Will Russell Surf?

Would you believe David O. Russell as the director of a big pandering Silver Surfer flick? Does this play even as a radical idea? Can anyone envision an impassioned eccentric like Russell working for a nuts-and-bolts type like Avi Arad?
Consider this interview with Arad, chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios, that ran on MTV.com about ten days ago. In the piece, written by Larry Carroll, Arad is asked who might direct the Surfer flick, which will apparently begin shooting either later this year or early next.

Didn’t Quentin Tarantino speak about writing a Silver Surfer flick back in ’95 or thereabouts? Does anyone remember the Silver Surfer dialogue that Tarantino wrote and Denzel Washington acted in Crimson Tide?

“There is a director who should make Silver Surfer,” Arad answered. “He is mentally committed to it [but] he’s doing another movie now.
“What’s most important to me about this guy, first, is that he’s incredible with visuals,” he added. “But he’s also a spiritual guy, a Zen Buddhist.”
There’s been a rumor out there for two or three weeks that Russell has been talking with Marvel about doing this. And Russell is certainly a Zen Buddhist, and he’s working on a film now — a lower-budgeted thing for Universal about radio talk-show host (Vince Vaughan) who starts taking on the traits of his wack-job callers.
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I rang Russell’s office to check but they’ve all split for the 4th of July holiday. I called Russell on his cell and I think he picked up, but he just said “who is this?” three times and then hung up.
Baz Luhrman had been in the loop to direct this long-delayed effects film, but he is apparently no longer involved….but I don’t really know anything one way or the other. And I don’t even care that much, to be honest.

David O. Russell

It says something about the state of things when the best younger directors directors (Chris Nolan, David O. Russell, Bryan Singer) are all whoring themselves out to make superhero flicks.
The idea of Russell working for the Marvel factory and making a movie for kids and dealing with (how can I put this delicately?) a kind of elevated Menahem Golan mentality is a strange, fascinating prospect.
While Russell got along beautifully with Fox Searchlight and Peter Rice when he did I Heart Huckabees, I wonder how he’ll deal with Fox honcho Tom Rothman and his micromanaging approach to running a studio. Anyway, it’s something to consider over the holiday.

Goodnight Taste

An L.A. acquaintance has seen George Clooney’s Goodnight, and Good Luck (Warner Bros., 10.05), the ’50s drama about Edward R. Murrow vs. Senator Joseph McCarthy, and here’s his report:
“David Strathairn [who plays Murrow] is excellent. And I’d like to allay any fears you might have about him being able to summon Murrow’s authoritative voice. He nails it and then some.
“The film itself is high on atmosphere (especially during the opening scene….cigarettes, pointy glasses and tuxedo clad guests at a dinner reception) and does a very fine job of capturing the feeling of the 50’s.
“Clooney continues the good directorial work he did on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. His camera is light and mobile, and the art design really showcases the beautiful black-and-white stock.

David Straitharn as Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney’s Goodnight, and Good Luck.

“The film itself is very quick and watchable, though I’m not sure how well it would play with people who don’t already have a real interest in the era of the Red Scare. It’s a bit like a civics lesson.
“I have some quibbles. A scrolling text intro that’s supposed to set up the era is unnecessary; as you watch the film you learn all you need to know about the background.
“It also lacks a certain central structure, and it could use a bit more bite. The enemy is paranoia, really, which doesn’t set Murrow up as the sort of heroic presence he was.
“There’s also an unnecessary scene between Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson [playing a husband and wife working for or in league with CBS] in which Downey is questioning whether they, at CBS, are doing the right thing in taking on McCarthy. It’s better left assumed that there was some self-doubt involved, rather than leaving it to this trite and obvious exchange.
“Overall it’s pretty fun stuff, especially since Strathairn is never less than enthralling. It’s just that it could use a bit more zip.”
Okay then — a good film with maybe some side issues. Straitharn, at least, seems positioned to pick up some Oscar heat….maybe.

Forever Cronicas

[Here’s a re-working of a January ’05 piece about Sebastian Cordero’s Cronicas. This excellent film is finally opening on 7.8 so why not?]
A creepy investigation piece and a penetrating morality tale about a tabloid TV news team on the trail of a serial child killer, Sebastian Corder’s Cronicas (Palm Pictures, 7.8) is easily one of the year’s best.
And I’m not just throwing that out. This hard haunting little film is right up there with Hustle & Flow, Cinderella Man, Crash, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, The Beautiful Country and Last Days.

John Leguizamo during Cronicas round-table chat at Manhattan’s Regency Hotel — Monday, 6.27, 11:10 am.

Set in a low-income area of Ecuador and 98% Spanish-spoken, it boasts a first-rate cast (John Leguizamo, Damian Alcazar, Leonor Watling, Alfred Molina, Jose Maria Yazpik) and has been produced (or would grandfathered be the more appropriate term?) by Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro.
And it shouldn’t be missed by anyone, partly for the impact of the drama itself (which holds onto its ethical focus from beginning to end, and never drops into an excitement-for-excitement’s-sake mode) and because it heralds the arrival of a major new Spanish-language director — 32 year-old Sebastian Cordero.
Cronicas is not about catching the bad guy as much as a study of journalistic corruption.
A series of child murders, all the apparent victim of a serialist called “the monster,” has caught the attention of a three-person news team shooting for a show called “Una Hora con la Verdad” (“An Hour with the Truth”), which is hosted in-studio by Molina’s character.

Jumping right into this cauldron is a hot-shot TV reporter named Manolo Bonilla (Leguizamo), along with his producer (Watling) and cameraman (Jose Maria Yazpik).
And they happen to be right there and shooting when a seemingly decent, soft-spoken salesman named Vinicio Cepeda (Alcazar) accidentally hits and kills a young kid with his truck. This almost gets Cepeda killed by an angry mob.
When Bonilla later visits Cepeda in jail, where he’s awaiting trial for manslaughter, what seems to be a major scoop is dropped into his lap. Cepeda tells Bonilla that he’s met the serial killer and can provide crucial information about him…which he’ll pass along in trade for a sympathetic TV story about the accident, which may lead to his legal exoneration.
Cepeda’s information (or some of it, rather) turns out to be solid, which of course leads Bonilla to decide to keep his scoop from the cops so he can make a big splash. And this is all I’m going to say, except that the movie has a riveting ending that doesn’t leave you alone.
The thrust at the end is that Leguizamo’s character may be just as malicious or threatening as the child-killer he’s trying to get the goods on.

Cronicas was filmed in Babahayo, a capital city of the province of Los Rios, apparently one of Ecaudor’s poorest areas.
After leaving the first screening my 15 year-old son Dylan said, “It’s funny, but it’s like almost all the really good films these days are being made by guys from Mexico and South America.”
And Spain, I added. It’s certainly seemed this way over the past three or four years. It’s always fascinated me how the Movie Gods seem to serendipitously pick certain countries and cultures to produce especially vital and profound films during a given period.
The film industry, in any event, can add Cordero to the south-of-the-border Kool Kat list headed by Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros), Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy ), Alejandro Amenabar (The Sea Inside), Pedro Almodovar (Bad Education), Fernando Meirelles (City of God), Julio Medem (Sex and Lucia) and Fabiane Beilinsky (Nine Queens).


Director-writer James Toback (l.) speaking to Museum of Moving Image director David Schwartz after screening of his 1977 film Fingers and prior to showing of Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped — Thursday, 6.30.05, 9:20 pm.

L train heading to Brooklyn — Thursday, 7.1.05, 12:05 am.

Hollywood Elsewhere contributors Rachel Sear, Jett Wells (now working for N.Y. Daily News columnist George Rush) at party for Palm Pictures’ Cronicas — Tuesday, 6.28.05, 10:25 pm.

Graffiti on poster space at Queens subway stop near Kaufman Astoria Studios — Thursday, 6.30.05, 11:35 pm.

The real Domino Harvey, who will be played by Keira Knightley in the forthcoming Tony Scott film Domino (New Line, 8.19). Harvey was found dead last Monday night in her West Hollywood home.

The linkage between Johnny Depp’s Charlie and that other weird guy with light skin who hangs out with kids has again been pointed out by Time magazine. This idea never seemed to get much traction outside of media circles.

Get Estrada

“Thank you, Mr. Wells, for having written a viewpoint of the Russell Crowe telephone incident that makes sense. Should Mr. Crowe have thrown the phone? Of course not, but finally a columnist questions Josh Estrada’s contribution to the incident.
“Does the Mercer hotel go unscathed here? A guest is paying over $3,000 a night for a room and no one gives a hoot that he has no working phone in that room. Yet when he tries to resolve the problem he is met with indifference and ‘whatever.’
“Trust me, sir…I am a seventy-six year old woman, and I would have had some choice words for Mr. Estrada and the Mercer had I been in Mr. Crowe’s position. Does that hotel really expect their guests to come down to the Lobby at 4:30 A.M. to make a phone call?
“Someone should also mention that if Mr. Crowe wanted to hurt Estrada he would have used his fists, he certainly has been well trained to do so in the past year.” — RhodaM41@aol.com

“Celebrities do not rate special attention and respect because they are celebrities. All accounts I’ve read about the incident indicate that it was late and Crowe had been drinking and was being an ass.
“I don’t know when, if ever, you’ve worked in a service job, but having to deal with obnoxious assholes after they’ve spent a night out drinking is highly stressful. That doesn’t excuse Estrada from being unprofessional to a customer, but his inappropriate response would require a reprimand from his supervisor and not being assaulted by a petulant jerk.
“I’m not a fan of frivolous lawsuits, but according to some reports, Estrada was looking for an apology and a handshake and didn’t get one…If the humorless Crowe is going to behave like a spoiled brat then he deserves what he gets. Since juries never want to convict the famous, (unless they’re female and Martha Stewart) then maybe wasting a celebrities time and costing him some money and p.r. is the only way to go to teach them a lesson.” — Michael Zeigler.
“Do you honestly think that Estrada, the concierge at the Mercer, would give Russell Crowe a ‘whatever’ just because he’s some prissy narcissist? Estrada, I mean, and not Crowe. Seems highly doubtful.
“A concierge with that general attitude would have a gig at the Mercer for, oh, about two days tops, if he hadn’t already been weeded out by what I’m sure is a fairly vigorous vetting process at one of the top Soho hotels.
“So Crowe’s paying four grand a night for a suite and he can’t get a call out to his wife to reassure her he’s not in the throes of (a) alcohol poisoning, (b) an orgy, (c) in the clink, or (d) all of the above? Must be a swell marriage. Objection, yer honor! Sustained. Withdrawn.
“I suggest to you that Crowe pushed this guy to the living end over a period of days, but that he, as the concierge at the Mercer, could muster no other retort but the pathetically passive-aggressive ‘Whatever.’

“More to the point, to quote Brando in Larry Grobel’s book, ‘Vas you dere, Charley?’ I’m sure when the tape rolls (ands I hope it’s on Court TV) it’s going to be fascinating. I have many hours under my belt one-on-one with Crowe….not counting the junkets, the press conferences..and the dude’s intimidating, even when he’s trying to be nice. It’s all in the eyes, man.
“And yeah (chuckle) it’s also in the karate-stance he assumes after hurling a couple pieces of bric-a-brac at your head. If I’m Estrada, I’m suing. Or what’s a celebrity for?” — Josh Mooney
“I found your comments on the Russell Crowe phone-throwing incident absolutely amazing. To miss an opportunity to diss Russell Crowe puts you in a class by yourself. Yes, Russell was an idiot in losing his temper but not one person has commented on Estrada’a contribution except you — this incident did not occur in a vacuum.
“Describing Estrada as a ‘…waahh, I’m telling the teacher’ kid aptly describes a 10 year old who grew up to be a celebrity blackmailer.” — Lorraine Shaw.
Thank you! That has been how I have felt all along. Sure Russell over-reacted. Guess what? He’s human. He has limits of tolerance. If a person is paying $4000 a night for a room he should be able to expect some service from the people working there. Thank you again for saying what I have been feeling.” — Vickie Sherman, Scappoose, Oregon.

Grabs 2

Big fat Roman-empire post office at corner of Eighth Avenue and 34th Street.

Video camera with super-telescopic lens aimed at Central Park West apartment building where Pale Male, the famous Manhattan hawk, was hanging toward the end of last Sunday afternoon.

This guy has been at the Museum of Natural History since I was five or six years old.

The just-concluded Marlon Brando auction at Christie’s brought in $2.3 million. Brando’s annotated Godfather script sold for $312,000. A letter from Godfather author Mario Puzo asking Brando to take the role of Don Corleone sold for $132,000. No word on how much these driver’s licenses went for.

Sunday, 6.26, 4:05 pm.

34th Street looking west from Eighth Avenue — Saturday, 6.25, 4:40 pm.

Pale Male on one of his periodic float-arounds.

Mural in underground lobby of Lincoln Plaza cinemas.

Worlds Apart

“I saw this last night…and I was very happy with the film overall, aside from a few believability issues here and there…nothing worth mentioning. But…
“Spielberg and Co.’s decision midway through the film to have Tom Cruise’s teenage son die added a great deal of emotional heft to the film, and I agree that the groaning of folks at the ending will have nothing to do with the bacterial problems that the aliens experience. That part of the finale is just fine and works wonderfully and pays appropriate tribute to Wells’ original story.
“But when Cruise and Fanning walk into Boston, find Miranda Otto and her entire clan in what looks to be the one neighborhood in all of Boston that wasn’t destroyed, I had to groan….but that was okay because I knew it was coming. No way Spielberg was going to avoid a family reunion of some kind. I could let the mother/daughter cryfest happen…whatever. The mom could have survived since we didn’t last see her running into a field of fire or anything.

“But then Justin Chatwin, the teenage son, runs out to his dad and I had to declare ‘bullshit’ on this movie. I mean come on…the kid was toast! How he managed to survive running into a battlefield that two seconds later was incinerated by alien death rays is utterly ridiculous.
“The worst part of this happy-ass reunion is that Chatwin’s supposed death had been such a refreshingly realistic event in a film where whole families are being dusted left and right. Spielberg had handled his departure in a very sad and abstract way, and when Cruise is insisting to Tim Robbins later on that his son ‘will just meet them in Boston’ it was a horrifyingly sad moment of parental denial that added so much resonance to the film.
“Then that’s all ripped away at the end. I’ve been a big supporter of Spielberg for years, and I’ve always felt he’s been a bit underrated in his efforts on many films, but he and his screenwriters chickened out here and robbed a potential masterpiece of lean mean sci-fiction filmmaking of an honest ending.
“I’ve been pissed off about it all morning. My advice to people is when the alien dies, leave the theater, and make up your own ending.” — Michael Felsher.
“I usually agree with you and could not agree more with you this time
about the endings of Spielberg’s films, and particularly the one used in War of the Worlds. I just saw it, and that ending really takes something MAJOR away from how great it could have been. As it is, I’d say it’s good. But Spielberg always does this with his more scary/thrilling/serious movies.
Jaws is the worst offender. Having Richard Dreyfuss survive
really took something away from the tone established throughout the movie and steered the film even farther from the book. Think of how much scarier that movie would have been if, like the book, even your fancy shark cage and gadgets do nothing for you? Would we have been really upset if Dreyfuss had been eaten like Quint?

“Spielberg did it again with Saving Private Ryan. Having the old Ryan at the grave with every member of his family lamenting over ‘did I deserve it?’ really took something away from that movie for me and is the only reason why I think The Thin Red Line is better.
“There’s no question that one of the cornerstones of Spielberg’s rep is his tendency to pull some punches that really need to be landed.” — Jason Tanner
“The ending alone knocked the film down from being a problematic but entertaining three-star flick to a mediocre two-star.
“Does Spielberg assume that his audience is so dumb to believe that Cruises kid just somehow managed to survive the wall of fire and brimstone? Like Cruise finding the extra belt of hand grenades just in time to get snagged by the tripod, I found the conclusion an example of very lazy storytelling. More riveting would of been the son risking his life at the end for his dad and sister.
“But no…Spielberg had to have the bullshit happy ending which nobody in my audience except for the women bought.
“The film has one glaring inconsistency. As has been pointed out, the aliens use an electro magnetic pulse to disable all electronic items prior to their first attack. And yet in the first destruction scene we witness a guy operating a camcorder. He’s not just a background character either — Spielberg frames one of his ‘clever’ shots around the device.
“Plus the editing was choppy in parts. Cruise walks into the bathroom covered with human soot and then a cut later is fully cleaned up.

“Why did Dakota Fanning have to scream in every scene? Was it in her contract? Why do all the kids in Spielberg films act the same way in scene after scene? Here you have world destruction and the kids are bickering over how Tom Cruise is a bad dad. It sucks you right out the movie because it’s forced drama. It’s borderline blackface in it’s vulgarity as it’s repeated over and over.” — Michael Meyerotto
“I’m scratching my head over your War of the Worlds review. Isn’t this the kind of review that usually makes you roll your eyes and become somewhat contemptuous? This sounds like one of those ‘if you just turn off your mind and don’t think about it much, it’s great fun’ reviews that you so dislike.
“In fact, your review made it less likely that I’ll go see this. Personally, I just don’t like the idea of giving my money to Spielberg and Cruise for something half-baked — I’m a bit sick of both of them, (especially Cruise), and lately I’ve gotten very particular about how I spend my movie dollar.
“I saw and loved Batman Begins. Before that, the last movie I’d seen was Sin City, and I walked out halfway through. I don’t go to the theater often for a number of reasons. One of them is the kind of movie you described in your WotW piece.
“I’m watching Letterman as I write this, and he just said something that hits home for me. He said, ‘Today was the big opening of War of the Worlds. It’s a film about space aliens that activate these enormous alien pods that have been buried in the earth for millions of … oh, who cares?” — Ray Garton
“The only thing that gets my goat about the movie is that the ending is the only overtly sentimental part of the flick. You had bodies being floated downriver, people turning to dust, someone getting blood sucked out of them and then sprayed over. How did this get a PG-13 again?” — Lee Goettl
“I hate it when you’re wrong about a movie because you infuriate me — but I think I hate it more when you really nail the thing, because I then have to admit you’re right, and that your words and emotions so precise and deserving that you pierce the heart of the matter. And in the case of WotW, you got my feelings exactly, and expressed it better than I could, so fuck you.” — Peter Martin.

“So I kept waiting for this awful, groan-inducing ending of War of the Worlds and it never came. What the hell is everyone bitching about? The final scene isn’t played with even a hint of sap or melodrama. The son is just there. There’s no swelling music cue, no shots of Dad and Lad running to each other, arms outstretched…just a warm smile.
“I think Spielberg — and the audience — earned that moment after sitting through almost two hours of terror, which is what this movie really is. This is one of Stevie’s greatest efforts, right up there with Close Encounters, Jaws and (dare I say it) A.I…speaking of movies with unfairly derided endings.
“And there certainly wasn’t any laughing or booing at the end. But there was plenty of clapping. And this was at an 11:30 a.m. show with half a house…not a psyched, rowdy Friday-night crowd. This movie’s going to score huge with most of America, and the NY/LA film snobs and snotty teenagers be damned.
“Roger Friedman at foxnews.com characterized the reviews as ‘so-so’ and Drudge has been running pretty much only the negative stuff about it. But the truth of the matter is that the flick has been generally well-reviewed, scored well at Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes and got absolute raves from Kenneth Turan and Variety, to name but a few.” — Sean Stangland