Hey, Everyone. "Moriarty" here. Glad to see Harry's made it back to Austin, unscathed from his latest Ebert adventures. Looks like he managed a light update last night before he crashed, then nothing tonight. I understand. Big trip, and then you come home and celebrate. I know Harry mentioned some event that he and some of the site regulars had planned... a naked bongo party of some sort. I'm going to assume that's a Texas thing and hope it went well for them. While Harry's sleeping it off, I'll finish what I began this past Tuesday.
Let's start today by addressing an issue that's very close to the hearts of STAR WARS freaks. If that's not you, then move on. I plan to expose my full geek roots in all their glory here for a moment. I'll get back to being a restrained, normal film fan in a few paragraphs. I have to do this, though. I am compelled. You see, I have to direct a bit of ranting and raving north, towards Lucasfilm. Normally I don't bother trying to figure out Uncle George's motives, and I'm not the kind that gets publicly whiny about every little thing I don't like that he does. This time, though...
If you don't know about the enormous outcry from fans right now, you've probably been avoiding any STAR WARS forums, recovering from the blinding PHANTOM MENACE hype. I understand. You're missing some truly violent discourse, though, as people debate the merits of the death of Chewbacca. Yes, I said that right. Chewbacca, as of the new novel VECTOR PRIME, is one dead Wookie.
Lucas has said that the decision was his, and that he wanted to demonstrate the dangers of the universe and to refute the notion that heroes always manage to survive any peril. In the book, written by R.A. Salvatore, Chewie goes to a planet where he believes Anakin Solo and some others are being held by an enemy. While he's there, a moon crashes into the planet, killing everyone.
I'll be honest... I agree with Lucas in some ways. It is essentially dishonest storytelling when every major character avoids any serious harm over the entire course of a franchise or series. The truth is that even the good take their lumps. Joss Whedon has been ruthless about that on his BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series, and I can admire a death like Jenny Calendar on that show. It was shocking, it hurt, but it was real. I haven't read VECTOR PRIME but I'm going to. If Chewie's death is well-handled, then I don't see that Lucas has betrayed fans.
If he's worried about it, though there's something he can do that would make me feel better, and I'm willing to bet it would satisfy Chewbacca fans around the world. It's something he should have done when he released the SPECIAL EDITIONS. George, we've all heard the rumor that you're still doing work on the ANH:SE, so while you're mucking about with it, let me make a suggestion. It's something that would require minimal work, but would yield maximum goodwill return. Yes, George... you know what I'm getting at.
Give Chewie a medal.
It's so easy. You don't even have to reshoot. We'll take it on faith that Leia slips it around his neck during one of the cutaways. You can just put it there for us in those final shots. I mean, it's not like he's Han Solo's dog, fer chrissakes. If Han gets a medal, then Chewie should, too. He was in the same amount of peril, and he took the same amount of risk. This story point actually bugged the piss out of me when I was just a kid. I always felt like he should have gone nuts and ripped someone's arms out of the sockets, as was threatened. After all, if he had a bad temper about losing a simple game of hologram chess, how do you think he'd feel about being treated like freakin' baggage?
And as for those fans who are actually sending R.A. Salvatore death threats over the book... stop it. You give fans a bad name. This is all fiction, folks. No one killed anyone. If you don't want to accept the death then don't read the book. Or if you read it, forget it. Never happened. You don't threaten to kill people over fiction, though, not unless you want the creators of that fiction to simply stop. After all, who wants to service a fanbase that's so ready to turn on you?
Hey, everyone seen that astonishingly crappy LIGHT IT UP trailer by now? Wow, does that suck. The movie looks like the worst kind of racial fantasy, making sure that all the teen characters have big hearts and are just misunderstood while all the bad authority figures are big meanies who just won't listen and who can't wait to kill an innocent kid instead of really delving into what causes this kind of anger to bubble up and express itself in violence. To be quite honest, all I could think of while watching the trailer was one of the Bachman Books by Stephen King. RAGE was, although not perfect, a damn fine character piece about how powerless kids feel during adolescence, and how their attempts to take that power can hurt and even scar those around them. I was disheartened to hear post-Columbine that King is pulling the book from circulation. I think it's a book that, more than ever, should be circulated. It's about giving voice to that powerlessness, and it tries to handle it seriously, without exploitation or overly easy answers. It's one of King's first "serious" novels, and I think it still holds up today. If anything, it's more relevant than when he wrote it.
I'm happy to see King continue to grow as an artist. He's one of the guys who was deeply formative when I was first finding my voice as a writer. There's something so conversational, so immediate about the way he tells a story and paints a picture, that his voice has always felt like that of an old friend, even from the first time I read it. As I've aged, so has he, and so has his work. I think he's actually turned a corner and entered a new phase of his career with gusto and style. Last year's BAG OF BONES was excellent, a ghost story with heart and style that seemed delicate, almost ethereal, yet dished out a big giant chunk of story. This year's HEARTS IN ATLANTIS manages to be many things to his fans, and to different audiences of fans. It is, as promised, his "book about the '60s," but in none of the obvious ways.
The book talks around the '60s, dealing with the era by ripple effect, showing the effects on people without using the stereotypical imagery we've seen a million times. The way he introduces the peace sign in "Hearts In Atlantis," the very moving second novella in the collection, paints a picture for me, someone who didn't live through that time, that I've never seen before. When I was a little kid, peace signs were everywhere. I can't imagine when people didn't know the symbol, when its introduction was a shock, when it actually sent a message just by its very presence. King manages to make me feel that, just as he manages to make me deeply feel every moment of "Low Men In Yellow Coats," the wonderful, haunting piece that opens the book. It's the longest of the pieces, and it has connections to King's still-unfinished DARK TOWER series of works. It's got undeniable power to it, and it shows the hand of a man who's been doing this, telling us stories, so long that it's second nature. He almost seems incapable of writing a character who doesn't have a voice. Even his throwaway characters are richly textured, and we see why in later pieces like "Blind Willie" and "Why We're In Vietnam." They're minor works, comparatively, but they offer a glimpse at how deeply imagined King's people are. The final piece in the book, "Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling," tips its hand a bit with King's trademark referencing of '50s-era music. It's an unabashedly sentimental closing to the novel, and King's sentimental streak has grown stronger over the years. It would overwhelm lesser writers, but he manages to temper it, as always, with keen human observations. Many writers, no matter what genre they work in, struggle their whole lives to put together one moment with this kind of simple, true beauty, as a boy comforts his mother following a truly apocolyptic series of events:
"Oh, Bobby," she said. "We've made such a mess of things, you and me. What are we going to do?"
"The best we can," he said, still stroking her hand. He raised it to his lips and kissed the palm where her lifeline and heartline tangled briefly before wandering away from each other again. "The best we can."
AAAAAHHHHAAAAHHHAAAAHHHAAAAHHHAAAA!!!! Sorry, but that's the sound of me laughing at anyone who's handing their money over to Disney for their current push of animated classics on DVD. You people are being well and truly screwed... and in public! You're encouraging Disney to continue to offer us substandard product at inflated prices. Every unit you purchase sends them the message loud and clear: This Is Okay. This company is so massively disrespectful to fans and so openly greedy about how they're doing this that the only rational thing you can do is refuse to hand over one single penny. If you're worried that your kids will die if they don't have the Disney films on DVD, trust me... they won't. And if you're worried about that moratorium, let me share with you something that I learned working very close to the laserdisc market. Disney lies. They lie constantly. They'll tell you one thing, do another. They'll say whatever they have to say to scare you into buying nine copies of this movie, convinced it will never come out again. Then they'll put out the same film in a different box and say that's all they meant... your BOX would never be available again. They'll put these animated films on moratorium in this format, but that doesn't mean they won't reissue them on DVD-18 in two years. I've been reading about problems with the PINOCCHIO discs in particular. It seems that the wrong movies have been shipped out as PINOCCHIO. The DVD case is for PINOCCHIO. The DVD itself is silk-screened with the special Disney collectible logo for PINOCCHIO. But when it's put in the player, some people have been seeing THE PRINCE OF EGYPT. You've got to admit... that's funny. I'm just sorry for the people who have been stuck with MY FAVORITE MARTIAN by mistake, another title that's popped up. I have to admit... that's not funny.
Hey, why aren't more people getting excited about the announcement of GHOST WORLD's creative elements this week? I mean, is it just that the Daniel Clowes novella is basically unknown to the mainstream? Is it the fact that most people don't realize how astonishing Terry Zwigoff's CRUMB was? Or is it just that Thora Birch and Leelee Sobieski are still not thought of as talent worth getting excited about? Because to me, the combination of all those elements adds up to a film that I am now officially dying to see. I love Clowes. I love Zwigoff. I am convinced that both Birch and Sobieski have mad chops. This film has potential writ large all over it.
For those who have never read it, Clowes described GHOST WORLD as a look at "the lives of two recent high school graduates from the advantaged perch of a constant and (mostly) undetectable eavesdropper, with the shaky detachment of a scientist who has grown fond of the prize microbes in his petri dish." That only begins to hint at the depths of the piece, or the awesome characterization. Clowes is one of my favorite artists in comics and I'm glad to see he's co-writing the script with Zwigoff. Groovy, indeed.
It's strange how stories sometimes get twisted or interpreted. People frequently report what they want to report. In the weekend summary for last weekend's box-office in VARIETY, the writer's apparent anti-FIGHT CLUB slant was so screamingly apparent that it was almost funny. Every single release, no matter how unrelated, was compared to FIGHT CLUB to prove some point about how badly FIGHT CLUB was doing. It was astonishing, especially coming from an industry trade paper. When stories are reported in this town, spin is put on them from the moment the press release is issued, and watching different sources spin things different ways could make an Evil Genius dizzy if I took any of it seriously.
Take, for example, Bruce Orwall's recent piece in the WALL STREET JOURNAL: "Hollywood Studios Move To Stop Issuing of Box-Office Estimates." Wow. Sounds like a powerful move. Orwall's piece turns out to be a well-researched, very well-written piece about how NRG is going to try to keep their estimates secret now, working to protect their proprietary material, and how studios are getting tired of having to answer questions about estimates that have been released publicly. The way everyone else picked up the story and ran with it, it sounded like Universal and Fox had declared open war on Farrell and his system, and the rest of the studios were just about to follow. Needless to say, this excited me. I read all of these stories, followed them back to the source, and finally read Orwall's piece. That's when my excitement stopped. This isn't a positive step that's being taken. The studios haven't finally figured out that they're paying Joe Farrell to basically pick numbers randomly out of a hat. Nope... they're just tired of having to answer questions when something doesn't do as well as an estimate, so they're going to figure out a way to keep the estimates secret. It's business as usual. The logical extension of this piece, of course, is that studios are going to come down hard on the test screening process, expecting Farrell to cut out sites like this one from the screenings, expecting to keep a better lid on secrecy.
I have had industry professionals who I respect immensely quiz me on what good I think comes of our being part of the test screening process and reporting on it, and I have had others explain to me exactly what they think the good is. This issue continues to divide people, and I don't think there's just one side to the debate. I honestly want the process to be for the filmmaker's good. Some filmmakers, like David Fincher or the Farrelly Bros., are going to be able to test a film and get exactly what they need out of the process without taking any shit from NRG. Other filmmakers, guys without that kind of "fuck you" clout, get buried by the numbers and find themselves fighting valiantly to protect whatever they think is special or good about their projects. Peter Hyams recently won a very important fight on END OF DAYS, and I'm happy to hear it. He had to really go to war to get his way, and he won by virtue of a great argument, a compelling reason that things should go his way. He could just as easily have been beaten up by numbers and had the film taken out of his hands. The good fight is rarely won.
Speaking of good fights, there's one brewing on the limited release front this weekend. Both PRINCESS MONONOKE and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH are rolling out in select cities. I love both films, but I have to give BJM the edge in advertising. I think the poster is striking, and I've got the diagram body image (you know it if you've seen it) on my car window now. The TV spots are consistently quirky, strange, and most of all memorable. Once you get the concept of the film, you won't forget it. That ad with the creepy Malkovich funhouse head at the bottom is so distinctive... I can't shake it. On the other hand, I saw the MONONOKE one-sheet at the Sunset 5 the other day and nearly threw my coke at it. It's horrible. It's ugly, nearly unidentifiable from as close as three feet, and has nothing to do with the film. It's a medallion of some sort and some sort of orange-red background... WHAT IS THAT?! You've got classic, classic imagery in this film, and that's the image you're using to see it? How about San in front of the wolf? That's only been the image everywhere forever. It's only become iconic by now. It's immediate. It makes you take another look. The poster they have now... it's just a train wreck. It's a shame, too. The theatrical trailer is pretty damn great. I hope it can overcome people's confusion at the poster or those bizarre, fuzzy full-color newspaper ads that ran on Sunday. I've seen the movie and I can't tell you what the hell we're supposed to be looking at in the newspaper ads. I think that based on star power alone, BJM had a chance to beat MONONOKE. Seeing how they're handling things into the home stretch here, I'm sure that Jonze and USA Films has a winner on their hands.
Speaking of ad campaigns, can you sue someone for ripping one off? How can ABC get away with their noxious "Look Closer" campaign right now for their various shows? It is cut to the same Who song as the awesome AMERICAN BEAUTY trailer, and they use the ad line "Look Closer" without any hint of irony or any implication that this is a parody campaign. It's not. They just seem to have decided that they like the campaign, and they're going to use it. It's like making a diet soda and mounting a "Tastes great... less filling" campaign. I mean, it's soda. That's not the same as beer, so how can you say it's a ripoff? If AMERICAN BEAUTY was a Disney film, I could see poaching the campaign. I guess they didn't want to advertise their fall season on ABC by saying, "I see dead people," though, so they poached someone else's idea. For shame.
I honestly have no idea what to think of the giant media announcement made by Dreamworks and Imagine earlier this week about their plans to team up with Paul Allen for Pop.com, an Intertainment programming outlet. Right now, the website's nothing but a press release and a place to register. The press release is certainly ambitious, but I'll confess... I don't really know what the hell they're talking about, and I suspect they don't either. People are just making this up as they go, and these Internet IPO's are amazing money-making schemes. Hell, I want in on one. Next time someone needs another name to throw on a press release for an IPO for a startup company of indeterminate purpose on the Internet, I volunteer myself.
"The Internet offers unlimited potential as a new entertainment arena," says Spielberg. That's true. I like the idea of companies wanting in. I'm curious, though, if this is going to genuinely be a unique form of entertainment, or if this is going to be an extension of and a promo for the two companies involved. I'd hate to just see clips from their movies and the same kind of e-mail services and other features that a hundred sites already offer. Seeing as how I'm actually a fan of how Dreamworks is working out I'm willing to give this the benefit of the doubt. I just can't remember the last time I heard this much noise about absolutely nothing.
Speaking of absolutely nothing, that's the return that I think the producers of MY FIVE WIVES can expect on their investment. As I was scanning development charts the other day, this cast caught my eye and made me gasp. Andrew Clay, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jerry Stiller. In a Sidney J. Furie film. Someone had to agree to make this. Actually, a whole bunch of someones had to agree to make this. These are supposedly rational human beings, adults, in positions of some influence. They all got together and said, yes, this is worth it. This is worth the time and the money. "A millionaire purchases a large piece of land which includes five wives." That's the gem that's going to get you to cough up the cash and pull the trigger on making a movie. And you're going to hire Andrew Clay (seems he lost the Dice again) and Rodney Dangerfield? I'd officially like to congratulate you on coming up with an even worse project than SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER. Your tax shelter scheme seems to be working admirably.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, I saw Barry Blaustein's big, crazy, revved up BEYOND THE MAT over the weekend. I also had a chance to see a documentary of a very different sort, one that I've been waiting for in a sort of low-grade, off-hand, "that'll be nice" sort of way. It's Michael Apted's new 42 UP, the latest chapter in his series that began as part of "World In Action" back in 1964. It's a lovely, quiet film, and it has a cumulative power that is quite welcome, even if it is familiar by now. In fact, maybe it's that familiarity that's so nice about it.
If you're not aware of the series, it started with a group of seven year olds in England, chosen as the face of the country in the year 2000. The plan was to meet with them every seven years and see who they were and how they were. Apted has kept up with it faithfully ever since, and I've been lucky enough to see 28 UP and 35 UP in the theaters. Both times, I've found the films absorbing. It's much like the experience of watching THE LIMEY, sliding forwards and backwards in time. There's no limit to the juxtapositions of footage that Apted is capable of. He can set the seven year old Symon alongside the 42 year old Symon and have them saying the same thing to totally different effect, showing you that boy inside the man with absolute precision. He's got these people's whole lives on film to play with here, dipping in every so often. They're different people in every one of the films, evolving, and part of the thrill is visiting them like old friends.
As soon as Tony appeared on screen, I remembered him. He'd always wanted to be a jockey, and he seemed like the biggest hellraiser of the bunch. He's never really grown up completely, and it's apparent when watching him at each stage of life. He's enormously likeable, and Apted does right, putting him up front. By the end of the film, we've caught up with 12 of the kids, and the rush of faces and names is a little overwhelming. The film runs just over two hours, but it's dense, filled with interesting moments and observations. It's not an action film, though... that's for damn sure. This is a film that's in no hurry to go anywhere. Apted isn't trying to bowl you over. This is about reflection, about looking back and trying to figure out how we got where we are. Watching Suzy and Bruce and Nick and Paul and Charles and Jackie and Lynn and Sue and even Andrew who wouldn't participate this time around, one can't help but feel that life does, in the end, sort itself out with a wry sense of humor. If this is the face of England in the year 2000, and if this is the last of these films, then it is an impression that England should be proud of.
Harry and I had our dates wrong on PITCH BLACK. USA's got that set for release on February 11th. They're also going to be bringing Robert Harris' REAR WINDOW restoration out soon, at the end of January. I can't wait to see how it's turned out. REAR WINDOW is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and seeing it restored to its full glory is going to be a thrill. I continue to be impressed by Harris' work with James Katz. It's thanks to them that my beloved LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is so beautiful every time it plays theatrically here in town now. The film looks like new, and if they can save more classics, restore them to the same extent, then count me in to watch whatever they work on. I hope they inspire more restoration nuts, people who see their work and are drawn to it. Film preservation gets more important every year. It literally pains me that I will never see LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.
I'm going to take a brief break from the RUMBLINGS, everyone. I'll be back near the end of November. There's just too many experiments cooking in the Labs for me to split my attention. Suffice it to say I'm working on some great things for the page, so when I come back, it will be bearing gifts. Let me leave you with a homework assignment, a game of sorts, as I prepare to see BEING JOHN MALKOVICH again this weekend, this time in the company of the lovely Marla Singer. I want to know what film you most wish Ain't It Cool News and the Internet in general had been around to cover the production and release of. That's from the moment the project was announced to when it was released, with all the standard casting rumors and script rumors and production rumors... any film in history. I'll run the best answers, the most creative ones, in a future column. Until then...