When Coney Island Was A Thing

A four-day-old Film Stage piece (2.21) by Leonard Pearce reported that Woody Allen‘s Coney Island-set period film is titled Wonder Wheel — a childhood reminiscence piece, presumably in the vein of Radio Days.

The film “takes place in the summer days of the 1950s,” Pearce writes, but unless it covers two or more years the action takes place in 1950. The proof is in the lobby poster in the below still. With James Stewart, Shelley Winters and Dan Duryea costarring, the film is Anthony Mann‘s Winchester ’73, which opened on 7.12.50. The Brooklyn-raised Allen was 14 on that date.

The costars are Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jim Belushi, Tony Sirico, Jack Gore, Steve Schirripa and Max Casella. Like everyone else I’m expecting a 2017 Cannes Film Festival debut.

Justin Timberlake, Kate Winslet and Juno Temple in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel.

Absurdly Overpraised Get Out Boasts Intriguing Concept But Turns Out To Be Minor-League

Jordan Peele‘s Get Out, which I saw in the Grove yesterday afternoon, deserves points for blending racial satire with a current of Stepford Wives-like horror, and particularly for the low-key restraint that Peele deals during the first 45 minutes or so.

But while I respect the audacity behind (as Armond White has pointed out) a mix of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and Meet The Fockers with B-level horror, I found what Peele is saying about Obama-era relationships between upscale blacks and whites to be easy and specious. Plus I was seriously disappointed by the standard-issue blood-and-brutality chops during the last half-hour, not to mention Peele’s complete indifference to logic and consequences at the final fade-out.

The critics who’ve gone hog-wild over the racial-anxiety-meets-horror concept have overplayed their hand. They’re singing praises from their own p.c. echo chamber partly because — wait for it — the director-writer and the good-looking, smooth-cat hero Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) are African-American, and because the 2017 Film Critic’s P.C. Handbook absolutely forbids dissing or even questioning any kind of subversive genre-bender of this type.

The truth is that Get Out starts well, slowly building on the intrigue and intimations of bad stuff to come, but it gradually devolves the more the horror elements take hold. It’s just not that clever or well thought-out.

SPOILER: Peele’s central idea is that good white liberals (i.e., the kind who “would’ve voted for Obama a third time if we could’ve,” as Bradley Whitford‘s Dean Armitage, the father of Kaluuya’s girlfriend Rose, says early on) are liars — they’re just as racist as any rural Trump fan but with the ability to hide behind a facade of gracious, laid-back behavior. Moreover, their goal is to de-ball blacks who mix them with them socially and politically, and so blacks who ingratiate themselves with allegedly enlightened whites are being hoodwinked and led astray.

Peele isn’t exactly expressing a philosophy of black separatism, but he’s obviously saying “watch out for upscale whiteys…they ain’t on our team.” All of Get Out‘s horror and mayhem stems from this basic viewpoint. (more…)

Don’t Softball It — Tell It Straight

If I had written the copy for this first-ever N.Y. Times ad, which will appear during Sunday’s Oscar telecast, it would read as follows: “The truth is that Donald Trump and his White House henchmen have given every indication since January 20th that they intend to respect only the views and concerns of the 26% of eligible voters who supported Trump in the 2016 Presidential election.

“The truth is that a key part of their agenda has been to declare war on the press, and that a major part of his effort is to push a Trump administration meme that mainstream news reporters and editors are entrenched suppliers of ‘fake news.’

“No news organization is without flaws or perfectly impartial, but over the last 15 or 20 years ‘fake news’ has been almost entirely a manifestation of the alt-right fantasy fringe (Alex Jones, Breitbart News, et. al.). If the Trump team has made one thing clear, it is their wholehearted support of alt-right values and agendas, as the executive branch ascension of former Breitbart honcho Steve Bannon makes clear. In league with this, the Trump White House intends to muffle the press as far as political circumstances and leverage will allow.

“The truth is that the Trump administration has given every indication that they intend to be an authoritarian, alt-rightist, racially repressive, anti-environment, corporate-kowtowing, would-be fascist regime — a team of thugs, dazzling in their belligerency, who will not only seek to undo just about every progressive, socially constructive or fair-minded thing that the Obama administration signed into law or brought about through executive order but ‘make America great again’ — an odious, dog-whistle pledge that smacks of racism, belligerency, arrogance and unbridled corporate favoritism.

“The truth is not hard to find or know. It is right there in front of anyone who wants it — discernible to anyone with an interest in using brain cells and not relying on the usual rural resentments, prejudices and simplistic notions that the wacko right has successfully exploited for too many years.

“But with some of the most odious people to ever orchestrate an executive branch agenda in the history of the United States, people regarded as the worst villains to control the levers of power since the darkest days of the Nixon administration (and let’s remind ourselves again that Richard Nixon was a far better man and Oval office occupant than Donald Trump could ever hope to be)…with such people determined to obscure facts and reimagine reality like never before, the truth is more important than ever.”

Save Me From This Slow Downswirl

I’m sorry but Joseph Cedar‘s Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Sony Classics, 4.14) doesn’t cut it. A smartly written, dialogue-driven drama about an elderly poseur and would-be financial hustler (well acted by Richard Gere), it intrigues for the first…oh, 40 or 45 minutes but runs out of gas by the one-hour mark, and then you have to sit there for the remaining 57 minutes. It began to irritate me more and more than Norman is never shown at his home or office — he’s constantly on the street or at some party or restaurant, always wearing the same camel’s hair overcoat, hat and bargain-basement scarf. He’s obviously headed for a fall sooner or later, and it’s not much fun to watch him double-talk and stumble around as the inevitable awaits. Thanks but no thanks. The supporting performances are flawless — Lior Ashkenazi, Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Harris Yulin, Dan Stevens, et. al. Norman is an intelligent, carefully measured film and far from a wipe-out but I felt weaker and weaker as I watched it.

Hansard Recalling Guthrie — A Beautiful Moment at JJ Abrams’ Oscar Wilde Soiree

Last night Hollywood Elsewhere attended the 12th Annual US-Ireland Alliance’s Oscar Wilde Awards at Bad Robot. Thanks again to JJ Abrams for the invite. The honorees were Martin Short (I’ve asked for video of his hilarious, bullwhip-sharp remarks), Outlander‘s Caitriona Balfe, Loving‘s Ruth Negga, Zachary Quinto and the eternally buoyant Glen Hansard. The attendees included Jon Hamm, the great Sarah Paulson, Cameron Crowe (who introduced Hansard), director-screenwriter Larry Kasdan and Catherine O’Hara.

Oscar Wilde Award honorees at last night’s JJ Abrams/Bad Robot soiree (l. to r.): Martin Short, Caitriona Balfe, Ruth Negga, Zachary Quinto, Glen Hansard w/ host JJ Abrams.


“They Consider Him A Stupid, Unstrategic Politician”

Excerpts from a 2.22 Vox interview with Mikhail Fishman, editor-in-chief of the Moscow Times, an English-language weekly published in Moscow. Fishman, a Russian citizen and an outspoken critic of Putin, has covered Russian politics for more than 15 years. The interview was conducted by Vox‘s Sean Illing:

Fishman: “In their habits, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump they’re radically different. Trump is a posturing performer, full of idiotic narcissism. He appears to be a disorganized fool, to be honest. Putin, on the other hand, is calculating, organized, and he plans everything. He also hides much of his personal life in a way that Trump does not.

“Then there’s also the fact that Putin is so much more experienced than Trump. He has more than 15 years of global political experience. He knows how to do things, how to work the system. He makes plenty of mistakes, but he knows how to think and act. Trump is a total neophyte. He has no experience and doesn’t understand how global politics operates. He displays his ignorance every single day.”

Illing: “What is the perception of Trump in Russia? Is he seen as an ally, a foe, or a stooge?”

Fishman: “The vision of Trump is basically shaped by the Kremlin and their propaganda machine — that’s what they do. During the election campaign, Trump was depicted not as an underdog but as an honest representative of the American people who was being mistreated by the establishment elites and other evil forces in Washington.”

Illing: “The Kremlin knew that to be bullshit, right? This was pure propaganda, not sincere reporting, and it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton.”

Fishman: “Of course. All of it was aimed at damaging Hillary Clinton. Putin expected Trump to lose, but the prospect of a Clinton victory terrified him, and he did everything possible to undermine her.” (more…)

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)


Sunday In The Park With Jake

The 1984 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine, Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters’ Sunday in the Park with George melted me down. And now a new production at the Hudson Theatre, starring Jake Gyllenhaal as George and Annaleigh Ashford as Dot/Mariem has opened to rave reviews.

It will run until 4.23, and if I had the surplus dough I would fly back to New York sometime in mid March to catch it. Experiencing the right kind of emotion and exaltation is all but priceless. You only live once, right? Cheers to Jake for reportedly nailing it — for the passion it took to invest himself 110% and enhance his vocal game, for allegedly matching Patinkin note for note and heartbeat for heartbeat.

From Ben Brantley’s N.Y. Times review: “Mr. Gyllenhaal translates the intensity that has characterized his most memorable screen appearances (including Brokeback Mountain and Nightcrawler) into a searing theatrical presence, in which his eyes are his center of gravity. He embodies one of Seurat’s favorite artistic dictums, ‘concentrate,’ with an unwavering focus that seems to consume and illuminate the dark.

“Mr. Gyllenhaal invests every note he sings with the rapt determination of someone trying to capture and pin down the elusive. Watch Seurat at work, dabbing specks of color on his canvas, and listen to the vigor (and rigor) with which he invests the repetition of those colors’ names.”

Beginning of Brantley’s review: “He is a thorny soul, a man neither happy nor particularly kind, and not someone you’d be likely to befriend. But when the 19th-century French painter Georges Seurat, reincarnated in the solitary flesh by a laser-focused Jake Gyllenhaal, demands that you look at the world as he does, it’s impossible not to fall in love. (more…)

No Dog In This (Seeing It Today) But Harmin’ Armond’s Slapdown of Get Out Runs True To Form

Get Out is a “trite get-whitey movie” by way of “a horror comedy for Black History Month,” writes National Review critic Armond White. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets Rosemary’s Baby meets Meet the Fockers” meets Trayvon Martin meets Stepin Fetchit and/or Black Sambo.

SCREECHING SPOILER: “What was it, exactly, that the all-media screening audience at the new movie Get Out was cheering for when the black protagonist killed an entire family of white folks one by one?

“26-year-old middle-class black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) travels with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to her family’s idyllic exurban home and discovers a racist cult intent on siphoning black men’s mental and physical energy…Hollywood high-concept goes low and unfulfilled.

Get Out is an attenuated comedy sketch in which serious concerns are debased. Pushing buttons that alarm blacks yet charm white liberals, [director Jordan] Peele manipulates the Trayvon Martin myth the same way Obama himself did when he pandered by saying, ‘Trayvon Martin could have been my son.’ (more…)

“Down The Wrong Pipe”

This 4-minute, 45-second clip from Alien Convenant (20th Century Fox, 5.19) is all about delivering a false-alarm joke that kicks in at 2:50 and ends at 3:30. Close to three minutes of group chit-chat and camaraderie, and then the 40 second payoff, and then another 75 seconds of aftermath. The late John Hurt would be amused.


Magic Golfer

From Business Insider post earlier today: “After prompting by President Trump during a White House meeting with corporate CEOs, GE’s Jeff Immelt regaled [the participants] with a story about Trump hitting a hole in one while playing golf with Immelt.

“We were trying to talk President Trump into doing the The Apprentice…that was my assignment when we owned NBC,” said Immelt. “President Trump goes up to a par 3 on his course. He looks at the three of us and says, ‘You realize, of course, I’m the richest golfer in the world?’… then gets a hole in one.”

The group laughed, and Immelt concluded, “So I have to say, I’ve seen the magic before.”

The magic? Did Immelt sound like the most pathetic big-wheel kiss-ass of the 21st Century when he said that or what?

“It’s crazy,” Trump said to more laughter. “I actually said I was the best golfer of all the rich people, to be exact, and then I got a hole in one. It was sort of cool.”

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 will 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.