Hey folks... After Moriarty FAILED to obtain a concious post-party state last night.... or even this morning, meanwhile... I was up and at em with the cock crowing this day. He humbly crawled out of his underground lair with that Black Mastiff of his that gnaws on Mongo's good leg while Mongo sings a mute version of NEW YORK NEW YORK, to write up his first Rumbling back since his near miss with the LAPD and some bloke named Holmes. That's right, Johnny Wad was on the case again, but Moriarty is now safe again and secure.... And it's been... too long... here ya go....
Hey, Head Geek...
I'm going to assume you got out of Los Angeles okay this morning. I was unavoidably detained by a small henchman uprising. You show these little mutants ZULU as a favor, and they get all riled up. Imagine. I've had to mount several dozen of their tiny, misshapen heads on pikes all around The Moriarty Labs to get everyone back on track, but I think it worked. Still, I'm sorry the column was late today. While you and MotoMoriarty were at the premiere of THE GREEN MILE last night, I was here, slaving away on my first RUMBLINGS back on the regular schedule. And, of course, I missed my regular schedule. Things really are back to normal.
I'll be writing about THE GREEN MILE tomorrow, but I'm going to give it a day or so to sink in. I have to. I'm overloaded on movies right now. I'm drunk on all the good films I've been seeing. I honestly don't know how I'm going to start putting together my 10 Best of the Year list. It's just ridiculous at this point. For example, this past Friday afternoon, I finally saw the new offering from PT Anderson, the highly-secretive MAGNOLIA. I think it's funny that this film was treated like the next STAR WARS film while in production. Secrecy was utmost, even though the film's just an intimate charater drama without any sort of wild "twists" like FIGHT CLUB or 6TH SENSE. I can appreciate PT's desire for control of how people learn about the film and when, but I don't think there's really any way to spoil MAGNOLIA for viewers. There's a reason this dense, rich tapestry of a film is three hours long. It's a tightrope walk, a beautifully built sprawling look at a series of people all looking for connection, none of them aware how deeply they're already connected, set against the backdrop of PT's beloved San Fernando valley. It's also one of the most audacious and haunting films of the year.
Just running down a list of the key players in the film should indicate just how ambitious PT's "little" movie is: Earl Partridge (Jason Robards), Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore), Frank TJ Mackey (Tom Cruise), Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman), Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), Jimmy Gator (Phillip Baker Hall), Rose Gator (Melinda Dillon), Claudia Wilson Gator (Melora Walters), Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly), and Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are just the main players on this crowded, busy stage, but even a cast this size never overwhelms the material. Some viewers may find themselves exhausted by the film's relentless energy and the dazzling way Anderson weaves in and out of the various storylines, but I was energized by it, amazed at his nimble storytelling skills. He's truly becoming a filmmaker's filmmaker, a guy in total control of the medium. I've heard many people say that he learned his chops from guys like Scorcese or Altman, and to some extent that's true. Film is a language, though, and what he's done is master the language that's come before. Now he's actually adding to that language, expanding it through usage, and it's so exciting to witness his career as it unfolds.
His cast is truly a dream in the film. John C. Reilly is one of the standouts for me. I have loved this guy's work since he was Hatch in the woefully underrated CASUALTIES OF WAR, and it's so great seeing him here, ten years later, doing such open, honest, risky work. Most of his scenes in the film are with Melora Walters, an actress who always seems to vanish into films for me. I mean that in a good way. For example, I had no idea she was in BOOGIE NIGHTS, even though I already knew who she was when I saw it. As Jesse, she was unrecognizable. She's an open wound here, a raw nerve, and it's the kind of role that could wear out its welcome if Walters didn't project this aura of need, this air of vulnerability that keeps drawing us back in, over and over. As her mother, Melinda Dillon makes a welcome and wonderful return to film, and she provides wonderful counterpoint to Phillip Baker Hall.
Most people are going to come out of this film talking about one actor in particular, and I don't blame them. Tom Cruise is magnetic here, alive in a way that we forgot he could be. This is Vincent from COLOR OF MONEY all grown up, his hustle polished to a glow. This is Maverick from TOP GUN if the military hadn't worked out. This is Joel from RISKY BUSINESS if school had fallen through. Cruise eats every scene alive, particularly later in the film, where he reveals a side of himself I don't think I've ever seen on camera. One of the reasons I think Cruise is a great actor and not just a great movie star is because he's willing to show us the ugly side of himself. He doesn't shy away from being imperfect or worse. I think he's wrenching here, always one moment away from total meltdown, but he's so charismatic at the same time that I predict next year's hot impression will be Frank Mackey and his motivational speech. It's disgusting stuff, and that's one of the things Cruise seems to relish about it.
Throughout the film, there's a recurrent visual motif that I picked up that I had to go figure out afterwards. The numbers 8 and 2 keep showing up, written on things, formed from twisting cords, as part of signs... and it's so prevelant that I figured there was a reason. A friend of mine who also saw the film with me called the next day, following our discussion of the possible meanings of "82," and left the following on my answering machine:
"And if thou refuse to let them go, behold; I will smite all thy borders with frogs." Exodus 8:2.
What does that mean in reference to the film? Well, you've all seen that teaser poster and the trailer, and you've no doubt seen that there's frogs in the film. How and where, though? Well, I can't fully explain it to you, because of both where it happens in the film and what I think it means. I will say this... it's a giant risk for PT, and it's one that I think pays off beautifully. It unifies all the characters of the movie in a particular way, and I think it's got a lot to do with the film's overall themes.
I could go on and on about the technical contributions to the film. Robert Elswit's photography is remarkable, alive and electric, and the editing by Dylan Tichenor is superb. Like I said, this thing moves. It may be three hours, but it's still breathless, never once slowing down. The score by Jon Brion is perfect, but it's the layered use of songs on the soundtrack that defines the film's sound. Aimee Mann has the most amazing showcase I can imagine here, with her songs providing some great counterpoint to the actions onscreen, her voice filling in the darker corners of these characters. In particular, the use of the song "Wise Up" is memorable and striking. Her cover of Three Dog Night's "One" made the hair on the back of my neck stand up during the film's opening. Even the use of songs like Supertramp's "The Logical Song" is perfect here. PT knows that film is more than just image, and it's practically an education to watch how he's built this movie. It is one of the year's very finest experiences to be had in a theater, and you absolutely owe yourself the three hours.
I'm a little bit in love with New Line right now. One major reason is because I love my DVD player so much. I still haven't had a chance to see the whole NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET box -- even Evil Genuises have to prioritize their spending -- but this is definitely a company that treats the consumer right. Disney, are you paying attention? New Line makes the effort to release their big titles in special edition "Platinum Series" editions as soon as they hit home video, not making us wait six months for special editions after they've sold us a movie-only disc. Now they're pushing that even further, releasing DETROIT ROCK CITY as a fully-loaded DVD three weeks before it hits videotape. That's the first time a major studio has ever done that, and I hope it's a trend. It definitely sends a signal about their commitment to the format. It helps that DETROIT ROCK CITY is a winning little movie, a raunchy, funny little slice of late '70s nostalgia that actually works better at home in some ways. As I wandered through the voluminous extras on the disc, I was struck by just how much fun everyone seems to have had on the film. The secondary commentary tracks are great fun, the behind the scenes footage is hysterical, but the coolest feature of all is one of the first non-porno uses of the multiple angles feature of DVD that I've seen. You can direct your own KISS concert on the disc, cutting from angle to angle, focusing on whatever you want. It's great fun, and there's real replay value here for fans. If you pick this thing up on Amazon.com, it's less than $15 right now, and it's going to be out in time for Christmas. For a disc this overloaded with fun, that's a steal. New Line's also crafty about promoting their upcoming releases, and when I heard about the extras on the ASTRONAUT'S WIFE disc, I went loopy. They're going to be including a LORD OF THE RINGS browser on the DVD, the first of many that they'll be slipping onto DVDs between now and the release of the films. Expect to see LOTR material on any disc even tangentially related to genre.
Mentioning DETROIT ROCK CITY reminds me of one of the projects that was set up while I was on my semi-hiatus from AICN, a film called SEX, DRUGS & ROCK'N'ROLL. It's about a rock superstar who witnesses a murder, then becomes the killer's target. He agrees to let a very straight-arrow cop hang with him for protection. Not the most startlingly original of concepts, but knowing that Gene Simmons is one of the film's producers gets me interested. I really like Gene onscreen. I still remember his bad guy from RUNAWAY distinctly. I hope that if this film gets a green light, Simmons plays the rock star himself. If he doesn't, then at the very least I hope he pushes to make the rock scene in the film real and raunchy and fun. I'd hate to see it sanitized.
A quick Forrest Ackerman update for those of you who have contacted me mourning the fact that you've never visited the Ackermansion in LA. If you call 323.MOONFAN this Friday, you'll get the full details about the last Ackermansion open house of the century, which is being held this Saturday from 11:00 to noon. It's free, but you should definitely check for details. I hope you all have a chance to turn out and say hello to the man and wish him well. If I weren't going to be at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon in Austin, I'd definitely be at Forry's.
Of course, I will be in Austin, and I'm dying. Harry's got such cool plans for the marathon. I literally can't wait for this Thursday to roll around so I can get out of here. I have decided that it's worth the risk, so I'll be attending live and in the flesh, and not bothering with my mechanical doppelganger. Hope to see many of you then.
Someone else who's headed to Austin is the exceptional team of guy behind MR. SHOW, the single funniest sketch comedy show of the '90s. They're currently prepping THE RONNIE DOBBS STORY, a comedy that they'll shoot in Los Angeles and Austin both. For those of you who haven't seen the show, Ronnie Dobbs is one of David Cross' recurrent characters, a guy with the singular distinction of having been arrested more times on COPS than anyone else. In the grand tradition of Monty Python and The Kids In The Hall -- anyone else excited that the Kids are touring right now? -- Bob Odenkirk and Cross will both be playing multiple roles in the film, supported by their incredible cast of comic actors like Brian Posehn and BJ Porter. I'm praying that Tenacious D shows up in some form in the film... one can never have enough Jack Black in their lives, I say.
That's just one of many projects that popped up in November that I'm interested in, both good and bad. If you're like me, completely smitten by ELECTION earlier this year, then take heart. Alexander Payne is now prepping his next film, a dramatic comedy for Artisan called SIDE WAYS. It's a road trip film about a 40ish screenwriter who is frustrated by lack of motion in his career and his personal life. When his best friend announces his impending marriage, the two guys hit the road for one last trip before the wedding. It's based on an unpublished novel, and the deal for the film promises Payne a fair amount of control. As long as the film comes in under $10 million, Payne gets complete control, with final cut. That's cool, and based on listening to the director's commentary on the just-released ELECTION DVD, I'd say the film's in good hands.
Another busy boy these days is Stan Winston. It's probably a good thing his lousy devil-thing from the climax of END OF DAYS in only onscreen for 30 seconds or so. It's one of the most uninspired designs I've ever seen come out of Winston's studios. I was shocked to see Crash McReery's name attached to that thing. I have higher hopes for his work in GALAXY QUEST, where Winston's utilized techniques that were developed for the proposed PLANET OF THE APES remake to allow the lead alien in the film to be acted by the guy in the suit in all regards, instead of having guys with Waldos hiding off-camera. I'm also hoping we'll see stronger work in two upcoming films, one of which is being produced by the very smart Brian Gilbert over at Winston's company. The film's called WILD KINGDOM, and it's set up at Destination Films. It's about an Animal Control officer in the future who must track down a genetically engineered Cerberus when it breaks out a Greek Mythology exhibit and begins to terrorize New York City. The other film Winston's involved with right now is still untitled, a Kennedy/Marshall coproduction with Winston, set to be written by Stephen Cornwell. It's set in the 19th century, the story of a long-dormant alien that wakes up from its hiding place here on Earth. Both of these films have the potential to be real showcases for the kind of classic work that Winston's done in the past. When he is given a great creature to design, he and his team have consistently risen to the challenge, giving us creatures that seem to have actual inner lives. The Predator, the Queen Alien, Pumpkinhead, Lestat, Edward Scissorhands... these aren't just monsters; they're characters. I hope these new films continue in that tradition.
Now, there's tradition, and then there's being stuck in an endlessly-repeating rut. Andrew Niccols is a fairly talented guy. I liked GATTACA. I loved THE TRUMAN SHOW. I'm interested in what he's doing next... or at least, I was until I heard the concept. Stop me if you've heard this one before: Centered on paranoia, the film takes place in a small border town where a man tries desperately to escape his environment, even if it means giving up everything in his life. Um, Andrew... you do know it's okay to write more than one story in your life, right? I mean, I understand recurrent themes in a writer's career, but give me a break.
At least Niccols has talent, though. Personally, I'm horrified that Castle Rock is allowing Larry David another shot at bigscreen comedy with a film called ENVY. It sounds almost exactly like his last picture, SOUR GRAPES, which I can confidently predict will show up on my list of the decade's worst. Larry David seems to have just been the mean, morally unredeeming side of the SEINFELD formula, while the rest of the writers contributed the actual humor. Once again, ENVY is the story of horrible people doing horrible things to each other, as two family men who are best friends, neighbors, and co-workers suddenly find their relationship imploding when one of them gets rich and the other one gets jealous. I'm guessing it will be profane and ugly. Wow... how appealing.
Anyway... I've got to run for now, Harry, but I'm going to send you a special follow-up RUMBLINGS tomorrow, since there's just too much for one day this week. I'll be reviewing GREEN MILE and FANTASIA 2000, as well as bringing you more buzz from around town. There's a lot of catching up to do. Until then...