Saturday, July 12, 2008

observations, rants, complaints, ruminations, pesky questions, and rude opinions & comments

Viewpoint: Gillian Armstrong's "DeathDefyingActs," starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones, opened in New York yesterday with a postage-stamp size display ad in The New York Times and a review of some brevity by one of the Times' second-string critics.

It is the most recent example of a film by estimable filmmakers and actors to be given the bum's rush in an overcrowded movie market.

Another example is the Aaron Eckhart-Elizabeth Banks comedy, "Meet Bill" (directed by Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack), which opened in Philadelphia recently, with no display ads in the leading newspapers and no advance screening. It played without ever being reviewed and was gone in a week. The DVD was just released. (Looming as an example of either good or bad timing - take your pick - Banks is also currently in the new Eddie Murphy film, "Meet Dave.")

These titles were preceded by Paul Schrader's "The Walker," starring Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Kristin Scott Thomas and, together again for the first time since "Nashville" (and again playing husband and wife), Lily Tomlin and Ned Beatty and by newcomer Christopher N. Rowley "Bonneville," with Jessica Lange, Joan Allen and Kathy Bates, both of which received token, half-hearted openings in limited markets - like New York and Los Angeles exclusively.

Meanwhile, Amy Heckerling's "I Could Never Be Your Woman," which teams Michelle Pfeiffer with Paul Rudd, went directly to DVD, bypassing theaters altogether. Jeez, time was when a Name Star opened a film.

Times have changed. Apparently.
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Pesky Question #1: IFC's recent screenings of Bob Rafelson's 1990 wonder, "Mountains of the Moon," had me wondering.

In the past year or so, there's been a rebirth of interest in the career of the late, great Hal Ashby, with both critics and filmmakers taking turns at honoring the director. And when Altman died in November of 2006, the film/criticism community seemed to go into a period of mass mourning.


But what about someone like Rafelson who is still very much alive, although he's been largely inactive of late? His last theatrically-released feature film was 1996's "Blood and Wine" with Jack Nicholson and Jennifer Lopez. (Does 2002's now-you-see-it, now-you-don't "The House on Turk Street," Samuel L.Jackson, actually count?)

Bob Rafelson is a man who, along with Ashby and Altman, helped develop and define America's fleeting New Wave of filmmaking in the late 1960s and early '70s.

Give the man some attention already!

And while I'm at it, whatever happened to the career of Rafelson's dashing "Mountains" star, Patrick Bergin who played Richard Francis Burton in the film and who seemed positioned to become a major star along the lines of Russell Crowe and Colin Farrell?

Just asking.

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Pesky Question #2: Another filmmaker who was crucial to 1970s moviemaking and who is now largely ignored is Paul Mazursky. Like Ashby, he made a handful of films in the '70s that remain indelible and invaluable, two of which are almost impossible to see these days.

When The Film Society of Lincoln Center paid a rare tribute to Mazursky in May of 2007, these two titles were missing for the schedule - 1971's inside eccentricity on modern filmmaking, "Alex in Wonderland," and the unjustly underrated "Willie & Phil" Mazurksy's 1980 take on Truffaut's "Jules et Jim."

"Alex in Wonderland" had Donald Sutherland contributing a memorably solipsistic performance and "Willie and Phil" arguably offered Michael Ontkean, Margot Kidder and the late Ray Sharkey their best roles on film.

* * *

Speaking of Turner, its recent showing of Victor Fleming's 1941 horror classic, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," starring Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman, drove home the point just how marginalized and limiting movies have become. There was a time, after all, when horror wasn't necessarily the lowly step-child of the movie industry, exisiting only to meet box-office demands and provide work for C-level actors. It was once the stuff of substance and prestige.

But thanks to decades of destructive marketing techniques, Hollywood has learned to hastily discard genre after genre (not just the horror film), successfully disenfranchising just about all moviegoers from everything except films for guys - namenly action films and beer-keg comedies, both now slavishly computer generated.

Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth"/"El Laberinto del fauno" of 2006 promised something more for the genre. Maybe del Toro still can legitimize horror once again. Maybe in Europe. But here?

* * *

Complaint: The latest incarnation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific" on Broadway is just a gnawing reminder of how the piece has always been oddly cast - and of the one big missed opportunity in terms of casting.

To date, the character of French planter Emile de Becque has been played by everyone but a Frenchman. On stage, Enzio Pinza created the role. Italian. The London production has Wilbur Evans. British. The 1958 film version starred Rossano Brazzi. Italian. The 2001 TV version featured Rade Sherbedzija. Croatian. The 2001 London revival starred Philip Quast. Australian. The 2005 Carnegie Hall concert version gave us Brian Stokes Mitchell. African-American. And the currrent Broadway revival stars Paulo Szot. Brazilian.

The one person truly made for the role (in my opinion) and who never played it (to the best of my recollection) is the late Yves Montand.

On, well, one can dream, right?

(Artwork: Bacall and in Schrader's "The Walker"; Pfeiffer and Rudd in Heckerling's "I Could Never Be Your Woman"; Allen, in the back seat, with Bates and Lange, at the wheel, in "Bonneville"; display ad for Mazursky's "Alex in Wonderland"; the writer-director, left, with his then-partner and co-writer Larry Tucker and Sutherland on the set of "Alex," and Yves)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A) Your mention of Rafelson got me all excited to check out The House on Turk Street, only to find out that I had already reviewed it and forgotten about it.

B) Your complaints about film distribution seem limited to a few misguided distributors. The Weinsteins have bungled just about every release since leaving Disney, so expecting more from Death Defying Acts would be silly. Meet Bill is from First Look, who create modest contract-fulfilling theatrical runs and nothing more, in preparation for home video. And Finding Amanda is from HDNet / Magnolia / Mark Cuban, a company much more interested in cable/satellite delivery than either theaters or DVD. The studios with actual money seem to be investing in theaters more than ever, especially with the meteoric rise of IMAX and digital 3D projection.