory after-party. Michell exploded with Notting Hill (’99), surged with Changing Lanes (’02), maintained with The Mother (’03), slumped with Enduring Love (’04), rebounded somewhat with Venus (’06) and now is back in commercial clover with Morning Glory.
Abrams, Morning Glory costar Diane Keaton.
The Keith Olbemann suspension episode has made, I feel, MSNBC president Phil Griffin seem slightly prickly and volatile-minded — a protocol-minded guy who doesn’t see the forest for the trees. But Griffin is also coasting on a faint counterbalance of faux-glamour and temporary Jeff Goldblum coolness right now due to his marginal involvement in Morning Glory (Paramount, 11.10), a comedy about a Manhattan-based morning news show.
(l.) MSNBC president Phil Griffin; (r.) MNBC anchor/commentator Keith Olbermann
Griffin announced yesterday that Olbermann had been unsuspended and would resume his nightly news and commentary show as of tomorrow (i.e., Tuesday) evening. Griffin suspended Olbermann without pay three days ago for making three political donations on 10.28 without first seeking MSNBC’s approval, per company policy. Several commentators derided that decision for being overly punitive and arbitrary and slapdash.
Politico‘s Mike Allen reported over the weekend that “the suspension came about not because Olbermann violated network policy, but because he wouldn’t apologize on-air.” Olbermann, wrote Allen, “told his bosses he didn’t know he was barred from making campaign contributions, although he [resisted] saying that publicly.”
Griffin’s Morning Glory connection comes from (a) his having helped prepare costar Goldblum for his role as a TV producer by showing him around MSNBC and answering questions, and (b) a second-act moment in Morning Glory in which Goldblum tells Griffin’s assistant that if his boss doesn’t respond to an offer of free tickets to some sports event (a football game or something), he’ll offer them to someone else.
Popeater.com’s Ron Shuter has reported that “in addition to an apology, Keith is demanding that the rules be changed…Keith thinks it’s unfair that Fox News anchors can make contributions and support candidates and he can’t. It’s his money that he has earned, [and] he should be allowed to do whatever he wants with it.
“What sort of country do we live in where an actor can trash a hotel room with an escort and drugs and Keith can’t donate money to people running for office he believes in? It makes no sense. If they think they can slap Keith’s wrist and have him to return a few days later like nothing happened, they are wrong. They picked the wrong guy.”