RIP Maria Schneider

Maria SchneiderThis is a sad one. The French actress who, along with Marlon Brando and director Bernardo Bertolucci, created a worldwide sensation/scandal in “Last Tango in Paris” has died much too soon at age 58. She later claimed to have been exploited on the film, which indeed was something of a scandal at the time in many quarters. The film today, however, plays much more as psychodrama than soft-core porn.

In any case, she went on to co-star with Jack Nicholson in Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passenger” and continued to work, but she was apparently troubled in various ways and it affected the rest of her career. Via David Hudson at MUBI, which as usual has a lot more on Schneider’s legacy, I was just reminded of her walking out of Luis Bunuel’s “That Obscure Object of Desire,” which sparked something of a creative coup when the great surrealist decided to replace her with two actresses.

Below is a clip from “Last Tango,” it’s somewhat NSFW, but not as much as you might expect. Considering her feelings about being naked in the film, I considered not using it, but the nudity is not explicit at all here and her acting here with Brando is just too lovely not to use. Also, I couldn’t find any other embeddable scenes. I’m not the biggest fan of “Last Tango,” but I’m sorry she couldn’t take more pride in her terrific performance in it.

  

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Weekend box office: Coal in Hollywood’s stocking as “Little Fockers” underperforms and bloated tentpoles tank; Santa smiles on the Coens

Misguided movie populists who say that critics are somehow less relevant than they were 20 years ago and that their reaction in no way tracks the reaction of other human beings should really take a close look at this weekend’s results. It’s an eternal truth that audiences and critics often differ — seeing a lot of movies does tend to make a person somewhat harder to please — but to say that there’s zero correlation between what most critics hate or love and what most audiences members hate or love is not the case. It is true that critics hated, hated, hated this weekend’s #1 film, but that clearly isn’t the entire story.

Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner don't look happyAs I recounted prior to the start of the long Christmas holiday frame last Tuesday, the oracles of the box office were predicting a reaction to “Little Fockers” somewhat in line with the 2004 performance of “Meet the Fockers.” Specifically, the numbers being bandied about were in the $60 or $70 million range for the entire five day period. The total gross instead appears to be roughly $48.3 million for Universal. That is only a couple of million higher than what “Meet the Fockers” earned over a three day period on its Christmas opening in 2004. Remember, movie ticket prices have gone up a few bucks since ’04.

Nikki Finke recounts how the megastar-laden film’s difficult and expensive $100 million production, helmed by the currently luck-challenged Chris Weitz, provided a windfall for Dustin Hoffman and, I understand, allowed him to almost literally phone-in large portions of his performance. Finke estimates that the lastest “Fockers” movie is earning only about 75% of what the prior comedy made. As for the critics, while “Meet the Fockers” left critics unhappy — as opposed to the very well reviewed original smash-hit, “Meet the Parents” — it was a regular success d’estime compared to the woeful reviews of the third film in what critics are praying will remain a trilogy. Strangely enough, this seems to correlate with diminishing returns for the series.

Overall, things weren’t any better, with Sony’s two expensive, poorly reviewed, star-laden turkeys  — “How Do You Know” and “The Tourist — being slaughtered in their second and third weeks, respectively. (To be fair, since it stars literally the two most famous people in the world right now not named “Obama” or “Oprah” or “Palin” or “Assange,” “The Tourist” is doing significantly better than the latest from James Brooks, but both films are money losers right now.) The extremely un-promising and critically derided “Gulliver’s Travels” was all but thrown to the wolves by Fox and its release was delayed until Friday. It opened in 7th place for the weekend with a Lilliputian estimate of $7.2 million.

Anne Thompson notes that this three-day weekend at the movies was 44% lower than last year, and had some choice words on the drop:

Little Fockers repped the widest-appeal offering among the weakest bunch of holiday releases in recent memory. At a time when studios usually try to maximize returns on their strongest pictures, they instead offered audiences a menu of costly, tame, MOR fare—and moviegoers stayed away in droves.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon happily calculate their back-end deals in

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Today’s trailer — Sofia Coppola is back with “Somewhere”

Over the weekend, Anne Thompson was discussing the imminent return of the youngest member (so far) of the directing dynasty begun by Francis Coppola. For me, the jury on Sophia Coppola is still out to some degree, not because I in any way doubt her talent or skill, but because I wonder about her commitment to storytelling. She has yet to really knock my socks off dramatically, and it worries me slightly that she’s such an outspoken fan of Wong Kar-Wei and Michelangelo Antonioni, two directors of the world’s most gorgeous films that I find nearly unwatchable. On the other hand, Thompson came up with a quote in which Coppola praises Bob Fosse, one of my favorite directors of all time, and his most direct and emotional film, “All That Jazz.”

“I enjoy movies when they’re sincere, from personal experience. Fosse got away with his girlfriend playing his girlfriend. It’s not an all-romanticized idea of himself. It’s honest.”

True enough. Watching the trailer for “Somewhere,” about a hard living actor (Stephen Dorff) and his tween-age daughter (Elle Fanning), it looks to me like she’s still thinking about a key sliver of that film, but I ‘ll get to that some other time. Also, considering that Coppola is about to become a mom for the second time, it’s a topic that likely hits close to home. I’m hopeful about this one.

  

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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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