Son of Enchilada

I guess ’05 isn’t going to be such a bad year after all.
I asked readers to suggest upcoming film titles to complement Wednesday’s piece about the year’s most promising features (“Whole ’05 Enchilada”), and I was reminded of a few good ones. The overall list of probable good’s to very good’s is now up to 23, and the list of maybe’s and wait-and-see’s is up to 10, for a grand total of 33.
I’ve broken the whole list down into three seasonal sections in an article that follows this one.

I’ve added six films to the ’05 first-rate list (The Fountain, In Her Shoes, Lords of Dogtown, A Scanner Darkly, Shopgirl, Syriana) and seven to the second-tier.
Darren Aronofsky√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s The Fountain (Warner Bros., mid tolate √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05) A searching sci-fi thriller about a search for immortality via a mystical “tree of life” in Central America. Situation is explored in three different centuries, √¢‚Ǩ≈ìthe ultimate lesson being that death, as part of the process of rebirth, is to be embraced, not feared.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù (Those aren√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t my words.) Directed and written by Aronofsky. Cast : Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Gullette, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy.
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Curtis Hanson’s In Her Shoes (20th Century Fox, fall ’05) Said to be a “comedy drama,” directed by Hanson and written by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), but it sure sounds like a chick flick to me. (Hanson- level, I mean.) Two motherless sisters (Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette) with a history of conflict stop speaking to each other when the more carefree and irresponsible one seduces the other’s boyfriend, but they eventually reconcile with the help of a grandmother Shirley Maclaine) they never knew they had. Cast: Diaz, Collette, Maclaine, Mark Fuerstein, Eric Balfour, Francine Beers.
Catherine Hardwicke’s Lords of Dogtown (Columbia, 6.10) A big studio’s token stab at street cred. Stacey Peralta wrote the script for this dramatization of his award-winning doc Dogtown and Z Boys, which told the story of the birth and growth of skateboarding, largely in southern California. Cast: Emiel Hirsch, Victor Rasuk, Heath Ledger, Nikki Reed, Rebecca de Mornay, Johnny Knoxville.

Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly (Warner Independent, 9.16) Another Waking Life-type animated thing from Richard Linklater, but this time with a futuristic sci-fi thriller plot. Based on a Philip K. Dick short story about an undercover cop (Keanu Reeves) who gets addicted to a split personality-inducing drug called Substance D. This leads to Reeve√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s good side sets up a sting operation with his superiors to catch his drug-dealer dark side. Cast : Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Wynona Ryder.
Steve Martin and Anand Ticker√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Shopgirl (Touchstone, fall √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05) Based on Martin’s best-selling “Shopgirl,” about a fifty-something guy (Martin) falling in love with 20-something Mirabelle (Claire Danes), and the various turns and difficulties of the relationship that follows. Eventually, of course, a younger suitor (Jason Schwartzman) winnows his way into the picture. Cast: Martin, Danes, Schwartzman, Sam Bottoms, Frances Conroy, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras.
Stephen Gaghan√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Syriana (Warner Bros, 7.29) A first-person account of the CIA’s false confidence concerning the future of Middle East after the end of the Cold War, based on Robert Baer√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s book See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA’s War on Terrorism, with George Clooney as Baer. Screenplay by Gaghan. Cast: Clooney, Chris Cooper, Matt Damon, Michelle Monaghan, David Clennon, Gina Gershon.
And seven possible’s, maybe’s, wait-and-see’s….
Oliver Assayas’ Clean (Palm Pictures, 9.05) Woman struggling to survive after her boyfriend dies from drug overdose, eventually hooks up with his dad. Didn’t hear much about this during Cannes ‘04. Cast: Maggie Cheung, Don McKellar, Nick Nolte, Beatrice Dalle.

Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni and Wong Kar Wai’s Eros (Warner Independent, 4.8.05) Three-part anthology pic about love, lust, longing. Wong’s is about a high-end prostitute having it off with her tailor, Soderbergh’s is about ad exec Robert Downey exploring an erotic dream with psychiatrist Alan Arkin, and Antonioni’s is about a ménage-a-trois between a couple and a young woman on the coast of Tuscany. (Soderbergh stepped into project when pedro Almodovar dropped out.)
Liev Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated (Warner Independent, 8.12.05) I am struggling to suppress my negatives feelings about star Elijah Wood, whose moist-eyed Frodo performance in the Rings will live in infamy for decades. He plays a Jewish kid who goes to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his granddad from the Nazis during WWII. √¢‚Ǩ≈ìNot your standard Holocaust tale,√¢‚Ǩ¬ù a reader informs, √¢‚Ǩ≈ìbut a complex story-within-a-story type deal, and I wonder if a first-time director like Liev Schreiber can pull it off.”
David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (New Line, fall ’05) Said to be a thriller, but you never know with Cronenberg. Viggo Mortensen is a small-town family guy dealing with something really bad and having to consequently save his family from peril, blah, blah. Cast Ed Harris, Maria Bello, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes.
Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies (Thinkfilm, fall √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05) Based on Rupert Holme’s novel about the breakup of a 50’s comedy team (sort of Martin and Lewis-y, I gather) after a girl is found dead in their hotel room. A young female journalist goes after the truth, even though both comedians were off the hook with alibis. Cast: Kevin Bacon, Colin Firth, Alison Lohman. (The only problem is that while I√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll buy Alison Lohman as Nick Cage√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s pretend daughter in Matchstick Men, I can√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t buy her as a journalist — she looks and behaves too much like an actress. Her eyes are too dewy, too open to emotion. Female journalists I√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve known all have faces that say √¢‚Ǩ≈ìenough with the mushy stuff√¢‚Ǩ¬ù and √¢‚Ǩ≈ìlet√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s get down to it.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù)

Out of dark curiosity if nothing else, I was going to put Rob Reiner’s Rumor Has It (Warner Bros., 4.15) down as a “maybe,” but despite the intriguing cast and all (Jennifer Aniston, Mark Ruffalo, Shirley MacLaine, Kevin Costner) this project has a bad-vibe, damaged-goods feeling. This is due to the guillotining of one-time director Ted Griffin early in the shoot (an act aided and abetted by producer Steven Soderbergh, Griffin’s former friend and supporter who turned against him or at least didn’t protect him when push came to shove) over issues of slowness and alleged bickering between Griffin and the stars.
Griffin√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s replacement by Rob Reiner, who brought in his own writers to tweak the script and in so doing imposing what I expect will be a mainstream-meathead imprint upon Griffin’s original script, added insult to injury.

All Together Now

I think I’ll start a Good Vibrations box at the bottom of the column with the following titles, and then start to put together a separate Oscar Balloon ’05 box as it all starts to coagulate. Which means, of course, that some titles will be added and some will be dropped, etc.
Like I said in Wednesday’s piece, with a few exceptions I’m ignoring all the broad, big-budget, mass-appeal studio films on the assumption that they’ll offend or disappoint in one way or another.
BEST OF JANUARY TO APRIL: Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s Inside Deep Throat (Universal, 2.11); Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Gunner Palace (Palm Pictures, 3.4); Mike Binder’s The Upside of Anger (New Line, 3.11); Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (Fox Searchlight, 3.18); Jonathan Nossiter’s Mondovino (Thinkfilm, 3.23); Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man (Paramount, 4.1). Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter (Universal, 4.22); Paul Haggis’s Crash (Lions Gate, 4.29). MAYBE√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢S: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Sin City (Dimension, 4.1); Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni and Wong Kar Wai√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Eros (Warner Independent, 4.8.05). (10)

BEST OF MAY TO AUGUST: Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, 5.6); Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (Universal, 6.3.05); Catherine Hardwicke√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Lords of Dogtown (Columbia, 6.10); Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (Paramount, 7.29); Stephen Gaghan√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Syriana (Warner Bros, 7.29); Tony Scott’s Domino (New Line, August); Darren Aronofsky√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s The Fountain (Warner Bros., mid to late √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05). MAYBE√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢S: Doug Liman’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (20th Century Fox, 6.10); John Stockwell√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Into the Blue (MGM, 7.15); Liev Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated (Warner Independent, 8.12.05) (10)
BEST OF SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER: Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly (Warner Independent, 9.16); Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential (UA, mid-fall); Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust (Paramount Classics, mid to late fall); Curtis Hanson√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s In Her Shoes (20th Century Fox, fall √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05); Steve Martin and Anand Ticker√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Shopgirl (Touchstone, fall √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05) ; Sam Mendes’ Jarhead (DreamWorks, 11.11); Terrence Malick’s The New World (New Line, 11.9); Steven Zallian’s All The King’s Men (Columbia, November-December). MAYBE√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢S: Oliver Assayas√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ Clean (Palm Pictures, 9.05); Bennett Miller’s Capote (United Artists, fall); David Cronenberg√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s A History of Violence (New Line, fall √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05) ; Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies (Thinkfilm, fall √¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢05); Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (Miramax, 11.23). (13)

Man Near London

I was looking yesterday at the VHS trailer for Ron Howard√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Cinderella Man (Universal, 6.3) and agreeing with the general consensus that it looks solid — well-acted, well-organized — and enjoying the vague sepia-tone shadings in the color photography, when this letter from a London reader I√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve heard from before, Poly Giannaba, came through.
Now, she could be a studio “plant” (it happens) but it would be awfully tricky and rather elaborate of some Universal/Imagine guy to try and send along a rave from way over there. Plus a planted review would probably be more explicit that what Poly has provided in terms of plot and scene descriptions.

√¢‚Ǩ≈ìI just saw Cinderella Man in a test screening a couple of weeks ago, and in my opinion the online trailer doesn’t do it justice. The trailer looks a bit soft, and the film feels leaner and more confident, and is very involving.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìIt’s hard to tell with these things but I think that all three actors (Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger, Paul Giamatti) will get Oscar nominations. It has gorgeous photography and almost a kind of documentary feel in places. The boxing action is exciting and brutal, but also emotionally relevant to the story.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThe film literally starts with a punch near the end of the 1920s, when Jim Braddock’s (Crowe) star is ascending. And so the scene is set, both in the ring and in his domestic life. Things are looking very good and then there is a very nice, simple and effective transition to a few years later, when things are totally different.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù
Poly doesn’t spill, but any Braddock website will tell you he lost a fifteen-round decision to Tommy Loughran in 1929, and that the combination of this and the 1929 stock market crash made things tough for Braddock and his family over the next two or three years.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThat first scene, when we first see the change of fortune, is a different kind of punch, all the more upsetting because there is a sense of normality about it. The whole film is like that — neither the direction nor the acting tries to emphasize that what we√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re seeing is extraordinary or appalling. Things speak for themselves.

√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThe first part of the film is mostly about Braddock√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s day-to-day struggle and keeping his head above water. My stomach felt cold, like lead — it really hits you. That first part might need some trimming — not to lose any one scene but to make it all play tighter.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìWhen Braddock starts to win, it’s still about the day-to-day struggle. At no point does he want to win in order to celebrate himself. It’s still about keeping the family together and the children fed and warm. It’s great seeing a film hero who isn’t self involved.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThen the interest shifts a bit, and you want to know why Braddock keeps fighting when the consequences are potentially devastating. Max Baer, his final opponent, had killed two men in the ring. When Braddock articulates the reasons for wanting to fight, it’s a great moment, both simple and powerful.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThe final fight is long and brutal. I heard some people say that it’s too long but I didn’t think so. That’s the whole point — the beating isn’t over quickly and you have to feel it. The result of the fight is almost irrelevant, but it’s not flashy and it feels very good. Ron Howard doesn’t overstay the moment and the final sequence of brief scenes, each one freezing to create a photograph, is aesthetically fantastic and genuinely sweet.
“The version we saw was 2 hours and 20 minutes, with no credits. It seemed to me like 90 minutes.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThe boxing scenes are thrilling — directed, played and edited to perfection. I can’t remember boxing in any other film being both so physical and so integral to the emotional life of what it’s about.
“The film has a great sense of time and place, which has, in part, something to do with the color. Thinking back, I remember it as black and white.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìCrowe plays Braddock like the everyday man, very quiet but direct. Very few actors can inhabit characters with such inner conviction. I don√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t always like Zellweger, but she√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s very earthy here, doesn’t try too hard and looks great as a brunette.

√¢‚Ǩ≈ìIt’s great to see Giamatti with a really good role in a mainstream film. The part is big, he doesn’t play a loser and his relationship with Braddock is at least as vital as Zellweger’s. He has great chemistry with Crowe. His explosiveness works great with Crowe’s stillness — kind of a yin-yang thing.
“The test screening was at Kingston upon Thames, a little town outside London, on 12.16.
“The company that organized it was First Movies ( I was surprised that they had a test screening in the U.K. but I wasn’t going to complain.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThe cinema was full, about 300 people. Very diverse crowd. The fact that several rows were filled with teenagers didn’t make me happy before the film started, as I didn’t think they would sit still for the whole film. I was wrong — they seemed as involved as everyone else.
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìI wasn’t part of the discussion group but all the people around me seemed to enjoy the film immensely. All the boxes I saw checked were √¢‚ǨÀúvery good√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ and √¢‚ǨÀúexcellent.√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ I can√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t wait to see it again.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù
I like the name Poly, which alludes in a left-field way to “poly-sci.”

Lamented Non-Merger

There are two Truman Capote movies coming — one from Warner Independent called Every Word is True that√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s just starting to shoot, and another from United Artists called Capote that√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll be out sometime in the fall.
The big draw of Bennett Miller’s Capote is Phillip Seymour Hoffman. You just know that performance will cook. Miller’s last film was the totally delightful Speed Levitch doc The Cruise. Capote’s script, based on Gerald Clarke’s “Capote,” was written by actor Dan Futterman, who’s a friend of Miller’s from high school.

Every Word is True, which will have to race to be in theatres by year’s end, is being directed by Douglas McGrath, whose script is based upon George Plimpton’s bio “Truman Capote.” McGrath’s best-known credit is his co-authoring of Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway. Toby Jones plays Capote, with support from Alan Cummings, Anjelica Huston and Sandra Bullock.
Capote has been dead since 1984. Clarke and Plimpton’s books came out in ’88 and ’97-‘98. Why is there a horse race between two filmed biopics now? Why do these same-subject duels always happen?
Or why didn’t the warring Capote teams simply merge assets? Jean Francois Allaire, who knows from good writing (as we’ve corresponded about this and that screenplay for years), has read McGrath’s and Futterman’s scripts, and has this to say:
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìCapote has a really good cast but the screenplay isn’t great. Every Word is True√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s screenplay is far superior. It’s a shame they couldn’t combine the projects together, as in taking Capote√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s A-List cast and folding it into Every Word is True.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Narration Beef

One of Netflix critic James Rocchi’s slams against Million Dollar Baby is that it leans on Morgan Freeman’s narration, which he says is usually a sign of weakness. In response to this, a guy who forgot to put his name at the bottom of his e-mail wrote me and said….
√¢‚Ǩ≈ìThe only thing more tired than narration is movie critics complaining about narration. It’s a shame Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity ), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve), Terrence Malick (Badlands), Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and Alexander Payne (Election) didn’t trust their audiences. They might’ve made decent movies.√¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Bum Tsunami Pics

I just got back in this evening and everyone has written to tell me the tsunami pics I ran earlier today weren’t taken during the recent Asian tsunami, but happened some two years ago. Checking with before putting them up would have been easy enough. And a decent money shot of the tsunami still hasn’t surfaced.