THIS WEEK’S BRIEFING

8 Apr

On Wednesday, I’ll see a rough-cut of Errol Morris‘ new docu on the Abu Ghraib scandal

Coming soon…

  • Talk about a blast from the past–on Wednesday morning, I’ll be sitting down for a chat with an old childhood favorite, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, who has followed in the footsteps of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and graduated from the World Wrestling Federation to the wide world of motion pictures. Austin is promoting The Condemned (trailer), a Lions Gate release in which he plays one of ten death row inmates dropped on an island as part of a reality show that promises freedom to the last one standing. The film will unspool nationally on April 27th, and which I’ll be screening on Tuesday morning.
  • I’m particularly excited about Wednesday evening, when I’ll be part of a small group that will get the first look at a rough-cut of S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure, the latest film by Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War), who may well be the greatest living documentary filmmaker, and who I’ll be having dinner with after the screening. All I know at the moment is that the film examines the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and was originally going to be released sometime this summer, but I’m hearing it may now have been pushed back to 2008 due to a delayed start on postproduction. I’ll check on that and get back to you, since one can reasonably expect it to shoot onto the Oscar radar whenever it debuts.

Worth noting…

  • You can’t do much better than–or not get excited by–this Variety review: “Knocked Up is uproarious. Line for line, minute to minute, writer-director Judd Apatow‘s latest effort is more explosively funny, more frequently, than nearly any other major studio release in recent memory. Indeed, even more than the filmmaker’s smash-hit sleeper The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his new pic is bound to generate repeat business among ticketbuyers who’ll want to savor certain scenes and situations again and again, if only to memorize punchlines worth sharing with buddies. Currently set for a June 1 release, this hugely commercial comedy likely will remain in megaplexes throughout the summer and, possibly, into the fall.”
  • Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), who I consider to be the world’s greatest living film critic, is still recuperating from complications that arose during his treatment for salivary cancer approximately a year ago. His absence has been jarring for many of us who turned to him each week for wisdom and perspective on new releases, so I was pleased to see that he has posted a note on his web site updating us on his progress, announcing that he will attend his 9th annual Overlooked Film Festival, and commemorating a special milestone: “As I look at the date, I realize I was named film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times forty years ago today. I had no idea I was embarking on a lifelong career, but I was, and I can’t think of a better one.”
  • 67 year old Bob Clark, the somewhat anonymous director of the classic comedies Porky’s (1982) and A Christmas Story (1983), was killed on Wednesday morning along with his 22 year old son when by a drunk driver on the Pacific Coast Highway. Clark, who also made such lesser works as Baby Geniuses (1999) and SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004), was certainly not a consistently strong director, but he didn’t deserve the mean-spirited obituary written by my fellow awards analyst Jeffrey Wells, whose attempts at being ‘provocative’ this time went too far.
  • I was at a dinner the other night at which a gentleman from Italy spoke very passionately about Toto, an Italian comedian of the screen who practiced an almost poetic form of comedy while always maintaining a ‘stoneface’ (like Buster Keaton), and whose work has not yet been subtitled into English. Maybe I’m ignorant, but I hadn’t heard of the guy, so I looked him up–here’s his story.
  • Speaking of random items, I was recently informed that Bronwyn Cosgrave, a friend of a friend, has written a beautiful book on the history of red carpet fashion, Made for Each Other: Fashion and the Academy Awards. Now, while that subject is not exactly my cup of tea, I do know a lot of people who only tune into the Oscars to see what people are wearing, and I’ve looked over the book and was impressed with its sharp grasp of film history, let alone fashion history. So, without reservation, I can recommend that you check it out.
  • Last thing. I’m still a bit bugged about Reign Over Me, which could have been a much better movie if it had been tightened up a little–well, a lot–by conveying information with fewer words and with more meaningful behavior. Here’s a thought I’ve had: Why not have a scene with Alan (Don Cheadle) and Charlie (Adam Sandler) walking down the city street, with Alan still trying unsuccessfully to get Charlie to acknowledge his past, and Charlie still shutting him out. Suddenly, Charlie’s jacket gets tugged at from behind, and he and turns around to see a cute little girl–say, eight years old–who smiles at him and points to her teeth, “Hi Dr. Fineman! Look, still no cavities!” The girl’s mother catches up to her, tells her not to run away from her in the street, and looks up and peers at Charlie’s face, uncertain that it really is him behind the disheveled appearance, and says, “Well, she has a good eye–I didn’t even recognize you! It was nice to see you, Dr. Fineman,” before walking away with the daughter. Now, cut to a close-up of Charlie’s face and show him fighting back tears, having been reminded not only of his career, but also of his own young daughter. This scene is far from perfect–I know, I’ll keep my day job–but something like it would have at least shown some humanity–something redeeming–about Charlie prior to his tearful revelations late in the film, which come after far too long a period of one-dimensionality. (Granted, kids hate the dentist, so perhaps the little girl wouldn’t have been so thrilled to spot her old dentist in the first place!)

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