I’m giving the Vice-Presidential debate to Joe Biden, 65 to 35 or 70 to 30 over Paul Ryan. A lot of fast scrapping, a lot of punches thrown, a few enjoyable interruptions. I understand that Biden laughing and guffawing when Ryan went into his b.s. is more attractive than snarling and double-taking, but I wanted less of it. Ryan did the usual sidesteppping on core beliefs (i.e., wanting to cut back on middle-class entitlements to reduce national debt) and performed like a steady hammer. Moderator Martha Raddatz was sharp, disciplined, focused and in control — much better than Jim Lehrer was last week.
Ruben Fleischer‘s The Gangster Squad had to abandon its 9.7.12 debut in order to replace a theatre-shooting scene that echoed the Aurora massacre. It’s now opening on 1.11.13. But this doesn’t change what I observed last May, which is that Fleischer’s fllm seems to be taking a fairly fast and loose approach to facts a la Brian DePalma‘s The Untouchables (’87).
“It’s being sold as a ‘get Mickey Cohen‘ movie in the same way The Untouchables was a ‘get Al Capone’ flick,” I wrote on 5.9.12. “But just as the real-life Eliot Ness was portrayed as having made noise and gotten tough with Al Capone, in real life he pretty much stood by while the feds nailed the Chicago gangster tor tax evasion.
“Likewise the real-life Gangster Squad, led by John O’Mara (Josh Brolin in the film) and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling, ditto), never killed or jailed or put legendary L.A. gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) out of business. They mostly seem to have messed with his operations to some extent, or otherwise harassed and irritated. But that was it.
“Like Capone, Cohen did time for tax evasion. Two stretches, in fact — one from the early to mid ’50s and the second from ’61 through ’72. The real-life Gangster Squad may or may not have played a role in helping to put Cohen in jail for the first tax-evasion rap, but so far I haven’t read, learned or been told that. (I had a chat yesterday with Tere Tereba, author of ‘Mickey Cohen: The Life and Times of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster,’ and she didn’t seem persuaded that the Gangster Squad had that much to do with it.)
This new trailer for Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s Zero Dark Thirty (Sony, 12.19) is obviously a huge improvement over the initial teaser, which came out in early August and was greeted with a chorus of yawns and people saying “really?…that’s it?” Good on whoever cut this new one. We now have a film to look forward to. Thank you.
Two musical notes: (a) Today’s ear bug is “Pretty Ballerina,” the 1967 Left Banke single (written by pianist Michael Brown about Renee Fladen) and one of the tunes heard in David Chase‘s Not Fade Away; (b) I’ve argued for years that the doo-wop chorus sung by The Tokens in “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is “ah-weem-ah-wepp, ah-weem-ah-wepp” — i.e., “wepp” with a “p” sound. So obvious.
(1) “Affleck’s period drama, set during the 1979 and ’80 Iran hostage crisis and based on fact, is a partly light-hearted, partly riveting drama about the rescuing of six American foreign-service workers who had taken shelter in Tehran’s Canadian embassy after the storming of the U.S. embassy and the taking of hostages. An enterprising CIA guy named Tony Mendez (Affleck) devises a plan to hoodwink Iranian officials into believing that these six are filmmakers looking to use Iranian locations for a fake, cheesy-sounding sci-fi film called Argo.
(2) “Argo starts out as a somber docu-drama, and then shifts into a kind of flip jocular vein (especially with the appearance of John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a couple of Hollywood operators who assist Affleck in creating the backstory for the phony film), and then somber again and then sad and then revved again and then really, really tense. In short, it’s smart and absorbing for first two-thirds to three-quarters, but it’s the suspenseful final act that brings it home.
(3) Affleck’s direction “is clean and concise and doesn’t waste time or footage. The screenplay by Chris Terrio is aces. And the cast hits nothing but true notes — Affleck as Mendez, Bryan Cranston as his CIA boss, Arkin and Goodman as the Hollywooders, Victor Garber as Iran’s Canadian ambassador who protected the six when they were hiding in his residence, and Kyle Chandler as the late Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s chief of staff. And Argo delivers superb period detail all the way through — technology, cars, clothes, haircuts, everything.
(4) “It’s a good, smart, satisfying adult thriller — a story well told and highly suspenseful, for sure. It’s pleasing to see a tough situation resolved through ingenuity and guts, and I’m sure it’ll wind up as a Best Picture contender. I don’t happen to think it’s finally one for the ages, but that’s me. Argo is a well-crafted, highly satisfying caper film with a certain patriotic resonance that basically says ‘job well done, guys…you should be proud.'”
(5) “Argo is further proof that Affleck has clearly, seriously upped his directing game. He really is the new Sydney Pollack, and I say that as someone who knew, enjoyed, occasionally chatted with and deeply respected the director of Three Days of the Condor, Tootsie, The Yakuza, Out of Africa, The Firm, The Way We Were, etc.
(6) “But it’s basically a movie designed to enthrall, charm, amuse, thrill, move and excite. It’s a comfort-blanket movie that basically says ‘this was the problem, and this is how it was solved…and the guys who made it happen deserve our applause and respect…no?’ Yes, they do. But above all Argo aims to please. It skillfully creates suspense elements that probably weren’t that evident when the story actually went down. And it throws in two or three divorced-father-hangs-with-young-son scenes, and some CIA razmatazz and a few ’80s Hollywood cheeseball jokes and lathers it all on.
(7) “Yes, that jacked-up suspense finale that ‘works’ but it doesn’t feel genuine. You know it doesn’t. That last nail-biting bit with the police cars hot-dogging the departing jet on the Tehran airport runway? Standard Hollywood bullshit.
(8) “If I was a high-school teacher and Argo was a term paper, I would give it an 87 or 88. Okay, an 89. It’s obviously good, but it doesn’t exude paralyzing greatness. Like many highly regarded Hollywood films, it adheres to familiar classic centrist entertainment values…and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s very pleasing thing, but it’s a caper film. Boil it down and it’s Ocean’s 11 set in Washington, D.C., L.A. and Tehran of 1978 and ’89 without the money or the flip glamorous vibe or the Clooney-Pitt-Damon-Cheadle combustion.”
A DVD Beaver screen capture of the new Rosemary’s Baby Bluray reveals an error I’ve never seen before. In the glass on a washing machine door you’ll notice a reflection of one of those old-fashioned studio lights on a pedestal. Definitely a major screwup, especially from a perfection freak like Roman Polanski. Hey, Roman, if you’re reading from Paris — why didn’t you and your Criterion homies digitally correct this? I would have.
DVD Beaver’s Gary W. Tooze calls the Criterion Bluray (out 10.30) ” a great release that doesn;t disappoint…the image quality has wonderful film grain textures and contrast is at Criterion’s usual hallmark standard. Everything is sharper and the more intense colors breathe new life in the viewing presentation.”
There’s an Azazel Jacobs film being assembled called The Grace That Keeps This World. Deadline‘s Mike Fleming reports that Glenn Close, James Franco and Brit Marling will costar, and I can tell you right now that any movie title using the word “grace” is looking for grief.
A movie with “grace” in the title means “watch out…here comes something precious.” Joe and Jane Popcorn, trust me, will avoid this film like the plague if and when it comes to the local plex (which it probably won’t — the title screams “Sundance darling” and “VOD”). Yes, the excellent Maria Full Of Grace was a must-see, but Joe and Jane ignored it. Grace is Gone, Grace Quiqley, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea…”grace” on a marquee is an omen of cancer.
Fleming’s story says Matthew Aldrich‘s script (based on Tom Bailey‘s book) “follows a father and his sons as they prepare for the upcoming hunting season,” blah blah. And that “family conflicts arise when a rookie environmental cop begins an investigation of hunting violations that reveals a family divided by their life choices,” blah blah. They’ll be better off calling this thing Hunting Season, bad as that sounds.
As everyone knows, Flight (Paramount, 11.2) is about a brilliant airline pilot getting raked over the coals and threatened with prison because he had booze in his system when he heroically saved his passengers from death. The metaphor, clearly, is about the nature of genius in all of its forms, including creative. The movie basically says “don’t fuck with creatives or you’ll look like an asshole.”
Geniuses roll how they roll. Geniuses make and live by their own rules. They don’t play the game like obedient little mice, and if you want geniuses to work for you or your company, you’re going to have to put up with their peculiarities and their crap.
Of course, most people in business, government and management refuse to understand this and are always trying to discipline geniuses for not playing by the rules and not behaving in a straight and narrow fashion. Most people, in short, are Salieris to the Mozarts in their realm. In this sense Flight is a kind of Hollywood metaphor — a big eff you to corporate owners and studio execs who think they’re running things and don’t realize they aren’t running anything — they’re just empty, egoistic, overpaid poseurs.
The people who really make this town tick are the geniuses, and so eff all the suits and officials who’ve ever made miserable the lives of the truly gifted, starting with Orson Welles back in the ’40s.
The great Harris Savides is dead & gone. For me, Savides’ cinematography was as breathtaking and cutting-edge as it got. His mostly-digital work on David Fincher‘s Zodiac is probably his greatest achievement. Right after that I would put Ridley Scott‘s American Gangster and Sofia Coppola‘s Somewhere in the #2 and #3 slots, followed by his 1.33 lensings of Gus Van Sant‘s Elephant and Last Days (which hopefully gave indigestion to Bob Furmanek and all the other 1.85ers).
And then Fincher’s The Game, which can be freshly appreciated on a Criterion Bluray. And then, in my opinion, comes his work on Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg and Margot at the Wedding. And then James Gray‘s The Yards. Savides’ last film, I gather, was Sofia Coppola‘s The Bling Ring.
Savides, 55, lived in Manhattan with his wife Medine and daughter Sophie. Hugs and condolences to family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and fans.
Most of the industry people I wrote this morning about the possible cause (“What the hell happened?”) didn’t answer, although a director friend says “he had a long-term ailment.”
It’s a too-soon deal any way you slice it. Who dies at this relatively young age? If you’re a well-paid film industry guy with ample medical insurance and the right attitude about diet and exercise…it doesn’t matter. Anyone who lasts into their 70s or 80s or ’90s does so, to a certain extent, out of genetic good fortune.