The Hot Blog Archive for April, 2011
Finally, a period sword series comes to pay-tv and gets it absolutely right. It’s The Sopranos in animal skins with swords instead of guns. But even more than The Sopranos, you never know what might happen dramatically. Even though it always respects the rules of drama, it takes you on its journey, and like a great stand-up, surprises you delightfully over and over and over again.
I was scared, frankly, when HBO sent the discs for the first six of the ten episode first season of Game of Thrones. It came with a beautifully rendered, but complicated chart, explaining the family trees of the series. The problem at that moment is, if you need a chart, you aren’t enjoying a drama.
But I didn’t need the chart. The screenplay, by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, spin the complex web with care, never too fast, never too slow. There may be moments when you’re not 100% sure of who is who, but not amongst any of the key players. And there are at least a dozen key players roaming through each episode. The writing respects your intelligence and interest… very little Basil Exposition here.
Essentially, there are four families at the center of the tale. The hero of the piece is Sean Bean’s Ned Stark, who controls the North, but is drawn into the big show by his old friend, Mark Addy’s King Baratheon. The King is married to a Lannister (Lena Headey)… sexy, but baaaad… a whole family of bad. And lingering away from the central action, offering (for now) its own great story, The Targaryens, whose Prince once was a King and desperately wants his kingdom back.
Of course, there is a ton of stuff going on inside of this simple structure. But the mix of complexity and clarity is incredibly refreshing.
Bean is what I call “The Mary” of the show, the center of the story, but not given as much exciting material to do as all of the sidekick characters. Being good just isn’t quite a fun. But Bean is an island and holds the entire series tightly in his grasp with great subtlety. Addy is Ralph Kramden made king… after he’s realized just how much power he has. Headey is the inside woman for The Lannisters, holding every card close.
I don’t want to get int the way of your pleasure in watching this, so I will be brief in discussing the “secondary” characters, who aren’t so secondary. The most compelling, on his way to an Emmy win, is Peter Dinklage as “The Imp,” a Lannister and no gentleman. His beautiful brother, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is so chiseled that you don’t see his acting skill coming. Maisie Williams’ young Arya Stark has the feel of a young Natalie Portman or Dakota Fanning, commanding the screen every time she appears, her character loaded with potential. Every performance in the piece is solid or better.
And then there are the Targaryens. I imagine their arc, which is held quite separate from the rest of the story, will crash into a central position by Episode 10 this season. The flamboyant prince, played by Harry Lloyd, is the first to demand your attention. But his sister, who he treats as a pawn for his use, is the secret sauce in this whole enterprise.
Emilia Clarke has the face of an angel and the that re-defines on-screen sexy… short, wide-hipped, almost rectangular, thick through the core… the earth mother as a platinum blonde… the place where the seed of life is meant to grow. Her first appearance naked in this series is, honestly, a little shocking. Her lower body is not what we are used to seeing on television. But she, over time, grabs the audience, and redefines the ideal, undeniably.
Sex, in general, is not something this series shies away from. And at first, it feels like it might be a stunt, like in HBO’s Rome. But it turns out to be a simple, clear part of the character study. It’s as raw as Tony Soprano getting laid, which we saw, I recall, about a half dozen times in the series. And every time, it was like a slap in the head. Big man, huffing away… David Chase did just enough of it so the audience didn’t disconnect from Tony’s infidelities, unreal for never seeing them at all. Lots of naked beauty may seem inherently gratuitous, but it really isn’t here.
Game of Thrones delivers a lot of male-first sex. Women are most often taken from behind or see with their heads bobbing just out of frame. Women, is seems, are objects for these men. (We also get many sexual varieties, loving and otherwise, as we travel through the series.) But like so many elements of this series, it goes to the next level. The women are not unaware of what’s going on in this piece. And the power of sex is discussed and manipulated smartly.
Women, as it turns out, are at the heart of Game of Thrones. It’s a clearly defined patriarchy, but women asset power… and not in some wicked witch or sly sex toy manipulated way. True, it’s not public power, as a rule. But the series has an interesting respect for women… even some women who perform sex acts as a way of life.
Violence is also a big part of this film. It doesn’t take long to run into the first chopped up bodies. And there will be blood…. lots of it. But it is all for a purpose. And it isn’t only creatively done, but it is connected to character in a real way. It never feels like someone came up with something cool that they wanted to see played out on screen. It all feels necessary.
Of course, whatever the reason, some people would prefer a cut to a gasping audience or a shot of a train going through a tunnel (in reverse, perhaps). It’s not Verhoevean opera or Shakespeare polite, but if you are comfortable or even pleased by a bit of the ol’ sex and violence, it’s done here as well as it’s ever been done.
Game of Thrones was a “book” that I couldn’t put down. (I haven’t read the actual book series.) I looked forward to every minute of every episode and wanted more. And want more. There are four episodes I haven’t seen. I will probably watch the series each week – in HD, which is not how HBO sends preview discs – and experience it all again.
It’s interesting. I think that Mildred Pierce would play better for audiences watched all the way through. I am a fan of that production, but I think I had an advantage watching it all together. I didn’t have a week in between episodes to deconstruct. And it’s such a n intimate piece, so subtle in Mildred’s arc, that I can understand some of the negativity (with which, again, I disagree). But Game of Thrones is so thick and epic, the weekly journey may well be that water cooler event… “Can you believe…?’ “Did you see…?”
It’s easily the most fun I have had watching an HBO series since The Sopranos. More please.
There’s a press conference being held for Thor the Sunday before release.
My first reaction… Natalie Portman must be a bit delicate at this point.
No. No Nataloe.
Second reaction… Wait a second… a press conference… for THOR? Someone has lost perspective.
Third reaction… Oh… maybe it just sucks.
Fair? Not fair?
Interesting enough. Question for me is, do all Fox summer action fx movies need to close with a helicopter gag?
With all the discussion about Sucker Punch and whether it’s empowerment, empornement or just fantasy fun, a similarly themed film with Emily Browning is landing in Cannes.
Clearly, Sleeping Beauty is more in the Breillat, Belle du Jour camp (as in, ” it will take itself very seriously”). And the titles, cutting, and music on the trailer mean that someone thinks it’s Kubrickian. But will it be an important compare-and-contrast moment for people who like to consider cinema in a serious way, aside from the high-minded comparisons? Will this film somehow force some of us to take Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch more seriously? Or will it be a teaching moment, showing how the same idea can be made with or without insight ?
Of course, Sleeping Beauty could be worse than Snyder’s film. It could be prurient. Breillat’s work certainly flips between masturbatory (literally and figuratively) and brilliant. Just because it’s a woman creating the soft-core porn doesn’t make it smart.
Livestream archive of the interview after the jump….
Wed, 2:58p – That would be an interesting idea… but ill-timed. Would be much more interesting with footage, which they could have after the trailer ran.
I like the idea of experimenting with this kind of thing, but the breathlessness over getting the trailer seen seems a bit much. it’s gonna be on American Idol… it’s gonna be seen by everyone in the core audience for the film on ITunes, YouTube, and elsewhere… and if it’s a great trailer, it will get 4-quadrant word of mouth and views.
But nice seeing Joe Letteri without a beard. Funny how when he was dealing with the virtually hairless Na’vi, he had a beard and now, it’s monkeys, and smooth Joe.
Read the full article »
Equal time and all…
The only dissimilar thing between this and the Obama birth certificate frenzy is that this was all three years ago, not almost 50 years ago. A lot has changed in how we do things, regarding recording births… down to matching medical bracelets for newborns and parents to try to insure no mistakes about whose kid is who while they are all squishy. While the Obama camp hasn’t been able to produce a satisfactory original birth certificate for the Birthers, Palin has simply refused to make any of the information public.
There are a lot more odd pieces to the Palin puzzle than the Obama puzzle. But still, both are based on reading tea leaves.
However, if you choose to believe either one, you really have to believe the other to be a possibility, as the kinds of “evidence” are very similar. If you are an Obama Birther and you complain that statements by people close to Obama are irrelevant as proof, to be intellectually reasonable, you would have to disregard the statement by Palin’s personal non-OB physician on Trig’s birth.
Personally, I think the Obama thing is silly and often a bit racist… but acknowledge that the proof being demanded, whether reasonably or not, has not been offered. And the Palin thing, which would be 100 times more shocking to me, does seem slightly more plausible, in great part because of Palin’s other behaviors, including the announcement that Bristol was pregnant at the convention. That said, the Down’s Syndrome is much more likely with an older mother, the reckless behavior of Palin also makes the bizarre travel behavior near birth seem less unlikely, and as much as there is almost no photographic evidence suggesting Sarah Palin is over 6 months pregnant, nor is there any photographic evidence that Bristol Palin was… or wasn’t.
Another rumor that hasn’t come close to being proven in an affirmative way. Just missing puzzle pieces. Unless someone can come up with a smoking speculum, this one should be put down for the count as well.
But man, what a great story the Palin thing would be… greatest Lifetime movie EVER!
My first response – not having any strong feeling against Salon or The Newsweek Beast – was, “How much are they paying?”
The WETA apes for Rise of The Planet of the Apes look like… uh… apes… with human thought processes.
(Note: It occurs to me that this might be taken as a James Franco slam. It’s not. He stars in the movie. Though I have to say, the murky slammy “he and the monkey have something in common” thing is actually kind of funny to me… but people tend to take take gray and make it b+W on the web… in other words, no sense of humor, so I am being clear. I think Franco is highly intelligent and I admire his ambition to taste all the flavors of life.
God, I hate the web some days.)
After reading Donald Trump’s ego-soaked response to Gail Collins’ NYT Op-Ed, in which he asserted that being called “a birther” was insulting, even though he feels, “there’s at least a good chance that Barack Hussein Obama has made mincemeat out of our great and cherished Constitution,” as per the citizenship issue, I ended up doing a little research.
One of the forms of proof he cites… really the only “proof”… is that “His grandmother from Kenya stated, on tape, that he was born in Kenya and she was there to watch the birth.” Aside from that, the claim is based on what he feels hasn’t been produced to his satisfaction.
However, inspired by The Donald to look up the actual audio tape, I can’t quite believe he is stupid enough to make the argument after listening to the tape. And if he makes it without having listened to the readily accessible tape, he even more the fool.
It’s rather funny really. Firstly, there is no way to prove who anyone on the phone is. But that works to both sides… because the person purporting to be Obama’s Kenyan grandmother says, when asked directly where in Kenya he was born, that he was not born in Kenya, that he was born in Honolulu.
The moment that birthers seem to be relying on for their “proof” is when – on this not very clear call over a speaker phone in which the questioner is being translated and the back-and-forth does not suggest that either side is 100% clear on what the other side is saying – the questioner asks, “I would like to see hi actual birthplace when I, when I come to Kenya in December. Uh, was she present when he was, was she present when he was born… in Kenya?”
Just like that. Do you like to wear a suit… in bed?
Answer, since the bed part doesn’t really seem to be part of the question, “Yes.” And indeed, the alleged Sarah Obama, after some more fuzzy discussion, says, “yes.”
But the questioner clarifies his question, smugly, and asks where in Kenya he was born. This causes clear confusion on the Kenyan side of the conversation, and after he asks the second time, she says, according to the translation, “He wasn’t born in Kenya.”
“Where was he born?”
He asks a few more times in a few more ways before she say, as per the translation, that Obama was born in Honolulu.
The primary thing that this tape – which I must admit, is honorably streaming in full, not just cut off after the misunderstood question and response – shows is desperation by the birthers.
Sidney Lumet was of my father’s generation. He was 7 years younger than my dad, also named Sidney, but the both were conscious beings through The Depression. Both served in World War II. And they both came of age professionally in the 50s. Lumet was a young television director in New York. My father was in manufacturing in Baltimore.
12 Angry Men was my dad’s idea of a great movie. And indeed, it is a great movie. And Lumet’s first of five Best Director nominations.
In 1964, I was born. And in that same year, Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe were both released. I was surprised to see that Strangelove was released before Fail-Safe, as the former seems a satire based on the latter. In any case, Fail-Safe is a great movie. The Pawnbroker, which was actually in the can before FS, was released months after, and offered a spectacular performance by Rod Steiger, perhaps the best of his career. (His silent scream in the film was so oft imitated that it has become a movie cliche’.)
Just before this year, in ’63, Lumet divorced American royalty, Gloria Vanderbilt, and married into another American royal family, marrying Lena Horne’s daughter, Gail. What was a nice Jewish boy from Philly doing married to a shiksa heiress and a black girl, albeit from the best of showbiz families, the day after the Kennedy assassination? The secret to Lumet’s work must lie in there somewhere. We all seem to remember him as a gentle man with an easy laugh and great professionalism, but to imagine him as a craftsman first is to disregard the giant, hairy, hangin’ balls this little Jew (5′ 6″) must have had. Jews weren’t welcome everywhere in the early 60s. Black celebrities were still being brought into clubs and hotels through the kitchen. But there Lumet was, living his life.
It was somewhere along that time that Lumet stopped making movies for my father and, I would find later, started making movies for me, and the generation before me and the generations after me.
The Group, a film he made in 1966, is one that I discovered via the satellite a few years ago. Amazing cast of strong-willed actresses who have mostly been forgotten or undervalued as years have passed. Joan Hackett, Shirley Knight, Elizabeth Hartman (who I think was my impetus for looking up the film, wondering what happened to her after A Patch of Blue), Carrie Nye, Joanna Pettet, Jessica Walters, and Candice Bergen in her first movie role. You have to be a man who genuinely likes women to take something like this on (unless you are a doing it as gay camp).
He did four Sean Connery movies in nine years, as Connery tried to push away from Bond. Imagine the 6′ 3″ Scotsman and the small Jew of Philly locked in a passionate movie marriage, working with the respect that both men either demanded or commanded in their professional lives.
In 1973, really for the first time, it all seemed to come together with Serpico. Lumet was, indeed, a consummate pro behind the camera. He handled actors as well as anyone ever has. And he got Pacino between Godfathers. The story of a young cop who became enlightened was a perfect real-life metaphor for the prior decade of cultural faith and disillusionment.
He made the lark of Murder on the Orient Express into something more, casting a 37-year-old Albert Finney, best known for his on-screen sexual hijinks, as Poirot, bringing Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman into movie theaters, not to mention Connery, Gielgud, and Vanessa Redgrave. It was the era of Irwin Allen spectacles with star after star on the poster… but Lumet cast the film with actors who happened to have some star power, not stars who acted some. It was eclectic, challenging casting, as obvious as it seems now.
There were seven Oscar nominations, not including Best Picture. There was plenty of heavyweight BP competition and Orient Express was certainly not assured a slot had The Towering Inferno not been nominated, but it would have had a fighting chance against Harry & Tonto, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Day for Night, Amarcord, and others.
(Side Note to Mark Harris: Let’s have a book about the 1975 Oscars, please! Godfather II, Chinatown, The Conversation, and Lenny. Wow. And imagine, Gordon Willis wasn’t even nominated for his cinematography on The Godfather: Part II. Earthquake was and The Towing Inferno won! Hackman couldn’t break into the Best Actor nominees list. And there were 3 Godfather II actors nom’ed for Supporting Actor. Has that ever happened in any category other than song? What a year!)
The next year, Pacino came back to Lumet after another round with Francis and they delivered Dog Day Afternoon, which flipped Pacino from cop to bank robber… but oh, what a bank robber. It was another template movie for Lumet. As much as the story hinged on a gay relationship, it’s not a movie about a gay hero/anti-hero. And what was extraordinary about this at the time is that the idea of having an openly gay man at the center of a Hollywood movie was challenging enough.. but for the issue of him being gay to be, really, a secondary plot… a narrative driver and not the subject of the film… was a breakthrough. The film was also prescient about the media, long before the 24-hour news cycle. Another deceptively “craftsmanlike” work by Lumet.
And then there was Network, which for me is still above and beyond. It’s funny, as I see some of the younger critics going after this masterpiece for being too theatrical or whatever silliness they cough up. Chayefsky was often theatrical. But the theater of Network has been surpassed by reality over and over as the years have passed. It is Shakespeare. And as filmmakers continue to tell that story, in ways grand and subtle, it is the text that touches the beating heart of the matter.
How many times do you think Glenn Beck watched the film growing up? And he was just “killed” by Fox News, not for declining ratings, but because advertisers were uncomfortable with the message!
10 Oscar nominations, 4 wins. But Rocky took Best Picture, which could also have been reasonably expected to be won by All The President’s Men. And ironically, John Avildsen, who had been fired from Serpico and replace by Lumet won Best Director.
Bill Holden, one of Hollywood’s greatest leading men ever, had the film as his swan song. His only other great work before his passing would be in Blake Edwards’ show biz reflection, SOB. It was obviously Peter Finch’s last great work. And even Robert Duvall would, after The Betsy, end up changing his career considerably soon after Network, going from the weak brother type to the men of strength that would mark the rest of his career, starting with Apocalypse Now and The Great Santini.
Lumet had the guts to take the Ned Beatty scene as dramatic as he did. (“You’re on television, dummy.”) The rating talk as Dunaway straddles and rides Holden. The negotiations with the capitalistic anarchists. The simple elegance of Bea Straight’s speeches.
Lumet was 50. Chayefsky was 53. Holden was 58, a projection of their near future.
Lumet adapted Equus and The Wiz from the stage shows. Neither set the world on fire.
But then Lumet did one of the few real comedies of his career, Just Tell Me What You Want. It was a throwback to the black and white days of romantic discord. The male lead was 12 years older than his romantic female lead. Lumet was 13 years older than the wife he had just divorced and was involved with his fourth wife when he made the film. The film, written by Jay Presson Allen, tells the story of wealthy New Yorkers who split up and then make up. Hmmm…
The epic Prince of the City took Lumet back to the police department, with another true story, and another great film. He co-write the film with Jay Presson Allen. Then, after another okay stage adaptation, The Verdict.
The Mamet script was magnificent. But the casting of Paul Newman was the genius stroke. Lumet was a true master of taking the beautiful and breaking it down, leaving nothing but a prayer as a reason to go on. Connery, the buttoned up Pacino of the Godfather films, Finney, Holden… and now, Newman. He had played the anti-heroes. It was a part of his persona. But here, he was both the beautiful intricate monument and the mildew in its cracks.
Still not even 60, it seems to have gotten harder for Lumet. There were interesting stories that he just couldn’t crack. But he kept working. There’s great stuff in Power, even if the film doesn’t quite come together.
Naomi Foner’s script for Running on Empty was pretty perfect. But how do you make that movie? Judd Hirsch? Christine Lahti? Stephen Hill? The biggest movie name on the film was River Phoenix, aged 18. But it fit Lumet like a glove. It was about honor and family and the price that people of character may be asked to pay and just where all those lines are. With that cast and those words and Lumet behind the camera, it was painfully, beautifully true, from start to finish.
Lumet’s first solo outing as a writer/director was Q&A, which ended up being a landmark moment in Nick Nolte’s acting career as well, the first role where he really lost all connection to the star we thought of as Nick Nolte (joining Holden & Newman & others). Fake teeth and platform shoes and a terrible mustache, Nolte, previously cast as a laid back underdog, was one of the scariest men on screen that year. It’s flawed film, mostly creaking when Lumet asks his daughter, Jenny, to be the female leg of a romantic triangle between Hutton and Assante. She has the beauty, but was still too raw as an actress to keep up with the vets. (Amazingly, it was the same year in which Coppola cast his daughter in G3.)
It would be a hard road for Lumet after that. Five films in seven years that didn’t quite work, including the infamous Melanie Griffith going undercover as a Hasidic Jew turn. Lumet was getting actors who were famous, but not quite openers, from Don Johnson to Andy Garcia to James Spader to Sharon Stone trying to do Gena Rowlands.
But there would be a happy 11 o’clock number. Call Me Guilty was a surprise hit amongst those who saw it. The problem was, almost no one who saw it and loved it was paying for it. Through Oscar season and the festival circuit, it was beloved. But Yari, trying to launch his own distribution, couldn’t find a paying audience. Still, a success d’ esteem for the then 82-year-old Lumet,
And then, one last great little film. Down & dirty. Lumet took hold of Kelly Masterson’s first script, Before The Devil knows You’re Dead, a tale of two seriously f-ed up brothers, their parents, and the woman between them. And Lumet did what he does best. He threw down.
Any film that opens with a naked Phillip Seymour Hoffman doing Marisa Tomei doggie-style with unrelenting gusto and deep gasps for air is not 12 Angry Men redux. Ethan Hawke played the screw-up brother in a triumphant turn. (another pretty boy broken down by Lumet) Hoffman got to be the nastiest prick of his career. And Tomei balanced between then, doing the double Ginger Rogers and making it look easy. Lumet’s eye for new talent was as good as ever, casting stage actors Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, and Brían F. O’Byrne before they made names for themselves on movie screens.
Most of the memories you and I are reading in the media about Lumet are from that film’s press effort. I am looking for my DP/30 with him, which I fear was lost to the bankruptcy of the media company I was working with back then. In any case, I can nod in agreement with the unanimity about the man at that time. He was gracious and funny and happy to have real conversations. His life spanned most of the history of American cinema and his career a full half of it. It was one of those moments where you are happy to be meeting your idol.
For me, Lumet was like a movie parent. He was 20 feet tall and all he seemed to want from everyone else was for them to be 20 feet tall too. He is responsible for so many indelible memories that stick it my mind and my heart. So much advice given and received. And I can only imagine from all of that work who he was as a man. He had to be a glorious handful. You could feel his passion and his perfectionism and his understanding of humanity through all of his work.
There are so few directors working into those older years. It’s really down to the Brits now… in English, anyhow. I guess the good thing is that a guy who often reminds me of Lumet’s professionalism and boundless curiosity, Stephen Frears, is too busy doing the work to linger on the meaning of the work.
So goodbye to Lumet. His work will be missed, but his example will not soon be forgotten.
And this is why weekend-to-weekend looks so crappy. Last year on “this” weekend, there were $27m in openers. This weekend, $46m. But the weekend is still well behind last year because Sucker Punch was WB’s entry, not Clash of the Titans, and there was no DWA film (last year, it was a leggy Dragon) doing $25m in a third weekend while Hop, which is a success story (but a mild one), did $21m in Weekend Two. Those two holdovers and one $25m opener (Date Night) overpower nearly $20m in more opening firepower this year than last.
If you simply flipped last year’s WB entry for this year’s, “this year’s weekend” would be ahead of “last year’s weekend” by over $15 million. And if wishes were fishes… But you get the point, no? It’s about the movies, not the market. Until there is a much longer lasting set of data that involves a more muscular set of movies being off by similar amounts, I’m not taking any “slump” seriously. Of course, if you want to believe that somehow Clash of the Titans would have done half the business it did if it opened this year or that Sucker Punch would have done more than double what it’s doing opening last year, please, feel free to make the argument.
One genre that may be nearing its end in this cycle as an industry cash cow is the stoned comedy. Since the Superbad/Knocked Up back-to-back smashes, Team Apatow has racked up just one $100m movie (Step Brothers) in 8 attempts. And while Apatow had nothing to do with the two movies gently opening this weekend (Arthur/Your Highness), they are both bastard children of his camp. Like many niche genres in Hollywood, no reason that this one can’t go on. But costs have to be contained and then these are the kinds of legged-out doubles that studios can use to keep the balance sheet positive build library, an occasionally get a surprise big hit. But right now, they are a little expensive and aren’t delivering on the expectations that the studios have when greenlighting them. (Expectations from tracking come long after the horse is out of the barn.)
Hanna is a really nice opening for Focus. They picked up the film in most of the world (Sony has some territories), extending their relationship with Joe Wright, and this opening is better than any two weekends of Atonement domestic grosses combined. Given some strong word-of-mouth (and a soft market for good movies), it could even end up passing Atonement‘s $50m gross.
Bob Berney is back in business. Soul Surfer is a Sony release, but Film District marketed it for Sony, and the results are strong for what could well have been a much smaller feel-good film. And Insidious had a 26% hold, which is almost unheard of for any film in this front-loaded market, much less a horror film. This is one of this year’s real success stories already, likely heading to more than $50m domestic.
Source Code didn’t hold quite as well, but it does seem that we are in the first stretch of commercial movies this year that anyone is happy to recommend.