Mad Polka Connivance

Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky‘s The Polka King is a briskly paced, broad-brush tragicomedy that’s aimed at the none-too-hips. It’s funny and engaging as far as it goes — a kind of regional (i.e., Pennsylvania-based) farcical screwball thing. It has a tightly sprung comic attitude, and is packed (as you might presume) with traditional polka music, colorful, behind-the-eight-ball characters and all kinds of local douchebag flavor.

It’s a bit like The Wolf of Wall Street in that it’s about a manic, larger-than-life polka-singing hustler — the real-life Jan Lewan — who ponzi-schemed his way into a five-year jail sentence about 15 years ago. The difference is that while Wolf was a half-satirical portrait of predatory financial-market culture, Polka King is about a guy who tries to flim-flam his way out of financial difficulty only to wind up in an even deeper hole.

You know going in that the buoyant, Polish-born Jan (entertainingly nailed by the great Jack Black) is headed for a fall, so the movie is basically a waiting game — how long before Jan’s bullshit finally catches up with him? The Polka King therefore lives or dies based on how diverting or hilarious you find delusion and denial as the hallmarks of a business plan.

I for one didn’t find it hugely amusing –the only film about relentless lying and flim-flammery that I’ve liked was Robert ZemeckisUsed Cars — but I took the ride and had a decent-enough time. I recognize that others who caught The Polka King last night (as I did) are down with it more than I, and that it may well prove a commercial success. (more…)

Help Me Out Here

The title of Rian Johnson‘s Episode VIII Star Wars film, opening next December, is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Presumably this alludes to Daisy Ridley‘s Rey, who of course is imbued with The Force and was, and at the end of The Force Awakens, well on her way to becoming a Jedi extraordinaire. But how is it that she’s the “last” Jedi? There wouldn’t be much point to the Jedi Order if there was only one devoted channeler. As The Force is an eternal cosmic current of incredible energy and wisdom for all Jedi knights, what the hell sense does it make for Rey to the “last” person in the universe to tap into it? Movie and book titles using the adjective “last” always allude to a dying breed, the end of a tradition. In what way could Jedi-ism and the The Force be dying or running out of steam in the Star Wars universe? Seriously, Rian — this makes no sense.

So Into You

Tapped out on iPhone at 8:45 pm from Park City’s Eccles tent:  “Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is an instant classic — a wonderfully sensual, delightful, superbly composed love story.  Delicate, attuned, succulent, aromatic — one of the finest romantic dream-trip films ever — a movie about all-too-brief emotional connections, erotic bliss, love, obsession and inevitable loss.

Timothee Chalumet (l.), Armie Hammer (r.) in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name — an instant classic and likely 2018 Best Picture contender.

Exquisitely done, perfectly acted (Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalumet, Michael Stuhlbarg) and delivered with just the right degree of subtlety — the masterful Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, I Am Love) blended with a mixture of Bernardo Bertolucci, Luchino Visconti and Eric Rohmer within a laid-back, highly refined atmosphere that’s 85% Italian, 15% American.

This will almost surely turn out to be the best film of Sundance17 — definitely the most vividly realized, open-hearted gay romantic film since Brokeback Mountain — except it’s not so much ‘gay’ as alive and rich and full of flavor  — a sun-dappled celebration of all things sensual, musical, architectural, natural, genital, etc.” (more…)

Wilson Is Okay, I Guess

Craig Johnson’s Wilson (Fox Searchlight, sometime in March) is basically about a middle-aged, passive-aggressive malcontent (Woody Harrelson) who’s way too friendly, way too open, doesn’t edit himself, has no social skills. He smiles sweetly and blathers on about anything that comes into his head. Free and unrestricted commentary about this, that and the other thing, and without a point or a strategy of any kind! Except to convey that he’s a passive-aggressive malcontent.

Wilson is a sweet, kind-hearted guy who will never “fit in” to any semi-conventional social congregation because he really has no idea what the word “dignity” means. One of my definitions of that term is being able to sense when it’s cool to say something in mixed company and when it’s best to shut the fuck up. This instinct is not in Wilson’s tool kit. 

He also seems incapable of understanding a concept that I’ve always respected, which is that sometimes you shouldn’t say anything unless you can improve upon the silence. There’s a lot of joy and peace in silence, but lovable social calamities like Wilson will never, ever be able to get that. 

Which is one reason why I would carefully limit my time with a guy like Woody’s Wilson if life had managed to install him in my orbit in some capacity. I wouldn’t necessarily cross the street or bolt in the opposite direction if I saw him coming, and I would never say anything cruel to the guy, but I would politely avoid him whenever and however possible.  

This is basically why I didn’t much care for Johnson’s film, which is based on an original script by Daniel Clowes. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t the least bit disappointed when it ended.

Snow Gusts, Brisk Winds, Hardy Filmgoers

Second-tier types (i.e, those without an Express Pass) waiting to get into an Eccles screening…Mudbound or Yellow Birds, can’t remember which.

I loved this Rolling Stones military jacket — the owner was with Yellow Birds talent.

View from Hollywood Elsewhere work station inside the Park Regency lobby — Sunday, 1.22, 9:10 am.

Journalist and Hollywood Elsewhere condo partner Jordan Ruimy — Yellow Birds cap supplied by same pretty girl who was wearing the Rolling Stones jacket.



I found Alexandre MoorsThe Yellow Birds and Dee ReesMudbound to be more about endurance than absorption. They both made me feel trapped and conflicted as I sat there with my overcoat and scarf and cowboy hat scrunched under my seat, grappling with a downish realization that neither were cutting the mustard, much less ringing the bell.

I was obliged to stay, of course, because walking out (i.e., escaping) would be processed as ignoble and dilletantish by the Twitter dogs. And so I sat there in a state of numb submission, popping Tic Tacs and toughing it out, focusing on the fine performances by Mudbound‘s Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell (at times almost good enough to redeem the film as a whole) and a pair of honorable turns by Yellow BirdsJennifer Aniston and Toni Collette. 

You know the drill — following along but waiting for something (anything!) truly interesting to happen, and checking your watch at 15-minute intervals.

Alden Ehrenreich as a PTSD-afflicted Iraq War veteran in Alexandre Moors’ The Yellow Birds.

Carey Mulligan in Dee Rees’ Mudbound.

Mudbound, a ’40s period piece about racial relations amid cotton farmers toiling in the hardscrabble South, bears more than a few resemblances to Robert Benton‘s Places In the Heart (’84). Likewise The Yellow Birds, an Iraq War-era drama about a search for the cause of a young American soldier’s mysterious death along with concurrent parental grief, is strongly reminiscent of Paul Haggis‘s In The Valley of Elah (’07).

In both cases the older films are far, far superior — better stories, more skillfully written, more emotionally affecting.

Based on Hillary Jordan‘s 2008 novel, Mudbound (adapted by TV writer-producer Virgil Williams) is about the relations between the white McAllans, owners of a shithole cotton farm (no plumbing or electricity) in the muddy Mississippi delta, and their black tenant-farmer neighbors, the Jacksons, in the immediate aftermath of World War II. (more…)

Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”

After yesterday’s anti-Trump women’s march in Park City followed by uploading, breakfast and three hours of filing, I caught Alexandre MoorsThe Yellow Birds (3 pm) and Dee Rees’ Mudbound (6:15 pm) but not Taylor Sheridan‘s Wind River.

I saw the first two because I’d been given tickets by the film’s reps (you need to find them outside the Eccles), but I blew off Wind River because I had no such assurances, and because I’d also came up empty when I requested a ticket from the Sundance Press Office. I could’ve hung around before last night’s 9:30 pm showing and tried to mooch a ticket, but that’s not how I roll. I draw the line at in-person pleading, which in my mind is synoymous with grovelling.

Neither Birds nor Mudbound turned out to be all that good. Mudbound has a humanist heart — it exudes compassion for its hardscrabble characters — and is easily the better of the two. But they’re both slogs. This is sometimes part of the Sundance experience — occasionally you have to sit there and suffer and wait for a film to be over, and then you have to stand there and nod respectfully as people go on and on about how great or moving it was. (I’ll tap out thoughts about both in the next piece.)

The consensus so far is that while Wind River includes Jeremy Renner‘s finest performance yet, it’s decidedly the least of Sheridan’s heartland trilogy, the other two being his scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water, and so I’m also blowing off this morning’s 9 am Eccles screening. I’ll see it when I see it, the sun will come up tomorrow morning either way, and I won’t be guilt-tripped by guys saying “wait, you’re not seeing Sheridan’s film this morning?” I’m playing my cards the way I want to play them.

I need three or four hours to bang out some column material, and I have three big Eccles films later today — Craig Johnson‘s Wilson (which I’m actually dreading) at 3:15 pm, Luca Guadagnino‘s buzzed-about Call Me By Your Name at 6:15 pm and finally Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarksy‘s The Polka King at 9:45 pm.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

If You Watch La La Land More Than Once…

In last night’s SNL sketch, Aziz Asari‘s offense was saying he was okay with La La Land but that it kinda drags in the middle. I conveyed a similar reaction when I saw it last September, but I added that the opening and ending numbers (especially the latter) more than overcame any qualms. I’ve since mentioned that if you catch it a second or better yet a third time, all of that “drags in the middle” stuff kind of melts away. Plus I’ve never heard of any La La Land fascists barking at ambivalent types. So all in all I didn’t find this the least bit funny.


Bus Stop Scolding

I was walking down Park Avenue this morning after the march. I briefly stopped at the bus station across from the Park City Library to consider the schedules. I was standing in a kind of detoured parking area that wasn’t in a car lane but not on the sidewalk — a small ridge of slushy snow was between me and the shelter. Two older women were standing there, and one offered a maternal warning. She: “You’re on the wrong side.” Me: “Whadddaya mean?” She: “You could get hit by a car.” Me: “Naah, I’m okay.” She: “Just be careful.” Me: “If a bus comes along I’ll just leap out of the way, like the proverbial brown fox jumping over the log…really.  I’m fast.  Lightning reflexes.”

Flatulent Foo Foo

The mock-tawdry headline of yesterday’s review of Margaret Betts‘ Novitiate read “Hot Lesbo Nun Action Toward The End.” That’s because the strongest, grabbiest scene in the whole film is a shadowy erotic thing between a couple of nuns-in-training. I asked around and everyone agreed that was the big stand-out moment — trust me.

But wait, hold on….there’s a Brooklyn perspective on this vein of hothouse cinema that demands consideration. Ebert.com and N.Y. Times contributor Glenn Kenny doesn’t like the term “lesbo” — he not only thinks it’s juvenile (which of course it is) but feels it’s important to strongly discourage its use even by those adopting a mock-ironic tone.

Kenny also feels that anyone who isn’t an elite foo-foo walking around with a feather quill sticking out of his or her anal cavity shouldn’t mention Robert Bresson, whom I referenced in my review because most of the costars in Novitiate are model-pretty in the vein of Bresson’s own casting tendencies. So he tried to give me a little bitch-slapping today, and I bitch-slapped his ass right back.

Park City’s Joyous Anti-Trump Women’s March

I’ve never had so much fun at a protest march in my life. Or maybe it’s been so long since I joined one of these events that I don’t fully recall how good it feels to be part of a throng of joyous howling humanists. But I got there late — 9:15 am — due to the bus from the Park City Marriott to downtown Park City taking almost 50 minutes, and so I only joined the march 15 or so minutes before it ended. Cold gusty winds, heavyish flurries, snowdrifts, slush, stalled traffic…love it!

There was a hilarious moment when everyone started waving and cheering when they noticed a video drone flying overhead, at which point Toronto Star critic Peter Howell, whom I was marching next to, remarked that the drone could have been Donald Trump‘s. Or Vladimir Putin‘s, I was thinking.

My favorite sighting was a young 30ish mom leaning over to explain to her toddler son what the march was all about, and the boy just gazing at all the bodies and taking in the energy and the spirit of it, his face full of wonder. (more…)

Snowbound Bill Maher Fix…Thanks

“We Americans have a new leader: Vladimir Putin,” Real Time‘s Bill Maher quipped last night. “But also this guy Trump who took some sort of oath today. The Trump supporters are saying this is a reckoning. As in, I reckon we’re all fucked. All the pundits were saying [his inaugural address], which was joyless and ugly and divisive, was going to be classy and uplifting and unifying. At what point are people going to realize there is no normal president inside the Trump fat suit? That’s it. That’s who it is.”


Breathing Room

No filing until sometime in the mid afternoon. It’s 7:20 am — off to Park Marriott for press tickets, which will cost about an hour, then  grab a downtown Park City bus for the anti-Trump march down Main Street, which begins around 9 am.  Three films later today, the first being a YA adaptation called Before I Fall — dread and foreboding.  Thinking of shining it.

Yesterday’s big knockout (and a likely indie-sized hit) was The Big Sick, a diverting, highly original romantic saga — you never really know where it’s going, and that’s just how I like it. (Okay — the finale is fairly conventional but that’s all.) Dry, droll, low-key humor for smarties & hipsters.

And it really does come together emotionally during the last 25% or 30%. I loved the  ISIS and 9/11 terrorist jokes. The only big problem is remembering how to spell and pronounce Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistani comedian who co-stars and co-wrote.  Best performance ever by Zoe Kazan.

Off to the march…

Bigelow’s Detroit Riots Film Not Getting Award-Season Release

A 1.20 Wrap story by Matt Pressberg about Megan Ellison‘s Annapurna Pictures launching a distribution arm contains a bit of a shocker, at least from my perspective. Kathryn Bigelow’s untitled drama about the 1967 Detroit riots, Pressberg reports, will be released by Annapurna on August 4th — the 50th anniversary of the riots. Which is well and good as far as acknowledging history goes, but an August release usually means no Oscar action, or none anticipated by the filmmakers and/or the distributor. I was naturally expecting Bigelow’s film, which was written and co-produced by Hurt Locker/Zero Dark Thirty collaborators  Mark Boal, to be in the Oscar conversation. Maybe it still will be, but an 8.4 release doesn’t encourage belief in that possibility.

Hot Lesbo Nun Action Toward The End

“Hot lesbo nun action” is a tawdry headline, but it’s definitely an accurate description of portions of Margaret BettsNovitiate, which screened at Park City’s Eccles theatre earlier today. I’m not saying Noivitiate is mostly or even partly an erotic thing (the real hot-nun Sundance flick is Jeff Baena‘s The Little Hours), but a certain scene during the final third…yowsah!

Novitiate is basically about various repressions (mostly spiritual) visited on a group of young women who’ve committed to be nuns-in-training, or novitiates. It’s mostly set in 1964, which is when various Vatican-led reforms, known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, were being implemented.

But don’t trust the The Sundance program notes, to wit: “This coming-of-age story is about a young girl’s first love. In this case, her first love is God.” The key term in this previous sentence isn’t “God” but “first love.”

Right off the top you’re going “hmmm, possibly an austere Robert Bresson-like film about the denials, devotions and disciplines of the life of a young would-be nun.”

The young protagonist is Cathleen (Margaret Qualley, 22 year-old daughter of Andie McDowell), and over the course of this 123-minute film “her faith is challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a nun,” etc. But sure enough, the old repressed-libido thing eventually kicks in and when it does, the axiom about “the stronger the constraints, the hotter the eroticism” comes to mind. I was sitting there watching a film about a nunnery, but the concept of “wood”…sorry.

I mentioned Bresson because Novitiate contains slight echoes of his passions and obsessions. He was not just a cinematic minimalist but a religious man of a conservative bent. He knew from austerity, spirituality and holding it in (i.e., Diary of a Country Priest). Except Bresson always cast his films with extremely good-looking, model-pretty actors and actresses. Sex never happened in his films, but it was certainly intimated in the features of his youthful players.

Here’s the thing — almost all the young women playing nuns in Novitiate are serious hotties. Qualley, Diana Agron, Liana Liberato, Morgan Saylor (White Girl), Maddie Hasson, Eline Powell — they’re all knockouts, and when was the last time you ran into even a half-hot nun or seen a picture of one?

Answer: Almost never. Retired actress Dolores Hart, who was quite attractive when young, is the only nun I’ve heard or read about who stands out in this regard. The actress who played a novitiate in Pawel Pawlikowski‘s IdaAgata Trzebuchowska — was beautiful, of course, but that was a movie.

Novitiate is a reasonably well done thing, a little eccentric, a little Sundance-y but not half bad. The strongest supporting performances are from Melissa Leo as Reverend Mother (basically doing the same kind of thing that Meryl Streep did in Doubt, only with a heavier hand), Julianne Nicholson as Qualley’s skeptical, non-religious mom, and Denis O’Hare as an Archbishop pressuring Leo into adopting Vatican II’s more liberal “suggestions” about how to run things.

Long Knives Are Out Already?

Queerty‘s Dan Tracer reports that the White House page dedicated to LGBT rights has apparently been disappeared by the Trump administration. This happened…what, three or four hours after Trump was sworn in? “When the Obama administration created the page, it was used to showcase legislative and judicial achievements and policy updates affecting gay and transgender Americans,” Tracer recalls. “It also featured campaigns to combat suicide among young queer people, like ‘It Gets Better.’ Well, not anymore.”

You Don’t Have To Visit Seoul

A huge scary monster is a stand-in for Anne Hathaway‘s darker side…check. But why is the beast avatar wreaking havoc all the way over in Seoul, of all places? Why not Tuscon, Newark, Oakland or Portland? Why not a city in Spain, where the director, Nacho Vigalondo, hails from? I understand that Colossal half-blows, but even without the Toronto Film Festival reviews I kind of hate it instinctually. Costarring Dan Stevens, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson.