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.
< ?php include ('/home/hollyw9/public_html/wired'); ?>
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.
A new trailer for Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, May 6) is up and running, and it seems…well, like a class act, certainly, but also damned familiar. It’s Gladiator again with a sword-and-arrow battle in a shadowed, blue-tinted forest and those same CG snowflakes in the air. It’s Alexander again with a massive army on horseback charging across a dusty desert plain. It’s Troy again with Orlando Bloom, playing Balian of Ibelin, a young blacksmith in Jerusalem, helping to defend his besieged city. Let’s hope the Fox marketers can push their way past this, because I want this film to make it. It’s about what we’re doing in Iraq now, of course. That’s a given.
This has nothing to do with my head space or the concerns of this column, but New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Drive (a.k.a., “The Lowdown”) deserves a round of applause for vowing in his 12.23 column to never again write about Paris Hilton. “If she discovers a cure for cancer, wins the Nobel Peace Prize, launches herself into outer space — or even gets her high- school diploma — I’ll be happy to revisit the issue,” Grove wrote. “But until then, this is the last time you’ll see Paris in Lowdown.”
All right, everybody calm down: the $68.5 million earned by Universal’s Meet the Fockers since last Wednesday is not an American tragedy. The first weekend is always about marketing, never the film. It’s about people being too lazy to read the reviews or, in this instance, to consider Dustin Hoffman’s referring to the film as “this thing.” (I ran this quote twice.) Always listen to words in passing…they always tell the tale. No one out there loves this film, everyone was disappointed, and it’s the big mega-movie of the moment. Ain’t that America?
Is Oscar-show producer Gil Cates planning any kind of special tribute to the late Marlon Brando for the 2.27 telecast? You’d think this would be a no-brainer (the guy was easily the most influential and iconic actor of the last 55 plus years) and maybe Cates has decided to do the right thing. But Oscar-show editor extraordinaire Chuck Workman (the fast-montage guy who also directed A House on a Hill and the brilliant ’50s doc The Source) hadn’t been told a thing as of 12.26. Mike Shapiro, the guy who usually cuts the Oscar death-tribute reel, wasn’t reachable on Sunday morning (imagine that!) and Cates was in Mexico, but let’s hope Cates is planning a special Brando salute of some kind, as he did for Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn.
“‘We’re all of us sentenced to solitary confinement…inside our own lonely skins for as long as we live in this earth,’ muses Val, the drifter Brando [played] in Tennessee Williams’ The Fugitive Kind. As a statement of majestic desolation, it seems a fitting epitaph for a man who never quite escaped his own raw presence.” — Daphne Merkin on Brando in the 12.26 New York Times Magazine.
“What happens now? It’s just too early to tell. I’m at a crossroads. And I feel good. I feel like I’ve got something out of my system. I feel that I achieved a mountain for myself. A mountain. No matter what, I feel very proud of what I’ve written. I’ve achieved something I’ve wanted to achieve all my life. Whether it’s understood or not — maybe there’s a degree of mysticism in the movie that’s meant to be. And maybe it will be understood better over the years. I’m not sure. But I felt moved. I don’t feel the need to do that thing — that big thing. There’s other ways to go. Maybe more to the self, more personal. You know, retreating to where filmmakers in Europe — Truffaut and Fellini — went: inside. And they dramatized themselves. The question is, would the Americans tolerate that? No.” — Oliver Stone to the New York Times A.O. Scott.
Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (Warner Independent) has been named the year’s finest film (or the #1 film) by the Village Voice 6th Annual Film Critics Poll. The two-character dialogue piece set in Paris had far and away the highest number of points (564), compared to the 4th place Sideways (381)and the eleventh-place Million Dollar Baby. Great for Linklater, great for his costars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy…great all around.