I am now in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic attending the film festival where I am serving on the International Film Critics [FIPRESCI] jury [it is a "nonstatutory" jury, and I'm not sure what that means]. Also known as Carlsbad, the town has since the 14th century been renowned for its salubrious waters, reputed to cure many ills, and has expanded over the centuries into a valley full of baroque and Art Deco hotels, spas and knick knack shops that looks like a cross between Rockport, Mass., and "The Village" on the old TV series "The Prisoner." Many of the geat names of history have passed through over the years, people like Beethoven, Goethe, Mozart, Freud and Mark Twain, and just this week Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro.
They are not here just for the waters, no doubt, but for the opportunity to promote their new movies in the Eastern European and international market. De Niro was here also to receive the festival's "Crystal Globe" award for his lifetime contribution to world cinema. It took place a couple of days ago, the 4th of July in fact [like Thanksgiving, not celebrated overseas, I discovered] at the festival's lengthy opening ceremony [there were fireworks!] followed by a screening of his new film "What Just Happened?" directed by Barry Levinson.
On the plus side, the film was disorienting. Based on the Art Linson autobiography, it's about a producer, played by De Niro, with problems. First, the director of the movie he just finished shooting, "Fiercely," has a final scene in which the hero, played by Sean Penn, played by Sean Penn, gets killed and his dog has his brains blown out. After a disastrous test screening, he's got to convince the loony filmmaker to kill the killing of the dog. Second, the new movie he's putting together stars Bruce Willis, played by Bruce Willis, who shows up the first day of shooting overweight and with a big bushy beard and a bad attitude.Finally, he finds a pink argyle sock under the bed of is ex-wife, the kind of hosiery that could only be worn by the screenwriter whose name I forgot but who's played by Stanley Tucci (but who ISN'T Stanley Tucci, at least not in this movie) and who earlier in the film pitched him a script in which Brad Pitt (played by no one; he never makes an appearance) plays a florist. "There isn't a film there," De Niro's character tells him.
Unfortunately, the criticism applies to "What Just Happened?" also. It's Altman's "The Player" with a little bit of Levinson's own "Wag the Dog" thrown in but without the edge or urgency of either. Like the movie within the movie it also has problems with the ending, though killing a dog might have picked things up a little. More interesting than the movie, though, is the way it reflects it's own making. "What Just Happened?" had screened at Cannes to a more or less disastrous reception and Levinson has since been trying to salvage it. At the press conference the following day De Niro admitted that it was a "work in progress" and that they were still working out certain details, like the ending.
"What Just Happened?," however, is not one of the films in competition. I'll get to those later.
Be seeing you.