The Accountant Just Got Better

I ran into director Gavin O’Connor during a Captain Fantastic screening three or four weeks ago, and I asked if The Accountant, his latest, would be screening at the Toronto Film Festival. He didn’t exactly say “definitely, no question” but I got the impression it would. Affleck looks a little bulky but the film looks good. A cut above, a little extra.  Overheard: “Very violent…a Charles Bronson film with autism.” Screen it in August, before the Telluride/Toronto rumble begins.

Point Blank

“We need to unite around a candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue…a risky, reckless, and radical choice. Donald Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits and angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business? God help us! I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one. Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy. This is not reality television — this is reality.” — Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg during tonight’s takedown speech in Philadelphia.

Slight Hurdles

I can accept any actor in any role, especially if they’re Meryl Streep or Tilda Swinton or Daniel Day Lewis, but with others it’s a bit easier if their personal vibes or political associations don’t contrast too strongly with whomever or whatever they’re playing. I’m not talking about an actor not being able to sell a character against type, but certain actors in certain roles can lead to feelings of initial resistance. Which can dissolve in a matter of minutes or even seconds — don’t get me wrong — but that doesn’t mean hurdles aren’t there to begin with.

Audiences of the ’40s would have had difficulty with, let’s say, Lou Costello as Jack the Ripper or Ulysses S. Grant. Which isn’t to say Costello wouldn’t have theoretically killed in either role. But people have to believe in advance that you can bring a certain type to life before they’re willing to sit down and watch you do it.

Let’s say for the sake of hypothesis that HE’s own Jon Voight, by anyone’s yardstick a militant, Obama-loathing rightwinger, is cast as a bleeding-heart liberal in some kind of political drama. Would that mean I couldn’t accept him as such a character? No, but I’d be facing a slight roadblock going in. Most of us would. Just as I would have an easier time accepting the conservative-minded Gary Sinise as, say, a CIA contractor or an Army lieutenant rather than a Socialist mayor or an anti-war priest.

By the same token it would require a little adjustment to accept Susan Sarandon as a corporate spokesperson for a notorious polluter or a rural woman who sells AR-15s at gun shows. Not that she couldn’t pull it off but I would snicker at the thought. Ditto if flaming lefties Rob Reiner or Martin Sheen tried to play, say, a gun-rights advocate or an anti-abortionist or a rightwing Congressman.

Obviously Sheen played one of the worst righties of all time in David Cronenberg‘s The Dead Zone, but that was before his name became strong associated with liberal causes. And yes, the ardently liberal Richard Dreyfuss played Dubya vp Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone‘s W., but I somehow accepted him in this light with a peep. Jane Fonda was fine as a chilly corporate bossy type in Aaron Sorkin‘s The Newsroom, but she’s been around forever and can play anyone or anything.

I basically don’t believe in painting actors with simplistic brushes or casting the same actor to play the same type of character over and over, but it obviously happens. Throwing this up for discussion, which actors do you feel are bulletproof in this regard (i.e., can play anyone or anything and nobody says a word) and which actors would you have trouble believing in this or that specific role?

Hair Shirt

This is the kind of thing that sometimes happens when you’re married to a keeper. She buys you a shirt that makes you shriek with horror (inwardly, I mean) but you’re nonetheless obliged to put it on and smile for the camera and say things like “whoa…very nice!” and and “now I need to figure out what kind of tie this goes with.” I’m not very good at that. One time an ex bought me a Japanese kimono, and I wouldn’t even try it on. If someone buys me something truly dreadful, I…well, I won’t say “Jesus Christ, this is fucking dreadful.” But I’ll give them a hug and a kiss and tell them how thoughtful they are, and then the next morning I’ll mention a shirt I saw for sale in the same store where she bought the thing I hate, etc. The below shirt was bought for New York movie guy and stand-up comedian Bill McCuddy. He said on Twitter that the print looks like bathroom wallpaper. That would be one scary bathroom.

Bill McCuddy’s “Night of the Living Organisms” shirt.

Never Discount Shayamalan

A less good-looking Terrence Stamp in William Wyler‘s The Collector with three captives, 23 separate personalities and a shaved head. James McAvoy is the kidnapper, white-haired Betty Buckley is his psychiatrist, and The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy is the most noteworthy of the three victims. It’s called Split, and it opens on 1.20.17 — the second day of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Where’s Russian Hack + Trump-Putin Beef?

Somehow the longstanding Putin-Trump bromance coupled with the Russian hack of Democratic National Committee emails with the intent of hurting Hillary Clinton…somehow this hasn’t become a huge news story. It feels bigger than Watergate but it lacks a serious smoking gun element. There’s a strong hint of one, for sure, but for now the news media is in a wait-and-see mode.

But you know what? Even if evidence fully proved that Donald Trump is totally in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, 97% of Trump supporters wouldn’t give a damn. All they know is their Hillary hate. Nothing above or beyond that gets in.

From 6.17.16 Washington Post story about Trump and Putin’s financial relationship, written by Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum:

“The overwhelming consensus among American political and national security leaders has held that Putin is a pariah who disregards human rights and has violated international norms in seeking to regain influence and territory in the former Soviet bloc. In 2012, one year before Trump brought his beauty pageant to Moscow, then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Russia the United States’ top geopolitical threat — an assessment that has only gained currency since then. (more…)

Pete’s Dragon — CG-Driven, Toddler-Friendly, Ploddingly Plotted, Simplistic Bordering on Submental

I’ve been tapping out my mezzo-mezzo review of Jason Bourne, having finally seen it last night and being more or less in agreement with the “yes but it’s not enough” crowd. But Peter Debruge’s curiously affectionate review of David Lowery‘s Pete’s Dragon (Disney, 8.12) just landed in my inbox, and now I’m growling and seething. Bourne will have to wait.

I’m always ready to sink into an absurd, wildly illogical fantasy as long as the filmmakers are willing to supply some excuses and rationales. Just work with me, guys. Help me to half-believe in your children’s storybook scenario by answering some basic questions, and the effort alone will most likely win me over. Really. I’m not looking for trouble. Help me be a kid again. I’ll take the plunge.

Just keep in mind that when you make a movie you’re creating your own universe with your own laws, but this universe has to be whole and spherical and at least somewhat specific. Which also means that it has to adhere on some level to a semblance of natural law. Another part of the deal is that you, the creator, have to at least make an attempt to sell your fresh universe to a skeptical audience member (i.e., myself).

Did the Pete’s Dragon filmmakers understand these rules? Did they do the right, responsible thing when they put it together? Of course not.

Pete’s Dragon is basically an E.T.-like fable about a cute young kid with a profound attachment to an exotic, extremely vulnerable creature whom the authorities will want to capture, inspect and imprison for the purposes of scientific study or commercial exploitation. Ever heard this one before?

The loving family members who adopt the kid and help him protect the creature are played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Oona Laurence and Robert Redford — you all know the drill. The selfish, Trump-supporting bad guy (i.e., Bentley’s brother) who wants to capture the beast and sell worldwide rights is played by Karl Urban. (more…)

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon


Highest Expectations (in order of confidence or expectation): 1. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester-by-the-Sea [locked Best Actor nomination for Casey Affleck]; 2. Martin Scorsese‘s Silence; 3. Steven Gaghan's Gold (Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramírez); 4. Ang Lee's Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; 5. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals; 6. David Frankel's Collateral Beauty (Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton); 7. Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper (Kristen Stewart); 8. Clint Eastwood's Sully (Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney); 9. Denzel Washington's Fences (Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby). (9)

War-Related Brad Pitt Flicks -- WWII Romantic-Dramatic, 21st Century Satiric: Robert Zemeckis' Allied w/ Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard (began shooting in March '16) and David Michod's War Machine (Netflix) w/ Pitt as Gen. Stanley McChrystal + Ben Kingsley, Emory Cohen, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter. (2)

Overpraised at Sundance: Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation. (1)

Duelling Interracial-Marriage Period Dramas: Jeff Nichols' Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas); Amma Asante's A United Kingdom (David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike). (2)

Probably Solid/Decent/Interesting/Approvable, etc.: 1. Morten Tyldum and John Spaihts' Passengers; 2. Damien Chazelle's La La Land; 3. John Cameron Mitchell's How To Talk To Girls at Parties, 4. Peter Berg's Patriot's Day (Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons); 5. Niki Caro's The Zookeeper's Wife; 6. Warren Beatty's No Rules Apply; 7. Ben Wheatley's Free Fire; 8. Tate Taylor's The Girl On The Train; 9. Ben Younger's Bleed For This (Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, Amanda Clayton, Aaron Eckhart). (9)

A Little Worried But Maybe: 1. Oliver Stone's Snowden; 2. James Gray's The Lost City of Z; 3. The Secret Scripture w/ Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana; 4. Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment; 5. Werner Herzog's Salt And Fire (Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal, Werner Herzog, Veronica Ferres); 6. Ewan MacGregor's American Pastoral (MacGregor, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, David Strathairn); 7. Garth Davis's Lion (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman -- released by Weinstein Co.); 8. Denis Villeneuve's Story of Your Life (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg -- Paramount). (8)

Very Interesting, Slight Hedging of Bets (random order): 1. Charlie McDowell's The Discovery w/ Rooney Mara, Nicholas Hoult (a love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified, or a more thoughtful version of The Leftovers); 2. Wim Wenders' Submergence (Alicia Vikander, James McAvoy); 3. James Ponsoldt's The Circle (Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega), 4. Pablo Larrain's Jackie (Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard). (4)

Dumped Into Early August Release: John Hancock's The Founder (biopic of McDonald's kingpin Ray Kroc, opening on 8.5.16). (1)

Seen in Cannes, Approved or Praised to Some Degree: 1. Cristian Mungiu's Graduation; 2. Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman (Sahahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti); 3. Paul Verhoeven's Elle. 4. Pablo Larrain's Neruda; 5. Woody Allen's Cafe Society (Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively); (5)

Overly Obvious: Juan Antonio Bayona's A Monster Calls. (1)

Feels Fringe-y: Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (based on Tarell McCraney's play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" -- a Plan B/A24 project about black queer youth amid the temptations of the Miami drug trade). (1)

This Year's Animated Pixar Wonder-Package for the Whole Family: Andrew Stanton's Finding Dory. (1)

Spare Me: 1. Terrence Malick's Weightless; 2. Derek Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans; 3. Gary Ross's Free State of Jones; 4. Benedict Andrews' Una (Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn); 5. Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed. (5)

Genres Have Their Rules: 1. Paul Greengrass's Jason Bourne w/ Matt Damon (political action thriller); 2. Shane Black's The Nice Guys (darkly humorous thriller); 3. Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon (real-life disaster action-thriller); 4. Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven (western remake); 5. Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant (action thriller); 6. Ed Zwick's Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (thriller); 7. Matthew Vaughn's I Am Pilgrim (murder thriller); 8. Todd Phillips' War Dogs. (8)

Who Knows?: Alex Garland's Annhiliation. (1)


Salute To Maestro Behind This

A big flatscreen filled with all those monochrome Presidents, and then the screen being smashed, glass ceiling-wise, with shards falling away and a smiling Hillary Clinton, wearing a bright red tunic, emerging as a very possible next President, and the DNC emotions that followed. My feelings about Clinton aside, this was pretty good television. I was impressed; I admired it. When slick promotion really slams it home and falls into place just so, it can get you in the gut.

Debauch Isn’t Funny — Never Has Been

I went to a seriously rowdy party in Mill Valley in the early ’80s. I arrived late with a friend, drank a fair amount of Jack Daniels, got fairly bombed, nuzzled a couple of girls and awoke the next morning at dawn — fully dressed and sitting in a chair at a dinner table with a half-filled drink in my right hand. It’s always amusing to remember wild parties and whatnot, but bacchanalia in and of itself isn’t funny in a movie. When I worked at Cannon publicity in the late ’80s my colleagues used to joke a lot about sex. I used to say “the more you joke about it, the less you’re getting.” Same with heavy boozing and Chris Farley behavior at parties. The more you’re into stumbling around and dancing on table-tops, the more clueless and anxiety-ridden you are deep down. Translation: If you do it once in a while, fine, but if you’re getting bombed and silly every weekend you’ve got a problem.

Bogart’s Mojo Was Diluted and Puny-ized By Those Awful Bow Ties

During the last six years of his movie-star career, Humphrey Bogart took to wearing bow ties. And when he began doing that, sometime around 1950’s In A Lonely Place or ’51’s The Enforcer, he started to suppress and de-mystify his image. He went from radiating that classic Bogart vibe — that confident, half-surly, nocturnal know-it-all thing he’d owned since The Maltese Falcon — to something a little cautious and less swaggering. He began to look less like a private detective or a soldier of fortune and more like an accountant or a department store manager. Every time I see a Bogart bow tie movie (they also include Deadline U.S.A., Beat The Devil, The Barefoot Contessa and The Harder They Fall) something inside me wilts.

Some Fates Are Worse Than Unfair

James Schamus‘s Indignation (Summit/Roadside, 7.29) is a respectable, adult-friendly, nicely refined period drama (i.e., early ’50s) about values, academia, obstinacy, surprisingly good sex, Jews (in particular a tough Jewish mom) and — this is key — brutally cruel fates. The ending alienated me to no end, and I can’t explain why unless I discuss (or at least allude to) the last 15 minutes. So that’s what I’m going to do.

If you’re planning on seeing Indignation this weekend (which I’m recommending by the way — any film that riles or angers is usually up to something interesting), you might want to do that before reading this.

If for no other reason Indignation is worth the price for a 16-minute interrogation scene that happens in Act Two. It’s between a Winesburg College freshman named Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman, once again projecting that deer-in-the-headlights quality that I can’t stand about him) and Hawes Caldwell, an overbearing college dean (Tracy Letts). Hawes senses that Messner is too fickle, too much unto himself, not social enough. And he wants to know why Messner doesn’t mix it up more. But Messner is who he is — stand-offish, bright, obstinate, something of a Jewish mama’s boy. And so he stiffens and lets Caldwell have it right back.

It’s “theatre”, this fine scene. Dialogue, dialogue, point, counter-point. It doesn’t exactly “go” anywhere but it grabs and holds.

But the story! And the mostly positive reviews (84% as we speak) which don’t even hint at how Indignation makes you feel at the end. (This is why some people hate critics. Because they too often evaluate a film without telling you what it feels like.) How did Indignation make me feel? Pissed. Taste of ashes. I wanted to take a poke at Schamus.

Indignation is mainly about a half-obsessive, half-uncertain relationship between Messner (who, like original “Indignation” author Phillip Roth, hails from Newark, New Jersey) and a beautiful blonde shiksa named Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) who is gradually revealed to be a victim of chronic depression and at least one suicide attempt, but whose sexual openness and generosity is like manna from heaven for a pissy, slow-to-catch-on gloomhead like Messner. (more…)

“The Band Is Tired, Their Heart Isn’t In It”

I chose to sidestep last night’s all-media screening of Jason Bourne in order to catch Pete’s Dragon on the Disney lot. I’ll be seeing Bourne tonight at the Grove, but facts may as well be faced: some initial reviews more or less agree with what I was told last week — i.e., that it’s more or less satisfying if you aren’t measuring it by hard-ass standards but it doesn’t blow your socks off, which of course is what everyone wants.

There seems to be general agreement that a first-act, high-tension sequence in Athens is quite effective. But there is disagreement about the Las Vegas finale.

Last week’s guy told me that the Las Vegas finale excites and delivers, but Variety‘s Peter Debruge seems to disagree: “The instant the movie hits the Exocon convention in Vegas, where the potential for high-tech malfeasance ought to hit an all-time high, the film’s energy flags.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy writes that “the big action climax, a slam-bang speed race through a jam-packed nocturnal Strip, is as preposterous and incoherently staged as the Athens opening is striking and convincing.” (more…)

Sussing Toronto Galas, Special Presentations

Of the Toronto Film Festival Galas and Special Presentations announced today, between 25 and 28 are worth a tumble. Okay, make it 20. How many of the 20 will turn out to be way-up-there exceptional? Less than ten, if that. Probably less than five. More films will be announced, of course, but let’s be honest and admit that right now the TIFF slate feels a bit weak.

I woke up this morning to an abbreviated Variety headline on my iPhone. It read “Toronto Film Festival Opens with Denzel Washington’s…” before the jump. My first thought, “Holy moley, Toronto is going to debut Fences?…that’s very exciting!” Then I realized Variety‘s Denzel possessive was incorrect. TIFF’s opening night attraction will be Antoine Fuqua‘s The Magnificent Seven (Columbia, 9.23), which for Denzel is nothing but a straight mercenary paycheck gig + a chance to go up against Yul Brynner and Toshiro Mifune. Fuqua is a genre wallower, a shoveller, a primitive.

Even though Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival has been given a TIFF gala berth, it’s listed as a Canadian premiere so the Telluride debut I mentioned last weekend still holds.

Toronto Gala Head-Turners: Peter Berg‘s Deepwater Horizon (you know Berg — Patriot’s Day may turn out be one-note, rah-rah patriotic crap, but right now it reps his best potential shot at non-escapist, popcorn-transcending respectability); Garth Davis‘s Lion (Dev Patel uses Google Earth to find his parents after 20-year separation); Paul Dugdale‘s The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! — A Trip Across Latin America, Oliver Stone‘s Snowden (no Telluride), Jeff NicholsLoving (as an opportunity to re-appraise Ruth Negga‘s performance). Ama Asante‘s A United Kingdom (2nd interracial marriage drama following Loving) (6) (more…)

All Caught Up

I spent the early part of Monday evening catching David Lowery‘s Pete’s Dragon (8.12) on the Disney lot. Then it was back to WeHo to study the DNC speeches. I loved them all. I got off on all that spirit and brainpower, all that character and eloquence and well-honed intelligence plugging a presidential candidate who isn’t as good as any of them. If Hillary’s speech on Thursday turns out to be better than any speech delivered tonight I’ll be very surprised. Michelle Obama‘s speech was tied with Bernie Sanders‘ fire and brimstone, followed by Elizabeth Warren, Sarah Silverman and Al Franken. The Bernie bellowing ended when Silverman told them they’re “ridiculous.”


How I’d Play It

I need to express this carefully but honestly, so here goes. If I was a young, rich, highly fetching actress who had decided a year or two ago that for the time being (or maybe forever) that I was into girls, I would naturally go for the hotties. Which is to say the same kind of foxy, dishy women whom most guys find highly desirable, with or without a same-sex orientation. But no way would I be into (here comes the trouble) dykey-looking women, which is to say women who have what many of us might describe as butchy, male-ish, non-petite features. You know what I’m talking about. I just can’t figure why a beautiful, famous, highly rated bi actress wouldn’t want to hook up with super-hotties. I recognize that butch is a lesbian aesthetic in the same way that bears are a gay male thing, and that I can’t hope to understand or relate to it, but it seems curious. No criticism — I just don’t get it.

Voice of Anna, Maria, Eliza

Respect for famed ghost singer Marni Nixon, the soprano who dubbed Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn‘s singing in The King and I, West Side Story and My Fair Lady, respectively. Until today I didn’t know Nixon had also dubbed Marilyn Monroe‘s higher-pitched notes in her rendering of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Nixon died yesterday at age 86, from breast cancer. She was 34 when she appeared in this segment of “What’s My Line?”


Inbox Demon Bomb

Apologies to anyone who got a questionable email from me within the last 60 to 90 minutes. It was sent by the devil, not me. I was dumb enough to open my devil mail, and now my email accounts are half-frozen (I can receive but not send). Don’t open any emails from me until further notice! I’m on my way down to Stan’s Tech Garage to try and clean this up. Sorry but I’m just as much of a victim as anyone else.

Oh, To Be Home Again

From Amazon synopsis of Irvine Welsh‘s “Porno”(’03), which is the basis of Danny Boyle‘s Trainspotting 2 (TriStar, 1.27.17):

In the last gasp of youth, Simon “Sick Boy” Williamson (Johnny Lee Miller) is back in Edinburgh. He taps into one last great scam: directing and producing a porn film. To make it work, he needs bedfellows: the lovely Nikki Fuller-Smith, a student with ambition, ego, and troubles to rival his own; old pal Mark Renton (Ewan Mcgregor); and a motley crew that includes the neighborhood’s favorite ex-beverage salesman, ‘Juice’ Terry.

“In the world of Porno‘, however, even the cons are conned. Sick Boy and Renton jockey for top dog. The out-of-jail and in-for-revenge Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is on the loose. But it’s the hapless, drug-addled Spud (Ewan Bremner) who may be spreading the most trouble.”

Warren Could Have Saved Us From This

Imagine if Elizabeth Warren had run against Hillary Clinton — laying it down, whipping it up, using the same grass-roots fundraising strategy that worked so well for Bernie Sanders. As conservative N.Y. Times columnist Ross Douhat noted three months ago, she probably would have won the Democratic presidential nomination. And we wouldn’t have the current Hillary nightmare with us. Things would be looking a lot brighter and happier, let me tell ya.

We would have a strong, passionate progressive candidate whose message fits the times. Donald Trump wouldn’t be calling Sanders “Crooked Elizabeth,” women everywhere would be supporting her, she would be the fresh new energy force, I would’t be writing about her negatives, Millenials would be excited about her, people wouldn’t be groaning at the idea of eight years of dynastic entitlement or Hillary’s secretive plotting and conniving, and there would be no Sanders delegate rebellion in Philadelphia.

Posted on 4.21.16: Why didn’t Warren man up and run? Was it just…what, cowardice? A lack of gumption? Some kind of hesitancy over her age or health? The likeliest reason, I suspect, is that sometime in the winter or spring of ’15 Warren was advised by Democratic party power-brokers to play ball and not cause trouble by launching a renegade campaign against Hillary. (more…)