Considering the Smiths

Things seem to be happening between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie these days. Stories about recent time spent together (shared vacations, swanky hotel rooms, etc.) have been inside all the supermarket tabs, including Us magazine. And the evidence seems conclusive. **
Question is, what effect will these tabloid shenanigans have on the fortunes of Mr. and Mrs. Smith (20th Century Fox, 6.10), an obviously pumped-up, very expensive action comedy from director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Go ) in which they play married-to-each-other professional assassins?

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie in Doug Liman’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Liman is one of the best 40-and-under directors out there right now. I talk with him from time to time. He told me last January during the Sundance Film Festival that Mr. and Mrs. Smith is “the best thing I’ve ever done.” I don’t know what he precisely meant by this, but he said it persuasively.
But I have to be honest and say that right now, however great, good or not-so-good the film might be, the Pitt-Jolie affair could usher in some resistance.
< ?php include ('/home/hollyw9/public_html/wired'); ?>
Whenever there’s hanky-panky on a movie set, especially when one of the lovers is married to someone else, women and conservative-minded types in the audience get their dander up and sometimes don’t want to go, and those who line up do so with a kind of a “show me” attitude. Okay, we’ve paid to see this thing…let’s see that chemistry!
If the romantic intrigue is there, fine. If it’s not, or if the director wimps out and tries to push it aside, the movie usually has problems.
Director Taylor Hackford cut out some love-scene footage when he edited Proof of Life , the Russell Crowe-Meg Ryan movie that had the same kind of attention from the tabloids during filming due to Crowe and Ryan’s affair. Hackford’s strategy worked against the film. The general reaction seemed to be, this is what all the fuss was about?
Gigli had problems of its own, but didn’t the Ben and J. Lo affair (which everyone was sick of before it opened) help sink it?

Besides, aren’t all those women who buy the supermarket tabs presumed to be more in Jennifer Aniston’s camp? Vaguely resentful, I mean, about Pitt having cheated on Aniston and taken up with this vaguely wacko hussy type? I’m addressing the situation with dopey tabloid cliches, but you know what I’m saying.
To me, the tone of the Mr. and Mrs. Smith trailer feels arch and a bit staid. It tells me the movie might be funny or clever here and there, and that Pitt uses his charm in a scene or two, but also that Jolie gives up very little.
She doesn’t have a screwball temperament, she doesn’t break down and weep, she doesn’t have a wacky Julia Roberts-type laugh. She’s poised and chilly.
The assassins-out-to-kill-each-other plot is apparently being used as a kind of metaphor for today’s high-powered couples who concentrate so much on their jobs and individual tasking than they don’t know how to unload all that stuff and just “be” with each other.
I know they’re supposed to be a bored married couple (initially, I mean), but the trailer never seems to show Pitt and Jolie being warm with each other or looking into each other’s eyes with any kind of excitement or fear or anything. It seems to be selling a rather dry and aloof film that’s mainly about thrills, aggression and physical comedy. And a lot of hardware.
We’re taking about the trailer, mind. I presume the movie of Mr. and Mrs. Smith is about more than what it conveys. Liman doesn’t make assembly-line crap.

Not an actual Pitt portrait, but a Worth 1000 Photoshop thing.

There’s one really funny bit at the end when a guy says to Pitt, “You’re ticking!” and Pitt realizes Jolie has planted a bomb on him.
There’s a piece about this very subject by Ann Donahue in the May issue of Premiere. It discusses the film’s “rocky” production history and on-set arguments, etc. Liman is quoted as saying he has never had a movie be under such tabloid scrutiny.
(Donahue uses the word “controversial” to describe “Liman’s belief that he can bring the small-scale independent film ethos…to major studio productions.” Wanting to make big-budget films sharper, quirkier and more flavorful is controversial?)
Pitt is a bigger star overseas than he is here. Troy earned much more over there than it did here. But he can act when the chips are down (I’ve always loved him in Se7en) and he’s basically likable.
I don’t think Jolie is very likable at all, and I wonder if she means all that much to general audiences. Her second Tomb Raider flick was seen as a tank (cost $90 million, earned $65 million in US theatres), and the responses to her last few films — Beyond Borders, Taking Lives, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow — were underwhelming.
Angelina’s got those great lips and all but she’s also seems kind of crazy, no? Heavily into her own orbit, I mean, in an over-indulged, rich-actress, Tallulah Bankhead-type way. Smooching her brother at the Oscars, refusing to speak with her dad (Jon Voight), blowing off Billy Bob with her U.N. spokeswoman thing and then jumping whole-hog into adopting third-world kids, etc.

She seems like a moment-to-moment person. Not much of an investor in long-term relationships. But really great in bed, I’ll bet…or so goes the general assumption.
I was talking about Brad and Angelina with a woman the other night in the checkout line at Pavilions. Neither of us trusts her, we decided. We also agreed that Brad is in a typically randy, post-divorce rebound mode and his Angelina relationship is not long for this world.
But for the movie’s sake, they should probably try to stay together until the opening.
** Pitt’s p.r. rep Cindy Guagenti has called stories about the Pitt-Jolie romance “untrue.” In a statement given yesterday (4.14) to the Associated Press, Us magazine, which has a cover story saying the Pitt-Jolie thing is very real, said, “Pitt has long denied stories involving his personal life, beginning with reports of trouble in his marriage to Jennifer Aniston prior to the separation. Multiple sources both on and off the record confirmed Pitt and Jolie were physically affectionate in public areas of [a desert] resort where they were [recently] staying.”

Summer Shakedown

It doesn’t matter which big-studio tentpole movies are going to make the most money this summer. What counts is which ones will be good.
The best films of the May-August season are going to be Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, 5.6); Paul Haggis’s Crash (Lions Gate, 5.6); Marilyn Agrelo’s Mad Hot Ballroom (Paramount Classics, 5.13.05); Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (Universal, 6.3.05); Sebastian Cordero’s Cronicas (Palm Pictures, 7.1); Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow (Paramount Classics, 7.15); Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know (IFC, 6.24), and Tony Scott’s Domino (New Line, August 19).

Jon Hawkes, Miranda July in Me and You and Everyone We Know.

My apologies for being so buried in the hurlyburly that I somehow missed the announcement (earlier this month?) about Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, which I put into this piece yesterday (4.15), having been moved from a late July opening to October 14th.
I also failed to include Me and You in yesterday’s posting. I didn’t see it at Sundance last January, but this much loved film has been urgently brought to my attention my friends and readers, so I’m accepting their endorsements on faith.
Crash went over extremely well with my UCLA Sneak Preview class, which is made up of mostly older viewers. Cronicas may do marginal business, or it could do better than this. (It’s a dark piece, but gripping as hell with an above-average John Leguizamo performance.) The rest will all be “audience” pictures. Maybe not as big as the monster tentpoles, but popular.
I’m rock solid about Kingdom, Crash , Ballroom , Cronicas and Hustle & Flow because I’ve seen them. I’ve read Richard Kelly’s Domino screenplay and can’t imagine Scott not making something startling and fully alive with it.
I haven’t seen Cinderella Man but I’ve been hearing pretty good things for a long while and the trailer sells you on the prestige-level elements.
I would like Richard Linklater’s The Bad News Bears to be a bit more than Bad Santa-manages-a-kids-baseball team…but maybe that’ll be enough.
Based solely on the trailer, I have massive hopes for The Wedding Crashers (New Line, 7.15).
I would like to see Mr. and Mrs. Smith and John Stockwell’s Into the Blue (MGM, 9.30) pan out.

(l. t. r.) Hustle & Flow‘s Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Terrence Howard and Taryn Manning.

Hooray, sight unseen, for George Romero’s Land of the Dead (Universal, 6.24)! And here’s hoping Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (Dimension, 7. 29) turns out to be somewhat better than the advance word has indicated for several months.
Long Lines, Few Surprises: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of The Sith (2oth Century Fox, 5.19); Madagascar (DreamWorks, 5.27); The Longest Yard (Paramount, 5.27); Batman Begins (Warner Bros., 6.17), The War of the Worlds (Paramount, 7.1); XXX2 (Sony, 4.29); Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros., 7.15); The Bad News Bears (Paramount, 7.22); The Island (DreamWorks, 7.22); Dark Water (Disney, 7.8); Fantastic Four (20th Century Fox, 7.8); Bewitched (Columbia, 6.24).
For some reason, Monster in Law (New Line, 5.13) isn’t making me tingle with anticipation. Same deal with Aeon Flux (Paramount, 8.12); The Honeymooners (Paramount, 6.10); The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe (Disney, 4.29); The Lords of Dogtown (Columbia, 6.3); The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Warner Bros., 6.3); and The Pink Panther (MGM, 8.12).

Talk Soup

That rollicking commentary track by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church on the Sideways DVD made me think of a few others.
You can’t listen to this anymore unless you’re a laser disc collector, but Howard Suber’s commentary about The Graduate for the Criterion Collection laser disc is the most insightful I’ve ever heard or read about this film.
Suber’s commentaries on the Criterion laser discs of Some Like it Hot and High Noon are, I feel, just about perfect, and it’s a crying shame they’re not available on DVD.

The late John Frankenheimer’s commentary about the making of The Train is one of the best of its kind — the most candid, intimate and precise. It was first available on an MGM/UA laser disc for The Train that came out in the mid ’90s. Wonder of wonders, it was actually transferred to the MGM/UA Home Video DVD.
The giddy, almost drunken-sounding chat between Kurt Russell, Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale on the Used Cars DVD is a real hoot.
So is the commentary track between Ron Shelton, Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins on the Bull Durham special edition DVD.
The chat between Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs on the DVD of The Limey is a classic, especially when Dobbs starts laying into Soderbergh for ignoring chunks of his screenplay and thereby inviting commentary from critics that the explanation of story and character in the film was threadbare….when in fact it wasn’t on the page.
I loved Soderbergh’s chat with Mike Nichols on the Paramount Home Video DVD of Catch 22, and I can’t imagine that the Soderbergh-John Boorman chat on the forthcoming DVD of Point Blank won’t be worth its weight in gold.

David Thomson’s commentary about Out of the Past for the old Image laser disc version that came out in the mid ’90s is lost to the world (and will probably never be heard on DVD), but it was truly a masterful verbal essay.
If anyone has any others they’d like to mention….
For me, a great commentary isn’t about how brilliant or informative or well prepared the talkers are, although obviously that matters. It’s about how much they get to you.
Does what they have to say seem open, engaging, amusing? If it’s a filmmaker talking, is he/she offering some kind of deeply sincere exploration of the process, or is he/she giving what might be called a good-enough performance?


“Have you seen the trailer for The Lords of Dogtown (Columbia, 6.3) yet?
“As an avid skateboarder from 1975 through 1990, I can say with some authority that none of those guys would have said any of the lines in the trailer. The dialogue is atrocious. I’m predicting this thing is going to laughed right out of the theaters by skaters when it hits.” — Jody, c/o,
Jeff to Jody: Like what, for example? What doesn’t ring true?

Jody to Jeff: Here are some examples:
“‘Now get out there and surf, you little grommets.’ I think it would be more like ‘you little assholes’ or ‘you little fuckheads.’
“‘With these you can do the same hard turns you do on your surf boards.’ It would be more like, ‘You can shred the street, dude.’ Or, ‘With these you won’t slide out anymore.’
“‘This wave breaks 24 hours a day, everyday. You know what, bros? You’re going to be the first to ride it.’ From Tony Alva? No way. I don’t know the man, but I do know he wasn’t known for his verbal expressiveness.
“And it’s not like these guys suddenly decided to ride pools. There was a distinct progression from ramps and drainage ditches to pools, half-pipes and full-pipes.
“Other offenders:
“‘Yeah, surf it like a wave, man.’
“‘We can’t bail on Skip. We’re Z-Boys. We’re family.’
“‘Hey Tony, it looks like it’s going to be you or me.’
“‘We’re going to be on summer vacation for the next 20 years.’
“It all sounds cloying and false to me, as if they’ve dumbed it way, way down for general consumption.
“These kids were basically the gangsters of their era and area. Some of them may have been intelligent, but none of them wanted to sound it. It just wasn’t cool back then. Insight was not approved.
“I wasn’t there, so I guess I’d have to admit I’m talking out of my ass with regards to the actual Z-Boys.

Heath Ledger (long blonde surfer hair, black shades) in scene from Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown.

“But I did work for a California pro skater in his distribution company. I also sold skateboards at a skateshop in Orange County. And I was at the birth of the Orange County punk movement at the Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa. I also worked at Gotcha Sportwear and Stussywear, both in Orange County.
“Now I’m a middle-aged graphic designer living a few thousand miles away from the ocean, and I’m an occasional fruitbooter (rollerblader) to boot.
“I could be completely wrong, but the dialogue in the trailer just wasn’t ringing true at all for the time and venue. That’s not at all surprising given Hollywood’s penchant for dumbing everything down to the LCD, but I hoped it would be different for this movie. So far that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“Then again, maybe they used all the worst dialogue for the trailer in the hopes of pulling the widest audience.”

Pitt, Jolie, Aniston

“What is it about beautiful, confident, talented, take-charge women like Angelina Jolie that scares the bejesus out of everyone? And what is it about Jennifer Aniston, who in all her movies seems to be re-cycling simpering, clueless Rachel, that makes people want to leap to her defense and assume that everyone else in the saga is a villain?
“Jolie can act circles around Aniston, does not seem nearly as high maintenance, and does not seem to need everyone around her constantly reassuring her as Jennifer reportedly does.

“I love the spin on this. The Jennifer camp says Brad broke Jen’s heart and that all was a paradise before homewrecker Jolie came along. The Pitt camp says he’ll let her have the house and that he was powerless against Jolie…Brad Mouse to her Angelina Cat. And the Jolie camp just says the hell with all of you, I don’t need to sleep with married men, they’re lining up for me, plus I work for the U.N.

“Why can’t it be as simple as this? Pitt, wanting children, seeing his wife booking movies into her 40s and realizing that it ain’t gonna happen? And Jennifer seeing that the family promises she made during Friends don’t hold a candle to grabbing movie offers before her heat dies down and she hits the Hollywood women-over-40 ceiling?
And Jolie being flabbergasted that Pitt has allowed it all to come to this and nature taking its course?

“Will I see Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Nope. Partly because the trailer looks lame and the story does not sound that compelling. And also partly because of the whole Pitt-Aniston-Jolie saga. I am tired of reading about it and don’t need to pay money to watch Pitt and Jolie play house.” — Zoey.