Thelma and Louise

Considering the controversy that surrounded its initial release, an action-packed plot line involving impulsive crime and platonic love-on-the-run, and its iconic ending, “Thelma and Louise” once seemed well on its way to the status of a genre-creating classic along the lines of “Bonnie and Clyde.” Today, it plays like a glossier, more sentimental, and politically charged variation on “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” but there’s nothing wrong with that. Written by Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott, the story is as simple as any western. Tightly-wound waitress Thelma (Susan Sarandon) and too-sweet housewife Louise (Geena Davis) hit the road, ducking her ridiculously chauvinist husband (Christopher McDonald). Their plans for a relaxing fishing vacation die alongside a probable serial rapist (Timothy Carhart) who is impulsively murdered by Thelma after attacking Louise. In no time, the two women are playing cross-country cat-and-mouse with a sympathetic police detective (Harvey Keitel), surviving via some help from Thelma’s smitten boyfriend (Michael Madsen) and armed robbery.

Khouri’s Oscar-winning screenplay feels slightly glib, though its humor, emotion, and some moral complexity remain. Scott’s showy, ultra-confident direction looks great on MGM’s 20th anniversary Blu-ray and involves the usual barrels of ersatz rainwater and a shot of Thelma applying make-up at a crowded ladies’ room mirror that was copied three years later by a famed admirer of Scott in “Pulp Fiction.” Still, it’s Sarandon’s and Davis’ show. When they hold hands at the end as they make their final leap of faith, we’ve got to kind of love these two women and believe they love each other, and we do.

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Bond is coming back; Soderbergh promises he’ll retire

In 1962, a bouncing baby franchise was born when superspy assassin James Bond did in the evil “Dr. No.” Now middle aged and needing a bit of exercise to keep its financial heart pumping after nearly five decades of very hard living, the Bond machine survived the end of the Cold War that spawned it, only to be stalled by MGM’s financial morass. Some thought, “It’s a 22 movie run, more if you count a few non-canonical Bond flicks, give it a rest already.” Today, however, Nikki Finke has word that Bond 23 is officially going ahead with star Daniel Craig and the long-rumored Sam Mendes in tow as director. You’ll have your next serving of Bond with your Thanksgiving turkey in November of 2012, assuming nothing untowards happens in post-production.

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In 1963, a bouncing baby human being was born in Louisiana. 26 years later, director Steven Soderbergh personally gave the modern day independent film movement one of its biggest kickstarts with 1989’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” Now, he’s announcing officially that he’s packing it only two decades into a career that, at least in theory, could go another four or five.

Though Mike Fleming jokingly pre-accuses him of doing a Brett Favre, movie directors are not sports figures, and, to paraphrase Marcellus Wallace of “Pulp Fiction,” their asses really can age like a fine wine. John Huston, who led the kind of life that might have killed a lesser man in his forties, made one of his greatest films, “The Dead,” when he was pushing eighty and about to be dead himself. Old French New Waver Alain Resnais is scheduled to release a movie more or less to coincide with his 90th birthday, and Portugal’s Manoel de Oliveira released “The Strange Case of Angelica” in 2010, the year of his 102 birthday. (He’s supposedly working on another.) Almost no one, except Matt Damon, seems to be taking Soderbergh seriously about this.

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You know what, I’m on board with both moves. James Bond has become far bigger than any one set of filmmakers and, like Sherlock Holmes, Superman, and Mickey Mouse, there’s no reason he shouldn’t keep on chugging along indefinitely in new incarnations. And, given how surprisingly good “Casino Royale” was, I’m willing to let the current James Bond team overcome the disappointment of “Quantum of Solace.” All I ask is for a little more of “From Russia with Love”-era Bond and a little less shaky-cam Jason Bourne.

As for Soderbergh, I’m a fan who admires the fact that he’s unafraid to take risks and make movies that, admittedly, sometimes kind of suck, but always in interesting ways. Re: his impending retirement, I’ve watched too many creators repeat themselves over the years to have anything but respect for his decision. I think it’s possible that we all have only so many stories to tell in a particular way and that, perhaps, when we feel we’re through telling them in one medium, maybe the thing to do is switch to another that might permit new stories to emerge. Later, if we return to the first medium, maybe we’ll then have a new story to tell, or at least an interesting new way to tell it. So, if Soderbergh just wants to spend his life painting, I say, “bless him.” If he gets the urge to start making movies again from time to time and unretires as many times as Frank Sinatra, that’ll be great too. The thing not to do is stagnate.

  

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Thursday night trailer time: “Drive Angry” (updated)

Aka “Just Another Wednesday Night on the 405” as Nicholas Cage gets himself a few days off from hell to rescue his baby daughter from the no-doubt Satanic cult that killed his wife.

And now we know what happened to the brutal rapist, Zed (Peter Green), after Bruce Willis dispatched him in “Pulp Fiction.” He went to hell, worked hard, networked appropriately, got promoted to an executive position of some responsibility. Nice to see a guy do well. Or, maybe that’s what happened to Green’s creepy Amway selling policeman from “Go.” UPDATE: Comment deleted due to a serious case of vaguely similar looking actor confusion between the very talented and similarly creepy Peter Green and William Fichtner, as pointed out by my colleague, Jason Zingale in comments below.

H/t Bloody Disgusting.

  

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Going back to the future re: the mysteries of casting

There’s a clip from the upcoming “Back to the Future” trilogy anniversary Blu-Ray that’s been circulating that I think is revealing. It deals with the semi-legendary firing of Eric Stoltz after a shocking five weeks of principal photography (some films are finished in three or four weeks) and his replacement by Michael J. Fox back in 1985. It’s fairly self-explanatory.

I personally don’t think “Back to the Future” is remotely a “classic,” but it is 2/3 of a great screwball comedy. (I didn’t care for the science fiction portions of the film.) However, it really looks here like it wouldn’t have worked at all with Eric Stoltz. Obviously, we’re not seeing nearly enough, but these very brief clips were obviously selected because something is just clearly off and perhaps not only Stoltz’s unfortunate hairstyle — which might not have been his selection.

The irony is here that, as much as I like and admire Michael J. Fox as an accomplished comic actor and a public figure, in terms of sheer thespian ability, I’d say Stoltz is very likely the better actor — though being an actor and being a star are not the same gig. He’s certainly shown plenty in the way of versatility over the years and you can’t say he can’t be funny, especially given his brilliant turn as the world’s most relatable heroin pusher in “Pulp Fiction.” On the other hand, Fox clearly has something that Stoltz lacks in terms of being Marty McFly. It’s not just maybe knowing his way around a straight-up gag a bit better than Stoltz might have at the time, it’s an “everyman” quality, I guess. As the deformed Rocky in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask,” that very same year, Stoltz had that everyman quality, but I guess with his own face, it just evaporates and that slightly sarcastic demeanor of his can’t be entirely hidden without facial prosthetics.

Anyhow, just another reminder that “best actor” and the “right actor” are not the same thing.

h/t Michael Speier.

  

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Miramax movie moment #1

As I wrote Friday, things are looking bad for the studio founded by the Weinstein brothers, which is now officially being sold Disney. So, consider this the start of an online mini-wake for the greatest of the mini-majors.

  

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