Get Me Gwyneth
Walking fast down Broadway toward a screening at the New York Film Festival, I stumble upon George Clooney. Not the real George Clooney, alas, but the Clooney who leers at Catherine Zeta-Jones on the poster for the Coen Brothers screwballer Intolerable Cruelty. The movie I'm zigzagging through pedestrian traffic to see is the Turkish Distant--a minimalist drama that's about as distant from the Coens' intolerably cruel world as Istanbul is from Hollywood.
It wasn't always this way. In my first years at the NYFF, there was often a good chance that the Coen Brothers--whose Miller's Crossing controversially heisted a festival berth from GoodFellas in 1990--would be on the bill. But now their increasingly star-driven work tends to bypass the film festival circuit entirely--or at least the U.S. film festival circuit. (The St. Louis Park-born siblings continue to adore Venice and Cannes.) Indeed, Intolerable Cruelty opened at the Sony Lincoln Center multiplex across the street from the NYFF on the same day that it opened in nearly every other multiplex nationwide.
Don't worry: This isn't another article lamenting the fact that our hometown auteurs have sold themselves out. (I actually think big-studio budgets might make the Coens' cruelty tolerable for a change.) Rather, I'm interested here in measuring the distance from the NYFF's Alice Tully Hall to the Sony theater across Broadway--and, accordingly, from the distant realm of foreign art cinema to the promised land of American megaplex exhibition. Let's concede that casting The Fast Runner's Natar Ungalaaq in the George Clooney role might have increased the Coens' chances of an Intolerable premiere at the New York Film Festival (while reducing their hopes of success in virtually every other venue). But what would it take for this year's typically esoteric NYFF fare (Mystic River aside) to get a screen at, say, the Wynnsong 15 in Mounds View?
The answer to that question--given just a little fancifully--lies below. Call it film criticism by other means, as it critiques not the films that were made, but the ones that would need to be made in order to get seen outside of New York.
Mansion by the Lake
SYNOPSIS: In this snail-paced Sri Lankan melodrama (loosely based on Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard), a formerly wealthy, now perpetually sullen family waits for what feels like forever to learn that the bank has foreclosed on the mortgage of their palatial country estate.
ODDS THAT MINNESOTANS WILL SEE THIS IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO: Roughly equivalent to those that your own mortgage will be paid in full by compassionate conservatives seeking absolution.
HOW TO CHANGE THE ODDS: Disney has reportedly taken a keen interest in Wes Anderson's proposed remake, The Mansion Martian, set on the red planet in the distant future (and budgeted at a modest $60 million). Casting hasn't yet begun, though Anderson's friends say he won't make the movie without Gwyneth Paltrow, for whom he tailored the role of the family's grown daughter, a gum-smacking, gun-toting waif in charge of homeland security on Mars. (The alien-busting subtext is an alleged concession to Disney chief--and Dubya-voter--Michael Eisner.) Those same friends report that Anderson wrote the script while listening to Coldplay and wouldn't dream of releasing the movie without "The Clocks" in the opening scene--which he imagines as a computer-generated tracking shot lasting just two frames longer than Orson Welles's celebrated intro to Touch of Evil.
S21: The Khmer Rouge
SYNOPSIS: Cambodian documentarian Rithy Panh delivers a masterful example of humanitarian cinema, following one of the seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious detention center on his return to the scene of the crime: the torture and murder of more than 17,000 people.
ODDS THAT MINNESOTANS WILL SEE THIS IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO: Significantly better than 7 in 17,000, though hardly even.
HOW TO CHANGE THE ODDS: Everything depends on Steven Spielberg, who recently collected the remake rights from Panh in trade for a sizable donation in support of a Cambodian economic development initiative. If Spielberg makes the film, it will be his first in digital video, whose flat texture and washed-out palette he considers highly appropriate to the depiction of the detention center's "drab, lifeless corridors, which remind me of the Westwood doctor's office I used to visit before I got health insurance at Universal." The musical sequences, however, would be shot in Panavision. Paltrow, Spielberg's goddaughter, is being considered for the lead role of a selfless nurse with a spring in her step.
SYNOPSIS: Bearing near-silent witness to the class struggle in Tehran, a downtrodden veteran of Iran's war with Iraq delivers pizzas and laments his lack of options in this work of haunting minimalism from director Jafar Panahi (The Circle) and screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry).
ODDS THAT MINNESOTANS WILL SEE THIS IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO: Could improve immeasurably if the White House decides to seek WMDs in Iran before next November.
HOW TO CHANGE THE ODDS: Disappointed by the grosses of his relatively lightweight Matchstick Men, Sir Ridley Scott is allegedly looking to be edgy and relevant again in the manner of his megahit Black Hawk Down. Moreover, he likes the strong similarity between the title Crimson Gold and the name of his brother Tony's 1995 thriller Crimson Tide. Scott's remake would star Colin Farrell as the pizza delivery man, who finds himself in Tehran without a cell phone while his brother (Tom Cruise, reprising his role as Maverick from Tony's Top Gun) is busy bombing Baghdad. Domino's Pizza is in talks with Scott Free Productions about potential product-placement opportunities, but is said to be disturbed by the "homoerotic" element of Quentin Tarantino's screenplay.
The Best of Youth
SYNOPSIS: Shot as a miniseries for European TV, this six-and-a-half-hour soap-opera tour of postwar Italy was picked up for theatrical distribution by Miramax Films, whose Harvey Weinstein was moved to tears by the epic tale of two dissimilar brothers and the women they love and hate.
ODDS THAT MINNESOTANS WILL SEE THIS IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO:Decreased significantly by MPAA chief Jack Valenti's recent decision to ban the mailing of year-end "For Your Consideration" screeners--a serious blow to Weinstein's plans to mount an Oscar campaign for the film.
HOW TO CHANGE THE ODDS: Though Tarantino is currently preoccupied with the rewriting of Crimson Gold, the editing of Kill Bill Vol. 2, and the plotting of violent revenge against reviewers who don't appreciate Vol. 1, Weinstein wants him to rework The Best of Youth as a Kill Bill-style two-parter with Farrell and Cruise as the siblings. Pressed for time, Tarantino may simply deliver his own dust-gathering Vega Brothers screenplay to Miramax in two volumes with clean title pages--though its epic length may eventually require him to release The Best of Youth Vol. 1 in two parts.
Goodbye Dragon Inn
SYNOPSIS: Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang (What Time Is It There?) pictures the death of cinema in a run-down Taipei rep house screening King Hu's Dragon Inn to no more than two or three people per night. Combined with the auteur's typically long (and I mean long) takes, the limp of the theater's middle-aged cleaning woman renders the farewell even slower and sadder.
ODDS THAT MINNESOTANS WILL SEE THIS IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO: Depends entirely on the continued survival of our own beloved rep house in Stadium Village--the only Twin Cities theater that would dare to play Tsai's hard-to-market masterpiece.
HOW TO CHANGE THE ODDS: Tarantino loves King and Tsai, Paltrow loves Weinstein and Tarantino, and Weinstein hates Valenti and Spielberg. Thus Hasta La Vista, Dragon--with Valenti as the dragon, Arnold Schwarzenegger as King, and Paltrow in a parody of her S21 role--seems all but guaranteed to be greenlit at Miramax with Tarantino at the helm. Valenti's performance would be cobbled together from downloaded digital artifacts of old MPAA press conferences, while Schwarzenegger's would be filmed K Street-style in the governor's mansion. Tarantino is coldly calculating Valenti's death by heart attack at the Telluride premiere, which would enable Weinstein to send "For Your Consideration" screeners of Hasta La Vista in time for Christmas.
SYNOPSIS: Three former Boston friends played by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon fail to overcome the damage they suffered as kids in director Clint Eastwood's admirably wrenching (if highly overrated) Oscar contender.
ODDS THAT MINNESOTANS WILL SEE THIS IN THE NEXT YEAR OR SO: Perfect. Indeed, the film is already playing in more than a dozen area theaters.
HOW TO CHANGE THE ODDS: Weinstein, in an ambitious bid to prove that not every "For Your Consideration" screener ends up on eBay, has hired Kiarostami, Panh, and Tsai to collaborate on a Tehran-set Mystic River remake, shot Rashomon-style from conflicting perspectives. The Same River Thrice would begin with Panh's hour-long segment, shot on digital in one continuous take through the eyes of the Penn character, here played by Natar Ungalaaq. The middle portion by Tsai would be set in a run-down movie theater whose cleaning woman sees snippets of Robbins's death scene in the original Eastwood version while sweeping the projection booth. The concluding chapter, directed by Kiarostami, would feature a suicidal delivery man--separated from Bacon by six degrees--scouring the Iranian countryside in search of someone to buy his bootleg screener of...you guessed it: The Same River Thrice. The final shot, just long enough to push the film's total running time past that which a single DVD can contain, would subtly suggest that the whole thing may have been a dream.
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