Grimming Up For Silence

I’ve never been that excited about Martin Scorsese‘s intention to direct an adaptation of Shusako Endo‘s “Silence,” which is set in 16th Century Japan. I’m afraid it will be a kind of Christian Kundun. I’ve always had a basic aversion to all things Christian (at least since my early 20s) and I nod out every time I see a movie about historical Japan. Is Silence going to be a solemn downer with torture scenes? A melancholy tale of martyrdom? I only know that my insect antennae are picking up signals along these lines.”

That aside, today’s announcement that Liam Neeson will star in the film is the best thing to happen to his career since he became an senior action star in ’08 with Taken. It will be Neeson’s first top-tier dramatic role (it’s presumed he’ll play a fallen Jesuit priest named Ferreira) since Kingdom of Heaven. Andrew Garfield, Ken Watanabe and Adam Driver will costar.

Ape With Hots for Elisabeth Shue

Nobody remembers Richard Franklin‘s Link (’87), but it was a witty, better-than-decent genre thriller. Nicely acted by Terrence Stamp and Elizabeth Shue, fairly well written by Everett De Roche, very carefully composed. Franklin (who died in ’07) shot it with a kind of Hitchcockian discipline. I wrote the press notes and in so doing interviewed Franklin, and he worked very hard, he told me, to put Link together just so. It was filmed in Scotland but it’s certainly not a “horror film,” as the Wiki page states. It’s a tongue-in-cheek thing, clever and dry. “Link” is a chimpanzee in the film but he was played by an orangutan with a dyed coat. I helped out with Link screenings at Cannon headquarters on San Vicente Blvd., and I remember playing The Kinks “Ape Man” (a portion of which is heard in the film) as a kind of overture for invited guests. Consider Walter Goodman‘s N.Y. Times review.

Need To See A Film Or Take A Walk

There’s something almost thrilling about entering a clean and tidy hotel room for the first time. You feel refreshed, renewed — almost like starting your life over. And then you unpack and turn on the computers and the TV. You start personalizing the place in various ways. And within an hour or two the room has become almost exactly like your home. Nothing special or exotic — the toys and ornaments of your life have simply been transferred to another location. The thrill is gone. Your not-entirely-fastidious living habits are the same. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Your life is your life.

Genuinely Sorry About This

I’ve never related to Gov. Chris Christie‘s blustery pugnacious manner, but on some perverse level I don’t mind it. I’m a New Jersey guy from way back so I get that kind of personality. At least Christie isn’t a blow-dried phony — he is what he is. And he’s a kind of moderate Republican, at least compared to the Tea Party wackos. (Okay, maybe he isn’t.) I was really looking forward to a highly combustible presidential primary battle between Christie and Rand Paul, and particularly a contest between Christie and Hillary Clinton for the White House itself. I guess that’s not going to happen now.


Ian in Wonderland

This Bud Light commercial is about the preponderance of empty external stimuli in the 21st Century, and how all of it culminates in a paralyzing state of ennui and nothingness that would reduce Immanuel Kant (if he could be brought back to earth and put into this situation) to tears and pleading. And I’m not making this association because a place where I’m staying in Berlin next week is located on Kantstrasse. Ian is a gleeful, highly impressionable dolt. If it had been me I would have taken one look at that wine-colored stretch limo and that DJ in the back and stopped smiling immediately.


“Take Jake Gyllenhaal‘s lonely OCD decoder in Zodiac and [then] split him in two with one version schlumpy and Adam Goldberg-like and the other like Ryan Gosling on a motorbike. Mix in Eyes Wide Shut‘s plinking/cagey ‘sex party’. [Use] talent agency and university settings as nondescript/sterile as the stockbroker firm in American Psycho. Throw a curveball with inexplicable video-store detours from ye olden times. Stir it all together for a Franz Kafka stew.

“Add a sprinkling of Isabella Rossellini and two blonde love interests — Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon — who are both confusingly disappointed. You’re sleeping with Gyllenhall, ladies. Cheer the fuck up!

“Do all that and you might get this eery, compelling, off-putting, possibly slight but mercifully tight (90 minutes) cinematic adaptation of Jose Saramago’s “The Double” (’02). (more…)

Labor Has Lost

Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day (Paramount, 1.31), which I saw and reviewed five months ago at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival, has been all but decimated by critics. An abysmal 32% on Rotten Tomatoes, a not-much-better 52% on Metacritic. Here’s my 8.29.13 review, which was titled “Reitman’s Film Doesn’t Work”:

Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day is a decently crafted, amber-lighted period drama, based on the 2009 Joyce Maynard book and set during the Labor Day holiday of 1987, about…well, it’s hard to put into a succinct sentence. It begins as a kind of home invasion situation that isn’t quite a hostage or kidnapping thing. It’s a family love story of sorts mixed with a criminal-hiding-out-in-the-home-of-a-single-neurotic-mom-and-her-son story.


Hubba Hubba

“I asked Anne Hathaway about the Judy Garland biopic (based on Gerald Clarke’s 2000 biography “Get Happy“) that she and the Weinstein Co. have been developing for…what, three or four years? In 2010 she told a BBC interviewer that ‘it’s a very sensitive project…we’re really trying to get it right so we’re taking our time with it…very, very slow incremental steps.’ Hathaway told me that last August Harvey Weinstein told President Obama that the film would happen ‘within a couple of years.’ Hathaway is tallish (5′ 8″ but nearly my height with three-inch heels) and Garland, she said, was not quite five feet. So she’ll have to do a Marion Cotillard-in-La Vie In Rose (i.e., acting on large-scale sets with large-scale props).” — from a 12.15.12 post about a Les Miserables party at Spago.


SBIFF Arrival, Party, Etc.

Following the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s opening-night screening of Mission Blue, director Fisher Stevens (r.) festival director Roger Durling (l.). I arrived a half-hour after film began, and they wouldn’t let me in — sold out. Mission Blue will also play at the Berlin Film Festival.


Gray’s Compassion

In a 1.30 piece about ways to avoid a repeat of the “Alone Yet Not Alone” slapdown (i.e., the Academy’s board of governors recently voting to rescind the Best Song Oscar nomination because of online campaigning by co-composer Bruce Broughton), Variety‘s Tim Gray has suggested something a little bit bizarre. Gray thinks the Academy should invite “Alone” singer Joni Eareckson Tada to perform on the Oscar telecast as a kind of makeup gesture (i.e., “we’re sorry for traumatizing you and your ‘Alone’ colleagues”). But considering Tada’s strongly Christian beliefs, Gray is also suggesting that inviting the quadriplegic performer would rebuff a notion that Hollywood rank-and-filers have an “anti-religious bias.”

That’s a red herring. Gray knows that religion and spirituality have been strong currents in the Hollywood community for decades. The “bias” he alludes to is not anti-religious — it’s anti-rightwing Christian. Which I think makes basic sense if you’re any kind of liberal. Or a genuine Christian, for that matter.

Hollywood has always been a lefty town, and most of us understand…okay, believe that Christianity, conservative values and rightwing political agendas have been more or less synonymous in this country for many decades. Gray knows all about this equation, and yet he’s suggesting that the film industry needs to turn the other cheek and perhaps atone on some level for not feeling a profound bond with conservative Christians. Good God! They might be nice people to chat with at a backyard barbecue in Lake Forest, but the rigid attitudes, political causes and cultural crusades of rightwing Christians have as much connection with the sermons of Yeshua of Nazareth as Edward G. Robinson‘s Golden Calf has to the stone tablets carried down from Mount Sinai by Charlton Heston.

“Junior” Oscars: A Revolutionary Idea

Imagine if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was to announce a three-season award calendar — January 1st to April 30th, May 1st to August 31st, and September 1st to December 31st. And then require members to fill out sudden-death online ballots for the best achievements of season #1 (winter/spring) and season #2 (late spring & summer)? No nominations, no campaigning — just a simple popularity ballot. This would be coupled with two Junior Oscar ceremonies to announce and celebrate the winners of season #1 and #2.

I know the Academy would never go for this in a million years, but be honest — wouldn’t this approach encourage distributors to release better films between January and August? Wouldn’t this result in a richer, more nutritious film year with the “wealth” spread around more evenly? The winners of these seasonal award ballots would obviously derive some commercial benefit. Season #1 and #2 winners wouldn’t be eligible for the third and final season (Labor Day to New Year’s Eve), so this wouldn’t change award season as now know it. Everything would still start at Telluride/Venice/Toronto/New York. It would obviously make things better all around. I’m fairly certain this has been suggested before so I’m not claiming this as my idea. But it’s a good one.

If I were an Academy Napoleon I would push this plan through along with my reduce-the-influence-of-Deadwood-voters suggestion.

Update: The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg suggested a variant of the “Junior Oscars” in late 2012.

“I’m Just Here For The Gasoline”

The post-apocalyptic wasteland scenarios in George Kennedy‘s Mad Max and The Road Warrior were fresh and wowser thirty-plus years ago, but they’ve been done to death. Animal Kingdom taught me to respect Aussie helmer David Michod, but what could The Rover possibly bring to the table? The trailer suggests it’s the same old dystopian sludge. Boilerplate synopsis: “In a world depleted of its food sources since the collapse of civilization ten years prior, two worn-out survivors (Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson) try to stay alive in the Australian outback” blah blah.

Only in America

Are you going to tell me that most American righties are not largely xenophobic (a polite term for racist) when it comes to emerging multicultural trends, the biggest metaphor for which is President Barack Obama? Are you going to tell me that righties are not about trying to defend, preserve and advance white Christian culture? That a lot of them don’t long for a return to the rule of white men, and to the white-bread Wonder Years / Happy Days culture that boomer-aged righties grew up with? Obviously it’s completely reasonable to suggest that a Cheerios ad featuring an inter-racial family will probably freak some righties out. And yet MSNBC felt obliged to apologize for a tweet that said this. Because there a lot of belligerent rightwing bigmouths on Twitter who screamed bloody murder. Rightie mouthpieces know what to say. They have their uniform scripts. They’re full of shit but when has that ever stopped them?


Santa Barbara Abbreviated

Starting this afternoon and for the subsequent five days I’ll be based at the Santa Barbara Film Festival (1.30 thru 2.9). But I’ll only be covering about 40% of Roger Durling‘s Oscar-angled shindig due to an overlap with the Berlin Film Festival, which I’ll be attending for the first time, largely due to an invitation from Fox Searchlight to cover the world premiere of Wes Anderson‘s Grand Budapest Hotel (which opens stateside on 3.7). The price is that I’ll be missing most of the good Santa Barbara tributes — Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Bruce Dern, the Before trilogy guys (Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy). But I’ll catch Mission Blue, the SBIFF’s opening night film, and the David O. Russell and Cate Blanchett tributes and the Producers and Womens’ panels on Saturday.

Demon Horns

Cinerama, an independent movie theater in Rotterdam, asked me to make a poster for the upcoming [booking of] The Wolf Of Wall Street, directed by Martin Scorsese.” — Clemens Den Exter, who invites all interested parties to write him at “for questions about ordering one of these posters.”

Approved by Rick Santorum!

Before the Academy’s board of governors voted to rescind the original song nomination for “Alone Yet Not Alone,” (music by Bruce Broughton, lyric by Dennis Spiegel), I had paid no attention to the same-titled film that the song is attached to. That’s mostly because it isn’t slated to formally “open” until June 14, and yet it had a half-ass opening in nine cities last September. (Which is how the song qualified for Oscar contention.) And yet Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic haven’t acknowledged its existence.

I haven’t seen Alone Yet Not Alone, but this still appears to depict young white girls being carried away by the wily pathan.


2014’s First Heartbreak

It pains me to say this but George Clooney‘s The Monuments Men (Sony, 2.7) is a write-down. It doesn’t work. It ambles and rambles and tries for a mixture of soft-shoe charm and solemn pathos, but it never lights the oven or lifts off the ground or whatever creative-engagement metaphor you prefer. It breaks my heart to say this. I went into yesterday morning’s screening with an attitude of “if this thing works even a little bit, I’m going to try to give it a pass or at least be as kind as possible.” I feel emotionally bonded with this film, you see, because of my visit to the set last May and that loose-shoe piece that I posted about it on 7.1. Clooney approved the visit and was gracious and cool during my four-hour hang-out, and I feel like I owe him a little kindness. But I can’t cut Monuments Men a break. I’d like to but I can’t.


Sublime Telluride vs. Toronto Clusterfuck

Yesterday Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson and TheWrap‘s Steve Pond reported on a firm “either-or” declaration by Toronto Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey, to wit: if producers/distributors henceforth unveil their Oscar-bait films at the Telluride Film Festival, they can’t show them during the first four days of the 2014 Toronto Film Festival (9.4 thru 9.14). How will producers/distributors respond? I’d be hugely surprised if they decide to blow off Telluride, which is easily the more preferred venue for award-season kickoffs.

Anyone who knows the game will tell you that Toronto is the Chicago stockyards — an overcrowded, market-driven clusterfuck — while Telluride is a serene haven of refined taste and film-nerd worship — the ideal launch for any film that needs the right people to see it and embrace it (or at least thoughtfully kick it around) and begin the conversation.

Toronto’s “uh-oh” bell sounded last August when the reps of J.C. Chandor‘s All Is Lost, Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Inside Llewyn Davis and Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska decided to preemptively cast their lot with Telluride and sidestep Toronto. Bailey didn’t have to threaten them by withdrawing TIFF slots during the first four days — they decided to ignore Toronto altogether. This initiated what I called “a relatively new fall-festival phenomenon — the Oscar-contending, Telluride-preferring, Toronto-blowoff movie.”