“A Criminally Weak Sister”

I own a razor-sharp HD-streaming version of John Frankenheimer‘s Seven Days in May (’64), and I really don’t see how the Warner Archive Bluray can look much better. It’s a nicely done A-minus film, but it only has one great scene — i.e., when Kirk Douglas (Col. Jiggs Casey) first informs Fredric March (President Jordan Lyman) and Martin Balsam (Paul Girard) that a military plot to overthrow the government may be underway. It’s all dialogue, but the late-night atmosphere and just-right performances throb with tension.

There’s only one big problem. Every scene that features or alludes to Ava Gardner‘s Eleanor Holbrook character, the vaguely alcoholic ex-mistress of Burt Lancaster‘s General Scott, is weak. The movie tells us that a few steamy letters about their affair might compromise Scott’s standing with the public. However prudish or naive American culture might have been 53 years ago, the subplot doesn’t work today. At all. Sexual dalliances can harm the reputation of a politician running for office, but who could care about a little wick-dipping when it comes to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? So what if a Curtis LeMay-like figure has been playing “poke-her”?

Boxy Allegiance

I ignored Acorn’s Smiley’s People Bluray when it popped in August ’13. I’d watched it two or three times on DVD, and I figured that high-def resolution wasn’t worth the candle. But I’ve just bought it for two reasons: (a) the price is down to $26 and change, and (b) I realized that Acorn hadn’t cleavered it down to conform to the aspect-ratio fascism of 16 x 9 screens — they actually stuck with the original 4 x 3 boxy shape, which was de rigeur when this legendary miniseries premiered in ’82. My heart warmed over. I couldn’t help myself.

Rat On A Plate

From Hugh Hart’s wheretowatch.com’s piece about the silhouette-y main-title sequence for Feud: Bette and Joan: “Kyle Cooper, who first turned industry heads in 1995 with his famously gritty main title sequence for David Fincher’s Se7en, decided to render the Feud stars in silhouette after studying Saul Bass‘s 1955 title sequence for The Man With the Golden Arm. He also checked out the 2002 opening for Catch Me While If You Can and revisited paper cut-out collages produced by Henri Matisse. The wiry sculptures by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti were another key influence.”

Quote: “I set these parameters that everything had to be in silhouette, so we wouldn’t see any details in the people’s face and there wouldn’t be any kind of shading.”


High Dive

Nobody needs to make a big thing out of this except myself and the SRO, but we’ve decided to tie the knot at a sunset beach ceremony this Friday. On a Malibu beach around 7 pm, actually. Ourselves and three or four friends. No band, no formal wear, no caterer, no crossed lances. Just the vows, the sand, the magic-hour light and the sound of the waves. Chris the “officiant guy” will conduct the ceremony and make it all come out right.

I haven’t been married in 25 years, but I’ve sampled my share of iffy, mezzo-mezzo or inharmonious relationships to know what the right chemistry and a lucky connection feel like. Do I have a deep and abiding need to get married? No — I could be very happy just living in sin. But if I don’t pull the trigger before long the SRO will be obliged to return to Russia so why fiddle around? The family thinks it’s happening too quickly, but I know a good thing when it’s fallen into my lap. I’m holding five hearts, queen high. Plus we’re doing Italy after the Cannes Film Festival, and we might as well call it a honeymoon.

Plus she needs to dive into the job market and make it happen as best she can, and she really can’t do that without the necessary credentials. She’s executive material with an impressive job history. She’s my idea of whipsmart and well-organized. No, I don’t remember the plot of Peter Weir‘s Green Card, but I assure you I’m not Andie McDowell and the SRO is not Gerard Depardieu.

We’ve been shoulder-shrugging about the doubters. They might be right, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. I’m basically that Warren Zevon guy in “Lawyers, Guns and Money” — “I took a little risk.”

If it doesn’t work out, I’ll survive. I’ll always have the column, which I’ve been married to for 18 and 1/2 years now. But I suspect it will, at least for a few years. Or maybe longer. She’s beautiful and blonde and laughs easily. I trust her. When you meet someone who’s “great partner material”, you just know. (I had the same instinct about my first wife, Maggie.) Like me she loves to hike and ride bikes and travel, and she loves my cats. I’ve never been with a smarter, more loyal and super-focused lady in my life. And, like I said, if things go south I’ll always have my wordsmithing. (more…)

Stealing Gary Oldman’s Thunder

Lewis Gilbert‘s Damn The Defiant!, a British-produced tale of a 1790s mutiny aboard a British warship, opened in England on 4.15.62, and then in the U.S. in late September. Two and a half months later Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty, a bigger, American-financed, star-driven stirring of the same basic ingredients, opened in reserved-seat theatres. Mutiny was a bust ($13.7 million gross vs. $19 million in negative costs) but it sold more tickets and attracted a lot more attention than poor Damn The Defiant!, which was regarded as an also-ran even though it beat Bounty to the box-office by several weeks.

A similar dynamic is affecting a pair of upcoming Winston Churchill dramas. Jonathan Teplitzsky‘s British-produced Churchill, will open on 6.2.17 in the U.S. and 6.17 in England. Nearly six months later Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour, a seemingly bigger, brassier, possibly more dimensionalized Churchill drama with Gary Oldman in the title role, will open stateside via Focus Features.

You know that Wright’s film is going to blow away Teplitzsky’s in terms of press attention, award-season heat and ticket sales. Then again you can’t dismiss Brian Cox, whose Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter was just as malevolent as Anthony Hopkins‘ in The Silence of the Lambs. Cox does it first, and then another actor with bigger backing redefines.

Rooting For Macron

France’s Emmanuel Macron, the pragmatic businessman and centrist who heads En Marche!, will face nationalist rightwing candidate Marine Le Pen in a 5.7 runoff election. After doing some research and particularly after reading this 4.17 Guardian profile by Angelique Chrisafis, Hollywood Elsewhere is rooting for Macron. He’s certainly a more acceptable candidate than Le Pen, whose anti-immigration stance makes her the French Trump. On top of which Marcon was only 16 when Kurt Cobain died.

Incidentally: The 39 year-old Macron is married to 63 year-old Brigitte Trogneaux, whom he met when he was 15 and she was 39. She was his drama teacher in La Providence high school in Amiens. His parents tried to break it up but Macron wouldn’t fold. He and Trogneaux were married in ’07. Imagine the prosecutorial rage and tabloid frenzy if a similar-type relationship had happened in the U.S. back in the ’90s. (more…)

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Likeliest 2017 Best Picture Contenders (9): Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit, written by Mark Boal; Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics); Steven Spielberg's "Untitled Pentagon Papers' Project" (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks -- 20th Century Fox, 12.22); Alexander Payne's Downsizing (Paramount, 12.22); Paul Thomas Anderson Anderson's semi-fictionalized biopic about legendary egomaniacal fashion designer Charles James; Michael Gracey and Hugh Jackman's The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox, 12.25); Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's The Current War (Weinstein Co., 12.22); Chris Nolan's Dunkirk (Warner Bros., 7.19); Stephen Chbosky's Wonder (Lionsgate, 11.17).

Alfonso Cuaron Stands Alone: Roma -- Spanish-language period drama set in Mexico City, presumably opening in late '17 but who knows?

Pick of the Litter, Brand-Name Directors, Made For Intelligent, Review-Reading, Over-35 Types (22) Noah Baumbach' The Meyerowitz Stories (Netflix -- Stiller, Sandler, Hoffman, Thompson); Darren Aronofsky's Mother; Todd Haynes' Wonderstruck (Amazon); Steven Soderbergh's Logan Lucky; John Curran's Chappaquiddick; Dan Gilroy's Inner City; Richard Linklater's Last Flag Flying; Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight); Ritesh Batra's Our Souls At Night (Redford, Fonda love story); 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; 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); Adam McKay's Untitled Dick Cheney Drama (Paramount); Hany Abu Assad's The Mountain Between Us.

Question Mark: Terrence Malick's Radegund, a World War II drama about an Austrian conscientious objector who was executed by the Nazis, starring August Diehl and Valerie Pachner (shot last summer but you know Malick -- it might not be released until '18 or even '19);

Expensive Fantasy-Thriller-Galactic Smart CG Brands (4): Matt Reeves' War For The Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, 7.14.17); 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 (23): Roman Polanski's Based On A True Story; Woody Allen's Wonder Wheel, a period piece set in a 1950s amusement park, 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; Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox, 11.22.17); Loveless 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).

Probably Won't Open Until 2018 (2): Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria; Alex Garland's Annihilation.

Plus: Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game, Xavier Dolan's The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled. (3)


Down With This

Michael Mann producing and partly directing an eight-to-ten-hour miniseries about the battle of Hue, based on Mark Bowden‘s forthcoming book about same? Are you kidding me? Of course I’ll watch it, devour it, buy the Bluray, etc. I’m there.

Mann and Michael De Luca have acquired the rights to Bowden’s “Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam” (Grove Atlantic, 6.6). The key factors are (a) what’s the budget?, (b) who will write the screenplay? and (b) will Mann and DeLuca be able to shoot in the Vietnamese city of Hue as well as the Citadel (which I visited in 2012) or will they have to recreate?

I’ve been to Hue twice, actually, so don’t tell me.

From the release: “Hue was the epicenter of Hanoi’s 1968 Tet Offensive, in which Hanoi sought to win the war in one stroke. Part military action and popular uprising, NVA infantry crossed mountains, completely undetected, to the outskirts of Huế while VC cadre infiltrated weapons and ordinance into the city. On January 31 at 2:30am they launched a surprise attack, overrunning the city except for two small military outposts.”

Mann statement: “Mark Bowden has written a masterpiece of intensely dramatic non-fiction. [His] achievement is in making ‘them’ into us. We are them. There are no background people; people abstracted into statistics, body counts. There is the sense that everybody is somebody, as each is in the reality of his or her own life. (more…)

HE Still Images Loading on Phones?

Photo images (jpg, png) stopped appearing on the iPhone version of Hollywood Elsewhere yesterday morning. YouTube videos show up just fine but not stills. I refreshed and reloaded my iPhone 6 Plus three times, and they still won’t appear. The cause, I’m sure, has to do with all the fiddling going on with the site’s coding and the fact that the new site is loading some of the same images. Or something like that. If anyone else is noticing the absence of still images on their phones, please advise.

Update (4.24, 7:47 am): I was too busy to bother yesterday, but I realized this morning that Safari was working but not Google Chrome. I deleted the Google Chrome app and loaded a fresh one — problem solved.

Marilyn’s Pad

For some reason I’ve been obsessed for years with Marilyn Monroe‘s walled-off home at 12305 5th Helena Drive, right off Carmelina Ave. in Brentwood. She died there, of course. Built in 1929, it may be the most serene-looking Spanish-style home I’ve ever laid eyes on. I adore the pool and the indoor amber lighting just after dusk. That or I’m some kind of nostalgia queen who can’t help investing in her remnants. I drop by every couple of years around dusk and peer over the wall. Vanity Fair‘s Julie Miller is reporting that the place is for sale for $6.9 million. Monroe probably didn’t pay much more than $50K when she bought it in ’61 or thereabouts. Miller says the owner never lived in the home — they just bought it in order to flip it. I hate people like that.


Babar Approach To Webpage Design

There’s this tendency among web designers to use large-point-size type and acres of white space. I really hate this, and this morning I told good friend Sasha that Hollywood Elsewhere’s redesign will not follow the Babar and Celeste thematic approach. This was three or four hours ago, mind. We’ve since moved past the Babar-and-Celeste thing but for a while there I was very concerned. I’m sorry but web design disputes make me emotional.

“I do not want and will not stand for a Hollywood Elsewhere designed for four year-olds — readers who need the point sizes to be gargantuan and web pages that revel in acres and acres of pointless white space.

“I want the copy and point sizes of the new Hollywood Elsewhere (which was created to make it feel less ‘old’ and revitalize advertising and make the site load faster) to look sensible and balanced and elegant. I don’t want it downgraded. I want it to look handsome and balanced and respectfully old-world in the sense that N.Y. Times or Forbes or Vulture copy looks, or how the current HE looks. I hate how it looks now.

“The old (current) HE is unremarkable but palatable — the point size of headlines and copy are okay — they don’t leap out but are at least proportionate, unchallenging and sensible. If they seem too small, the reader can use his/her fingers to increase image size. The current redesigned version looks awful on mobile. The headline point size is gargantuan. And the general copy point size is also too big. It looks like a child’s reading book. (more…)

Hyena Over The Wall

The shrieking laughter of people enjoying brunch next door is interfering with my concentration. I’m listening to one woman in particular, and it’s like someone is pointing a gun at her head and threatening to shoot if she stops laughing. Except she’s a really good actress and pulling it off. But you can’t help saying to yourself, “What on God’s earth could possibly be that funny?”  

A person who continues to laugh and laugh like some giddy hyena, louder and louder by the minute, almost certainly isn’t enjoying anyone’s humor — she doing this out of form of nervous desperation. She’s trying to flatter someone or emphasize how spirited she is or something.

If I was telling hyena girl a funny story and she started in with the hyper giggling, I would stop and smile and pat her on the shoulder and say, “Okay, okay…you’re good.” Then I’d lean forward and look in her eyes and say, “Uhhm, you know it’s not that funny….right?”

Odd Butching of Katherine Waterston

Katherine Waterston was the hot new actress du jour when she popped three years ago in Inherent Vice. For better or worse, the sex scene in that film put her on the map. Then she landed a supporting role in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I refused to even see. And then Ridley Scott or somebody on his team persuaded Waterston to wear a butchy haircut for her role in Alien: Convenant (20th Century Fox, 5.12), and suddenly the internets were saying “wait, wait..what happened?” This is the most confounding, throughly de-glamorizing haircut any name-brand actress had submitted to since Keri Russell chopped her hair off for Season #2 of Felicity. Remember how tough and take-charge Sigourney Weaver was in the original Alien, but how she didn’t jettison her hetero allure?

Katherine Waterston in Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant

Waterston in Inherent Vice.


Sliding Into Swamp

I wrote a while back that I wouldn’t be polluting my soul with a viewing of The Fate of the Furious. Because I like real fast-car movies (Bullitt, Drive, both versions of Gone in Sixty Seconds) and am therefore burdened with a sense of taste in this realm. And because I’ve suffered through three Fast & Furious films, and the only one I could half-stand was Rob Cohen’s 2001 original. Vomit bag.

Today’s news about Fate having topped $900 million worldwide is yet another indication of the coarsening of 21st Century culture. The people who paid to see this have done their part to ensure that hundreds of gallons of Vin Diesel sewage will be pumped into megaplexes for God knows how many more years. As a cultural omen this is almost as dark as the election of Donald Trump and the 9/11 attacks. The animals have taken over the asylum.

“If the fate of the Furious series is to grow somehow both wearier and dumber with age, then the eighth film is proof of a mission firmly accomplished.” — from a recent review by Globe & Mail‘s Barry Hertz.

Soderbergh’s Return

The great Steven Soderbergh is back from his Frank Sinatra-styled retirement, which was basically a recharge. In a chat with Entertainment Weekly‘s Kevin P. Sullivan he talks about Logan Lucky (Bleecker, Fingerprint Releasing, 8.18) and his plans to self-distribute:

Logan Lucky costars Channing Tatum, Riley Keough, Adam Driver.

“On the most obvious level, Logan Lucky was the complete inversion of an Ocean’s movie,” Soderbergh says. “It’s an anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie. Nobody dresses nice. Nobody has nice stuff. They have no money. They have no technology. It’s all rubber-band technology, and that’s what I thought was fun about it. It seemed familiar to me, but different enough. The landscape, the characters and the canvas were the complete opposite of an Ocean’s film. This is a version of an Ocean’s movie that’s up on cement blocks in your front yard.”

I’m betting that a majority of your megaplex douche nozzles want people in a heist film to dress nice, have nice stuff, nice technology, be flush, drive cool cars, etc. They like their meat loaf and mashed potatoes. Not me — I love what Soderbergh is describing here — but nothing makes mainstreamers more uncomfortable than originality. (more…)

Not Very Good At Something You Love

I’ve mentioned two or three times that back in the early ’70s I played drums in a band that was alternately called The Golden Rockets, The Sludge Brothers, Dog Breath and Blind Pig Sweat. At the very best I was semi-competent. Style-wise I used to remind myself of Doug Clifford, the Creedence Clearwater drummer. I never got beyond that, and I tended to drag at times. I never took drumming lessons and could never even do a roll. To this day I can’t manage this with sticks, and that’s very irritating.

If only I’d taken lessons as a kid, but either way I was a mediocrity and knew it. It was always a little painful when we did a gig because I knew that a certain percentage of the crowd would be shaking their heads and muttering “whoa, that guy isn’t too good.” But I’ve always been a better-than-decent thigh drummer. No shame in that regard. I use dimes and quarters in my right pocket so simulate a high-hat sound. 

If I lived in a big soundproof McMansion I’d buy one of those electronic silent drum sets that you can only hear with earphones and wail away at odd hours.

Taxi Driver

The best gig of my life has been writing Hollywood Elsewhere for the last 12 and 2/3 years, and especially since I adopted the several-posts-per-day format in April ’06. The second best was tapping out two columns per week for Mr. Showbiz, Reel.com and Kevin Smith‘s Movie Poop Shoot (’98 to ’04). General entertainment journalism for major publications (Entertainment Weekly, People, Los Angeles Times, N.Y. Times), which I did from ’78 to ’98, ranks third. But my fourth all-time favorite job was driving for Checker Cab in Boston. Seriously. The only non-writing gig I ever really liked.

The gig only lasted eight or nine months. I was canned for driving a regular customer off the meter up in Revere. But God, I felt so connected and throbbing and all the other cliches. Buzzing around one of the greatest cities in the world each night, learning something new every day, meals on the fly, incidents and accidents, hints and allegations.

At the end of every shift I was so revved that it always took a good hour to crash when I got home, which was usually around 1:30 or 2 am. And every night I had a new story to tell my girlfriend, Sherry McCoy, with whom I was sharing a nice little pad on Park Drive.

Back then the Checker garage was on Lansdowne Street, or right next to Fenway Park. I remember to this day my Motorola two-way radio with the cord-attached mike. One of the dispatchers was called Tiny (a white-haired fat guy); there was another older gent with a kindly face and gentle voice. After I had gained a little seniority I was given a slick new Checker cab (#50), which I always kept whistle-clean. At the end of every shift I had a new story to tell.

Story #1: A youngish woman who got into the back seat near Boston Garden found a full wallet with no ID or anything — $400 and change, which was a fortune back then. We split the dough 50-50 — luckiest score of my young life.

Story #w: An attractive, slender, frosty-haired woman in her mid to late 40s started chatting about this and that, and before you knew it were were flirting and talking about erotic chemistry and whatnot. As I was dropping her off she opened the cash slot and we gently kissed goodbye. We never got out of the cab, never shook hands — all in the eyes. I saw her on Newbury Street three or four months later…”Yo!” (more…)

Latest Know-Nothing Best Picture Spitball

Four and a half months before anyone besides Glenn Whipp starts to even speculate about 2017 Best Picture candidates, Hollywood Elsewhere is projecting that the following nine films (also posted in the Oscar Balloon) are the most likely contenders, and in the following preferential order:

Kathryn Bigelow‘s Detroit, written by Mark Boal; Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics); Michael Gracey and Hugh Jackman‘s The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox, 12.25); Steven Spielberg‘s “Untitled Pentagon Papers’ Project” (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks — 20th Century Fox, 12.22); Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing (Paramount, 12.22); Paul Thomas Anderson‘s semi-fictionalized biopic about legendary egomaniacal fashion designer Charles James; Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s The Current War (Weinstein Co., 12.22); Chris Nolan‘s Dunkirk (Warner Bros., 7.19); and Stephen Chbosky‘s Wonder (Lionsgate, 11.17).

Are there any hints of softness or uncertainty among any of these? Yes, but I’d rather not share at this stage. I only have hunches and what are those worth? Which of the above are all-but-guaranteed locks for Best Picture noms? Detroit, Call Me By Your Name, The Greatest Showman, Spielberg’s Pentagon Papers Project (a.k.a. The Post). Everything else feels a bit shaky in this or that way. (more…)