Published July 11, 2006
First Look at Oliver Stone's 'World Trade Center'
Six weeks ago, I told readers of this column about seeing the first half hour of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" at the Cannes Film Festival.
It was a sneak peek, but I predicted that Stone had made an excellent movie about the Sept. 11 tragedies based on what we saw that night.
Last night, a handful of others and I got another preview — this time of the full film. It was shown to us on high-definition videotape, with temporary music and not all of it has been color corrected.
As Stone said to us in a statement that was read aloud before the screening: There wasn't a bit of actual film in what we watched. The final cut is slated to hit theaters Aug. 9.
Even so, I can still tell you from this screening that Stone has made an elegant, powerful, moving and genuinely personal document about the horrors that happened inside and outside of the World Trade Center.
Because of its scope, "World Trade Center" is grander than "United 93" and perhaps has some loftier cinematic aspirations. And as much as it's all about the real men and women whose acts of courage nearly got them killed that day, "World Trade Center" is nonetheless an Oliver Stone film through and through.
What Stone has done is base his movie on the stories of two Port Authority policemen who went into Tower 2 of the World Trade Center too late and with little information. The building collapsed on them, burying them and their colleagues.
Only 20 people were pulled from the rubble alive. John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno — played respectively by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena — were numbers 18 and 19.
We have to think of "World Trade Center" as a movie first — and in that Stone has done an excellent job. The three best-known actors are Cage, Maria Bello as McLoughlin's wife and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jimeno's wife. From then, on, however, the casting of this film is really terrific.
There are lots of small parts, and you'll see Donna Murphy, Patti D'Arbanville, Stephen Dorff, William Mapother, Dorothy Lyman, Frank Whaley and Nicholas Turturro, among others. The underused Viola Davis has a beautiful turn toward the end as a woman Bello's character meets in a waiting room. It's like a who's who of character actors.
Andrea Berloff's script gently weaves together the stories of the McLoughlin and Jimeno families, avoiding ethnic stereotypes. The screenplay feels streamlined and clean, wasting no time telling the story of how the men became trapped and what was done to save them.
Much of Cage and Pena's performances rely on close-ups of their faces in the dark, and often just their voices to get them through scenes. That these are incredibly effective says as much about the actors as it does the director.
And don't think that because we know the end of the story there aren't some surprises. In particular, there is one moment underneath the collapsed skyscrapers between the trapped policemen that will leave you shaken — it's so unexpected.
The movie also makes a hero of Dave Karnes, the retired Marine who discovered where McLoughlin and Jimeno were hidden. Karnes, played by Michael Shannon, was in his Wilton, Conn., office when he saw the towers fall. He got a haircut, changed into fatigues and drove to Ground Zero.
Karnes' story is really one of serendipity and fate, although Stone — and it wouldn't be one of his films otherwise — tries to paint him as a sort of mythic, unknown American soldier-hero. We'll let him have that.
What Stone has done, though, is make a real war movie with the World Trade Center as a battlefield. In that way, it almost resembles his best film, "Platoon," as the Port Authority cops are instantly turned into soldiers who know they may not be coming home.
Cage comes across as a kind of John Wayne figure, with Pena as his loyal student. You can feel Stone straining toward emulating John Ford, and I think a few times he actually achieves it, especially in the scenes with Cage and Pena underground.
But mostly Oliver Stone has made a wrenching, accurate account of a terrible tragedy seem personal and immediate. There's nothing exploitative here, just good, well-wrought drama.
So the fine actress Alfre Woodard has had the last laugh on “Desperate Housewives.” The show brought her on to establish an African-American family, then trashed the characters and turned them into violent racist stereotypes. Woodard got written off unceremoniously as her character packed her bags and moved away.
But it’s no defeat. Now Woodard is the only member of the regular cast to get an Emmy nomination for the mislabeled comedy series.
Pretty funny, huh?
Woodard’s departure says a lot about how “Desperate Housewives” tanked this season. Her character, Betty, had to leave; her story made no sense from the very start. Her character was never integrated into the show, and her storyline had nothing to do with anything else going on at Wisteria Lane.
This is what they did to the phenomenal actress who had won four Emmys, been nominated for an Oscar, was known for series work in “St. Elsewhere” and film roles in “Passion Fish,” “Down in the Delta” and “Cross Creek.” They lured her in, then not only did they squander her, they tried to humiliate her.
What could be worse? Halfway through the season, one of the actors playing one of Woodard’s sons had to be dismissed for sexual harassment (maybe he was frustrated that his character was locked in the basement).
Woodard, friends confessed, was very unhappy by the time the cast showed up at the Golden Globe awards. By the end of the season, she must have been fuming.
In the final two-part episode, both of her sons beat a woman, one of them killing her. The other ran off with the underage white daughter of a neighbor and was subsequently shot dead.
So much for letting black people into Wisteria Lane. Next season’s big story has already been set up with the much the more “acceptable” Kyle MacLachlan. He will not be basement-bound, trust me.
But who’s laughing now? Woodard was the only series regular to get an Emmy nomination (the only other acting nomination went to Shirley Knight, who was a guest star in several episodes as Bree’s mother-in-law).
Granted, for a show billed as a comedy, her scenes were far from funny. But by the end of this season, "Desperate Housewives" was pretty deficient in the laugh department, considering the beatings, murder and a hit and run.
"Desperate Housewives" could be the one show that fell apart faster than “Twin Peaks,” and that’s saying something. The big problem that the writers created for themselves was arguably at the end of the first season. They turned the show’s narrator, who had committed suicide and was thought to have been a victim, into a murderess and child snatcher. After that, there was no place to go but down.
In the second season, the narrator remained — even though she was hardly sympathetic — and the show went in half a dozen different directions at once. It remains unclear whether or not it can be fixed, but I’m sure the ABC execs are breathing down creator Marc Cherry’s neck right now. No Emmy nods — including writing and directing — speaks volumes.
At least Woodard can feel like she finished a job well done. Now she can go back to movies with her head held high and, I guess, her wallet a little fatter. And Wisteria Lane can resume its tales as a haven for the soulless.
Former manager to the rock group KISS, Jesse Hilsen, has an important day in Manhattan Family Court today. He could be remanded to prison until his bankruptcy hearing in Brooklyn on July 20, or be let go after serving two years for failure to pay child support or alimony since 1984.
If Administrative Judge Nicholas Palos frees Hilsen, the fear is that he will flee the U.S. almost immediately, without squaring his sizeable debt — more than $1 million — owed to his ex-wife, Rita Hilsen, who has spent the last decade in a shelter.
Yesterday in Family Court, Palos let Manhattan psychiatrist Joan Packles-Margolis testify in a court closed to press. Packles-Margolis alleges Rita Hilsen knows where Jesse Hilsen’s assets are stashed, including the millions he made while managing KISS in the late '80s.
The shrink, who’s married to prominent researcher Dr. Richard Margolis, swore that she in fact lent Hilsen money while they were illegally married in the early '90s. She said that once Jesse Hilsen fled the U.S., she went on about four trips to Europe with him. This contradicted earlier testimony, where she said she could only remember one such holiday.
Packles-Margolis maintains her claim to several trusts that contain assets which Rita Hilsen asserts really belong to her ex-husband.
The wording of one trust, introduced today, gives all authority over it to Jesse Hilsen. It also specifies that should Hilsen ever take over the trust, he is not allowed to use the money to pay child or spousal support.
Several attorneys and even one judge I’ve mentioned this to questioned the legality of such language. But what’s clear is that Jesse Hilsen never wanted to support his three children, who are now grown, nor respect court orders directing him to pay alimony.
Hilsen, currently incarcerated, recently testified that he couldn’t remember if he had a passport, where it was or which country had issued it. He did admit to having an Israeli passport, on which he could travel if released from prison. The worry is that from there he would not be extraditable.