Repeating Sasha Stone’s alert: The L.A. Film Critics Association, the Boston Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online will vote for their awards tomorrow. The NYFCO will start around 11 am Pacific/2 pm Eastern, and I’m guessing that the Boston guys will…actually, I’m expecting that Boston Herald critic James Verniere will fill me in before long. LAFCA will begin deliberations around 10 am Pacific and finish between noon and 1 pm. They’ll all be announcing via Twitter.
“I can’t say I was bored, but I think Shame is borderline absurd,” the recently notorious New Yorker critic David Denby posted on 12.7, “and I’m amazed that so many people seem to be taking it seriously, or not seeing the film for what it is.
“The overall coldness — the indifferentism, the emptiness, mixed with a quasi-religious purity of self-defilement — are hardly the result of creative uncertainty or failure. The icy style and alienated tone, I’m sure, are exactly what the British writer-director Steve McQueen was aiming for. Before he turned to feature filmmaking, McQueen did art installations, some of them using video. Shame is an art-project sex movie, just as McQueen’s last, Hunger (2009), was an art-project political movie.
“Shame has a rigorously color-coordinated silver-gray design, a formal perfection of imagery, and very little of the mess and spill of ordinary life — particularly of the tumultuous life of a man who constantly changes sex partners. The movie offers a controlled aestheticization of out-of-control behavior.
“It’s very possible that a serious movie could be made about sex addiction — say, if the man, in pursuit of his obsessions, had a family that he tore up along the way. But this hero is single. And, if you accept the terms of the movie, he’s an isolated sufferer, haplessly driven, mainly hurting himself. But I can’t accept those terms. The solemnity of Shame — the moral disapproval, the grim misery, the lowering music — is very strange, a sombre form of titillation which congratulates the audience for its higher values while giving it plenty of handsome flesh to look at.
“Shame is a glum ordeal. It’s a movie about a creepy form of martyrdom: The religious overtones of ritual self-abasement are inescapable. Right at the beginning, Fassbender lies naked, spread-eagled on his bed, nailed to his cross. Brandon Sullivan screws for your sins.”
I should have paid attention to last Wednesday’s news that Joe Farrell, former chairman-CEO of the National Research Group, died at age 76. NRG, which started in 1978, invented a new vocabulary when it came to advanced, in-depth, early-warning movie marketing. NRG introduced the concept of research screenings, tracking (I’ve heard the phrase “it’s not tracking” for the last 20 or 25 years), and the notion of audience quadrants (the first time I heard the term “all four quadrants” was in 1982 regarding The Pirates of Penzance).
Farrell, whom I never once saw in person, was absolutely a major player. Yes, it’s been said that research audience data has occasionally led to studios pressuring directors and producers to edit out the slower stuff, perhaps to the detriment of the film. And yes, there are those who’ve whispered (but never proved to my knowledge) that Farrell would occasionally “cook” his data to make it appear as if the studio guys knew what they were doing when they greenlighted this or that movie, and that if the movie tanked it was the fault of marketing and not concept. Something to look into another day.
But for now a moment of silence for a guy who really changed this town, for better or worse.
Last July I ranted against the wearing of silver-gray cross-training shoes, “especially ones with a kind of woven-stitch texture and a slight color accent, like pink or violet.” The other absolute-never-wear in my book is anything maroon, but especially maroon sweaters. I’m mentioning this because it just hit me today that John C. Reilly wears the bad shoes and the bad sweater in Roman Polanski‘s Carnage.
I once spoke briefly to Angelina Jolie on the set of Salt, and I remember having to fight these odd feelings of unworthiness that arose from her being stunningly beautiful and my being…well, what I am. This happened again yesterday for a minute or two when she walked into room #1414 at the Four Seasons hotel to chat about In The Land of Blood and Honey, her Serb-Muslim love story-war drama that opens on 12.23. But I eventually won the battle and was able to focus on her words.
Here‘s what she was asked and what she said during our 28-minute session.
Jolie is very sharp. She thinks and talks fast, knows the world, quickly assembles and associates and draws lines between the dots. Now and then she’ll express herself (at least in front of journalists) with haphazard, on-the-fly sentences and half-formed thoughts, but nobody speaks as clearly and calmly as they’d like then the digital recorders are turned on.
And she is an ordered and disciplined type. The film itself — easily the equal of Michael Winterbottom‘s A Mighty Heart, and a much better thing, quality-wise, than most of her acting vehicles over the last ten years — makes that clear. I absolutely respect and admire In The Land of Blood and Honey as well as her efforts to make it as first-rate as possible. This is a very tight and well-executed drama — no shovelling, no exaggeration, no sensationalism. Just straight and true and real.
Set within the Serb-Muslim-Croat conflict of the early to mid ’90s, ITLOBAH isn’t a disparate-lovers story as much as a portrait of the very fine lines between a relationship that is lust one minute, safety and security the next, and always with a current of sadism and sadomasochism. The basic logline — “a Bosnian woman (Zana Marjanovic) submits to the tender passions of her Serbian captor (Goran Kostic)” — isn’t the half of it.
Jolie vision quote #1: “We want people to pay attention and want for timely intervention, some kind of dialogue, that if we could make people feel that in a visceral way…while they’re watching it, they’re angry and it’s coming, that would be the completion that they would walk away with. We tried to make a traditional film with characters and dialogue. [But] you can’t soften this kind of war, and the reality is that the four-and-a-half-hour cut was a lot worse [in the sense that] some people really could not handle it. If you’re watching a film about war, you should get a sense of what it’s really like.
Jolie, Jon Voight prior to Thursday’s In The Land of Blood and Honey premiere.
Jolie vision quote #2: “I remembered Bosnia-Herzogovina, it was my generation…I remember where I was at that time…it happened in Europe and I [asked myself] why do I not know very much about this? The more I researched it the more compelled I was to make it. People are still healing from this process, and it ‘s important not to [forget it]. Once the conflict is over the attention goes elsewhere, and proper healing is not done.
How the film came together: “I didn’t set out to be a director. I wrote it for myself because it was an experiment for me…to give myself this homework, and then [there was a story and] the cast came together and things started to happen and it somehow became real….but I wasn’t in the region and in many ways they directed me. In many ways they told me. I would ask ‘did we get this right? Did this sound right? Tell me how your neighbor’s baby died.’ I’ve had so many amazing directors in the past, and Clint [Eastwood] told me to have a good crew of people…a good creative family and no dramas. Talented but a nice person. We didn’t want not nice people [on the crew]. I wanted a family. And I learned from Michael Winterbottom [something].
On the differences between the English-language and Serb-Croatian version: “They’re two minutes off, actually. They’re the same movie but they feel different. I wrote it in English because I had to. We had it translated to make sure it was fair and balanced. They all spoke English, and those who didn’t [speak English] learned their lines pheonetically. We wanted it to be authentic, and yet….for us it’s not just about making a movie but about getting a message out. Maybe this theatre in this state say they won’t buy a foreign language film and we’ll say, okay, we have this [English-language] version also, can you take that? And then…the UK has bought the American, but maybe they’ll change their minds. The DVD [might] have both versions. I wish I could shout from the rooftops how good these [actors] are. I gave so much respect for them. I would like people to see this film just for that.
On the physical and logistical demands of shooting: “[The shoot was] very fast. We had 41 days and $12 million dollars, and we had three and a half years of war to cover and many, many different seasons. I learned a lot about how much snow costs. We used to joke about how ‘I want to snow this whole area’ and they’d say, ‘Well, that is $100,000 worth of snow’ and I’d say, ‘Well, what’s $20,000 dollars worth?’ And everything was doubled [because of the two versions]. Everything was doubled. We had to cut the script as we went. We had to invent things. But I kind of like working like that.
On directing: “I love being on the other side of the camera. I love watching an actor do an extraordinary job, and protecting her emotions and showing her talent, and working with the crew and living in this world inside the movie. It’s a different way or working, and I think I prefer it [to acting]. I wasn’t the center of attention. I was the buddy in the corner with a paper pad and a pencil, and it was lovely.”
On the reported Afghanistan project she’s working on and may (or may not) direct down the road: “Between me and Graham, it was this idea. As he writes, it was kind what do you have and I said I have this thing. No one has seen it. It’s just something I wrote and i have on my desk, and now it’s become something that I’m talking about it. But it stems from…I travelled to Pakistan first, two weeks before September 11th and I visited Aghan people there as they were being [evacuated] and on the buses in Kabul and over the last ten years I’ve tracked some families…and on the other side of it I visited a lot of soldiers, wounded solders in Ramstein and Walter Reade, and met a lot of female soldiers…and the question that frustrates me is that they say they’re not in combat and yet they’re dying in combat, and this level of respect for women in the field, and what a female solider goes through, relationships between men and women when women are at war, and what it is for a mother to leave her children…so it’s kind of a study in that, and that’s how I came at it, and I don’t know…I dont know if I’ll ever show it to anybody. But that’s [what it is].”
Here’s last Tuesday night’s Charlie Rose show with Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Bennett Miller talking Moneyball. Here’s Pitt: “I’m getting older, Charlie, and I’m longing to challenge myself [and do] something designy…something that is completely autonomous, and which I’m completely 100% responsible for….not writing [which] I don’t have the talent for….something, something else, something else in the arts.”
There was an older, somewhat heavyish, non-industry woman sitting behind me at last Wednesday night’s screening of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. And when an impressionistic 9/11 conveyance was shown she reacted very emotionally. She moaned, I mean. Then she moaned again when another 9/11 echo came up. And then she cheered and whooped wildly when the filmmakers came out at the end.
EL&IC is going to be a very moving film for a lot of people, I suspect, if this woman is at all representative. And that’s fine. But her presence divided my attention throughout the film. 75% of me watched and listened to EL&IC…cool. But the remaining 25% was dreading the possibility that this woman would make another noise.
People who moan or cry out or coo over dogs during films are anathema to me. I don’t want to know them or talk with them after the film is over, and I damn sure don’t want to sit near them. That also goes for people who laugh too loudly and go “uhm-hmm” when some plot turn or indication happens on-screen, as if to announce “ahh, I understand what’s going on now!” Anyone, in short, who can’t suck it in and keep it together without acting out what they’re feeling.
Unless you’re one of those types who lean forward in their seats and cover their face with their hands and moan very quietly when they’re watching a film they can’t stand — that’s a different thing and in my mind allowable.
People who can’t keep their emotions from spilling out in any arena are infants. I was on a New York-to-Paris flight about ten years ago, and a woman sitting near me moaned in fear when we hit a little turbulence. Two or three people sitting nearby immediately turned and gave her looks that said “for God’s sake…act like an adult!”
I was once driving to LAX with a woman friend just after 9/11, and she cried out when she saw armed U.S. soldiers standing on the approach ramps. Seeing guys standing around with guns is never comforting, but you need to eat that stuff and let it rumble around inside without acting like a two-year-old.
“I just hate people,” a frequent filmgoer complained the other day. “I’m still dealing with the woman next to me during Young Adult who audibly cooed whenever the fucking dog was onscreen, which was a LOT.”