Plays High, Sold Low

In Her Shoes may or may not be appearing to handicappers as an awards-level thing. I don’t care to argue this point, but every so often there’s a disconnect between my views and those of jaded ivory-tower elites that just staggers me.
On the other hand, if I hadn’t yet seen it and had come upon Liz Smith’s rave on the film’s website, I might have a moment of pause. Smith guarantees “you will laugh and cry in equal measure because this is simply a wonderful film…one of the best in years” — fine.

(l. to. r.) Variety screening series host Pete Hammond, In Her Shoes star Toni Collette, and director Curtis Hanson during post-screenign q & a at Hollywood’s Arclight — Monday, 9.26, 9:50 pm.

But then she raves, “When you see a movie that looks this good from the get-go, you just know you’re in for a terrific time.” I know what Smith is trying to say, but “looks” aren’t worth a damn in the eyes of Sri Vishnu, and a promise of cosmetic attractiveness usually implies a lack of inner character.
Trust me, In Her Shoes is much better than this.
I know the film has been working on an emotional level at the screenings I’ve attended, and so does 20th Century Fox or they wouldn’t be giving it another nationwide sneak this weekend…the movie sells itself.
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The cynical view is that they’re doing two sneaks in a row because they can’t figure out how to get the word out otherwise, as indicated by the fact that it opens in less than two weeks and it isn’t really tracking. (Although that may change with Thurs- day’s tracking report, which will reflect last weekend’s sneak.)
I think year-end critics awards will help. I know Oscar watchers will be surprised if Toni Collette doesn’t catch on as a Best Actress contender; ditto Shirley MacLaine for Best Supporting Actress.
And if you ask me Norman Lloyd’s brief but elegant turn as a blind and bed-ridden hospital patient easily warrants a Best Supporting Actor nom.

The Diaz-only “teaser” one-sheet for In Her Shoes (l.) and the far less visible Collette-Diaz version that gives both plus Shirley Maclaine a shared aboe-the-title billing

Lloyd has been acting and producing all his life (he had an ongoing role as a staff doctor on St. Elsewhere in the `80s), but his In Her Shoes turn is the charm. His gentle, sharp-witted ex-college professor — a performance that takes off and comes in for a landing in the space of a single scene — is the most memorable thing he’s done since Frank Fry in Saboteur. It’s a comeback after 63 years.
For the first 40 minutes or so, Cameron Diaz doesn’t seem to be doing much more than playing her standard ditz-babe, but once she arrives in Florida and hooks up with MacLaine things start to improve. Then she meets up with Lloyd and performs her best scene in the film, and does herself proud.
But no acting noms. She’s good but Collette has it all over her. And there’s no washing away the stain of The Sweetest Thing and the two Charlie’s Angels films. In my heart and mind those three were abominations…war crimes. Granted, there’s a bit of a balance factor from Diaz’s work in Any Given Sunday and There’s Something About Mary, but I’ve listened to her speak in person and I still see her as a poster girl for vapidity.
The only other thing throwing me is that Fox is still using that one-sheet with just Diaz alone on their official site. Once again, big studio marketers are selling an idea they think will put arses in seats (hey, girls-who-buy-In Touch-and-Us in the supermarket…another giggly-ditzoid Cameron Diaz film!) instead of selling the movie they have.

Diaz, Shirley Maclaine

I was under the impression that the Diaz one-sheet was just a teaser poster and that the real In Her Shoes one-sheet (with Collette and Diaz pictured side-by-side, and their names along with MacLaine’s sharing above-the-title space) was the keeper.
Diaz is the one they paid $15 million-plus to star in this movie, and nobody really knows Collette, etc., but I still don’t get it. This is a really good sister movie…a heart movie…and Fox seems to be trying to dissuade people who like this sort of thing (including sophisticated filmgoers) from putting this film on the top of their lists.
Then again I’m told that last weekend’s sneak was well attended, and reactions have been very good. This is primarily a woman’s film, and naturally Fox is going to pitch to the core constituency.
“You like the picture, fine…and men may like it,” a marketing guy told me this morning. “But women love it.”
In the hands of Gary David Goldberg (Must Love Dogs),Roger Kumble (The Sweetest Thing), Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun) or the super-demonic McG, In Her Shoes would have almost certainly been a lesser thing.

Toni Collette, Curtis Hanson and Cameron Diaz preparing to shoot a first-act, out-on-the-town scene

But Fox went with Curtis Hanson, and that decision — combined with Susannah Grant’s way-above-average chick-flick script (based on the novel by Jennifer Weiner) — has made a big difference.
Hanson has brought the same sureness of tone, knack for economical story-telling and clarity of presentation evident in 8 Mile, Wonder Boys and L.A. Confidential to this thing. It’s a film that’s been expertly finessed and perfectly music-cued and made to feel emotionally grounded.
And the point is made again — it’s the singer, not the song.

Regarding Violence

If you’ve seen David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, you know it’s a philoso- phical double-dealer, and this is what makes it a complex, cut-above film. It’s not just saying violence is a kind of terrible virus — it’s also saying it has a way of turning us on.
When Jack (Ashton Holmes), the son of cafe owner Tom Stall (Viggo Mortenson), defuses a potentially violent encounter with a school bully by sarcastically acknow- ledging the other guy’s alpha male superiority, etc., you admire Jack for being a hip and clever guy.

Viggo Mortenson as small-town nice guy Tom Stall in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence

But when they meet a second time and Jack, inspired by his father’s having become a hero because he killed a couple of bad guys, wails on the bullies and leaves them bruised and groaning, several people in the theatre (at L.A.’s Grove plex) were clapping and whoo-whooing.
Is there anyone out there who thinks Cronenberg didn’t deliver this scene in just the right way so he would get this reaction?
And of course, the steam that comes hissing out of Edie Stall (Maria Bello) isn’t just about feelings of betrayal.
Edie is furious, naturally, when she realizes her husband has been lying to her for years about his past. But when she and Tom have that end-of-Act-Two fight and she goes “fuck you, Joey” and walks off and Tom grabs her by the ankle and they do that thing on the stairs (a scene that wasn’t scripted, by the way…it just “happened” when they shot it), it’s obvious that Tom’s killer moves have lit a fire in Edie’s furnace.

Jack Stall (Ashton Holmes) and the high-school baddies

And yet the violence that has happened has obviously stunned and hurt this family of four. In that haunting final scene, Cronenberg shows us that Jack and his younger sister are willing to forgive and forget as they offer food to Tom, but there’s not much assurance that things will henceforth be fine…Cronenberg leaves us in limbo.
That’s filmmaking, pally. Lob the ball to the audience in the final frame and let them sort it all out…nice.
One beef with this film: Peter Suschitzky’s cinemography looks like it was soaked in Bolivian coffee during lab processing. I started to wonder if the projector lamp at the Grove’s theatre #1 was dying, but the lamps in the other theatres were fine. The last film I remember being this muddy-looking was Fight Club.


Waiting in a very long line of cars trying to get onto the Fox lot for Tuesday night’s screening of Domino — 9.27, 7:25 pm.

Wilshire and Brockton on Sunday, 9.25, 4:50 pm…following a long bike ride from Brentwood to Venice and back, which I was very glad to do because it caused me to re-realize how much nicer, cleaner and more aesthetically pleasant Santa Monica and Venice are than the shittier areas of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Okay, so the spiritual element isn’t as vibrant here as it is in New York City, but the women are dishier and the leaves are bigger and more plentiful, and the sea smells better standing on the beach in Santa Monica than it does in Rockaway

Taken from the vantage point of the Beverly Hills Public Library on Santa Monica Blvd., and looking northeast — Sunday,9/25, 6:15 pm.


I liked so many films in Toronto I was looking forward to trashing two or three upon my return to Los Angeles. So to get things rolling I went to a screening last night (Thursday, 9.22) of Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives (Magnolia) and…shit, another good one.
It’s nine interwoven shorts about women in relationships that aren’t really working, relationships they’d like to be rid of on one level but can’t quite extricate themsel- ves from, and what’s holding them.

Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning in Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives (Magnolia)

Each story is a part-muddle, part-riddle and a fascinating drill into some aroused places in the heart, and five out of the nine are direct hits.
I’ve now seen two dramas over the last week and a half about female turmoil and tough choices, but which operate well beyond the usual chick-flick realm….this and In Her Shoes.
Nine Lives played Sundance last January and then the L.A. Film Festival three months ago…why haven’t I heard anything? Am I alone on this one? I don’t care.
Once again we have a south-of-the-border director — Rodrigo Garcia, a colleague of the great Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu — hitting the ball deep into left-center field and scoring a ground-rule double, if not a triple.
Nine Lives isn’t quite a homer but it’s much better than I expected. It has that same connective-tissue, life-is-short, death-is-just-around-the-corner thing that we’ve all gotten to know through Innaritu’ Amores Perros and 21 Grams.

Nine Lives director-writer Rodrigo Garcia

Neither Innaritu or his screenwriting partner Guillermo Ariagga (who also wrote The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) have a co-writing credit, but they might as well have. Garcia is clearly coming from the same place…another Mexican heavy- cat soul man.
Garcia’s writing and the acting are exceptional all through it, and there are two pieces in particular about obsessive sexual love that knocked me on the floor.
The best of the two costars Robin Wright Penn and Jason Isaacs. Set entirely in the aisles of an L.A. supermarket, it’s a marvel of tight writing, dancing camera work, perfectly-pitched acting and emotional sizzle.
The other is a fascinating piece about a woman (Amy Brenneman) and her father attending a funeral of a woman who’s committed suicide, and the soon-enough realization that the woman is a former wife of the deceased woman’s deaf husband (William Fichtner), and that their attraction is not only still going on but may have pushed the wife into suicide, and that their feelings are so urgent that Brenneman and Fichtner can’t help finding a private room and closing the door.
I don’t know which of the two is more of a jaw-dropper, but together they’re worth the admission, the popcorn and having to watch the ads before the trailers.
There are at least three other strong entries. About a financially struggling, clearly frustrated 40ish couple (Stephen Dillane, Holly Hunter) visiting a couple (Isaacs again, Molly Parker) they believe to be on a happier, more comfortable plane. About a terrified wife (Kathy Baker) preparing for breast-removal surgery and bitching at her husband (Joe Mantegna) as she works through her feelings. And about a loving mother (Glenn Close) and her young daughter (Dakota Fanning) visiting a graveyard.

Nine Lives costars Robin Wright Penn, Aidan Quinn at last January’s Sundance Film Festival

The cast also includes Elpidia Carillo, Lisa Gay Harden, Ian McShane, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Aidan Quinn, Miguel Sandoval, Amanda Seyfried and Sissy Spacek.
The other four are decent, good enough, carry the ball, etc. A movie like this is like a relay race. Not every segment can bring the fans to their feet.
Nine Lives will open in Los Angeles and New York on 10.14, and will start fanning out the following week.