“They Call Us Dweebs For A Reason”

168 film critics have voted for what they consider to be the year’s finest film achievements in the 2015 Sight & Sound/BFI poll, and the results are about what you might expect. I partly admire this crew and am partly shaking my head at the ivory-tower-ishness of their choices. No Spotlight, Revenant, Love & Mercy, Brooklyn? The Assassin is their top dog followed by Carol (HE-approved), Mad Max: Fury Road (HE approved), Arabian Nights (what?), Cemetery of Splendor (come again?), No Home Movie (haven’t seen it), 45 Years (HE approved), Son of Saul (totally HE approved), Amy (entirely decent but calm down), Inherent Vice (absolutely not HE approved…hated it), Anomalisa (fine), It Follows (HE approved), Phoenix (still haven’t seen it), Girlhood (haven’t seen it), Hard to Be a God (come again?), Inside Out (good film but calm down), Tangerine (included mostly because it was shot on an iPhone 5), Taxi Tehran (seeing it soon), Horse Money, The Look of Silence, et. al.

Begins With Anger, Ends With Acceptance

Sasha Stone and I recorded an Oscar Poker chat three or four hours ago. We began by discussing the big, ridiculous Twitter blow-up over my posting of those four horrible words (“Forget women seeing this”) at the end of an otherwise laudatory tweet about The Revenant. I let go with a fair amount of anger about this episode, but at least it’s real. After hashing this out we began discussing Best Picture contenders with a special focus on Creed, Joy and The Hateful Eight. The general assumption is that if the Joy consensus is exuberant seven days hence then the Best Picture Oscar contest will basically be a Joy vs. Spotlight thing with Creed and The Martian duking it out as the populist popcorn favorites. Again, the mp3.

“Even Doper…For People Who Care”

I for one have never seen an Ultra Panavision 70 film projected correctly (i.e., 2.76:1) inside a theatre in my entire life. I saw a restored version of Ben-Hur (which was shot in Camera 65, the exact same process) at the 2011 New York Film Festival, but they showed it within a 2.55:1 aspect ratio. I’m not persuaded that Ultra Panavision 70/Camera 65 flicks that played in the ’50s and ’60s (Raintree County, Ben-Hur, How the West Was Won, Mutiny on the Bounty, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Fall of the Roman Empire, etc.) were shown in 2.76:1. I suspect that they were mostly projected at 2.55:1 except at the Cinerama Dome, which of course was built to project extra-wide Cinerama films. 2.76:1 is really, really wide. I’m familiar with the full-width Ben-Hur and Mutiny on the Bounty only from looking at the DVD/Blurays. So when I see an Ultra-Panavision 70 version of The Hateful Eight early next week, it’ll be my first encounter with this process on a big screen.

Who’s Getting The Elbow?

Nobody deserves the Best Supporting Actor Oscar more than Love & Mercy‘s Paul Dano…nobody. I’m sorry but that’s how it is. At the same time no one is disagreeing that Creed‘s Sylvester Stallone, a late arrival, is all but locked for a BSA nom. Which leaves three slots. By my yardstick they belong to Bridge of SpiesMark Rylance, either Mark Ruffalo or Michael Keaton in Spotlight (does the fact that Emma Stone is hosting a dinner for Keaton on 12.2…does this mean voters will end up voting for him over Ruffalo?), and Michael Shannon in 99 Homes/Freeheld. I agree that Sicario‘s Benicio Del Toro and Beasts of No Nation‘s Idris Elba should be in there, but there are only so many hands in a deck of cards.

Nope, No Thanks, Not Again

A couple of days ago Jennifer Lawrence told EW‘s Sara Vilkomerson that she plans to start directing before long, and that the first project will be “about mental warfare in the ’60s, like an acid experiment gone terribly wrong.” The pic will be based on a 2012 New Yorker article by Raffi Khatchadourian called “Project Delirium.” Lawrence adds that she’d “also like to direct a comedy.” Wells to Lawrence: Do the comedy and shelve the Delirium. Nobody wants to see another government-funded-behavioral-experiment-gone-wrong movie in the wake of Kyle Patrick Alvarez‘s The Stanford Prison Experiment and Michael Almereyda‘s Experimenter. The string is played out.

Richter Was There

Last night I came upon a link for an L.A. Times Calendar piece that I wrote 22 years ago about Dan Richter, the ’60-era mime who played the bone-tossing Moonwatcher in Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The last time I linked to this piece was in July ’08. Here are three scans of the original article — #1, #2 and #3.

My father met Dan at a Connecticut AA meeting in ’92 or thereabouts, and at my dad’s suggestion I called a while later and visited Dan at this home in Sierra Madre for an interview. I remember he was dealing with chemotherapy at the time and not walking all that well, but he’s still here and doing okay as far as I know. I didn’t know until this morning that Richter published a 2012 memoir — “The Dream Is Over” — that’s mainly about a four-year period that he spent with John Lennon and Yoko One (’69 to ’73). (more…)

Hard and Clear

The best thing about this photo, which was shot somewhere on the Lower West Side during the spring of ’77, are the folds in the woman’s stockings. That and the eye contact between us and my no-worries expression. And the cigarette. I wasn’t a constant smoker (I would guiltily indulge from time to time and then quit again) but I was definitely stinking of tobacco and nicotine when this shot was taken, and it didn’t seem like a problem. I was half-miserable at the time, but I was approaching an even more miserable chapter, which was my first three years in NYC (’78, ’79 and ’80) — restaurant jobs, freelance assignments for next to no money, a cockroach-infested apartment on Sullivan Street and then a one-room misery studio on West 4th Street near Jane, bad food (next to no vegetables, tons of sugar), getting half-bombed every other night, typewriter ribbons and white-out, a ghetto blaster and a couple of dozen cassettes for music. And yet for all the fretting and struggling and my particular form of weltschmerz, I was batting somewhere between .333 and .400 with the ladies.

Last Potential Power-Hitter In Batter’s Box

The time for David O. Russell‘s Joy (20th Century Fox, 12.25) draws nigh. A flurry of press screenings will begin next Wednesday, and there are two showings for the Academy/guild crowd this weekend. It’s obviously presumptuous to talk Best Picture odds, but right now it’s still Spotlight on top with The Revenant having dropped a notch or two, basically because it’s the new 12 Years A Slave. (David Poland: “My personal take is that The Revenant will not resonate much with Academy voters…others disagree.”) If Joy turns out to be a heavy hitter it’ll be a Spotlight-vs.-Joy thing all through December, January and February. I’m persuaded that The Hateful Eight won’t seriously compete, and that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be a huge financial hit. If there’s a Best Picture sleeper out there it’s Creed, but there’s another formulaic entertainment (i.e., The Martian) in Best Picture contention already — the only Creed contenders that seriously pop are Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor and composer Ludwig Goransson.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

ABL = all but locked, EP = extra HE passion, RD = respectful disagreement/disapproval, AG = afterglow/makeup for previous loss, SD/MG = special dispensation/support of Movie Godz, NYS = not yet seen, GW = gold-watch award for septugenarians & octogenarians.

Best Picture (in order of apparent likelihood): Joy (ABL, NYS), The Revenant ABL, NYS, Spotlight (EP, SD/MG), The Big Short (NYS), The Martian (RD), Steve Jobs, Carol, Room, Bridge of Spies (RD), Love & Mercy EP, SD/MG) (10). In Need Of Heat: Brooklyn, Beasts of No Nation, Mad Max: Fury Road, Suffragette, Son of Saul(EP), The Hateful Eight (NYS), The Danish Girl (7).

Best Director (in order of apparent likelihood): David O. Russell, Joy (ABL); Alejandro Inarritu, The Revenant; Tom McCarthy, Spotlight EP; Ridley Scott, The Martian (GW) (5). Heel-nippers: Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation (EP); Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs; Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies; George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (EP); Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy (EP, SD/MG).

Best Actor (in order of apparent likelihood): Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (NYS, AG); Steve Carell, The Big Short (NYS); Matt Damon, The Martian; Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs. Heel-nippers: Michael Caine, Youth (GW), Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies, John Cusack, Love & Mercy (EP, SD/MG); Will Smith, Concussion (NYS).

Best Actress (in order of apparent likelihood): Jennifer Lawrence, Joy (NYS); Brie Larson, Room (ABL); Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (AG, GW); Carey Mulligan, Suffragette (EP); Cate Blanchett, Carol/Truth (EP); Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn EP.Heel-nippers: Lily Tomlin, Grandma; Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Supporting Actor (in order of apparent likelihood): Robert DeNiro, Joy (NYS); Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Mark Ruffalo or Michael Keaton, Spotlight; Paul Dano, Love & Mercy (EP); Tom Hardy, The Revenant NYS. Heel-nippers: Michael Shannon, 99 Homes, Freeheld EP; Benicio Del Toro, Sicario; Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation, Jason Segel, End of the Tour; Sylvester Stallone, Creed (NYS); Ryan Gosling, The Big Short (NYS).

Best Supporting Actress (in order of apparent likelihood): Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs; Rooney Mara, Carol; Jane Fonda (EP, GW), Youth; Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy (EP). Heel-nippers: Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years; Diane Ladd, Joy; Joan Allen, Room; Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (EP).


Same Cockatoo Thanksgiving

Repeat/collage/refining of previous turkey-day sentiments: “I don’t feel an obligation to state what I’m thankful for because the calendar says this is the day to put your feelings on the table. I feel thankful 24/7/365. Mainly for my life and career having turned out fairly well. The success of Hollywood Elsewhere has been earned brick by brick, phrase by phrase, sweat droplet by sweat droplet. The talent and discipline that made this happen weren’t granted except by way of genetic inheritance, but I’m enough of a meditative mystic to understand that luck is a big part of things, and so I’m grateful, very grateful, for the luck that has come my way. And for my two sons and my friends and occasional romantic flames and my two cats, and the feeling of being loved or liked or aligning with others in whatever way. I’m hugely grateful that I wasn’t born to a middle-class, downmarket family in Nebraska or Montana or to some resigned, lethargic, drinking-class environment. I’m thankful that sobriety is now the basis of my life, and that I don’t eat turkey or mashed potatoes or yams or sweet potatoes or any orange-colored vegetable. I love Thanksgiving downshifting because it means a major Bluray and high-def submission for a day. Except I haven’t gotten around to that.”

Stalking Horse

Will Smith to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg: “As I look at the political landscape, I think that there might be a future out there for me. They might need me out there. This is the first year that I’ve been incensed to a level that I can’t sleep, you know? So I’m feeling that at some point, in the near future, I will have to lend my voice to the conversation in a somewhat different way.” Of course, Smith doesn’t expend so much as a single breath explaining what precisely has “incensed” him so much. Donald Trump? Police shootings of black detainees? He’d rather not say, but he’d like go into politics and may run for something because “they might need me”? Smith has never been a wonky, details-driven guy — he’s always relied on charm. But if he decided to get wonky and serious….naahh, a leopard can’t change spots.

Ugliest Americans

“When Donald Trump said he would bring back waterboarding as an interrogation tactic against terrorism suspects, and added, ‘If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway,’ an older couple behind the group of teenagers threw back their heads in utter delight. ‘Amen,’ the woman said. ‘Oh, my God,’ one of the high school girls said. Another covered her mouth in shock.

“Then, when Mr. Trump began talking about surveillance of refugees, the college-age couple standing in front of the students began chanting, ‘Hating Muslims helps ISIS!’ The students were caught off guard, but after a moment of uncertainty, some of them joined in.

Steven Hopkins [of Waverly, Ohio] leaned over and screamed, ‘Shut up!’

“Mr. Trump stopped his remarks and looked toward the commotion with disgust. ‘Two people, two people,’ he said dismissively of the couple, as the crowd started booing and the people around them began shouting. ‘So sad,’ Mr. Trump said. ‘Yeah, you can get ’em the hell out.’ (more…)

Arriving By TaunTaun

Hollywood Elsewhere has wangled an invitation to the big fat Hollywood premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Monday, 12.14 — four days before the 12.18 opening but three days, I’m presuming, before the first commercial screenings on Thursday night. Disney doesn’t need to screen it for anyone in advance, least of all critics. (Variety is projecting a first-weekend take of $170 million but it might go higher than that.) The invitation doesn’t say where but I’m guessing the Chinese. It reads in part: “Please include the name of your guest and the mode of transportation you plan on using to and from the event: personal car, car service (of any kind), limousine service, TaunTaun, Star Speeder.”


All Hail Ludwig Goransson!

I’ve noted a few times that I prefer the kind of film score that seems to be watching the movie with you and expressing what you’re feeling as the story progresses. (Examples: Spotlight, Moneyball.) The other kind announces the emotional intention or goal on a scene-by-scene basis and more or less instructs you how to feel. Ludwig Goransson‘s Creed score is one of the latter, but it’s an arresting and often rousing example of this approach. Goransson, 31, is so with the film and feeling the current so strongly that he reminds you of old-school composers like Max Steiner or Franz Waxman. His music isn’t dancing in step with or augmenting the movie as much as a character unto itself — a kind of cheerleader that’s saying to the crowd, “Pay attention, this matters, ya gotta feel the feeling!” For what it’s worth, it’s a very stirring score of this type.

Assured Creed Is A Hit; Stallone Is A Lock For Best Supporting Actor Nom

Ryan Coogler‘s Creed, which I paid to see last night at the AMC Century 15, is the second high-quality, popular-with-the-proletariat formula flick to have elbowed its way into the award-season conversation this year (following Ridley Scott‘s The Martian). We’re definitely talking Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor…but will he campaign? (He’s delivered three commendable performances now — young Rocky Balboa in Rocky, 60ish Rocky in Creed and John Rambo in Ted Kotcheff‘s First Blood.) Creed is not so much a Best Picture or Best Director contender because it mainly follows the expected ambitious-young-boxer saga while tributing the first Rocky film. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it’s the first really good Rocky film in 39 years.

But it’s very well done within genre perimeters, and well written as far as it goes, definitely well acted and even excitingly directed at times. Coogler has made his sophomore bones with this film, and is basically set for life (if he wants to milk it) as the black Sydney Pollack. And Creed has a spiritual sports current you can really dig into and ride upon — a serious feeling of esprit de corps among sports-loving Philadelphians and particularly the scooter and moped-riding locals who live in the nabe where Michael B. Jordan‘s Adonis Creed lives and trains. This is the kind of solid, pulse-quickening sport-formula film that Joe Popcorn lives for. And it’s definitely a hit. People in the theatre applauded when Stallone came on screen, and they applauded when Ludwig Goransson‘s music cued up the traditional Rocky theme. They were into it and happy when it was over, and so was I as far as it went.

Hemingway’s Peak

I can rent a gleaming Technicolor pig-heaven version of Sam Wood‘s For Whom The Bell Tolls (’43) on Amazon Prime for only $4 bills, and it’s the restored 166-minute version with overture and entr’acte. Looks and sounds terrific. Why, then, did I just spend $13 and change for the recently popped German Bluray? Because as happy as I am with hi-def streaming these days, I feel a profound kinship with physical media and so I re-invest now and then, not out of desire or necessity but sentiment — because I don’t want it to go away.

The Morons Are Due On Maple Street

I’ve posted the following in the Guardian comment section following Andrew Pulver’s article: “This was over four lousy words on Twitter. FOUR WORDS! Sloppy of me, granted, but I posted a mea culpa yesterday, or a few hours after this blew up: ‘Agreed — I shouldn’t have said that. ‘Forget women seeing this’ is a gross simplification. I’m down on my knees and whining like a little piglet. If I had given the matter 15 or 20 seconds worth of thought I would have rephrased and qualified in some way. I’m not stupid, and I know that generalizations always get you into trouble.”


Continuing Malick Meditation: Tree Of Life & To The Wonder Go Hollywood

Life will repeatedly wound you, and profoundly disappoint you by the time you’re 13 or 14…jobs will disappear, lovers will leave you, pets will die, leaves will turn yellow and brown and fall from the trees so what the fuck? “There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.” — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls. But you know what’s almost never “true,” or at least in the way Hemingway and other considerable persons have defined the term over the millenia? Fucking Twitter.

“Any honest person who’s kept up with Malick since his return to filmmaking in 1998 (and who has contemplated the three Malick films shot by Emannuel LubezkiThe New World, The Tree of Life and To The Wonder) would have to admit that Malick has all but destroyed his once-potent mystique because he’s placed too much emphasis on the purely visual. He doesn’t give enough consideration to script and dialogue matters, and seems to have more or less abandoned conventional narrative. This plus his now-customary prolonged fiddle-faddling in post-production has fed a growing notion that Malick is a gifted but flaky eccentric — i.e., Mr. Wackadoodle.” — posted in December 2013. (more…)

Scent of Aggression

As I noted on 11.17, I was disappointed with my under-energized, under-prepared handling of my Jane Fonda sit-down. David Poland, I feel, made much better use of his time with her. I just can’t do that hammering thing he does. When someone gives you a really honest and well-phrased answer to a question, the natural impulse (mine, I mean) is to reflect and ruminate upon that answer. To dive in and swim around in it. But no reflective moments for Poland. He comes right back with another hammerhead question…beedly-beedly-bee-bee-bee?…and Fonda seems…what, slightly stunned that he’s not a go-with-the-flow, ponder-the-serenity type of guy? But she answers his questions and he gets a better interview. If I was the celebrity-artist in the chair and Poland asked me a series of rapid-fire beedly-bee-bee hammerhead questions, I would turn hostile after a while.