The Coen Brothers certainly have been no strangers to the American West or movie Western iconography. Still, there’s a difference between borrowing Western tropes for such more or less contemporary tales as “Raising Arizona” or “Fargo” or “No Country for Old Men” and making an actual western with six-shooters and cowboys and all of that. Hence, this teaser for “True Grit” makes me very, very happy.
H/t the Film Drunk, who very correctly reminds us that this may perhaps be more fairly described as a new adaptation of Charles Portis’s novel. I haven’t read the book yet — at least I don’t remember ever reading it — and its been decades since I’ve seen the hit John Wayne/Henry Hathaway version from the sixties, but I understand from people in the know that, surprisingly, that version was mostly very faithful to the book.
A funny thing happened this decade — the once dying genre of live-action movie musicals seems to have returned to the movie repertoire. As the decade closes, I can think of exactly two major westerns, but I keep remembering musicals that I should consider for this piece (including the mostly well-regarded French musical “Love Songs,” which I forgot to see before writing this, je suis désolé).
As a lifelong fan and a nearly lifelong tough critic of musicals, I love most of these films. However, this list is not so much a traditional “best of” and I’ve included one choice I definitely don’t like. (It won’t be hard to guess which.) These are musicals that I think contributed to the development of this polarizing and hard to pull off genre. They don’t hark back to times gone by or try to recapture a past glory that will never return, but actually take us into the future. That’s important now that musicals seem to have a future.
“Dancer in the Dark” (2000)
Earlier this year, the brilliant but often irritating Danish director Lars von Trier shocked hard-to-shock European festival audiences with graphic sexual violence in “Antichrist.” Back in 2000, all he needed to divide audiences was some really intense melodrama and an approach to making dark musicals partially borrowed from TV creator Dennis Potter (“Pennies from Heaven,” “The Singing Detective”).
Featuring a literally once-in-a-lifetime lead performance by singer-songwriter Björk as a young mother ready to sacrifice everything to save her son’s failing eyesight, “Dancer in the Dark” is maybe the most emotionally potent story of parental love I’ve ever seen. As a musical, it’s strange and arresting.
Like the Potter television shows and movies and “Chicago,” further down the list, the musical numbers take place in the mind of the lead character. In this case, however, it is particularly poignant as our heroine is a fan of musicals who, though she is gradually going blind, is attempting to appear in a community theater production of “The Sound of Music.” Below, she musically confesses her situation to a smitten Peter Stormare (yes, the guy from “Fargo”). Lumberjacks or not, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” sure seems like a long time ago.
Moulin Rouge” (2001)
As the non-musical Pixar films became the dominant template for animation and the musical form lost its last apparent movie bastion, big studios began to experiment with musicals starring humans. Unfortunately for me, the first and still one of the most popular of this decade’s high profile film musicals was Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully shot, amazingly designed, dull-witted, and over-edited “Moulin Rouge.”
Yes, this musical fan is not a fan of the musical that’s been credited with resurrecting the genre. Why? A couple of sequences work, but on the whole I expect the funny parts of a movie to make me laugh and, even more important, I like to see the movies I’m seeing. As far as I can tell, Luhrmann simply doesn’t have the confidence in this film to allow us time to view the arresting images he’s worked so hard to craft, nor does he permit time to actually see the hard work his dancers and actors put in. Editor Jil Bilcock is expected to do all the performing instead.
As for what Luhrmann and his arrangers did with the various classic songs they threw into a musical Cuisinart, the less I say about it the better. At the risk of sounding like a fogey (or a member of an 18th century Austrian court), too many notes. Way, way, way, too many notes. See if you disagree.
Yes, it’s a real mishmash this weekend at the box office and I’ve got less time than usual — but let’s just see how it goes.
Anyhow, the clear winner over the next few days will almost certainly be yet another version of Charles Dicken’s constantly remade and revisited holiday perennial, this time from Disney, “A Christmas Carol.” Jim Carrey stars as Scrooge, who won’t hurt at the box office and Robert Zemeckis, in his “Polar Express” mode, is at the helm. Personally, while I found the earlier motion-capture movie a fun visceral thrill ride in Imax 3-D, despite a story that was the very definition of treacle, I personally find this style of animation extremely ugly; it’s as if it’s always stuck in the armpit of the Uncanny Valley. Moreover critics, including our own David Medsker, complain that Zemeckis gets carried away with the effects and makes things a bit too visceral and scary for the film’s own good. Still, if it worked even for Mr. Magoo, there’s no reason to think it won’t work well enough for some fiscal redemption. THR‘s Carl DiOrio, whose nearly as jolly as an way-too-early St. Nick, is guessing it’ll grab about $40 million in premature yuletide cheer. A split decision by critics is, I suppose, neither here nor there.
After that, we have four films that will be duking it out with two extant strong releases, Michael Jackson’s ghostly final bow, “This Is It,” which may benefit from better than expected word of mouth and, of course, the horrifyingly profitable “Paranormal Activity.” Intriguingly, all these new major releases have a slightly spooky and/or “paranormal” spin and trying to guess which will do best is probably about as wise as playing with a Ouija board at a demon-infested San Diego townhome.
If you’re not an ABC Family aficionado like myself, then you may not be aware that the often-underrated network is preparing to launch a new series on July 7th: “10 Things I Hate About You,” based on the film of the same name. It’s hard to say whether this is a good idea or not, though the fact that Larry Miller has carried over his character from the film – patriarch Walter Stratford – is certainly a step in the right direction, but we can say one thing: there have been worse ideas. It’s been a television staple to transform motion pictures into weekly TV series, but not every attempt actually makes it to the airwaves. Here’s a list of 15 such swings and misses, many…okay, most of which deserved to fail.
1. “The African Queen” (“The African Queen,” 1962 & 1977) – It seems only appropriate to start this list out with an attempt at transforming a classic film into a TV series. The first time around was in 1962, when James Coburn took on the role of Cap’n Charlie Allnot, while Glynis Johns played the Hepburn role of missionary Rosie Sayer, but although it aired as an episode of NBC’s “The Dick Powell Theater,” it never made it any further. Fifteen years later, CBS took a stab at it, with the leads played by Warren Oates and Mariette Hartley. No dice. If the actual movie ever makes it to DVD (can you believe it’s still unavailable?), perhaps one or both of these pilots will be included as part of the bonus material.
2. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (“Holly Golightly,” 1969) – It sounds nuts, right? Granted, if there was anyone in the late ’60s who was the TV equivalent of Audrey Hepburn, it was probably Stefanie Powers, but Hepburn’s performance was so iconic that it’s hard to even wrap your head around the idea of anyone else playing the role of Ms. Golightly. As it turns out, the original author of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – Truman Capote – didn’t like the movie, either, calling it “a mawkish valentine” to Hepburn, so he was even less ecstatic about the idea of a TV series. In an interview with Time Magazine, Capote predicted that the show would be even more “jerky” than the film and that he would not stand for the TV version “if they give me all the money in Christendom.” One doubts that his position on the matter had anything to do with the series not being picked up, but the end result no doubt pleased him, anyway.
3. “Diner” (“Diner,” 1983) – This one had a lot of potential, with the film’s writer/director, Barry Levinson, doing the same duties on the pilot. There was only one original cast member willing to return, however, but, hey, at least it was Paul Reiser (Modell). Plus, Mickey Rourke (Boogie) and Kevin Bacon (Fenwick) were traded out for Michael Madsen and James Spader, respectively, which ain’t half bad, really. In an interview with Venice Magazine, Levinson said, “We had a great cast, but CBS thought otherwise. They thought it wasn’t compatible with the current programming line-up they had.” The fools!
There are times when we swear that “Entertainment Weekly” has either bugged our office or is tapping into our conference calls. Numerous pieces of ours wind up on their pages at almost the exact same time, be it a list of the best sequels, cinematic stoners, or our long-gestating piece on the Bullz-Eye Fantasy Band Draft, which will drop later this year. They’ve even named their hot/not meter “The Bullseye.” Hmmm.
And sure enough, they scooped us once again, when they put the top awards from various Academy Awards results to a new vote, to see how the current Academy would fix the previous generation’s “mistakes.” We’ve been throwing that idea around for over a year, and just when we begin to put pen to paper: boom! — they beat us to the punch. We’re not at all surprised that they saw the appeal in such a topic; every year there is at least one head-scratching moment, one that usually owes more to awarding a long-overdue actor for their overall body of work than for the performance at hand (ahem, Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman”). Enter Bullz-Eye, Mighty Mouse-style, to save the day and make sure justice is served. We’ve examined recent Academy Award winners and their competitors, and we found a few, um, irregularities. Revisionist history begins now.
Elaine Benes summed up our feelings for “The English Patient” as well as anyone. Actually, that’s a tad unfair; we didn’t think “Patient” was awful, just long and, in the end, anti-climactic. Without Juliette Binoche carrying her co-stars from start to finish (her Oscar, unlike this one, was well deserved), we wonder if “Patient” would have received half the praise that it did. Then there’s “Fargo,” which featured invaluable contributions from its leads, the supporting cast, and even the characters who were only in a scene or two (Marge Gunderson’s Japanese high school classmate had us in tears). It’s funny, shocking, coy, and best of all, normal, an expertly crafted movie all the way around. Guess the Academy wasn’t quite ready for the Coen brothers yet.
To be fair, this one isn’t a staff pick; it’s mine and mine alone. My colleague Jason Zingale loved “Crash,” as did most people. I, however, loathed it like no movie I’ve seen since “Shrek.” The manner in which people would instantly spew the most hateful, ignorant nonsense in scene after scene was just unbearable, and I wanted to throttle Sandra Bullock’s ridiculously underwritten shrew of a character. Granted, “Brokeback Mountain” is not a perfect movie by any stretch, but I’ll take it over “Crash” any day of the week and twice on Sunday for the sheer fact that it didn’t try to beat me into a coma about what a racist pig I am. Fuck you, Paul Haggis.