Still The Shit

I’ve written so much about Hustle & Flow I’m starting to bore myself, but this is the weekend and now’s the time. I saw it with my son and a couple of his friends at the sneak last Saturday night, and I felt the same satisfied vibe from the people walking out…the same one I’ve been feeling since last January.
This movie sells ideas about life and creativity that may not be true, but people sure as hell want to believe them…I know that. We’ve all got pain in our hearts and poetry in our souls and it’s never too late to make your move, etc,

Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson in Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow.

In a perfect world the response this weekend would trash the idea that Craig Brewer’s pic is primarily an African American rap movie that’ll play best with non-whites. Bullshit. It should do as well in Bangor, Maine, and Tempe, Arizona, as it does in Memphis, Tennessee. It is so much more than what you think it might be.
Hustle & Flow is as grittily rendered as a formula film can get, and that’s a good combination. By my standards it’s a fairly honest portrait of who and what people are deep-down and how it all works out there, but it’s also a film out to please. It’s got some laughs and some good music and good people in it, and a happy ending.
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In other words, formula can be intriguing. To say you’ve “seen this kind of film before” means nothing. The question must always be, “How well was it made, and how much did you care?”
It’s worth it alone for Terrence Howard’s D-Jay, a flawed, at times brutally insensitive guy in a classic do-or-die struggle to make it as a rap artist. This is really Howard’s time…he’s off and on his way. I hope the Cinderella Man crap-out doesn’t stop that Joe Louis film he’s supposed to make from getting funded.
Anthony Anderson is almost as good as Howard…so good he’s made me wonder more than once why he’s made so many throwaway piece-of-shit movies during his career. Costars Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls, Taraji P. Henson and Ludacris make it play true and steady and right as rain.

Hustle director Craig Brewer, producers Stephanie Allain and John Singleton just after first public showing at last January’s Sundance Film Festival.

Every frame of this movie says, “You know what we’re doing…this guy wants to climb out of his crappy situation and maybe we’re gonna show him do that…but we’re gonna do it in a way that feels right to us.”
And once D-Jay hooks up with Anderson and Qualls and starts to put together a sound and record a few tracks, Hustle & Flow is off the ground and pretty much stays there, suspended.
Forget the funky backdrops and gritty-ass particulars — is there anyone out there who can’t relate to a character who feels stuck in a tired groove and wants to do more with his/her life? Is there anything more commonly understood these days?
Whatever you might expect to feel about D-Jay, he is, by the force of Howard’s acting and Brewer’s behind-the-camera input, utterly real and believable, and even with his anger and brutality you can’t help but root for him. And, for that matter, the film.

Lazy Ass

I didn’t dislike The Bad News Bears. Didn’t love it, didn’t mind it, didn’t hate it…half went with it.
Billy Bob Thornton has been in shittier films and will be again. He’s another nihilist drunk this time, but he’s also an ex-baseball player who used to be good and has retained a certain poise and centeredness. He’s loaded but smooth about it.
I would be ashamed if I were Richard Linklater, who made a much-better studio jerkoff movie called School of Rock a couple of years ago, not to mention the sublime Before Sunset, a film that anyone would be proud of. But of course, I’m not Richard Linklater.
As Thomas Becket says in the movie, “Honor is a private matter, and each man has his own version of it.”

I said to The Bad News Bears about ten or fifteen minutes in, “Okay, you don’t care that much about showing me a really good time, but you’re mildly entertaining here and there. So I’m just gonna sit here and be mildly satisfied and nod off if I feel like it and let it go at that.”
What this is is a decent lazy movie, like a friend who comes over and does nothing but eat potato chips and watch movies without saying too much. He/she is never going to accomplish anything big or invite you to climb mountains in Austria, but he/she is a good soul and you like him/her and that’s good enough.
There are movies that are so slovenly and dumb-assed that they stink. The Bad News Bears is only half-assed bad. According to my system, that means it’s also half-assed good.
I can actually see renting the DVD in December, or watching this thing on a plane someday with the headphones on (as opposed to my standard habit of watching films without sound and seeing how expressive and particular they can be on purely visually terms).

Lifeboat Again

During our brief chat last week about the October release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat on DVD, Fox Home Video publicist Steve Feldstein didn’t tell me the precise date. Come to think of it, he didn’t even tell me the month. I’ve since learned from other sources that this special-edition DVD will be in stores on Tuesday, October 18th.
The boilerplate rundown on this disc, passed along at DVD Answers, doesn’t say anything about a digital remastering, but it’s inconceivable that some kind of visual improvement wasn’t pushed through by Fox’s resident preservationist Shawn Belston.

The extras will include a commentary by USC film studies professor Drew Casper, a generic “Making of Lifeboat” featurette (no word if Hitchcock specialist Laurent Bouzereau, who’s directed many making-of featurettes for other Hitchcock DVDs, was hired to do this particular one), the theatrical trailer and a still gallery.
It’s interesting that Fox has taken a shot of the lifeboat survivors in the film, colorized them and lightened them somewhat, and put them onto a wide-angle shot of a placid moonlit sea. A very pretty image. Intriguing, attractive…but my recollection is that nothing remotely like this is seen in the Hitchcock film.
My earlier Lifeboat commentary ran last week, and here it is…just scroll down to the lower part of the page.


If you haven’t yet decided to see Gus Van Sant’s Last Days this weekend (along with Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, of course), maybe this will put you in the mood. I just listened to it myself, and I’m half-inclined to see Days for the fourth time. Either you hear it or you don’t.

Spanning Decades

“I rented L’Eclisse maybe three months ago, right after the Criterion DVD came out, mainly because it was an Antonioni picture but also because of recommendations I read on several websites, including yours. It’s also present in Scorsese’s documentary on Italian cinema.
“I watched it and granted it was kind of hard at times, but as you said it was unforgettable, especially the final minutes of it and all the stockholder bidding scenes.
“Since then I’ve been trying to spark some interest among my friends to see this film, or any Antonioni movie they can find, and it’s definitely not happening. It’s the same with Kurosawa, Fellini, Tarkovsky, Dassin and everything that is old.

Monica Vitti, Alain Delon in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’ecclise

“I can’t say there’s a definite ‘no way’ attitude about it, but there’s not a real interest in it. It’s a generational thing, but these people are supposed to be interested in film (like your film students) and Kill Bill is not the end of the rainbow, you know.
“I just watched the War Trilogy of Wadja and I’m stunned at how accesible and just beautiful to look at those films are, and it’s been impossible to convince anyone of my age to see them. I go to rent movies, and all these great old ones are just sitting there and all these young “hipsters” are fighting each other to rent ,Party Monster or Lost in Translation.
“But now there’s a lot of interest in seeing Last Days, so maybe we’re onto something.
“Anyway, even though not many people my age care or would appreciate the greatness of L’Eclisse, I just wanted to drop a line saying that everything’s not lost cause I’m 25 and completely loved that one, and when I saw those final minutes of empty streets and wandering strangers in silence, it felt liberating, like cinema has no boundaries or something like that.
“It’s kind of like the feeling you get from Kubrick movies, and 8 1/2, and if film students are not watching these films and others as good, well, they should.” — Alexandro Aldrete, Monterrey, Mexico.


“I wish you wouldn’t waste your energy and column space sparring with the Christian Right. They are indeed wacko, in addition to being hypocritical and naive. You can bet your ass you will not see Mark from Boston in an Iraqi foxhole anytime soon.
“The Christian right is not interested in compassion, the basic message of Christ. James Dobson, et. al. are more interested in declaiming themselves as members of a Chosen Few Network, and then lording it over the rest of us.
“You can go ahead and inhale NASCAR fumes, lay your concrete or other low value-added job, and be xenophobic. But there are engineers in China and India who soon will be able to dictate our standard of living. And they don’t give a scrap about Jesus.
“So Christian Right lads & lassies, it’s not so much the content of your belief, but your constant, anachronistic mantra has distracted the United States from it’s traditional role as a progressive, rational, technologically superior, and respected nation.
“I disagree with D. Tucker also. I believe the Christian right would vote for a Democratic candidate if and when the bottom falls out of this deficit economy and they have no money for Wal Mart.” — Arizona Joe

“I’ve enjoyed reading your column for several months now, despite my wincing occasionally at some of your condescending prose regarding middle-American Christians. However, you’ve taken it a little too far this week with your denigration of Doug Liman’s “cool hip Christians” comment. What you said has seemed ignorant and offensive, at least to this Christian.
“So I’m removing Hollywood Elsewhere from my list of bookmarks. Just thought you might want to know your arrogance has lost you at least one reader. But since you automatically presume I’m a badly dressed, strangely smiling automaton, you probably won’t mind too much.” — Todd Wicks, Detroit, Michgan.
Wells to Wicks: No, I’m sorry you’re leaving. Sort of.
“Regarding your comment about middle-American Christians dressing horribly, I would blame that more on retail sales than on religion. Trends seem to hit the United States in New York and Los Angeles and work their way inland. By the time a trend is popular in the Midwest, there’s something new on the coasts.
“Availability is another problem. I’m an avid GQ reader, and if I see
something nice in, say, the July issue, odds are I have to get it from a place in New York or LA or maybe Chicago. I think the reason many small-town Midwesterners, Christian or not, dress poorly is that their only choices are the clothes available at their local Wal-Mart.
“I enjoy your column. It’s turned me on to quite a few decent films, most recently Crash — my favorite of 2005 so far.” — John Wilson, Des Moines, Iowa

Wedding Payoffs

“You’re right about the third act in Wedding Crashers killing the steam, but don’t most comedies go that way? Even classic comedies have trouble maintaining the momentum of the first two acts because eventually you have to turn over jokes at the hands of the plot.” — Evan Boucher.
Wells to Boucher: Yes, generally speaking, most comedies turn it down and start playing their sincere cards (i.e., the ones that tell us what the main characters are really feeling) at the end of act two before cutting loose at the finale…Some Like It Hot, The Graduate, Jerry Maguire…all the great ones do this. But these three films, also, don’t seem to be wandering around and trying things out without much assuredness, as Wedding Crashers seems to do in its final act.

Boucher to Wells: Vince Vaughn and Rachel McAdams are the big winners here. Vaughn for being uniquely good at the rapid-fire dialogue and bringing out that affectionate duality (you love him because he’s a good guy and an asshole), which he should stick to for the rest of his career. And McAdams for being more unspecialized. She’s obviously talented, and one dividend of that is that she gives you more than what you think you’re going to get and seems pretty genuine.
“It’s funny that McAdams got her break in Mean Girls as the villain, then went to The Notebook for some chick-flick immersion and now this. Pretty good career path for diversification.”
Wells to Boucher: I think Owen Wilson got a pretty good bump also. The first time people stepped back and realize he’d formulated this witty, absent-minded Texas space-cadet character and had figured out the patent was when he did Shanghai Nights with Jackie Chan and it made money. The Wedding Crashers payoff is about people realizing his presence in comedies always results in a certain intellectual pedigree, and that Wilson can also do emotional sincerity and romantic stuff fairly well.
Boucher to Wells: “Yeah, but I get a different thing from him after this movie. I think that he is just about as good as whatever he’s reading. If it’s good (anything he writes with Wes Andersen, or this one, or Meet the Parents) he comes off as really being a plus for the film. But he certainly doesn’t look like he can carry anything, and he can’t really make something out of nothing.

Wells to Boucher: Aaah, but he can! Everything he’s in, he rewrites or tweaks in order to make that guy he always plays come off in a pithy-funny way. You never just hire Owen Wilson to just show up and act — he’s always the co-writer.
Boucher to Wells: Wilson has never had a success without Stiller or someone else to be the real draw. It might be an odd comparison, but maybe he’s slightly like Jason Alexander in the way that he can never be the man. The worst thing that could happen to this guy’s career is that with that bump you’re saying he’s getting off Wedding Crashers, that he will go back to believing he’s the man and make ten more Big Bounce‘s or Behind Enemy Lines-type things.”


49th or 50th Street (forget which) between B’way and Seventh Ave. — Thursday, 7.21, 9:25 pm.

Unintentional shot taken on way out the 8th Ave. and 14th Street subway station — Sunday, 7.20, 6:25 pm.

Stinky, totally soaked aftermath of fire in small store on Canal Street near Lafayette — Saturday, 7.16, 11:40 pm.

The unkindest gossip of the last couple of days is that Katie Holmes either has hammer-toes or only four toes on one foot. It’s cruel to publicly criticize someone’s anatomy. (Private critiquing is another matter.) This close-up shot, which has been cropped from a larger photo, seems to dispel both notions. There was a woman I knew in the late ’90s who had hammer-toes, and I vividly remember standing in her kitchen once and fighting off the thought that her feet looked like an adult gorilla’s, except they were hairless. It would have been painful for her to have overhead this, but I used to refer to this woman in private conversation as “gorilla foot.” In any case, Holmes is not that and she has all five digits on both feet, so leave it alone.

Saturday, 7.16, 9:55 pm.

T-shirt worn by woman at Last Days party — Tuesday, 7.19, 11:20 pm. Cultural-animus sentiments allegedly taken from photo of graffiti snapped in 1979.

There’s only one slight pre-viewing problem with Must Love Dogs (which is sneaking Saturday night) and it’s not that big a deal, but it’s there. It’s my impression, based on the trailer, that John Cusack, one of my favorite guys, has put on a few pounds. He needs to get back to his Gross Point Blank weight.

Nice shot I happened to run across — obviously pre-9/11.

Actual page from press kit for Pretty Persuasion, a Samuel Goldwyn release due in August. I’m a huge fan of James Woods’ performance in Citizen Cohen. I thought he lent considerable dignity to the character of Nate Cohen, a Jewish businessman living in a small Texas down during the 1950s and ’60s who’s forced to deal with anti-Semitism.

49th or 50th and Seventh Ave. — Thursday, 7.21, 7:50 pm.