Published April 14, 2006
I saw the film “United 93.” It doesn’t open until April 28, but you may have heard about how the previews -- or trailers, as they’re also known -- have made some moviegoers cry and yell “Too soon!” at the screen. A theater in New York pulled the trailer after several patrons lodged complaints.
“United 93” re-enacts the events on-board the flight that took off from Newark on the morning of September 11, 2001, headed for San Francisco. High-jacked by terrorists intent on hitting the Capitol building in Washington, DC, it finally, tragically, crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
Tragically, yes, but of course the triumph of United 93 lies in the heroics of those on board. And before we go any further, let me say that I do think this is a film people should see.
As terrifying as United 93’s flight was, this movie does not make me afraid to fly. Or ride the subway. It does not heighten my fears in any way. It makes me proprietary about my home, my family, my friends, my city and country. For whatever this country’s ills may be -- and they’re certainly there -- no one is justified in taking the lives of innocent citizens. It’s never too soon -- or too late -- to be reminded of that.
But the debate as to whether it’s too soon to produce this film will intensify as we approach its release date and continue through at least the end of the summer when Oliver Stone’s film “World Trade Center” premieres.
I imagine those who are against the release of “United 93” will feel justified if the film fails to gain an audience -- which is quite possible, given that convincing people to leave their homes to shell out 10 bucks to relive the horrors of Sept. 11 is, to put it mildly, a tough sell.
What’s more, we’ve been reliving that day in the papers and on the news, with the release of transcripts from flight recordings.
As for the film, there’s no question it’s terribly upsetting, maddening and scary -- how could it not be? But the good news -- and I say that truly for lack of a better term -- is that it’s about as well-crafted, respectful and interesting as it can and should be. After it ended, my colleague Bill McCuddy turned to me and said, “I can’t decide if I think everyone should see this film, or no one should see it.”
There is the touchy subject of who, exactly, is benefiting financially from this film, because we’re not talking about a group of people who worked for free. I do know that the distributor, Universal, is donating 10 percent of opening weekend profit to the Flight 93 National Memorial Fund.
But I am actually willing to put that issue aside. The best films educate, inspire and uplift -- and the hardcore reality is that even a film like “United 93” has to entertain. That’s a real tough one to admit, but the story’s tension, drama and climax have to move at a pace that keeps people engaged. It is a movie after all, and “United 93” works on these levels.
I learned from the film, gained insight into not only what may have happened on that plane, but on the ground. The scenes of frantic air traffic controllers and the military offer some emotional reprieve because they’re fascinating … the logistics of it all -- tracking the planes, grounding others.
Primarily, of course, the film made me cry for all who died and what they went through in the moments up until their death -- for those on board, for those who perished in Washington, and for those whose lives ended just a short way down the Hudson River in New York where I live.
It can be easy, and at times necessary, to move the events of Sept. 11 to the back of my mind, but this movie made me feel OK about remembering. It made me feel strong. It made me proud. And despite reminding me of how many acts of cowardice -- masquerading as righteousness -- are performed in the name of religion, I also came away with belief in the inherent goodness of so many.
Confession: I didn’t come up with the headline above. It’s the promotional tagline for “Scary Movie 4.” It’s funny, so I stole it.
I now swing wildly in the opposite direction from “United 93” to talk about one of this weekend’s releases, “Scary Movie 4” -- which, as most of you know, isn’t scary at all.
David Zucker of “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun” fame directs this latest installment of the series that has become the younger generation’s version of, well, “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun.”
The film parodies a handful of movies that have come out over the past year, using a “War of the Worlds” storyline as the thread that holds it all together.
Craig Bierko -- who won raves on Broadway recently as the star of “The Music Man” -- stoops to a refreshingly new low by joining in Zucker’s juvenile antics.
“What am I doing in a movie like this?” he said, repeating my question at the premiere. “Uh, ‘Sign the check-ie.’”
Bierko is a huge Zucker fan and said yes to the film even before Zucker could get the pitch out of his mouth.
Bierko sends up “War of the Worlds,” playing the Tom Cruise part. (“Spitting image of him, I know,” said Bierko.)
Spoiler alert: His spoof of Cruise’s couch-jumping incident on “Oprah” is the funniest movie scene I’ve watched in really long time.
Bierko said he didn’t know Cruise, so I asked if he expected to hear from him.
“No -- and it’s been 41 years. I have to go out, I’m getting hungry. I have to go out and have a meal. I can’t sit by the phone like that.”
I then talked to Zucker, searching for a method to his madness.
“I actually think the serious movies are more funny than the comedies I go to see,” he told me. “You watch movies like “War of the Worlds” or “The Grudge” -- those are funny to me. So we just kind of do a re-dubbing of those movies.”
There’s also a very funny spoof of “Brokeback Mountain,” which Zucker was lucky to get in the film.
“We were fortunate that the studio let us shoot a couple of more scenes for movies that had come up after we finished principle photography. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ kind of exploded. And so right before the Oscars we shot the ‘Brokeback Mountain’ scene.”
These movies have gotten so popular that even big famous movie stars want in.
“I’m a fan of the movies, and I’m always hoping to be in them,” said Susan Sarandon, who’s so big and famous that she has the name “Susan” etched on the sides of her sunglasses. “And I have some of my kids with me, who are very eager to see it. And I’m in the mood to laugh.”
I hope she did. Her paramour Tim Robbins had a part in the real “War of the Worlds.” His role was appropriately Zucker-ized in “Scary Movie 4” by actor Michael Madsen.
Finally, “The Notorious Bettie Page” opens this weekend, about the pin-up girl who was a bit like the Pamela Anderson of the 1950s. Since video may be the best teaser, click below for a look at star Gretchen Mol in her skivvies.