Crashing Guns

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Hosting the U.S. premiere of Crash turned out to be a coup for the 2005 Newport Beach Film Festival, whose organizers noticed a marked increase in interest from Hollywood for this year's April 20-30 run. Last year, director Paul Haggis led a small Crash contingent (sadly missing promised attendee actor/producer Don Cheadle, who was stuck somewhere else) to a makeshift stage next to a free vodka line in a Fashion Island courtyard to thank everyone for coming. I know because I was the last person in that vodka line; I was so close to Haggis the back of my head must appear in the same frame as his mug in the video that was being shot that night. And two more handsome heads you'll never see!

* * *

Of course, no one—even the many of us blown away that night—knew that the film would go on to spark a national debate on racial profiling, three Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and a vehement backlash from certain movie critics that continues to this day. (For the flipside, read Ella Taylor's review that ran in the Weekly; if I had a Best Film Review of the Year vote from the Academy, I'd have voted for that—and that's saying something 'cause, as her loyal Weekly readers know, Ms. Taylor always brings it.)

Meanwhile, the Crash machine keeps chuggin': Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles City Council and Police Chief William Bratton are scheduled to honor Haggis, his fellow producers, their cast and crew and Lionsgate Pictures at an April 4 ceremony at City Hall, whose corridors appear in parts of the film. They'll all celebrate the DVD release of the Crash Director's Cut Edition, and Da Mayor and Council will designate it Crash/Film L.A. Day (as opposed to that ill-conceived, Sam Yorty-era Crash/Jetliner L.A. Day).

In other Crash action, down below you'll find a little tidbit relating to that movie and the debut feature by director Aric Avelino, whose American Gun is hanging in for another week at arthousy venues across the land, including the Regency Lido in his adopted hometown of Newport Beach (Avelino is originally from Brea). The first question the Weekly fired at him in a recent Q&A was this:

I hope this doesn't offend you, but as I was watching American Gun I found myself thinking of Crash. Must've been the intersecting storylines or something. Crash (the Haggis version, not the Cronenberg version) is a film I liked, but I know for every person like me there is someone with an intense hate for it (like our lead film critic, who tagged it the worst movie of the year). Frankly, I can see American Gun splitting audiences like that as well. Any thoughts?

You can read his answer and the rest of the cold-medicine induced mess here.

A couple days later, the editor who so expertly crafted that question (LOVE that guy! No, really: love him, he's sooooo lonely) read the reviews of his Village Voice Media colleagues. Michael Atkinson (whose review the Weekly picked up) wrote this:

The first entry in the Crash subgenre sweepstakes, filmmaker Aric Avelino's ambitious dependie follows the Paul Haggis award magnet's business plan pretty slavishly: Take on a contemporary social crisis (here, gun control) by way of multiple story lines, each illuminating different perspectives on the problem, and each juiced with frustration, melodrama, and mid-level-cast acting fireworks.

Atkinson's review was kinder and gentler than the one offered up the same week by LA Weekly's Scott Foundas:

. . . [T]he tag line for American Gun—One Nation Under Fire—tells you all you need to know: This is Crash with gun violence substituted for racism, although the tone of director–co-writer Aric Avelino's debut feature may be closer to one of those pious public-safety films that used to be shown to schoolchildren in order to frighten them out of potential bad behavior.

If you followed that "vehement backlash from certain movie critics" link above, you'll discover Foundas was one of those Crash-bashing crits, meaning Avelino didn't have a chance with him from the get-go. But since three different journos who had no idea what the others were writing drew the same Crash-American Gun connection, it's hard to pin it all on run-of-the-mill pack journalism.

This time.

As if anyone cares, I was about to write my own kinder, gentler American Gun review when I read the far-more-talented Atkinson's and decided dude had hit on everything I would have, only oh-so-much better. We both were definitely on the same page when it came to his writing this:

The acting is pro enough to keep your blood up . . .
Let's go to that Q&A with Avelino, where I singled out the solid acting, particularly Forest Whitaker's performance as a Chicago school principal. I also wondered aloud (if by "aloud" you mean "by email") why we don't see Whitaker more on the screen. Avelino gave a long answer about how busy Whitaker is, including this:
In regards to why he isn't used more, the guy is always producing, directing, and acting. He's a busy dude. Most people don't know he directed Waiting to Exhale, Hope Floats, First Daughter and more. He produced the new Twilight Zone series and, after hearing about what he's been working on these past couple of years, some of his best stuff is still coming at us.
Which brings us, finally, (will this post ever end?) to that long-ago promised tidbit: During the DVD commentary for Crash, the first time that actor Terrence Howard appears on screen, Haggis mentions in the voiceover that his role was originally offered to Whitaker, who could not accept because he was still in post-production with First Daughter. Howard, of course, went on to get great notices (and awards and nominations) for his stellar turns in Crash and Hustle & Flow.
So the pack-journalism assumption for Whitaker would be that he jumped on the American Gun project so he could have a Crash all his own. As for Hustle & Flow? I'd cast Whitaker in a nanosecond for The Suge Knight Story. Wonder if Mayor Tony and his posse will be designating an L.A. Day for that one?

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