Whole ’05 Enchilada

Honestly? Right now? The ’05 films I’m seriously excited about number exactly 22. And that’s pushing it. Make it 17 picks and 5 toothpicks. And I didn’t just toss this list off out of boredom. I thought hard about my quirks and prejudices and sorted ’em all out.
There are at least five or six winners I’m overlooking or haven’t even heard of yet. That always happens. They’ll surface soon enough. In alphabetical order…

Steven Zallian’s All The King’s Men (Columbia, no release date but probably fall/holiday) Following in the trail of Robert Rossen’s 1949 original, based on Robert Penn Warren’s novel about a demagogue-ish Southern 1930s politician inspired by Huey Long. Being shot in and around New Orleans by writer-director Zallian (A Civil Action). Cast : Sean Penn as Broderick Crawford, plus Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Jude Law, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Kate Winslet.
Terry Zwigoff’s Art School Confidential (UA, mid-fall) Probably destined to open at Toronto Film Festival, based on Dan Clowes’ satirical graphic novel of the same name. Yup, that old Ghost World chemistry again. Satirizing the cult of celebrity, the story follows an undercover cop who poses as an artist until he realizes that being a pretend felon or, better still, a supposed killer, will get him even more heft and attention. (I don’t get it either.) Cast: John Malkovich, Matt Keeslar, Anjelica Huston, Steve Buscemi.
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Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust (Paramount Classics, mid to late fall) A story of creative struggle and unlikely colliding love, set in 1930s L.A. but filmed in South Africa, where Towne’s artisans pretty much re-built Bunker Hill. Cast: Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Justin Kirk, Donald Sutherland.
Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man (Universal, 6.3.05) Semi-fabled story of Depression-era slugger and “folk hero” Jim Braddock, who defeated heavyweight champ Max Baer in a fifteen-round bout in 1935. Crowe’s weight seems down to where it was in the Romper Stomper days. Cast: Russell Crowe, Renee Zellwegger, Paul Giamatti, Paddy Considine.
Paul Haggis’s Crash (Lions Gate, 4.29) An L.A. freeway pile-up brings a group of strangers together. Showed at Toronto Film Festival ’04, allegedly strengthened by several top-tier performances. Cast: Matt Dillon, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, Ryan Phillipe, Thandie Newton, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner.

Edgar Ramirez, Mickey Rourke, Kera Knightley in Tony Scott’s Domino.

Tony Scott’s Domino (New Line, August), which only just wrapped a few weeks ago, having begun in October. The real-life story of Domino Harvey (daughter of actor Laurence Harvey, played by Keira Knightley), who blew off a Beverly Hills lifestyle and a career as a Ford model to become a bounty hunter. A non-vested guy wrote me later this afternoon claiming it’s “going to be an absolute masterpiece” and that the script by Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) is “one of the best scripts to come out of Hollywood in years. It’s the best material Tony Scott has ever had, and I am an avid fan of Last Boy Scout and True Romance. It’s thoroughly crazy, unpredictable, funny, and clever. Just as out there and trippy as Donnie Darko, but a lot of shit blows up.” Costars Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Delroy Lindo, Chris Walken, Jacqueline Bisset, Mena Suvari.
Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown (Paramount, 7.29) Failed suicidal shoe designer goes home to Kentucky to bury his just-deceased dad, falls in love with plucky airline stewardess, sorts out the kind of stuff that guys in their late 20s/early 30s need to sort out. A nicely rounded emotional piece that touches bottom at the right moments, in just the right way…but that’s standard stuff for writer-director Crowe. Cast : Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Alec Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Susan Sarandon.
Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s Inside Deep Throat (Universal, 2.11) Smart nervy doc examines the legacy and cultural impact of the most profitable film in world history. Interview subjects: Erica Jong, Linda Lovelace, Norman Mailer, John Waters, Gore Vidal.
Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s Gunner Palace (Palm Pictures, 3.4) Purportedly first-rate doc about the experience of a group of U.S. soldiers’ from the 1st Armored Division in post-takeover Iraq, bunking for a year and half at Uday Hussein’s palace, renamed Gunner Palace. Said to be “a very emotional documentary that shows what these good men and women serving our country are truly like.”
Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter (Universal, 4.22) A moody, politically sophisticated thriller set within the United Nations community, with a exotic-accented Nicole Kidman and a straight-ahead Sean Penn in the leads. Pollack at the helm means this one will be intelligently assembled and that the characters will have (I√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m assuming) unusual angles, if Pollack’s past work (like his last New York-based thriller, Three Days of the Condor) is any indication.

Sam Mendes’ Jarhead (DreamWorks, 11.11) William Broyles’ script is based on Anthony Swofford’s best-selling 2003 book about his pre-Desert Storm experiences in Saudi Arabia and about his experiences fighting in Kuwait. A Gulf War Platoon or…? Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Black.
Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox, 5.6) Aside from the distinction of being an expensive Scott film in the big-canvas Gladiator mode, this is an intelligent 12th Century armies-on-horseback movie about Eastern vs. Western forces. Or, as I said a couple of columns ago, “one of those Muslim vs. Christian, olive-skinned natives vs. white-guy invader type deals, taking place during the Crusades and set in war-torn Jerusalem.” Cast: Orlando Blooom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson.
Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda (Fox Searchlight, 3.18) Acclaimed by Screen International as Woody√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s best in a long while. A discussion between playwrights about the nature of comedy and drama leads to the story of a woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell), and a look at her life as a piece of tragedy and comedy. As a character in the movie puts it, a certain character is “despondent, desperate, suicidal…all the comic elements are in place.” Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Johnny Lee Miller, Josh Brolin, Will Ferrell, Wallace Shawn, Amanda Peet.
Jonathan Nossiter’s Mondovino (Thinkfilm, 3.23) A longish (135 minuntes), highly cultivated rant against globalism as manifested in the wine industry. Very smart, interesting…somewhat sprawling but in a good way. Wine culture has never been more fashionable and mainstream, and if you’re on the side of the small vinters and against the sippers of Robert Mondavi White Zinfandel and the flattening influence of the big combines, here’s a film to rally ’round.

Terrence Malick’s The New World (New Line, 11.9) Malick wrote this 17th Century drama based on the old Captain John Smith and Pocahontas legend, which focuses on the clash between Native Americans and British settlers. Emanuel Lubezki’s photography looks killer in the trailer. Cast: Colin Farell, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer, Roger Rees, Q’Orianka Kilcher.
Mike Binder’s The Upside of Anger (New Line, 3.11) Described by a friend as Terms of Endearment with four daughters and without the cancer. Joan Allen’s feisty, middle-aged, less-than-totally-likable mom is the centerpiece. Rated R for language, sexual situations, brief comic violence, some drug use. Cast: Kevin Costner, Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt.
Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man (Paramount, 4.1) At least partially, it would seem, about the slightly opulent toupee worn by star Nicolas Cage. Director Gore Verbinski√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s direction of The Ring has given him newfound respect, and word around the campfire is that this one√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s okay…maybe better than okay. Cage is a Chicago weatherman named Dave Spritz with an extremely chaotic personal life. The well-regarded screenplay is by Steve Conrad (Wrestling Ernest Hemingway). Cast: Michael Caine, Hope Davis.
And the five probable-hopefuls…
Based on the expectation alone of what I’m sensing will be a great Phillip Seymour Hoffman performance, I’m keen to see Bennett Miller’s Capote (United Artists, fall), a biopic about the once-great flamboyant writer who reportedly had a thing for Clutter murderer Perry Smith (allegedly expressed in his visits to death row), and whose suicide, in the view of Gore Vidal, was “a very wise career move.”

I don’t trust co-directors Robert Rodriguez or Frank Miller (the graphic artist) to dramatize a well-jiggered story, but the look of Sin City (Dimension, 4.1) is too cool to dismiss. Any genre movie shot in black-and-white gets my vote sight unseen, and I love the straight-from-a-comic-book visual style of this thing, and the Dick Tracy-like prosthetics worn by some of the actors (Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro). Based on three stories taken from Miller√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s graphic novels, the likely emphasis will be on “look” over story and character.
Because of the awesome job director John Stockwell did with Blue Crush, I’ve got my hopes up (somewhat) over his latest mer de bleu excursion, called Into the Blue (MGM, 7.15).
Ditto Doug Liman’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (20th Century Fox, 6.10), the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie thriller, because Liman kicked ass with The Bourne Identity and Go.
And despite the mixed word and horrific set stories, I’m still very interested in Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (Miramax, 11.23). A Gilliam is a Gilliam.
I’m repeating myself, but I know there must be a whopper of an omission out there somewhere. Maybe a few of them.
I have next to no interest in seeing Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha (Columbia, possibly December) or James Ivory’s White Countess (Columbia, fall/holiday). Too genteel, too decorous, too Asian.
The openings of John Madden’s Proof and Lasse Hallstrom’s An Unfinished Life , both from Miramax, have been delayed over this and that concern, which I haven’t explored or even questioned. Tomorrow is another day.
I’m sure it’ll be well assembled and a class act, but I don’t expect Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist (Columbia, 9.30) to be much more than marginally diverting. What can anyone get out of a Dickens film at this stage of our decline?

And like always, it’s hard to feel any excitement about the hot-ticket summer movies — Steven Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds (Paramount, 6.29), Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (20th Century Fox, 5.6), Bewitched (Columbia, 7.8), Batman Begins (Warner Bros., 6.17), Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros. 7.15).
The broad comedies — The Wedding Crashers (New Line, 7.22), The Dukes of Hazzard (Warner Bros. 7.29)– aren’t doing much for me either. 96% or 97% of the time they aim straight for the ape cage. Why mince words?
I’m highly skeptical about Peter Jackson’s King Kong (Universal, 12.14), but that dead horse needs a breather.
And we can definitely, absolutely forget about Mike Newell’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros., 11.28). Alfonso Cuaron’s, such as it was, was the high-water mark, and no one really wants to sit through another one. Not me anyway.
I’ve said all this because, fairly or unfairly…
Terry Zwigoff can do no wrong right now, especially with John Malkovich as a partner.
Roman Polanski did it with The Pianist and I wish it were otherwise, but the odds of his being pretty much tapped out at this stage are probably 70-30, his being 71 and all. But maybe not.
Paul Haggis, screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby is happening…the wind-of-the-moment is filling his sails.
Spielberg is over — too rich, too boomer-ed, nothing more to say or explore, going through the motions.
Mike Binder (now wrapping Man About Town with Ben Affleck) is starting to happen now….the grease is boiling in the pan.

Woody Allen has been on the ropes lately, but he could be on the brink of something profound, like what Bunuel was accomplishing when he passed 65. But he needs to hook up with a GenX writing partner to juice up the jokes.
Sam Mendes is either at the summit of his powers, or approaching it.
Peter Jackson’s Return of the King Oscars were not good for him, as they wildly applauded and will henceforth encourage his worst instincts as a director, which are to emphasize visual grandiosity above all other elements and emotionally underline scenes so as to drive people to drink.
Tim Burton may be in a great spiritual place, but to me he seems to be dithering, wandering, overpampered, lost. A remake of Willy Wonka ? Maybe, but I can’t even watch the Gene Wilder version.
George Lucas is a nice guy, a devoted dad and a genuine Darth Vader for our times.
No matter how good it looks, Chris Nolan is paychecking with Batman Begins. How the cool and the mighty have fallen.
Sydney Pollack has always been a solid craftsman, always “sweats” his movies. Even when they’re not so great (Random Hearts, Havana), they’re mildly satisfying.
Bailey and Barbato’s Tammy Faye doc was shrewd, sharp, satirical. How can they possibly miss with a serious-minded blowjob doc?
Robert Towne and Jon Fante have some kind of shared Los Angeles 1930s connection. In telling Fante’s story, Towne is drawing water from a deep dark well.
I don’t know about Zallian (A Civil Action wasn’t bad), but Sean Penn can’t miss as Willie Stark.
Everyone loves the idea of Terrence Malick continuing on his rebound, and at least there’s the painterly look of his films.

Ron Howard continues to deepen and improve, and the Cinderella trailer cooks.
Gore Verbinksi is gathering and climbing, and the word is good on The Weather Man .
I guess I can use some of this for the basis of an ’05 Oscar Balloon.
Again, please point out the films I’ve overlooked…as long as they’re not based on any Jane Austen novels or about closeted gay cowboys.

Baby Bashers

“Just to talk about pop art and boxing on a positive note, allow me to offer that Warren Zevon’s song `Boom Boom Mancini’ on Sentimental Hygiene says more about life, loss, boxing, death and choices in 3:17 than Haggis, Eastwood and company do in the two-plus dark, saxophone-heavy hours of Million Dollar Baby.
“Your 12/31 entry about my dislike of Million Dollar Baby reads, “I’m assuming, naturally, that he [Rocchi] almost called Million Dollar Baby the worst film of ’04 because it got to him on a very primal level. It’s a startling call….”
Well, Jeff, Million Dollar Baby did get to me on a primal level because it was bad in a very real, very conspicuous fashion. All I can do is call ’em like I see ’em, literally. The only thing startling to me about Million Dollar Baby is how many other critics are doing back-flips over it… but, all they can do is call ’em like they…you get the idea.

“And I’m hardly Kevin McCarthy yelling about the Body Snatchers on this one. David Edelstein, Charles Taylor and Armond White have all written great stuff about this bad movie.
“A few explanatory points about not liking Million Dollar Baby above and beyond my review at Netflix. [Editor: spoilers edited out]:
Narration is almost always a sign that the director doesn’t trust the audience — or that he’s fallen in love with some other writer’s language and has gone blind. Leave aside how you have Freeman’s character narrating events he wasn’t there for. The problem is that the narration sounds like Narration — it’s got that dry, dead, book-on-tape feel to it. It’s not human language; it’s literary language, and (like in, say, White Oleander ) it sounds like blocks of text, not what people would say.
Manipulation: When I go to the movies, I’m going to feel manipulated. It’s part of the experience. It’s a bargain we make with the filmmakers. The cost of it, for them, is that they have to earn it. I recall the fable-legend-history of how after THX-1138, George Lucas’s wife told him he needed to make a film people had an emotional reaction to, and he blew up. Anyone can elicit an emotional reaction from an audience, he said: All you have to do is show the audience a kitten and put a gun to its head.
“In Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank stars as The Kitten. And have it all happen in such a way so we can see what a great guy Clint’s lead character is.
“When Eastwood’s films work, it’s because they’re anti-clich√ɬ©: Unforgiven, Mystic River, Bird, The Gauntlet, High Plains Drifter. When they don’t work, it’s because they’re nothing but clich√ɬ©s: Blood Work, Absolute Power, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (not coincidentally, these are also all literary adaptations.)
Million Dollar Baby is nothing but cliché, and it shows.

“A lot of people are calling it ‘magical realist.’ But if there’s magic in Million Dollar Baby, it’s dime-store stuff — hey, watch me pull a tragedy out of my hat! If there’s realism in Million Dollar Baby, I can’t see it.
“I also have to say one thing about a digression you make about one of my least favorite docs of the year and some of the TV I’ve done: ‘Let’s see…hated The Hunting of the President, supplied guest commentary on the conservative-leaning Scarborough Country. Wait a minute, let’s not jump to conclusions.’
“Jeff, for someone who doesn’t want to jump to conclusions, you’re making a bit of a leap. If I appeared on Sesame Street, would that make me a Muppet? The transcripts from my two appearances on Scarborough Country are on the web.” — James Rocchi, film critic, Netflix, Inc.
“After absorbing all the hype for Million Dollar Baby on your site, I made a great effort to see it while back on the east coast for the holidays, as my show at the Angelika in NYC was sold out.
“My verdict? Solid film, but hardly the year’s best.
“Some of the things that bothered me: Morgan Freeman playing his umpteenth saintly, omniscient narrator role. A very obvious reluctant hero first-act-structure that ended, surprise, with Clint taking on the young female fighter. Also, the femme fighter…could the girl have been more of a saint? Sexless, viceless…it’s easy to mourn the loss of a saint. But it cuts deeper when a good, but flawed character goes down. And for some people, the whole third act is not going to sit well no matter what.
“Those are my two-cent thoughts. I don’t expect this movie to blow up at all.” — Melvin Dummar, Winslow, Arizona.
Editor’s Note: Melvin Dummar is a nom de plume because the real guy didn’t sign his name, and I really haven’t the time or the energy to go back and search for it. I’m asking once again that all letter-writers please sign your name at the bottom of your e-mail. Thanks!

Why Wait?

“I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I can’t go ten feet lately without a neighbor, acquaintance, or a random other person who knows I’m tangentially connected to the movie industry, etc., asking me about Million Dollar Baby and when they’ll get to see it.
“It’s absolutely bewildering the way Warners is handling it. I’m not sure this even counts as a ‘platform release’ unless we’re talking about some very, very long and shallow platforms. I think it’s finally opening here on Friday, which I assumed was the wide-release date — I can’t believe they’re going to be dribbling it out all the way through January.
“The other thing that sucks about the Million Dollar Baby situation
is that by now I’ve been hearing buzz for two months and I feel like I’m almost bound to be disappointed by the actual movie. It’s grueling to be both inundated with hype and in a second-tier market, where even the press screenings come late!” — Kristi Coulter, Director of Content, Movies All Media Guide.

Digital Sociopath

“I’ve been obsessed with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas since I got back from China. It’s violent, to be sure, but there is an extensive storyline about crooked cops and discovering who killed your character’s mom.
“There are also hundreds of challenges and games-within-the-game, to the point of overwhelming anyone who tries to wrap their head around it all. You can play arcade games and pool, bet on horse races, buy property, drive a cab, be a truck driver, paramedic, firefighter, or pimp, valet park cars, and eliminate crime as a vigilante. You can change clothes, eat at restaurants, date women, and work out. All this happens outside of the storyline.
“This is a complete world, where you can bathe yourself in fantasy for as long as you like. It’s like the Holodeck, or the Shore Leave planet from Star Trek; people can live out their fantasies with no repercussions. The game accommodates the violent and the mundane, the linear and the sporadic. Maybe it says something about character in how one chooses to play it, and the storyline is definitely skewed violent, but it can be whatever you want it to be.

“That said, whenever I drive and see a car on the road that I’ve seen in the game, I, for a split-second, imagine stealing it and speeding away. Space Invaders never had that effect. ” — Jon Rahoi, top Team Elsewhere dog, San Francisco, CA.
“Good take on Grand Theft Auto. I’ve been teaching young people for 33 years. They all are affected, whether subliminally or consciously, by games like this. The only thing good about it is that it is a ‘game.’ But to have kids with a game that kills people in this day and age is, I feel, very questionable, even with the best of parents.
“If kids hit each other over the head as they did when I was growing up as a result of watching Moe, Larry and Curly do it, kids are that much closer to acting out out the same thing with lethal weapons as a result of getting a feel for the activity in a video game . ” — T. H., Los Angeles.
“You wrote in last Friday’s column that `the ESRB `M’ rating for the previous Grand Theft Auto game, called Vice City, was described as having only “violence” (the `intense’ adjective wasn’t used) and didn’t mention `use of drugs.’ Obviously the creators, Rock Star Games, are upping the ante.’
“What you’re suggesting would seem obvious from the change in descriptions for these warnings, but what is funny is that Vice City actually contained more of a drug subplot than San Andreas does (up to this point in my play at least), and even the contrast in drugs featured is pretty drastic.

“Rockstar has said in the past that Grand Theft Auto 3 was modelled more after movies like Good Fellas, where a virtual unknown gets on the mafia inside by running errands and performing hits for key mafia moguls.
Vice City was a change in theme creatively, and significantly structured after drug films, mainly Scarface in which a virtual unknown moves product and usurps a drug empire out from underneath key players.
San Andreas is pretty much a send up of Boyz `n the Hood and Menace II Society, so the drugs of choice featured are both marijuana and crack cocaine. Ironically, the game takes a more negative look at drug use in reference to crack, as the gang bangers look at the drug as a disease and push to keep their fellow bangers off the rock, so to speak. Marijuana, however, is another story.
“So in essence, I find it interesting that the game that promotes a negative vibe towards crack, but yet gives the thumbs-up to marijuana gets a harsher description than its predecessor, which pretty much incorporated the use and distribution of narcotics as a major plot point to complete the game’s missions.” — Mario Anima.


A week and a half since the big tsunami and this is the “money shot”…the best color snap of what it was like to actually be there as the wave was on its way in?

With all the tens of thousands of tourists in the impact areas, with their thousands upon thousands of digital cameras?
If we can get past the ninny-nannies who might be offended by my interest in locating a better photo, is there anyone out there who’s seen one somewhere? If so, please get in touch. Thanks.