Freeheld stumbles over too many hurdles to recommend it. The film’s heart is in the right place, but its focus is not.
Q. I was thrilled that "City of God" got four nominations, but what happened to co-director Katia Lund? She is left out of the best director category, with only Fernando Meirelles listed. Was it too much to have two directors on one film or did they feel that Sofia Coppola was enough female directors for one category?
Katia is a wonderful director who created the short film that is the core of "City of God." I hope this gets corrected -- or is there something going on behind the scenes? There was some controversy when Miramax first bought the film and left Ms. Lund out of the credits, but it got corrected. Gary Meyer, Berkeley, Calif.
A. The academy didn't list her as co-director. But Miramax president Harvey Weinstein tells me "we're working on that, trying to get her included." He says Meirelles was the actual director of the film, but Lund (who made the short subject that inspired "City of God") "selected all the actors and worked with them -- she directed the actors." He said if Meirelles wins the Oscar, he will certainly praise Lund in his acceptance speech.
My contacts suggest that Lund's contribution to the film was crucial, and that she has been unfairly shouldered aside during all the Oscar attention. In Brazil, her exclusion has stirred up a media controversy because some believe that her contribution was greater than Meirelles'.
I am told by a well-informed production executive: "If you watch Katia Lund's DVD and then watch Meirelles' two previous films, 'Crazy Boys' and 'Maids,' I think you will gain a wonderful insight regarding 'City of God,' and if you read the official 'Cidade de Deus' Web site, you will learn what each of the directors did. Katia has always taken the position that she would not do anything which might hurt the film; therefore she continues to take the high road and has not and will not go public with this grave injustice. Katia has filmed in the favelas [slums] of Rio for the last seven years and her priority is that the film will be a vehicle that can help the social and political problems faced every day by those living in the favelas."
Despite what others may believe, Meirelles himself believes the situation is being overblown. In an interview last week with Sun-Times staffer Laura Emerick, he emphasized that Lund's role was limited to working with the actors, and that "she was not involved with the actual filming -- the cinematography, the editing, the location work, the art direction, and so forth." (That is, all the technical functions that largely constitute the director's role.)
But in the same interview, Meirelles was gracious about Lund's role and noted that it was his decision to give her a co-director's credit in the first place, "to acknowledge her contributions to the movie."
Q. Basically I agree with you that Charlize Theron was this year's and perhaps any year's best actress, but I have to say that having been a teacher for over 16 years and knowing the emotions of children really well, Keisha Castle-Hughes delivers an equally emotional and outstanding performance in "Whale Rider." The scene of her crying at the award night at her school was amazing. I still get a lump in my throat when I remember it. Leslie Luke, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
A. By nominating her, the academy had one of its finest hours. And yet here is a message from Katelyn Husted of Rock Hill, S.C., who says "Whale Rider" did not play anywhere in her state and her parents aren't crazy about driving her to North Carolina to see it. If Krispy Kreme refused to sell hot doughnuts in South Carolina, the populace would rise up in protest. What does it mean when theater chains write off entire states as not ready to see the best family film of the year? If I were an exhibitor and booked only low-brow Hollywood formula films, I'd be ashamed to look at myself in the mirror.
Q. I recently came across Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things" on satellite and liked it so much I wondered why I had not seen it in theatrical release. I decided to see how it was critically received and I started with your column. I thought your favorable review was spot-on. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that LaBute had also done "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends and Neighbors," both of which I thought had a lot to say.
But when I looked at what some of the other critics (N.Y. Times, S.F. Examiner and quite few others) had to say, I was shocked to discover that they all hated it; in fact, to a man, they seemed put off by all LaBute's works. Why? John F. Beck, Encino, Calif.
A. As one of the few directors who makes films that are literate, intelligent and willing to consider characters who are selfish, greedy, misogynistic and cruel, LaBute comes like a jolt of bracing reality after the dreamy fairy tales of so many movies. He's the real thing. Not all critics agree.
Q. I recently read this in an interview with theater director Richard Foreman: "Americans just don't understand that style can be content and style has things to say." The movie "Kill Bill, Volume 1" immediately came to mind. I loved that movie for exactly that reason; the way it was made was the point of the movie. But where do you think the line should be drawn? When does it become completely self-indulgent to make a film with no point other than its style and feel? Damon Brook, Duluth, Minn.
A. Although such a movie of course could be good or bad for a number of reasons, it would not be bad simply because it had no other point than its style. Style is what distinguishes art from random recording. The problem is not movies with too much style and tone, but movies so seduced by story that they have no attitude at all. Remember Ebert's First Law: "A movie is not about what it is about, but how it is about it." Now in stores: Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2004 and the new paperback and Spanish-language editions of The Great Movies.
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