Film Fatale Archive for August, 2006

'Star Wars' Screen Tests: Pity Those Actors

One of Saturday Night Live‘s funniest-ever sketches had Kevin Spacey‘s impersonating a young Christopher Walken in a long lost screen test for the role of Han Solo in the original STAR WARS. (It went on and on–with ever more inappropriate 70s stars (Jack Lemmon, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand) soldiering through George Lucas’ turgid dialogue.
Andrew Hearst at Panopticist has linked to something almost as funny: Robby Benson‘s audition for the role of Luke Skywalker–and yes, that is Harrison Ford reading opposite him. Benson, who would go on to teen dream stardom in ICE CASTLES and a slew of TV movies, is…well, let’s just say he’s way more juvenile than Mark Hamill.

You Tube member Ghyslain is uploading a black and white treasure trove of real auditions for the roles of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. There are 90 minutes of screen tests, and not every actor announces him or herself at the start. But so far you should recognize the young Lisa Eilbacher (of AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) and the very, very young Terri Nunn of the band Berlin.
I don’t know who the dark haired, sharp featured actor is at the start of Terri Nunn’s tape.

IMAX's Biggest Hit: A Snooze in Space, Says Slate

Slate’s Brendan I. Koerner reports that IMAX’s biggest hit is the long running paeon to NASA entitled THE DREAM IS ALIVE, which has earned more than $150 million since its 1985 debut. It’s also kind of a snooze–despite some breathtaking shots of spacewalks and Earth views (yes, the astronauts really did lug an IMAX camera along on an early 1980s space shuttle mission). Writes Koerner, “these sublime moments are sandwiched between scenes of shuttle crews learning how to don their spacesuits and tedious footage of mission-control geeks with their endless rows of buttons. Every so often, narrator Walter Cronkite checks in with a corny declaration like, “Now that we know how to live and work in space, we stand at the threshold of a new age of discovery.'”
The NASA doc’s sustained popularity is due in part to the fact that IMAX theaters are attached to space-themed attractions, like the National Air and Space Museum and the Kennedy Space Center. For schoolchildren, these movies are often part of a field trip or family holiday. Another space exploration documentary, ROVING MARS–the first IMAX feature to use extensive animation to tell its story–got great reviews earlier this year, and it, too, is likely to have a long life as an educational film.

In 1992, IMAX theatres began showing regular features on their screens. As Koerner reports, some movies are being tailored specifically for the 70mm screen: SUPERMAN RETURNS had about 20 minutes of 3-D effects added during a remastering process.

Critic of the Day: Nanx Hedwerp

I would admire anyone who slogs through the works of Joyce, Heidegger, Derrida, Kierkegaard and “Who Moved My Cheese.” If such a person existed, I would admire him. Until then, I’ll make do with the Bard of Lazarus, Connecticut: literary critic Nanx Hedwerp, who shares his (her? its?) thoughts on books and music with the readers of
On PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: “A comedy of manners with simmering emotions. This is Austen’s best novel yet, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next…my second favorite book this year after THE SOUTH BEACH DIET.”

On Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION: “Very hard to put down. But then again, it was suspended from the ceiling by a string.”

On Wittgenstein’s TRACTATUS LOGICO PHILOSOPHICUS: “A bit slow…I did not find the main character compelling. I recommend The South Beach Diet.”

Some day, Nanx Hedwerp, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott will retire, and the New York Times will come calling.

Does Wicker Man's Creepy Little Girl Look Familiar?

Does that creepy, eyeless little girl on the poster for THE WICKER MAN look familiar? Interesting that she, not the wooden idol of the 1973 original genre-bending shocker, ended up as the key art for the Neil La Bute remake. Nicolas Cage plays the cop obsessed with tracking her down. Any sensible person would run in the other direction.
Because there’s nothing like an uncanny child to suggest weird goings on, here’s an entire day care center full of horror movie moppets.

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LA Times' Black Dahlia Archive

The Los Angeles Times has opened up its archive of lurid, fascinating coverage of the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as still unsolved The Black Dahlia murder case — just in time to prime audiences for the Sept. 15 release of THE BLACK DAHLIA, Brian De Palma’s film of the James Ellroy novel.

The movie website has more photos (Mia Kirshner plays the unfortunate Miss Short) and a timeline of the initial investigation.
Ellroy’s novel came out in 1987, and it not only launched his career as a modern hardboiled crime writer– it reignited interest in the Short case. The book’s cover carried a haunting, stylized image of Elizabeth Short, based on a real photograph.
There are numerous true crime books and other, lesser novels about the murder, and whenever people cast the role of The Black Dahlia in their minds, I’m pretty sure it’s the ghostly goddess of the cover art that they think of, not the black and white photo. That Betty Short–a cute/beautiful girl trying to look older and tougher than she was, has a troubling expression on her face. Or in-trouble.
Because this stark photo looks so much like a mug shot, and accompanied the January 1947 Los Angeles Times coverage of the murder, I wondered if it was actually a police mug shot. However, a look at the numerous Black Dahlia-dedicated web sites out there told me that the front-and-side head shot was actually done as a work ID card when Short worked a civilian job on a military base. It was the first thing available to police and journalists after she was killed, and that’s how most of us remember her.
THE BLACK DAHLIA premieres at the Venice Film Festival.

Kim Morgan's Animal Attack Roundup

Over at Sunset Gun, the excellent Kim Morgan rounds up a bestiary of creatures gone wild — the full complement of WHEN ANIMALS ATTACK flicks that preceded SNAKES ON A PLANE.
From the classy (Hitchock’s THE BIRDS) to the traumatic (JAWS) to silly (FROGS), Morgan has seen them all–and she’s included wonderfully cheesy posters and stills, too. Can anyone tell me why Joan Collins is smiling while she’s being eaten by a giant insect in EMPIRE OF THE ANTS? (Maybe it’s the other way around?
One fan points out that she omitted the must-see bunny-rage horror of NIGHT OF THE LEPUS, in which mutant rabbits terrorize a mining town. No amount of low angle and forced perspective shots can disguise the fact that the monsters are just little rabbits.

Kazahk Controversy Over 'Borat' Movie

If you know anything at all about Kazahkstan, most of it probably comes from its unofficial, fictional ambassador, Borat– one of Sasha Baron Cohen‘s most charmingly obnoxious alter egos.

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Get Well, Roger Ebert

Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, who had surgery in June to remove a cancerous growth on his salivary gland, says that he’ll be taking more time to recover. His home paper has the news and interview.

At, editor Jim Emerson is keeping up with new releases. A series of guest hosts will sit in for Ebert on the television show “Ebert & Roeper,” but so far the only full time critic will be the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips. Other guests include NBC Tonight Show host Jay Leno, director Kevin Smith, screenwriter John Ridley (who also hosts AMC network’s “Movie Club” and “C.S.I.” actress Aisha Tyler.

Get well soon, Roger.

Bollywood Box Office Breakthrough

When I reviewed the Bollywood melodrama KABHI ALVIDA NAA KEHNA (“Never Say Goodbye”) for the Boston Globe last Friday, there were no advance screenings — I attended the first show on opening day, August 14. To my surprise, the midday show was packed–everyone from twenty- and thirtysomethings skipping out of work on a beautiful day to grandparents to a two-year old who happily ran up and down the aisle for the movie’s three and a half hour (plus intermission) running time. I wasn’t the only non-Indian face in the crowd, either–many of the younger Desis sat with boyfriends, girlfriends, classmates of all colors.
Though KANK, as its distributors have nicknamed it, was playing in only a few markets on just 64 screens, it grossed $1.8 million over its first week. The film’s per screen average was $28,330–extremely high. Director Karan Johar’s previous film, the worldwide hit KABHI KHUSHI KHABHIE GHAM (“Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad” also had a big U.S. opening: $1.37 million its first week on just 73 screens. That 2001 film actually opened in sixth place–an extraordinary achievement for a foreign language film, and for any film playing on so few screens.)

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Movie Ratings, Or Why Sex Gets The X

Above: Director Atom Egoyan (WHERE THE TRUTH LIES) meets Kirby Dick, the crusader behind THIS FILM HAS NOT BEEN RATED.
In the Observer, Mark Kermode writes about Kirby Dick’s investigation/documentary THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED, a look at the MPAA’s movie rating’s board which has handed down some inexplicable and indefensible classifications over the years.

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SNAKES ON A PLANE: Shoutbacks Reviewed

Now is the time to submit your eyewitness reports of SNAKES ON A PLANE’s opening night screenings. The audience shoutbacks. The shootings. Anything else you might notice.
Which publication will be first with the hater headline SNAKES BITE”?
And which fake populist critic will shill himself into the blurb whore pantheon with a line like, “who’d have thought a thrill ride about cold-blooded reptiles would turn out to be such a warm hearted, winsome surprise!” or “The plain truth? Snakes On A Plane is Hisssss-terrical!”
Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek doesn’t feel the snake love, but does give the impression that the first-night Times Square screening was the place to be. “When we became restless after too many trailers, a soft hissing noise filled the theater, a boo that was actually a cheer. Time to bring on the motherfucking snakes!” She continues: “While “Snakes on a Plane” barely stands up as a movie, it definitely qualifies as an event. A fellow critic present at the same showing said that afterward, he couldn’t quite tell if the crowd actually liked the picture. But everyone sure liked being there.”
Everyone but Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, who seems decidedly creeped out by the mob mentality in that very same theatre. Smack! We have a winner. “Snakes on a Plane sounds like a title that Don Simpson, at 4 in the morning, scrawled in white powder on a glass table.”
Finally, because somebody’s got to take umbrage at something in every film, spare a moment for the reaction of a snake expert who points out that “snakes on crack” — or pheremones — would be more interested in loving than biting. This same herpetologist also takes umbrage at the film’s portrayal of the “bald, geeky” snake expert. “We don’t like to think we’re nerds,” sniffed the snake scientist, who wears his long flowing gray hair in a ponytail.
The next time I’m on an ill-fated flight upon which killer snakes escape and go amok, and one of the snakes kills me by chomping down on my bare bosom while I — like an idiot — am complaining about the flight attendants or (even better) I’m applying for membership in the Mile High Club, I demand that at least one eyewitness notice, semi off the record, “Nice rack, you know–which makes thisa real tragedy,” and that my grieving survivors claim,: “It’s how she would have wanted to go.”

'WTC' Movie Locates Lost Rescuer

From the Associated Press:
Who was that mystery U.S. Marine who helped find New York police officers buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center? For five years, nobody knew. Until now.
The Associated Press has the story. The actor cast to play him doesn’t look a thing like the real guy,

Black Snake Moan: Hard Out There For a Nympho

Mike D’Angelo of Esquire had the pleasure of watching writer-director Craig Brewer’s follow up to HUSTLE & FLOW, and he’s written an account of his queasy, fascinated reaction (“You Just Can’t Look Away”) in the Sept. 2006 of Esquire.
Ah, BLACK SNAKE MOAN — the “button pushing” swamp-tastic love story that Brewer was thrilling over when HUSTLE & FLOW got picked up at Sundance last year. When he described it then, it sounded like BABY DOLL remade with a little more beatin’ on the brat and a little less clothing. And not in black and white, but with black and white as, like, an issue.
Christina Ricci plays a hot-pants gal who, when we meet her, Angelo says, “is writhing around on the ground in what appears to be pain but turns out to be–I kid you not–to be heat.”
Samuel L. Jackson is the guy who attempts to cure her affliction by chaining her to a radiator. Because he cares.
But wait! The movie was to have been released shortly after the can’t-miss SNAKES ON A PLANE, but now it won’t be in theatres till February 2007. Can’t have two SNAKE movies competing for the same dollar.

Mad As Hell, And Grieving: Spike Lee's Katrina Doc

Get ready to be outraged and overcome with sadness, all over again.
One year after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf states–and one year and way too long before the Federal goverment limped into action to help–HBO will air a four-hour documentary about the devastated lives the storm left behind. WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS begins Aug. 21.
Read all about what Lee’s been up to lately, and what he hopes this nonfiction film will accomplish. New York magazine‘s got a hefty profile of the documentary and feature director, and in the New York Times, The Reeler takes a look at his breakthrough movie SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT – which still looks fresh twenty years on.

Helen Mirren: Hail to the Queen

In the Observer, Ryan Gibley writes a profile of the imposing Helen Mirren, who’ll play yet another monarch — this time, she’s Queen Elizabeth II in THE QUEEN. The film’s one of the most hotly anticipated titles of the Venice and New York Film Festivals.
The film will play right about the time she’s up for an Emmy for playing the first Elizabeth, in the HBO miniseries ELIZABETH I.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon