Movies postsThursday August 21, 2008
So I saw this article about the filming of Michael Mann’s new movie, Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, while reading the article that led to yesterday’s post, which I originally saw while researching a Wisconsin lawyer. I guess that’s why they call it the Web.
Anyone who knows how I feel about Mann, and Depp, and Christian Bale, knows I’m kind of stoked over this. July ’09 release date.
Entertainment Weekly's Summer Box Office Predictions: Reporting the Forecast
These types of issues are generally fun in foresight and depressing in hindsight. Fun because you can imagine just how good these movies will be. Depressing because they’re often not. I still have EW’s Summer Movie Preview issue, which includes extensive write-ups of films like Speed Racer (for May), The Happening and The Love Guru (for June), and X-Files and Meet Dave (for July). X-Files is their big July write-up; it gets four pages. Hancock is second with two pages. In third place is that Batman sequel with one page. Happens.
Don’t know if EW attempts a box office prediction for autumn or if box office is irrelevant in autumn, but they did for the summer. Here it is, with actual rankings and actual box office (thus far) included:
|EW Pred.||Movie||Pred. BO||Actual||Actual BO|
|1||Indiana Jones and the Kingdom...||$355.9M||3||$315M|
|2||Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian||$310.8M||9||$141M|
|6||The Dark Knight||$255.0M||1||$471M|
|7||Kung Fu Panda||$224.6M||6||$211M|
|8||The Mummy: Tomb of...||$176.5M||18||$86M|
|9||The Incredible Hulk||$147.2M||10||$134M|
It's still early, of course, and films like Tropic Thunder and The Mummy will move up. But enough? I know, it's a game, and EW didn't play too badly. Their big error, besides the DK one, was thinking Chronicles of Narnia would do so well. Their rationale? "The first movie made $292 million, and that was without a hottie prince in the lead role." More interesting is what they left off the summer's top 10: Sex and the City, which is no. 7 with $152M, and Wanted at no. 10 with $133M. I.e., the two films with female leads. Oop.
Again: I know. It's not like my own box office predictions — when I’m asked to make them — stand up, either. I just think in general the media is too fascinated with this kind of thing. It’s hard enough to figure out what has happened or is happening without figuring out what’s gonna happen.
How Owen Gleiberman gets ‘Vicki Christina Barcelona’ wrong
Have you seen what Entertainment Weekly is doing with their movie reviews? Instead of giving us the money sentence as a pull quote, they simply bold the money sentence within the review. Your eye is immediately drawn to it. I’m not sure how this differs from a pull quote but it does. The pull quote feels like a highlight reel: here’s the most important at-bat in the game today. Bolding a sentence within the review is like showing the highlight reel as the game is just starting. It’s like making one sentence Albert Pujols within the St. Louis Cardinals line-up: Here’s the important one. These others? Hacks. Don’t pay them any mind.
That said, the money or bolded sentence in Owen Gleiberman’s review of Woody Allen’s Vicki Christina Barcelona — “To Allen, commitment is a conspiracy of society. It’s a drag, man.” — did make me read the others. Because it made me think: “WTF is he talking about?”
In the film, Allen gives us two ways of being, embodies them in two American tourists in Spain for the summer, and lets them go.
Vicki (Rebecca Hall) is a Catalan scholar who is engaged to be married to a New York businessman. She knows what she wants. Her friend Christina (Scarlett Johansson) is unmoored. She’s just spent months acting in a 12-minute experimental film that she now disowns. She doesn’t know what she wants.
Thus when they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a Spanish artist, at a late-night restaurant, and he proposes taking them away for the weekend (taking both of them away, at the same time, and into the same bed), Christina is intrigued while Vicki is repulsed. Promising nothing, they go, Vicki to protect Christina. Of course, through a series of mishaps, it’s Vicki who winds up sleeping with the artist, and that night of passion becomes the pebble in what were once comfortable walking shoes. She’s bothered, unsure. She no longer knows what she wants.
Back in Barcelona, Christina hooks up with Juan, and gets involved in his artistic life with his artistic friends, including his volatile ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz, the best thing in the film), and the twosome becomes a threesome, and Christina, who knows no artistic outlet, finds one, via photography. Meanwhile, Vicki, whose fiancé flies to Barcelona to join her, keeps walking around with that pebble in her shoe.
This is the source of Gleiberman’s sentence and review. He feels Allen is recommending the wild, artistic European life over the dullness of American business-as-usual. But while aspects of the artistic life are clearly intriguing (Bardem and Cruz, for starters), that’s not what the film is about. How do you deal with the emptiness? That’s what the film is about. Both characters have it. Vicki fortifies herself against it — only to find her fortifications aren’t enough. Christina allows herself to drift from intrigue to intrigue, from acting to photography, from this bed to that one, but always finds the solace temporary. Then she moves on. Neither has the answer because there is no answer. It’s just two ways of being. In the end, neither is happy.
The narration in the film moves the story along, but — and here’s my criticism — it’s a bit like Vicki, isn’t it? Tightly controlling the story, when the story, and the characters, should be allowed to move more freely. Gleiberman makes the same point when he writes that Vicki and Christina “never quite transcend the schematic.” Exactly. The narration (i.e., Allen), doesn’t allow them to. The turning point is when Christina, having found an artistic outlet, a man and a free-spirited life, gives it all up. Why? The narrator tells us that her gnawing emptiness returns. She looks off into the distance and she’s gone. But the scene feels externally controlled rather than internally motivated…because it is. The narration, as zippy as it allows the film to be, becomes a puppet master, moving the characters about to serve its own purposes.
Doesn’t mean VCB isn’t worth seeing. Cruz deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance. She’s so spookily direct that you don’t want to be with her — even though she looks like Penelope Cruz. Now that’s acting.
More, for all the film’s soft lighting and long, wine-filled lunches and dinners, for all its lightness, the theme of how to deal with life’s emptiness remains and is reflected back upon the viewer. You leave wondering which character you’re more like. Do you determine your spot and wall yourself up? Or do you flit from spot to spot, undefined? Some combination of the two? You examine the choices you’ve made. In what ways have I settled? In what ways am I unfulfilled? How do the two relate? It’s not that the film becomes a pebble in your shoe; it just reminds you that the pebble’s already there, and probably always will be.
Philippe Petit becomes a bird
Last week I hoped Man on Wire, a documentary about Philippe Petit's 45-minute walk, or dance, across the expanse between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, would make it to Seattle soon. It'll be here Friday. I won't be able to see it then — family coming to town — but next week for sure. Here's Moira Macdonald's interview with Petit in yesterday's Seattle Times. A nice graf:
“I remember absolutely everything,” said Petit of the walk. “I did stop a few times, and I even sat down and observed down. The plaza was empty because it was still under construction. I saw some people looking up; after a while, a gigantic crowd.” He remembers a seagull that hovered quite close to him for a few minutes, “gliding about me, looking at me as if to say, 'What is this guy doing here? What is this false bird invading my territory?' ”
And I never get tired of this picture:
No on Ferrell, yes on Gould
Let me temporarily interrupt this diatribe about the way the mainstream media allows itself to be used as a pawn in political elections to say this: Patricia and I went to see the new Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly movie Step Brothers last night. Patricia loves these type of movies, and I think Ferrell is one of the funniest men around. I even liked Semi-Pro, which most critics did not. Well, both of us hated Step Brothers. We laughed — my hardest laughs were at the very end (the fight with the schoolkids) — but most of the movie is merely unpleasant and obvious. It’s not even worth the DVD rental.
A worthwhile read, in the meantime, is this New York Times piece on Elliot Gould, who is being honored with a retrospective of his films at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn. I remember about 15 years ago when “The Simpsons” did a flashback episode to when Homer and Marge meet in the early ‘70s, and one girl turns down, I believe, Barney, for a date, with the line, “Who do you think you are — Elliott Gould?” That cracked me up. Growing up, I didn’t think much about Gould one way or the other; he just seemed like a guy whose time had passed. But recently I was watching California Split for this MSNBC piece and I was stunned by just how charismatic he was. The retrospective gets its name from a 1970 Time magazine cover story called “Elliott Gould: Star for an Uptight Age,” but Alan Arkin, in the smartest line in the Times piece, says the emblem of uptightness is misleading. “I’ve always thought he had a looseness about him,” he says. Exactly. In California Split he’s so much fun to watch. He is the film's energy.