A mostly pleasant surprise in a year that has produced a lack of stellar animated outings.
Director Richard Kelly. (Note motion picture camera.) Not to be confused with suspected terrorist James Kelly. Or soap-operatic rapper (and little girl fancier) R. Kelly. Or "Singin' in the Rain" dancer Gene Kelly. Or former Princess of Monaco Grace Kelly.
One of the things I love about "24" (not just this season, which is the best one ever, but in general) is the way it shows how people never cease being petty and self-centered, even in the midst of potentially catastrophic international crises in which millions of other people's lives are at stake. What it all comes down to is this: In any crisis, office politics are probably more important than global politics. We see it all the time with our politicians' egocentric defenses of indefensible ineptitude and gridlock caused by inter-agency squabbling (which the papers always call "turf wars").
Now, here's another example of bureaucratic bungling in the name of Homeland Security that shows why, as Jon Stewart recently observed, if terrorists have not yet attacked us since 9/11 it can only be because they are even more incompetent than our own so-called "security" apparatus: Director Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko," "Southland Tales") is being investigated as a possible terrorist and may not be able to attend the premiere of his new movie at the Cannes Film Festival next week, where his film is in competition for the Palm d'Or. Why?
The Attitude in action. (photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
At first I wasn't going to write anything about last weekend's "disappointing" domestic grosses for "M:I:III" (or, as Stephen Colbert pronounces it, "Miiii"), because, well, who really cares about the box-office numbers of movies like "Miiii" (or Celebs Who Act Out)? Especially when "24" gives you trickier plotting, more believable stunts, top-flight production values, first-class actors (Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Stephen Spinella, William Devane, Ray Wise, Jean Smart...) and characters for whom you can actually feel something besides an indefinable creepy revulsion (though some have that quality, too), week after week (and in digital surround and HDTV, no less) -- making pre-packaged, pre-fab disposable summer action products like "Miiii" seem as dinosaurish and unnecessary as they truly are. (Note to self: How do I really feel?)
But then I saw this headline above a Reuters story Thursday: "Hollywood friends rally around Tom Cruise." Yes, dear readers, Tom needs some friends just now (if only, evidently, to buy batches of opening-weekend tickets to "M:I:III" at the Scientology Celebrity-Center-adjacent ArcLight Theater in Hollywood). It was too absurd to pass up.
So (he said wearily), let's recap:
His Cruiseness's public "approval ratings" (says a USA Today opinion survey) are way down there with the likes of... George W. Bush:
Herewith, a belated salute, on the occasion of the sailing of the revamped "Poseidon," to the late, great Shelley Winters. At a party of movie geeks on a rainy Seattle night -- the evening of her death (January 14, 2006) -- I hoisted a scotch in her memory and toasted some of her greatest moments -- which, as it turned out, seemed to revolve around death and water. Not only was she a terrific actress (in comedy and drama), but she is responsible for some of the most memorable liquid exits in movie history. Consider:
"Twister": Bovine poetry in motion.
Readers have sent in some choice bits of poetry and prose from the MPAA's Classification and Ratings Administration, which I consider to be the institutional poet laureate of Hollywood.
Chris Finke writes: "I work in a video store, and often read the mpaa ratings to pass the time. the two greatest ratings that i have come across are:
"'Gummo': 'Rated R for pervasive depiction of anti-social behavior of juveniles,including violence, substance abuse,sexuality and language.' (I didn't know that anit-social behavior was restricted to those over 17 years of age.)
"'The Day After Tomorrow': 'Rated PG-13 for intense situations of peril. (Straight, to the point, and most importantly, meaningless.)"
Jonathan Walker extolls a particularly atmospheric rating for the disastrous 1996 movie "Twister": "Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather."
And Dan Maloney and Eric Mees write separately regarding the masterful blurb for 2004's "Team America: World Police": "Rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets."
Wait, there's more...
Lucky and Flo, the DVD-sniffing labs.
Excerpt from MPAA Press Release (link to .pdf file):
[May 9, 2006] United Kingdom, Los Angeles - - The Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), express delivery company FedEx and HM Revenue & Customs, has joined forces to launch an exciting new initiative to help combat DVD piracy.
As part of a project promoted by the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. (MPAA), FACT instigated the training of two black Labradors named Lucky and Flo (video here) by one of the world’s leading experts in the field whose other clients include police, fire and rescue service. The dogs were trained over an eight month period to identify DVDs that may be located in boxes, envelopes or other packaging, as well as discs concealed amongst other goods which could be sold illegally in the UK. These DVDs are often smuggled by criminal networks involved in large scale piracy operations from around the world.
A disturbing image of frenetic violence and menace -- and some sensuality, if you're into the whole Cronenbergian "Crash" thing.
You may not have noticed one of the most exciting blurbs appearing in ads for "Mission: Impossible III." It reads: "Intense sequences of frenetic violence & menace, disturbing images & some sensuality!" (OK, I added the exclamation point.)
The reason you may not have seen this is because it appears in a little box in the lower left-hand corner of some print ads, and at the end of some TV ads and trailers, in a little box next to the code "PG-13." Yes, "frenetic violence & menace," "disturbing images" and "sensuality" -- though they sound like something a critic or a marketing department might say -- are words (superlatives?) employed by the Motion Picture Association of America (or, if you prefer, the Classification and Rating Administration, or CARA, a subdivision of the MPAA) to describe the reason for their PG-13 rating. Whew! Heady stuff, no?
Philip Seymour Hoffman is the bad guy in "M:I:III."
"Sure to be one of the best films of the year." -- Jeffrey Lyons (on "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio")
"Anthony Hopkins gives one of his finest, most endearing performances in what is sure to be one of the year's best films." -- Jeffrey Lyons (on "The World's Fastest Indian")
"Sure to be one of the most successful thrillers of the year!" -- Jeffrey Lyons (on "Mission: Impossible III")
Let us pause, in what is sure to be one of the most successful pauses of the year (after all of the year's pauses have been experienced and ranked accordingly, of course), to consider the devaluation of language. We could also consider the devolution of film criticism, but let's not limit ourselves. What can we deduce from the three quotations above?
"Junebug" director (and still photographer!) Phil Morrison at the Overlooked. (Photo by Jim Emerson)
At several moments during the Eighth Overlooked Film Festival, I thought I had been transported to a time in which the greatest artists of the movies were not only familiar to all, but properly and enthusiastically appreciated and revered. That such a time would be in the spring of 2006 kind of threw me for a loop, but this was a festival in which (I swear) the two most commonly (and reverently) invoked cinematic influences were not Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino but Robert Bresson ("Pickpocket," "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Lancelot du Lac," "L'Argent") and Yasujiro Ozu ("Tokyo Story," "Late Spring," "Early Spring," "Floating Weeds"). Not that any of the young filmmakers at the Overlooked were trying to claim their work was on par with these cinematic masters, but you could tell from their films that Ozu and Bresson really mean something to these guys, their influences genuinely and thoroughly absorbed into the cinematic sensibilities of another generation. It gave me hope for the future of movies as something more than a commodity.
"M:I:III": To see or not to see?
Quick: When you think "Tom Cruise," what's the first thing that pops into your mind? Tabloid celebrity? Love-struck happy dad? Couch-jumper? Noted skeptic and scholar of the history of psychology and psychopharmacology? Censor? Superspy? Scientologist? Actor? The former Mr. Kidman? The future Mr. Holmes? Movie star?
The release of "Mission: Impossible III" on Friday is being touted by some as a referendum on Cruise's career as a celebrity with marquee value. It's Cruise's third time out as superspy Ethan Hunt (no, not that guy who used to be married to Uma Thurman -- the secret agent dude!), so the franchise may have quite a bit of steam of its own. But after the Scientology-backed clampdown on the "Trapped in the Closet" episode of "South Park" in the US and the UK (and today, by the way, happens to be Day 50 of "South Park" Held Hostage) and other bizarre off-screen behavior, Cruise's box-office status is being... questioned.
The thing about speaking truth to power is that the powerful don't really like it all that much. That was apparent at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night, when Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's satirical "The Colbert Report" (basically a Fox News parody in which Colbert plays a fact-challenged, egomaniacal character based on Bill O'Reilly -- and Sean Hannity, Britt Hume, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter...) delivered a speech that cut maybe just an eentsy bit too close to the truth (or "truthiness") for the comfort of the President, the First Lady and the ineffectual reporters in the audience.