Bourne on His Back
If you want to make a big-studio film with any kind of integrity, you're
almost certain to run into conflict with executive bean-counters who
want it made more cheaply, or want to emphasize the low-rent sellable
elements sex and action sequences, visual spectacle at the expense
of the film's subtler, more valuable material, or who want scenes that
allow the audience to breathe and take stock of things cut from the
script. Quality issues are always being debated and you're going to have arguments sometimes fierce ones.
Making a strong, distinctive film under these conditions is never a walk
in the park, and not for the faint or beatific of heart. In fact, if the
experience of making your film is all flower petals and ginseng tea, there's a good chance
it's probably unexacting or unambitious on some level, and is going to
play that way when it opens. There've been exceptions, of course, but
I'll bet the list of great or very good films shot and edited with an
absence of creative conflict is very short.
Last Friday's article by the Wall Street Journal's Tom King about the
difficult and conflicted making of The Bourne Identity (Universal, June
14), a $60-million, Europe-based thriller starring Matt Damon and
directed by Doug Liman, doesn't seem to quite get this. The article
isn't factually wrong, but the tone and the hyperbole are unfair. It's
one of those "uh-oh, a movie's in trouble" pieces that obliquely
suggests that anything that was this much hassle to shoot is probably in for
more difficulty when it opens.
Allow me to argue this notion. The Bourne Identity is not a problem
film. I've seen it, and it's an efficiently made, appropriately moody,
largely satisfying thriller … not quite the Holy Grail of spy flicks,
perhaps, but one that definitely puts the hook in and keeps it there for
the better part of two hours. I wouldn't want to call it a thinking person's spy movie
that would make it sound dull
although you can feel the effort that Liman, Damon, and screenwriter Tony
Gilroy put into keeping it relatively trim and earnest, with the treads
hugging the road.
With its story of a confused guy on the run, his being helped by a girl
he meets by chance, and a renegade CIA division at the source of his
troubles, you could almost call The Bourne Identity a European-styled
Three Days of the Condor. Based on a Robert Ludlum thriller that was
originally made into a 1988 TV movie, Bourne is about a guy with amnesia (Damon) who hasn't the
faintest idea why so many people are trying to capture or kill him. It's
basically a chase film, shot mostly in Zurich and Paris, but it doesn't feel overly amped or
tricked-up, and doesn't try to dandify itself with artistic pretension.
It's certainly action-packed enough to satisfy any genre fan. There's a
second-act car chase through the streets of Paris that deserves a place
alongside the classic chase sequences in William Friedkin's The French
Connection and John Frankenheimer's Ronin. And the performances are
spot-on Damon's, especially, but also from co-stars Franka Potente,
Clive Owen (I've said this before but he should be James Bond he's
got the stare and the attitude down cold), Chris Cooper, and the
always-sturdy Brian Cox.
What makes it special is Liman's refusal to jack it up into one of those
velocity-for-its-own-sake actioners. He maintains, for the most part, a
sense of leanness and restraint that suggests the mood and contour of a solid, mid-range
'70s noir. And alongside the standards of today's mostly idiot-level
thrillers, that's a welcome thing.
King's article said, accurately, that there were lots of arguments about
where to shoot it (the studio wanted Montreal and/or Prague to
substitute for Paris) and whether or not to shoot a farmhouse scene
outside of Paris. As the piece explains, much of the back-and-forth
originated with Damon's complaints just as Bourne was about to begin
shooting that the script he'd agreed to make had been downgraded with
some "character-driven elements" sacrificed in "favor of bigger action
pieces." Liman agreed with Damon and tried to remedy the situation
But mostly King's piece says that Liman, who cut his teeth directing the
indie-level Swingers and Go, was out of his depth directing a
big-studio feature, and that the problems encountered during the shoot
might not have come up if he'd been experienced at handling a production
of this scale. Okay, maybe so. But one look at the film tells you that the
things Liman and Damon fought for were right-on.
Whoever told Liman that he should consider shooting the Paris sequences in
Montreal or Prague should apply for a job at Disneyland, where their
grasp of authentic atmosphere and architecture would fit right in.
Moreover, the farmhouse scene which Liman and Damon wanted put back in
but the "suits" were against is one of the film's best. It's partly
composed of low-key dialogue between Damon, Potente, and her
ex-boyfriend, and partly an outdoor shoot-out between Damon and Owen
that ends with unexpected empathy.
What do I care if Liman ticked off some Universal execs during the
shooting of his film? When I sit down with an action thriller I want
something shrewd and energized that doesn't serve up the same old
goulash. The Bourne Identity mostly succeeds in this effort, and at
the end of the film you can't help but respect
Liman for doing it his way rather than turning in a standard-issue,
studio-sanctioned Michael Bay or Renny Harlin film.
I spoke to Liman Monday morning on the phone. He admitted some snippy
remarks he made about the Bourne experience in a Matt Damon profile
piece in the current Details probably contributed to bringing the King
piece about. It seems likely that someone connected to the Universal
camp called King and got this story rolling as a way of scolding Liman for the way he handled the shoot,
which apparently resulted in cost overruns. King writes that Liman
"repeatedly refers to the shooting of Bourne as a "[expletive deleted] nightmare."
One thing Liman didn't care for in the King piece, he says, was an
implication that screenwriter Tony Gilroy's script somehow didn't cut
the mustard, particularly regarding the farmhouse scene. "The King
piece is really about the effort on the part of Matt Damon and myself to
change the script and to put the farmhouse sequence back in the movie,"
he said. "It was written by Tony in his first draft. We had another
writer with us when we were shooting, but we weren't able to come up with
anything as good as what Tony had already written."
Liman says The Bourne Identity began shooting in early November of '00
and finished in Prague, where all the interiors were shot, in February
'01. When test-screening responses told the studio that the ending
they'd shot wasn't working, they got the go-ahead to re-shoot it last
summer. "But because of September 11, we lost momentum," explains
Liman. "That was my fault. I live downtown, about six blocks from the
World Trade Center, and for about two months I was …
well, doing some volunteer work and I wasn't really in the mood."
The Bourne team went back to Paris last February to shoot the final
scene, which in my opinion is the one scene in the film that doesn't
seem to belong. It feels like it's from another movie directed by John
The car-chase scene "was almost all second-unit," he said. "They were
shooting almost the whole time we were in Paris, but because of
restrictions the unions have a strictly enforced 33-hour work week
and no overtime they were only shooting Sundays and some Saturdays."
It begins in front of Gare du Nord (one of the city's train stations), but then uses pieces of sequences shot all
over the city. Anyone who really knows Paris will find it illogical,
Liman says, although he allows "there's a fair amount of logic to
it." For what it's worth, I know Paris pretty well and it didn't
I asked Liman what he had learned from this adventure. "Nothing
earth-shattering," he replied. "There's a learning curve to a studio
film, and by the end of this process I'd figured it all out. And on one
hand I'm anxious to do another studio film because I want to show people
that I have it."
Half and Half
About the new Star Wars movie, I was right in my expectations … and I was wrong. I was mostly underwhelmed but also juiced at times, especially during the last 35 or 40 minutes. Christopher Lee's Count Dooku is awesome, and his light-saber battle with a certain major character in the final minutes is true rock-'n'-roll. It doesn't have Jake Lloyd dragging it down, but it has the Dawson's Creek callowness of Hayden Christensen to fill his shoes. Jar-Jar Binks isn't on-screen enough to cause serious agony, but he can still make you wince.
There's also the superb Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, manfully slumming his way through this prettified digital penitentiary with dignity and style. And there's one radiant moment set aside for Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu when he eyeballs Count Dooku at a climactic moment near the end. And I can't enthuse enough about Lee, whose über-villain registers with real authority and pizzazz. But then he's an old hand.
In short, I'm giving Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which was shown at three
all-media screenings yesterday in Los Angeles, a split decision. Is it "fun," like Time's Jess Cagle proclaimed in that cover story a week ago? Yeah in the third act.
But it's nowhere near as strong or satisfying as The Empire Strikes Back, as I expected. The
dialogue, for me, is just as excruciating as it was in The Phantom Menace, particularly when
Christensen is speaking it, and especially in his love scenes with Natalie Portman. And like Phantom Menace, Clones was obviously conceived and plays like a movie for pre-teens. If only Lucas had
cared to raise the bar a little and write it for 20-year-olds, I'd be jumping up and down.
But let it be known that Clones saves itself in the last act with a terrific gladiator-arena scene
(obvious shades of a recent Oscar-winner that trafficked in this sort of thing), a big battle scene between warring clone armies, and that kickass duel finale. You leave the theater feeling satisfied or is it relieved? that it finally pays off.
There's a nifty airborne chase scene through the towering sprawl of Coruscant in the opening act, but most of the first 90 minutes feels rote and sluggish. I'm talking about scenes with live and CG characters standing around in their makeup and ornate costumes exchanging important information and considering the ramifications. And then another, and then another, etc. The dialogue sounds so stiff and plodding that you can hear the really bad lines go "plop" on the floor, like spoonfuls of mashed potatoes. An hour-and-a-half of this, and it feels like you're knee-deep in the stuff.
I could feel the audience watching and waiting … and not much happening. There was a palpable sense of relief almost an audible exhale when a good line (I'm not going to spoil it except to say it's spoken by McGregor
to Christensen) finally came along. Another big reaction came when Christensen, reacting to a character's death,
lost his Jedi composure and began slashing away at those responsible. The first "whoo-hoo!" happened at this juncture, obviously because something raw and uncorked had finally punched through.
Will Clones out-earn Spider-Man when it opens May 16? Possibly, but I'm picking up signals that it may fall short. But the want-to-see is obviously huge, and it should grow all the more once the word gets out that it really delivers in the final act.
The noon show that I attended was supposed to be digitally projected,
but something went awry with the equipment and they switched to a film
version instead. So I returned Tuesday night to see
Clones in its full digital glory. The increased brightness,
needle-sharp detail, and fullness of color in the digital version was
obviously preferable to what the celluloid version provided. It's
roughly analogous to watching a well-mastered color film on a regular
television, and then seeing it again on high-definition TV the latter
is obviously the way to go. Ideally, everyone should see Attack of the
Clones this way. It's so cool and radiant-looking you can almost trip
out on the visual elements alone. If you're near a big city that has a
digital-projection theater showing Clones, make a point of seeing it
there. Trust me it's worth whatever the extra effort may be. It's
too bad George Lucas's original plan to have Clones play digitally in
hundreds of theaters didn't come to pass.
"For a long time, we never thought that a $100-million weekend was
really possible," Exhibitor Relations' chairman Paul Dergarabedian told
the New York Times' Rick Lyman for a piece that ran Tuesday about
Spider-Man's $114-million opening weekend. "And this was not just $100 million and change. This proves that it is technically feasible for a
movie to have a $100-million-plus weekend, to have a $40-million-plus
day. And that changes everything."
It changes nothing. Actually, for those of us nursing the increasingly
faint hope that big-budget studio movies might occasionally satisfy
viewers who have more than ape-simple expectations, it makes things a
little bit worse by continuing to take things on a downwardly corporate
spiral. Spider-Man is a half-decent film, but the hunger now spreading
across Hollywood to score another $100 million weekend with the next
would-be blockbuster mainly portends that tentpole
movies will continue to get simpler, flatter, younger, and more
Who loses? Anyone with the taste and discernment levels above the level
of a 10- or 11-year-old. Who wins? Filmmakers, agents,
exhibitors … anyone with a piece of the action. Everyone, in short, but audiences longing for
the really good stuff, which blockbusters are pretty much designed not
What is Paul Dergerabedian so cranked about? He sounds like a sailor
whooping it up in Times Square on V-J day. Does he own stock in
Columbia Pictures? Has Sam Raimi secretly promised him a walk-on in
the next Spidey flick? Does anyone besides me cringe when they hear
industry watchers like him wet their pants over the mere earning of
money? I've been going to films all my life, and I have yet to
comprehend what is so entertaining, transporting or emotionally
comforting about a movie that's raking it in.
There's nothing wrong with sinking a couple of hours into a moderately
diverting, reasonably well-crafted tentpoler like Spider-Man, but the
torrents of saliva now forming in the mouths of producers everywhere who
want to try to duplicate its financial success is a safe assurance that
"big" movies are continuing to swirl down into an idiot hole from which
anything approaching art, finesse, or genuinely affecting, spirit-lifting
emotion is less and less likely to emerge.
Thank fortune for the forthcoming Matrix sequels, at least. And for
the marginal graces of Sam Raimi.
Woody Against It
"I thought Hollywood Ending made Albert Brooks' The Muse (easily his
worst film as director) look brilliant by comparison. The concept feels
like one of Allen's old short comedy pieces for The New Yorker expanded
for the screen without any addition of content or humor. This is
exhausted, lifeless comedy. Please, Woody your four-minute Oscar
monologue was funnier than this.
"Much as how The Simpsons has become an unfocused show, with each
episode desperately trying to tie together individual comic set pieces,
Allen's [comedies] now appear to be nothing more than an excuse for him
to employ tired one-liners and act with beautiful young women. I found
Hollywood Ending's happy ending befuddling, sloppy, unearned even
insulting, as Tiffani 'Amber no more' Thiessen's cameo apparently
only existed so Woody could touch her breasts.
I doubt even the French will proclaim Hollywood Ending as great, let
alone funny." Chris Wells, Chicago, IL
"Thanks for speaking up so bluntly on Woody Allen's pathetic insistence
on casting leading ladies for himself that are light years younger than
he is. I am sorry to say that he may be in a no-win situation, however, as he seems to be
the only actor who can do justice to his own specific style of writing.
He attempted to replace himself with Kenneth Branagh several movies
back, having Branagh play the role exactly as Woody himself would have,
and the whole effect was bizarre, to say the least. I'm not sure what he can do but I agree that he must
stop making love to chicks 40 years younger than himself (at least on-screen). It's really uncomfortable and icky to watch." Allison
Mitchell, St. Petersburg
Wells to Mitchell: The problem with Branagh-doing-Woody in
Celebrity was that he imitated him too precisely. And yet the dialogue
was pretty good. If Branagh had used his own British accent, the performance might've
"For the last five years or so, every time I see a trailer for a Woody
Allen film I find myself quoting Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and
Confused, to wit: 'That's what I like about them high-school girls, man. I get older, but
they stay the same age.'" Alex Stanford
"I take what most critics have to say about Woody Allen's films with a
grain of salt because (a) so many of them bring their personal feelings
about the man to their reviews, and (b) I don't think the majority of
them really understand where he's coming from. His films are so layered
and are so deeply enmeshed in a web of cultural connections that their
complexities cannot get the attention and thought they deserve from
stressed and harried professional reviewers. Allen might not be as
deliberately cerebral or obtuse as, say, Peter Greenaway or David Lynch,
but I think his films are easily as thought-provoking as the works of
"The way the subjective mind messes around with reality by overlaying it
with dreams, fantasies, and wish-fulfilment is a major theme that runs
right through Allen's movies. I'm sure if Woody had bigger budgets he'd
create more films like Everyone Says I Love You, where storefront
mannequins come to life and start dancing or with Goldie Hawn suddenly
taking flight on the banks of the Seine.
"Actually, that one's a perfect example of what I'm talking about a
movie set in some kind of bizarre pocket universe that looks like ours
but differs in some important ways. It's a world constructed from the
stuff of old movies and bits of our own world, with the whole thing
powered by the mysterious and ineffable forces of the human psyche.
"Consider these remarks made by The Nation's Stuart Klawans about
Husbands and Wives: (a) 'It gives me no pleasure to report ... that
[Allen's] career should end, at least as presently constituted'; (b)
' … the movie doesn't make sense … nobody explains how the documentarian
and his shaky-handed cameraman got into the bedroom where Judy Davis
and Liam Neeson were making love. I'd like an answer'; and (c) 'I can
only conclude that Husbands and Wives is the product of someone who
has fallen out of touch with his times, with his surroundings even
with the continuity of his own work-in-progress.'
"Sound familiar? I think Klawans here made the same mistake you've made approaching the
film as realistic social observation. I think
Woody's films operate in quite another genre call it psychosexual
magical realism." Adam Keshishian
Wells to Keshishian: Strong, distinctive filmmakers in trouble
need their defenders. The Los Angeles-based F.X. Feeney did a pretty
good job of keeping Michael Cimino's reputation from sliding into the
cesspool after the disaster of Heaven's Gate, and you've concocted a
pretty good rap that Woody should take great comfort from.
"Mysterious and ineffable forces of the human psyche … "? A hoop shot!
"Sorry to say that I saw Hollywood Ending and couldn't agree with you
more. I went to the first show at the AMC in Century City, and what
struck me was how old the audience was. I'm 43 and I was probably the
youngest person there. Lots of old ladies. Lots." Dixon
"If Hollywood Ending hadn't been directed by Woody Allen, it would
have gone straight to Cinemax like Alfonso Arau's Picking Up the
Pieces, in which Woody played Tex, a kosher butcher. Considering how
the $2,638 average on 765 screens probably doesn't cover the costs of
prints, advertising, and Debra Messing and Téa Leoni's stylists for the
press tour, wouldn't Woody be better off making films for HBO rather
than deluding himself that he's still a commercially fortified director
of theatrically distributed films?" Joe Corey
"I am a lifelong Star Wars fan (forgive me, but I'm 27 well within the prime demographic for being culturally enslaved by Lucasfilm at an early age), and I was waiting with much trepidation for your Clones review, which I expected would be a slaughter given your recent articles. And now I'm glad you found the film enjoyable, even with its faults. That means a lot in terms of my own expectations, considering I thought there would be no way you would see much, if anything, positive in the film.
"As I live in Framingham, MA, I am also happy to hear about the digital difference. Our AMC theater is one of the few that has a digital projection system.
"Finally, you have to fight for your respects, man! Matt Drudge made it a point to call Roger Friedman's negative review 'the first American review,' he wrote of Attack of the Clones, not only discounting Knowles' rough-cut but also your own. For shame! Thanks again for the early review, and I am glad to say that if you found it enjoyable enough, it must be pretty decent when all things shake out." Paul Marzagalli
Gerald Williams was first to identify Friday's cast. They
appeared together in PT 109 (1963). The unnamed lead is Cliff
Today's cast: Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree, Michael
What's That Line?
Vinod Narayanan of Bombay, India, was first to identify last
Friday's dialogue. It's
from Sunset Boulevard (1950), directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by
Wilder and Charles Brackett. The actor speaking the dialogue is William
Two women are settling some old business.
Woman #1: When do we do this?
Woman #2: It all depends. When do you want to die? Tomorrow? The
day after tomorrow? That's about as long as I'll wait.
Woman #1: How 'bout tonight, bitch?
Woman #2: Splendid. Where?
Woman #1: There's a baseball diamond about a mile from here. We have
us a knife fight, we won't be bothered. [Back to domestic duties.] I have
to fix Nikki's cereal. [She reaches inside the cereal box.]
Woman #2: Weapon of choice? And if you want to stick with your
butcher knife, I'm cool with that.
Woman #1: Very funny.
Name the film, the director, the screenwriter(s), the likely year of
release, and at least one of the actors in the scene. "Likely" year of
release? That's right. The film hasn't been shot yet, but it will be.
Best Picture: About Schmidt (New Line), Catch Me If You Can
(DreamWorks), Chicago (Miramax), Frida (Miramax), The Road to Perdition
(DreamWorks). Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda: Adaptation (Screen Gems),
The Life of David Gale (Universal), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Warner Bros), The Hours (Paramount), Dogville (Fine Line), Insomnia (Warner Bros.).
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York, Catch Me If
You Can), Al Pacino (People I Know, Insomnia), Jack Nicholson
(About Schmidt), Tom Hanks (Road to Perdition), Kevin Spacey (The Life of
David Gale). Also Deserving: Nicolas Cage (Adaptation), Sam
Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Colin Farrell (Phone Booth), James Nesbit (Bloody Sunday).
Best Actress: Salma Hayek (Frida), Meryl Streep (The Hours), Nicole
Kidman (Dogville, The Hours), Diane Lane (Unfaithful).
Best Supporting Actor: Daniel Day Lewis (Gangs of New York),
Christopher Walken (Catch Me If You Can), Sam Elliot (We Were Soldiers),
Michael Caine (The Quiet American), Alfred Molina (Frida, The Road to
Perdition). Add-ons: Paul Newman (The Road to Perdition) Robin
Williams (Insomnia, One-Hour Photo), Willem Dafoe
Best Supporting Actress: Hope Davis (About Schmidt), Kathy Bates
(About Schmidt), Ellen Burstyn (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood),
Julianne Moore (The Hours), Queen Latifah (Chicago). Add-ons: Bebe
Neuwirth (Tadpole), Julia Roberts (Full Frontal).
Best Director: Julie Taymor (Frida), Steven Spielberg (Catch Me
If You Can), Alexander Payne (About Schmidt), Sam Mendes (The Road to
Perdition), Stephen Daldry (The Hours), Christopher Nolan (Insomnia).
Best Original Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation), Jon Robin Baitz
(People I Know), Larry Cohen (Phone Booth), Menno Meyjes (Max), David
Ayer (Dark Blue).
Best Adapted Screenplay: David Self (The Road to Perdition), Charlie Kaufman (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Jeff Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can), Christopher Hampton and Robert
Schenkkan (The Quiet American), David Hare (The Hours), Hillary Seitz
Want more Hollywood Confidential? Check out our archive.
Some encouraging reactions have come in on Star Wars Episode
II: Attack of the Clones from a Midwest screening as well as an
exhibitor showing in Los Angeles. The AICN fanboys are gushing all over
it, but you have to take that stuff with a grain. One sober-sounding
"Fred C. Dobbs" voices what I suspect may be my own reaction. "All the
time I was sitting there, I kept thinking 'Wow, what a damn cool sci-fi
movie this is' and I kept waiting for something more, but it never
(okay, almost never) built to anything beyond popcorn fun."
I am, however, encouraged by reactions from three
movie-company executives who saw it here yesterday. I asked the guy who
passed along their views if he knows them personally and if any were
the type who love everything. He said he knows all three, stating
that "one is a certified fanboy, the second other has no real hard-core
knowledge of the films, and the third is [a company bigwig], and he said the
Yoda/Christopher Lee sword fight was worth the price of admission alone."
A lot of people have written asking about the disappearance of
Dave Poland's The Hot Button column (www.
thehotbutton.com) starting a
week ago last Monday. It happened due to a URL renewal issue that left
his alternate "Voices of Hollywood" moniker vulnerable to poachers.
Sure enough, somebody in Hong Kong snapped it up. However…
Poland has fixed the problem and his column (at
www.thehotbutton.com) will begin re-appearing Thursday on some servers,
and everywhere worldwide starting Friday. Our occasional differences
aside, Dave's been on a bumpy road lately (his gig as director of the
Miami Film Festival coming to an abrupt end, his $600 digital camera
being stolen out of his car, his site disappearing, etc.) and I'm trying
to give him a boost.
Yes, I sounded dismissive about Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
(DreamWorks, May 24) in my Instant Reaction piece that ran last Friday.
Not being a huge fan of mainstream animation, my no-holds-barred instant
take was that I wasn't interested. Spirit seems geared to a younger
audience, and the hard truth is that animation (except when faced with
extraordinary films like Shrek and Monsters, Inc.) isn't my cup of tea.
But DreamWorks' animated features have always been class acts,
and there's nothing to indicate they don't have their ducks in a row on
this latest one. 'Nuff said for now.
An effects supervisor at George Lucas' Industrial Light and
Magic is of the opinion that Star Wars Episode II "is even worse than
Episode I, with some of the corniest love scenes" he's ever witnessed, according to a
San Francisco-based colleague. The ILM employee is grumbling that
Episode II "has
destroyed morale at ILM" and is prompting "many people to start sending
their resumes off to other effects houses because they don't want to
work on the embarassing debacle that Episode III is sure to be. "
My informant is also hearing that monitored e-mails "about the
film's quality have led to some Orwellian changes at ILM. Apparently
some higher-ups saw some disparaging e-mails and took action, removing the Web
terminals from employee lounges to prevent anonymous sending." The
supervisor also said "the air inside ILM is one of general discord
basically a lot of really intelligent people doing great work on a film
of questionable merit. I briefly talked to
a friend of his who echoed his comments, and who left to work on the
next Lord of the Rings."
Lucasfilm publicist Ellen Pasternak says the company's general-access
Web terminals "were removed when everyone got desktop access" and that
these removals "happened so long ago it's not even in my memory."
Heartening news for fans of the old Nicolas Cage (i.e., the guy
who acted in Vampire's Kiss, Wild at Heart, Peggy
Sue Got Married). A
research screening of Spike Jonze's Adaptation, which I've been dying to
see since reviewing Charlie Kaufman's script in this column a year and a
half ago, happened earlier this week at Hollywood's ArcLight Cinemas.
One correspondent says Cage is "fantastic" in the twin role of
Charlie Kaufman (yes, the screenwriter … but portrayed in
fictional terms) and his twin brother Donald, who's also a screenwriter
but in a more hack-like, low-rent way.
Another veteran of the ArcLight screening, whose comments can
be read in their entirety on Aint It Cool News, reports Cage is "back"
with this performance "weird … quirky … funny … he's really acting
here. Very funny as Charlie Kaufman, [who] wallows in his own
self-grief, lack of confidence, and so on. But even better as Donald."
The other guy calls the film "pure genius … the brilliance behind this
movie, like in Malkovich, is that while Kaufman could have just let the
premise write itself, but takes it into new territory. He doesn't stop
with just the idea he keeps going with it until, at the end, the
movie has become enveloped in its own unique universe." Well, let's
hope so. This is precisely what I thought about the script.
I may have slightly over-baked the prose when I tried to describe
how filmmakers Lionel Chetwynd and Norman Powell portray producer
Stanley Kramer in their upcoming PBS documentary Darkness at High Noon,
which is about the professional difficulties endured by High Noon
screenwriter Carl Foreman at the hands of the House Un-American
Activities Committee in the early '50s, especially during the making of
that 1952 classic Western.
Saying that the doc "questions Kramer's reputation" by
claiming "he turned a cold shoulder on [Foreman] at a time of great
need, but unjustly claimed credit" for the Oscar-nominated film is a
fair description, but saying it "degrades" Kramer's rep is perhaps
putting it too harshly. The late producer-director's having claimed in
subsequent years that he produced and creatively shaped High Noon is
presented as "unwarranted" in the doc, but at the same time it conveys,
I think, a basic respect for Kramer's standing as a major producer of
socially relevant films in the '50s and '60s.
Miramax's decision to open Gangs of New York (with Leonardo
DiCaprio) during Xmas week next December is another eyeball-to-eyeball
face-off situation with DreamWorks, which already had Catch Me If You Can
(with Leonardo DiCaprio) slated for a December 25 opening. It would
be insane for two Leo pix with a combined budgets of $180 million or so
to open within days of each other, so somebody has to blink sooner or
later. I'm guessing it'll be Miramax.
I was told Monday by a distribution source that Miramax had
Gangs penciled in for an October opening and that at least some L.A.
Miramax staffers were in the dark about the sudden decision to open in
December. I was also told Monday by a Miramax spokesperson that the
December Gangs date is solid. I've always heard that actors of
DiCaprio's stature have it written into their contracts that
competing films in which they star can't open in the same month, or
have to stay at least six weeks apart.
Did I call it or did I call it? The re-release of E.T., the
Extra-Terrestrial has now been officially recognized as "a bust" by
Universal Pictures vice chairman Marc Schmuger in an article in The Wall
Street Journal. Steven Spielberg's publicist Marvin Levy told the
financial daily that "maybe kids today are more in tune with pure
razzle-dazzle. Maybe bicycles flying through the air are not as novel
I'm a little surprised that the new generation of toddlers and
pre-schoolers didn't show up in greater numbers (with their parents, I
mean), but I don't think I was alone among film buffs in remarking that
the intense commercialization of E.T. over the last 20 years has
diminished the emotional magic that was in the air when it first
started to be seen in '82. I think it was the E.T. theme-park ride that
did it for me that and Spielberg's videotaped message to the suckers
waiting in line: "Only you can help E.T. to get home."
Since Harry Knowles wrote on his site a few days ago that
he suggested to Quentin Tarantino several months ago that he
should dump Warren Beatty and use David Carradine in the lead male role
in the forthcoming (what … it hasn't been shot yet?) Kill Bill, the
original explanation of Beatty's departure
put out by Variety's Michael Fleming i.e., that Beatty suggested David
Carradine when he decided against doing the role now seems, at the
Why exactly did Beatty bail? It's understood he was
uncomfortable with the increasingly physical nature of the role, which
would have had him duking it out with Uma Thurman martial-arts style.
Knowles' utterly unsubstantiated pet theory is that Beatty considered
the intense training he would have had to undergo with martial-arts
director Woo-Ping Yuen (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame) and
decided he wasn't up to it, or just wasn't into the whole martial-arts
thing. Mistake! Be limber, be adaptable always be willing to learn
something new or turn over a new leaf.
Warren Beatty has dropped out of Quentin Tarantino's
and thereby blown his big chance to make his first cutting-edge "indie"
as well as make
inroads with younger moviegoers. The spin from Tarantino (via Michael
Fleming's column in Variety) is that everything's amicable and that he
and Beatty will
make something else together, etc. David Carradine will now play the
role of an older guy who sends a couple of assassins (Daryl Hannah, Lucy
Liu) to kill an
ex-associate (Uma Thurman). A Miramax production, Bill will
begin filming in June.
Why did Beatty jump ship? Fleming's item said Beatty
recommended that Tarantino cast Carradine, but it doesn't say why he
didn't want the role himself, which he's been talking about playing for well over a year.
I'm told Beatty told the Hollywood Reporter that the role was getting
more and more physical, and that Carradine, whom Tarantino has long admired, suddenly
seemed like a better fit. David Carradine a better fit for an
action-type role ...hello? He's 65 years old (and four months older than Beatty) and hardly
did anything on Kung Fu except act mystical and inscrutable. I'll bet
there were changes
in the role that Beatty wanted and wasn't getting, or changes made he
didn't want, or some other creative-control issue Beatty wasn't happy
with. It definitely didn't happen because everyone decided all of a
sudden, "Hey, David Carradine...!"
Miramax has pushed the opening of Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New
York out of July and into the fall, and a showing of the completed film
at next May's Cannes Film Festival has been deep-sixed. (Plans
are now being bandied about for a 20-minute Gangs "reel" to be shown
instead.) Why the bump? Because it's "so good" and a fall
release would be advantageous in terms of Oscar consideration, according
to Fox News columnist Roger Friedman, and because Miramax doesn't want
to open day-and-date against DreamWorks' The Road to Perdition.
Uhm … come again?
First, if Miramax doesn't want to open Gangs on the same day as
Perdition, it can easily shift the release date to another summer
weekend there are other ways to go than just bumping it into the fall. Second, Friedman's
revelation that Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker have added a
narration track that's being provided by lead player Leonardo DiCaprio, a decision that
has allegedly "solved some of the problems," is another red flag. We
all know that throwing in narration at the end of a long editing cycle
is always a sign that a film isn't working. Friedman reports that the
$100 million-plus Gangs now runs "about two-and-a-half hours." An
earlier cut by Scorsese reportedly ran in the vicinity of three hours.
That documentary about Hollywood's extraordinary fertility during
the '70s, A
Decade Under the Influence, is rolling along fine despite
the death of co-director Ted Demme. The doc was about half-completed
when Demme was felled by a heart attack in mid-January. Director Richard
La Gravanese will be going it alone henceforth, and was filming new
interviews earlier this week.
And the plan is still for Influence to open at next
September's New York Film Festival, or perhaps at the Toronto Film
Festival. The Independent Film Channel is funding the project, and will
air the completed doc sometime early next year. I'm told the festival
version may run a bit longer than the one that'll play on