Posting Later Today…
Wednesday’s column will be up sometime around 3 or 4 pm this afternoon (okay, maybe not until 5 pm). I will overcome this late-posting problem somehow. I want to, I mean. I’m thinking of buying this high-energy powdered stuff called Superfood. A friend has told me about it. Has anyone tried it?
Life is suddenly full of sparkle and possibility when a movie surprises and delights you. I live for moments when it all comes together in the dark and you’re suddenly part of an off-the-page experience, when the spark plugs are firing and everything has kicked in and it’s all a smooth groove.
You’re hearing and reading it everywhere and the buzz is not exaggerated. Brad Bird’s The Incredibles (Disney, playing everywhere) is a major wow and easily one of the coolest films of the year. It’s got the stuff and the attitude that super-hits are made of.
My willingness to invest in big-studio animated features over the years has been, shall we say, restrained. Their relentless brightness and bouncing imagery is, for me, headache food.
But every so often one comes along that’s especially rich and witty (i.e., 80% of the jokes geared to adults) and revved-up in a “familiar” but totally fresh way — The Little Mermaid, Toy Story, Alladin, Shrek. Or it’s an exception to the rule in some gentler, more soulful vein, like Iron Giant.
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The Incredibles is one of these and a lot more. Being my usual show-me self on top of feeling incredibly bummed by the election, I went to see this Pixar-produced film two nights ago with an attitude. I tried to feel bored or irritated by it, but it wouldn’t cooperate. It’s simply too well written, too sharp, too synched-up.
I never thought I’d feel this jazzed about a family movie. It’s not just an exceptionally good animated flick — it’s X-factor. It doesn’t just fill the screen; it seems to reinvent notions of what a family-type entertainment can be. If only they were all this hip and plugged in and given to flight. They’re not, of course, and that’s the reality that gives The Incredibles a truly exceptional profile.
The two things that keep paying off like a slot machine are Bird’s script — funny, fairly original, truthful, Simpsons-like — and Pixar’s absolutely dazzling and eye-popping digital animation, which has become an entire trip in itself.
I tried to speak to some tech guy at Pixar about the astonishing leaps their digital animation has made over the past few years, but the p.r. bureaucracy was overloaded with the film opening the next day, so take it from me on faith: the hard-drive imagery in The Incredibles is so vivid and startling that it looks almost psychedelic.
There hasn’t been an attempt in The Incredibles to simulate organic reality as a form of sensual me-too-ism. The idea, rather, seems to have been to digitally reconstitute everything in a way that seeks to constantly persuade the viewer that Pixar’s version is better. The textures of the spandex superhero suits, the strands of hair…the look of nature itself ….the flora and heaving seas….everything has been revised into a vast alter-reality that doesn’t pay tribute to as much as compete with the real thing.
I urge everyone who cares about absorbing these amazing images to the max to see The Incredibles in a theatre equipped with digital projection. The general color-pop, texture-throb elements are mind-blowing in this way. Digital delivers a certain hyper-sensuality that’s hard to describe, but once you’ve been there there’s no going back to the farm.
Bird’s script is basically about the rejuvenation of middle-age, which in itself doesn’t sound particularly kid-friendly. This is why I liked it, of course, but I can’t imagine any kid over the age of seven or eight who wouldn’t feel the same.
The happily-ever-after story is fantasy, of course, but rooted in what feels to me like hard middle-class experience. It’s not just a lot of bullshit ideas thrown in because they’re funny, like they’re making some Will Smith movie. The script has an undertow. The underlying message is that parenting doesn’t necessarily amount to a banishment of adventure and vitality, and that a family in a rut can rediscover and replenish itself.
Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are onetime super-heroes sidelined by lawsuits (some of the people they’ve saved are resentful of their heroism and have turned to shyster lawyers to try and clean up) and middle-aged responsibilities. They’re just a couple of parents trying to cope and keep it together with three kids, bills and lethargy to cope with.
To escape the drudgery, Mr. Incredible and his former superhero pal Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson) — known in his heyday as Frozone, a spandex guy who can turn water into ice — listen to a police-band radio at night in order to find life-threatening situations they can jump into and be heroic in, just to feel the old juice.
The action kicks in when Bob is offered some freelance superhero work after getting fired from his dead-end insurance-company job. Elastigril gets the idea he may be cheating on her. It turns out his new employers are baddies with the usual sinister motives, which lead to Mr. Incredible being in jeopardy. This results in Elastigirl and their two teenage kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), donning the superhero attire and jetting off to the Jurassic Park-like island in the Pacific where Dad is being held.
Hence the third act with the family fighting a diseased wannabe-superhero creep (Jason Lee) and his giant spider-like killing machine, both on the island and then back in the big city, etc. A bit predictable…okay, more than a bit…but rousing and satisfying and funny all the way.
The Incredibles isn’t just a great animated feature in the mainstream vein. It’s a deeply satisfying movie-movie (and that term is used alot without much sincerity). I wouldn’t call it blazingly profound or super-original, but it passes along some fundamental truths about families and middle-age and the need for a sense of vitality in life, and that’s no small thing. And it ties the bundle together with wit, humor and splendorous style.
Like everyone else, I’ve been assuming over the last several weeks that if Bush won the election Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 would be dead as a Best Picture contender. If Bush had lost, nominating the Moore doc “would have been a way for Hollywood to celebrate itself and its influence,” a journalist friend recently said.
It may not have had much of a real chance regardless, despite its phenomenal financial success. Some have posed questions about Fahrenheit‘s thoroughness and veracity, and there’s the effect of all those right-wing Moore-slamming docs to consider. But ironically, it may be that Bush’s electoral triumph has actually improved its Oscar standing.
Here’s the scenario, as advanced by industry tipster Pete Hammond:
Academy voters, who are overwhelmingly liberal and, like most people I’ve spoken to around town over the last two days, probably deeply depressed over Bush’s triumph, may decide to nominate Moore’s film for Best Picture as a way of saying or doing something in response to the election, instead to wandering around and looking like they’ve been kicked in the stomach.
Nominating this anti-Bush doc, which the Cannes Jury was not alone is calling a first-rate piece of filmmaking, would be at least that….a retort, a nice tidy little f***-you to the Reds or, more to the point, the Karl Rovies. We will not lie down, acquiesce, go along. What this film says is valid and verified, and it links to core convictions that most of us share.
“My thinking a long time ago was that if Bush should win it would take all the heat out of Fahrenheit,” Hammond told me Thursday afternoon. “Then I changed my mind, and now I’ve really changed my mind. Now that there’s even a more intense feeling about Bush and everything this film was about, it may actually help the movie.”
Nominating Fahrenheit 9/11 would be “the most collective statement that the Hollywood community could make,” Hammond believes. “And remember they only really need a [marginal] number of votes to nominate it, and Academy members may look at this as not only a deserving film but a way to say something…I think it could be in a stronger position than if Bush hadn’t won.”
Former Universal Pictures honcho Tom Pollock, whom I briefly spoke to outside Hollywood’s Arclight theatre last evening, disagrees. “I happen to be one of those who supports a film for Best Picture based on its artistic merits, and not on any political baggage or import that goes with it,” he says. “And my interest, right now, is on other films.”
Marketing veteran Marvin Antonowsky, also an Academy member, doesn’t believe in the Hammond scenario either. “I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said Friday morning.
I don’t know if it’ll come about either, but emotionally it would feel awfully damn good if it did. It would also be, in my humble view, an artistically justified thing. Just ask Quentin Tarantino or Tilda Swinton.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is an extremely persuasive piece of hard-core agitprop. It was the year’s second-biggest cultural lightning rod movie (after The Passion of the Christ). It made motion picture history by becoming the first documentary to pass the $100 million barrier. And it cut through the sludge and, in the view of many millions, said something right and valuable and brave.
Paul Doro has sent in an interesting piece that analogizes voter attitudes with the import of two Denzel Washington films that opened earlier this year:
“It may surprise you, but two Denzel Washington characters hold the key to this year’s election, and particularly the whole red state/blue state issue,” Doro begins. “What happened can be summed up, or at least echoed on some level, by Tony Scott’s right-wing Man on Fire and Jonathan Demme’s liberal-minded The Manchurian Candidate.
“On one level or another, Bush vs. Kerry was like Scott vs. Demme. Or Creasy vs. Marco.
“Although it was a major summer thriller about a live-wire topic, Candidate managed a gross of only about $65 million, and thus was seen as a disappointment. Fire , released in April, managed to hit a slightly spunkier figure of $78 million. Neither was a monstrous hit or a huge disaster, but they paralleled the election, which also had a clear winner despite being a close contest.
“Creasy, Denzel’s Man on Fire character, went on a brazen mission of cold, calculated revenge in the film’s third act. He killed (i.e., slaughtered) without remorse in order to accomplish what he felt was absolutely necessary or at least deserved, which was delivering justice to the kidnappers of a little girl he’d come to love.
“Creasy’s attitude was clear: collateral damage be damned. If you got in his way, tough shit. He was righting a wrong. Completely a black-and-white issue. Old school and Old Testament. An eye for an eye. When someone strikes at those close to you, you strike back. That is easily understood and digested. You appeal to people’s base emotions and make it difficult for them to see it any other way. Good must prevail over evil and order must be restored.
“Just like the United States did in Iraq, Creasy essentially did it all solo. He didn’t care what anyone else thought about what he was doing. He wasn’t going to listen to what anyone else had to say. He received a little help here and there, but it was ultimately his mission. He didn’t require allies or approval.
“And audiences that showed up, ate it up. They took comfort in seeing Denzel seek vengeance (and is it any coincidence that his character quotes the Bible?). They loved watching him mercilessly torture and kill in order to rescue the little girl.
“It was pure and it was simple. Everyone cheers for a righteous man who has a troubled past (remind anyone of anyone?) but is trying to do right. No one stopped to question the moral issues. Complexity is not in the building. He did what had to be done. For Red State voters, what’s not to love?
“On the other hand, the vastly superior The Manchurian Candidate (in my opinoon, of course) didn’t exactly set the summer box office ablaze. Maybe that was because last summer was busier and more competitive than usual, but you can’t say that it didn’t disappoint at least a little.
“Denzel’s Cpt. Marco falls into the gray area. He’s a much more complex man than Creasy . And despite being a military man (Kerry), he has a tough time winning people over. Maybe he just lacks charisma. Or he seems a little distant. Maybe he’s too smart for his own good and comes off as an elitist. Whatever it is, people don’t immediately warm up to him. They are skeptical and take convincing.
“Intelligent and thoughtful, Marco’s methods are quite different from Creasy’s (as is their respective situation). He gathers evidence and seeks facts. He asks questions first and pulls the trigger later. Maybe he never gets around to pulling the trigger. Maybe he finds other ways to accomplish his goals. Maybe he can find allies and work with them to achieve things. Better to make friends than enemies.
“There is evil in the world, Marco believes, but it isn’t obvious. It doesn’t always announce itself. You have to look for it and calmly, carefully attempt to stop it. There are lives at stake. You don’t want to cause any unnecessary harm. Quite the opposite. Better to be certain about what you’re doing. Better to know exactly who your friends and enemies are.
“Ask people why they voted for Bush, especially moderate, non-religious freaks. Stoppping gay marriages might have been a hot-button factor, but their vote really boiled down to terrorism. Not wanting to change presidents while we’re at war. Not really believing that Kerry could protect us. Believing that Bush could do a better job of keeping us safe, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
“In short, people wanted the man who shoots first and asks questions later. The man who is simple and sees things in black and white. The man who will do whatever it takes to find the bad people and destroy them, consequences be damned. They made their decision at the box office, and at the polls.”
Prick Up Your Ears
Michael Bergeron of Houston, Texas, was the first to correctly identify all three of Wednesday’s sound clips.
Clip #1 is Burt Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker speaking about Tony Curtis’s Sidney Falco in Alexander McKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Clip #2 is Cary Grant and Ingrid Mergman in a third-act scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946). And Clip #3 is Kirk Douglas and George Macready in a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory.
Here are today’s dialogue clips. Clip #1 is from Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire….kidding! It’s actually the easiest of the three, and features a certain debonair actor who committed suicide over, if memory serves, a profound case of boredom. Clip #2 ought to speak for itself, and Clip #3 is a tiny bit harder than the other two, but not by much.
Harder and harder clips will follow in the weeks to come. Send in your answers quickly and include a JPEG photo, and I’ll post the winner in the column in next Wednesday’s column.
“I love Laura Linney as much as you do, and maybe even more, but surely the
unmitigated commercial failure of Newmarket’s P.S. sends her chances of a Best Actress nomination completely down the gurgler? And is it certain that Searchlight won’t push for her in the leading category for Kinsey?” — Australian Exhibitor Guy
Wells to Australian Exhibitor Guy: The movie died, eh? Toast? Off to video? I guess Laura Linney’s great performance doesn’t deserve a Best Actress nomination then. Really too bad. I wish P.S. had been more successful because if it had been, Linney’s performance would be a contender.
“In Wednesday’s column you said your spirits needed a lift. I’ve been trying to find some small consolation in the fact that we’ll probably never have to see or hear George W. Bush again.
“Now that he’s a lame duck, we won’t have to watch him campaign again. Now that he’s no longer accountable to voters, he’ll refuse to give press conferences. And now that he has an even larger Republican majority in the Senate and House, there will be nobody to hold him accountable with public hearings for the inevitable scandals that usually bog down second terms.
“I expect the laziest president in history will spend much of the next four years on vacation at his ranch (out of sight, out of mind) while the world goes to hell.” — Mike Scholtz, Duluth, Minnesota.
“I’m a little surprised at the election as I figured Kerry would win by a narrow margin. Bush is riding on the coattails of the evangelical crowd, since I guess any Christian who at least thinks about going to church has a moral inclination toward Bush since he considers Christ his main man.
“In any case, nothing can be done. It’s over and nothing really ever changes anyway. Life just goes on. Try to stay out of trouble, I guess. I know the Kerry win meant a lot to you. I guess this also means Fahrenheit 9/11 is not going to be nominated?” — Kathyrn Garcha.
“The Youth Vote is the Fool’s Gold of Elections. The Democrats know they don’t vote. The Republicans know they don’t vote. This hasn’t changed. And it likely never will change. So why did Kerry try so hard to get the youth vote? And just months after that strategy clearly failed Howard Dean.
“Sure, they’ll vote for ya… on msnbc.com, yahoo.com, or cnn.com. But will they show up at the polls? Well they haven’t done it yet, and there is no reason to believe that they will anytime soon.
“I imagine that standing in a two-hour line at the polls is similar to standing in a two hour long line at the DMV, but without the obvious benefit of walking out with a drivers license. The `I voted’ sticker is cute, but just isn’t enough to entice the young voters who are now, more than ever, expecting things to be quick and easy… two things that voting is not.
“And I say this as a voter that fits into the coveted 18-29 age group… as someone who woke up at 5:00 AM on Tuesday to get to the polls by the time they opened… as someone who voted for the president of the United States for the third time… and as someone who voted for Bush.
“As for your extreme fear of the way that the country is choosing it’s leaders, rest assured that while some dumb people voted for Bush for the wrong reasons, some dumb people voted for Kerry for the wrong reasons too (like the mythical draft). Generally it evens out. Libertarians (who make more sense to me than the Republicans or the Democrats) tend to vote Republican because we don’t have a viable alternative. The lesser of two evils, in our view.
“If you wanna blame something original, blame the same-sex marriage initiatives that were on the ballot in 11 states. Evangelical Christians weren’t voting for Bush based on his DUI in 2000. Well this year in swing states such as Michigan and Ohio same-sex marriage initiatives were on the ballot. That initiative may have gotten them to the polls and while they were there they probably voted for Bush.” — Derrick Diemont , Yorktown, VA.
“Why did the Blues lose? Maybe if people who happen to disagree with them politically weren’t automatically labeled as fascists or Bubbas or gun-toting, three-tooth rednecks who hate all them queers. Maybe if people like Nick Kristof and Lewis Beale would stop complaining about Red Staters ‘voting against their own interests.’
“And perhaps, just perhaps, people who vote Republican know what their own interests are better than Nick Kristof. and they think it’s the height of arrogance for him to tell them what they should think is important. Maybe if people who support the President weren’t diagnosed as psychotic.
“Gee, I can’t imagine anyone getting all that thrown at them and not wondering if the accusers have just a hint of elitism. If you stopped spending all your time disparaging such a large percentange of the voters, they might swing your way every once in a while. Just a thought.” — Bryan Farris, Baton Rouge, LA.
Wells to Farris: You’re right, Bryan. It’s mean and dismissive of Blues to suggest that Reds don’t respect the rights of gay people. Reds have long been known for their respect for gay rights, and it was lax of me to ignore this.
“How sad you are! To me, you’re just another wacko liberal living among other wacko liberals who really believe that people living in La La Land know what’s best for the country. You people live in a bubble, feeding off each other’s discontent. It must really hurt you folks to have to come to the realization that your opinions carry zero weight in America.” — Louis L. Orlando.
“Stick to movies. Your politic rants are for the birds.” — Bicycle Bob
“Maybe its time for you to admit liberalism is dying a slow and tortured death in this country. It’ll hang around in [the] big cities and Massuchucetts but it’s dead everywhere else. And why? Because it is out of touch with modern America.” — Mindy Cohn
“Did you pack your bags for Canada yet? You and Alec Baldwin can catch the flight together.” — Mark Zeigler.
From a Friend
“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles.
“It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt.
“But if the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all; and health, happiness, and friendly salutations to yourself.” — Thomas Jefferson , 1798.