Movies postsSunday March 30, 2008
"In the Shadow of the Moon"
Here's a couple of lasts.
1) Last night I watched the David Sington doc In the Shadow of the Moon and this morning looked it up on IMDb.com. The site listed two under that name: the 2007 doc about the Apollo missions (mine), and something being released in 2009. For a moment I was excited. "Hey, are they making a feature film out of this?" and clicked on the link: "Small Northern California town deals with a pack of modern werewolves." Nope.
2) Last fall Shadow was playing a block from where I work, at the Uptown theater in lower Queen Anne, and I wish I'd seen it then. Wish I'd seen it on the big screen. Or a big screen. The doc also celebrates a time when the world came together, proudly, because of an American accomplishment, so feels like it should be part of the communal experience of theater-going rather than the singular experience of TV-watching. But I blew it. Many didn't. It did alright for a doc — $1.5 million globally — but you feel like it should've done better. It's easy to watch, makes you proud, fills you up. Apparently we can't sell this anymore. Even to me.
3) Last week P and I went to a birthday party in Fremont where I met Rick Shenkman, author of several books and editor at the History News Network, and he and I and some others were talking about his latest book, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter, which comes out in May, and we got on the topic of the specialization, or "niche-ization" (someone come up with a better term, fast), of the national dialogue, and our current lack of a national meeting place, which is a well-worn topic for me. Someone asked, "What was a national meeting place?" and before I could answer, Rick said, "Walter Cronkite." Exactly. You could also say the Apollo lift-offs were national meeting places, too.
Shadow is made up mostly of interviews with the men who flew to the moon (sans Neil Armstrong, strong on Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin), with the emphasis, obviously, on the Apollo 11 moon landing. Apparently if 11 didn't work, NASA had two back-up missions ready, both in 1969, to ensure that President Kennedy's promise of sending a man to the moon and bringing him back safely before the end of the decade would be kept. Nice to have national goals. At one point Jim Lovell, commander of both Apollo 8 and 13 (Tom Hanks played him in the movie), talked about how Apollo 8 was switched from an earth orbital launch to a flight to the moon, which he thought a bold move. "But it was a time when we made bold moves," he says. He should've added "smart" to that. We still make bold moves. We still have national goals. They just haven't been smart for a while.
Two interesting and contrasting articles on movie studios in today's New York Times. First, Dave Kehr's piece on the history of United Artists: starting out as the baby of Fairbanks, Griffith, Chaplin and Pickford in 1919, being salvaged by producers Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin in the 1950s, and then reaching its artistic heyday in the 1960s and '70s, backing and distributing such films as Midnight Cowboy, Last Tango in Paris, Manhattan and Raging Bull. In the '90s, in Kehr's apt term, UA became a financial football, "kicked around by various bankers, promoters and avaricious studios." Now it's owned by Sony and MGM (who can keep track?) and headed by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, Film Forum in Manhattan is running a five-week tribute starting Friday night. Another reason to live in New York.
The second article is about a potential split between acrimonious partners DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures. What's depressing isn't the split, nor the title subject ("Who keeps the movies?"), but the hints the article lays out about movies-in-the-planning. Transformers 2 is inevitable. But in the lead graf they mention "a comedy about a couple who have to live Valentine’s Day over and over again until they finally get it right."
It's kind of like studio heads who have to produce the same idea over and over again until they get it so wrong it doesn't make any money. And then they abandon it for the next thing. United artists, indeed.
"There's always a kid, isn't there?"
Even though I couldn't play a hand of poker to save my life (or yours), I wrote a piece for MSNBC on the five top card movies, to coincide with the opening of the card counting flick, "21." My friend Brett, who's got a pretty good poker face even when he's not playing poker, helped me. Also a dude I met at the 5 Spot on the top of Queen Anne. Interestingly, both he and Brett liked the same film, "Rounders," for the reasons I state in the article. I had problems with it, which I also state, but I like how anti-Hollywood, even anti-American the movie is in this sense: Its tagline went something something like, "You play the hand you're dealt." That's the film. You are who you are. You can't overcome it. Forget Nietzsche or self-help books. "Would you make a different choice?" one character says, to which another replies, "What choice?" There's something truly freeing in this notion.
It's a short piece, but enjoy. Martin Scorsese's next.
Coupla white guys sitting around talking about movies
The latest MSNBC piece is up. On Tyler Perry.
Also check out my friend Adam's article on John Hughes.
Gore Vidal once wrote a piece — in 1973 — on “The Top 10 Best Sellers According to The Sunday New York Times as of January 7, 1973,” and in the March issue of The Believer magazine I do something similar with movies, but from an historical perspective: the top 10 box office hits according to Variety as of March 19, 1958. What the movies we watched say about what we were; what they say about where we are. You can read an excerpt here.
Also check out the interview between Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.