Amalfi Sunset

Taken on Amalfi Drive, north of Santa Monica Canyon — Wednesday, 2.22, 6:10 pm.

At Menchies Frozen Yogurt, 7th Street and Montana Ave. — Wednesday, 2.22, 7:15 pm.

Dead Reckoning (’47), a noirish hriller in which Humphrey Bogart and Lizabeth Scott costarred, stinks. I caught it once and probably never again. Scott, a femme fatale type with a smoky voice, never appeared in a really good film, not even during her mid to late ’40s heyday. You could argue that her most appealing performance was in Loving You (’57), and in that she was a second-banana to Elvis Presley.

“Brutally Honest” PR Guy To Feinberg: La La Land “Felt A Little Light For Me”

There’s an encased-in-cement contingent out there that insists on seeing La La Land — a love story that’s mostly about struggle, stress, career angst and romantic dreams not coming true — as some kind of slightly-too-frothy diversion. I’ve been repeatedly explaining that it’s hardly that at all. There’s exactly one light moment at the very beginning, and exactly two swoony romantic scenes — the rest is about what a bitch it is to make your career and love life work out. And yet the “too light” crowd refuses to back off.

Here‘s one of them — a member of the Academy’s publicist branch who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg:


An Oscar Quiz That Only Guys Like Tom O’Neill and Scott Feinberg Will Ace Without Double-Checking

Author and former Chicago Tribune movie guy Mark Caro is back with his annual Oscar quiz, once again in the N.Y. Times. “I tried to make it a bit less tough or obscure,” he notes, “but that’s eye-of-the-beholder stuff.” Reference the Oscar.go.com nominees list as you’re answering the toughies.

Opener: If Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins wins for Best Director (which he won’t), he will not become the second African-American winner in that category.

Hidden Figures Surge Ain’t Enough

I’ve been ixnayed regarding a request to attend Friday’s Hidden Figures party at Spago, but I’ll share this all the same — a note from a Manhattan guy who gets around: “I’ve spoken with several Oscar voters in New York who voted for Hidden Figures in the Best Picture category. They could give a shit about a love letter to Los Angeles. They live here. I’m calling this as a huge upset possibility. The frontrunner is always vulnerable and HF is about something. Plus it’s a story no one knew.”

If Hidden Figures is surging (and I’m not disputing this), it’s a Hubert Humphrey surge — too little and too late. Or too regional.

Don’t You Believe It

Reading Robbie Collin‘s recent pronouncement that The Lost City of Z (Amazon/Bleecker, 4.14) is an “instant classic” really rankled my ass. It’s a slow, tension-free dirge — a film that inspires thoughts of escape with the first 30 minutes — with a dead-fish lead performance by Charlie Hunnam. Beware of the James Gray cabal! — they live in a different world than you or I.

From my 12.22.16 review: Around the 25-minute mark I was starting to feel concerned about how much longer The Lost City of Z would last. I looked at my watch…Jesus God, almost another two hours!

“I was sitting in a rear-center seat in Alice Tully Hall, and for some wimpish reason I didn’t want to get up and risk stepping on 15 or 16 pairs of feet on the way out so I figured, ‘Stop it…be a man and stick this out…you can do it.’

“I made it to the end but it was brutal, dawg. By the time The Lost City of Z I had concluded that I really, really don’t want to watch another movie with Charlie Hunnam in the lead. (more…)

Seeing Get Out With A Certain Trepidation

Quick wit, nice guy, open to the alpha, drawing from the well. But I’m not sensing a discerning Olympian sensibility a la Nicolas Ray, Spike Lee, Orson Welles, Samuel Fuller, Sidney Lumet, Charles Burnett or Stanley Kubrick. I’m sensing the mindset of an entertainer — a guy who’s looking to sell tickets, juice the customers, make ’em laugh. A black John Carpenter with a funny bone?

I’m Taking Even-Money Action on Casey Affleck — $20 Limit, Come What May

Denzel Washington’s performance in Fences is big, bold and showy; Casey Affleck’s in Manchester by the Sea is quiet, understated and internal. Affleck had won almost all the awards until SAG chimed in. Washington’s is the kind of acting that the Academy loves to reward — when was the last time an oversized performance lost to a subtler one, or a performance as brilliantly understated as Affleck’s won? I don’t know the answer to that question, because it just doesn’t happen. Subtlety, sad to say, rarely wins acting Oscars.” — from Steve Pond‘s last and final Oscar assessment piece, posted today at 2:12 pm.

Note: I’m not going to personally fork over $20 bills to all comers if Affleck loses — you have to have a Pay Pal account.

Dropped Get Out Ball…Apologies

I finally took final possession of the forest-green Mini Cooper last night around 7:30 pm. I wanted to drive it off the lot by late afternoon but the dealer needed extra time to work out registration, tags and whatnot, and the process was delayed. Which is why I wound up missing last night’s all-media screening of Get Out, which opens tomorrow night. Jordan Peele‘s horror-comedy is currently polling 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but something tells me I might have a problem with it. Maybe. I’ll almost certainly have to catch it this weekend, and we’ll see what’s up.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Likeliest 2017 Best Picture Contenders (5): Kathryn Bigelow's Untitled 1967 Detroit Riots Docudrama, written by Mark Boal; Alexander Payne's Downsizing (Paramount, 12.22); Paul Thomas Anderson Anderson's 's semi-fictionalized biopic about legendary egomaniacal fashion designer Charles James; Alfonso Cuaron's Roma; Chris Nolan's Dunkirk (Warner Bros., 7.19).

Pick of the Litter, Brand-Name Directors, Made For Intelligent, Review-Reading, Over-35 Types (23) Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper w/ Kristen Stewart (IFC Films, 3.10.17); Steven Spielberg's The Kidnapping of Edgardo Montara; Darren Aronofsky's Mother; Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck (Amazon); Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky; Matt Reeves' War For The Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, 7.14.17); John Curran's Chappaquiddick; Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying; Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight); David Gordon Green's Stronger (Summit); David Michod's War Machine (Netflix); George Clooney's Suburbicon (Paramount); Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water; Dan Gilroy's Inner City; Jacques Audiard's The Sisters Brothers; Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub Is Mektoub; Yorgos Lanthimos' The Killing of A Sacred Deer; Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's Battle of the Sexes (Fox Searchlight); Jason Reitman's Tully; Doug Liman's American Made (Universal, 9.29.17); Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria; Adam McKay's Untitled Dick Cheney Drama (Paramount); Hany Abu Assad's The Mountain Between Us.

Expensive Fantasy-Thriller-Galactic Smart Brands (3)Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 (Warner Bros., 10.6.17); Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII (12.15.17); Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant (20th Century Fox, 5.19).

Other 2017 Films of Interest (25): Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics); Roman Polanski's Based On A True Story;
Woody Allen's
latest, a period piece set in a 1950s amusement park and being shot by Vittorio Storaro; Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky's The Polka King; Wim Wenders' Submergence; Destin Daniel Creton's The Glass Castle; Jason Hall's Thank You For Your Service; Alex Garland's Annihilation; Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox, 11.22.17); Untitled Marital Dissolution Drama by Leviathan director Andrey Zvyagintsev; Lucrecia Martel's Zama; Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird; Brady Corbet's Vox Lux; Dominic Cooke's On Chesil Beach; Micheal Mayer and Anton Chekhov's The Seagull; Michael Haneke's Happy Ending; Edgar Wright's Baby Driver (TriStar, 8.11); Oren Moverman's The Dinner (The Orchard, 5.5.17); Daniel Espinosa's Life (Columbia, 3.24.17); Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's The Current War (Weinstein Co.); Andrew Haigh's Lean on Pete (A24); Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghosts (Magnolia); Andrew Dosunmu's Where Is Kyra?; Scott Cooper's Hostiles; Doug Liman's The Wall (Amazon/Roadside, 3.10).

Plus: Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game, Danny Boyle's T2 Trainspotting, Xavier Dolan's The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled. (5)

And Let's Not Forget: Terrence Malick's Weightless (a.k.a. Wait List). Costarring Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett, Val Kilmer, Clifton Collins Jr., Benicio del Toro and Michael Fassbender. (1)


When It Rains, It Pours

Posted on 1.25.17: “The Sundance Film Festival response to Charlie McDowell‘s The Discovery (Netflix, 3.31) has been fairly dismal. Speaking as a fan of McDowell’s The One I Love, which played here three years ago, I was sorry to find that The Discovery, a dialogue-driven drama about social reactions to a scientific discovery of an afterlife, is a morose, meandering thing that never lifts off the ground. The general atmosphere of dismissal had to be a heartbreaker for McDowell, but there’s also the fact that Discovery costar Rooney Mara, whom McDowell had been in a relationship with since 2010, dumped him late last year.”

Ridley Scott’s Alien Meets Gravity Meets Martian Organism

If your movie opens a film festival, it’s probably soft or inconsequential on some level – be honest. And it’s probably an even worse omen if your movie closes a film festival. You could actually double that equation if it’s closing South by Southwest, whose attendees are known for bending over backwards to celebrate geek-friendly genre movies as long as they’re seriously geeky where the rubber meets the road. I’m not saying Daniel Espinosa‘s Life is a problem, but you can tell where it’s coming from and feel the oppressive pangs of familiarity.

Best Milo Characterization

In a 2.22 interview with N.Y. Times reporter Dave Itzkoff, Real Time‘s Bill Maher reviews the crash-bang-boom that followed last weekend’s interview with Milo Yiannopoulos, a series of blows and exposures that led to Yiannopoulos losing his book deal and resigning from Breitbart News and more or less being banned from Planet Earth.

“What I think people saw [during the Real Time interview] was an emotionally needy Ann Coulter wannabe, trying to make a buck off of the left’s propensity for outrage. But to see him as this monster is a little crazy. You know what he is? He’s the little impish, bratty kid brother. And the liberals are his older teenager sisters who are having a sleepover and he puts a spider in their sleeping bag so he can watch them scream.”

Suspense Is Killing Me

With four days to go before the big night, we’re looking at exactly two Oscar quandaries — (1) will Denzel Washington steal the Best Actor Oscar from Casey Affleck? and (2) which awards won’t be won by Team La La? Excitement levels couldn’t be higher. On top of which Hollywood Elsewhere has been besieged by invites to hot Oscar-week parties. Well, five or six. I won’t be attending tonight’s La La Land dinner thrown by Vanity Fair and Barney’s New York; ditto the VF and Lancome party celebrating VF’s Hollywood Issue. But I’m good for JJ Abrams‘ annual Oscar Wilde bash at Bad Robot on Thursday evening and…uhhm, maybe Friday’s Hidden Figures soiree at Spago. Not to mention the big-tent Spirit Awards on Saturday, an Amazon/Manchester By The Sea viewing and after-party on Oscar night followed by a Lionsgate La La after-party at Soho House. That’s enough, I think.

Alternate Duplass To Academy

“I really want you to see Moonlight in the Ozarks. Because it’s a bit of a miracle.

“The sad truth is, films like this don’t get made anymore. It is a film about a rural white boy from southern Missouri navigating his burgeoning homosexuality while simultaneously trying to overcome the perils of being raised by his conservative-minded, oxycontin-addicted single mother. It has no movie stars. It is unabashedly honest and unapologetically runs against the tide of what is commonly considered to be commercial cinema.

“It is impossible to get a movie like this made in today’s indie film ecosystem. And yet the film exists. Somehow, it got made. And thank God.

“Because this is my favorite film of the last 10 years.” — Alternative Mark Duplass letter to the Academy, contemplated and expressed in a realm that probably wouldn’t have manifested if Moonlight in the Ozarks had been made.

Nature’s Element

For the magic-hour dance scene in La La Land, choreographer Mandy Moore lifted some steps from a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers routine from Top Hat (’35). Ryan Gosling‘s dancing is spry, lithe and graceful, but I have to say (and I’m not trying to sound like an asshole) that Astaire was better at it. I love the way he briefly stops on a dime and balances on one foot, just for a second. Emma Stone and Rogers are more evenly matched.


Honest Transcript

This afternoon I was cruising through the WeHo Pavilions parking lot in search of rest. I always feel guilty about taking a full-size space as I can fit in almost anywhere, but there was nothing to be had. Just like that two spots appeared to open up. I was behind two guys. I drove past one as another swerved into a spot, and suddenly I noticed what seemed to be a third spot on the right.

I pulled in, shut the bike off.  Two or three seconds later one of the guys I had passed was honking. The honks meant “hey, I wanted that spot! It was mine — I decided that 15 seconds ago…I had dibbsees!”

Me to Angry Honker, shrugging gesture, smile: “Law of the jungle, dude. Sorry!”
Angry Honker (crew-cutted Latino guy with girlfriend/wife riding shotgun): “You’re an asshole!”
Me to Angry Honker: “Okay!”

Update from disappointed colleague (2.21, 11:30 pm): “It’s Oscar week, dude! You don’t have anything better to write about than parking at Pavilions?”

Me: “It happened, I wrote it up. But I also wrote seven article-riffs earlier today — the bludgeoning of Milo Yiannopoulos, Feud: Bette and Joan, Michael Schulman‘s New Yorker piece on the Oscar games, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Wadsworth’s forest primeval in Franklin Canyon, et. al.”

Don’t Bludgeon Milo Too Vigorously

We’re all expected to despise Milo Yiannopoulos for his Breitbart-endorsed opinions and antagonistic attitude toward Lena Dunham-like feminists but — honestly? — I just couldn’t work up the animus as I watched his Bill Maher interview last weekend.

Some (many?) of his views have a cruel, obnoxious taint but Milo himself (it has to be admitted) is mildly likable. He just lost his Simon & Schuster book deal and resigned from Breitbart because of a recently surfaced video in which he said that sexual relationships between older guys and young boys occasionally have their upsides. Milo says this stuff to provoke, of course, but a big-league film director once shared the same thing with me — i.e., that he began having sex with men when he was 10 or 11, and that it wasn’t such a bad thing.

I just think that the suppression of a controversial person’s views, however odious they may seem, doesn’t reflect well on the p.c. brownshirt brigade.

From a 2.15 Publisher’s Weekly piece by Thomas Flannery, Jr.: “Milo is provocative and charismatic, which has put a huge target on his back. His book is called ‘Dangerous’ because, to many people, a gay Jew who doesn’t kowtow to the party line, jeopardizes long-held beliefs that liberals are the party of inclusion, and the other guys are the party of hatred.

“This disruption of the status quo has left many feeling threatened. When protesters try to silence Milo, when they show up to his events and physically threaten him, or scream and smear fake blood all over themselves, or riot and destroy property, they are using tactics I, as a self-described progressive, have always chided others for using. I won’t stand for it when religious groups try to silence transgender supporters, and I won’t stand for it when so-called progressives try to silence conservative voices. (more…)

Charting Devolution of Cinema Culture

The way various films over the decades have handled the tragic tale of King Arthur, Guinevere and Sir Lancelot is an episodic tragedy in itself — from Richard Thorpe‘s workmanlike Knights of the Round Table (’54) to Joshua Logan‘s sugar-coated musical Camelot (’67), from Robert Bresson‘s Lancelot du Lac (’74 — one of the best) to John Boorman‘s Excalibur (’81 – my personal favorite), from Jerry Zucker‘s First Knight (’95 — the first to flaunt modernism in the face of classical tradition) to Antoine Fuqua‘s flat-out shitty King Arthur (’04).

And now the lowest of the low, the ultimate sword in the heart, a King Arthur-vs.-Lancelot flick partially scored by Led Zeppelin (at least in the trailer) and toplined by the leaden, lemme-outta-here presence of Charlie HunnamGuy Ritchie‘s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Warner Bros., 5.12).

The influence of Game of Thrones has been all but devastating. We will never again see a big-budget drama about medieval sturm und drang without being poked in the brain by this HBO series. (more…)

Schulman’s The Oscar Games

Two grabbers in Michael Schulman’s 2.27 New Yorker piece about political strategies in the Oscar race (“Shakeup At The Oscars“):

(1) Condolences to longstanding, influential, hard-working Oscar strategist Tony Angelotti for being referred to in Schulman’s piece as “an awards consultant named Tony Angellotti” while the NY-based Cynthia Swartz and the LA-based Lisa Taback are described as “the queens of East and West.” Imagine if Schulman had described Angelotti as “a veteran Oscar strategist” while mentioning “an awards consultant named Lisa Taback.” Both are technically accurate statements, but the blowback would have been significant.

(2) “[Last] June the Academy released a list of six hundred and eighty-three new members — a record number; forty-six per cent of them were female and forty-one per cent were nonwhite, representing 59 different countries. They included the actors John Boyega, America Ferrera, Ice Cube, Idris Elba, Daniel Dae Kim and Gabrielle Union; the directors Ryan Coogler (Creed), Marjane Satrapi and the Wachowski siblings; and three Wayans brothers, Damon, Marlon and Keenen.”

But Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs‘ “mini-purge” — an attempt to get rid of the Academy deadwood that was first announced in January ’16 — “ended up affecting less than one per cent of the membership, or about seventy people.” That’s all?

Posted on 2.2.16 (“If The Academy Had Only Followed My Weighted Ballot Suggestion…”): “A lot of older Academy members have expressed outrage about losing their voting privilege because they haven’t worked or been ‘active’ within the last ten years. (Along with the Academy’s vague suggestion that their advanced age means they’re probably racist on some level.) If the Academy had only listened to my suggestion to the deadwood problem, nobody would be upset and the community would be more or less at peace. (more…)

Irving to Oscar Winners: Keep Meryl Streep Ball In The Air

“Should the Oscar acceptance speeches be political? What I’m saying is that anyone with something political to say should feel free to say it. Here’s the opportunity that Oscar winners are given: a brief moment with a global audience. It’s a small statuette, but the first time you hold it, you’re surprised by how heavy it is. What might feel heavier to Oscar winners, this year, is that we do represent (however fleetingly) a community of artists. In our community, tolerance of intolerance is unacceptable. President Trump’s intolerance is glaring. Trump isn’t worrying about presidential protocol.” — author-screenwriter John Irving (The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules) in a 2.20 Hollywood Reporter op-ed piece.

“This Is The Forest Primeval, The Murmuring Pines and Hemlocks…”

Yesterday the S.R.O. (Significant Russian Other) and I took a mountain-trail hike in the foggy wilderness of the Santa Monica mountains. A good three and a half hours, screaming calf muscles and half soaked by the mist. We began at Coldwater Canyon Park, went up Beverly Drive and took a right on Franklin Canyon Drive (which suddenly turns into the wilds of Colorado or Vietnam even) and then hung a sharp right south onto Lake Drive down to Franklin Canyon Park. The grand finale was a steep ascent of Hastain Trail, which eventually hooks up with Royalton Drive and then Coldwater Canyon Drive, and finally a 1.75 mile hike back to C.C. Park. The most exciting incident was coming upon fresh mud prints of a mid-sized animal — I compared Google images of puma and coyote prints and couldn’t decide which. We found a not-too-ripe apple lying on the path during the final third — it seemed like one of the most delicious apples I’ve ever bitten into in my entire life.

Halfway up Hastain Trail, north of Franklin Canyon Park. The misty fog was so dense it was like being in the middle of a cloud.

My first thought was that this paw print belonged to a mountain lion but maybe not — maybe a large coyote.