Crash (Lion’s Gate, 5.6) is worth your attention and respect. It’s one of those films that has the Big Picture on its mind. It isn’t preachy or assaultive (not to my mind anyway), but it damn sure swings for the fences.
Directed and co-written by Paul Haggis (who also adapted Million Dollar Baby), it’s a realistic, nicely sculpted, multi-character thing about racism. L.A. racism, to put a fine point on it, but folks in other regions will relate.

Larenz Tate, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in Paul Haggis’s Crash.

It’s not a flip or cynical film, but mulling it over made me think of Randy Newman’s “Rednecks”. The chorus of this song and what Crash is saying fit together on a certain level.
Crash is one of those multi-character, criss-crossing fate movies that most of us associate with Robert Altman (Nashville, Short Cuts , Gosford Park) or Alan Rudolph (Choose Me, Welcome to L.A.). But it’s tighter and more disciplined that Altman’s usual stuff.
The closest comparison I can think of is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, and I hope I haven’t scared anyone off by saying that.
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Crash is also about rage and mistrust and bad tempers and fatigue, but it plays in a different key. The script, by Haggis and Bobby Moresco, is very intricate and well developed, and eventually (during the last third) it starts to feel like something really sharp and extra.
There are no weak or so-so performances in Crash, and it has some ace-level ones given by Don Cheadle, Thandie Newton, Terrence Howard, Ryan Phillipe (best thing he’s ever done), Larenz Tate, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sandra Bullock and Matt Dillon.

Ryan Phillipe as a conflicted police offer…his career best so far

One of the things I really liked about Haggis and Moresco’s script is that no character is seen as just one color or tendency. People are misread and mistaken for people they’re not all through it, and they all go through these little epihanies.
Matt Dillon’s character, an L.A. patrol cop whose racist attitudes are so belligerent and sulfuric he feels like a throwback to the L.A. Confidential era, is the most offensive, but even he turns out to have traces of heroism and compassion.
Crash is broad-minded enough to even acknowledge that some racial attitudes are semi-justified, or at least understandable.
New Yorker critic David Denby said that Crash “is the first movie I know of to acknowledge not only that the intolerant are also human but, further, that something like white fear of black street crime, or black fear of white cops, isn’t always irrational.”
Here’s an interesting Geoff Pevere interview with Haggis that will bring you up to snuff on the genesis of it.

Thandie Newton, playing the wife of a successful Hollywood director (Terrence Howard) and grappling with rage and humiliation at the hands of a racist cop.

After you’ve seen a movie like Crash you know you’ve seen something. I’ve seen it twice now, and it got me thinking about who I really am, deep down, in terms of racial attitudes.
I’ve never thought of myself as a racist, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being race-conscious. I’m merely saying that I notice stuff — traits, behavior, physical characteristics — that are specific to this or that racial-cultural crew. Is that so terrible? Talk to Paul Theroux about this.
Middle-aged white people from the Midwest, for example, not only look like a very culturally specific bunch but they behave and dress in a very specific oddball way. Their bodies are a bit softer and rounder, they have appalling taste in travel attire, and they always look slightly cowed.
It’s always a fascinating game for me in European airports to try and spot which travelers are French, English, American, German or Italian.
When you’re walking around the Dallas Ft. Worth airport there’s no missing the genetic differences between the natives (who come from Irish and Scottish ancestry) and the folks you’ll see in Los Angeles or San Francisco or Chicago.

And anyone can spot in a second the multi-ethnic stew (old-school Italian, Irish, African-American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Russian, Indian, etc.) that is New York City when you’re walking through JFK or La Guardia.
I’m not being completely honest. Between the lines of my airport observations, occasional racist thoughts — call them flashes or spasms — pop through from time to time. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.
Jeez, I’ve written myself into a box here. I’m just trying to be frank and I’m sounding like Rod Steiger in In The Heat of the Night.
Maybe if I go even deeper I can dig myself out. This is a totally true story that happened to a friend in late ’94. In fact, now that I think about it, it could have been worked into Crash.
It involves alcoholism and reckless behavior, but the guy is over this problem now and I know he’s proud of that.
The guy is coming back from a party and half in the bag. Not blind drunk but definitely impaired. He’s on Sunset near Crescent Heights, and the car in front of him stops dead and he bangs into the car’s rear bumper. Nothing heavy, but there’s been some minor damage and insurance cards need to be exchanged.

Matt Dillon.

Two African American women get out. He says “hey” in a relaxed way, and both parties agree to pull over to the side and sort things out, so the guy gets back in his car and then starts thinking, “Wait a minute.” He’s just been in another alcohol-related car accident (which the cops never heard about, luckily for him) and he doesn’t want to submit another report to the insurance company so soon after the last banger.
Being the mature, level-headed, shake-hands-with-reality type of dude he was at the time, the guy peels out and takes a sharp left and takes off down Sunset. I can lose these guys, he figures. But they peel right out and hit the gas and are right on his ass. He drives faster and faster…no change. He panics and starts to really break the traffic laws but he can’t shake them.
After about five minutes of this, he gives up and pulls over into an empty parking lot, and the women pull up next to him…freaked.
They’re hysterical with rage, outrage, fear and everything else. One of them pulls out her cell and calls the cops. The guy tells them he’s really sorry and doesn’t know why he gave into the idiotic impulse to run away and is trying to calm them down and talk things out, but the women are volcanoes and they want him nailed but good.
A cop car pulls up a few minutes later. The guy is cool with the fuzz, telling them he’s been a jerk and that he apologizes and wants to settle things, and the women are losing it — so angry and hysterical they’re close to crying, saying “he ran off!” and “you’ve got to arrest him!” and so on.

And guess what? The cops side with the guy. Because he’s calm and the woman are so over-the-top emotional and…
They make sure the women and the guy exchange phone numbers and whatnot, and then they tell the women to calm down and chill and they’ll take care of this guy. After the women are gone they tell my friend to lock his car and walk home because they can tell he’s had a few. And then one of them says, “Don’t ever say the L.A. police never cut anyone a break.”
This happened sometime around the O.J. Simpson trial — make of this what you will.
The guy is overwhelmed with affection for these two emissaries of the law. He can’t believe they let him walk. But they did because they didn’t like those two women. My friend rejoices at the racism behind this. He feels scared and shaken up, but strangely filled with hope. He loves L.A.!
We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks. We don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground. We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks. We’re keeping the niggahs down.


I went to the House of Wax all-media on Monday night, more or less expecting to hate it. I thought I might get some material for a nice rip piece. But it’s not that bad for a throwaway slasher film. It’s reasonably decent — jolting, suspenseful, inventive.
The producer, Joel Silver, sometimes hires faceless MTV hotshots to direct his second-tier movies, and Jaume Collet-Serra, an MTV guy originally from Barcelona, clearly fits the bill, but he obviously knows what he’s doing and shows some real visual flair in the third act.
Collet-Serra could follow up on this and — who knows? — make himself into the next Antoine Fuqua.

It’s a lot wilder and bloodier than the 1953 House of Wax, a 3-D horror film with Vincent Price and Carolyn Jones. There are two significant links between them — i.e., the existence of a wax museum and a hard-core technique used to create life-like human sculptures.
House of Wax is a hodgepodge of every city slickers-visit-the-hinterlands shocker flick you’ve ever seen, from Psycho to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Deliverance to Last House on the Left, with a little taste of Brian DePalma’s Sisters.
Visually, Collet-Saura and Silver have really gone to town with the wax thing. The film is covered with the stuff…sprayed with it.
The guy who pops through is Chad Michael Murray (WB’s One Tree Hill). He plays the bad-ass brother of Elisha Cuthbert’s female lead — a guy who takes no lip and has aggression problems, etc. But it’s very satisfying when these anti-social impulses come into play against the villains of the piece, and you’re left thinking that it’s not so bad to have a bad-ass malcontent around when the going gets rough.
Wolf Creek, an Australian-made horror film I saw at last January’s Sundance Film Festival (and will apparently open later this year via Dimension) is still a better thing. Grittier, tastier, more original.

Chad Michael Murray, Elisha Cuthbert in House of Wax.

I also went to Wax because I wanted to enjoy Paris Hilton being killed. Isn’t that a pretty strong motivation all around? A Warner Bros. publicist was wearing one of those “See Paris Die” T-shirts at the door. And people in the audience did titter a bit when she got it. But not me.
I felt…could it be pity? Compassion? All I know is, she’s not that bad an actress — the word is inoffensive — and I don’t hate her any more. This sounds absurd, I realize, but her acting feels natural and unaffected. She doesn’t force it.
Theoretical question: if you throw a piece of sharp pipe at a person’s head (like a javelin or something), how likely is it that it will go right into their head and come out the other side? I’m not sure this would happen if you threw an arrow-shaped lead pipe at a really rotten, gutted pumpkin.
Complaint: Jared Padalecki, the guy who plays Cuthbert’s boyfriend, is way too big for her. He’s a foot and a half taller. Next to her he looks like a Wookie. [Note: Sorry for getting mis-identifying Padalecki earlier.]

Rising Intrigue

I am a Determined Detractor of George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels. I have said this over and over, but I am a hater because, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far way, I was a lover of The Empire Strikes Back, the best film in the series.
I feel Lucas has shamed the franchise over the last 22 years (since the release of Return of the Jedi) by not even trying to measure up to Empire.
And also because I hated Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace. And because those memories of Jar-Jar Binks will never go away. And because I despise Hayden Christensen’s Toronto accent and those awful vowel sounds. I remember an especially irritating delivery of a line (spoken to Natalie Portman) in Attack of the Clones: “I need haahllp!”

Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman in Star Wars: Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith.

But I have to say (and I feel like a schmuck saying this because you can’t trust trailers) that the trailer or music video or whatever it is makes Star Wars: Episode 3, Revenge of the Sith (20th Century Fox, 5.19) look half decent.
I’m seeing Sith at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld on Thursday night. I have to admit that I’m feeling jazzed about this. Pretty much everyone is.
Sith is George’s last shot at restoring his reputation. If he fails with this final installment, his name as will be marginalized forever as a filmmaker who got it right with THX 1138, American Graffiti and Star Wars…and then went bad and corporate in his imaginings.
But if he succeeds…


There’s a commentary piece by Wendell Wittler in the current Newsweek listing the most memorable Star Wars moments.
His favorite Star Wars line is Harrison Ford’s “I know” to Carrie Fisher’s “I love you!” in Empire. Mine too.
My second favorite line is Ford saying to Fisher, “You like me because I’m a scoundrel.”

My third favorite line (and I realize this makes no sense at all, and I can’t even think up a good nonsensical reason right now to justify it right now) is also from The Empire Strikes Back and also spoken by Ford. It comes in the opening minutes. Han Solo is pissed at Chewbacca for letting go with one of his wookie laugh-growls at an inappropriate moment and he says…
“Laugh it up, fuzzball.” This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever copped to in this column, but I love this stupid-ass line.
I also love the sound of James Earl Jones’ electronically synthesized voice as he looks down at Solo’s carbon-frozen body and says, “Well, Kalrissian, did he survive?”
And like everyone else in the fanboy universe, I love the beautiful delivery that Jones gives to the immortal line, “No…I am your father.”
See what I mean? Empire lines, all.

Sez Who?

“When Attack of the Clones came out you posted what you thought were obvious spoilers, yet they were still spoilers. Can we have a spoiler warning this time, no matter how trivial, for the Last Lucas-directed Star Wars movie ever…please?
“Hayden’s Toronto accent doesn’t sound any better in the new trailer.
“Take this with a grain of salt, but my talent manager and an old buddy of mine from USC heard from some vp at FOX (my gut says it’s the same guy — my friend and manager don’t know each other) that the movie is terrible.
“The Fox guy also said that the people working on it couldn’t wait for it to be over.
“That said, neither friend buys this after seeing the new trailers.” — Name Withheld for Strategic Reasons