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Salma Hayek (#110 of 7)

Cannes Film Festival 2015 Tale of Tales

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Cannes Film Festival 2015: Tale of Tales
Cannes Film Festival 2015: Tale of Tales

The most telling revelation in Tale of Tales has little to do with ugly sisters, transmogrified monsters, or angry ogres. It’s only once the end titles reveal that the film is dedicated to director Matteo Garrone’s children that the idea behind this lavishly mounted, fairy-tale triptych begins to make sense: a rambling, big budget, Sunday-afternoon adaptation of a 17th-century Italian classic, albeit one with a brace of bared breasts and well-mannered naughtiness thrown in for good measure. One of the first films to premiere in competition, it would also have ticked most of the boxes for an opening film: a gaggle of stars, a certain commercial potential, and the warm glow of largely unwarranted self-satisfaction.

Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, but first…

Fan mail: The main bone of contention among the folks who wrote in about #US106 was that I had missed the point in Zero Dark Thirty—that, as Bill Weber wrote, it’s “supremely clear in ZDT that information INDIRECTLY leads” to Osama bin Laden. “Carabruva” agrees with Bill. I didn’t miss that point when I watched the film, since I was looking very carefully for any connection. What I didn’t do, unfortunately, was make mention in the item that it was very, very indirect and nowhere close to the “big break” that critics of the film were claiming. I fear both Mark Boal and I were nodding a bit on this point.

Some of the most interesting comments on the Zero Dark Thirty item came off the record from some of my “acquaintances.” I’d emailed them with a link to the column, and one of them replied, “I do not know if torture worked or not, but I am appalled by the fact that any senior officer or congresswomen would agree to it. However, one DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] felt it was important, and another does not. Most intelligence officers I respect felt that the producer wanted it both ways: torture sells and (gasp!) torture is bad. They were more amused by the portrait of the analyst. She is a composite of women in the bin Laden cell, all of whom were strong, bright, and opinionated. But C.I.A. is a paramilitary organization. You simply don’t talk to superiors the way our hero did.” As for my feeling that the “I’m the motherfucker” line was the best line in the film, it was even if it was not “accurate,” but hey, we’re making movies here. By the way, I later heard from another “acquaintance” that the real person Maya is based on is even better-looking than Jessica Chastain. I doubt that’s possible, so that may just be more C.I.A. disinformation.

I spent some time in the item whacking Boal and the film’s team for not responding better, especially to the complaining senators. An article in the Los Angeles Times that appeared the day after my column was posted nicely covered what happened at Sony and why they took the road they did. I understand their point of view, but I think they were wrong. The article was a Link of the Day, and if you missed it, you can read it here. The article included a great comment from Boal, and since I’ve been beating him about the head and shoulders, I feel obligated to quote it, since it nails down what happened. He said, “We made a serious, tough adult movie and we got a serious, tough adult response.”

Quartet (2012. Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play. 98 minutes.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Musicians Retirement Home. The first thing I loved about this movie is that it’s short. One of the downsides of having to slog through all those two-and-a-half-hour-plus end-of-the-year films is that they cost you money to park. In Los Angeles, the tradition is that at indoor malls that have multiplexes, the first three hours of parking are free, and then you have to pay through the nose for anything beyond that. By the time you get from your car to the theater, get your tickets, sit through 20 minutes of trailers and the film, and get back to your car, you’re probably over three hours. Some, all right, a few, films are worth the extra cost. So I went into Quartet happy knowing it was not going to cost me any more than the ticket price.

Sinful Cinema Fair Game

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Sinful Cinema: Fair Game
Sinful Cinema: Fair Game

“You wanna watch headline news with me? No? It’s not gonna kill ya.” This is what Miami attorney Kate McQuean (Cindy Crawford) says to her cat just before clicking on the the television, detonating a bomb that leaves pussy and apartment incinerated, and sends Kate soaring over her balcony and into a boat-filled inlet. It’s one of countless bullet-to-the-brain lines in 1995’s Fair Game, a damsel-in-distress disasterpiece that marked Crawford’s big screen debut. Not to be confused with Naomi Watt’s 2010 C.I.A. vehicle, which, by comparison, looks like some kind of espionage classic, this second adaptation of Paula Gosling’s novel (the first being the 1986 Stallone dud Cobra) is the sort of movie that shocks viewers as they learn it’s in no way aiming for camp. When I recently rewatched it at home (yes, I own it), and got to the scene in which Kate seduces a computer store employee who’s “fiddling with his joystick,” my partner did a whip-around from the next room, demanding to know if this movie was for real. “Just wait,” I replied. Kate goes on to tell Adam, the dumbfounded nerd in this technologically ancient flick, that she’s not interested in software, but “hardware,” and that she “was hoping to demo [his] unit.” Granted, this is one of few scenes in the film that, however puerile, is intentionally ironic, but it’s also one of many to highlight Crawford’s outright horrendous acting, which is defined by line readings that seem punctuated by periods. “I’m. out. I’m. gone. I’m. just. going. to. get. away. from. all. of. this!” Kate barks in monotone to Det. Max Kirkpatrick (William Baldwin), the cop who winds up protecting her from a team of Russian assassins. That’s right: Crawford, it turns out, had the jump on the meme generation in regard to “Best. _____. Ever.” accentuation.

Poster Lab: Savages

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Poster Lab: <em>Savages</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Savages</em>

It’s probably not a good sign that the poster for Oliver Stone’s Savages makes a perfect column subject for Easter Sunday. By most evidence, this isn’t a movie that wants to be associated with jelly beans and Marshmallow Peeps; however, the egg-dye color palette of one-sheet number one would beg to differ. Cut this image along the lines that divvy it into seven slices, and you’ve got instant sleeves for the hard-boiled beauties you dunked in vinegar last night. This isn’t the first time a poster for an Oliver Stone film used vibrant hues to herald something largely dark (the ads for The Doors and Natural Born Killers went that route at one stage or another), but it is the first time the poster seems wildly out of step with what it’s selling. Yes, Blake Lively’s hippie-ish character, O, is prone to snorting coke, but that’s not exactly the sort of candy this glossy collage appears to promise.

Based on Don Winslow’s lauded 2010 novel of the same name, Savages is a crime-filled, drug-loaded drama unfolding across sun-soaked California and Mexico. Its cast? A bevy of ’90s megastars who dabbled on the pulpy fringes (John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro), and a smattering of camera-ready, pore-free, in-demand hotties (Lively, Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Emile Hirsch). On second thought, perhaps that color scheme isn’t so off the mark after all.

Viennale 2011

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Viennale 2011
Viennale 2011

“It’s a film festival’s job—and increasingly so—to create moments of recognition, of enjoyment, of shock, of learning. Not of consumerism. Not of implementing cultural policy. But moments without pretence, unclouded by vested interests, by intervention, by cynicism, by everyday business. Committed to nothing but the thing itself. Under obligation to nothing, to no one, not even to the filmmakers themselves. To basically seek access to a form that does not yet exist, a place no one has been to, a time that has not yet come. ’A form that thinks, and a thought that forms,’ as Jean-Luc Godard has it.”

The above statement of intent comes from Hans Hurch, the director of the Viennale, and I know of no other festival that comes as close to this radical ideal. The tone of this year’s Viennale was set by David Lynch’s surreal trailer, at the same time amusing, puzzling, and disturbing. For the “serious-minded” filmgoer, there were retrospectives of the personal works of Chantal Akerman, Hong Kong horror maestro Soi Cheaug, American film essayist Lee Anne Schmitt, and new films by Jean-Marie Straub, as well as tons of other experimental films that could either surprise, shock, or bore.

Swept Away

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Swept Away
Swept Away

If my personal moviegoing history has taught me anything, it’s that you shouldn’t get unduly excited over an advance rave, because when you finally do get to judge for yourself, you will probably be disappointed.

That said, Jeffrey Wells’ overwhelmed response to Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust, starring Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, automatically pushes the film to number one on my list of Movies I Can’t Wait to See.

“It took me a few hours to come to this,” he writes, “but Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust, which I saw last night at Santa Barbara’s Arlington theatre, is about how self-acceptance—who you really are, where you come from, what you’re feeling deep down—brings clarity, and with that the noblest kind of strength, which is the ability to love…

“It took me most of last night and a couple of hours this morning to come to terms with this movie and what it actually is and how I feel about it, but I guess anything of value takes a while to attain.”

Any movie that can make Jeffrey Wells sound like an 18-year-old James Agee is a movie I need to see as soon as possible.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the founder of The House Next Door.