How many Schickels is an Altman worth?

Probably for the same reason that you don’t often see movie stars diss other movie stars for their acting, or directors critique helmers they think are less imaginative, film critics and writers tend to avoid making negative public comments about each other’s work. There are exceptions, however. Armond White of the New York Press has made a habit of, apparently reflexively, viciously attacking most of the films praised by other critics while praising whatever all the other critics hate, and then adding an extra step and implicitly, or not so implicitly, attacking all the other critics and viewers who may agree with them for being so intellectually lazy as to not see things in  the same eccentric way as he. So, he’s taken some well-deserved crap, although some writers still harbor some affection for his earlier reviews and sometimes even still find him occasionally insightful. Not me. I could never stand the guy’s insanely self-important writing or verbal pronouncements.

Richard Schickel, however, is a more complicated case. Also a strong documentary filmmaker who mainly covers filmmakers of the classic era and his favorite contemporary director, Clint Eastwood, as well as a highly readable writer, I’ve nevertheless have always felt somewhat suspicious of him going back to his eighties reviews in Time Magazine. Those feelings crystallized to some extent when I heard him and critic Emanuel Levy take to task a rabbi on Los Angeles public radio while discussing Robert Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful.” They all but called him a bad Jew for not finding the film offensive and daring to admit he was moved by it, or at least that’s how I remember it.

Still, I’ve enjoyed not only several of his cinephile-friendly documentaries, but also some really good audio commentaries recently featuring Schickel discussing another one of his — and my — favorites, Howard Hawks. I’ve been in a forgiving mood.

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Then, however, some editor at the L.A. Times had a very bad idea last week. I guess there’s no law that says, say, that if someone hates Picasso or Oscar Wilde or whomever, they should not review a new biography of them.  Ideally, I suppose, by itself that should not be a deal-breaker — as long as the writer in question can step away from their dislike of the subject enough to actually review the book rather than simply yell to the heavens that the revered creator being chronicled is wildly overrated while slipping in some snide remarks at the author’s expense for daring to think her subject is worth composing an entire book about.

Schickel, however, is clearly not big enough to do that, as he proved in writing this anti-Robert Altman screed disguised as a book review for the Los Angeles Times.  You can read Anne Thompson‘s take and then Patrick Goldstein‘s critique and defense of Altman, which also includes a letter from Altman’s one-time protegee, Alan Rudolph, a pretty strong and prolific filmmaker in his own right.

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Another Friday night news dump

I’ve been distracted wrapping up another project, but a few things of note did transpire to cap off this doozy of a week while I was otherwise absorbed.

* Both Variety and Nikki Finke are reporting that Miramax, the once groundbreaking “mini-major” founded and eventually sold by Harvey and Bob Weinstein that was named after their parents, Mira and Max, is being downsized/restructured by Disney. Meanwhile, grinning Disney Channel head Rich Ross is apparently a near-certainty to step into the void left by the departed Mousehouse chair, Dick Cook. I’m not sure why, but I have a funny feeling about this.

* Finke also has word that The Hollywood Reporter (aka THR) may well become a weekly as well as going behind a ‘net “wall.” If so, that’s going to leave a heckuva void for someone to fill online. If Finke has any visions of empire, this could be her moment — but she can’t do that alone. Personally, I’ll miss the video versions of the box office prognostications of the man I call “jolly Carl DiOrio.” He just seems so happy when he talks how well movies are going to do each week.

* THR has details on the 1993 settlement between Roman Polanski and his now adult victim. The odd part is that the records here don’t show whether or not Polanski ever paid it. If he didn’t, the woman is one extra-forgiving lady. I suspect he did.

* I’m not quite a diehard member of his cult, but I’ve always had a soft-spot for director John Carpenter (“The Thing,” “They Live,” “Escape from New York”) since seeing the original “Assault on Precinct 13” — a clever combination of Howard Hawks “Rio Bravo” and George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” with gang members replacing frontier desperadoes and zombies. His latest project, reportedly called “Riot” deals with another relic of my childhood, Arnold Shapiro’s “Scared Straight.” I’ll never  forget how shocked I was to hear F-words coming from my TV set. Who knew that one day cable TV would make that a near daily occurrence.

Now, I was the kind of kid who freaked out if a teacher even looked at me in a cross fashion. Nevertheless, it definitely worked on me as I’m here to tell you that I’m pretty sure I’ve never committed a felony, even by accident, though it’s always possible I’ve forgotten something. On the other hand, my parking ticket past is thoroughly checkered.

Anyhow, the latest news on the project via Krystal Clark at ScreenCrave is that Nicolas Cage, who was at one point attached, has likely left the project and the same may also go for Carpenter. Could’ve been fun, I guess.

And now a moment of vintage Carpenter.

  

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Ms. Bacall, is that you?

I’m intensely skeptical, but someone claiming to be movie/stage legend Lauren Bacall has an account on Twitter and is doing a pretty good job of sounding like the woman born Betty Joan Perske. Well, some of the time, anyhow.

For those of you who may not be familiar with her, Bacall’s status is entirely earned. A born entertainer, she became one of the screen’s sexiest young sirens playing opposite the substantially older Humphrey Bogart, whom she married. After starring with Bogie, and stealing all her scenes, in Howard Hawks’ “To Have and Have Not” and “The Big Sleep,” she graduated to more mature roles over the years and she became a Broadway star and occasionally popped up in great movies like “The Shootist,” and TV shows like “The Rockford Files.” Now nearing her mid-eighties, she continues to work and be terrific in movies like Paul Shrader’s political thriller, “The Walker.” She even allowed herself to be robbed and mistreated by Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) on an episode of “The Sopranos.”

Lauren Bacall in As Karina Longworth points out, her posts do have a Betty Bacall like cadence, so if you’d like to think that’s actually her, I can’t stop you and I might be tempted to join you. I’m in awe to even think it might be for real.

It’ll be sometime before we find out the truth behind these Tweets. In the meantime, a great Bacall moment or two. We’ll start with her most memorable scene from “The Big Sleep,” which was actually added to boost her role after the success of “To Have and Have Not” and their marriage made Bogart and Bacall one of Hollywood’s hottest couples.

After the flip, I’ve got a couple of iconic clips with Lauren Bacall in her way, way pre-Twitter days.

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“Basterds” Redux

As John F. Kennedy used to say, “success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan.” One thing’s for sure, both generate a ton of ink.

* I’m still of two minds on this whole Twitter business in terms of whether or not it really speeds up what we used to call “word-of-mouth” on movies. It seems to me we’ve had texting for awhile now, though the proliferation of iPhone and other communication devices is a new factor and must be having an impact. Unlike texting, you don’t pay on a per-Tweet basis, so maybe. Steven Zeitchik, however, is more certain and guess which movie he thinks is the first to officially benefit. (If you haven’t already been spoiled at all on the not-ripped-from-the-history-books ending of “Inglourious Basterds, you might want to skip this one.)

* Tom O’Neil at “The Envelope” speculates on awards strategy for releasing “Basterds” now rather than closer to award season. To me, Weinstein’s decision to highlight the musical “Nine” over this seems more than self-evident. Assuming the film is not a complete turkey, that film’s Oscar chances should be better.

Quentin Tarantino‘s films are not Oscar-friendly. The older members of the Academy have traditionally leaned strongly towards a very traditional, essentially literary and middle-class, view of quality which is pretty much the antithesis of the Tarantino aesthetic. It’s only been through his widespread acclaim and a subtle loosening of old prejudices that his films have gotten the definitely limited Oscar recognition they have and, considering what some regard as a too lighthearted view of World War II horrors, I wouldn’t expect this one to be much different. Of course, with ten nomination slots for Best Picture, and the universal groundswell of acclaim for heretofore internationally unknown German actor Christoph Waltz, two or three nominations (including the semi-inevitable “Best Original Screenplay” nod) are almost a certainty.

If you want an example of the kind of old-school middle-brow snobbery that’s always stood in the way of Tarantino — and Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Sergio Leone, etc. before him —  Peter Bart provides it for you. Some commenters respond aptly.

* Paul Laster at Flavorwire has a revealing interview with production design husband-and-wife team David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco about “Inglourious Basterds,” the Jack Rabbit Slim’s set from “Pulp Fiction,” and other films. Considering that they also work with Wes Anderson, these two are crucial collaborators with our most talented masters of movie stylization working, and the current heirs to people like the great Ken Adam, the production design genius of “Dr. Strangelove” and “Goldfinger,” among many others. (H/t David Hudson@Twitter…okay, so maybe there is a Twitter effect on filmgeeks.)

Now is the time at Premium Hollywood vin ve dance.

  

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The lost art of opening credits: “El Dorado”

As I wrote exactly one month back, I quietly long for a return to traditional opening credits where you learn who made the movie before it actually starts.

Below is a classic example of just how much a credit sequence can do to take you to set up the mood for what is to come. In this case, Nelson Riddle’s tuneful but slightly corny title song of Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado” (which I recently reviewed for Bullz-Eye) is matched with some nicely evocative western paintings by Olaf Wieghorst that promise a rip-roaring, slightly poetic, tale of good guys fighting bad guys. If this doesn’t get you in the mood to “ride, boldly ride,” well, then you just haven’t got any cowboy in you.

  

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