It’s absurd, I realize, to speculate or fantasize about the absolute finest film of 2012 actually winning the Best Picture Oscar…ridiculous! The best films don’t win the Oscar, dummy — the most popular ones do. And yet Zero Dark Thirty is turning into a highly popular film with $75 million tallied + 9/11 families expressing their support + Leon Panetta giving it a thumbs-up + Martin Sheen going “homina-homina-homina…I’ve changed my mind!” + the Stalinist haters having been marginalized by common sense and routed by public scorn. Tables turnin’, cut down to size, how ya like me now?
The never-say-die Lincoln crowd among the Gurus of Gold (i.e., those who are still projecting a Best Picture Oscar win despite the writing on the wall and the flagrant Argo aroma) are (a) Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson, (b) L.A. Times guy Mark Olsen, (c) Toronto Star‘s Pete Howell, (d) MCN’s David Poland, and (e) Award Daily‘s Sasha Stone.
It was reported yesterday that director Phillip Noyce (Salt, Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence), actor Sam Worthington and screenwriter Oren Moverman are teaming on an Italy-set thriller called For The Dogs, which is based on Kevin Wignall’s thriller of the same name. Which is well and good except that “dogs” is a problematic element in a movie title.
People hear the word “dog” or “dogs” and they think it’s a family movie or something smelly or sentimental. Something about the word “dogs” feels rank and flea-bitten. Rod Lurie‘s Straw Dogs was a flop. Remember when Orion tested Dog Soldiers and realized the negative and changed the title to Who’ll Stop The Rain? The use of a singular Dog (as in Wag The Dog, Mad Dog and Glory, Alpha Dog, Man Bites Dog, The Shaggy Dog, A Boy And His Dog and Dog Day Afternoon) isn’t as bad as “dogs” plural. Sam Peckinpah‘s Straw Dogs and Quentin Tarantino‘s Reservoir Dogs were super-cool titles but the latter sounded niche-y and ultra-male.
Cuba Gooding‘s Snow Dogs was one of the worst titles in the history of motion pictures.
Just call it something besides For The Dogs, which sounds too close to Gone To The Dogs or For The Birds or that line of country.
Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly summary of Wignall’s book: “In this slim, fast-paced page-turner, Wignall returns to one of the themes of his well-received first novel, People Die — the sympathetic hit man who has, if not exactly a conscience, extended internal considerations of the moral implications of his trade.
“Stephen Lucas, a recently retired, emotionally stunted hit man, emerges from his Swiss hideaway as a favor to old friend Londoner Mark Hatto, who hires Lucas to surreptitiously guard his daughter, bright, extroverted Ella, while she’s vacationing in Italy with her boyfriend. After Ella’s entire family is murdered, Lucas foils several serious attempts on Ella’s life, and the two of them form an odd, almost familial relationship. The boyfriend soon drops out of the picture as the hit man reluctantly helps Ella exact revenge on those who killed her family.
“There’s plenty of action, but it’s the twisting, turning, complicated relationship between Ella and Lucas that forms the core of this compelling novel.
“Most popular genre writers allow and even encourage the category elements — action, adventure, suspense — to subsume the literary ones, but Wignall concentrates instead on the questions of character and motivation that make for a deeper reading experience. The names le Carre, Simenon and recent British mystery author Mark Billingham come to mind, making this a blend of old and new masters wrapped up in an original, finely hewn effort.”
“The Oscars have become so commodified because there are so many awards that come before them so we all know what’s going to win.” — Village Voice columnist Michael Musto in a chat with Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neil. Their chat was posted this morning at 10:30 am Eastern. Musto: “Let’s not forget [that] they don’t really love Spielberg.”
I tweeted the following last night during John Horn‘s on-stage interview with Quentin Tarantino at the Santa Barbara Film Festival: “On one level, the Horn-Tarantino discussion is somewhat interesting because it’s been almost entirely about QT’s writing process.” And, I would have added, because Tarantino’s answers were typically candid and amusing and occasionally profane.
I don’t want to under-convey my admiration for Tarantino’s standard schpiel. Give him a microphone and he’s a chuckling, rollicking one-man band.
“But on another level,” I tweeted, “hearing Tarantino go on and on about how smug and confident and cocksure he is about his creative process is quite boring.” After about a half-hour’s worth, I meant to say.
It was almost as if Tarantino had cut a deal with the Santa Barbara Film Festival when he agreed to make an appearance in place of Leonardo DiCaprio, who withdrew a week or so ago — a deal in which QT said “I’m happy to help you guys but all I want to talk about is my writing process…will you agree to ask me only about that?” And the festival said okay. I don’t know anything, mind. I’m just talking out of my ass. But last night’s chat certainly felt as if this one conversational topic had been pre-agreed upon.
It was either that or Horn is a very focused and cerebral fellow who doesn’t have much of an instinct for what makes a lively and engrossing on-stage interview. Because his QT encounter began to feel like a classroom experience that gradually sank under the weight of a single myopic thread.
Tarantino basically said the same thing over and over last night, which can be condensed as follows: “Not everything that I fart out can be spun into gold, but obviously a lot of my farts have been. By me. Because I’m fucking good. And because I know how to make them smell good in context. Because I’m bold as brass.
“Clearly I’m doing pretty well and here I am, sitting on a stage and being applauded by the locals and being interviewed by an L.A. Times guy, so basically…all right, I won’t say that all my farts smell sweet as lilacs. But mine are different because they’re Quentin farts and that makes all the difference. They make money and people love them and major actors want to work with me…”
In essence, Tarantino also said this (and in some instances I’m paraphrasing): “I have to write within the conventions of genre” — i.e., remakes of ’70s B flicks, martial-arts films with samurai swords, attitude-heavy gangster pics, spaghetti westerns, cheeseball Dirty Dozen films set in World War II — “because I’m devoted to and fully respect genre, and that devotion gives me discipline. Without genre conventions I would just write on and on and on with a resolution I don’t suffer from writer’s block. My problem is that I write and write and write.
“And yet one thing I’ve noticed is that when you watch your older films on cable, you never want them to go on longer. You wish they were shorter, but they are what they are. But fuck it…here I am.”
Audience questions weren’t permitted and Tarantino didn’t show up for the after-party, but if I’d been permitted to ask my Big Question — “If you were presented with a Lars Von Trier-styled filmmaking exercise in which you had to write a film that didn’t use flip, cynical, grindhouse-style, cartoon-panel violence — no handguns, machine guns, samurai swords, baseball bats, grenades, silver-nitrate infernos or violence of any kind, either naturalistic or ‘in quotes’ — what would your movie be about?” — he would have answered with the same riff about how he has to write within genre or his stories would just blather on without shape or resolution.
“There are scores of generic movie-dialogue lines that everyone recites on cue. ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” ‘Laugh it up, fuzzball’, ‘Jack, I swear’, ‘Who are those guys?‘, ‘I can see you’re really upset about this, Dave‘, etc. Basic stuff, right?
“But the greatest loser line of all time — ‘I’ve been waiting all my life to fuck up like this‘ — has yet to make it into the pantheon. Run a search and it doesn’t pop up on any of those movie-dialogue sites. Which doesn’t seem right. Because this is a great and lasting utterance.
“The reason it hasn’t caught on, I suppose, is that despairing humor doesn’t connect with people all that well. People don’t like to chuckle about the possibility (one that is actually quite vivid and unmistakable) that their lives haven’t amounted to much, and that one way to quantify or evaluate this state of affairs is by those little realization-of-failure moments, as opposed to moments of pride and glory at some black-tie awards dinner.
“When I first heard this line in ’78, I saw myself as teetering on the edge of loserdom. I hadn’t really made it as a journalist, and had begun to consider the possibility that I might eventually enervate myself to death, or simply get sent to the showers. I was half-confident but also half-dispirited, and the latter was gaining. It had gotten to the point that I was starting to develop a bitter sense of humor about my prospects.
“So when Michael Moriarty said this line about 35 minutes into Karel Riesz‘s Who’ll Stop The Rain?, I didn’t just chuckle or laugh — I went “hah!” and slapped my leg in tribute. A movie had finally said what that little man inside my chest (i.e., the one who had reminded me of my low self-esteem since I was seven or eight years old) had been whispering for years. Hang in there, Jeff — your greatest fuck-up is yet to come.
“Every couple of years I’m going to chime in and remind everyone of this line (which was taken straight from Robert Stone‘s ‘Dog Soldiers‘, which this film was called until the Orion marketing guys got scared and switched titles). I wrote about it a couple of years ago, and I’ll probably do it again in 2012.
“There’s also this Rain passage, a back-and-forth between Nick Nolte and Tuesday Weld, and this chess-playing scene between Richard Masur and Ray Sharkey.
“I’ve said over and over that 21st Century dramas, action-driven or otherwise, could really use more dialogue of this calibre. ‘More’ is actually a generous allowance because this kind of sharp, echo-filled, rebop dialogue has all but disappeared from movies entirely. Tell me I’m wrong.” — originally posted on 9.8.10.
Martin Sheen, previously known as Cpt. Willard as well as a strong critic of the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty, has flip-flopped on this concern, according to an article posted late this afternoon by N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply.
Okay, not “flip-flopped,” exactly. Sheen just wasn’t paying attention to begin with.
“Speaking by telephone Wednesday, Mr. Sheen said that through his own mistake, the actors David Clennon and Ed Asner had included Sheen in their opposition to what they saw as the film’s tolerance of torture,” Cieply reported. “‘It’s my own fault,’ Sheen told Cieply. He said he had “agreed to a statement about the film without fully understanding that it would condemn the movie, rather than simply condemning torture.”
Imagined Sheen Supplement: “I’m getting older, obviously, and I guess I didn’t pay attention to this matter as I should have. Or…actually, I don’t know what the fuck happened. Seriously, I’m in a fog right now. I know I was taking a nap the other day and I got up and was sitting on the edge of the bed and rubbing my eyes and my assistant came in and said something about torture being a very bad thing and I went ‘uhhm, yeah, whatever.'”
All joshing aside, Sheen did tell Cieply that “he shared Kathryn Bigelow‘s expressed opposition to the use of torture, and said that the film had ‘done great, great service to the issue‘ by bringing it to the fore. Mr. Sheen said he had watched the movie weeks ago and ‘was very moved and troubled by it.’
“The misunderstanding with Clennon,” Sheen explained, “occurred only because Sheen had failed to speak with him personally about the Zero Dark Thirty controversy, relying instead on communication through an assistant.”
Sheen added that he has fired his assistant and sent him packing on foot. Kidding!
Derek Cianfrance‘s The Place Beyond The Pines (Focus Features, 3.29) has its fans, but it’s bizarre that Focus, a first-class distributor that has shown excellent marketing taste, would approve a poster as bad as this one. There’s something wildly off-balance about it. The three heads (Eva Mendes, Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper ) are too close to the top. The credit block is jammed in close below and too far north. And too much space is given to the dusky sky in the image that lies below (i.e., Gosling on his chopper).
From my 9.8.12 review: “I hate movies about blue-collar knockabouts and greasy low-lifes and teenage louts who constantly smoke cigarettes. The more a character smokes cigarettes the dumber and more doomed and less engaging he or she is — that’s the rule. If you’re writing or directing a film and you want the audience to believe that a character is an all-but-completely worthless scoundrel or sociopath whom they should not give a shit about, have that character smoke cigarettes in every damn scene.
“The principal theme of The Place Beyond The Pines is the following: ‘Dads Are Everything and Mothers Don’t Matter, but Cigarettes Sure Run A Close Second!'”
You might presume that Jules Stewart, a script supervisor since ’88, landed the gig to direct K-11, a jailhouse melodrama, because she’s the mother of Kristen Stewart. And you might be half-right. But this Breaking Glass release, which opens limited (NY, LA, Denver, Phoenix, Philly) on 3.15, looks interesting in a gnarly sort of way. Stewart also wrote the script.
“The message of Dror Moreh‘s The Gatekeepers, formed from the collective wisdom of the six living former Shin Bet leaders, is this: The occupation is immoral and, perhaps more important, ineffective. Israel should withdraw from the West Bank as it did from the Gaza Strip in 2005. And the prospect of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict diminishes daily, threatening the future of Israel as a Jewish democracy.” — from Jodi Rudoren‘s 1.25 N.Y. Times piece, titled “Most Israelis Are Not Listening.”
Is this not the greatest big wave shot ever taken? If not it’ll do until the greatest gets here. It was shot two days ago — Monday, 1.28 — off Praia do Norte beach in Nazare, Portgual, as U.S. surfer Garrett McNamara rode a wave reported to be 100 feet tall. In so doing McNamara beat his previous record of riding a 78-footer in the same spot in November 2011.
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