If a movie is going to try and tell the truth about a real event, I believe it should stick as closely as possible to what is actually known, and if certain things about this event aren’t crystal clear then that should be acknowledged and somehow worked into the film.
With this theory in mind, it hit me this morning how United 93 (Universal, 4.28), Paul Greengrass’s 9/11 thriller, should best unfold. Since nobody knows what specifically happened during the last few minutes before United #93 slammed into muddy ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the best way is to end it, I feel, is with three different scenarios a la Rashomon .
United 93 director-writer Paul Greengrass as he appears in a promotional video sent to the media earlier this week by Universal publicity
One, passengers burst into the cockpit, grapple with terrorists and plane goes down over a struggle for the controls. Two, passengers charge but are kept out of the cockpit, and then panicky terrorists take the plane into a suicide dive to keep them from taking back the plane.** And three, passengers rush the hijackers but before anything can happen a white military plane hits United #93 with a missile, smoke pours into the cabin and the disabled plane goes down.
Showing all three is not only the most open way to come at it, but it also wouldn’t get in the way of the basic, agreed-upon scenario about the passengers having been courageous and self-sacrificing and doing the hard thing.
Granted, a multiple ending would be more satisfying for bring-it-on types like myself than the “no, no…too soon!” types who reportedly groaned and snorted around the country last weekend when the United 93 trailer, attached to prints of Spike Lee’s Inside Man, had its theatrical debut.
Is there any chance that director-writer Greengrass isn’t aware of the too-soon crowd and hasn’t made his film with the idea of somehow luring them in and winning them over?
It’s probably a safe assumption that scenario #3, which probably didn’t happen in actuality but can’t be 100% dismissed, was never considered for inclusion in United 93. And scenario #2, obviously, isn’t quite “there” in a dramatic sense.
Scene from United 93
I mean, think about it. Angry passengers chasing the bad guys into the cockpit, and then minutes of banging on the cockpit door, and then wham.
I won’t see the film for another two and a half weeks, but if you’re looking for a slam-bang finish then scenario #1 plays best. Wouldn’t it? Universal seems to be looking to sell this movie as a stirring uplift thing, after all, and it must have been clear to Greengrass all along that any 9/11 film that fails to stir is probably going to tank.
I’m sure that Oliver Stone, Michael Shamberg and Stacy Sher are also keeping this in mind as they prepare World Trade Center, a true-life rescue drama about a couple of Port Authority workers who were buried under the rubble of the collapsed towers, for release in August.
But even with the scenario #1 ending there are indications that United 93 may be facing some resistance from the public.
The strongest evidence of this is that Universal publicity has sent out a promotional video to the media (and also made it available online — click on “A Look Inside”) that directly addresses the “too soon!” attitude. Here’s how it sounds from start to finish.
It features four people whose mates or family members died on United #93, and shows them saying that they fully support the film because it shows their deceased loved ones in a courageous and inspirational light.
Lyzbeth Glick Best, wife of passenger Jeremy Glick, as she appears in Universal promotional video
The video begins and ends with Greengrass saying that before deciding to make United 93 he and his producers visited the victims’ families, and “what we found when we went to each of these families, is that they all want this film to be made.”
The message, clearly, is that if these family members are down with this film after losing one of their own, surely those who simply feel squeamish about a 9/11 recreation drama can deal with it and maybe derive something also, especially since it doesn’t seem to be a downer as much as a heart movie about courage.
The four people in the video are Kenny Nacke, brother of United #93 passenger Louis Nacke II; Allison Vadhan, daughter of passenger Kristin White Gould; Lyzbeth Glick Best, former wife of passenger Jeremy Glick; and Sandy Felt, whose husband, Edward P. Felt, was also on board.
Vadhan says that United 93 is “about standing up for what you believe in, never letting fear take over and doing everything you possibly can…until you can’t.
Felt says at one point that “I want this movie to encourage people to believe that we have [this courage] within all of us.”
Sandy Felt, wife of Edward P. Felt
Greengrass returns at the end and says that not only “immense courage and fortitude” were shown by the United #93 passengers that day, but also “wisdom.”
Greengrass finishes with the following: “I don’t think you ever know when is the right time to make a film like this, and that’s why you start by going to these families…they feel clearly feel this is the right time, and we should listen…we should listen to what their story is.”
I believe that too, but also that United 93 should try to reflect the full gamut and be as inquisitive as possible and admit what it really knows or doesn’t know, and shape itself accordingly. Maybe this is how Greengrass plays it. The only thing for sure is that right now, the cards are still hidden.
** A portion in Wikipedia’s recounting of the United #93 disaster says that the plane’s “black box recordings revealed that, contrary to popular belief, the passengers were never able to enter the cockpit.”
Sweet Bird of Youth
It’s not so much how the 23 year-old Marlon Brando looked, although this is fascin- ating in itself. It’s more the metaphor of a life not yet blemished or sullied…an aura of freshness, vitality, raw presence.
These are stills from a screen test Brando made in 1947 for a planned film of Rebel Without a Cause, in which he would have played the famously troubled teenager Jim Stark, whom James Dean made into a legendary inconographic figure in Nich- olas Ray’s 1955 film of the same name.
Still from 1947 screen test reel of Marlon Brando reading for role of Jim Stark in an early, never-shot version of Rebel Without a Cause.
The Brando Rebel screen test footage, which lasts about five minutes, will be included in a two-disc special edition DVD of A Streetcar Named Desire that Warner Home Video is bringing out May 2nd, or five weeks from today.
The exact date of the test footage isn’t known (not to me, at least) but Brando was playing Stanley Kowalkski in the stage version of “A Streetcar Named Desire” that year (and most likely at the same time). This was three years before he made his first Hollywood film, Fred Zinneman’s The Men (’50), in which he played a paraplegic.
A story by Dalya Alberge in today’s (3.28) edition of The Australian provides a description of the footage, which I may be lucky enough to see sometime soon, perhaps as soon as this weekend.
Brando “is seen crying, slamming his fist on a table, vulnerable and kissing the girl,” Alberge writes. The test “convinced the producers that he was the man for the Rebel role, but Brando turned them down. After much delay, including at least 40 script revisions, the role was taken by Dean in 1955.
Alberge quotes Darwin Porter, author of a reportedly tawdry biography called “Brando Unzipped” (Blood Moon), as follows:
“Screen tests preserved of the great stars are usually pretty awful …this one had me mesmerized. From the moment Brando enters the room in the test, he is lightning…there is a magnetic appeal to him, as he is at the peak of his physical beauty and virile power — both as a man and an actor.”
Brando “never disclosed precisely why he rejected the role, but Porter suggests that the actor may have been reluctant to sign a seven-year contract with the studio, which would have been required at the time.
In the footage, Brando “is seen walking into a room, angry about his parents. He tells a girl who meets him: ‘My old man … he didn’t give me a chance. He hit me before he even said anything. I hate him. I hate his stupid face.’ He slams the table.
“Comforted by the girl” — I wonder the who girl was? — “he kisses her, asking her whether she has been with ‘other fellows while I was gone.’ His face lights up as he talks of getting a gun and the two of them leaving together for ‘any place, away from here.’”
N.Y. Daily News gossip columnist Ben Widdicombe — a.k.a., “the Gatecrasher” — wrote on 1.21.06 that Porter’s Brando book “promises to be the definitive gossip guide to the great actor’s life.”
Widdicombe wrote that “collectors of Brando ephemera might appreciate the inclusion of a certain infamous photograph [that] depicts a Monica Lewinski moment between Brando and another man.” He then quoted Blood Moon publisher Danforth Prince as saying “we ran [the photo[ at a tasteful 2 inches by 1 3/4 inches on page 404," adding, "In journalism, we call that 'burying the lead.'"
This morning I happened across Truman Capote's portrait of Brando for The New Yorker, which came from a visit with the 33 year-old actor while he was filming Sayonara in Kyoto, Japan, in early 1957.
The Brando that emerges from Capote's prose is a guarded, withdrawn, somewhat frail figure -- a hint of the ruined Brando to come, and a far cry from the sugges- tions of buoyancy and naivete in the face of the young man pictured above.
On the red carpet for premiere of Nicole Holofcener's Friends With Money (Sony Classics, 4.7) at the Egyptian theatre, headquarters of the American Cineatheque -- Monday, 3.27, 7:12 pm. (Just to the right of the face of the brunette with the green handbag and to the left of the burly photographer with the white T-shirt is costar Jennifer Aniston, speaking at that particular moment in time to Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin)
Dancer-models dressed as twin sisters of Casper the Friendly Ghost, and perhaps expressing a sensual appreiciation of life in Los Angeles in the year 2006. Snapped at Friends with Money after-party at Mondrian Hotel's Sky Bar -- Monday, 3.27, 10:20 pm.
Friends with Money costar Bob Stevenson at Sky Bar -- 3.27, 11:05 pm. A subtle, soft-spoken actor with piercing blue eyes, Stevenson portrays one of Jennifer Aniston's love interests in Nicole Holofcener's film.
Scott Caan (blue jeans, black jacket), also costarring in Friends with Money, on red carpet at the Egyptian theatre -- Monday, 3.27, 7:18 pm. (I had an interview set up with Caan at a hotel in Soho last summer to talk about Dallas 362, his fairly good debut as a director, but he wasn't there when I showed up, and he didn't leave a note or call later on to apologize...nothing. I was going to ask him what happened last night, but I didn't see him at the after-party.)
Like old habits, movie titles you've gotten used to can die hard. Even relatively recent ones, like Universal's Flight 93, the Paul Greengrass 9/11 thriller that's opening on Friday, 4.28. Or the former Flight 93, I should say. The old-shoe, boilerplate-sounding Flight 93 of yore...a label I was totally down with.
I was so accustomed to the sound of it that when I linked to the trailer three days ago (on 3.24), I didn't even notice that Universal had snuck in like a cat burglar on the Cote d'Azur and changed it to United 93.
Wait a minute...is it United 93 or United93? The title art seems to indicate this, but maybe not. You don't want to get too anal about this stuff.
Here's my best guess (this being Sunday) as to why Universal did this five weeks before the release date: they suddenly decided there was something thematically appealing in the sound of United 93 because it alludes to the unity of purpose among the passengers who decided to take back the flight from the Al Qeada hijackers.
The 9/11 flight depicted in the film having been operated by United Air Lines is parallel-tangential.
The only other reason I can imagine is that someone realized at the last minute that the public might confuse the Universal feature with the A&E Channel's Flight 93, which aired last January. But they obviously knew about the A&E movie for months, so why would they react this late in the game?
If nothing else, this last-minute decision is proof that Universal's management is thinking on its feet.
A few movie sites apparently had the new title art up and running by the end of the week, but the switch came as a bit of a shock when I finally tuned in Saturday morning. West Hollywood detectives paid a visit a few hours later and dusted my hard drive and did their usual poking around, and for a while there they were just as befuddled as I was.
Their best estimate -- mine also -- is that Flight 93 became United 93 sometime between Sunday, March 19, and Tuesday, March 21.
The grand old IMDB hadn't gotten the message as of Sunday, 3.26, as you can ascertain by clicking here. (They'll update sooner or later, but they totally believed in Flight 93 as of 11:25 a.m. Sunday morning.)
Rotten Tomatoes still had it listed as Flight 93 as of Sunday, 3.26, although Scott Weinberg ran a post on Friday, 3.24, saying that Universal has gone with the title change, adding at the same time that the change was "old news."
JoBlo.com is still calling it Flight 93, and a Google search shows that several other sites are still in the old mode.
A 3.19 story by Variety's Ted Johnson referred to Flight 93 but a Nicole LaPorte story that went up Sunday, 3.26 used United 93.
Nobody from Universal publicity told me -- no e-mail announcements, no phone calls -- but the first IMDB chat board question about the title change was posted on Tuesday, 3.21.
Here's hoping Universal starts screening United 93 sometime soon so there'll something to write about. April is looking like an incredibly flat month. Maybe my memory is foggy, but it seems worse than usual.
People like me are going to be reaching for anything to write about, but for the most part will have to make do with acceptables, pretty goods and not-too-bads: The Notorious Bettie Page, Free Zone, The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Hard Candy, Kinky Boots and the limited, all-but-invisible northwest release of Mozart and the Whale.
I'm going to have April visits to Houston's Worldfest Film festival and the San Francisco Film Festival to distract me, but marquee-wise United 93 is the only film due within the next five weeks that seems to have any kind of major voltage. Am I wrong?
And it won't just be the movie to discuss. There will be plenty to delve into with the head-in-the-sand types chanting their two basic mantras: (1) "Too soon! No 9/11 movies!" and (2) "Don't mention the concept of U.S. foreign policy having anything to do with motivating the 9/11 attacks...the attackers were the devil's emissaries and the U.S. was nothing more than a totally innocent, God-fearing victim of evildoers."
2006 Cinevegas Film Festival director of programming Trevor Goth and Sundance honcho John Cooper at party last Friday night (3.24) at the Buffalo Club for "the world's most dangerous film festival," which unfurls June 9th through 17th. Taken Friday, 3.24, 7:50 pm.
Director John Stockwell (who gave us the respected but somewhat under-appreciated Blue Crush and the very fine crazybeautiful), whom I still regard as the Genx Curtis Hanson despite the misfire of Into the Blue, with the very foxy Olivia Wilde, star of Stockwell's Turistas, a forthcoming adventure flick set in the Amazon, at Friday's Cinevegas party. (Stockwell's Chasing the Whale, a gambling movie to follow in the wake of Hanson's Lucky Me, will get his cred back up where it belongs.) Friday, 3.24, 8:25 pm.
A nice girl hired to provide eye-candy diversion at Cinevegas party. I got her name but didn't write it down, and a slightly older French-born woman friend of hers who had my business card and knew how to get in touch didn't, so that's that.
Return of anonymous pink lady along with ferociously alluring Amazon blonde hired for same exploitive purpose at Cinevegas party
Desserts laid out for sensual delight of journalists attending last week's press junket for The Notorious Bettie Page at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.
Rae's diner, the Detroit, Michigan, diner located on West Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles where crafty Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) went for coffee and pie in the opening moments of Tony Scott's True Romance.
You're in your too-small coach seat and speechless, eyes aglare and back arched. Reason? A dangling diamondback rattler (as opposed to a dangling participle), four or five inches in front of your face and hissing like any well-motivated serpent, is about to bite down hard.
This, in a nutshell, is New Line's Snakes on a Plane (8.18). Combined with that hilariously idiotic title, it's also behind a growing camp following and internet groundswell that appears to be turning this low-rent thriller into the first major movie phenomenon of 2006.
I wasn't on the boat at first. For the last few months I've been going, "Okay, a goof, right...but crap nonetheless." Nothing has changed on the artistic-estimation side, but suddenly the grass-roots enthusiasm levels are turning it into something else. Everyone's into it, wants to see it the first weekend. Almost five months to go before the opening date and Snakes on a Plane is already (or so it seems) the new Blair Witch Project.
Go to Snakes on a Blog and you'll see about 487 different songs, T-shirts, posters, marketing slogans. You can can choose which songs, slogans and posters strike your fancy.
My personal turnaround happened when I heard this Snakes on a Plane talkin' acoustic folk riff this morning. Then it all clicked into place. Not too strident or emphatic. A perfect laid-back attitude.
And nobody at New Line Cinema, which is opening Snakes on a Plane on August 18, has had much to do with this...not really. It's all come from out there.
To the best of my knowledge, no one in Real People Land is composing and recording Da Vinci Code or Mission Impossible 3 songs, and why the hell would they?
Why exactly has this one-third goof, one-third "piece of shit" genre film (i.e., not an out-and-out bad movie but one that plays with the idea of being one), and one-third horror flick been adopted by a home-grown marketing movement?
Probably because it's easy to get and to laugh at it. (The more I say that title out loud, the more genius-level it sounds.) And because it's easy to pass around the goofy humor online.
I only know that Regular Joe's out there are embracing the damn thing and celebrating the jerk-off attitude way before the opening.
Directed by David R. Ellis (Cellular -- he also worked as a stunt man and actor for years) and written by Sebastian Gutierrez, David Loucka and John Heffernan, Snakes is about an FBI agent (Samuel L. Jackson) escorting a captive witness to a court date, and then suddenly has to deal with a planeload of poisonous snakes that have been put there by Cale Boyter's assistant...excuse me, a bad guy who doesn't want the witness to talk.
Jackson has at least two money lines -- "I've had it with these snakes!" and "I want these motherfucking snakes off the plane!"
FBI agent Samuel L. Jackson (l.) and a passenger obviously concerned with some nearby movement
I admit it -- my first reaction was to shake my head and wonder what was wrong with Jackson's judgment, or that of his agent. Now he looks like some kind of genius, or at the very least one very lucky mo-fo.
The phenomenon that has lifted Snakes, an exploitation B-movie if there ever was one, out of the realm of derision and into that of a pop legend is extremely rare. This one, in fact, is damn near close to unique.
As Borys Kit put it in his 3.23 Hollywood Reporter story, "Intense fan reaction to movies most often is associated with titles that have established themselves in other media, such as comic book movies or fantasy novels, before making their way to the screen. Or it becomes attached to surprise hits, like the original Star Wars, that develop massive cult followings [after] they are released.”
On one hand, New Line seems to be on top of what’s happening due to their decision to shoot five extra days of photography earlier this month on “the Lot” (i.e., across the street from Jones) in order to make the film into a hard R — more sex, nudity, graphic violence. They know what they have and they’re cranking it up some.
A New Line source told me this morning that they’ve added, for one example, a shot of “a guy being bitten by a snake on his Johnson.” How does that happen exactly? He’s taking a leak or…? “Mile-High Club,” he answered.
We both agreed that if the movie tips too much into self-parody, the fun of it will dissipate after 20 or 30 minutes. Nobody wants to see Airplane. It has to sit right on the edge between serious horror and wink-wink. Too much in either direction and the conceit falls apart.
We also noted that on the cyber-marketing side, New Line Cinema — ostensibly Ground Zero or Snakes Central — seems to be behind its own curve. Their official website isn’t even up and rolling yet — all it is is a title card and some ominous-bad-stuff-about-to-happen music.
And if you ask me, their 8.18 release date — five months from now — is a mistake at this stage. No movie company can orchestrate what’s happening with Snakes right now, and it’s folly to think that the present energy levels will keep up for another 19 or 20 weeks.
If New Line’s distribution chief Russell Schwartz is smart, he’ll push Snakes into theatres sometime in late May or at least sometime in June — strike when the iron is hot!
My New Line source says “there’s a heavy debate about this going on right now. Some want to stay with August because that gives you a couple of weeks free and clear…the competition isn’t too bad then. But others want to go sooner, for obvious reasons.”
A New York journalist friend wrote this morning and said, “I don’t get it…it sounds so terrible (the movie, I mean).” And I replied that terribleness is part of the friggin’ point. It’s about everyone being in on the joke…about the beginnings of a Rocky Horror coast-to-coast toga party.
If it turns out to be half as good as some of the promotion ideas have been so far, and if it doesn’t end up with too much of a self-mocking attitude, Snakes on a Plane could turn into one of the great communal theatre experiences of 2006.
Did anyone at Showest, the exhibitor convention that just happened in Las Vegas a while back, even mention this? (If so, I didn’t read about it.)
I’m serious…this is not a DVD thing. Everyone is going to have to go to a theatre with their friends and bark like seals at the jokes and the shrieks and fangs-sink- ing-into-penis moments.
I’m hoping it’ll be like the vibe at the Rivoli theatre in 1985 when I was working at New Line (as a publicist, believe it or not) and we all went to see Reanimator on opening night. That show was one of the best movie-theatre highs I’ve ever sampled…the kind of rave experience that high and low types can enjoy from the same place.