No unshot movie will ever fill me with such apoplectic loathing as Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski‘s The Lone Ranger, which will hit screens in December 2012. There’s no option for Johnny Depp but to portray Tonto as a Native American Jack Sparrow. And poor Armie Hammer, such a perfect fit as the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, using his straightforward blue-eyed jockiness to play the Lone Ranger? In a script written by the thoroughly corrupted Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio? The only element affording a sliver of hope is that Revolutionary Road screenwriter Justin Haythe is co-credited.
Earlier today Boxoffice.com‘s Phil Contrino told me he’s predicting a $31 million opening for Super 8 this weekend.
“I think the opening weekend is not nearly as important for a film like this because it has the potential to show some serious staying power once all the secrets are out and people start talking about it,” Contrino observes. “People are too quick to label something a flop. With Super 8, I want to see how it does over the course of three weekends, not just one.
“The elephant in the room is X-Men: First Class. The buzz surrounding that one is very strong, and that’s going to hurt Super 8 since they are both gunning largely for males 18 to 34. X-Men will certainly have a direct impact on Super 8‘s opening.”
Chris Weitz‘s A Better Life (Summit, 6.24) is a simple, earnest, bare-bones drama. It has dignity and humanity and, for me, across-the-board believability. It’s a solid, honest film that deserves patronage and respect and year-end tributes. Particularly because of strong co-lead performances from Damian Bichir and newcomer Jose Julian. I can’t put it any plainer than that.
A Better Life is basically an LA Latino riff on Vittorio De Sica ‘s The Bicycle Thieves (whether it was intended to be seen in this light or not) and as such is genuinely moving, if a little too grim and deflating at times.
I’m not setting A Better Life up for a fall by comparing it to De Sica’s 1948 classic. It’s not a beat-for-beat remake (the screenplay was apparently based on a true-life L.A. story) but it does use the basic Bicycle bones by being largely about a poor, illegal-alien Latino father (Bichir) struggling to reclaim a recently purchased pickup truck that’s been stolen by another poor man, and with the help of his teenage son (Julian).
It’s basically a tale of a tough, persistent, hard-luck mouse. And in our wildly egoistic me-me bing culture I’m wondering who outside of guilty westside liberals has the patience and humility to tough it out with a sad-sack S.A. who can’t catch a break? Life keeps jabbing and slugging Bichir’s character — bitchslapping him, kicking him in the shins and delivering one form or another of trial and humiliation…but he keeps on plugging and holds onto his dignity and humanity. In the end he wins your respect and affection.
He also manages to win the respect and love of his son, who’s regarded him with mostly pity and contempt throughout most of the film. This achievement is pretty much what the film is about. Like De Sica’s film, A Better Life is not about winning or beating the system or lucking out.
Bichir (who played Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh‘s Che films) and Julian’s performances are as solid and open-pored as it gets. They share an emotional confession scene near the very end that pretty much ties the whole film together.
A Better Life trailer prompted an early suspicion that it was basically a white man’s (i.e., director Chris Weitz‘s) take on a Latino situation. Well, it doesn’t play that way. Yes, English is spoken but when it happens it feels right. Ethnically speaking A Better Life felt nearly as genuine and real-deal to me as Carey Fukanaga‘s Sin Nombre. The cast is almost entirely Latino, and over half of the dialogue is in Spanish, and…well, there’s just no “white guy” thing I could detect. Weitz is partly Spanish, it turns out. Maybe a Latino critic will come along and call me blind.
It’s clearly one of the truest and sturdiest films I’ve seen so far this year. It may turn out to be more of a Spirit Awards winner than an Oscar contender but let’s see where it goes.
I saw A Better Life last night at Santa Moncia’s Aero theatre, under the aegis of Pete Hammond‘s KCET screening series. Seitz and producer Christian McLaughlin answered questions following the showing.
For what it’s worth I used to work as a tree-trimmer in Los Angeles. I used to climb up palm trees with spikes and a belt chain and use pole saws and do ornamental pruning and remove dead leaders and limbs and install cables…the whole shot. It’s brutal work and it doesn’t pay all that well either, but I learned how to pull myself up with ropes and swing around with a leather saddle and a half-hitch knot and handle a chain saw and sharpen the blades with a file, etc. I could tell you stories.
It seems nothing short of surreal that the MGM Home Entertainment guys would choose to offer an exclusive special reduced price to Walmart shoppers on their recently released Bluray of William Wyler‘s The Big Country (1958). Walmart shoppers! Surely the lowest of the low in terms of having a cultivated appetite for classic westerns and particularly in terms of knowing what a truly special thing it is for a large-format Technirama film to be transferred to Bluray.
You can buy The Big Country Bluray on Amazon for $24.99 (which is what I did early this morning), but the Walmart crowd can buy it online or in their stores for less than $10 bills. There’s a part of me that wants to drive down to the Baldwin Hills Walmart (i.e., the closest one around) and pick up a copy today. Because for me, a first-rate Bluray transfer of a late 1950s Super Technirama film, particularly one as pastoral and meditative as The Big Country, is a very big deal.
On 6.2 Bluray.com’s Jeffrey Kaufman called it “a mostly spectacular looking 1080p transfer…the widescreen, large format Technirama image is perfect for the high definition medium, and…the depth of field is nothing short of awesome throughout this film, with vistas that extend for scores of miles…clarity and precision are first-rate throughout the bulk of this film, and fine detail is excellent, with gorgeously saturated color.”
For those who aren’t up to speed, here’s an explanation from a Home Theatre Forum guy: “Technirama was essentially VistaVision combined with anamorphic lenses to produce a CinemaScope widescreen image that could then be converted to 35mm CinemaScope prints or unsqueezed and blown up to Super Technirama 70.
“VistaVision and Technirama recorded a large format image by running 35mm film through the camera horizontally, so that each frame was 8 perforations widrather than 4 perforations tall, as in a regular vertical pull down 35mm camera.
Location of the closest Walmart in my sphere. The ghost of William Wyler is bouncing off the walls in heaven. “My 1958 Super Technirama western, one of the most handsomely composed films I ever shot, is being offered on a special reduced rate to effing Walmart shoppers….God! I was no snob during my lifetime but who offers a specially priced Chateaubriand to people known for their patronage of KFC and McDonald’s?”
“This method of exposure increased the size of each frame by about 130% compared to 35mm anamorphic systems like CinemaScope, but was still 28% smaller than 65mm systems like Todd-AO and Super Panavision 70. Effectively you got a lot of the benefits of shooting in a 65mm format, while still using 35mm film.
“Separation masters are essentially a film ‘back up’ of the original camera negative made on black and white film. There are three elements, one each for the yellow, cyan, and magenta components of the colour spectrum.
“Since these elements are B&w film, they don’t fade the way early Eastmancolor negatives do. The separations can be recompiled to produce a new preservation negative of the film that doesn’t have faded color.”
Walmart thought from HE reader: “I am a person who refuses to shop at Wal-Mart, absolutely refuses. Never shopped there, never will. But would good deals on Blurays potentially bring in some new customers? Sure. Absolutely. And it’s part of a whole luring game anyway. You come in for the Blu-Ray and you walk out spending a min. of $50 bucks, easy. On the genre front– a lot of conservatives love westerns. And they also love Wal-Mart. So I guess I don’t look at it so surprisingly. I know a lot of folks who have Bluray players. My wife’s dad is a prime example. He’s a conservative who loves his tech toys and once he got turned on to Bluray that’s all he buys. And you know where he shops? Costco and Walmart.”
I don’t see how the Screen Gems marketing team could possibly go wrong in pushing Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs (9.16) by using the same basic design of the old 1971 Sam Peckinpah-Dustin Hoffman one-sheet. Because it’s still one of the most psychologically unnerving and suggestively violent images every delivered by a movie poster. I would just ignore that 2009 Tyler Perry one-sheet and go for it.
The seeing-is-believing factor is so completely null and void and out-the-window in the CG behemoth Transformers realm that when flying stunts are performed for real it means absolutely nothing to Joe Popcorn. As far as most of us are concerned everyone and everything is digitally reconstituted. The guys who did the actual wing-flying are probably dismayed to hear this, but this is the world we’ve created.
Even my own physical-biological self, the entity known as Jeffrey Wells that I’ve been inhabiting all these decades, primarily exists as a digital reconstitution. In the eyes of most of those who know me, I mean. I obviously exist as a physical being, but who cares or notices outside of my two sons and friends and professional acquaintances and the publicists I deal with? And my two cats?
It’s a fact that I’ve been gradually ceasing to “exist” in a biological form over the last decade or so, and have increasingly manifested as a digital presence or smart-mouth energy field or what-have-you on a drop-by-drop, month-by-month basis. It’s a little bit like Jeff Goldblum‘s transformation in David Cronenberg‘s The Fly — i.e., “Brundlefly.”
I’ve been an online columnist for 13 years now, and I’ve been punching out a continuous stream of items and stories in a bloggy-blog format since April ’06. And I swear to God I myself don’t even feel as if I’m completely in touch with whatever my essence is (or might actually amount to) unless I’m online. I can’t quite feel it (whatever “it” is) when I’m just walking down a street or standing on the beach or talking to Stu Van Airsdale at a bar or whatever. Not like I used to feel it when I was ten years old, or when I was in my early 20s and high half the time.
Every waking moment I’m not online, I’m thinking to myself, “Well, it won’t be long.”
Update: Apparently it wasn’t a symmetrical no-brainer for Paramount/Amblin/Bad Robot to hire Drew Struzan, the illustrator who did all those hand-painted posters for the big Lucas-Spielberg-Zemeckis flicks of the late ’70s and ’80s (Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones series, Back to the Future), to create a retro Super 8 poster. Because it’s a fan poster. Not by Struzan. Fake.
I’ll be attending the big Super 8 premiere screening and after-party tonight in Westwood. Abstract impressionism, photos, videos, JJ Abrams-isms, etc. Perhaps a photo of Drew McWeeny?