I’ve never used the word “madding” in speech nor have I typed it out. Except, of course, when referring to John Schlesinger‘s 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy‘s same-titled novel, which was published in 1874. In Hardy’s mind madding meant frenzied or manic. (It was oafish for the guys who wrote “Volare,” the 1958 Dean Martin single, to change the line to “away from the maddening crowd.” Dopes.) Now, of course, Thomas Vinterberg is lensing a new version with Carey Mulligan in the Julie Christie role (i.e., Bathsheba Everdene). Matthias Schoenaerts has the Alan Bates role (sheep farmer, man of the soil, no manicure), Tom Sturridge plays a caddish cocksman in uniform (i.e., the Terrence Stamp role) and Michael Sheen plays the prosperous William Boldwood (i.e., Peter Finch‘s character). Schlesinger’s film was regarded as a picturesque slog in its time, and I frankly can’t see Vinterberg’s version amounting to very much. A woman so desirable and fascinating she had three lovers and caused much romantic strife…big deal.
I was ready to run a piece about Jon Turtletaub‘s Last Vegas (CBS Films, 11.1) after catching it two weeks ago but it wasn’t cool to post, embargo-wise, until two days ago. Now I can’t seem to get it up. All I know is that I was expecting a piece of throwaway jizz, and it’s a little better than that. Not that much better, mind, but it’s likable and good natured — an unpretentious, decent enough hoot. Dan Fogelman‘s script is hardly inspired, but it’s not written stupidly or for apes with shopping-mall tastes. It’s still a semi-discardable thing — it’s perfect for an airplane flight — but it’s certainly better than a 41% Rotten Tomatoes rating would indicate. Kevin Kline and especially Morgan Freeman really get into the gleeful foolishness of making a stupid movie, and it’s catching. On top of which Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro and Mary Steenburgen handle themselves nicely. Douglas and Steenburgen’s scenes together have a curious but symmetrical undercurrent in that both have very clearly had “work” done, and so you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, they both feel the same away about plastic surgery so they might be a match.”
In reporting about a special David O. Russell tribute at AFI Fest on Friday, 11.8, L.A. Times reporter Mark Olsen has reminded that Russell’s The Fighter had a surprise screening at the 2010 AFI Fest, and that Hustle could “possibly be in line for the same unveiling.” A Russell rep has told me, naturally, that there will be “no surprise AFI Fest screening” of American Hustle, and that’s fine. (If they were to confirm it now it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, would it?) I know that if Hustle doesn’t screen at AFI Fest it’s going to look like Russell and Sony are a bit uncertain about things. Russell has been fine-tuning and test-screening this puppy for a while now, and I know it’s going to start to be press-screened in late November so why the hell not screen it as a surprise? Why go half-assed with a q & a and a tribute reel (including a few Hustle clips) during the 11.8 tribute? Does American Hustle kick the competition to the curb or doesn’t it?
Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day (Paramount, 12.25) “is a decently crafted, amber-lighted period drama, based on the 2009 Joyce Maynard book and set during the Labor Day holiday of 1987,” I wrote from the Telluride Film festival on 8.29.13. “It begins as a kind of home invasion situation that isn’t quite a hostage or kidnapping thing. It’s a family love story of sorts mixed with a criminal-hiding-out-in-the-home-of-a-single-neurotic-mom-and-her-son story. A spin on a yarn that sinks in every so often. It has a current of sincerity. It tries to do the right thing.
In his latest Grantland column, Mark Harris has advanced an idea about presumed Oscar-worthy performances that I’d kind of forgotten about or never really waded into. Academy members vote for an actor whom they admire for the skill and depth of his or her acting chops (as well as the degree to which they’ve physically disappeared into a character by losing or gaining weight or wearing a prosthetic nose) but also by the measure of how sorry they feel for the character he/she has portrayed.
Why do we feel sorry for a character or for anyone in real life? Because we’ve been there and we can relate. We know what it’s like to be in his or her shoes and what the shoulder weight feels like. Obviously Academy members vote for actors they like or admire or feel in awe of, but more often than not the deep-down thing kicks in and they vote for characters they feel closest to. Which is why, I’m suspecting more and more, All Is Lost‘s Robert Redford is probably going to win for Best Actor.
Last April I posted one of the most logical, sensible and fair-minded parliamentary suggestions in the nine-year history of Hollywood Elsewhere. (The column is 15 years old if you count the Mr. Showbiz version, which began in August of ’98, and the Reel.com version from ’99 to ’02 and the Movie Poop Shoot version from ’02 to ’04). It was about the need to minimize the impact of the likes and dislikes of out-to-pasture Academy members. Not in a dismissive or disrespectful way, but moderately and appropriately.
“If the Academy wants to be part of the world as it is right now and have the Oscar winners reflect this, it has to reduce the influence of people whose professional peaks happened 15 or 20 or more years ago,” I wrote. “These people will retain membership and all the priveleges that go with that, but their votes won’t count as much as those who are actively working and contributing to the films of today, or at least films made within the last five to ten years — simple.
The review embargo for Peter Berg‘s Lone Survivor (Universal, 12.27 limited) lifts on Wednesday, 11.13, but Universal had a big “hello, journalists!” screening last night at the TV Academy in Burbank, and apparently it’s okay to “comment” in discreet bursts. Here are three or four. Lone Survival is a blue-chip, this-really-happened war film in the tradition of Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, We Were Soldiers and particularly Black Hawk Down. It’s an expertly assembled, emotionally jarring wallop — it quickens your pulse and makes you go “whoa…that was fierce and heavy.” It throttles you all to hell and that ain’t hay. My mouth was open with a “good effing God!” look on my face (I wasn’t holding a mirror but trust me) for at least half of the two-hour running time. The two thoughts I had were “God help the guys who went through this nightmare” and “thank God I’m sitting warm and safe and dry in a theatre in Burbank.”
Lone Survivor star Mark Wahlberg, director Peter Berg & interviewer Tina Brown during last night’s q & a.
Is Lone Survivor an awards-season contender? Yes. Certainly. Or it damn well should be, at least. The honest gut-punch aspect plus the high level of craft and unmissable emotion that went into it demand this level of consideration.