This is astonishing…a very bright critic has fallen for Mr. and Mrs. Smith and is bringing up that ludicrous The War of the Roses analogy in the bargain. Newsweek‘s David Ansen is declaring that “Doug Liman’s heavily armed comedy…. [is] a high-wire act, pitched above a gaping chasm of implausibility, and the remarkable thing is how well Liman and his red-hot stars sustain the joke.” Trust me, there is no joke to get…the utter flatness and lack of recognizable humor in this film is stupefying and incontestable. Ansen acknowledges that the film is “preposterous, but Liman gives it such a seductive, playfully hip texture that you happily embrace the fantasy.” I’m sorry but this simply isn’t possible. You’d have to be zonked on high-grade heroin to be happy while sitting through this film.
A news report says that five and a half hours ago, at 4:20 am Monday morning, Russell Crowe was arrested at Manhattan’s Mercer Hotel for allegedly throwing a telephone at a hotel employee. “He was upset because he couldn’t get a call out to Australia,” said Sgt. Michael Wysokowski. “He threw a phone at the employee hitting him in the face and causing a minor laceration.” What I want to know is, what did this asshole — the hotel employee, I mean — do to provoke Crowe? Seriously…Crowe is too intelligent an actor and too large-of-spirit-and-imagination to throw phones at people just to pass the time of day. The hotel employee obviously didn’t understand the golden rule when dealing with celebrities, which is “don’t fuck with the Gods!” I say get those hotel employee wankers…get ’em! Crowe was expected to appear in Manhattan Criminal Court later on Monday. Remember Tom Petty and don’t back down, Russell! Hollywood Elsewhere is pulling for you and the rights of X-factor artists the world over who can’t help themselves when bad people say and do the wrong things.
There’s a very good piece by David Fellerath at Slate.com that portrays former heavyweight champion Max Baer in much more sympathetic and thorough terms than Ron Howard’s portrayal of Baer in Cinderella Man. Fellrath points out that Baer was a proud Jew who wore a prominent six-pointed star on his trunks. There’s also a star on the trunks worn by Craig Bierko, the charismatic actor who plays Baer, but it’s “significantly less prominent than the one that the real Baer wore in the 1935 fight,” writes Fellerath. “It’s no surprise that Howard would obscure this detail, as it would complicate his film’s Rocky-meets-Seabiscuit narrative.” Fellerath also notes that while Baer is depicted in the film as a guy more or less at peace with having killed a boxer named Frankie Campbell during a 1930 bout, this tragedy in fact “so rattled Baer that he lost four of his next six fights.” He also quotes Baer’s son as saying “it was after he killed Campbell that he started clowning. He started smoking cigarettes and he had nightmares for years.”
Romances between immensely attractive, super-successful movie stars don’t last for all kinds of reasons. I won’t go into all the usual factors but one thing that really throws a monkeywrench into these relationships is when their children — i.e., the movies they make together — turn out badly.
The Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie alliance is toast. I don’t actually know if they’re “with” each other and it’s none of my damn business anyway, but they’re in Mr. and Mrs. Smith together and if my observation has any validity they’re doomed as a couple because their child is a rank embarrassment…thoughtless, pointlessly prettified, emotionally neutered.
Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith
It’s Charlie’s Angels 2 bad, Xanadu bad, Hook bad, Howard the Duck bad. It’s soulless, unfunny (except for some of costar Vince Vaughn’s lines), bombastic, totally sterile and inhuman. Did I leave out hateful?
I don’t want to go over the top here so let me take a breath and step back for a minute or two and collect myself. (Beat.) Okay, I’ve done that…fine. I’m calm. I’m breathing easy. This movie has cancer of the soul. It made my skin crawl.
But it’s tracking really well and 20th Century Fox is going to get a very big opening weekend out of it, and then the word will go out and the public will do whatever. I’m told that the $110 million-plus tab was fronted by New Regency Pictures so Fox probably won’t be hurt that badly.
Mr.and Mrs. Smith might even turn a modest profit. (I just winced after writing that.) I told a friend at Fox News this morning what I think and he replied, “Really? I’ve heard good word of mouth.” And the Hollywood Reporter‘s Michael Rechtshaffen is calling it “a blast” and “explosively funny.” There’s really no accounting for taste.
Rechtstaffen says that Pitt and Jolie “expertly [toss] off the type of well-sharpened banter that was the domain of Gable and Lombard and Tracy and Hepburn, [and] make one swell combative couple.” Forget the banter. The only thing these two have going for each other in this film is the fact that they’re attractive and well photographed.
What happened here? Doug Liman, the director, is one of the hippest and brightest guys working in the big leagues right now. I’m a fan from way back (loved Swingers, adored Go, really liked The Bourne Identity) and I’m just in shock about this.
Remember that wild Las Vegas car chase in Go? Fantastic and funny, beautifully staged and edited…and there isn’t a shred of the same cleverness or whoopee humor in any of the Smith action sequences.
That Matt Damon car-chase sequence through the streets (and over the sidewalks and down the stone staircases) of Paris in The Bourne Identity? It was nearly a classic, right up there with the John Frankenheimer Paris chase sequence in Ronin…and that old Bourne magic vanishes when the Smiths hit the road.
I’m speaking of a freeway car-chase shootout in the third act that reminded me of the highly-touted freeway blastaway in The Matrix Reloaded, which wasn’t that great in retrospect.
Don’t studio execs understand that without a fresh idea or subversive attitude of some kind that sequences filled with bullets and velocity and crashing metal are numbing and infuriating, not to mention totally over?
Doug Liman during shooting of The Bourne Identity.
I’m referring to the Fox and New Regency executives who rode herd on this because Mr. and Mrs. Smith feels a lot more like their film than Liman’s. I know that Liman was very precise and exacting on the set, but this movie is an almost total perversion of everything the words “a Doug Liman film” have meant to me over the last eight or nine years, so I’m figuring studio muscling had to be at least part of the equation…right?
If it wasn’t then I don’t know what to think. I’m stunned.
Ludicrous isn’t the word for the basic idea, which is that John Smith (Pitt) and his wife Jane (Jolie) are both highly skilled assassins who’ve kept their professions hidden from each other and so both are totally clueless until fate intervenes.
The only way to run with this set-up is to accept it as a metaphor. A look at a marriage gone dry in a soulless, money-obsessed culture, and how a typical fast-lane couple manages to renew their desire for each other and fall back in love again.
They accomplish this feat by trying to kill each other. It gets them hot and bothered and re-arouses their libidos.
The problem is that the metaphor isn’t developed or played with to any degree. The internals barely register. You don’t given a damn about Pitt or Jolie’s hearts or souls, much less their marriage, because the film is so invested in gloss and hardware and terrific clothes and one stupendously dull video-game action sequence after another.
Except, that is, for some marital-therapy sessions between Pitt and Jolie that Liman uses as bookends. (I’m guessing these were from the post-principal additional photography shoots, thrown in to humanize their relationship.) Their rapport in this footage feels loose and less constrained in a semi-improvised, Soderbergh-y way. It’s the only thing Pitt and Jolie do in this film that feels the least bit engaging.
I really can’t believe this Rechtshaffen review. He calls it “adult-skewing.” He says “it could have easily been a Hitchcock vehicle.” The “bottom line” tagline above his review says it’s “The Bourne Identity meets The War of the Roses.”
If you want a less obliging, more hard-nosed opinion, consider Todd McCarthy’s
5.29 review in Variety.
If you want a really good film about married-to-each-other assassins, go rent John Huston’s Prizzi’s Honor.
I wrote a piece last March about Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly for the print version of Radar, which had its newsstand debut in mid May. Here’s the article off the Radar site.
Most of what I originally wrote never saw print because Radar wanted the piece tight and quick. The Radar guys are doing a good job. They’ve assembled an attractive, well-designed read, and the online component has been getting some media attention lately, but I figure it can’t hurt to run the Kelly piece in its original form:
In less than two hours, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko went from being the most buzzed-about new film at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival to something of a disappointment. As far as a good number of buyers and journalists sitting in the audience at Park City’s Eccles theatre were concerned, that is. Lights down, lights up…thud.
Richard Kelly, director-writer of Donnie Darko and the forthcoming Southland tales, snapped at the West Hollywood location of Le Pain Quotidien on 3.17.05
Then Darko tanked in theatres when it opened ten months later, and the 26 year-old Kelly (just four years out of USC film school) began his jail sentence in hell.
“I went into a long period of depression,” he says. “2001 was a pretty miserable year. 2002 was nearly as bad. I felt like my career was sliding off the edge of the coast.”
Darko is about a schizophrenic high school kid (Jake Gyllenhaal) who sees into the future while coping with the attentions of a tall phantom rabbit with silver teeth. It gets the loneliness of being a smart perceptive kid living on his own wavelength…which is probably why (eureka!) Darko eventually caught on as an under-30 cult flick. (The DVD has made $10 million, and the director’s cut, re-released into theatres last summer and out on DVD last February, has taken in about $4.7 million.)
Sometime last fall, after three years of being a what’s-your-name-again? director whose projects couldn’t get financing, the fog lifted.
The word got around that Kelly had a pulse again because his script for Domino (New Line, 8.3) — a smartly aggressive action piece that Tony Scott was directing about the real-life Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), a Beverly Hills model who became a bounty hunter — whupped ass.
It also began to seep through that Kelly’s long-planned Southland Tales — a futuristic, darkly comic, vaguely musical L.A. fantasia — had solved its funding problems and was preparing to shoot in July.
Darko star Jake Gyllenhaal, Kelly during filming in ’00.
It was Darko`s dispiriting reception that led Kelly to write Southland Tales “at the height of my depression,” in the spring and summer of ’01. It was about anger and frustration, but also wanting to put together “something really epic, a big tapestry about Los Angeles…given my state of mind at the time, it was bound to be subversive.”
Scott (Man on Fire, Top Gun) became a fan of Tales after reading it in ’02, and translated this enthusiasm into an insistence that Kelly write the Domino script.
Getting this gig “certainly helped my career,” says Kelly, but the tide really turned when a British distribution executive named Ben Roberts, who had distributed Darko in the U.K. before getting hired to run Universal International, “fought really hard” to persuade Universal Pictures to greenlight Southland Tales for $15 million.
A key reason Tales was able to get rolling, according to Kelly’s producer Scott McKittrick, was the commitment of actors like Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a., “the Rock”), Seann William Scott and Sara Michelle Gellar to lower their fees, which was largely about their admiration for Darko.
Kevin Smith, who did the voice-over commentary with Kelly on the Darko DVD, is playing a legless Iraqi War veteran.
Tales is set in Los Angeles of 2008, over the 4th of July weekend. It’s partly about the loneliness of life in L.A. and trying to hustle a living in the entertainment industry, and partly about coming political chaos — the action occurs in the wake of political hysteria that has turned the country into an ultra-surveilled police state.
Kelly says some of the music will be composed by Moby. (The film’s website has a quote from Perry Farrell, which seems to indicate he’s also part of the mix.) He also warns against anyone looking for any kind of traditional break-into-song scheme.
“If you don’t like musicals there’s no way this will fall into the category of offense,” he says. “When people see it they’ll go `Hmm…that’s subtle.’ In the end, I may be the only human being on earth who actually considers it to be a musical.”
An early visualization of the police-state atmosphere in Southland Tales.
Kelly, who turned 30 on 3.28, is Irish-looking — fair skin, freckles — and has an easy-going manner. He calls himself “an aging frat guy who likes to go out and have a good time.” But when he puts on his filmmaker’s cap he becomes the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and a different mentality comes through.
It’s not like Kelly is against commercial films, but so far the indications are that he’s into satiric, subversive, sci-fi mindblower-type stuff …and come what will of it. His current passion is for Philip K. Dick (the author of “Blade Runner” and “I Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” which became Total Recall) and, as Southland Tales shows, the whole illuminate-the-present-by-showing-a-twisted-future thing.
The son of a NASA engineer, Kelly was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia. His talent at drawing and painting got him into art studies at USC, but he transferred to film studies when art courses drove him crazy.
Kelly might be lonely and a bit of a dweeb at heart (like all writers…don’t get him started on women). He talks like a grounded adult and seems to know about focus and discipline. But ask him a question and he digresses and meanders. (You have to keep going back and ask it repeatedly — he’ll eventually cough up an answer.)
Becoming famous “has certainly helped me get more dates with women,” he comments. “All the sorority girls at USC thought I was interesting but kind of dark and weird. They were more into the guys from Orange County who were going to be stockbrokers. I got made fun of a lot for being a cinema student, and after a while it started to get to me. I started to doubt myself, and writing Darko was my response to that self-doubt.
Kelly isn’t all about ominous heavy-osity. He once made an “aggressively stupid” frat-boy movie in film school — a Super 8 effort called The Vomiteer.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone in Donnie Darko
“It was just me being an idiot frat guy with a fraternity brother…being that guy, a guy who can’t stop vomiting, and he’s isolated because of that. It was a ridiculously stupid short film…it was basically about me trying stage to really good puke scenes. We found different ways of using the hose and having it come out of his mouth.”
But his next student film, The Goodbye Place, was more serious and ambitiously filmed, and when it was done and shown to his fellow students, Kelly knew (or at least began to believe) that he had the makings of real filmmaker.
USC’s film school “is a very cutthroat environment,” he recalls. “If your film sucks, you’re going to hear that. Everyone goes to USC thinking they’re going to be the next George Lucas, and when they get there they realize it’s a lot harder. But after I showed this film at the end of my junior year, I got an overwhelming feedback. The instructors were giving me pats on the back.”
Kelly’s favorite films of all time, he says, are two Kubricks — 2001: A Space Odyssey and “the masterpiece, one of the most profound films ever made,” Barry Lyndon.
Kelly’s most recent gun-for-hire gig was writing a screenplay for a $100 million, special-effects-heavy World War II film about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, based on Doug Stanton’s “In Harm’s Way.”
The Warner Bros. production would be about the torpedoing of the famed U.S. destroyer in July 1945, as well as the horrible five-day ordeal that roughly 900 sailors went through in the water while waiting to be rescued. Over 300 were eaten by sharks, and only 317 survived. Kelly calls it “the tightest thing I’ve ever written.”
Painting depicting the rescue of the survivors of the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in July, 1945.
Because of the 317 men who lived, Kelly has titled his WWII script Optimistic. Does this suggest a basic philosophy? There’s a temptation to presume that.
Attention: For a taste of the mood and some of the musical inclinations of Southland Tales, check out the very cool website that Kelly has been developing and constantly adding to over the last few months.
Devin Gordon’s recent, very glowing Newsweek article got me excited about seeing Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins (Warner Bros., 6.15), and then I was invited to see it last night (Thursday, 6.2) at 7 pm.
But my friend at Warner Bros. assumed I knew where the screening room was and I didn’t, and I couldn’t find the damn thing and now I’ll have to wait until Monday night’s showing.
First I went to the old Warner Bros. headquarters at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, which is where Warner Bros. used to have a screening room when I was living here and starting out 25 years ago. No go, and the guy at the desk didn’t have a clue where it might be.
The bicycle rickshaw guy who peddled me over to Columbus Circle, taken on our way up Sixth Avenue — Thursday, 6.2.05, 7:12 pm.
I kept asking and pleading, and then another lobby security guy in a blue sports jacket finally said, “Columbus Circle!”
It was 7:05 pm…shit! I sprinted over to Sixth Ave. but there were no cabs, so I took one of those coolie bicycle cabs — 20 bills! — up Sixth and over to Columbus Circle, and it was kinda cool riding in one of those things. These coolie cabs can really maneuver around traffic and make good time. But I felt badly for the driver when we hit the slight uphill grade going west on Central Park South. The poor guy was huffing and puffing and sweating like a dog.
The guy dropped me off and I finally found the Warner headquarters on the side of the building but again, no go. Screening? Who? Batman? What?
By this time it was 7:25 pm and I knew the game was over. As I stood in the lobby Larry King walked in and some well-tended middle-aged woman came up to him and went “Lahrry!” and gave him a hug and an air-kiss. This only made me feel worse, for some reason.
I walked outside and sat down on some kind of shiny knee-high chrome sculpture…dejected, depressed and faintly pissed.
And So It Starts
A guy named Chuck Rudolph wrote Wednesday with a beef about my Cinderella Man review, and I responded to him point for point. Here’s how it went down:
“I just read your piece on Cinderella Man shortly after reading a review by one of the best critics out there (and one on your temp turf), Matt Seitz of the New York Press.
“I thought your piece did a fair job of summing up what you found to be the film’s perks without grandstanding or overselling, yet I couldn’t help but wonder why you seemed content to skim the surface and never get into the real meat of the film.
“Cinderella Man is obviously going to be considered a serious film by a lot of people, so why not treat it as such with a sharper review?”
Russell Crowe (left) as Jim Braddock in Cinderella Man.
Wells to Rudolph: I got into the meat that is there, as presented and assembled by Howard. I don’t think he made a feel-good movie about the Depression. I think he made a movie about a guy who got focused and motivated by life kicking him and his family in the ass. I relate to this. This is how it works sometimes. This is how it worked with Jim Braddock.
Ron Howard’s films will always be indictable for attempting to stir the emotions in ways that are not in synch with the aesthetics of raw unvarnished realism. Matt isn’t wrong in saying what he’s said, but it’s just a way of looking at this thing. It’s not the only way. You should go to see it before spouting off.
Rudolph: You write that Braddock lucked into his underdog run…
Wells: He did, pretty much.
Rudolph: “And that suggests his second chance at a boxing career ran no deeper than such.”
Wells: As Tennessee Williams once wrote, “Sometimes there’s God…so quickly!”
Rudolph: “You go on about the performances (and you’re probably right about Giamatti), but you seem disinterested in the nature of the characters that are being performed and what they represent in the film’s scheme. (Paddy Considine is of so little importance his character is really called “friend-of-Jim Braddock”?)
Wells: Considine’s character is a representation of the leftist social ferment that was brewing back then. Big fucking deal. It’s okay that he’s there, it’s another thread in the weave, but I’m not going to disgress into a big political thing because of this character.
Rudolph: Overall you seem to be playing down the fact that this is a Ron Howard movie (‘a few Ron Howard-y touches here and there, but not so you’d really notice’) because you know what that entails but you fell for it anyway: manipulative bullshit.
Wells: It’s manipulative, but it’s not bullshit. It is recognizably real in terms of facts, emotionality, behavior. The story is based on truth.
Rudolph: “I may be oversimplifying but as someone who through experience has come to more or less believe in the auteur theory (by way of Truffaut, recently reprinted in the Jules and Jim DVD), and the statement that ‘I don’t believe in good and bad films. I believe in good and bad directors.’ There’s nothing in your piece that indicates, no matter how much you want to talk about Howard not pushing the buttons too much, that this is anything other than a Ron Howard movie, i.e. a movie that glosses over facts and ignores reality in order to make his subject more audience-friendly.”
Wells: I don’t doubt that Howard has ignored something (or some things) in Braddock’s story. And so fucking what? Everybody cuts and prunes and shapes in order to achieve the end that they’re after. Elia Kazan chopped out two thirds of Steinbeck’s East of Eden to make the movie that he made. Does that mean he’s a manipulative bullshitter?
Rudolph: “Who cares about the emotional buttons when Howard so easily manipulates deeper themes to sell his audience lies about themselves and this country?”
Wells: Howard will always sugar-coat (but not as much as he used to) and romanticize and fiddle around with things in order to make what he wants to come out, come out. This is not a criminal offense.
Rudolph: “Maybe you think he does a good job of examining the social conditions of Braddock’s life and makes a fair case for him as an honest underdog champion, but then why not talk about it in your review?”
The real Jim Braddock (left) and Max Baer, in snaps taken sometime around 1934 or ’35 or thereabouts.
Wells: He does a fairly decent job of depicting the social conditions. It didn’t seem deceptive or dishonest to me. I recognized the Depression milieu he created as more or less the same Depression milieu I’ve been absorbing through books, movies, articles and documentaries since I was ten or twelve years old. I used to hate Ron Howard and his overly massaged and commercial approach to moviemaking, but he’s a much better, significantly more honest filmmaker now. He’s not making Far and Away here.
Rudolph: “What’s sticks out to me in Seitz’s review is the line ‘the movie encourages us (just as the Depression-era media encouraged fight fans) to view Braddock as an emblem of the common man’s aspirations.’ What that’s saying is that Howard is hustling audiences with this movie just like fight promoters hustled crowds back during the Depression.
Wells: Is Matt saying that the people who identified with Braddock and fell for the come-from-behind legend were being sold a bill of goods and were suckers? That the real Braddock story was…what?….less difficult or more layered than the ones we’re shown in the film, or the one that was conveyed to the masses by newspaper writers back in the early to mid ’30s? If this is the case, okay. The reality probably was blurred to some extent. But this doesn’t invalidate the central theme of the film, which is that when life puts your feet to the fire and really clobbers you two or three times, you can either get going and fight back…or you can fold your tent and become a drunk or whatever.
Rudolph: I would hope that a contemporary film about this subject would have the intelligence to at the very least acknowledge this symmetry, but knowing Howard’s track record it seems doubtful that Seitz is off-base here, and your review more or less confirms that for me — the film didn’t have you looking any deeper than the superficiality Howard was shoving down your throat, and that you’re praising him for doing it in such a mild-mannered fashion only speaks to the insidiousness of his touch. You sound like one of the people who got hustled, and you’re happy about it.
Russell Crowe as the legendary Jim Braddock, Paul Giamatti as his manager Joe Gould in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man.
Wells: I am content that what Howard showed me was a reasonable facsimile of life (and particular lives) back then. I recognized what I saw as a reasonably accurate depiction of a lot of things, both sociologically specific and metaphorical and spiritual and what-have-you. I don’t feel the hate about this film that I’ve felt about Howard’s films in the past. I hate crapola in all its forms. I don’t feel this way about Cinderella Man.
Rudolph: “I guess I’m just disappointed that you seemed to have been suckered by the film. Your nose for bullshit is usually pretty strong and you not too long ago even coined the incredibly perceptive term “ape cage” in your ’05 preview (which my friends and I have been using ever since to describe movies like, well, Cinderella Man)…but this review makes it sound like you’ve fallen into that very demographic.”
Wells: It’s a stirring, compassionate film. It does not shovel what I could call bullshit. It massages things to tell a kind of truth that has a basic validity. Ron Howard and Ken Loach live on different planets. Frankly? I like the post-Apollo 13 Howard for his filmmaking chops and tendencies better than I do Loach.
I know — that makes me an idiot. But Ken Loach is not God. He’s just a middle-aged British guy who feels and sees things a certain way, and has drawn certain conclusions and put them into his films. Fine. That doesn’t make him the Dalai Lama.
No explanation or relation to anything in today’s column, but this happens to be one of the more alluring snaps I’ve ever taken. And not just that. I can seriously see this photo hanging on a gallery wall some day. It’s got something. Maybe because it was taken in a kitchen.
Interior of the Brooklyn-based office of Hollywood Elsewhere — Tuesday, 5.31, 4:40 pm.
Okay, forget that whole Sharon Waxman-suggested scenario about Paramount chairman Brad Grey hesitating about bankrolling Mission Impossible 3 because of…well, Waxman vaguely implies this is due to concerns or at least questions about Tom Cruise’s recent oddball behavior. A seriously informed source says the reason why an un-named Viacom executive told Waxman that “no definitive decision has been made” about M:I3 is because of…ready to be surprised?…Cruise’s deal. Specifically, his “massive and unreasonable” back-end deal, which is around 30% of the first dollar. (He doesn’t take upfront cash.) With the budget of M:I3 pushing toward $180 million (yup, that’s what I’m hearing) and with a first-time director (J.J. Abrams), Grey and Co. aren’t anxious to pay off a monster-sized deal that was made by Par’s previous regime. “And they really will pull the plug if need be, or so goes the talk,” my guy says. If you really want to get tricky about it, I guess the Cruise-acting-slightly-wacko theory plays into Par’s court because the more this viewpoint gets around, the weaker or less together Cruise appears to gossip hounds as well as certain Scientology-dissers in the press, which eventually seeps down to the Average Joe’s and translates into a general lowering of Cruise’s stock due to everyone going “what’s up with this fucking guy?” and this, finally, bounces back into Cruise’s corner and his agents have to lower his price because their client has backed them into a corner without a strong hand to play.
What I’m not quite understanding from the various has-Tom-Cruise-gone-crazy? pieces, and particularly from Sharon Waxman’s report in today’s (6.2) New York Times, is why, exactly, Paramount Pictures is apparently re-thinking its support of Cruise’s Mission Impossible 3. As Waxman points out, many millions have already been spent on the action thriller, the total estimated M:I3 budget is around $150 million, and the projected start date is July 18. And yet Paramount chairman Brad Grey is seemingly reluctant to give a final green-light. This conclusion hinges on a quote from an executive with Viacom, Paramount’s parent company, telling Waxman that “no definitive decision has been made…it’s a discussion.” Okay, but why? Cruise’s recently eccentric, unusually passionate behavior (stronger-than-normal Scientology advocacy, a relationship with Katie Homes that no one believes is real, jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch) is playing so oddly that Paramount is sensing some kind of flame-out? They’re fearful that maybe the public is cooling on Cruise a tiny bit? They’re starting to see him as a bit less of a slick actor-producer-breadwinner and bit more of a spectacle unto himself and therefore less of a solid commercial contender? I’m not saying Cruise is edging into Michael Jackson territory — I’m just trying to divine what’s being implied by these stories. (Richard Corliss’ take in Time is another one.) Some might say this turn was inevitable when Cruise decided to hand p.r. duties over to his sister, LeAnne Devette, who is heavily supportive of Scientology herself and therefore less circumspect and less neutrally professional about handling Cruise, Inc. than Cruise’s former handler, PMK/HBH’s Pat Kingsley, might have been if Cruise hadn’t let her go. Something tells me if Kingsley were running the show right now, there wouldn’t be this media atmosphere swirling around…even if doesn’t make a lot of sense. Par’s War of the Worlds is going to do massive business, the last two Mission Impossible films were cash cows, and Cruise has always been a methodical, hard-nosed pro who gets movies made smartly, on-time and on-budget so…I don’t get it. Theories and speculation are welcome.
Cinderella Man isn’t quite stupendous, but it’s honest and earnest and has dignity and heart, and if you don’t respond to it on some deep-down human level there’s probably something you should have inside that’s not there.
And it’s an actual movie, which definitely qualifies it as an oddity in the current summer season. So count on this one plus Hustle & Flow, Mad Hot Ballroom, Cronicas and Hans Petter Moland’s The Beautiful Country to do the job between now and Labor Day, at the very least.
Russell Crowe as the legendary Jim Braddock, Paul Giamatti as his manager Joe Gould in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man.
Cinderella Man is easily the best, most emotionally rewarding mainstream flick of the year so far, and that’s not a left-handed way of saying it’s the best application of traditional thematic uplift…although it is that, I suppose.
And the Fistbiscuit crack applies, yes, but there’s no turf-sharing in terms of quality.
Like Seabiscuit, Cinderella Man (Universal, 6.3) is a 1930s Depression saga about a sports figure — an Irish boxer named James Braddock (Russell Crowe) — who was up and flush in the late 20s and then down after the 1929 crash and then fighting badly and presumed to be over…like a lot of people were assuming about themselves and even the country as a whole.
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But then Braddock lucked into another chance and made good on it big-time by taking the heavyweight championship title from the formidable Max Baer, who had killed a guy in the ring and maybe another one besides (a delayed response thing), and in so doing struck a chord with working people struggling to make do in that horrible period.
The mythological similarities aside, Cinderella Man has been crafted by director Ron Howard with a good deal more poignancy and grace and laid-back confidence than Gary Ross was able to summon for Seabiscuit.
And Crowe can act circles around the horse (or horses) who played Seabiscuit and he can also box like a sonuvabitch. And damned if he doesn’t look an awful lot like the real Jim Braddock…as far as his weight loss and genetic inheritance and the first-rate makeup allow for, I mean.
Cinderella Man also has the absolutely genius-level Paul Giamatti, who got a round of applause during the closing credits at last night’s all-media screening at Manhattan’s AMC Empire 25.
Let’s say it right here and now — Giamatti is a guaranteed lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination next year.
It’s way too early to even think about making blanket calls about winners, but given the fact that everyone knows that Giamatti has been burned twice — last year when he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor for Sideways and the year before when the Academy ignored his American Splendor performance — he’s looking like a very heavily favored guy at this stage.
Every movie that connects with audiences (and believe me, this one will) says something that everyone including your grandfather recognizes as honest and true. The message of Cinderella Man, simply put, is that there’s nothing like getting heavily and repeatedly kicked in the ass (like having to deal with hopelessness and soup kitchens and bread lines, having no job, being unable to pay the electricity bill, seeing your kids go hungry) to give your life a certain focus.
What did I love about Cinderella Man the most, apart from the story and production designer Wynn Thomas’s convincing `30s milieu and Salvatore Totino’s cinematography and the pitchperfect performances? The fact that Howard hangs back for the most part and doesn’t push the emotional buttons too strongly.
I love that after an establishing prologue of six ro seven minutes Howard takes things into a downer struggling mode and keeps them there for a full 45 minutes.
And then when the turnaround stuff finally starts to happen he doesn’t lather it and try and beat you up with it. We know that the story is a classic come-from-behind uplifter and this is why Howard is making the film, etc., but it doesn’t feel as if he’s hustling you. He’s telling a true story, after all, and holding back for the most part and just letting it come together on its own terms.
Okay, he throws in some inspirational Irish music here and there and gives us a few Ron Howard-y touches here and there, but not so you’d really notice.
Over the last few years, and particularly since he got into his 50s, Ron Howard has been getting better and better. A Beautiful Mind, The Missing (an undervalued, tough-as-nails western) and now this…perhaps the best film of his life.
Cinderella Man is longish (two hours and 20 minutes), but it doesn’t feel that way because the attention paid to this and that detail in the early sections totally pays off in the third act. Congratulations to Howard, his partner/producer Brian Grazer, and screenwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind ) for deciding to let the story takes its time and in so doing imparts a certain confidence.
The climax of the down period comes when the destitute Braddock, desperate to get the power in his family’s cold-water flat turned back on, goes to a bar to beg change from his former cronies and supporters in the boxing game. It’s a painful scene, but it’s real and believable and penetrating as hell.
The five or six fight sequences are exciting and beautifully cut, and I didn’t care if they were as original as Scorsese’s Raging Bull sequences appeared back in `80.
The real Jim Braddock (left) and Max Baer, in snaps taken sometime around 1934 or ’35 or thereabouts.
The big climax, which lasts about 25 or 26 minutes, depicts, of course, Braddock’s fight against the heavyweight champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko). I knew who the winner would be, but it didn’t matter because the film is so well shot and edited and you’re so heavily invested.
Crowe’s performance is a total home run. As Braddock’s wife Mae, Renee Zellweger gives her least off-putting performance since Jerry Maguire. (She almost made me forget about the last Bridget Jones film.)
Bierko’s Baer is a trip and a half. I loved his wild-ass expressions and goofing off in the ring, and how he flips this over in an instant and turns into a beast out for blood.
I loved Bruce McGill’s hard-nosed fight promoter character. McGill nails it every time (Collateral, Matchstick Men, The Insider) and has become one of most dependable character actors around, bar none.
I even found a place in my heart for Paddy Considine’s friend-of-Jim-Braddock character…a political activist-slash-working man….and that’s saying something given my lingering feelings about that “fee-fi-fo-fum” scene in Jim Sheridan’s In America.
See this movie at an early and an off-hour show this weekend and avoid the lines. They’ll be there, trust me.
Hal Holbrook, who played “Deep Throat” in All The President’s Men (but without the moustache, and lit so darkly he was barely visible), and former FBI honcho Mark Felt (circa 1980), who’s been revealed by Vanity Fair as the actual Deep Throat who passed along hot leads about the Watergate scandal to Bob Woodward in that mythical underground garage. It’s interesting that President’s Men director Alan Pakula chose Holbrook, who vaguely resembled Felt (grey hair, shape of face and nose, etc.). It was just a coincidence, but now we finally know that Holbrook and the real guy weren’t that genetically dissimilar.
Sixteen columnist Jett Wells will turn 17 on June 4th, so we changed the name of his column accordingly. Just wanted to announce this in case anyone is thrown by this. Jett will be bunking it at Hollywood Elsewhere’s Brooklyn headquarters this summer, and will be interning afternoons for columnist George Rush at the New York Daily News while taking a couple of journalism courses at NYU.
Rourke Did It
In my piece last Friday about Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon (just out on DVD) and particuarly Mickey Rourke’s mood hair, I asked critic and screenwriter F.X. Feeney if he could offer whatever he knows, as Feeney is a Cimino confidante from way back. F.X. replied a day or so later:
“You’re wrong [in your negative recollections about] Year of the Dragon,” he began, “and I’ll say why in a moment, but let’s first address the issue of ‘mood hair.’
“I’ve never talked with Cimino about it, though other folks who were involved in the film told me that Michael had grayed Mickey’s hair simply to give him a bit of wintery gravitas in the role. They ‘froze’ the level of gray before cameras rolled.
“But then Mickey, who had his own hairstylist, felt compelled to experiment. He also didn’t tell Michael, who didn’t discover the problem (he had countless other fish to fry) until it was too late to fix. Ah, well!
“Fortunately there is so much else to admire about the film. I can certainly understand why I was in the minority, loving it in 1985. The vociferous racism of Stanley White was off-putting, and to many fellow boomers watching even felt foolishly heretical, given the bloodily hard won successes of the civil rights movement in the previous two decades.
“I nevertheless felt it was authentic — I’m the cousin and nephew of cops. They’re all good yet hard-hearted guys, one way or another. They have to be. White’s roughness is even a necessary evil — he’s the guy we ask to do society’s dirty work.
“White’s displays of racism were thus redeemed in my mind by being so open. Everybody else in the room was just as racist if not more so (including all the Chinese guys) but Stanley’s prejudices were on the table for all to see. A deliberate provocation, by way of clearing the air and coming straight to the point.
“Look at how fully dimensional Joey Tai, played by John Lone, is. He’s as much the protagonist of the film as Rourke’s Stanley. Proof is in the long digressive sequence when we follow Joey high into the hills of Burma, where he meets the drug-smuggling mercenaries in whose ranks he was schooled.
“It’s a homecoming filmed with a peculiar grandeur — a kind of Palm Sunday sequence. Joey is both a messianic figure and entirely self-made. He’s capable of love and loyalty, as we see when (however deadpan) he bargains for the life and dignity of his former master. The depth of his ruthlessness (as an evil necessity in its own right, if he is to survive) comes a breathtaking instant later when he parks the severed head of White Powder Ma on the table.
Michael Cimino during making of The Deer Hunter.
“Thus, I accept (the aptly named) White’s racism as not the point of the film, but as a bold figure in its design, just as I do that of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Searchers. Neither that classic nor this one is racist at heart — both are humanist films which acknowledge racism as a tragic if high energy given of the human condition.
“I’m really surprised that American film critics haven’t about-faced en masse regarding Year of the Dragon over the past 20 years. European and Asian critics have always loved it, as have audiences. I blame prejudice in the American critical establishment, against Cimino.
“John Ford’s The Searchers (one of American crix’s holiest of holies); Hong Kong action flicks, which came into its super-duper vogue three or four years after Year of the Dragon; the racism pouring from the mouths of Tarantino’s characters…these things are either tolerated without qualm or openly celebrated by American critics. And yet Year of the Dragon still gets beat up on a small technical foul like `mood hair.’ Amazing!”
Wells to Feeney: An excellent reply, F.X., and well thought-out…thanks. It’s entirely possible that the DVD release of Year of the Dragon will rejuvenate its reputation and perhaps, to some extent, even Cimino’s.
But let’s re-acknowledge that in the minds of many critics and film historians Michael Cimino will always be regarded, fairly or unfairly, as the self-indulgent pariah who singlehandledly decimated the power (psychological or otherwise) that auteur-level directors were still enoying in the film industry when Heaven’s Gate came out in ’81.
With one fell swoop this magnificent era was over after the flop of that turgid, bloated, still-ignominious film, and then Steven Bach’s “Final Cut” — the former UA exec’s first-hand recollection of the Heaven’s Gate debacle — cemented Cimono’s reputation as a guy who did more to bring this era to a crashing close than anyone or anything else.
Michael Cimino in Paris in 2001.
And then Cimino became this cruious recluse and all-around weird guy. What was his thing about wearing cowboy hats all the time? I remember that straw shitkicker cowboy hat he wore during his time on the dais at a Showest in ’94 or ’95, and all the journalists there saying “what the fuck?”
Cimino has always been a filmmaker who at least deserves respect if not admiration, but he’s seemingly done everything he can to create this counter-impression of a guy whose various quirks and weirdnesses mean more to him than anything else. What’s with the radical plastic surgery and lightening his hair color and all?
These phsycal alterations probably triggered that dopey mid ’90s rumor about Cimino having had a sex-change operation. I always loved your theory about this, F.X., which is that Cimino was too visually exacting and demanding to settle for a surgically altered female version of himself…his standards were too high to allow this to happen.
I just think if Cimino really wanted to get back into things and be a normal human being again, he would just loosen and up and come out into the world and get funding for new movies somehow and just go for it. And then, probably, critics would start to take another look and reconsider or re-think things. But no…Cimino has to be “Michael Cimino” the nutbag, and that’s pretty much his doing.
Manhattan skyline from Williamsburgh bridge — Sunday, 5.29, 5:30 pm.
Looking northeast from corner of 7th Avenue and 42nd Street — Tuesday, 5.31, 9:05 pm…just after Cinderella Man screening.
Wall art just west of Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn.
Looking west on 42nd Street toward Eighth Avenue — Tuesday, 5.31, 9:12 pm.
Most Holy Trinity church, Catholic, built in 1884 — Montrose Avenue, Brooklyn.
Earnest proletariat-style facade of Brooklyn headquarters of Hollywood Elsewhere during the summer of ’05.
East side of Third Avenue between 59th and 60th, facing north — Sunday, 5.29, 5:40 pm.
“Neckface”-defaced Batman billboard — facing south, adjacent to Williamsburg bridge.
“The subways are rank…with the smell of urine!”
El Brilliante cafe on Montrose — a big plate of eggs, real greasy sausage, toast, hot potatoes and coffee for only $3 bucks and small change.
Main entrance of Most Holy Trinity church.
“Neckface” refrain — Bedford Avenue near 1st Street.
When Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughn dropped by my UCLA Sneak Preview class in early April, I asked if he could confirm that he’ll be directing X-Men 3. Vaughan said he’d just come from a meeting an hour or two earlier at 20th Century Fox to discuss just this, and said he didn’t want to do the X-Men sequel if he couldn’t give it a particular flavor and inner life of his own. (The Hollywood Reporter quoted him as saying he wanted to bring “more heart” to the next episode.) Clearly, Vaughan had doubts about Fox’s willingness to let this happen to his satisfaction. I then brought up director Franc Roddam…the ultimate example of a British director who’d made an excellent film (Quadrophenia) and was thereafter imported by Hollywood only to make bigger-budgeted, more formulaic stuff like The Lords of Discipline, which brought about a huge career devaluation. Vaughan said he was aware of this potential and wasn’t about to follow in Roddam’s footsteps…and reiterated he wouldn’t direct X-Men 3 unless the deal looked and felt exactly right to him. And now, almost two months later, the other shoe has dropped: 20th Century Fox said Tuesday that Vaughn is giving up the reins of X-Men 3 over “personal reasons.”
Variety‘s Todd McCarthy is the first big gun to weigh in on Mr. and Mrs. Smith (20th Century Fox, 6.10), and…let’s see, the opening sentence says that “marital therapy acquires life-or-death ramifications [in this] exhaustingly elaborate romantic fantasy actioner.” Uh-oh. “Built on the cutesy premise that a great-looking husband and wife are paid killers without the other knowing about it, the at-least $110 million two-hander pirouettes entirely on the script’s whimsical approach to serious business and the charm generated by leads Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But it doesn’t take long for the souffle to fall.” Yikes. McCarthy adds that “this is one of those films for which viewers willing to buy into the premise might happily go along for the ride…[but] for those who find it resistible, if not preposterous, Mr. & Mrs. Smith proves a very long haul indeed. The sheer weight and volume of mayhem toward the end is numbing and meaningless, and two hours is a good 25 minutes more than such a frail conceit can sustain.” For what it’s worth, a female journo (and non-critic) who’s seen it says “there’s a ton of heat between Brad and Angie, it gives Brad a chance to be very cute and funny, Angie looks less likely to transmit angst in this role than in any of her other movies, and as long as you don’t attempt to think about the plot at all, it’s lots of fun.”
Six or seven weeks ago I called Hans Petter Moland’s The Beautiful Country (Sony Classics, July 8) “some kind of masterwork…one of the most profound and compassionate and finely nuanced films about the rough-and-tumble, never-say-die life of a roaming, disenfranchised person I’ve ever seen.” Only no one voiced their agreement and I couldn’t figure out why because it’s an extraordinarily fine film and I know what I’m talking about. But now — finally! — N.Y. Daily News critic Graham Fuller has joined forces with a blurb that appeared in 5.29’s Sunday Now section, to wit: “Though it has generated little buzz so far, this wrenching sea-and-road odyssey could attract Oscar attention next year.” The main character Binh (Damien Nguyen), a 20 year-old Vietnamese whose American parentage has made him an outcast among his own people, “toughens and gains in wisdom as he ventures into the heart of a different kind of darkness — and out the other side,” Fuller adds. The Beautiful Country is “a road (and sea) movie in the most profound sense of that term,” I wrote on 4.20.05, “and a story about the resilience of the human spirit (although I have mixed feelings about describing it this way, given how totally full-of-shit that last proclamation sounds)…it’s a movie about restraint, restraint and more restraint…and eventually, huge payoffs. Especially during the last 20 minutes or so, when the great Nick Nolte arrives.”
I’ve never patted or pinched the ass of any unacquainted person in my life, male or female, and if someone were to pat or pinch my derriere the groper would be sorry about this immediately, trust me…unless she happened to be an attractive woman, of course. Why am I talking about this stupid subject? Because there’s something bizarre about the following AP news report, which is linked to a front page call-out on the cyber edition of the N.Y. Daily News: “The actor Christian Slater [now appearing in The Glass Menagerie with Jessica Lange) was arrested early Tuesday for allegedly groping a woman on a Manhattan street, police said. Slater, 35, was accused of touching the woman’s buttocks near 93rd Street and Third Avenue on the Upper East Side around 1:50 a.m., said a police spokesman, Detective John Sweeney. The woman, who was not identified, flagged down police to report the incident, Sweeney said. Slater was found nearby and the woman identified him as the man who groped her.” How stupid is Slater? In this day and age what kind of dumb-ass cops a feel on a New York Street and assumes it will go down agreeably with the woman and nothing bad will come of it? (And yet it sounds like an incomplete story…I don’t think we’re getting all the details…an enterprising reporter needs to do some digging.) Isn’t it funny how Al Pacino can do that bit in Heat (“Because she has a…great ass! And you’ve got your head all the way up it!”) and everyone laughs because they know where he’s coming from, but when a guy like Slater does a dumbbell thing like ass-patting on 93rd Street everyone recoils and wonders what the hell. I’ll tell you what Slater’s problem might be. Being a name actor, he might have decided that the rule we all live by, which is that we’ve got to hold it in until it’s cool to let it out, doesn’t apply to guys in his position.
I haven’t paid to see a midnight movie in a lonng time. I don’t even go to midnight madness screenings at film festivals. I don’t even watch DVDs at midnight in my crib. But I’m glad they’re happening and that people like going to them. If for nothing else than tradition’s sake.
Today’s midnight movie culture (if you want to call it that) may not have much of a relation to what it was in the `60s and `70s, when the phenomenon was festive and throbbing and influencing this and that mainstream filmmaker. Youth culture was turning everything upside down back then, and midnight movies were the cinematic component of this.
Zombie shuffle scene from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
The difference is that today’s midnight screenings, however enjoyable they might seem to you or your friends, are about marketing. There are eclectic venues here and there — Seattle’s Grand Illusion cinema comes to mind — showing fringe stuff. But the feeling of grass-roots taboo-breaking and discovery has fallen away, for the most part.
It was de rigueur to get high before seeing these `70s films, partly (largely?) because they played better this way. I almost don’t want to see Greaser’s Palace or Putney Swope again because I don’t turn on any more and I don’t want to spoil memories of laughing my ass off, ripped, at the absurdist humor. Directed and written by the once-great Robert Downey Sr., these films never said to the audience, “This is funny — you’re supposed to laugh now.” Either you got it or you didn’t.
In any event, for those too young or insufficiently adventurous to have sampled this culture in its prime, there’s now an authoritative documentary by Stuart Samuels called Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream.
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It will air on Starz Encore sometime this summer, and maybe, says Samuels, in a theatre somewhere near you before that. It should play the midnight circuit, right? And there will be a long shelf life for the DVD, which will have all kinds of extras.
Midnight Movies is about the “hidden history” of six low-budget cult flicks — Alejandro Jodorowky’s El Topo, George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, Jim Sharman’s Rocky Horror Picture Show and David Lynch’s Eraserhead.
The reason these films played and played and played at theatres like New York’s Elgin, L.A.’s Fox Venice, Cambridge’s Orson Welles cinema and other such venues is that underground flicks were fairly exotic back then, and cineastes and stoners looking for a couple of skewed or outrageous hours in the dark had nowhere else to go.
Weird movies have since become corporatized, of course, and kids don’t go to theatres as much these days with DVDs and downloading and other distractions. But at least the midnight syndrome has kept on in some form. The ritual is well ingrained and people have a good time, and that’s great.
I sat down with Samuels during the Cannes Film Festival (where it played a couple of times) and talked about this $600,000 production, which he says was made for Mpix and Movie Central, the Canadian TV stations. Starz Encore has some kind of tie-in with these guys. And Telefilm, the Canadian government agency, paid for Samuels’ trip to Cannes, so they’ve got their fingers in also.
Samuels based the film on his own 1983 book, “Midnight Madness.”
“I taught film at ‘Penn’ (University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia) in the `70s, and I wrote the book as my going-away present,” he says. “Things were changing, you could feel the chill as the `80s began, and I figured that 30 years hence people are not going to know what the midnight movie experience was all about.
“I knew there was something special about this group of films. So I sat down and wrote it as an academic, but there was another midnight movie book by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Jim Hoberman that came out four weeks after mine, and we wound up canceling each other out.
Stuart Samuels, director-writer of Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream, at the American Pavilion during the Cannes Film Festival — Friday, 5.20, 11:20 am.
“Midnight movies are dead as a cultural phenomenon, but Rocky Horror is still doing business everywhere. It has always stayed because it deals with innocence and sexuality, and that is a constant that people can always relate to. It flopped when it first came out, but by the end of the `70s it was spelling the difference between profit and break-even for theatres and distributors everywhere. It’s earned about $200 million so far.
“The phenomenon is very circumscribed. It started at the end of the `60s with El Topo — that was really the first one. The films I’ve focused on in the film were handmade films, and they really changed film attitudes. But by 1980, Hollywood had co-opted it with cult films, and then video came along.
“It’s still being done now because it’s ritualized. The only new film to have been discovered by younger crowds was The Blair Witch Project, which took off because of the internet.
“I made this film for two reasons. One, we’re in the period of the end of something now. People are looking for something that’s more authentic, more direct…the young people like this film, but they didn’t know the story. And two, for older people, it contextualizes everything. I’m taking it to the heart of the enemy. I’m making a film about films that critics loved when they grew up.
“There are three elements to this story. The directors…the people who made these films. The theatre owners and distributors who showed them…Ben Barenholz, Larry Jackson, Bill Quigley. And the audiences. Like Bob Shaye, who went to El Topo at the Elgin. And I found a lot of interesting archive footage.”
Divine in a classic pose from John Waters’ Pink Flamingos
“I prescript everything. I know more about the subject than the interview subjects do. I know what’s inside that piece of stone. And I never use a narrator.
“The rights to the footage are clear. I know that morass. The only negotiation problem was with Fox. Rights are the reason no decent film can be made about the history of film. Documentaries about popular culture are going nowhere because the people who own all the rights, particularly the music rights…these people won’t give, nor will they deal on a reasonable basis. It’s insidious. One third of the budget on this film went to lawyers. This is why we get pap.”
Midnight Movies will show at the Silverdocs Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland, on 6.14. Samuels is also taking it to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic.
“I’d like to remind you that Reservoir Dogs had a midnight showing every Saturday for years at the New Beverly Cinema. Midnight screenings obviously haven’t died out. The rituals are not gone — they’ve just changed.
“Surely the persistence of a small theater called the Grand Illusion Cinema in
Seattle means something. They play lots of odd choices…at 11 pm. Where else in the world will Garbage Pail Kids (i.e., the movie) get screened? Or the 1980 Flash Gordon, or Yor, or Spawn of the Slithis?
“Don’t worry — they play good movies too. But the screenings I’ve been to have never been less than wild (Transformers: The Movie screened one night to a sold-out crowd) and a smell of absurdity always seems to permeate when an equally strange picture shows.
“Most midnight movies today are shown by the Landmark Cinema chain, but their choices are somewhat conservative compared to the Grand Illusion. Even so, it’s great to see old movies in a time when revival houses are nearly extinct.
“You have no idea how spoiled you are living in Los Angeles. LA, New York and Seattle are the last places in the US where you can see old movies in a theater. And any place where you can see an old movie is welcome these days.” — Gabriel Neeb.
The visual of the Martian hand grabbing the globe has always looked pretty cool to me. It’s rich and precise and makes its point.
The similarity to the design of the cover of the L. Ron Hubbard book is probably coincidental. I don’t know if Tom Cruise has it in his contract to approve or reject concepts for Paramount’s War of the Worlds one-sheet campaigns. I would be surprised if this were the case. Marketing execs tend to treasure their autonomy.
That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if Cruise, who is one of the film’s producers, didn’t have some kind of authority about the ad art. He is known for being exacting and particular about things. And we all know about the Scientology stand (or tent or whatever it was) on the set of War of the Worlds, which was seen by observers as a kind of recruitment attempt.
Without coming to any conclusions, it seems fair to at least take note of this. I mean, it does kind of pop out.
I always smile when I think of Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon, which comes out on DVD on 5.31. Not because I liked this 1985 Chinatown-based crime film, which I found tediously crude and violent. I know I’ve never had the slightest desire to see it since, but it’s been twenty years so I guess I could let my guard down and give it another go.
Mostly I remember Mickey Rourke as a bullying racist New York police captain named Stanley White, and Cimino’s decision to streak Rourke’s hair with a lot of white, to go along with the name or something. It sounds trite, but that wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that Rourke’s hair changed color from scene to scene. It would be frosty white with dark streaks, and then grayish white and then blondish white and then brownish silver. It never seemed quite the same in any two scenes in a row.
And I smile because I’m always reminded of a term that former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell used to describe Rourke’s coif. He called it “mood hair.”
Those two words have been the foundation of my admiration for Mitchell ever since, no matter what gig he happens to be holding. (He’s an acquisition executive these days for Sony, and he might still be teaching at Harvard. I’d write him and ask, but he never answers back.)
Anyway, I intend to rent the DVD next week and take several digital photos of Rourke in different scenes in order to prove the point.
I’m also inviting Year of the Dragon‘s hair stylist Jon Sahag, who apparently tended to hair on only one other film, Michael Almereyda’s Najda, to get in touch and tell his side of the story and clear up any misconceptions.
Maybe Rourke’s hair was intended to change tints as a way of suggesting internal struggles or something.
Maybe F.X. Feeney, a longtime Cimino enthusiast, could get in touch and explain what he knows. I wrote him about this but it’s deadline time.
A reader named Joe Hanrahan has perked my interest on another front, without telling me exactly what he’s referring to.
Dragon, he says, “has at least one great scene. Rourke has left his wife for the Chinese news gal, and the scene starts with him sitting on their porch after a confrontation with her. Rourke goes back inside and notes that his wife has locked herself in the bathroom.
“Being a normal self-centered, guilt-infused male, my first thought as I watched was that she was committing suicide, but the scene takes a twist from there, and turns into one of the few mainstream movie scenes that have ever really shocked me.”
Instead of spending 10 bucks to see Adam Sandler stomp on prison guards this weekend, think about dipping into your slush fund and coughing up a portion for The Stanley Kubrick Archives (Taschen). Take it home and bolt your doors and let it seep in, page by lustrous page.
I’m so in love with the thing that I packed it in my suitcase earlier this month and hauled it all the way from Los Angeles to New York, and then up to my parent’s home in Connecticut. I almost took it with me to the Cannes Film Festival. It’s my best friend, my rock `n’ roll, my lump-in-the-throat. I haven’t felt this way about a mere possession in a long, long time.
Stanley Kubrick (r.) directing Peter Sellers in his President Merkin Muffley guise on the set of Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
I’m not buying the claim on Amazon.com that this 544-page beast weighs 14.6 pounds. It felt like at least triple that when I was lugging it around Kennedy Airport.
The cost weighs pretty heavily too. 200 dollars, according to the Taschen website. But if you’ve ever thought about laying down serious coin for a first-rate coffee-table book, this might be the deal-maker. Besides, you can get it on Amazon for only about $125. I’ve blown $125 on things that I wasn’t all that thrilled about the morning after. I know I’m going to feel good about having this book twenty years from now.
Of course, you have to be a fool for Kubrick’s films in the first place. You have to get the Kubrick thing altogether, which means not just worshipping Paths of Glory or Dr. Strangelove or admiring most of Barry Lyndon, but also coming to terms with Eyes Wide Shut, which wasn’t easy at first but I got there.
I did this by facing up to the fact that resistance was futile. I’ve watched that red-felt pool table scene when Sydney Pollack explains the facts to Tom Cruise over and over, and I don’t even know why exactly…it’s like voodoo.
I presume this same susceptibility has enveloped most of the readers of this column.
The Archives text — articles, essays, interview excerpts, all kinds of data — has been edited and assembled by Alison Castle. It’s all smart, elegant and informative stuff, but this is par for a book of this size and scope from Taschen, the Rolls Royce of prestige publishers.
It’s the purely visual stuff that does it to you, in a strategy that mirrors that of Kubrick’s films. There are something like 1600 images in this thing — 800 immaculate frame blowups from all the films, and another 800 behind-the-scenes stills and various “items” (drawings, script notes, letters), most of which have never seen before. Plus essays by Kubrick scholars Michel Ciment, Gene D. Phillips and Rodney Hill
There are two keepsakes in The Stanley Kubrick Archives that are nearly worth the price alone: a twelve-frame film strip from a 70mm print of 2001: A Space Odyssey, taken from a print in Kubrick’s private vault, and a CD containing a 70-minute audio interview with Kubrick by Jeremy Bernstein in 1966…when Kubrick was at the summit of his powers.
All through my first reading I was feeling envious of Castle, who was given complete access by Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, and his longtime producer and brother-in-law, Jan Harlan. What an amazing job she had for two or three years.
All those details, all that minutiae…and she and the Taschen editors only got one little thing wrong. I’m referring to a photo taken on the Spartacus set that identifies costar Rudy Bond (who played a loud-mouthed gladiator, although for some reason this role isn’t listed on his IMDB page) as the film’s producer, Edward Lewis. There’s a very slight chance I’m wrong about this (Lewis may have been a dead ringer for Bond), but I doubt it.
This is a spa book…something to sink into and be replenished by. And yet it’s not quite the ultimate down-to-the-bone Kubrick book of all time. It’s more the ultimate Kubrick massage…a thinking person’s pleasure cruise…a first-class voyage into a very sumptuous and particular world.
It’s been called the most comprehensive book on Kubrick thus far. It is that, but in a selectively affectionate way.
Is it the most penetrating exploration of who Stanley Kubrick really was, and what his life and work finally amounted to, warts, missed opportunities and all? That’s not the intention here.
Does it explore the conflicts Kubrick had with Marlon Brando in the development of One-Eyed Jacks, which resulted in Brando firing him? I would have loved to have read something specific about this, but no.
Does it get into the specific clashes Kubrick had with Kirk Douglas over the making of Spartacus? Here and there, but not to any great detail.
The best books about artists should not only celebrate but dish some rude stuff here and there.
It’s been reported before that Douglas was offended by Kubrick’s pre-production suggestion that he, Kubrick, be given screen credit for Dalton Trumbo’s script, since Trumbo, it was assumed at the time, couldn’t be given this due to his blacklisted screenwriter status. (Douglas eventually gave Trumbo this credit, which helped to end the blacklist era.)
Was this the only reason that Douglas referred to Kubrick during a 1982 interview I had with him as “Stanley the prick”? Douglas was famously egotistical and a scrapper, but I always wanted to know more about his and Kubrick’s relationship.
I guess what I’m saying is that Archives would have been a tad more interesting if Castle and Kubrick’s family hadn’t been so fully committed to the late director’s perspective and had brought in a few naysayers or nitpickers for added flavor.
Does it take a hard look at Kubrick’s fastidious, increasingly isolated way of living and working, removing himself more and more from life’s rough and tumble as he got older…more exacting, more of an aesthetic unto himself? Again, not the shot.
Does it ponder the regrets and might-have-been’s and shortfalls? Somewhat, but family-sanctioned tributes are never about tough love.
It would have steered in this direction if I had been the editor. Not to take Kubrick down (I’m as much a fan as Castle or anyone else on the team) but to explore the ironies more fully. I’m saying I would have zeroed in on the paradoxical lesson of Stanley Kubrick’s life and career, which is that absolute creative control is not necessarily the glorious thing it’s cracked up to be.
The truth is that the more he became “Stanley Kubrick,” the more he ate his own creative tail. The political power Kubrick gained from the financial success and cultural esteem of Dr. Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey in the 1960s, which led to the carte blanche support he got from Warner Bros. starting with the making of A Clockwork Orange, allowed him to follow his intrigues to his heart’s content, and this became both his salvation and his trap.
This is an old tune with me, but as watchable as his movies are and always will be, the more remote and mercurial Kubrick became the more his films became about stiffness and perfection. This is why I’ve always been more of a fan of his work from The Killing to A Clockwork Orange than the last 24 years of his career, during which he produced only four films — Barry Lyndon , The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
I realize that the emotional bloodlessness of Barry Lyndon is partly what makes it a masterwork, but you can’t tell me Kubrick’s personality wasn’t at least a partial ingredient in this.
Christiane Kubrick signing copies of The Stanley Kubrick Archives a few days ago in London. Her brother Jan Harlan, who produced Kubrick’s later films, sits to her left.
The opening 20 or 25 minutes of The Shining are among the spookiest ever captured in any film (that interview scene between Jack Nicholson and Barry Nelson is sheer perfection) but the very last shot, the one that goes closer and closer into that black-and-white photo of Jack Nicholson’s character celebrating at an Overlook Hotel black-tie ball sometime in the 1920s, is one of the lamest epilogues ever…it’s metaphysical claptrap.
(I was one of the few who saw a version of The Shining with an excised scene between Nelson and Shelley Duvall that comes right before this shot — Kubrick cut it before the film went into general release. I don’t have the book with me as I’m writing this, but I don’t think it makes any mention of this last-minute edit.)
(And while we’re on the subject, it would have been really special if the book had included frame blowups from the reported five minutes or so from 2001‘s “Dawn of Man” segment that Kubrick trimmed out just after a critics preview. But it doesn’t.)
The labored dialogue in the Vietnam portions of Full Metal Jacket (like “I say we leave the gook for the mother-lovin’ rats” or “Am I a heartbreaker? Am I a…whoo-hoo!..life-taker?”) makes Jacket feel like some kind of stage production rather than something actually going down in that war-torn region in the late ’60s. I read somewhere that some of the actors (Adam Baldwin, for one) bitched behind Kubrick’s back about this, or maybe to his face…I don’t precisely recall.
And yet that final battle sequence (going after that female Vietcong sniper in Hue) is breathtaking.
Don’t get me started on Eyes Wide Shut, but Kubrick’s belief that he would get an R rating (which he was contractually obliged to deliver) for that mansion-orgy sequence footage indicated a man who had stopped taking the pulse of things outside his country estate.
Kubrick at his home in January 1984, in a snap taken by a friend.
And yet for a guy hooked on visual fastidiousness and an increasingly misanthropic view of human affairs, Kubrick nonetheless made films that were tantalizing and seductive….each one a feast.
There’s a Kubrick quote in this book that I’m paraphrasing here, which is that the final measure of lasting motion picture art — all art — lies in the emotional.
It comes down to simple visual pleasures…the thought-out, strongly fortified kind that has led me to watch the Barry Lyndon DVD 15 or 20 times, even thought I don’t care very much for the funereal tone of the film’s second half. I sit through it because I love the Lord Bullington duel sequence and the final epilogue card that states, “Rich or poor, happy or sad, they are all equal now.”
I wouldn’t want to suggest that The Stanley Kubrick Archives is too softball. It is what it is, and that’s a hell of a thing.
The second half takes you in to Kubrick’s deliberative mind more thoroughly (i.e., more personally) than anything I’ve read. From the perspective of first-hand creative immersion, of recreating a world as the artist himself tried to know it and lick it as best he could, it’s one of the finest books on a film director ever published.
Tom Cruise, Stanely Kubrick, Nicole Kidman on the set of Eyes Wide Shut. It never occurred to me before reading this book that Kubrick was on the short side, or shorter than Cruise anyway.
Slightly Gentler Neil
I was so traumatized by the weakness of the dollar during my stay in London last Saturday through Tuesday that I was having anxiety attacks the whole time. I did a lot of speed-walking and visiting different internet cafes and questioning my dumb impulsiveness in flying there in the first place. I didn’t eat anything except fruit and coffee and fast food….awful.
And yet in the face of this I decided last Monday night to pop for a ticket to Neil Labute’s Some Girls, which opened a day or two later at the Gielgud. I’d missed Labute’s last two, Fat Pig and This Is How It Goes (which both played in New York), as well as The Mercy Seat and The Distance From Here, which I didn’t even know about until I read the program. Anyway, I needed to catch up.
Some Girls costars Catherine Tate, Saffron Burrows, David Schwimmer, Sarah Tate, Lesley Manville.
And I wanted to see how former Friends star David Schwimmer, who began on the Chicago stage, would handle himself in the lead role. Verdict: he’s relaxed and assured and does quite well.
He’s playing a nominally sensitive short-story writer who’s run away from relationships all his semi-adult life, and is now feeling a bit guilty about this as he prepares to get married. So he pays a visit to four ex-girlfriends in four different cities to talk things over and see if any of them are still pissed about being dumped.
He’s really looking to be forgiven or at least hear that he’s not so bad. This doesn’t happen. He gets a good stiff shot of reality from each ex.
Labute’s plays and films are usually about what pigs or weaklings men are in their relationships with women, and in this light the dealings in Some Girls aren’t as searing or corrosive as usual. It’s not lacking in emotional bruisings, but it’s not quite mild-mannered either.
And Schwimmer’s character makes an effort to at least talk a sensitive game when he catches up with the women. But who and what he really is — a serial escape artist — comes through soon enough, and at the end you feel for his young fiance (whom we never meet) because you know what she’s in for.
The one-act play is funny here and there, briskly paced (at roughly 100 minutes) and sometimes very biting. A moderately engaging piece. But it doesn’t build or develop all that excitingly and it basically leaves you with a “yeah, not bad” reaction. Is it a movie? No, but maybe an HBO or a Showtime thing.
Schwimmer’s first visitation is in Seattle with Sam (Catherine Tate), whom he dropped just before the senior prom in high school. Married to a guy who works in a food store and raising kids, she’s still riled about what Schwimmer did (especially his having taken another girl to the prom) and having her emotions stirred.
Then there’s Tyler (Sara Powell) from Chicago, a randy easygoing type who needs a little time to remember what a bastard Schwimmer was to her…and then the anger catches fire.
In Boston he pays a call on Lindsay (Lesley Manville), a married woman he had an affair with behind her husband’s back, and who is also quite angry and looking for revenge.
Finally there’s Bobbi (Saffron Burrows) from Los Angeles, who is hurt but still cares for him…although she’s too smart and proud to open up a second time, even when he tells her she’s the love of his life.
The actresses are all sharp and on top of their roles, and each scene deftly reveals a surprise or two about their past relationship with Schwimmer. LaBute is a gifted writer and psychologically shrewd, but Girls is basically laying out Schwimmer’s history without adding anything urgent or present-tense to it.
I was so upset by London I decided to get back to States as quickly as possible to take stock and lick my wounds. That meant flying Easy Jet from London to Amsterdam for the connection back home, and since I had a few hours to kill I decided to go into town and look around.
I don’t get high so the whole cannabis side of things didn’t hold any appeal, but it’s mildly startling to be in the Abraxas Cafe and see the wide variety of hallucinogenic brownies being sold. Amsterdam is cool but English is spoken so widely and there are so many Brits and Americans running around that the exotic appeal feels diminished for a European city.
It’s obviously more than just a party town for stoners, but that’s what it felt like during my three-hour visit. Stoners and flower markets (what exactly do you do with a tulip?) and prostitutes and Burger Kings.
Southern sector of Hyde Park near Lancaster Gate — Sunday, 5.22, 5:50 pm.
McDonald’s delicacy available primarily to Londoners.
Four or five blocks due south of London’s Piccadilly Square — Monday, 5.23, 4:45 pm.
Near London’s Sussex Gardens — Sunday, 5.24, 2:35 pm
Valentino and Swanson at Amsterdam’s Calypso Bellevue — Tuesday, 5.24, 3:10 pm
Tuesday, 5.24, 5:05 pm.
Amsterdam — Tuesday, 5.24, 3:50 pm.
Tuesday, 5.24, 4:10 pm.
Tuesday, 5.24, 10:10 am.
Canal-adjacent theatre in Amsterdam — Tuesday, 5.24, 3:05 pm.
Amsterdam commuters — Tuesday, 5.24, 3:20 pm.
Near London’s Sussex Gardens — Sunday, 5.22, 2:15 pm
Residential street near London’s Sloane Square — Sunday, 5.22, 4:20 pm.