Bert Schneider, the last producer to semi-successfully micro-manage Terrence Malick and keep him from his own self-indulgent tendencies by somehow persuading him to keep Days of Heaven down to a managable 94 minutes, died Monday at age 78.
After Heaven, Malick never made a lean, well-honed movie again. When he returned to filmmaking in the ’90s it was all pretty photography and leaves and alligators and voice-over and scrapping dialogue and expansive running times. Mister, we could use a man like Bert Schneider again.
An avowed leftie, Schneider was a renowned, down-to-business producer of late 1960s and ’70s classics such as Easy Rider (which Schneider reportedly honed into shape when director Dennis Hopper‘s undisciplined editing became problematic), Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. He also won a Best Documentary Oscar in 1975 for Hearts and Minds.
In his landmark book “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Peter Biskind called Schneider “the eminence grise of the American New Wave.”
From Wiki’s account of the post-production of Days of Heaven:
“After the production finished principal photography in ’76, the editing process took over two years to complete. Malick had a difficult time shaping the film and getting the pieces to go together. Schneider reportedly showed some footage to director Richard Brooks, who was considering Gere for a role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar.
“According to Schneider, the editing for Days of Heaven took so long that ‘Brooks cast Gere, shot, edited and released Looking for Mr. Goodbar while Malick was still editing.’
“A breakthrough came when Malick experimented with voice-overs from Linda Manz‘s character, similar to what he had done with Sissy Spacek in Badlands. According to editor Billy Weber, Malick jettisoned much of the film’s dialogue, replacing it with Manz’s voice-over, which served as an oblique commentary on the story.
“After a year, Malick had to call the actors to Los Angeles to shoot inserts of shots that were necessary but had not been filmed in Alberta. The finished film thus includes close-ups of Shephard that were shot under a freeway overpass. The underwater shot of Gere’s falling face down into the river was shot in a large aquarium in Sissy Spacek’s living room.
“Meanwhile, Schneider was upset with Malick. He had confronted Malick numerous times about missed deadlines and broken promises. Due to further cost overruns, he had to ask Paramount for more money, which he preferred not to do.”
Biskind quoted Brooke Hayward, Dennis Hopper’s first wife, as saying, “Bert was the heroic savior of that movie. Without him, there would never have been an Easy Rider.”
I predicted this, and now it’s spreading like a virus. The lemming mentality has taken hold, and there’s just no stopping regional critics groups from giving The Artist their Best Picture prizes. Too many big-city groups (New York Film Critics Circle, Boston Film Critics Society, New York Film Critics Online) have already tumbled, and everyone wants an easy choice that Joe Schmoe can appreciate. The Las Vegas Film Critics Society is the latest to blindly follow the path of least resistance.
Almost a quarter of a century ago Lethal Weapon used a funny jumping-off-a-building gag. Ragged-edge cop Mel Gibson is sent to the top of a four-story building to talk an unstable guy out of making a suicide leap. Gibson winds up cuffing himself to the guy and jumping off the building, and they’re both falling to their deaths…not. They land on one of those huge inflated tent-sized bags…whomp!…that cops and firemen use to save people. All is well.
Flash forward to another jumping-off-a-building scene in Brad Bird and Tom Cruise‘s Mission: impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol, which I saw last night. An American operative is being chased over a rooftop by baddies in Budapest. He fires some rounds, kills a couple of guys, and then escapes by leaping off the building, continuing to shoot as he falls four or five stories to the pavement below. He’s saved, however, when he lands on a modest air mattress that’s about one-tenth the size of Lethal Weapon‘s tent-sized bag.
Where did this miracle air mattress come from? We’re not told. In what physical realm does a guy leap backwards four stories onto an air mattress that’s a little bit larger than a king-sized bed and live? I’ll tell you what realm. The realm of Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol and its brethren.
Big-budget acton movies have ignored the laws of what happens when you jump or fall from any kind of height for so long nobody cares any more. You can do any stupid thing you want — jump off any building or bridge or moving airplane — and you can land safely, and audiences will still buy their tickets and eat their popcorn. Nothing matters.
Makers of idiotic steroid action films have been ignoring the basic laws of physics for a good 20 years or so, but particularly since Asian action films became popular in the early ’90s. It mainly started with the popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the use of “wire guys” to allow heroes to leap anywhere from anything and land in a cool way like Superman.
In the HE book there is only one way to go with action films nowadays, and that is the path of mostly believable, bare-bones, “this could actually happen in the real world” physicality adhered to in Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Drive and Steven Soderbergh‘s Haywire. All the rest is bullshit and you know it.
“Like most great films, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo gets better with the second viewing,” writes Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone, “and probably even better with the third and fourth viewings.” In other words, Stone blew off last night’s IMAX screening of Mission: Impossible 4 — Ghost Protocol for a second gander at Tattoo. Life is choices.
“The Stieg Larsson books are densely detailed. Once the names settle in and the plot somewhat becomes less complicated, the film breathes. Fincher is well known for his exactitude and one simply cannot get everything that’s going on the first time through — especially some of the more intricate shots, like one in particular of Rooney Mara’s thighs with her hand dangling to one side holding a gun. His films, like Hitchcock’s and Scorsese’s, are made to be studied. He takes so much time with each shot that repeated viewings will always pay you back with one discovery after the next.
“Sure, but listen to critics who write it off because it’s not The Social Network.” That means me, folks! I’m a bad guy because I said it’s first-rate but still second-tier Fincher.
“By the end of the film, the whole point of it comes to life. This is a movie about a girl, all right. Her hard shell finally cut through, as she encounters the one man who cares enough about her to bring her a sandwich for breakfast and stand ten feet back from her, never reaching out his hand so much as to shake hers. As Blomkvist, sweetly rendered irresistible by Daniel Craig, keeps his distance from Salander, so does the girl with the dragon tattoo want to move closer to him.
“To fall in love is to have the most important layer pulled back, and the softest of flesh exposed. It’s a risk Salander has avoided for her own sake for most of her life. But to keep all surfaces protected means to repel everything that comes softly near. And that is an even bigger risk: to never have the sweetest thing.
“I look around this year at the films that are headed for Best Picture and I’m seeing mostly movies about men. Even if Dragon Tattoo wanted to be about about a man it has been overtaken by a girl.”
It hit me several weeks ago that Seth Rogen would be a good guy to have on my side in a street fight. He’s fairly tall and broad-shouldered and on the beefy side, and…well, I’m just flying on a whim but something tells me he wouldn’t fool around. He’d probably kick and gouge and get guys into a hammerlock and bite off a piece of their ear. So it’s good news that Rogen has been hired to host the 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
No, I don’t see a connection either. None whatsoever. I’m kicking this around as we speak. Wait…I’ve got it. A good comedian is fearless — confident and unafraid to tackle any topic or share any observation — and that fearlessness comes from the same gasoline that fuels and propels a good kick-boxer or wrestler or eye-poker.
The 27th annual awards ceremony will be held as usual in a monster-sized super-tent on the beach…well, on a beach-adjacent parking lot in Santa Monica on Saturday, 2.25 — 25 or 26 hours before the Oscars. Let’s hope that the chill blustery winds that all but ruined last February’s Spirit Awards won’t re-occur.
The title comes from a line spoken by James Caan in Michael Mann‘s Thief: “I am the last guy in the world that you wanna fuck with.”
On the afternoon of Friday, 12.2 — hours after seeing The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at Sony — I posted a Best Actress evaluation piece that began with my enthusiastic response to Rooney Mara‘s performance as Lisbeth Salander. She was so fierce and penetrating, I figured, that she had to be a late-inning Best Actress contender. In my own book that’s still true, but things have changed over the last 11 days, and now…who knows?
Mara Rooney in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The tight embargo enforcement and the general feeling that Sony doesn’t see Dragon Tattoo as an award-calibre film has created a feeling that the air is seeping out of the Tattoo tires, awards-wise, including Mara’s own.
It just goes to show how quickly things change in this racket. The wind shifts direction, the temperature cools down, the current loses strength. Anyway, here’s how I saw it way back when:
“I don’t think I’m breaking the embargo to say that Rooney Mara is fierce and touching and diamond-hard in David Fincher‘s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Yes, her Lisbeth Salander character is familiar due to Noomi Rapace having played her three times in the three original Girl flicks but Mara gives a richer, fuller performance, I feel. Her manner is curt and chilly but her eyes are swimming with feeling. She’s a heartbreaker, and she’s tough and resourceful — the rock upon which the film rests.
“In a phrase, I think it’s highly likely that Mara will land a Best Actress nomination”…Update: Nope — not likely at all. A slender chance, at best.
“By my sights, the locks are Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn) and Viola Davis (The Help). The top actresses fighting it out for the other two slots are Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Tilda Swinton (We Need To Talk About Kevin). And possibly Mara, which would make four.
“Close is seen as a weak sister in some circles because her performance is so restrained and still and minmal. On the other hand her presumed Best Actress nomination has long been seen as a career tribute (i.e., the last 30 years) plus Close has been glad-handing a lot of people at a lot of events on both coasts. Theron is seen as vulnerable because her Young Adult character, Mavis Gary, is acutely dislikable; others feel that she gives an exceptionally ballsy and blazing performance because of the dislikable-ness. Tilda Swinton‘s We Need To Talk About Kevin performance is a little odd and “who knows?” She plays a writer who gives birth to an evil demon who needs to be thrown off a pier in a burlap bag filled with rocks at an early age. I don’t see it.
“And yet many feel that Theron and Swinton give livelier, more vivid and graspable performances than Close does, despite Close having the sweep of history and present-day politics behind her.
“Close has been on thin ice since the start of the week,” says In Contention‘s Kris Tapley. “I think it’s a strong performance so I wouldn’t treat it as if it ‘has to go.’ And the category itself is fraught with great performances in mediocre films (though I think Young Adult is a great film, and the exception). So the film itself doesn’t really hold her down. The problem — as far as standing out this time of year is concerned — is that Close’s is an internalized portrayal. And you have to have a ‘show them’ component to register for a large group of people like the Academy.
“That qualification out of the way, yes, Close is in a precarious spot. The thing Theron could have against her, as you intimate, is how unlikable her character is. Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams seem assured. And it’s not just Mara looking for room. Indeed, Tilda Swinton hasn’t gone away. But I don’t see anyone outside of those seven cracking in.”
“Hollywood Reporter columnist Scott Feinberg disagrees. He thinks that Martha Marcy May Marlene‘s Elizabeth Olsen and Like Crazy‘s Felicity Jones have contention heat. That’s not very likely, I feel. Feinberg knows that Academy voters tend to let one ingenue in among a typical Best Actress assortment, and that they’re not likely to let in three.”
Right now I think it’s Streep, Davis, Williams, Theron and either Swinton or Mara…but more likely Swinton. Close is weakening, I feel.
There are two significant omissions among the Broadcast Film Critics Association‘s nominees, which were announced this morning. One, Albert Nobbs‘ Glenn Close wasn’t nominated for Best Actress despite there being six slots. And two, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘s Gary Oldman was given the go-by for Best Actor. BFCA picks have generally tended to reflect default preferences among the schmoozy guild and Academy set, so this may (I say “may”) be cause for concern among the Close and Oldman camps.
All along the unspoken Close-for-Best-Actress argument has been “even if you’re not knocked out by her Albert Nobbs performance, you can’t deny that her acting over the last 30 years warrants a career-tribute salute.” But during yesterday’s Oscar Poker podcast (which hasn’t yet posted) I asked whether that rationale or equation might be wearing thin against competitors whose performances are knocking people out, in and of themselves. The SAG nominations later this week will either follow the BFCA glide path or countermand it.
I don’t get the Oldman blow-off. There’s serious admiration and respect out there for his George Smiley performance, and he sure as hell delivers in a more subtle and layered fashion way than the nominated Jean Dujardin does in The Artist . The BFCA ballot, which I filled out last weekend, only asks for three nominees in each category, so obviously most people…okay, I submitted Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Michael Fassbender in those slots. I know, I know: I fucked up. I should have ranked Oldman after Pitt and Clooney — I loved Fasssbender’s Jane Eyre performance, but his Shame guy is too glacial and impassive — but I let my Zelig impulse carry me away. Not a proud moment.
The Artist and Hugo garnered 11 nominations each. People voting to support the latest by dear, beloved Martin Scorsese — keeper of the cineaste flame — is understandable despite 75% of Hugo being a mostly tedious sit. But support for The Artist is pure Zelig thinking — a vote for pleasantness and taking the easy schmoozy way out and sparkling, silver-toned good vibes. It’s cool that Drive landed eight nominations, and a bit curious that The Help got eight also.
The BFCA also denied The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo‘s Rooney Mara a deserved Best Actress nomination, and gave the film itself only two minor nominations — Best Score and Best Editing. My guess is that the BFCA was responding to Sony’s strict review embargo on some level. They were saying, “We get it — you guys don’t see this film as an awards contender and that’s fine.” But they were wrong, I feel, to throw out Mara with the bathwater.
Kris Tapley and I both heard from guys who caught an early peek at Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and proclaimed that Max Von Sydow was a slamdunk lock for Best Supporting Actor. (Here‘s my post.) Except Von Sydow didn’t even get nominated by the BFCA. Those two guys have some splainin’ to do.
That said, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close did manage nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Young Actor/Actress.