This sounds a bit sappy coming from me, but warmest, cutest and most irresistably affecting film I’ve seen this year? Marilyn Agrelo’s Mad Hot Ballroom, hands down. I can’t imagine this professionally shot, superbly edited documentary not ending up as one of the five nominees for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar…but it’s early yet. (Honestly? I think it’s going to win.) I showed it to my UCLA Sneak Preview class a few weeks back and the mostly older crowd melted in their seats. It recently played the Cleveland Film Festival and the Chicago Documentary Film Festival and picked up audience awards at both. New Yorkers should try to catch the big outdoor screening in Battery Park on 4.24 being organized by the Tribeca Film Festival.
I was in my local Pavillions last night and as I was standing at the checkout stand I saw I don’t know many cereal boxes with promotional plugs for Stars Wars, Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. This is standard marketing for a big tentpole movie aimed at kids, but right away I could feel the irritation starting. Then I went home and watched the new trailer again (see? the cereal boxes worked!) and re-connected with my old feelings about this series. Trailers always tend to emphasize the familiar, but this one, to me, seems to promise that Revenge of the Sith will be absolutely no different and all of a tonal piece with the previous two Star Warsfilms…same pacing, same tone, same constricted dialogue, etc. George Lucas has been saying this is a much heavier film and don’t take the kids, etc., but unless he had some kind of secret DNA or personality transplant operation in Switzerland a couple of years ago, Sith will surprise or upset no one. But at least we’ll finally get to figure out how Hayden Christensen’s Annakin gets to grow as big and mountain-like as Dave Prowse was in Episodes 4, 5 and 6…and how a kid with the worst nasally Canada accent in the history of motion pictures gets to suddenly sound like a synthezied James Earl Jones.
The Big Stink
Deep down there’s something in us that enjoys the art of financial hoodwinking and flim-flamming… as long as it’s presented in a suitably fictional and charming package.
There’s an appealing example of this in The Sting when Paul Newman’s Henry Gondorff is talking about his days with the O’Shea mob in Chicago in the 1920s, when corruption was rife and “the feds took their end without a beef.”
(l. to r.) Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay, former COO Jeff Skilling, sullied execs Andy Fastow and Lou Pai
And then Newman’s smirk grows into a shit-eating grin as he says to Robert Redford’s Johnny Hooker, “And it really stunk, kid.”
If you’re honest, you’ll admit your reaction when you first saw this scene was something along the lines of “yup…corruption can smell like nectar when there are no squealers and everyone’s equally dirty” or “there’s something to be said for graft and payoffs if they’re handled in a civilized manner.” Right? Especially if guys like Newman are in on it.
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In real life, of course, financial snookery isn’t quite as sexy.
Nine times out of ten the grifters are high-end corporate types with fleshy faces and boring haircuts and heavy political connections and an ability to put people to sleep with their inane remarks at stockholder’s meetings, or in their statements to the press.
And so it was with the Enron meltdown that began to break about four years ago, and spilled over into total scandal in early ’02.
Nothing remotely charming in this mess. The leading Enron bad guys, CEO Kenneth Lay and COO Jeff Skilling, were just odious. And yet Alex Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Magnolia, 4.22 in New York and Houston, expanding on 4.29) manages to make their story a gripping thing.
It is, in fact, fully entertaining, and I never thought I’d say that about a documentary recounting the wrongdoings of a bunch of George Bush-supporting pirates.
“It’s like a heist film,” Gibney told me earlier this week. “When you think of it that way, it takes on a certain dimension.”
Over-valued and increasingly founded on imaginary concepts as it got closer and closer to the financial precipice, the Houston-based Enron, which got rolling in the `80s as as a gas-pipeline energy company but began to get into all kinds of stuff in the late `90s, was this country’s seventh-largest corporation before collapsing in 2001.
Lay, Skilling and other bigwigs walked away with over a billion dollars in their pockets, leaving lower-level investors and employees holding the bag, in some cases with their life savings wiped out.
Gibney has based his film on the 2003 bestseller of the same name, co-written by Fortune magazine reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. He began working on it just over a year ago and finished it last Thanksgiving,
(l. to r.) Skilling, Lay and former Enron executive Joseph Sutton.
Enron adds new reporting about stuff that has come out since ’03, including some indictments that have come down. The feds are putting Lay and Skilling on trial for fraud in January ’06. If they get a conviction, stiff sentences may result.
There is also TV coverage of Congressional hearings, several on-camera recollections from eyewitnesses and various folks who got burned. Lay and Skilling didn’t talk to Gibney but their statements are covered with TV news footage, C-SPAN clips and corporate videotapes originally meant for in-company viewing.
The basic message is that as things got more and more vision-driven in the mid to late ’90s, Enron became an absurdly overvalued company. Its stock was pumped up by deceptive maneuvering, and it borrowed heavily to make itself look good to the world, and eventually the fakery couldn’t sustain itself.
In ’91 Skilling introduced one of his cuter moves, which he got SEC approval on, called “mark to market” accounting. It was a scam by which Enron could project millions of dollars in potential profits from some newly launched endeavor or acquisition in their stockholders reports. If the venture wasn’t profitable, Enron was obliged to cover the losses with heavy borrowing.
A key component in all this, Gibney says, is that Enron wasn’t hassled all that much by federal oversight agencies, partly, he feels, because of a certain chumminess between Lay and George Bush, who accepted millions in Enron campaign contributions. Enron’s freedom to pretty do what it wanted to do seemed linked in a lot of people’s minds to an attitude on Bush’s part to go easy on “Kenny Boy” and his pals.
It turns out Enron was behind the big California energy crisis of 2000 and ’01. As footage of California brush fires are shown in the film, tapes are heard of Enron guys chortling about the success of their plan to artificially create the crisis. This was partly achieved by selective “maintenance” shut-downs of power plants, which allowed for hikes in electricity rates.
Former California governor Gray Davis, whom Enron tried to blame for the rolling blackouts that were happening back then, is shown trying to point the finger at Enron. Gray “suspected something [like this] was going on but he couldn’t prove it at the time,” says Gibney. “When 50% of the power plants were down for maintenance on a single day, you have to wonder what’s going on. That smelled fishy.”
Enron suggests that a May ’01 conference between Lay and eventual California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger gave the latter information that he used to make Gray look bad over his handling of the energy crisis.
The one note of compassion (or at least empathy) comes when the doc briefly focuses on Lou Pai, a Skilling associate who had a yen for strippers and strip clubs. It reminded me of Mort Sahl’s crack that revelations in the early ’80s of sexual impropriety by a certain Republican fat cat was “a cynical attempt to humanize the Reagan administration.”
The most chilling scene for me happens during a morale-boosting meeting among Enron employees right when the meltdown is happening, and some guy asks if he should invest all of his money, “all of my 401 K” in Enron, and he is told by a spokeswoman who happens to be standing at the mike, “Absolutely!” And then she laughs.
Bottom line: a lot of people were being paid a lot of money for working with Enron and being good team players, and as long as the checks were coming in none of them wanted to know anything. Nobody being paid good money ever does.
An Enron employee named Cliff Baxter killed himself in January ’02.
How much did Lay and Schilling walk away with? In the film Lay is quoted as saying he’s down to his last $20 million and something like $1 million in liquidity. Skilling reportedly paid $23 million to his attorney as a retainer fee.
Andrew Weissman is heading the prosecution of Lay and Skilling in the upcoming fraud trial. He was also the lead attorney in the government’s prosecution of fraud charges against the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, which cooked and then shredded the books for Enron during its big-calamity phase.
The Justice Department has been investigating the Enron debacle since January 2002. Why has it taken so long to put together a case against Lay and Schilling? “Because it’s very complicated,” says Gibney. “It’s going to be very tough to try because they’re going to have to prove intentional fraud. They may be found not guilty.”
President Bush “is, I think, happy to have the Department of Justice pursue this case as aggressively as possible. Now he can just say ‘I didn’t know’ and if they did something crooked, they have to pay the price.”
Gibney says “if I were king of the world, and it’s probably a good thing that I’m not, I’d like to see Ken Lay work as a grill man for McDonald’s and be forced to ride only public transportation for the rest of his life.”
Here’s a link to Bethany McLean’s 3.5.01 Fortune magazine piece, “Is Enron overpriced?”
If McLean’s piece has a money paragraph, it’s this: “‘Enron is an earnings-at-risk story,’ says Chris Wolfe, the equity market strategist at J.P. Morgan’s private bank, who despite his remark is an Enron fan. ‘If it doesn’t meet earnings, [the stock] could implode.'”
Fortune has put up a special webpage linking to various other aspects of its Enron reporting.
The thing that sticks with you at the end of Gibney’s film is the look in Lay and Skilling’s eyes as they try to sell the concept of Enron’s financial health.
I don’t know if these guys would have gotten off any easier if they had some of that Henry Gondorff charm, but I know audiences tend to respond to this on all sorts of levels.
If I had been an Enron stockholder five or six years ago in a buy-sell position, and all I had to go on was the way these guys presented themselves and the deep-down attitudes they conveyed, I would have unloaded like that. I feel sorry for the people who kept their Enron stock and lost everything, but that’s life in the big city.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room “is kind of a moral report card,” says Gibney. “There is a moral dimension to our economy that has to be reckoned with. It says, in a way, that the free market ultimately makes us slaves….utterly free but slaves at the same time.”
HDNet, the high-definition cable station owned by Enron producers Mark Cuban and Philip Garvin, will screen Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room concurrent with the 4.22 theatrical debut. It will play at 8 pm eastern (5 pm Pacific) and then at 11 pm eastern (8 pm Pacific).
Bill of Goods
The thing that made me want to buy Universal Home Video’s new 2-Disc Anniversary Edition of Apollo 13 was a promise on the jacket art that the IMAX version of this 1995 film is included on the second disc.
I saw a piece of the IMAX version on this Ron Howard film at a special invitational press screening a couple of years ago, and it made the images look sharper, fuller and bolder than those in the theatrical version, which was pretty good to start with.
The IMAX version looks better because each frame of the original has been digitally tweaked so as to make everything look richer and more vivid, in order to meet the blown-up standards demanded by the much larger IMAX screen.
Actual frame of IMAX film, indicating the appproximate 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio in which IMAX films are projected in theatres…
I wondered at first how this would work since the aspect ratio of an IMAX screen is kind of boxy (close to 1.33 to 1), and Apollo 13 was originally released in Scope (2.35 to 1). The solution, I learned at the press conference, is that Apollo 13 was actually shot in Super 35mm, which captures a 1.33 to 1 image but is then cropped in post-production to create a Scope aspect ratio. So there was plenty of extra top-and-bottom image space to fill the IMAX frame.
Pretty much all Scope films are shot in super 35, or so I’ve heard. This is how DVD pan-and-scan versions of Scope films are assembled — not by cropping off the sides of the Scope image but by using the original 1.33 to 1 super 35 image.
Anyway, knowing all this I was shocked when I played the IMAX version last night and discovered it’s not the IMAX version at all. What Universal Home Video has released on Disc 2 is a cropped IMAX image with an aspect ratio that looks roughly to me like 1.75 to 1.
(A critic on www.dvdtalk.com wrote that the IMAX DVD version uses a 1.66 to 1 aspect ratio. He’s wrong. Check out the Warner Home Video DVD of Barry Lyndon — that’s 1.66 to 1.)
I’m not strenuously complaining about this. Image quality-wise the IMAX-on-DVD version of Apollo 13 looks quite superb. It has a knock-down, almost startling clarity and all kinds of ripe bountiful colors. It is so appealing and soothing to the eye that I stopped working last night in order to watch it.
But — but! — to tell DVD buyers they’ll be getting the IMAX version of this film when they buy the new DVD is a cheat. It’s the IMAX image quality without the actual shape of the image shown in IMAX theatres, and in my book to sell it as a “the IMAX Experience version” is at least a half-lie. To me it’s a flat-out fib.
…and the 1.75 to 1 aspect ratio of the “IMAX Experience” version as presented on the new Apollo 13 2-Disc DVD.
I enjoyed Apollo 13 when it came out ten years ago, but I hadn’t looked at it again since last night and it plays better than I remember. Well shot, professionally paced and believably acted, this is a fully involving, methodical recreation of a true-life event. I still love Dean Cundey’s photography and while the special effects look a bit dated by today’s standards, they’re still decent.
It’s always the mark of a good film when the third-act tension (i.e., will the possibly damaged heat shield hold during re-entry?) in the third-act works even when you know astronaut Jim Lovell (i.e., Hanks character) and the other two guys made it and there’s nothing to worry about.
I had forgotten how young Hanks used to look, and how thin he once was. Kevin Bacon looks so much younger also; ditto Bill Paxton. I know it sounds banal for an industry journalist to mention age and weight issues, but this is the first thing you notice when you watch this DVD. You say to yourself, “Wow, time really moves along.”
So the $13 million earned by Fever Pitch on its opening weekend is said to be disappointing, and a shadow now hangs over over the nascent film career of Jimmy Fallon. The poor schlub just didn’t have the right chemistry with costar Drew Barrymore, blah, blah. I’m wondering, though, why the one-sheet made absolutely no mention of the fact that this was (look at me…referring to this puppy in the past tense already!) a Bobby and Peter Farrelly comedy? Don’t their names mean something to the fans of There’s Something About Mary, et. al.? Did Fox marketers hide this fact because the Farrelly’s Stuck on you only took in a lousy $34 million or so, and they were afraid this failure would taint Fever on some level? And while we’re on the subject, what killed the Farrelly’s Three Stooges film with Russell Crowe as Moe?
A bit more on the stall-out (what else can you call it? a case of profound head-scratching?) of Steven Soderbergh’s Che, a biopic that’s been expected to focus on the gnarlier aspects of the late revolutionary leader’s life and exploits. A little more than ten days ago, Benicio del Toro, who’s been intending to play Guevara in this particular vehicle for a long while, was asked about the project by an Empire Online reporter, and he replied, “I’m going to see [Soderbergh] in a week or so, and we’re going to sit down. We just want to make a good movie, and it’s really hard to take the life of that man and condense it in two hours…it’s just really hard. So we have to find an angle that we stay true and honest to the guy, and at the same time, you know, attack some of the questions of who he was, and make it work like a movie.” In other words, back to the drawing board. Despite earlier-announced plans to start shooting this moderately expensive drama next August (i.e., four months from now), the project is obviously on hold until sometime in mid to late ’06. Is “we need to find an angle” a euphemism for money problems? Could this mean that Terrence Malick, who was going to direct Che before Soderbergh stepped into the gig about a year ago, might pick up the reins yet again? Malick’s The New World will be completed and released by late ’05, so who knows? Soderbergh is currently working on the experimental Bubble, and in September will begin lensing The Good German, a post-World War II romantic thriller written by Paul Attanasio with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. (Yeah, I know — I’ve already said that.)
Kristin Scott-Thomas is telling BBC News that the success of the French-produced Arsene Lupin, which opened in Europe last fall but has apparently found no U.S. distributor, exemplifies a new approach to movies in France. “I think it’s very exciting,” Scott Thomas remarked, “because for a long time in France ‘commercial’ was a dirty word. Now it’s okay to make a lot of money with the films that you’re making.” It’s certainly okay for this 44 year-old French resident, because the producing of more and more empty fantabulous films in France means she gets to earn bigger paychecks. What she doesn’t acknowledge, of course, is that the movie is, to judge by reviews, on the fatuous side. As Boyd van Hoeij of European Films.net politely puts it, Arsene Lupin “is high on atmosphere and production values (the reported budget being 23 million Euros), though it treats the story only as a necessity to bring us from one skirmish to the other, from one lady’s bed to the other and from one flaming explosion to the next.” See what I mean? The cultural-aesthetic cancer that has all but taken over mainstream big-budget filmmaking in Hollywood has spread to France. Break out the Dom Perignon! “Arsene Lupin [can] be an old-fashioned adventure if you are willing to let it be just that,” van Hoeij continues. “The story and its internal logic are not its greatest feats, but indulge in this two-hour fantasy of this rakish burglar in an exquisitely imagined Paris and Normandy and you will come away entertained, amused and delighted.” Adhering to general principle, I am torn between shedding a tear and wanting to throw up.
My baby blues have beheld the majesty of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, 5.6).
It may be a little bit early to say what it is, but I think it’s fair to say what it isn’t. That sounds, I realize, like I’m qualifying or being “careful” by saying as little as possible. Not so. I just need to set the record straight about something I wrote about this super-sized epic late last year.
In some ways surprising, in several ways stirring and in almost every way admirable, Kingdom is a big-canvas historical drama that dares to be different. I’m not saying it doesn’t give in to formula now and then, but it’s a complex and unusual thing for the most part, and altogether a textural masterpiece.
That sounds like I’m dodging the central issue of whether it’s entertaining or not. It is, but what got me is the beauty of the brushstrokes. That and the avoidance of the usual usual.
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Has there ever been a big expensive film about warring armies in which one side didn’t triumph absolutely? In which the loser wasn’t totally beaten down and slaughtered? I felt amazed and lifted up when this didn’t manifest…when life and sanity, in effect, is chosen over death and fanaticism.
The 12th Century milieu feels entirely authentic, the big siege-of-Jerusalem battle scene totally aces Peter Jackson’s similar third-act sequence in Return of the King, there are fine supporting performances throughout (especially from Jeremy Irons and a masked Edward Norton), and William Monahan’s script, praise Allah, avoids a lot of black-and-white, good-and-evil stereotypes.
In the title role of Balian of Ibelin, defender of Jersualem, Orlando Bloom has zotzed the girlyman image he created for himself in Troy . He is bearded, grimy, quiet and steady throughout Kingdom of Heaven. He is manly, in short, and does that classic Jimmy Cagney thing — planting his feet, looking the other guy in the eye and telling the truth.
Does he channel Laurence Olivier? No, but Bloom has definitely held his ground here, and the stage is now set for him to carry the ball into the end zone, maybe, in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown.
Ghassan Massoud, the Middle Eastern actor who plays Saladin, makes an especially strong impression. He doesn’t just play a man of honor and a commanding leader — he seems to possess these traits himself, and has made them readable on the screen by just being. It’s one of those “wow, who was that?” performances that should be remembered at year’s end.
But let’s get back to my original point — what the film isn’t. Especially since the unspooling of Kingdom of Heaven argues with a forecast piece that I wrote about and posted on 12.29.04.
This is a film about the Crusades and a decisive late 12th century battle between Muslim and European armies over the occupation of Jerusalem. Given the invading Anglos vs. Middle East natives angle, one might expect Kingdom of Heaven to conjure a political echo or two about the U.S. occupation in Iraq.
At the very least, this seemed like a perfectly logical and reasonable thing to presume.
“9/11 was three years and three months ago, the invasion of Iraq happened in March ’03, and principal photography on Kingdom of Heaven began in Morocco last January,” I wrote. “And in the minds of Scott and his creative team, the U.S. vs. Iraqi insurgent situation didn’t weave its way into the film on this or that level?”
These echoes are there, I suppose, if you want to dig them up. I suppose you could regard the last ten or fifteen minutes of this film in a metaphorical light and say it addresses the fundamental folly of being an occupier, and in fact offers an honorable solution for those who find themselves in this situation.
But Kingdom of Heaven is such an atmospheric reconstruction of the 12th Century, such a devoted here’s-how-it-looked-and-smelled experience, and Scott’s eye is so painterly and his focus so unlike, say, what Oliver Stone’s might have been, that you just don’t get much of a Baghdad/Fallujah/Abu Ghraib residue.
In my 12.29 piece I said, “Can anyone think of another occupying Anglo force that went into a Middle Eastern country for bogus reasons and is probably fated to leave with its tail between its legs?
I then linked to an 8.12.05 New York Times piece by Sharon Waxman that explored this and related issues to some degree.
“With bloody images of Muslims and Westerners battling in Iraq and elsewhere on the nightfly news, it may seem like odd timing to unveil a big-budget Hollywood epic about the ferocious fighting between Christians and Muslims over Jerusalem in the Crusade of the 12th Century,” her story began.
“While the studio has tried to emphasize the romance and thrilling action, some religious scholars and interfaith activists…have questioned the wisdom of a big Hollywood movie about an ancient religious conflict when many people believe that those conflicts have been reignited in a modern context.”
I never got hold of Monahan’s script and I don’t know if Scott cut stuff out in order to de-politicize Kingdom of Heaven, but once it starts to be shown, those scholars and interfaith activists will, in my opinion, have a hard time selling whatever complaints they may have to journalists.
And I’m including anyone in the pro-Islamic p.r. community. I didn’t see anything in this film that dismissed or put down any Muslim characters, or which failed to respect their point of view.
One of my favorite scenes is when Bloom, freshly arrived in Jerusalem, asks where Jesus Christ was crucified and goes there, to the barren hilly area called Golgotha. Then he sits on a hillside and waits for something to happen. The movie becomes very quiet and still, and for almost a minute (or maybe a bit more), everything flatlines.
It doesn’t amount to a condensation of Bergman’s trilogy about God’s silence or anything, but I could feel pleasure seeping in…pleasure in the fact Scott isn’t afraid of taking this movie into a moment of meditation.
I also enjoyed a scene in which Bloom and his soldierly allies dig for water in a barren area, and then find it and create an irrigation system.
I will always remember this film for the sonic impact of those heavy thundering hoofbeats upon my ribs.
The pleasures of the stellar supporting cast are considerable. Everyone shines…Irons, Liam Neeson, Eva Green (last in The Dreamers), David Thewlis, Jon Finch (I always liked his Thane of Cawdor in Roman Polanski’s Macbeth), Brendan Gleeson, Alexander Siddig, Velibor Topic, etc.
I didn’t exactly “like” Marton Coskas’ performance as Guy de Lusignan, one of the really arrogant bad guys who creates most the trouble, but he fills the boots.
I can’t say I’m totally delighted that Scott is still queer for that herky-jerky, skip-frame way of shooting action scenes that he used in Gladiator, but c’est la guerre.
There’s another Gladiator echo in the form of an attacking horsemen scene about ten or fifteen minutes in. It appears to have been shot in the same forest used for the opening battle scene in Gladiator, with the same blue tint and the same digital snowflakes.
One of the Kingdom of Heaven sites is here .
It was about two and a half years ago when I began to forgive Amanda Peet for being intensely dislikable. And she is that — make no mistake.
I’m sure she’s fast and hip and cool to hang with, but she plays the same kind of woman in film after film, and this can’t be just because casting directors lack imagination and like to play follow-the-leader.
There is something in Peet’s screen attitude that always seems to bring lying, insincerity and cynical mind games to the table. Just as there are faces that radiate warmth and kindness and all that other sweet stuff, there are faces that do the opposite and make you feel wary about everything. Peet’s basic vibe is that of a born conniver.
Peet could never (or at least, should never) be cast in a film like Kingdom of Heaven. There’s something grotesquely and opportunistically “now” about her that doesn’t, I feel, adapt to any other time or sensibility.
Her eyes are striking, to be sure (People called her one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 2000), but also shrewd and predatory. She has a smile right out of Fall of the House of Usher with Vincent Price. It says, “You don’t get me and you never will. I’m going to make sure of that.”
But she was truly exceptional as Ben Affleck’s soulless wife in Changing Lanes, particularly in that restaurant scene when she tells Affleck she married him because she knew he would always be the kind of guy who would kowtow to power and do what’s necessary to keep her in clover. It was such a cool scene I figured, okay, give it up.
And then she was fairly agreeable as Diane Keaton’s daughter in Something’s Got To Give and as Will Ferrell’s go-getter spouse in Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda.
But now she’s back as Ashton Kutcher’s romantic interest in Nigel Cole’s A Lot Like Love (Touchstone, 4.22) and I’m getting the creeps again. Those photo booth shots of her and Kutcher in the poster…the way she looks and sounds in the trailer. Everything is telling me to duck and hide.
This isn’t very interesting to write about. Gut likes and dislikes are so arbitrary. There must be tens of thousands (or more) who find Peet attractive or funny or whatever. A distributor who wrote me a couple of days ago swears A Lot Like Love is a sleeper, and for all I know I’m the only one who feels this way about Peet. But I doubt it.
A Lot Like Love is said to be an above-average film. It’s about Kutcher and Peet wanting each other and not doing anything about it for seven years because they don’t feel they’re ready to pull the trigger or take the plunge. In other words, it’s a twentysomething movie that basically says, “Relax…chill…you have all the time in the world.”
Well, don’t we?
It has been observed that Sydney Pollack’s name is barely legible on the U.S. one-sheet for his latest film, The Interpreter (Universal, 4.22), and that this is probably not an accident.
The words “A Sydney Pollack Film” are printed in a light, barely visible gray and scrunched between the larger, bold-faced names of the film’s stars, Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn. (Pollack’s name is so hazy and small I can’t even find a focused blowup.)
If Out of Africa had won the Best Picture Oscar in ’94 instead of ’84, you can bet Sydney’s name would be a tad larger and probably pop through a bit more. Universal’s marketing guys are definitely making a statement of some kind.
It’s interesting, also, that Pollack’s name is larger and more visible on the English and German one-sheets for the film.
The international ad guys are obviously less concerned about whatever it is that has scared their U.S. counterparts (memories of Pollack’s Random Hearts?). That or Random hearts did better in Europe than it did here.
Come September Steven Soderbergh is planning on directing The Good German, a post-World War II romantic thriller written by Paul Attanasio with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett in the lead roles. And I guess…whoa, wait a minute…what happened to Soderbergh’s Che? Last time I looked this $40 million Che Geuvara biopic, which has a script by Terrence Malick and Benicio del Toro playing the lead role (along with Benjamin Bratt, Javier Bardem, Ryan Gosling, Franka Potente), was going to start shooting in Bolivia next August. Obviously this much-delayed project has worries up the yin-yang. I was just hoping that Che would be Soderbergh’s bounce-back movie…the one that would finally pull him out of his slump. He’s currently shooting an experimental thing in West Virginia and Ohio called Bubble…and I’m saying “experimental” because he’s using amateur actors. Producer Gregory Jacobs has described it as “a character piece, maybe even like a slice-of-life story. There is a murder that takes place, but it’s not a murder mystery.”
Remember Nancy Travis? Remember all the stuff she did in the late ’80s and early ’90s? (Married to the Mob, Internal Affairs, So I Married an Axe Murderer, etc.) She was banished to the tube and theatrical semi-obscurity about ten years ago, but is now returning in the upcoming Ken Kwapis film, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Warner Bros., 6.3). Delia Ephron’s script, based on the Anne Brasheres book of the same name, is about four best friends (i.e., women) of different shapes and sizes sharing a magical pair of jeans that fits each one perfectly. And, the description says, “to keep in touch the friends pass the jeans to each other as well as the adventures they are going through while apart.” Awesome. I love chick flicks about best friends sharing experiences and keeping in touch and occasionally hugging each other and giving each other advice about how to handle problems with men.
Remember the magic jacket in On the Waterfront? It was passed from Joey Doyle to K.O. Dugan to Terry Malloy, and everyone who wore it told the truth (i.e., finked to the Feds) ahout Johnny Friendly and wound up getting pounded or killed by the torpedos. It was a hair-shirt thing…a burden-of-ethical-conscience jacket.
I’ve just noticed a trend in a a great number of my favorite movies. They all revolve around a couple or few sad sacks, losers, misfits, who bump into each other and embark (or are forced) on a journey together. The path is unpredictable and sometimes is entirely internal. This may be America’s vision of itself – a ragtag fleet of outcasts huddling together on a quest to find haven. Or maybe all screenwriters are such people. Beside the obvious (Revenge of the Nerds, Thelma and Louise) there are: Tampopo, Rushmore, Sideways, Swingers, Wonder Boys, Star Wars, The Muppet Movie, Major League, Stripes, Shaolin Soccer, Fight Club, Lost in Translation, Better Luck Tomorrow. Hell, I can even make the case for Collateral. More?