Godfather Director Sees the Future, and Will Film It
For my money, Francis Ford Coppola is probably our greatest living director, if only for the first two Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now. There's plenty more in his canon, but those three movies alone assure him of the top ranking probably of all time.
Apocalypse Now has been cleaned up and expanded with footage never before seen. It opens on August 3 in New York and Los Angeles and has the distinction of being the best movie so far of 2001. The only problem is that it was originally released in 1979.
At last night's screening at Lincoln Center in New York, Apocalypse Now Redux, as this version is called, could not have looked bolder, more dynamic, visionary or landmark. Compared to recent contemporary offerings, this was shocking, I think, for the audience.
Many of the original cast came to see the film, along with Coppola: Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Colleen Camp, Frederic Forrest and Laurence Fishburne, who was 14 when he landed his role. Albert Maysles, the documentary filmmaker, trailed Duvall around for a film he's doing about the actor. Duvall is now editing his tango movie, Assassination Tango, for release next year. And, in a nice twist, Coppola is producing the movie. He and Duvall — who fell out over money on Godfather: Part III — have patched up their long friendship.
This is a Coppola renaissance year, what with the Godfather DVDs on the way and now this. But he reminded me: "I'm a winemaker. I certainly don't think of making movies as a way to make money."
Indeed, Coppola's Zoetrope films has had its ups and downs, notably downs, as he's struggled to keep it alive. At one point 20 years ago he was almost done in by his over-the-top musical One from the Heart. It was ahead of its time, as things have proven, since Moulin Rouge borrows heavily from the former film's spirit.
"Certainly as it ventured in a theatrical format, [there were similarities with Moulin Rouge], Coppola said. "It's a tough area."
What does Coppola have coming next? "I'm thinking about the future. Not the science-fiction future. But what's coming next. Really, what's in the cards. Everybody knows things are changing, but nobody knows what. I want to deal with the 'what.'"
More on Coppola and film later this week…
Director Steven Soderbergh is not making a real sequel to his 1989 breakthrough hit Sex, Lies, and Videotape. But he is making an official one, for Miramax, the same studio that launched him so many years ago.
Soderbergh — coming off Traffic, Erin Brockovich, and the to-be-released Ocean's Eleven — has made a deal with Miramax to make How to Survive a Hotel Fire. Soderbergh describes the film as a "sex comedy," which most assuredly Sex, Lies, and Videotape was not.
Planet of the Apes, as imagined by Tim Burton, is not a very good movie. I'm sure it will be a big hit this weekend, and God bless it. Certainly the audience — starved all summer for something — will flock to it out of curiosity. But it is just bad: full of plot holes and devoid of logic.
Like Tomb Raider, this Planet seems to be a video game. It's a movie with a beginning and end, but no middle. The writers have skipped character development and story so they can have non-stop action. The result is repetition and redundancy. Not much happens, but it keeps happening. A lot of the movie feels like The Matrix meets Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
Who picked these actors? Estrella Warren, who is a model, is just dreadful in her mostly non-verbal role. She looks great, but you start to wonder if she's just brain-impaired or something. Kris Kristofferson, advertised high up in the credits, has a small role that looks like it might have been, unwisely, cut down. Michael Clarke Duncan makes a good mean leader ape, but I'd have preferred to see his face. He's lost in the very Burtonish, Anton Furst-type costumes and scenery.
As for Mark Wahlberg, no one ever said he's going to be Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. With the right material, as in Three Kings, he does fine. With poor material, like he has here, Wahlberg is adrift. He's a nice guy in person, and I know he's earnest about the work. But Planet of the Apes is so goofy, and he's very stiff, with no sense of humor or irony.
Charlton Heston, star of the original series, makes an interesting cameo as the patriarch of the apes. He's been holding onto the one thing humans left behind years ago — a gun. Ironically, he sort of makes an anti-gun speech when he reveals it. It's the best part of the movie.
The great soul singer Judy Clay — who had big hits with "Private Number" and "Storybook Children" — died last Friday. Billy Vera, musician extraordinaire, sent around this message on Sunday. I picked it up off the velvetrope.com. I'm sure he won't mind Fox fans reading it, in part, here:
"I just received a phone call from David Nathan, informing me that my old [singing] partner, Judy Clay, passed away Friday evening. He didn't know the cause of death, but she hadn't been in particularly good health recently. Judy was a hell of a singer, arguably the best in her adopted family, which also included Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick and Cissy and Whitney Houston, as well as Judy's sister, Sylvia Shemwell. Aside from two duets with me, "Storybook Children"  and "Country Girl-City Man"  and two later records with William Bell, Judy had no chart success, which had to have been no small source of frustration. You can't have a voice as good as hers and not know how good you are.
"As an act, Billy Vera & Judy Clay were most notable for being the first racially integrated duo, a fact which, even in the '60s, prevented us from being seen on national television. Other than one appearance each on the Hy Lit show in Philadelphia and Robin Seymour's in Detroit, our little revolution was never televised. In New York, the Clay Cole Show taped us but our segment never aired once they knew our racial makeup. To add to the indignity, we went on to see our songs performed on network TV by Sammy Davis Jr. and Tina Turner and by Peter Lawford and Minnie Pearl.
"Our first Apollo appearance was during those riots and stage manager Honi Coles, fearing that we might not be well-received, placed us second on the bill, the spot usually reserved for the weakest acts. After the first show, he came to our dressing room and said, 'I'm moving you to right before the star's spot; ain't nobody gonna follow you two.'"
Given today's unfortunate state of race relations, it is hard to imagine what an act like ours meant to an older generation of black people to whom integration and assimilation were goals. I recall coming off-stage one night, after we'd stopped the show and been forced to do an encore of "Storybook Children," and seeing Judy's "aunt," Cissy Houston, crying tears of joy and hope in the wings, with her four-year-old daughter Whitney in her arms. Many years later, the legendary Ralph Cooper pulled me from a crowd, took me in his arms and told a roomful of people how important he felt our act was and how it was seen in Harlem as a giant step forward at that time.
"Yes, Judy Clay was a hell of a singer. That voice could raise the roof and stir the soul. If you ever run across a copy of the Drinkard Singers' 1958 album on RCA Victor, grab it and see what I'm talking about.
"With her passing, we've lost another great singer who never got her due."
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