Brad Grey, the big-wheel talent manager, is “expected to be named head of Paramount Pictures as early as this week,” according to a Sunday story by L.A. Times reporters Claudia Eller and Sallie Hofmeister. The move “is likely to bring sweeping changes for the storied and recently troubled studio.” Sources said Grey was in the final stages of negotiations with Paramount parent Viacom Inc. to succeed studio chief Sherry Lansing, who announced two months ago that she would retire after 12 years on the job. Grey, the story noted, “has a relatively poor box-office track record, having produced such flops as City by the Sea, What Planet Are You From? and The Cable Guy.” However, the likely ex-chairman of Brillstein-Gray “does enjoy strong ties with talent and agents, whose frayed relationships with Paramount [Viacom honcho] Tom Freston [who hired Grey] is eager to mend.” Paramount production president Donald De Line is apparently on his way out, as he told Freston he’d be gone if he were passed over for the Paramount gig.
A filmmaker friend sat down with Harvey Weinstein in London a few days ago and says he’s lost 35 or 40 pounds, and that the apparent inspiration is that he’s got a new British actress girlfriend and “he’s in love.” I wrote a London columnist friend and asked about this….nothing back yet. Poly Giannabi, a London reader, says she “saw Harvey Weinstein on British TV, at the British premiere of The Aviator. It’s true about the weight loss…he’s down at least 30-40 pounds. I almost didn’t recognize him.”
Got a hot Sundance ’05 pic. Actually, just a flick I’m hearing may be one of the hotties…for GenXers with a desperate need to feel superficially hip, at least. It’s John Asher and Jenny McCarthy’s Dirty Love, a “Park City at Midnight” selection about a Hollywood girl named Rebecca (McCarthy)going through betrayal, homelessness and hard times. The program calls it “a laugh-out-loud, hilarious manifestation” of Asher and McCarthy’s “warped minds,” with “unforgettable and outrageous hijinks.”
No one of any depth or intelligence believes in the theology of New Year’s Eve. The second hand passing the midnight hour on a day that has no particular distinction in the eyes of God or any cosmic authority is no reason to clap, kiss, jump up and down or celebrate anything.
Million Dollar Baby is easily one of the finest films of the year and the most likely winner of the ’04 Best Picture Oscar. Why then have Warner Bros. execs been keeping it hidden from most of the nation since it opened limited two weeks and two days ago?
Some people I’ve spoken to say they’re playing it smart, but I don’t know.
So far Baby has been showing in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and Toronto only…and in precious few theatres at that. I’ve been telling friends around the country since I first saw it in late November that it’s the one to see, the emotional grabber with the art-film pedigree, etc.
But they can’t see it because they live in one of the hundreds of cities where it’s not playing — Danbury, Boston, Houston, Birmingham, Louisville, et. al.
The reason is that Warner Bros. marketing execs don’t really believe it will travel all that well with regular ticket buyers who’ve been prompted by the usual marketing efforts, so they’re waiting for the Academy nominations on 1.25 to nudge them into a state of receptivity.
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Moviegoers probably will be more interested in lining up after the expected happens, which would be nominations in most of the major categories– Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Clint Eastwood), Best Actress (Hillary Swank), Best Adapted Screenplay (Paul Haggis), Best Cinematography (Tom Stern), Best Musical Score (Eastwood) and so on.
But you’d think during a period when audiences flock to the plexes hoping to see a big year-end winner and, in one or two cases, dip into that communal emotional bath that goes with it, Warner Bros., having something fairly “big” and special on their hands, would want to supply this.
Eastwood’s boxing film is a critics darling, obviously, but it also seems to work with average audiences. (I’ve seen it with two paying audiences.) It has an unpretentious, un-fussed-with quality and appears to touch people where they live. Women especially.
I’ve seen it separately with two 40ish women who aren’t exactly jaded cinephiles, and they were both obviously moved by the film, especially by the father-daughter relationship thing between Eastwood and Swank.
On the other hand…
“Right now the awareness of the film is dicey,” says Movie City News columnist and box-office reporter Len Klady. “I have to assume that people probably like the picture so far, but they’re also probably a little uncomfortable about it.”
Klady then went on to mention a certain third-act plot element which this story won’t get into. But he also speculated that among those who haven’t seen Baby , they’ve at least come to know Eastwood over time and know his films don’t usually peddle escapism and tend to lean towards darker material, and some might say to themselves, `Let’s see something lighter….for now.”
This may account for the fact that Baby has so far been playing well but not spectacularly in New York, Los Angeles, et. al.
“There’s something that just comes out of the pavement,” says Klady. “Intuitive feelings that come out of the atmosphere, like microbes…very quickly the country knows what a film is.”
There is nothing unwelcome or sluggishly downer-esque about Million Dollar Baby . What it is, inescapably, is a film that knows itself and leaves you with something fully realized and affecting. The only thing tempering the Baby business so far, I’m assuming, is that same old reliable American aversion to any movie that doesn’t appear to be upbeat escapism. People will always go first for the fizzy high.
And so as the Xmas holidays approached, WB execs probably figured Baby wouldn’t do all that well against esteemed, high-quality competitors like Meet the Fockers, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, In Good Company, Phantom of the Opera, etc.
And they sensed on some pavement level that audiences probably wouldn’t, in the last analysis, embrace Million Dollar Baby like the critics have, and the third- act wallop wouldn’t be quite enough to sell it, and they just didn’t want to risk it.
So they hedged and said, “Screw it…let’s wait for word to build, for knowledge about the critics awards to get around, for the Oscar nominations.” Why bet on viewer awareness and risk getting kicked around?
A week from today (9.7) Warner Bros. will finally be expanding Million Dollar Baby into some other cities and territories…modestly. I don’t know where exactly (WB distrib execs were holidaying and not picking up the phone), but some people in other areas of the country will get to see it.
The bigger breaks, I gather, will be on 1.21 and 1.28, just before and just after the Oscar noms are announced.
Say What You Want
Million Dollar Baby is the third best film of ’04 according to the Movie City News chart of film critics choices, and it’s been tagged as the year’s finest by New York Times critic A.O. Scott, and third-best by Times critic Manohla Dargis.
But hold on…it’s also been called the second worst film of the year by James Rocchi, the resident film critic for Netflix .
It takes all sorts, variety is the spice of life, that’s what makes a ball game, etc. But we’re in a dead news cycle, I need to fill space and this is a mildly intriguing sidelight.
Rocchi’s Ten Worst Movies of the Year list had been finished as of December 16th, at which point he reported, “Dang! Just when you post the 10 Worst Films of the Year, they pull you back in. Clint Eastwood’s latest — Million Dollar Baby — is now in serious contention to take the crown of thorns from Alexander.”
As it turned out, this didn’t quite happen. I think Rocchi should have gone for it. Then he would have really made history.
A member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics, Rocchi also called The Hunting of the President, in my opinion a clearly assembled, seemingly thorough examination of the commonly acknowledged right-wing attack-dog efforts to get President Clinton during the ’90s, the 7th worst film of ’04.
Rocchi doesn’t lack for readers or listeners. His site bio reads, “In addition to providing movie reviews and recommendations for more than 2 million Netflix members, James has been a special guest on CNBC, CNN Headline News, MSNBC Scarborough Country and is a movie reviewer in 20 to 30 regional TV morning programs in top markets across the nation.”
Let’s see…hated The Hunting of the President, supplied guest commentary on the conservative-leaning Scarborough Country. Wait a minute, let’s not jump to conclusions.
Anybody can love or hate anything they want. I despised the Lord of the Rings movies and I’m in the extreme minority on that score, but I never called them the worst of anything. Peter Jackson, the trilogy’s auteur-creator, is a smart, impassioned and exacting filmmaker, and I really liked Heavenly Creatures. (That said, let me say again: beware of King Kong!)
Rocchi is fully entitled to hate the way the direction a film takes in its third act, or just despise things about a film that he considers manipulative or old-hat. I’m assuming, naturally, that he almost called Million Dollar Baby the worst film of ’04 because it got to him on a very primal level. It’s a startling call, but hey, James…knock yourself out.
My 15 year-old son Dylan is hanging with me over the holidays, and while I’ve been writing my columns he’s been spending a lot of time on the couch playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the latest in a series of Grand Theft Auto video games that first hit the market in `98 or ’99.
The San Andreas upgrade was released in October for use with PlayStation 2 game consoles. The players of the game control the actions of a deranged homicidal hip-hop asshole who runs around blasting the bejeezus out of anybody and anything, while enjoying protection (supplied by the game’s programmers) from being seriously harmed by enemies.
Since Dylan got the game a couple of months ago, he estimates that he’s “killed” about 5000 people, and that includes a lot of cops and regular-Joe bystanders. I’ve seen him run his victims down with cars he’s been driving, or machine-gun them to death, blow them up, beat them to death with clubs…any which way. And they’re always left lying in a pool of blood.
The game isn’t about achieving a goal or defeating your bad-ass enemies. A review I found of GTA: SA says that players “go on a series of missions to take back the streets.” Bullshit — it’s about running around and wasting anyone you feel like wasting.
A reviewer with Video Game Radio wrote that “most gamers will tell you that video games merely allow them to live out fantasies in the safety of their own homes. Whatever your opinion is on video-game violence, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is by far the most controversial video game on the market today.”
The main-character asshole — described by the creators as a 1990s California gang member who found out that his neighborhood had been taken over by another gang when he got out, blah, blah — can instantly change weapons. The game also allows him to fly planes (my favorite aspect).
Spray paint cans can be used to deface buildings or cover up graffiti left by rival gang within the “story,” but Dylan hasn’t once resorted to this. He’s my son and spray-painting isn’t part of his history…the guy’s got standards.
I understand what these games are about and I can feel their juice and why everyone likes playing them, but at the same time how can anyone take part in simulated murder hundreds or thousands of times — day after day, week after week — and not have their sensibilities affected on some level?
I’m not trying to get all fuddy-duddy and imply that Dylan or any similar Grand Theft Auto fan (teenaged, well-educated, middle-class, productive parents) is more susceptible to violent impulses in real life as a result of playing this game. Maybe he is, but I don’t think so.
But I think less intelligent kids without less-than-cultivated social habits or who’ve suffered from low-rent upbringings might be a bit more prone to sociopathic behavior due to this influence. Just a little bit, I’m saying.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board has given San Andreas an “M” (for mature) tag, recommending it for users aged 17 and older. The rating was given for “blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content and use of drugs,” according to the board’s website.
The ESRB “M” rating for the previous Grand Theft Auto game, called Vice City, was described as having only “violence” (the “intense” adjective wasn’t used) and didn’t mention “use of drugs.” Obviously the creators, Rock Star Games, are upping the ante.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is morally repulsive but undeniably cool from the POV of a player looking for fast, anything-goes action and steadily improving graphics. The question is how its popularity (and that of hundreds of similar games) may be affecting the moviegoing appetites of its fans, at least as far as their attention spans are concerned, or their ability to feel revulsion towards violence, which in real life is a deeply ugly thing in all its forms.
A much longer version of Michael Mann’s Heat is finally coming to DVD, although not in a unified form.
Warner Home Video’s two-disc Heat “special edition,” out on 2.22.05, will have 11 additional scenes that weren’t included in Mann’s 172-minute theatrical cut that came out in 1995. A WHV publicist tells me the extra footage amounts to 100 minutes, give or take, “which would total 272 minutes” — four hours and 32 minutes — “including the feature itself.”
This means that the alleged 257-minute running time of this DVD, posted last week by two websites — www.dvd.town.com and www.amazon.com — is incorrect.
When you press “play feature” on the new DVD, the 1995 theatrical version is what you’ll see. But if you’ve got video editing software and you’re clever and industrious, you’ll be able to construct a four-hour, 32-minute version for your own amusement.
DVD Town says that NBC aired a re-cut 188-minute Heat. (DVD Town’s exact wording calls it an “original pre-aired NBC version.”)
I don’t know if this is true, but if it happened it means Mann was obviously willing to re-cut his film to meet a commercial requirement. Why, then, didn’t he re-cut Heat and make it into a 272-minute extravaganza for the DVD? Obviously because he feels the 172 minute theatrical cut is the best, but deranged people like me would love to wallow in a much longer cut for the hell of it.
Disc #1 of the new version will offer the original film plus Mann’s optional commentary.
Disc #2 will offer five making-of documentaries:
(1) “Return to the Scene of the Crime,” with location manager Janice Polley and associate producer Gusmano Cesaretti visiting the real life L.A. locations used in the film;
(2) “Pacino and De Niro: The Conversation,” in which Mann and others recall the shooting of the showdown scene between Robert De Niro’s Neal McCauley and Al Pacino’s Vincent Hanna at Kate Mantellini’s, a restaurant in Beverly Hills;
(3) “The Making of Heat: True Crime,” with Mann and Chuck Adamson, the film’s technical advisor who was also the real life inspiration for Hanna, discussing the Chicago crime scene and the events surrounding the real McCauley (whom Adamson took down in the late `60s) that inspired the film;
(4) “The Making of Heat: Crime Stories,” with Mann and others reviewing the 20-year origin of the script, the film’s genesis, and the complexity of the characters portrayed on screen; and…
(5) “The Making of Heat: Into the Fire,” with Mann and his cast and crew discussing training for their roles, filming in LA, shooting the climatic downtown heist, and the film’s post production.
“However you feel about US involvement right now in Iraq, the Crusades are far more complicated than you make them out to be. And not terribly analogous to today’s perilous reality.
“For example, the population of what was known as the `Holy Land’ during the 11th and 12th centuries was, at least until jihad did its nasty work, mainly Christian. (But then so many liberals seem to forget the plight of Christian Arabs, both in the past and now.)
“Although from about the 9th century on there were Arab tribes in the area of Jerusalem, to which they’d wandered from the Arabian peninsula in search of better living conditions, they in no way constituted an ethnic majority when Godfroi de Bouillon and his companions recaptured Jerusalem from its Muslim occupiers in 1099.
“The final spur to the decision in the West to launch the Crusades, incidentally, was the Byzantine defeat at the (not terribly well-known) battle of Manzikert in 1076, although it took some five years for news of this battle to reach Rome and another ten or so for its import to really sink in, which thus opened up the Holy Land to Muslim hegemony. And to oppression, I’ll add.
“Despite what many liberals also seem to believe, the period of Muslim rule immediately before the Crusaders landed in the Holy Land was a cruel one for Christians and Jews alike. Have you never heard the terms `dhimmi’ and `dhimmitude,’ which refer both to non-Muslims in a Muslim land and to the Koranically dictated way to treat them, including extra taxation?
“At least get hold of Richard Fletcher’s `Moorish Spain’ (it’s a short book) and read it for the way Christians were treated under that supposedly mild group of invaders; Fletcher himself admits he wrote it to dispel the myths concerning how non-Muslims fared during medieval times under Muslim rule.
“Also, too, Saladin happens to have been a Kurd. Thus a member of, today, an oppressed minority, one in fact oppressed by its fellow Muslims. Got that? There is an irony there that is biting, and I wonder if Scott will even mention it in his upcoming movie.
“One of the best books out there on the complicated issue of what the Crusaders were actually like is Zoe Oldenbourg’s `The Crusades.’ I think that if you even only page idly through it, you’ll learn that the image of them as racist butchers has little to do with reality. Perhaps, too, you’ll no longer quite see Saladin as the absolute paragon of chivalry that many writers still portray him to be. I don’t know if Scott will similarly have done his homework, but you still can.
“Something else that might even amuse you is that the bulk of Crusaders were, in fact, French (although it wasn’t referred to as `France’ at that time in the sense it is today). There is a train of thought among historians that holds that France from 1940 on owes its destiny to the simple truth that for the preceding 600 years the country had been bled white by a succession of (in general) losing wars, with WWI thus only constituting the final such catastrophe.
“This way of thinking holds that since, say, 1100, it’s just been one long slide downwards for France, culminating in the truly rapid and shameful way the better-armed and more numerous French forces were defeated by the German Army in 1940. At the same time, of course, perhaps because so many of them `stayed home’ during the 12th century, England rose as a world power and, for about a hundred years, even occupied large chunks of France.
“Really, Jeffrey, you’re a fine film critic in my opinion, and you’re especially great at the visceral reaction stuff, but you’d be even better if your writing indicated some familiarity with history.” — Richard Szathmary
Wells to Szathmary: “The general theme of European Anglos (French, British) invading the Middle East and trying to restore Christian culture and Christian dominance in the Holy Land (whatever the history of Christian vs. Muslim clashes back then) carries inescapable parallels for Anglo-American forces today trying to implement/impose a Western-style democracy in Iraq in the wake of a takeover, etc.
“In a basic sense, I mean….without getting into all the jejune, finger-up-the-rectum historical mucky-muck.
“Your knowledge of Crusades history is more vast and scholarly than mine, but c’mon…. the basic bones of the two situations are obviously similar enough for a casual viewer of Kingdom of Heaven to say, “Aha, yes…of course. There are echoes in this situation.”
“You seem to be saying not only that the leaders of Muslim culture back then were discriminatory and ugly towards their lessers, but that there’s something inherently brutal and oppressive about Muslim culture that refuses to tolerate the culture of anyone or anything that isn’t Muslim. They’re purist fuckheads, in other words, just like the Jihadists are today…completely dedicated to the conquering and wiping out of impure non-Muslims around them. In a phrase, Natural Born Tyrants.
“So why don’t we just launch a U.S. Crusade today and just wipe ’em all out….every last one of them….man, woman and child? Okay, I’m kidding…but given your belief that Muslims and their brethren are really venal and bad news down to the bone, what’s the remedy?”
Szathmary back to Wells: I think you could have a fine, Oxford Union-style debate on the topic of `Resolved: That Islam Is Incompatible With Democracy.’ Just as there was a fine symposium on whether or no Islam is compatible with feminism this very morning at www.frontpagemagazine.com.
“As to what the answer would then be, I honestly don’t know. But the truth also is, neither of us can truly name a country with an Islamic majority that also is constituted as a democracy. Nor can either of us locate one in the past. That does not mean I’m espousing a white man’s burden” theory of history, either. Nobody (well, not too many of us, certainly not me) wants to wipe out all these radical Islamist motherfuckers (see, now you’ve got me lapsing into profanity!), but it’d be nice in your work, which I generally admire a great deal, to see some occasional acknowledgement that many of those motherfuckers do in fact want to wipe us out. Completely. Along with the Jews, of course.
“Forget al-Jazeera television. Look up some stuff about the al-Manar network some time if you want a real eye opener.
“And I’m sorry — well, no, I’m not really sorry, it’s just a figure of speech — but I think you have a greater responsibility to the yahoos out there, just as many of whom now seem to be disgruntled Democratic voters as Republicans (from which, even I’ll admit, the ranks are usually filled), to be more sensitive to history. More attentive to accuracy. This in turn might even contribute to some eventual good coming out of this debate down the line.
“Yes, it’s fun to go with your gut, and I admire that in your criticism, but temper it just a bit sometimes with a nod to fact.”
There’s an article on the legacy of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the 12.31 issue of the L.A. Weekly.
One piece of slightly-dated news in the piece, written by by Michael Hoinski, is that Kesey’s son, Zane, has assembled a 55-minute documentary about the adventures of the Pranksters on their 1964 cross-country tour on their day-glo bus. The doc, available on www.key-z.com, is purchasable for $25. (Actually, there’s a couple of other videos about the tour, plus one or two others about Kesey.)
Coincidentally, a reader (as well as HE’s volunteer editor) Mark Griffey wrote me the following just three days ago:
“Being interested in the film, I found a website called http://www.key-z.com/video. html that seems to be run by Ken Kesey’s son, Zane. Before he died in 2001, Kesey finally finished the Merry Prankster movie (45 hours of footage were shot). Given Kesey’s legacy and all, I was surprised to find that the guys who run the site won’t sell it to video stores. The only way to get it is to buy it from them on VHS for $25. Where’s the brotherly love?
“On top of this, the guys who run the site are currently bidding on the one copy that is up on Ebay. They don’t want anyone to get it unless they buy it from them! It’s crazy. Because to me, this doc seems to be a very important artifact.
“Kesey, Cassady and the Pranksters single-handedly started the entire psychedelic-hippie craze way back in 1964, long before Sgt. Pepper and all that shit. It’s like having a video of Newton getting hit in the head with the apple.
“Of course, the video is purportedly out-of-focus and a big mess, although I haven’t even seen it, but I just think it’s all very interesting. The Pranksters thought the movie would change the world, and now that it’s finally being released 40 years later, it’s practically a secret” — Mark Griffey.
Wells to Griffey: You’d think Zane would at least make a DVD version. You know, like…join the ’90s?
The 96-page printed program for the ’05 Sundance Film Festival arrived in the mail a day or two ago, and I’m already starting to go crazy from all the squinting. Who are the graphic designers of this thing (last year’s program was also an eye-strainer), and what is their compulsion about using pale yellow ink for the credit blocks below each film? You can’t read the names of the actors or the significant creatives unless you’re reading the ’05 program in just the right kind of light, and even then it’s a chore. This is graphic-design sadism at its worst.
Hollywood Elsewhere has been hacked twice over the last ten days, and to make sure it never happens again we’re going to buy and install new software for the message board and chat room, a.k.a. Poet’s Corner. Until we do this we’re going to have to shut down this section of the site down for about a week since this is the doorway that hackers (and their most recent creation, called “sanity”) have used to crash their way in. Poet’s Corner will probably be back up and running by the end of next week, or by 1.7.05.
I’m going right out to rent Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors this evening as a way of paying tribute to the great Jerry Orbach, who died Tuesday night in Manhattan of cancer. Orbach’s performance as Jack Rosenthal, the criminal-class younger brother of Martin Landau’s wishy-washy Judah Rosenthal, is the kind of New Yorker Orbach seemed to actually be — a Bronx-born guy with a touch of the street, who always talked straight and blunt and cut to the chase. I love it when he says to Landau in that Crimes scene in the Jonah’s guest house, “I can’t afford to be….aloof.” Orbach’s Gus Levy in Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City was the same kind of guy, only scrappier and friendlier. Which reminds me: you still can’t get Lumet’s film on DVD.
If The Shoe Fits
The plot of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, 5.6) is on the complex side, but if you let yourself think plain like Tom Joad and avoid getting smeared with your own intellectual whipped cream, it all boils down nicely.
Aside from the upscale distinction of being a Ridley Scott film in the big-canvas Gladiator mode, Heaven is a 12th Century armies-on-horseback movie about Eastern vs. Western forces. You know…one of those Muslim vs. Christian, olive-skinned natives vs. white-guy invader type deals, taking place during the Crusades and set in war-torn Jerusalem.
Orlando Bloom in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.
It’s also one of those pageant-type flicks about a really cute brave guy (Orlando Bloom, as a French blacksmith who eventually comes to be called Balian of Ibelin), and how he falls in love with a foxy, well-born hottie (Sibylla, the princess of Jerusalem, played by Eva Green) and then gets to be El Cid-like when push comes to shove.
Or something along these lines. I’m fairly sure Bloom whups ass. You have to figure after he played a girlyman Paris in Troy his agent wouldn’t let him go there a second time.
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Balian of Ibelin was a Crusader knight who led the defense of Jerusalem in 1187. His formidable opponent was a Muslim leader named Saladin, who defeated him. With this element Kingdom sounds a bit like a 12th Century Black Hawk Down, about white guys in armor and shields getting their butts kicked by the Muslims in their tunics and turbans and curved swords.
I’m not a scholar on the Crusades and I haven’t read William Monahan’s Kingdom of Heaven script, but c’mon….how can anyone not see cultural parallels between Scott’s tale and the fighting going on now between U.S. forces and native guerillas in Iraq? You’d have to be suffering from enzyme blockage to say they aren’t there.
The Christian Crusaders were arrogant in presuming to claim and run the Holy Land in the first place, and the Saracens were in a more spiritually justified place in their battle against these Bible-reading, pale-faced invaders.
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?
New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman explored this issue in a story that ran on 8.12.04.
“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,” Waxman’s 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 got into a dopey argument the other day with a guy who says it’s journalistically sloppy to point to Kingdom‘s present-day allusions. I found it staggering that he would even argue this point.
If a history professor were to show his class a movie about the Crusades (Christians vs. Muslims in the Holy Land) and ask his students to point out current echoes in a term paper, I said, he would be right to flunk any student who doesn’t at the very least mention Bush-Rummy-Iraq.
The guy replied that Kingdom was developed before Bush was elected and was greenlit before the U.S. went into Iraq. The Crusades, therefore, have nothing to do with Iraq, he said…unless, of course, the person making this connection is a fringe whack-jobber.
You’re tap dancing too much on this thing, I replied. Your thinking is too pretzel-like. You have to boil it down to basics. Anglo army occupying Middle Eastern territory, shouldn’t be there, natives hate them, etc.
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. 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?
This is certainly an allowable interpretation, I argued, given the basic bones.
That said, I can’t wait for Kingdom of Heaven, which looks great in the trailer and cost around $130 million. After Bloom and Green, the costars are Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis and Chassan Massoud as Saladin.
There isn’t much happening right now on Kingdom of Heaven‘s official site , but it’s a start.
The Napoleon Dynamite DVD story is a great success with a blemish. This is because the people at Fox Home Video blew it when they ordered their initial run.
Roughly 1.4 million units were sold when the disc hit stores on 12.21, but the suits didn’t order enough of them to be pressed because the available Dynamite‘s sold out right away (in West Coast urban areas, at least) and as of Monday, 12.26, copies were still scarce.
The clerks at Laser Blazer in West L.A. are telling me people keep coming in and asking for Napoleon and they keep answering, “Sorry, man…sold out. Nope, not even a rental.” A Seattle-based guy named Aaron Stewart (one of HE’s newly engaged Discland contributors) told me yesterday that the same thing is happening up there.
Figuring an average price of $20 per DVD, Dynamite retail sales totals come to about $28 million, which is more than half of the film’s $44 million domestic earnings.
Fox spokesman Steven Feldstein was quoted as saying that when the first shipment came close to selling out, Fox ordered a motherload of new Napoleon‘s from their plant in Huntsville, Alabama, but the trucks attempting to deliver the discs got stuck in a Kentucky snowstorm. I don’t know…does this sound to anyone else like “the dog ate my homework”?
Sooner or later the trucks will make it through and the stores will have enough copies, but the Fox Video guys could have posted some kind of astronomical sales figure in the trades if they’d been more accurate in gauging public interest.
If you’re looking for the key provocateurs in the sacking of Vincent Ward from the historical drama River Queen, you wouldn’t be far off if you settled on two people.
One is Richard Soames of Film Finances, River Queen‘s guarantor. He’s the guy who actually lowered the boom on the film’s director last October, and not the producers, Silver Screen Films and The Films Consortium, who were surprised at the canning and immediately tried to get Ward his job back. They eventually succeeded.
The other is costar Samantha Morton, who has been described by a source close to the production as a bit of a harridan whose hair-pulling episodes have not been limited to her behavior on River Queen.
River Queen costar Samantha Morton.
Morton clashed with Ward about this and that — rather bitterly, I’m told — during the first half of the filming. This rancor, compounded by Ward’s perfectionism and lousy weather during much of the New Zealand-based shoot, led to an atmosphere of delay and disharmony that caught Soames’ attention and led to his action.
Ward didn’t stay fired for long. He was actually re-hired in late November despite an announcement earlier this week that he’s just returned to the payroll.
Ward declined to speak about the situation, but a source close to the shoot chimed in.
Ward is now in London trying to finish the editing before the end of March. It’s that or Ward and his producers will face some kind of stiff financial penalty, as English tax laws allowed for the majority of the financing.
The expectation is that the historical war drama, set during the New Zealand Maori Wars of the 1860s and about the efforts of an Irish mother (Morton) trying to find her kidnapped child with the help of a soldier (Kiefer Sutherland), will be shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
Given the title it’s a reasonable assumption that (a) Morton and Sutherland do some of their searching while traveling on a river boat, and (b) that some kind of bond develops between them, although hopefully of a different cast than the romance that occurs between Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in John Huston’s The African Queen.
River Queen is known to have been a labor of love for Ward (Map Of The Human Heart, The Navigator, Vigil). He co-wrote the script with Toa Fraser, and has tried to put together production funding for quite a spell.
Ward’s axe-ing happened in October, three weeks after Morton came back to the set after being felled by influenza.
My production source says Ward was replaced as director following a continual series of “incidents” with Morton, who had already caused the production to close down once due to her illness.
Soames stepped in to get control of things, but right away colleagues and friends of Ward’s pointed out that the project would be worthless without Ward’s input and guiding hand, and the only way for anyone to recoup was for him to be restored as director.
River Queen was directed for the final three weeks of shooting by the director of photography, Alun Bollinger (Heavenly Creatures), with day-to-day guidance from Ward by phone and email.
“One thing for certain is that the film did not go any smoother after Ward left,” the source confides, “nor did it progress any faster. The number of shots per day stayed the same, and Morton’s various illnesses and troubles continued.”
In the wake of my 12.17 praising of Adam Curtis’ brilliant BBC2 documentary called The Power of Nightmares, I’m happy to report it will screen in either late January or early February as a special presentation of the Santa Barbara Film Festival, which kicks off on 1.28.05.
SBFF director Roger Durling was shown a copy of the doc by Telluride Film Festival director Tom Luddy after my piece came out, and Curtis was contacted and agreed to provide a screenable copy of the film. No word as to whether Curtis will attend the festival, but he should. The San Francisco Film Festival is also reportedly mulling over a showing of Nightmares.
Author (The Whole Equation) and essayist David Thomson wrote the following about Nightmares on 12.26 for his column in the London Independent:
Nightmares producer-writer Adam Curtis (l.); a non-related plaque outside a BBC office.
“I share the sentiments behind Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, but I cannot look at or listen to Moore without smelling the demagogue. Which leads me to this point: the most arresting thing I saw in 2004 (in a poor-quality duplicated tape) was Adam Curtis’s three-part TV documentary series, The Power of Nightmares.
“The program may be prompting soul-searching within the BBC as to the function and role of that diminishing institution, but it will likely never find a large public in the U.S., because no one will be brave enough to air so lucid, caustic and comic an account of the sham of Islamic terror.
“Now, in America, as you have heard, the ordinary television watcher often has hundreds of channels to choose from. But the four networks will not touch The Power of Nightmares, because of the subsequent charge of being anti-Bush. Public television (PBS), the nearest equivalent to the BBC, will almost certainly decline because of the fear of putting their funding in jeopardy.”
“That leaves HBO, for several years now the most enterprising movie/TV studio in the world. But even there, I’m not sure that anyone has the stomach for this superb, Swiftian satire or the absolute insolence with which Curtis delivers his message.”
If you find these photos interesting or alluring, there’s something wrong with you.
There’s only one way to process the horror of over 114,000 people drowning from that big tsunami three or four days ago, and that’s with muted sadness and a slight shaking of the head, like you’re sitting in a church pew at a funeral for a friend.
You can’t express any kind of fascination in how the Indian Ocean tsunami might have looked or sounded because if you do you’re a pig and a creep and you have no heart.
I didn’t die from the big tsunami because I was in Los Angeles when it happened, and I don’t have any personal connections with any of the sufferers. I’m appalled by the death and the hurt and my heart goes out, but I’m curious, dammit.
I’ve never seen a real tsunami. The only kind I’ve ever seen has been Jim Cameron’s mile-high tsunami in The Abyss and that other stupid CG tsunami in Deep Impact (you know…the one that instantly flattened Maximillian Schell and Tea Leoni…which I’m thinking of watching again, in all candor, in the wake of Leoni’s performance in Spanglish).
On 12.27 there was an AP story about how news agency representatives are hunting for video of this event.
“There will still be, I think, the definitive shot, the wall of water,” Sandy MacIntyre, director of news for Associated Press Television News in London, said Monday.
APTN was said to be “competing fiercely” with Reuters to try and snag some good tsunami video footage. APTN producers were reportedly sent to six airports in Europe and Asia on Monday to ask tourists if they had captured the scene on their home video cameras, MacIntyre said.
Who knows how to process or make sense of over 114,000 people dying in the space of five or ten minutes?
I used to have nightmares about big waves when I was a kid. I would be on a beach and a tidal wave would be getting bigger and bigger and I’d try to run and my feet would be like anvils and I could barely take a step. And the approaching monster would get louder and louder.
“I’ve been reading your column for years and I must say that although I disagree with your politics and some of your film choices I admire the fact that you will push a film to the forefront for the attention it deserves. Sideways has been garnering a great deal of attention now and you were one of the first, if not the first to call it.
“You’ve also been pushing Million Dollar Baby, and you even ran a blip about it last summer, as I recall. I must admit I was not really interested in seeing this film, but then I kept reading your column concerning this picture and I finally went to the Grove Theatre and plucked down my ten bucks for a late morning viewing.
“This film is one of the most powerful things I have ever seen put to celluloid. It’s a little predictable at times and uses some cliches, but it’s the way the story is told and the confidence in the way the narrative is handled that makes it great. This film deserves the good attention that it is receiving. Those naysayers that could be disciples of Kael need to let their opinion be known as well, even though they’re way off.
“Ever since I left the theatre I’ve been imploring various people to take in a viewing of this film and calling up relatives to tell them to be the first in line when it goes nationwide. It is a shame that Warner Brothers has not been pushing this gem and I thank you for bringing this film to my attention. I plan on viewing it again with friends when the holiday cycle calms down.
“Also you need to give Collateral a look on DVD. It has a great commentary by Michael Mann that has not been advertised and it would be a shame not to give it a listen. This guy is a genius and his films should be studied more. Bring on the new special edition Heat DVD!” — James Wallace
“Philip Kaufman, Fred Schepisi, Walter Hill, Brian De Palma and Robert Benton. What do these guys have in common? Nothing…except that you’ll probably find each film made by these guys have gotten a thumbs-up or something close to it from the Paulettes.
“Michael Sragow would fit nicely onto that little list that includes Charles Taylor, David Edelstein and Armond White.
“I think this has to with the fact that the French and Dave Kehr and some other guys who followed the Andrew Sarris auteurist school of thought picked up on Eastwood first, thereby making him persona non grata with the Paulettes since anything the French and Sarris (especially Sarris) gave the okay to was bound to stink according to the Kael gospel.
“Among the Paulettes there was some sort of party-line that had to be toed when it came to certain film makers. Thumbs up for the above worthies and thumbs down for Eastwood, Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, etc. They were young and easily led, I guess. And here you were thinking that film criticism was mostly about the movie!
“I think that the only Paulette to have escaped out of that cultish orbit has been Roger Ebert, and more power to him for that.” — Vinod Narayanan
“A few years back I spent some time talking about movies with Armond White and the more we spoke, the more I began to suspect his entire approach to movie, and in fact to reality.
“He kept going on about Spinal Tap and how real metal fans were offended by the film, and that Spinal Tap was a fictious band. And even when I pointed out that the guys in the movie played their own instruments, wrote the songs and even toured without a film crew, he refused to admit that at their core, Spinal Tap was as real of a band as any other ’80s metal band.
“Their songs ‘Big Bottom,’ ‘Hell Hole’ and ‘Sex Farm’ go up their with anything Ratt ever released. Sure they made up their background, but what band doesn’t fake their story? What makes Spinal Tap less real than Led Zeppelin’s ‘Song Remains the Same’? I just gave up on Armond at that point.
“And you’re right about HBO being the place to make a drama. Have you seen The Wire? Best 12-hour movie of the year.” — Joe Corey
“Armond White plays it safe and says that he likes both Kael and Sarris although that’s a bit like saying that you like the Republicans and the Democrats. He gave a thumbs up to Bloodwork and a thumbs down to both Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby and he thinks that Tomcats and Bubble Boy are masterpieces. Nuff said.
“Look, anyone who froths at the mouth in sheer untrammelled glee at the sight of a Brian De Palma film should probably not be throwing any stones ‘cuz that’s a big-ass glass house they’re livin’ in.” — V.N.
“Is the Napoleon Dynamite DVD shortage really as bad as you say in today’s column? I was just at the Best Buy in West Los Angeles, and there were at least 30 copies just sitting there waiting to be purchased.” — Grady Styles.
Wells to Styles: Great. The truck drivers must have finally gotten their act together. That or the people who frequent Laser Blazer and that video store in Seattle have hipper tastes than your typical Best Buy customers and therefore bought up all the available copies quicker.
Big-studio publicist to Wells: Interesting. I tried to buy Napoleon Dynamite at Borders across from the Arclight last night and they were sold out. But I found a bunch of ’em at Virgin.
A guy said this to me (if not in this precise sequence) the other day. He knows this town and how it’s been evolving, etc. And in a moment of despair…
“It was going to be Deliverance in the Gobi desert. The script was about character with everyone slowly going insane as the days went on, and when the new plane was built the pilot is reluctant to fly it because the desert crash was his fault and his confidence is shot.
“And he couldn’t be Mel Gibson. If it was Gibson you’d want to see him do it. You’d be waiting for that.
“Then the studio said they wanted the Bedouins to come back and attack the plane at the last minute, just as they were trying to lift off. But hold on. If the baddy Bedouins are close enough to regroup and gather their forces they must be within shouting distance of some kind of half-civilized outpost, so why don’t the survivors just walk to wherever that is? That didn’t get through. The studio didn’t care about that.
“It was the first movie I ever worked on in which notes on the script were sent along by the head of marketing. Mainly because suddenly the movie was costing $60 million dollars. The average movie costs $65 million, and then it’s $35 million to open it.
“This business has become so wag-the-dog, so marketing driven. And with $60 million being spent no one can look like they’re really hurt or dying, no one can lose their minds, there can’t be any swearing, and no heavy character stuff.
“There was another stranded-in-the-desert thing called The King is Alive. It was a Dogma movie, didn’t cost anything, same basic deal, people stranded in the wilderness. But on a stripped-down budgetary level, Hollywood doesn√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωt know how to make a film like that. They don’t want to know, I mean.
“I’ve actually heard studio guys refer to drama as “the ‘d’ word.
“The phrase you always hear when it comes down to the crunch about whether to greenlight a movie is ‘let’s run the numbers.’ The new kind of studio heads like Jeff Robinov who are ex-studio agents, they all have the same matrix in their heads. They run their p and l’s, profit and loss projections, expectations of earnings in this market, that territory. And I’m telling you this mentality of running the numbers is killing the business.
“Bill Mechanic was the original guy on it, and Michael Mann and Eric Roth worked on it. But then Mann and Mechanic couldn’t come to terms on the deal. But it kept on. Five or six guys wound up writing it in stages.
“Remember when Jeffrey Katzenbeg was running Disney? All the movies started to feel the same? That’s what happening to the movie business as a whole now. They all have to meet the same requirements, and the audience is so chicken these days. Nobody wants to see what’s on the other side, and nobody wants exotic…not really. Everybody wants to see more-or-less familiar. And the adult film is being killed. Studios used to make genre films for adults, and that’s over now.
“We’re getting what we’ve asked for. We really are.
“If I were starting my career now, I would want to be David Chase. That’s who I’d want to be. Doing a show like The Sopranos is the only way to explore character and theme these days and make something that feels like art.
“The old-time executives would bet on a few really good films. Today’s executives have been programmed to skip the heartbeat part. Formula is all. Studio-level jobs are the worst jobs in the world. The way it’s decided, when things are sussed out, they’re all in the room together including the marketing guy, and he always has a very strong voice.
“It’s a free-market economy, and what’s being made is determined by what people want to see. There was this marketing guy who said to me once, “We’re trying to get a younger audience, so we’re retooling the campaign to get the 60 year-olds in.”
“If they were making Dog Day Afternoon today Sonny wouldn’t be robbing a bank to get money for a sex change operation for his lover. He’d need the money now to try and keep his son from dying of cancer.”
The other shoe on Million Dollar Baby clomped down on the pavement a week or so ago. I’m referring to slams by three fairly heavy cats — Slate‘s David Edelstein, Salon‘s Charles Taylor and New York Press critic Armond White.
These guys are far from nutso. They’re sharp and witty samurais who are fully in touch with their aesthetic standards and can expertly slice and dice when they’ve a mind to.
It’s not that I disagree strongly with Taylor and Edelstein√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωs complaints, which boil down to things in this Clint Eastwood film that they find hokey, hard to swallow, manipulative or old-fashioned. White says the movie proves that Eastwood “thinks in simplistic terms that actually deny modern political complications.” He also describes Baby (or is he talking about the third-act turn?) as “the ghost of bogus Hollywood uplift.”
What these guys are saying is like spitting in the wind. They can take shots with their Anthony Mann Winchester repeat-action rifles and it doesn’t matter. If a movie works, you can feel it and there’s no disputing this. Million Dollar Baby may be this, that or the other thing, but it’s basically about a riveting third act that’s been extremely well set up.
As Taylor wrote, “You’re not prepared — even with the air of fatalism — for the jump from one shameless genre to another. It’s impressive, in the sense that a sucker-punch impresses itself on your skull.”
White says it’s all so hoary and predictable that when Eastwood eventually swings his left hook, gullible viewers are caught unawares. They respond inordinately, as if they’d just seen a ghost.”
“There is already buzz about Jane Fonda’s comeback in New Line’s comedy, Monster-In-Law,” Emanuel Levy wrote the other day.
“The most brilliant American actress of the 1970s has not acted since the disastrous Stanley and Iris in 1990,” he continued. “Fonda proves that, contrary to what Henry James said, there are second (and third and fourth) acts in American lives. Fonda is now beginning her next phase.”
I haven’t heard any buzz at all about Monster-in-Law but c’mon…it’s got Jennifer Lopez in the lead, which means there’s a built-in curse because the Gods are four-square against her these days, and there’s no defeating the Gods when they’re in this kind of mood.
Let me tell you about Jane Fonda’s 21st Century comeback, which is actually a case of a thrown-away opportunity along with a disappointing turndown, followed by a fallback decision to star in a who-knows? New Line comedy.
Last year Cameron Crowe offered Fonda an exquisitely written small part in his recently-wrapped Elizabethtown (Paramount, 7.29.05). It was the role of Hollie Baylor, the mother of Drew Baylor, the romantic lead played by Orlando Bloom.
Once Fonda let it be known a year and a half ago (or was it in early ’02?) that she was interested in getting back into acting, Crowe did everything he could to seduce her into playing the part. I’m told he went so far as to drive out to her ranch in New Mexico to personally deliver the script.
But Fonda felt there wasn’t enough to Holly. She had a point at the time. Early drafts made spare use of Holly in the first and second acts — her only big moment was a speech-before-the-family scene in the third act. Crowe understood what Fonda wanted but asked her to take the journey with him on faith, pledging that together they would fix the problems. Fonda hemmed and hawed but finally said no, and Susan Sarandon wound up taking the part.
If you’re a 60ish woman trying for a comeback, you can’t do better than play a plucky mom in a Cameron Crowe film. Opportunities simply don’t get any better than this, but Jane couldn’t show trust and shot herself in the foot. That’s a fact.
Then she tried to land the alcoholic mother role in Jim Brooks’ Spanglish, but Brooks wasn’t quite sure and asked her to read for the part, which Fonda did. Brooks turned her down, giving the role to Anne Bancroft instead. Then Bancroft had to drop out for health reasons and Cloris Leachman stepped in.
So Fonda took the part of Lopez’s nuptial adversary in Monster-in-Law. It might be a great little comedy and Fonda may be perfect in it, but the premise is basically Meet the Parents with Fonda in the Robert De Niro part. The director is Robert Luketic (Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, Legally Blonde). Really…all kidding aside…how good does anyone honestly expect this film to be?
I’m okay. It√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωll all be over soon. Just one more week, and then New Year’s Eve and the final weekend, and then the system will start up again.
Christmas is great as an approaching emotional feeling, but when it finally gets here all you want is for it to be over. It√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωs good for reading books, though. Good for doing quiet-type things. Good for not hearing from anyone. Good for feeling the world has stopped. Good for bike riding, long walks, watching documentaries. Good for testing your mettle by not eating. For me, Christmas is apples and grapes and canned pineapples.
I spent a good part of Thursday editing and composing other columns (two), typing out invoices and insert orders, dealing with technical matters and wondering if it matters if I write a 12.24 column or not. I wish I had the character to blow it off during the down times.
I also watched Paul McGuigan’s Wicker Park on DVD. Not bad. At least it wasn√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωt a thriller. It doesn’t quite deliver as a relationship drama, and there’s no way it’s “a dangerously sexy thriller,” which is a quote from In Touch weekly on the front of the DVD cover.
But I wasn√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωt in agonizing pain watching it, and the leads — Josh Hartnett, Rose Byrne, Diane Kruger, Matthew Lillard — hold up their end fairly well.
Ship vs. Planes
There’s a scene in Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack Dawson — an independent-minded, self-starting, vaguely bumpkinish guy who lives by his own rules — sits down with a bunch of white-tie swells in the first-class dining room. Jack’s a little intimidated at first, but he stands his ground by being himself and explaining a personal philosophy that’s hard to disagree with, which is to always “make it count.”
It’s not a great scene, but it’s a moderately satisfying one. It instills respect for Jack, and at the same time lends a certain warmth by saying that even the blue-bloods can relax and laugh at themselves and show respect for a guy who can look them in the eye.
There’s a scene in The Aviator when DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes — vaguely bumpkinish, independent-minded, self-starting, living by his own rules — sits down with a bunch of Connecticut swells, or rather the family of his girlfriend, actress Katharine Hepburn.
Howard’s a little intimidated at first, but the Hepburns are absurdly rude and snooty to him, which eventually leads to his getting testy and a little bit rude himself.
“We don√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωt care about money here, Mr. Hughes,” says Mrs. Hepburn.
“That’s because you have it,” Howard answers.
“Would you repeat that?”
“You don’t care about money because you have it,” he says again. “And you’ve always had it. My father was dirt poor when I was born…”
“Back in torrid Houston, this would be?” asks Mrs. Hepburn.
“Oh, shut up,” snaps Howard.
“Howard!” Kate exclaims.
“I care about money, Mrs. Hepburn, because I know what it takes out of a man to make it,” Howard continues. “Now if you’ll excuse me I have some aviation nonsense to take care of.”
And then he gets up and bolts out of the room like a six year-old. Kate joins him later on for a croquet game on the back lawn. “I think father rather likes you,” she tells him. “But really, though…you can√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωt retire from the field of battle like that or they’ll never respect you.”
Exactly. Nobody likes a quitter. I suppose this scene (written by John Logan) was meant to act as a counter-weight to the scene at the end when Hughes boldly jousts with Senator Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) in front of a battery of cameras and microphones. But I don’t get why a guy with the balls to slap down an aggressive politician can√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ωt handle himself better with the Hepburns. It doesn’t add up.
A lot of serious-minded critics are saying The Aviator is a near-great film that should win director Martin Scorsese his long-overdue Oscar. They’re dreaming. The dinner-with-the-Hepburns scene is one reason it doesn’t make it. The stylish thing over the last five or six years among critics has been to loathe Titanic, but it’s a far more satisfying thing to watch than The Aviator.
Voice Critics Poll
“Something about that poll seems to bring out the cunty side of too many critics. The snarky comments turn me off; they often dehumanize actors, filmmakers and devalue the sincerity of movies the critics don’t happen to respond to.
“Some of the participants behave like the smart-ass outsider kids in high school who were shut out of the school’s power elite, and avenged themselves by congregating at a particular cafeteria table and making shitty remarks about everyone else in the room, or by going to a school dance and not dancing, but standing off to the side and making fun of everybody else’s dancing.
“That kind of behavior makes the participants feel more powerful, but the power is illusory, and it inadvertently validates other peoples’ negative opinions of them. The Voice poll is a good idea in theory, but in practice I think it gives the general public one more reason to think of critics as smug, elitist bastards.” — Respected New York film critic
How Bad is This?
“As a holiday treat, I took my staff to see a matinee showing of Meet The Fockers. No wonder why Dustin Hoffman referred to it as ‘this thing.’
“There were definitely a few amusing scenes in it — I laughed mildly at those. But it was such a blown opportunity — most of the jokes fell flat and it was full of the most awful ethnic stereotyping I’ve seen in a movie in years. While the Byrnes (DeNiro and Danner) are still the uptight, conservative couple, the portrayal of their opposites was positively offensive.
“This movie probably set back blue-state causes 100 years. The Fockers are portrayed in the film as the most obnoxious, overbearing, nosy and loud Jewish couple on the Eastern seaboard. Their sentences are filled with Yiddish and Hebrew words, and stereotyped ethnic intonation (especially Streisand), that you really had to wonder what country this couple was born in.
“Hoffman is supposed to be a former 60’s radical from Detroit, but every other word out of his mouth was Yiddish or Hebrew — what baby boomer in their 60’s talks like this? Streisand was saying ‘buballeh’ all the time — you’ve got to be kidding!!
“Clearly the movie was meant to have this ‘blue state’ versus ‘red state’ understory, and you could see there was real potential to explore that — but it barely got out of the gate. Teri Polo looks awful compared to the original film — her makeup looks bad and she looks like she’s aged more than a few years. Stiller and DeNiro sleepwalk. I was most excited to see Hoffman, and it was great to see him in a broad comedy — but NOT THIS ONE, in retrospect.
“Frankly, I don’t understand how Hoffman and Streisand, who are both Jewish, would have bought into this ludicrous script and portrayal of their own people. I guess I can play Devil’s Advocate and say ‘This is a comedy and these guys are supposed to be stereotypes.’ But it’s just so extreme in their case that I’m just waiting for the B’nai Brith to go on the warpath.
“Spare yourself.√É¬Ø√Ç¬ø√Ç¬Ω — Drew Kerr
“Regarding Christopher Lee’s thoughts on The Life Aquatic and Bill Murray’s comment that he had to see his own movie three times before he ‘got it’, that’s been the same experience I’ve had on all of Wes Anderson’s movies.
“The first time I watched Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, my reaction was, ‘This is it? this is what the fuss is all about?’ And then you watch the movies again and again, and they grow on you.
“Tenenbaums is now one of my favorite movies and I have endless admiration for Wes Anderson, a director talented enough to actually pull meaningful performances out of two of the 21st century’s most irritating and overrated actors, Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow.” — Michael Zeigler.
“There’s a reason people have to watch Wes Anderson’s movies multiple times (except Bottle Rocket). With every new feature there is less and less narrative flow, less and less development — merely a collection of fully formed, isolated characters that barely interact with one another.
“Once the disconnected vignettes or emotional set-pieces (like car chases in an action film) are seen once and it is clear that they do not form a cohesive whole (except in terms of tone), then upon second and third viewing the audience doesn’t have to worry about ‘where is this film going?’ or ‘what does this all mean?’
“The repeated viewings are therefore like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes, and thus easier on the viewer and so the films sink in, regardless of the fact they seem to be merely tasteful collections of music videos. I don’t think this is a good thing at all, and I am a big Wes Anderson fan. He takes the easy way out and his films have less and less meaning.” — Craig Kaplan
“This time of year in Aspen is amazing. It’s Golddigger week (the last week) and you pretty much get every golddigger and high-end hooker in the country flocking to Aspen like swallows to Capistrano.
“I’ve met some of the contenders and there’s a real hierarchy. The best ones are bright, interesting, charming and very presentable. And very attractive. And worth it.
“The next level down is the aspiring actress type. Donald Trump goes for these women — the top level is out of his league.
“The next level down is a real Town and Country look and an attitude that suggests sophistication and breeding, but if you’ve ever known anyone with real sophistication and breeding you know they make an effort to act normal, not snotty. They’re kinda fascinating and sad. And usually from white trash stock. (They measure everything by dollar value). And when they get too old and haven’t found their scholarship, they can get pretty desperate.
“Next level down from the snotties are the expensive call girls with a slightly sleazy look, all in search of a meal ticket.” — Industry Guy Partying in the Rockies
Wells to L.A. Guy: I take it you’ve had an unsatisfying encounter with a Town and Country girl?
An interesting theory has surfaced as to why Slate‘s David Edelstein, Salon‘s Charles Taylor and New York Press critic Armond White all hate Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. Ready? They’re all Paulettes — i.e., disciples of the late, legendary film critic Pauline Kael — and Kael had a case against Eastwood in her day, and her acolytes have continued to occasionally channel her from the grave. Kael was four-square against Eastwood’s early films. She famously called Dirty Harry a “fascist” movie, and while Eastwood didn’t direct that film, the label stuck. There’s some juicy stuff in Richard Schickel’s Clint Eastwood biography about that hatred. Indeed, one of the entries in the index is actually titled “animus against Eastwood.” If Edelstein, Taylor or White would like to respond or kick this around in any way, get back to me and we’ll thrash it out in Wednesday’s column.