An American Primitive, Forged in a Crucible of Blood and Oil
“There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic American nightmare, arrives belching fire and brimstone and damnation to Hell. Set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, it tells a story of greed and envy of biblical proportions — reverberating with Old Testament sound and fury and New Testament evangelicalism — which Mr. Anderson has mined from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” There is no God but money in this oil-rich desert and his messenger is Daniel Plainview, a petroleum speculator played by a monstrous and shattering Daniel Day-Lewis.
Plainview is an American primitive. He’s more articulate and civilized than the crude, brutal title character in Frank Norris’s 1899 novel “McTeague,” and Erich von Stroheim’s masterly version of the same, “Greed.” But the two characters are brothers under the hide, coarse and animalistic, sentimental in matters of love and ruthless in matters of avarice. Mr. Anderson opens his story in 1898, closer to Norris’s novel than Sinclair’s, which begins in the years leading up to World War I. And the film’s opener is a stunner — spooky and strange, blanketed in shadows and nearly wordless. Inside a deep, dark hole, a man pickaxes the hard-packed soil like a bug gnawing through dirt. This is the earth mover, the ground shaker: Plainview.
Over the next two and a half mesmerizing hours Plainview will strike oil, then strike it rich and transform a bootstrapper’s dream into a terrifying prophecy about the coming American century. It’s a century he plunges into slicked in oil, dabbed with blood and accompanied by H. W. (eventually played by the newcomer Dillon Freasier), the child who enters his life in 1902 after he makes his first strike and seems to have burbled from the ground like the liquid itself. The brief scenes of Plainview’s first tender, awkward moments with H. W. will haunt the story. In one of the most quietly lovely images in a film of boisterous beauty, he gazes at the tiny, pale toddler, chucking him under the chin as they sit on a train very much alone.
“There Will Be Blood” involves a tangle of relationships, mainly intersecting sets of fathers and sons and pairs of brothers. (Like most of the finest American directors working now, Mr. Anderson makes little on-screen time for women.) But it is Plainview’s intense, needful bond with H. W. that raises the stakes and gives enormous emotional force to this expansively imagined period story with its pictorial and historical sweep, its raging fires, geysers of oil and inevitable blood. (Rarely has a film’s title seemed so ominous.) By the time H. W. is about 10, he has become a kind of partner to his father, at once a child and a sober little man with a jacket and neatly combed hair who dutifully stands by Plainview’s side as quiet as his conscience.
A large swath of the story takes place in 1911, by which point Plainview has become a successful oilman with his own fast-growing company. Flanked by the watchful H. W., he storms through California, sniffing out prospects and trying to persuade frenzied men and women to lease their land for drilling. (H. W. gives Plainview his human mask: “I’m a family man,” he proclaims to prospective leasers.) One day a gangling, unsmiling young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), arrives with news that oil is seeping out of the ground at his family’s ranch. The stranger sells this information to Plainview, who promptly sets off with H. W. to a stretch of California desert where oil puddles the ground among the cactus, scrub and human misery.
Not long afterward oil is gushing out of that desert. The eruption rattles both the earth and the local population, whom Plainview soothes with promises. Poor, isolated, thirsting for water (they don’t have enough even to grow wheat), the dazed inhabitants gaze at the oilman like hungry baby birds. (Their barren town is oddly named Little Boston.) He promises schools, roads and water, delivering his sermon with a carefully enunciated, sepulchral voice that Mr. Day-Lewis seems to have largely borrowed from the director John Huston. Plainview is preaching a new gospel, though one soon challenged by another salesman, Paul Sunday’s Holy Roller brother, Eli (also Mr. Dano). A charismatic preacher looking to build a new church, Eli slithers into the story, one more snake in the desert.
Mr. Anderson has always worn his influences openly, cribbing from Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman among others (he helped the ailing Altman with his final film, “A Prairie Home Companion”), but rarely has his movie love been as organically integrated into his work as it is here. Movie history weighs on every filmmaker, informs every cut, camera angle and movement. “There Will Be Blood” is very much a personal endeavor for Mr. Anderson; it feels like an act of possession. Yet it is also directly engaged with our cinematically constructed history, specifically with films — “Greed” and “Chinatown,” but also “Citizen Kane” — that have dismantled the mythologies of American success and, in doing so, replaced one utopian ideal for another, namely that of the movies themselves.
This is Mr. Anderson’s fifth feature and it proves a breakthrough for him as a filmmaker. Although there are more differences than similarities between it and the Sinclair book, the novel has provided him with something he has lacked in the past, a great theme. It may also help explain the new film’s narrative coherence. His first feature, “Sydney” (also known as “Hard Eight”), showed Mr. Anderson to be an intuitively gifted filmmaker, someone who was born to make images with a camera. His subsequent features — “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love” — have ambition and flair, though to increasingly diminished ends. Elliptical, self-conscious, at times multithreaded, they contain passages of clarity and brilliance. But in their escalating stylization you feel the burdens of virtuosity, originality, independence.
“There Will Be Blood” exhibits much the same qualities as Mr. Anderson’s previous work — every shot seems exactly right — but its narrative form is more classical and less weighted down by the pressures of self-aware auteurism. It flows smoothly, linearly, building momentum and unbearable tension. Mr. Day-Lewis’s outsize performance, with its footnote references to Huston and strange, contorted Kabuki-like grimaces, occasionally breaks the skin of the film’s surface like a dangerous undertow. The actor seems to have invaded Plainview’s every atom, filling an otherwise empty vessel with so much rage and purpose you wait for him to blow. It’s a thrilling performance, among the greatest I’ve seen, purposefully alienating and brilliantly located at the juncture between cinematic realism and theatrical spectacle.
This tension between realism and spectacle runs like a fissure through the film and invests it with tremendous unease. You are constantly being pulled away from and toward the charismatic Plainview, whose pursuit of oil reads like a chapter from this nation’s grand narrative of discovery and conquest. His 1911 strike puts the contradictions of this story into graphic, visual terms. Mr. Anderson initially thrusts you close to the awesome power of the geyser, which soon bursts into flames, then pulls back for a longer view, his sensuously fluid camera keeping pace with Plainview and his men as they race about trying to contain what they’ve unleashed. But the monster has been uncorked. The black billowing smoke pours into the sky, and there it will stay.
With a story of and for our times, “There Will Be Blood” can certainly be viewed through the smeary window that looks onto the larger world. It’s timeless and topical, general and specific, abstract and as plain as the name of its fiery oilman. It’s an origin story of sorts. The opening images of desert hills and a droning electronic chord allude to the beginning of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” whose murderous apes are part of a Darwinian continuum with Daniel Plainview. But the film is above all a consummate work of art, one that transcends the historically fraught context of its making, and its pleasures are unapologetically aesthetic. It reveals, excites, disturbs, provokes, but the window it opens is to human consciousness itself.
“There Will Be Blood” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). As the title warns, there will be blood.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Opens in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; written by Mr. Anderson, based on the novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Jonny Greenwood; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Mr. Anderson, JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi; released by Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films. Running time: 2 hours 38 minutes.
WITH: Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Paul Sunday/Eli Sunday), Kevin J. O’Connor (Henry), Ciaran Hinds (Fletcher) and Dillon Freasier (H. W.).
Dec 30, 2007
An American Primitive, Forged in a Crucible of Blood and Oil
Will Smith in "I Am Legend," directed by Francis Lawrence.
“Not if you were the last man on earth!” Plenty of guys have heard that line at some point in their lives, but it’s unlikely that Will Smith is one. His irresistible charm has been proved, above all, by his ability to attract audiences to bad movies like “Hitch” and “Wild Wild West,” as well as to better ones like “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” In spite of its third-act collapse into obviousness and sentimentality, “I Am Legend” — in which Mr. Smith plays somebody with every reason to believe that he really is the last man on earth — is among the better ones.
And this star, whose amiability makes him easy to underestimate as an actor, deserves his share of the credit. There are not many performers who can make themselves interesting in isolation, without human supporting players. Tom Hanks did it in “Cast Away,” with only a volleyball as his buddy, foil and straight man. Mr. Smith has a few more companions, including an expressive German shepherd, some department store mannequins and a high-powered rifle. (There are also some flesh-eating, virus-crazed zombies, about which more in a moment.) But it is the charismatic force of his personality that makes his character’s radical solitude scary and fascinating, as well as strangely appealing.
In this Mr. Smith is helped, and to some degree upstaged, by the island of Manhattan, which the movie’s director, Francis Lawrence, has turned into a post-apocalyptic wilderness. Three years after an epidemic has caused the evacuation and quarantine of New York City, Robert Neville (Mr. Smith) is its sole diurnal human resident, and he spends his days roaming its desolate neighborhoods, at once wary and carefree. The streetscapes he wanders through will be familiar to any visitor or resident, but the way Mr. Lawrence and his team of digital-effects artists have distressed and depopulated New York is downright uncanny. Weeds poke up through the streets, which are piled with abandoned cars, and a slow, visible process of decay has set in.
A nightmare, of course, but not without its enchantments. In some ways Neville, dwelling in a highly developed urban space that is also a wilderness, experiences the best of both worlds. From his home base in the elegant Washington Square town house he was lucky enough to own (on a government employee’s salary) before the big die-off, he makes daylight forays that are like an adventure-tourist fantasy. He does a little deer hunting on Park Avenue and some indoor fishing at the Temple of Dendur, picks fresh corn in Central Park and smacks golf balls across the Hudson from the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid.
Mr. Lawrence, who previously directed the hectic, obnoxious “Constantine” and many music videos, uses elaborate, computer-assisted means to create simple, striking effects. While “I Am Legend,” the latest in a series of film versions of a novel by Richard Matheson, fits comfortably within the conventions of the sci-fi horror genre — here come those zombies! — it mixes dread and suspense with contemplative, almost pastoral moods. And without taking itself too seriously, the movie, written by Akiva Goldsman and Mark Protosevich, does ponder some pretty deep questions about the collapse and persistence of human civilization.
Neville, a scientist and a soldier, constitutes a civilization of one. His daily routines are at once practical — he wants to find a cure for the virus that wiped everyone else out, and he needs to be home before sundown — and spiritual. Under the streets of the city and in its empty buildings are the infected, transformed by the virus into pale, hairless, light-allergic cannibals. “Social de-evolution appears to be complete,” Neville observes as he makes notes in his basement lab. And his habits are a way not only of protecting himself from the zombies, but also of maintaining the distinction between them and him.
The zombies, like the rabid dogs that are their companions, nonetheless display rudimentary pack behavior and are even able to set traps and make plans. Once they begin swarming, “I Am Legend” inevitably loses some of its haunting originality, since they look a lot like the monsters in “28 Days Later” (and its sequel, “28 Weeks Later”). They also represent a less compelling application of computer-generated imagery than all those empty avenues and silent buildings.
And in its last section “I Am Legend” reverts to generic type, with chases and explosions and a redemptive softening of its bleak premise. The presence of the lovely Brazilian actress Alice Braga does seem promising; if she and Mr. Smith were to reboot the species together, Humanity 2.0 would be quite a bit sexier than the present version, as well as friendlier. But really the movie is best when its hero is on his own, and Mr. Smith, walking in the footsteps of Vincent Price and Charlton Heston, who played earlier versions of the Robert Neville character, outdoes both of them. There is something graceful and effortless about this performance, which not only shows what it might feel like to be the last man on earth, but also demonstrates what it is to be a movie star.
“I Am Legend” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has virus-crazed, flesh-eating zombies.
A scene from “People and Places: Disneyland U.S.A.,” a CinemaScope look at the amusement park in 1956, a year after it opened.
Last year at this time Walt Disney Studios announced that it would be discontinuing the limited-edition “Walt Disney Treasures” series, but thanks to a grass-roots write-in campaign, fans have been rewarded with a seventh group of three releases.
It’s a good crop, though there’s nothing as earthshaking here as the revelatory “Walt Disney: On the Front Lines” of 2004, which brought together a wide selection of the propaganda films that the studio produced during World War II. “The Chronological Donald, Volume 3” continues where the 2005 Volume 2 left off, with 30 Donald Duck shorts produced from 1947 to 1950, by which point this excitable bird had decisively surpassed the increasingly bland, corporate Mickey as the most popular character in the Disney stable.
Though Disney himself had largely lost interest in his studio’s short productions, the Donald cartoons continued to be a reliable source of revenue for the studio. (Disney was, according to Neal Gabler’s definitive biography, “Walt Disney,” also frustrated with the budgetary restrictions imposed on the studio’s features by his financial backers.) Mostly directed by Jack Hannah, these latter-day Donalds seem meant to compete with the manic energy of the Warner Brothers cartoons, though they seldom ascend to the same heights of anarchic humor. They remain essentially mild character comedies, related to the naturalistic situation comedy style that during this same period was migrating from radio to early television.
It looks as if Disney took considerably more care with the Volume 3 restorations than with those in Volume 2, or perhaps the negatives are in better shape. The colors are bright and vibrant, the image stable and speckle-free. There are even a couple of exercises in Warner Brothers-style show business self-reflexivity among them: the irresistible “Donald’s Dream Voice” (Jack King, 1948), in which Donald takes a pill that makes him sound like Ronald Colman, and “Donald’s Dilemma” (King, 1947), in which a crack on the head from an errant flowerpot turns him into a Sinatra-like crooner.
As in previous collections, those cartoons with ethnic caricatures have been sealed off in their own little purgatory as a separate chapter on the DVD, which may be patronizing but at least keeps them in circulation. (Warner Brothers has simply dropped the more controversial Looney Tunes from its collections.)
The bulk of “Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic” is given over to a disappointing, somewhat dated documentary with the same title, seemingly filmed for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2005. (Michael Eisner, the Disney chief executive deposed in September 2005, receives a surprising amount of screen time.)
The compensating factor is a newly restored 42-minute promotional film in the guise of a travelogue, “People and Places: Disneyland U.S.A.,” which offers a gorgeous CinemaScope and Technicolor look at the park in its second year of operation. A voice-of-God narrator announces, in tones that Thomas Jefferson might have admired: “Here in Southern California, a new land has come into being. Its purpose is enlightenment; its product, happiness,” and off we go into a detailed land-by-land tour of Disney’s radical reimagining of the old-fashioned amusement park.
Transcending tawdry thrill rides and dubious games of chance, Disney’s newfangled pleasure garden replaced carnival sleaze with cold war patriotism. Disneyland’s implied subject was the heroic past and glowing future of America, with side glances at Old Europe (the Fantasyland castle, inspired by King Ludwig of Bavaria’s) and Older Africa (the Adventureland boat ride, with its back lot hallucination of bobbing natives and menacing crocodiles).
Though much of the technology on display at this early point in the park’s development seems little more sophisticated than that of a department store Christmas window, the film presents Disneyland as another triumph of American ingenuity, and ends with Old Glory’s being hoisted over Main Street, U.S.A., as “America the Beautiful” swells on the soundtrack.
For animation buffs the highlight of the new series will be “The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit,” two discs containing the surviving 13 cartoons (of the 26 made) that the young Walt Disney created in 1927-28 for release through Universal. The Oswald cartoons were successful, but when Disney asked his producer, Charles Mintz, for a budget increase, Mintz reminded him that he, not Disney, owned the rights to the character. And as it turned out, Mintz had already secretly hired away much of Disney’s staff. So working with his old Kansas City, Mo., friend and colleague Ub Iwerks, Disney took Oswald, bobbed his long ears into black discs, and put him back on the market as Mickey Mouse.
Universal retained the rights to the Oswald character until 2006, when — as we learn in Leonard Maltin’s introduction on the disc — the Disney Studios made a deal that swapped the contract of Al Michaels, a sports commentator at Disney-owned ABC, for Oswald’s right of return.
Tracked down and restored, the long-unseen Oswald cartoons suggest that Disney and Mr. Iwerks were already far advanced in the innovative techniques that would soon make Mickey a worldwide phenomenon. Here in abundance are the shifting perspectives, depth composition and squash-and-stretch effects that made Disney’s work stand out, even against accomplished competitors like Max and Dave Fleischer. All that remained was for Disney to add sound — as he did with the 1928 “Steamboat Willie” — and the Mouse reigned supreme.
The “Oswald” collection features a second disc containing three of Disney’s even earlier “Alice in Cartoonland” shorts (which, in turn, were a blatant imitation of the Fleischers’ “Out of the Inkwell” series, combining live action and animation), as well as “Steamboat Willie” and two other significant early Disney efforts: “Plane Crazy” (the first, though still silent, Mickey Mouse cartoon) and the hugely influential “Skeleton Dance,” which took the synchronization of music and animation to a new level and played no small part in establishing the artistic credentials of the new sound cinema.
The “Oswald” set concludes with the excellent 1999 documentary “The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story,” directed by Leslie Iwerks, his granddaughter. Much like the recent “Ford at Fox” box, these releases are an example of a studio’s taking ownership of its past and preserving it for the future. (Disney DVD, $32.99 each, not rated)
At left, Asaldin, the father of Dilawar, the subject of "Taxi to the Dark Side." At right, Dilawar's brother Shahpoor.
FRANK GIBNEY was old and sick and a little more than a month away from dying. But he was filled with righteous anger, and he had some things to say. He told his son, the documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, to unplug a noisy oxygen machine and to grab a video camera.
Dilawar is the taxi driver whose tale provides the narrative thread in “Taxi to the Dark Side.”
The older Mr. Gibney, a journalist and scholar who died in April, had served as a naval interrogator in World War II. In a moving statement that serves as a sort of coda to “Taxi to the Dark Side,” a new documentary about the Bush administration’s interrogation policies in the post-9/11 world, he said it had never occurred to him to use brutal techniques on the Japanese prisoners in his custody.
“We had the sense that we were on the side of the good guys,” Frank Gibney said, seething. “People would get decent treatment. And there was the rule of law.”
There would seem to be an enormous distance between the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where the central events in “Taxi to the Dark Side” take place, and Enron’s headquarters in Houston, where the machinations of white-collar criminals brought down the giant energy company and became the backdrop for Mr. Gibney’s entertaining 2005 documentary, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” But Mr. Gibney said the two projects have common themes.
“The subject of corruption unites my films,” he said. “‘Enron’ was about economic corruption, and ‘Taxi’ is about the corruption of the rule of law.”
In person Mr. Gibney, 54, is simultaneously casual and intense. He wears jeans, cool glasses and a goatee, and he juggles several projects at a time from an office overlooking the rail yards on the west side of Manhattan. On the wall is a poster for “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” a 2002 documentary that he wrote. He is finishing up a documentary on the writer Hunter S. Thompson and is working on another about the lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
He said he has returned repeatedly to one concern: the power of authority to warp morality. At bottom, Mr. Gibney said, people do what they are told. “Everything in life,” he said, “goes back to the Milgram experiment.”
In the early 1960s Dr. Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale, showed that many people were willing to deliver what they understood to be painful electric shocks to other human beings simply because they were told by a scientist that it was necessary.
At Enron as at Bagram, Mr. Gibney said, “a process had occurred, like Milgram, where they had crossed little personal lines, bit by bit.”
“Until,” he added, “they looked back and realized they were way over the line.”
Mr. Gibney persuaded a half-dozen guards and interrogators to appear in his documentary. They are candid, reflective, troubled and sometimes broken, and their testimony is the beating heart of the film.
Many of the traders at Enron were decent men too, Mr. Gibney said.
“One of the most interesting things for me was to discover that most of these guys, off the job, were really nice guys,” Mr. Gibney said. “I mean, pillars of their community. They gave to charity, set up orphanages. But on the job they were killers.”
“Taxi to the Dark Side” is an artful film, starting with cinematic vistas in Afghanistan and presenting soldiers in tight shots against dark backgrounds while former officials and journalists talk in grand settings filled with light.
Sometimes his filmmaking techniques stray from the journalistic straight-and-narrow. In an otherwise positive review of the Enron documentary, for instance, David Ansen of Newsweek objected to an impressionistic recreation of an executive’s suicide and whispering voices on the soundtrack, calling them “cheesy fictional techniques.”
Mr. Gibney said he is often asked why he does not give it to audiences straight.
His answer: “It’s because I didn’t want to give it to you straight. I wanted to have some fun.”
“Werner Herzog calls it the difference between an accountant’s truth and ecstatic truth,” Mr. Gibney continued. “It’s the idea that sometimes you can take a roundabout way to truth that’s more effective.”
In the new film he uses a re-creation to depict the interrogation of Mohamed al-Kahtani, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
“It took us a long time to get that sequence right, where we juxtaposed words, music, re-creations and then also testimony in some of the Senate hearings,” Mr. Gibney said. By mixing these, “you get some sense of the absurdity, of how the interrogators themselves were becoming unhinged,” he said. “By visualizing it you feel its power in a way you don’t if you just have someone describe it.”
Mr. Gibney became fascinated by film at Yale in the 1970s, haunting the film societies that showed classics for a dollar, and then attended film school at the University of California, Los Angeles. “My favorite filmmakers, generally speaking, are not documentary filmmakers,” he said. One is Luis Buñuel, and he keeps a framed letter from Mr. Buñuel on a wall of his office. “The way he shoots everything is so matter of fact,” Mr. Gibney said. “It’s kind of documentary. But he’s got such a wicked sense of humor. He’s always bringing something to the party, but in ways that you don’t really realize.”
Mr. Gibney worked for years on television series, including “The Fifties” and “The Blues,” bringing lessons from those sprawling projects to his feature films.
“You have to have characters that breathe inside a narrative,” he said, naming one lesson. “That’s what makes it work, and unless that happens none of the big ideas really matter.”
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Courtesy of ThinkFilm
Alex Gibney, the director of "Taxi to the Dark Side."
There has been no shortage of films about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and about the Bush administration’s approach to national security and civil liberties. The fictional ones — like “Lions for Lambs,” “Rendition,” “Redacted” and “In the Valley of Elah” — have landed at the box office with a thud. But there seems to be an appetite for accessible and sometimes argumentative documentaries about American power and values presented with nerve and verve, even from the earliest days of the war in Iraq, like “Gunner Palace.”
“Taxi to the Dark Side,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Jan. 18, is a sort of companion piece to “No End in Sight,” Charles Ferguson’s recent documentary about the occupation of Iraq. (Mr. Gibney was an executive producer.) The next month, Errol Morris’s documentary about the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, “S.O.P.: Standard Operating Procedure,” will have its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The narrative thread of “Taxi to the Dark Side” recounts the story of an Afghan taxi driver known only as Dilawar, who was taken to Bagram and beaten to death. His family, interviewed in the film, described Dilawar as simple and shy, and he left behind a wife and a 2-year-old daughter.
His legs, a coroner’s report found, had been struck over and over again until they “had basically been pulpified.” “Even if he had survived,” an Army report found, “both legs would have had to be amputated.”
Mr. Dilawar’s story was first reported in The New York Times and was the subject of a series of investigative reports in the paper. Two reporters for The Times, Carlotta Gall and Tim Golden, appear in the documentary.
In 2005 a military jury convicted Willie V. Brand, who had been a guard at Bagram, of assault, maltreatment and maiming. But his only punishment was a reduction in rank. He received an honorable discharge.
Mr. Brand and the other guards and interrogators who appear in “Taxi to the Dark Side” make the case that they were untrained, unmoored from morality and only did what they thought their commanders wanted.
A week after the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on “Meet the Press” and sketched out his thinking.
“We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will,” he said, in a clip Mr. Gibney includes in his film. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world.”
Statements like those generated the abuses at Bagram and Abu Ghraib, Mr. Gibney maintains. “It’s the opposite of the bad apple theory,” he said. “The bad apple theory is that there are a few bad people who occasionally do bad things, and everything’s fine. Mostly they’re good kids who, like all of us, can over to the dark side if people like Dick Cheney say it’s O.K.”
David B. Rivkin, a lawyer in the administrations of President RonaldReagan and the first President Bush, said the abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq were exceptions and unfortunate byproducts of war. “It’s pretty clear that it’s not policy,” he said, “and it’s pretty clear that these things are prosecuted.”
Mr. Rivkin said the military’s performance by historical standards has been quite good in the recent conflicts. “In all the good wars,” he said, “we have had some pretty bad records.”
That is not how Frank Gibney saw it.
After the Second World War Frank Gibney would occasionally meet the men he had interrogated for dinner or drinks in Tokyo, and his son would sometimes tag along. The soldiers had a respectful rapport, a camaraderie.
“It’s hard to imagine that happening 10 years from now,” Alex Gibney said. [source: nytimes.com]
Dec 27, 2007
By Chad Greene
“There is a way to be good again.” The promise of that seemingly simple adjective, “good”—uttered half a world away by a man who is literally a voice out of the past—may be enough to inspire an Afghan-American author to set aside his new novel and return to his inhospitable homeland, but it isn’t sufficient to describe what director Marc Forster has accomplished with this adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s bestseller. Never less than “great,” this Kite soars to rare heights.
That the only other feature film credit star Khalid Abdalla has to his name is playing one of the 9/11 co-conspirators in United 93, and that the filmographies of his equally fine co-stars Homayon Ershadi and Atossa Leoni are similarly sparse, shouldn’t dissuade anyone from betting on The Kite Runner’s awards-season success. The emotional impact of the conflicted father-and-son relationship between Ershadi’s Baba and Abdalla’s Amir is especially powerful, even though it is technically secondary to the plot.
Before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced them to flee for America, Baba and Amir—whose mother died in childbirth—had a privileged lifestyle, complete with household servants. Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada), the son of Baba’s most trusted servant, was Amir’s (capably played as a child by Zekeria Ebrahimi) constant companion. Between their highflying dogfights with other kite runners, they trade terse lines of tough-guy dialogue from The Magnificent Seven—but when the Hazara Hassan is assaulted by a trio of uppity Pushtan bullies, Amir’s “notion of fair odds” proves to be anything but admirable. Tormented by his own failure to stand up for his friend, Amir pushes Hassan away.
Twenty-two years later, the adult Amir—still sensitive, still insecure—is offered a way to make things “good.” After Hassan is murdered by the Taliban, Amir returns to his native Kabul in an attempt to save the son (Ali Dinesh) of his childhood friend.
Although the thrilling sequences after Amir crosses the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are a bit like the false facial hair that he wears to avoid the attention of the Taliban’s gun-toting “beard patrol”—convincing, but ultimately artificial—they can’t disguise the emotional honesty with which Abdalla portrays a man whose atonement comes at a high personal price.
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Khalid Abdalla, Homayon Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Ali Dinesh and Atossa Leoni
Director: Marc Forster
Screenwriter: David Benioff
Producers: William Horberg, Walter F. Parkes, Rebecca Yeldham and E. Bennett Walsh
Rating: PG-13 for strong thematic material including the sexual assault of a child, violence and brief strong language
Running time: 122 min.
Release date: December 14, 2007 ltd.
By Susan Green
When consummate New Yorker Woody Allen sets a film in the United Kingdom, as he has for the third time with Cassandra’s Dream, the indigenous characters don’t always sound authentically British apart from their accents. The dialogue assigned to two working-class brothers with money worries seems oh-so-American: “I wasn’t put on this earth to run a restaurant,” laments Ian (Ewan McGregor), who works at his dad’s eatery but wants to participate in a risky real estate venture. Meanwhile, Terry (Colin Farrell), a mechanic, is addicted to alcohol and gambling. A winning bet at a dog race enables them to buy a boat, which they dub Cassandra’s Dream in honor of the triumphant canine.
But, as Ian falls for Angela (Hayley Atwell), a self-centered actress, and hoodwinks her into believing he’s a man of means, Terry’s luck changes drastically at the track. In need of cash, the lads turn to their fabled Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), a wealthy plastic surgeon visiting from California. He agrees to help them, but for a steep price: Martin Burns (Phil Davis), a colleague about to ruin him by blowing the whistle on some nefarious business deal, must be eliminated with extreme prejudice.
It’s perplexing that Allen’s script has Howard entrust such a task to his obviously ill-equipped nephews, especially the fragile Terry. The role appears to be a departure for Farrell, usually seen in more self-assured if not smug roles, and he does a credible job. The fact that he bears not even the slightest physical resemblance to McGregor is initially distracting but later obscured by their chemistry as close-knit siblings whose love for each other is put to the test.
They never do get the lingo quite right, however. Cassandra’s Dream is pleasing to the eye, courtesy of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, but unconvincing to the ear.
Distributor: Weinstein Co.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell, Tom Wilkinson, Hayley Atwell and Phil Davis
Director/Screenwriter: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Gareth Wiley
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexual material and brief violence
Running time: 109 min.
Release date: January 18, 2008
Reviewed: Toronto International Film Festival 2007
By John P. McCarthy
The adventurers in National Treasure: Book of Secrets, a sequel to 2004’s blockbuster, are motivated by their sincere love of history and country, plus fidelity toward their cultural and ancestral heritage. But as before, their quarry turns out to be more materialistic in nature: the fabled City of Gold, a North American version of El Dorado built by indigenous peoples and long sought by conquerors and settlers.
It should come as no surprise, even to fans of National Treasure, that the quest to locate this lost treasure bears no relation to Oscar gold. When computer nerd and dispenser of comic nuggets Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) exclaims during the final reel, “It’s a little golden man!,” there’s more than a hint of wink-wink sarcasm. But no other line in The Wibberleys’ script has a double meaning. The movie is such a clinker that Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight and cast addition Helen Mirren should consider giving their gold statues back to the Academy.
Slamming slumming actors is easy, and past work can’t be erased, yet this chunk of faux historical entertainment, crowd-pleasing though it may be, is capable of tarnishing entire careers, although not those of director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, of course. Their reputations are sealed under a veneer of gold leaf provided by the first installment’s worldwide haul of nearly $350 million. Wasn’t there anything left over for a script upgrade?
The movie begins in 1865 with an incident that enables modern-day Confederate Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris)—armed with pages from John Wilkes Booth’s diary and cohorts that resemble Blackwater mercenaries—to accuse hero Benjamin Franklin Gates’ forbearer Thomas of being complicit in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Naturally, Ben (Cage) will do anything to clear his ancestor’s name.
He and Riley charge off to Paris, then London, the Oval Office, George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, and finally to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Ben’s archivist girlfriend Abigail (Diane Kruger, reprising her role, is the only thing that shimmers on screen) joins the hunt at Buckingham Palace, where one half expects Mirren to appear as Queen Elizabeth II, barging in on Ben and Abigail as they try to unlock a clue from her desk. No such luck. She plays Ben’s mother Emily, a linguistics scholar who can decipher pre-Colombian hieroglyphics and who has been estranged from Ben’s father Patrick (Voight) for decades.
The book of the title is one supposedly passed from U.S. president to president. At Mt. Vernon, Ben kidnaps the sitting POTUS (Bruce Greenwood) to find out where the tome is hidden. None-too-subtly, the inciting clue for the franchise’s third installment has been inserted into page 47. We’ll have to wait to learn what incredible mystery it points toward; no doubt, it’s amenable to being sleuthed with the aid of a primary school history textbook and a laptop.
Forget this outlandish plot’s weak connective tissue—the keys to Fort Knox to anyone who can actually make out what’s going on during the climax. The movie’s two car chases are perfunctory, and no signs of wonder, suspense, or imagination are visible on the actor’s faces. The villain turns out not be villainous, and, because they’re so easily solved, the puzzles aren’t really puzzles. The music swells whenever Ben prattles on about his duty to the past, yet that doesn’t mean an ennobling lesson is being conveyed.
Like its successor, National Treasure: Book of Secrets will probably be a hit because the entire family can see it together. Mirren’s character blames falling in love on the “excitement, adrenaline, and tequila” she and Patrick experienced as young treasure-hunters. Those qualities aren’t in evidence here, so the movie’s success has to be blamed on the fact that lots of gold can be mined using the right demographic tools, regardless of how dull their edges.
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel and Bruce Greenwood
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenwriters: The Wibberleys
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer and Jon Turteltaub
Genre: Action adventure
Rating: PG for some violence and action
Running time: 124 min.
Release date: December 21, 2007
Dec 17, 2007
Tim Allen returns as a regular guy turned Jolly Old Elf in the second sequel to the 1994 hit The Santa Clause. Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), who doubles as Santa Claus, has settled into his home at the North Pole with his new wife Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell) and is preparing for another Christmas when he receives a visitor -- Jack Frost (Martin Short), the cold-weather sprite who has been sent to help out St. Nick by Mother Nature (Aishja Tyler) and Father Time (Peter Boyle) after making a scene at a meeting of the Council of Legendary Figures. However, while Jack is supposed to acting as an assistant to Santa, he has a habit of making things go haywire, and as it happens this is no mistake -- Jack is hoping that an exasperated Santa will quit his position so Jack can take over and finally have a holiday he can bend to his will. Meanwhile, Scott has invited Carol's parents Bud (Alan Arkin) and Sylvia (Ann-Margaret) over for a long-promised visit, but since he needs to keep his other identity a secret, he and his elves are forced to great lengths to convince them that they're actually in Northern Canada. Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold and Spencer Breslin also reprise their roles from the first two Santa Clause films.
* Blooper reel
* Alternate opening
* Jack Frost & Mrs. Claus: a very different look
* The new comedians: on the set with Tim & Marty
* Audio commentary - with director Michael Lembeck
* Creating movie magic: visual effects secrets, from the hallf of snow globes to Santa's fireplace
* Christmas carol-oke: Sing your favorite songs of the season
* Music video - "Greatest Time of Year" with Aly & AJ
posted by udin di Monday, December 17, 2007
Dec 16, 2007
Christopher Plummer gives a black hole of a performance in Man in the Chair, which opened in New York last week and in Los Angeles this weekend. Every time he appears, he inexorably sucks attention away from anyone else on screen. Eventually, everything revolves in orbit around him, even when he's not present. Somehow, though, even as Plummer merges his soul with his character at the molecular level, he does so in a modest manner. The seams between actor and role are not readily apparent. It's a pity that the film as a whole doesn't rise to level of his magnificent performance, but he elevates the material by his grizzled presence.
Plummer plays Flash Madden, a retired gaffer with a permanent scowl etched on his face. We meet him in a darkened cinema, muttering to himself, talking back to Orson Welles in Touch of Evil, and flashing back to his moment of glory when he was fired, then instantly rehired, on the set of Citizen Kane. He's a moviegoer's worst nightmare, the annoying old guy who keeps up a running commentary while you're trying to enjoy a classic, so our sympathies run toward the man who asks him to shut up. Flash tells the man off, which amuses Cameron Kincaid (a wisely subdued Michael Angarano, who also served as associate producer), a high school senior who wants to win a film school scholarship contest.
Flash puts on a great show of being irascible and irritable, but doesn't seem to mind very much when Cameron begins stalking him. Having overhead that Flash used to work in the movies, Cameron seizes on the thought that the old guy might be able to help him make his student film. From the movie posters hanging in his room and snatches of conversation with his only friend, we get the message that Cameron loves movies. (When he decides to steal a car for a joyride, he insists that it be the same make and model as the titular automotive character in John Carpenter's Christine.) Apparently in common with many young filmmakers today, Cameron wants to make his own movies but doesn't really have anything to say.
Inspiration finally strikes after Flash dismisses Cameron's vague story ideas and introduces him to Mickey Hopkins (M. Emmet Walsh, playing even more bedraggled than usual), an unhappily discarded Hollywood writer living miserably in a deplorable nursing home (that, oddly enough, looks all the world like a run-down apartment). Cameron decides to make a 10-minute docudrama exploring the abusive conditions found in nursing homes. Mickey's crummy surroundings are contrasted with the well-manicured Motion Picture Retirement Home, where Flash recruits a motley group of fellow residents to come out of retirement to help Cameron make his film.
Cameron lives with his mother (Mimi Kennedy) and stepfather (Mitch Pileggi) in a modest suburban home. He is ragingly unhappy with his stern stepdad and constantly gets in trouble with the law. His association with Flash and the focus of making a movie appears to stabilize him, yet he remains an ambiguous character. He attends a high school where he is taunted by a wealthier boy whose father is in the film industry, which serves to provide occasional conflict that is too convenient by half. Otherwise, he remains stubbornly undefined.
In part, that's a result of the short time frame of the film. Nearly all the events take place during the school's three-week winter break, which lends a degree of urgency that's not really needed while telescoping the development of the relationship between Cameron and Flash. Cameron may be entirely sincere in his growing appreciation of Flash but, again, it feels too convenient to ring entirely true. It would have been more satisfying to see Cameron come to conclusions on his own rather than suspect that it's his desire to get his film made that is the driving force. It's one aspect of their friendship that Flash doesn't really want to explore.
Writer/director Michael Schroeder's heart is in the right place: he fashions an entertaining story that calls attention to nursing home abuse and clothes it with a deep love of cinema. Some of the notes are hit with too heavy a hand, though, while others are simply abandoned. As an example, we don't get enough insight into the dynamics of Cameron's family to appreciate why he's so unhappy and constantly acting out. His stepfather is certainly not supportive, but neither is he outwardly abusive, and his mother seems genuinely kind and loving. Perhaps the idea is that his parents need to be more actively involved?
The same goes for Flash. He talks fondly in generalities about fellow "below the line" crew members, but we're left wishing we could hear more stories about films he worked on and the workmates he evidently loved.
Still, it all comes back to Christopher Plummer and the magic with which he imbues Flash. Nearing 80, Plummer remains dashing, debonair, handsome and powerful. (Witness his recent turns in Syriana, The New World and Inside Man). From appearances alone, he's not believable as a washed-up and bitter man. The careless dress and grooming helps, though ultimately it's the expressions in Plummer's face and the dead spaces in his eyes that convey years of sadness and regret. How he does it, I have no idea, but I'm very glad he can be so convincing, and he makes it essential to seek out Man in the Chair.
Check out the official site to view photos and the trailer and read more about the film.
posted by udin di Sunday, December 16, 2007
Dec 13, 2007
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posted by movie lover di Thursday, December 13, 2007
Dec 9, 2007
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, Joe Pantoliano, William Fichtner, Ted Danson
Directed by: Michael Traeger
It would be easy as hell to tell you what a comic shambles The Amateurs is, but I had too good a time to let it bother me. Writer-director Michael Traeger sets his freaky fable in Butterface Fields, a small American town (pop. 3,149) that could pass for Mayberry if the menfolk there decided to pass the time by making a porn flick. For Andy Sargentee (Jeff Bridges), who has lost a series of jobs and his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), amateur porn is a growth industry and a chance to pursue a better destiny.
Before you can say, "What the fuck," Andy has recruited his pal Some (Joe Pantoliano, in sweet mode) as the writer-director. Some, short for Some Idiot, has taken film courses at a junior college. Emmett (Patrick Fugit), the kid from the video store, will do the camerawork. Barney (Tim Blake Nelson) will handle press. Moose (Ted Danson), who denies he's gay, offers to provide stud service. And Otis (William Fichtner), who calls Moose what he is ("assmaster"), just wants to hang out and escort the "porno peacherinos" to their next hump. He is named executive producer.
You'll notice that the actors are way overqualified for this nonsense. But the kick they get out of one another is what pulls you in. Traeger's script does more than strain credulity, it administers multiple fractures. Still, it's hard not to laugh when the boys decide their film needs "carpet munching, black men with elephant dicks and a half-dozen guys unloading on a gal until she looks like a melted candle." You won't be surprised to learn that they fall far short of their goals.
Though The Amateurs talks a kinky game about "the big porno weenie," it's no more shocking than The Full Monty or other pop entertainments your Aunt Bee can see without a blindfold. As Andy re-arranges his film into something to make the town and his son (Alex D. Linz) proud, visions of a spin on It's a Wonderful Life with babes who, in the words of Some Idiot, "get boned and give head," go out the window. You may expect group sex, but what you get is a group hug.
Fest to feature four films from region
BEIRUT -- Palestinian hip-hop, tall tales in Jordan, the gritty realities of war in Lebanon and a pair of star-crossed lovers straddling the Arab-Israeli divide. The Sundance Film Festival has lined up a record number of films from the Middle East for its Park City outing in 2008.
"It's an exciting time for film in that part of the world," says Alesia Weston, associate director of the international feature-film program at Sundance and creative director of the Sundance Institute's 4-year-old screenwriting lab in Jordan, run jointly with the country's Royal Film Commission. "And it's not just politically earnest films. There's a lot of creativity bubbling up."
There are three features and one documentary from the region competing in the World Cinema Competition at Sundance, an initiative that splintered off the domestic competition in 2005. That's double the number of Middle Eastern films at Sundance in 2006 and 2007. Last year's festival included two Israeli films, Shimon Daton's "Hot House" and Adama Meshugaat's "Sweet Mud."
In 2006, Lebanese director Jocelyne Saab's "Kiss Me Not on the Eyes," about love, lust and longing in contempo Cairo, went head to head with Yoav Shamir's "5 Days," from Israel.
This year, the selection is not only larger but more varied.
Amin Maltaqa's "Captain Abu Raed," from Jordan, is a rumored favorite going in with its human story of an airport janitor who spins wild stories of elaborate adventures for an audience of youngsters who mistake him for a pilot.
French-Lebanese filmmaker Philippe Aractingi is following up his debut "Bosta" with "Under the Bombs," a more sober tale from his war-torn country. The Israeli filmmaking team of Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv delves into the lives of an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman who have a passionate affair during the 2006 World Cup soccer finals in Germany for "Strangers."
Mahmoud al-Massad's "Recycle," about the mounting frustration of a family man living in the rundown Jordanian city of Zarqa, which also happens to be the hometown of late Islamist militant Al-Zarqawi, is competing in the international documentary category.
As 2008 marks Jordan's first blip on the Sundance radar, it seems that the country's push to establish a major film industry to rival Morocco and Egypt on one side, Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the other is paying off.
But filmmakers are a notoriously feisty lot. Al-Massad, a graduate of one of the screenwriting labs at Sundance, says: "What Sundance gave me I've never had in my life. They are interested in you as an artist."
While Al-Massad says he looks forward to the day a film can be made from start to finish in Jordan without outside financing or expertise, he is a bit wary about contributing to a national film culture, one being spearheaded, after all, by Jordan's king.
"I don't want to have the perspective of the government," he says, "the government of any country."
Dates shifted forward by two weeks
BAGHDAD -- The dates have been shifted by two weeks, but the Baghdad Film Festival is definitely going ahead, say the organizers, denying rumors the fest had been cancelled.
The first major cinematic event in war-ravaged Baghdad in more than two years, the festival will unspool Dec. 26-29 instead of mid-December as originally planned, said Ammar al-Arradi of the Assn. of Iraqi Filmmakers Without Borders, which is organizing the event.
"Around 55 films have been submitted from countries including Egypt, France, Denmark, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Singapore, the Philippines, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar," Arradi said, adding that some pics had screened in other fests and a few had won awards.
He said films will be screened at a hotel from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a one hour break, adding, "It's all that the security situation will allow at the moment."
-- Bryan Pearson
Katherine Heigl, photographed exclusively for V.F. by Norman Jean Roy in Los Angeles.
72. HEIGL’S ANATOMY
It’s been Katherine Heigl’s year: another Grey’s Anatomy season, the big-screen hit Knocked Up, and a new romantic comedy, 27 Dresses, out this month. In a very candid sit-down with Leslie Bennetts, Hollywood’s hottest blonde talks about growing up Mormon, her impending nuptials, and one ratings-booster she didn’t like. Photographs by Norman Jean Roy. Web exclusive: video from the photo session. Also: more Norman Jean Roy photos of Heigl.
78A TALE OF TWO GIULIANIS
His 9/11 leadership may be Rudy Giuliani’s campaign ace, but it also spawned the dubious partnerships and conflicts of interest of his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners. Michael Shnayerson follows the $100 million trail of “America’s Mayor” to a not very presidential conclusion.
84INTO THE VALLEY OF DEATH
Pushing back the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan’s strategically crucial Korengal Valley is one of the U.S. Army’s deadliest challenges, measured hilltop by hilltop, ridge by ridge. Sebastian Junger digs in with the men of Second Platoon, whose humor, courage, and camaraderie come under daily fire. Photographs by Tim Hetherington. Web-exclusive video: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington discuss the article. Also: Tim Hetherington’s portraits of soldiers in the Korengal; and more of Hetherington’s Afghanistan photos.
94TROUBLE IN PARADISE
While the story of the mutineers who scuttled the H.M.S. Bounty off a remote South Pacific isle in 1790 has inspired five blockbusters, the saga of their Pitcairn Island descendants is far less romantic. As a 10-year rape investigation ends, William Prochnau and Laura Parker explore why the shocking sexual practices on this tiny British outpost went ignored for centuries.
104THE GOLDEN SUICIDES
The July suicides, one week apart, of inseparable New York multi-media artists Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake rocked their hip downtown crowd. Nancy Jo Sales discovers that the dazzlingly talented couple’s love for each other was rivaled by a growing fear of the world around them.
110A LEGEND WITH LEGS
After her breakthrough role in Rio Bravo, Angie Dickinson caught the eye of J.F.K., had an affair with Frank Sinatra, and married Burt Bacharach, while putting her stamp on movie and TV history. At 76, the brainy beauty tells almost all to Sam Kashner, including the tragedy of her daughter’s struggle with Asperger’s syndrome. Portrait by Norman Jean Roy.
118ENGLAND MADE THEM
Beneath its buttoned-up surface, England teems with oddball innkeepers, crocodile-riding crackpots, and other Python-esque characters. Christopher Hitchens explains the proud tradition of British eccentricity, as Tim Walker and Sarajane Hoare capture some noted 21st-century examples.
3731 DAYS IN THE LIFE OF THE CULTURE
The Oscar Niemeyer Century
The Cultural Divide
Bruce Handy gushes over There Will Be Blood
Michael Hogan canvasses Brooklyn with artist Todd DiCiurcio
Elissa Schappell takes on Beginner’s Greek
Matt Tyrnauer checks into the Malibu Beach Inn
My Stuff: Restaurateur John McDonald
50THE YEAR OF GOVERNING DANGEROUSLY
Eliot Spitzer rode into Albany with a fearsome mandate for change after bringing some of Wall Street’s biggest scofflaws to heel. Now New York’s hot-tempered governor is the one looking sleazy. David Margolick hears from both Spitzer and his growing number of critics.
60LINES IN THE SAND
What would the Middle East look like without politics? Cullen Murphy asks four experts to map its natural divisions, just as T. E. Lawrence tried to do in 1918.
64HALL OF FAME
Elissa Schappell nominates Viva Glam, mac’s provocative, powerful campaign against aids. Photograph by Mark Seliger.
The Vanities Dare: A holiday-season department-store special
Alternate-Reality Gift Guide: The Criterion Collection re-releases the High School Musical franchise
Eulogy for a Soldier
Images from Allan Tannenbaum’s historic photo sessions.
Working in New York as a photographer for a downtown newspaper, Allan Tannenbaum traveled to the Dakota in November 1980 to take pictures of Yoko Ono for an upcoming profile. John Lennon joined them in Central Park, and their casual walk—through what later would become known as Strawberry Fields—resulted in simple, handsome portraits. A few days later, Tannenbaum photographed the couple in more sensual poses during the filming of a video for “(Just Like) Starting Over,” the first single from their new album, Double Fantasy. When Lennon was murdered, on December 8, 1980, Tannenbaum’s photos suddenly became some of the couple’s last together. They have now been collected in Tannenbaum’s new book, John & Yoko: A New York Love Story.
Above: John and Yoko in Central Park, November 21, 1980.
For a brainy model with a hot new cookbook, marriage to a literary superstar creates opportunities—and problems. Top Chef’s Padma Lakshmi now has an empire in the making, but Salman Rushdie won’t be part of it.
Padma Lakshmi, model turned foodie, photographed at Freemans, on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Photograph by Alexi Lubomirski.
She walked the red carpet that night with Helen Mirren and Queen Latifah and the ladies of Wisteria Lane. It was the 59th Primetime Emmys, and although she wasn’t there for the reason she’d always envisioned—her acting—it was, she said, “a big fucking deal.”
She could laugh over the fact that she was on a nominated reality show—she hated reality shows, except for Bravo’s Top Chef, which she hosted, murmuring alluring “Mmmm”s as she tasted food and delivering the signature ax line, “Please pack your knives and go,” all while looking like an earthly incarnation of Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of prosperity, her namesake.
Padma knew the acting thing would happen—she’d come a long way since appearing with Mariah Carey in Glitter (2001). She’d been in a Bollywood film and a British mini-series, and she had her own media company now, Delicious Entertainment. At 37, she was still one of the most beautiful women on the red carpet that evening, luscious in a white satin Dolce & Gabbana gown with a hint of nipple. She was proud to be the only Indian woman making the paparazzi scream her name—“Padma!” So what if it was because of food. She liked food.
“I never thought that this would be the way,” she told a reporter. “I never thought it would be food. But if you think about it, I’m the kind of girl who thinks about what she’s gonna cook for dinner when she’s finishing her lunch.”
“Padma Lakshmi,” she hoped, might one day be on as many food labels as “Paul Newman”—“a big hero.” Soon there would be Padma jewelry and fashion, “like Jennifer Lopez,” she said, and television and cookware, “like Martha Stewart.” In September, she sealed a major deal with IMG, the sports-and-entertainment marketing giant. “She has a global image and no end of ideas,” said John Steele, a senior V.P., “so we have multiple agreements.” “Like,” Padma said, “Tiger Woods.” How amazing was it that she, the daughter of a single mother who fled India to escape the stigma of divorce, was poised to become the first Indian woman with an American brand—perhaps the first to self-brand. “I’m as American as anyone else,” she has said.
“Everyone was an American now, or at least Americanized.… Even anti-Americanism was Americanism in disguise, conceding, as it did, that America was the only game in town.” So wrote her husband, Salman Rushdie, in Fury (2001), the novel he composed after leaving his third wife and moving to New York to be with Padma. If there was a sadness in her eyes in those pictures from the red carpet that night, it was because “I wish I could have shared this Emmy nomination with him.” Now they were divorcing, and, she said, “I’m really fucking sad.”
‘M mmmm, mmmmm, yummy.” On a summer night at Socialista, a noisy, glammy Cuban restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village, Padma Lakshmi was eating ribs, gnawing them to the bone, sucking the grease off her fingers. “Mmmm,” she said, “aren’t these good?”
She was wearing a diaphanous summer dress, smelling sweet and spicy, of her own bespoke perfume. Her shiny black hair was up in a loose bun which she would shake down and pin back again, kittenish and familiar.
She was drinking champagne, laughing loudly and merrily. She was talking about her breasts. “I got boobs at 17,” she said, remembering herself in high school in La Puente, California—“a pimple on the map between Hollywood and Disneyland where the girls were so mean. They’d say, ‘You look light-skinned, but you don’t be speaking Spanish!’ ” She does now, as well as Italian, Hindi, and Tamil.
“I went to India one summer and I came back with boobs. I don’t know what happened. I went to the boob ration line.” Padma laughed. “Where is it written that a smart woman can’t also be stacked?” she once asked in a column for Harper’s Bazaar entitled “Do You Dress for Men?” “My agenda,” she wrote, “arouse from a distance the object of my longing.”
Padma also writes. Her first book, Easy Exotic—a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans—won the 1999 Versailles World Cookbook Fair award for best cookbook by a first-time writer. Included in it were pictures of Padma which might be described as “foodie porn” (Padma in a lacy, low-cut dress, kneading dough; Padma in a silk slip, frying something up in a pan).
Her latest cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet, was named after her preference for a contradiction in flavors, but could also suggest the many contradictions in its author, such as: she’s an educated woman—with a B.A. in theater arts from Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1992—who swears freely: “Finishing the fucking book was like being in labor for two years!”
She is East and West, also East Coast and West Coast, having grown up in India and America, New York and Southern California. In 1972, her mother, Vijaya, a nurse, moved to New York from Madras (now Chennai), after divorcing Padma’s father. (A retired Pfizer executive, he had no relationship with his daughter until recently.) Padma joined her mother two years later on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where they lived until 1983, when Vijaya took a job in Los Angeles. There, she married a plumber.
In 1992, Padma was spending a semester in Spain when she was discovered in a Madrid bar by a fashion agent. Her first runway show, for Ralph Lauren, “was Stephanie Seymour in front of me and Christy Turlington behind me,” she remembers. She wasn’t fully embraced by the fashion world, however, until she was photographed partially nude by Helmut Newton, who saw beauty in her imperfection. Another contradiction: Padma is a beautiful woman who is scarred. An accident on the freeway coming from Malibu when she was 14 shattered her right arm. (The car she and her mother and stepfather were riding in was rear-ended and fell down an embankment.) An operation left a crosshatched scar. She has made it her trademark.
Read the complete story at Vanityfair.com
Michael Moore honored for docu career
Mary Olive Smith's "A Walk to Beautiful" has won the top feature documentary prize from the Intl. Documentary Assn.
The docu, feted Friday night at the Directors Guild of America Theatre, won out over "Crazy Love," "Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience," "Sicko," and "Taxi to the Dark Side."
"A Walk to Beautiful," directed and produced by Smith and exec produced by Steve Engel, focuses on five women in Ethiopia who have suffered from childbirth injuries and have been shunned by their family and villages. The film's won awards at the San Francisco Film Festival, where it premiered, and at the St. Louis Film Festival and is set for broadcast on PBS's "Nova" next year.
"A Walk to Beautiful" is not on this year's Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' short list of 15 finalists for Best Documentary Oscar.
The event also included presentation of an IDA career achievement award to Michael Moore, who directed and produced "Sicko," "Fahrenheit 9/11," "Bowling for Coumbine" and "Roger and Me."
"A Son's Sacrifice," from director Yoni Brook, producer Musa Sheed and exec producer Marco Williams, won the short documentary (40 minutes or less) competition. The film follows the journey of a young American Muslim who confronts his roots at his father's slaughterhouse in New York.
"Sacrifice" won over "Black and White," "Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy," The Fighting Cholitas" and "Freeheld."
"We Are Together (Thina Simunye)," from director-producer Paul Taylor and producer Teddy Leifer, won the inaugural Alan Ett Music Documentary award over "4," "Chops," "Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037" and "War/Dance."
Previously announced awards include the Outstanding Documentary Cinematography Award to Ken Burns' longtime collaborator Buddy Squires; the Pare Lorentz Award to Spike Lee and Sam Pollard for "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts"; the IDA Courage Under Fire Award to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
Dec 5, 2007
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posted by udin di Wednesday, December 05, 2007