Finalists That Will Make The Cut

This is a slow day. I’m just sitting here in the Park Regency lobby, piddling around on a cold night in the middle of Utah’s snow-covered Wasatch mountains. Sundance starts tomorrow (kind of) but there’s nothing going on…really. So where’s the harm in posting another Tom O’Neil-and-Pete Hammond Best Picture finalist chit-chat video? Oh, God…they’re talking about Deadpool.

Nothin’ To Say But It’s Okay

Burbank Airport this morning, around 8:45 am.

This is what your Average Joe grunt-level Sundance Film Festival pass looks like — no easy access, no special priveleges. Once I strolled with the Sundance Gods, cruising on a cloud above the hurly burly, and then Jason Berger came along and yanked me off that cloud. “Back to reality, pal…go into that big white tent and wait in line with the rest of the schlubs!,” he said, his hiking boot pressed against my larynx. “What do you think you are, special? Well, you’re not.”

Park Regency customer relations manager Crystal, who works from 3 to 11 pm.

Approaching Las Vegas around 10:15 am this morning.


Disturbance at McCarran Airport

Not a big deal.  I can roll with it. They’re sitting right behind me so, you know, I turned around and gave them a look, just to let them know how their shrieking was going down. They ignored me, of course. And that’s fine.


Hollywood Elsewhere’s downgraded (i.e., GENERAL press pass rather than EXPRESS) Sundance Film Festival starts today.  Well, tomorrow morning.  Right now I’m Vegas-bound. Southwest Burbank flight about to leave. Sunny skies.  All is well.  Or, you know, good enough.

An older guy in the lounge:  “You look like a musician.”  Me:  “I’m a journalist.”  Older guy:  “Whaddaya think of Trump?”  Me: “I think he’s a beast…an abomination.”  Older guy:  “Did you ever meet him?”   Me:  “Oh, riiight. I haven’t personally met him so I should reserve judgment…is that it?”  Older guy:  “So you preferred Hillary?”  Me:  “I didn’t like her that much, but I voted for her.  It was the only sane thing to do.”

PGA, DGA and WGA Deadpool Nominations Are A Rank Industry Embarassment

Variety‘s Kris Tapley has called Deadpool a “stunningly resilient” contender in the awards race so far. I’ve no choice but to agree. A film that for me was probably the most obnoxious and tediously self-absorbed of 2016 (at least as far as the 40 minutes’ worth that I watched) has been nominated by the Producers Guild (to the everlasting horror of the ghost of Darryl F. Zanuck), the Directors Guild (an Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First-Time Feature Film nomination for Tim Miller over The Witch‘s Robert Eggers?), the Writers Guild (a stain on that organization that will not be easily scrubbed or forgotten), the American Cinema Editors, the Visual Effects Society and the Makeup and Hair Stylists Guild.

Deadpool is nothing more or less than a grating Daffy Duck cartoon blended with the self-regarding, self-perpetuating mythology of the Marvel machine. For the sake of the honor of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, please, please don’t nominate this travesty for Best Picture.

Deadpool is a movie that puts its audaciousness in the forefront, even if it’s only mutated-skin-deep; a movie that makes space for violence, sex, and swear words, but never bites the hand feeding it by diverging from formula. It’s fun for a while, and then it all becomes deeply disheartening, because calling attention to the more businesslike mechanics of superheroics isn’t subversive when you’re also playing right into them. Pointing out the symptoms of superhero fatigue isn’t the same thing as overcoming it.” — Buzzfeed‘s Allison Willmore. (more…)

Franken, Warren, Sanders (Great!) vs. DeVos (Good God)

From 1.17 N.Y. Times story about Betsy DeVos’s Education Secretary confirmation hearing, written by Kate Zernike and Yamiche Alcindor: “With time limited, Democrats confronted Ms. DeVos with rapid-fire questions, demanding that she explain her family’s contributions to groups that support so-called conversion therapy for gay people; her donations to Republicans and their causes, which she agreed totaled about $200 million over the years; her past statements that government ‘sucks’ and that public schools are a ‘dead end’; and the poor performance of charter schools in Detroit, where she resisted legislation that would have blocked chronically failing charter schools from expanding.

“Under questioning, Ms. DeVos said it would be ‘premature’ to say whether she would continue the Obama administration’s policy requiring uniform reporting standards for sexual assaults on college campuses. She told Connecitcut Senator Christopher S. Murphy, whose constituents include families whose children were killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, that it should be ‘left to locales’ to decide whether guns are allowed in schools, and that she supported Mr. Trump’s call to ban gun-free zones around schools. She also denied that she had personally supported conversion therapy.”


Cleavered Contessa

I’m not calling the recently released Barefoot Contessa Bluray (Twilight Time) a problem, much less a mockery of a sham of a sham of a mockery of a sham. I haven’t seen it so what do I know? I know this: Twilight Time‘s decision to mask the film within a whacked-down 1.85:1 aspect ratio rather than the much more pleasant 1.33:1, which offers the usual extra headroom…the decision to do this is truly a shame. Really. A friend of DVD Beaver’s Gary W. Tooze has been quoted as calling this decision “a travesty…I’ve seen it in open matte in Academy ratio and to me it’s balanced perfectly that way. Thank goodness there’s a 1.33:1 DVD.” Yes, the 1.85 fascist view is that a mainstream studio film released on 9.2.54 should be cropped at 1.85, but that’s not what many others feel. Where is the harm in opening up this Joseph L, Mankiewicz film and letting it breathe? None…none whatsoever, and up above the ghost of Contessa dp Jack Cardiff would approve.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

La La Linkage

The Criterion guys decided to create remastered Blurays of Jacques Demy‘s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (’64) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (’67) when it became known a while back that these classic French-language musicals were the primary inspiration of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. It’s been recognized that Rochefort, which is more of a dancey, jazzy thing, exerted more influence than Cherbourg. Will I request freebies for reviewing purposes? No, I will not. I respect Demy’s vision but I’ve never been a fan. I took one look at Cherbourg back in the late ’70s and went “nope.”

Criterion jacket covers for forthcoming Blurays of two classic Jacques Demy musicals, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (’64) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (’67). Both will street on 4.11.17.


Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers

Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau‘s Trophy, a Sundance ’17 doc, exposes the ethical aspects of professional big game hunting (i.e., guys who take millionaires into the bush so they can bag a rhino or a lion) vs. the ongoing uphill battle to conserve wildlife. Yes, Virginia, there are thousands of rich assholes who get a thrill out of drilling African wildlife with hot lead and then posing with their carcasses. L.A. Times celebrity assessor Amy Kaufman tweeted yesterday that Trophy “could be the next film out of @sundancefest to spark the kind of anger and debate that The Cove and Blackfish did.” Anger, sure, but who would argue with any sincerity that it’s cool to murder animals for the manly joy of it? The early-to-mid 20th Century culture that shrugged when Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway shot animals is no more. In today’s context the African hunting exploits of Donald Trump’s sons are nothing short of disgusting.


Berobed Beast

The tone of Paolo Sorrentino‘s HBO series, The Young Pope, which I saw two nights ago, is arch and poised and dryly perverse. It isn’t a flow-along thing as much as a series of carefully stylized bite-sized vignettes. The mood and pacing reminded me right away of Sorrentino’s Il Divo, which I saw in Cannes eight years ago. The Young Pope is beautifully designed and quite the Sorrentino immersion, but it’s a dish served cold.

There’s no believing that Jude Law‘s Pope Pius XIII (aka Lenny Belardo from New York City) could ever be elected Pope — you just have to accept Law’s beastly pontiff as a metaphor for something stirring right now, something toxic in the air. He’s partly House speaker Paul Ryan, partly Michael Corleone, partly Donald Trump if he’d been elected in ’84 or ’88, partly the screaming pope in Francis Bacon‘s “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X.”

Law is Damien Thorn, a Pope with claws, who adores power, a guy who likes cigarettes, who possibly likes to fuck pretty women (I haven’t seen but have heard this) and who could have fit right in with the fascist ogres in Pasolini’s Salo if a well-oiled time machine could be found.

The Asterisk Is Already Burned Into His Hide, And Into History

“If you, Mr. Trump, fail to take the Russian threat seriously, if you do not disentangle yourself from your business interests, if you promote corrupt or conflicted advisers and cabinet members, if you fail to understand the gravity of the foreign policy crisis you face, if you deprive millions of health care without an alternative, if you fail to act on the global threat of climate change, if you pit Americans against each other by race, gender, and religion, if you undermine science and reason…there will be an asterisk next to your name” — From a 1.15 post by Dan Rather on Facebook.


Dick Powell’s The Conqueror

Variety to Michael Moore: Trump has been accused of harassment and was caught on tape bragging about assaulting women. Given those allegations, why did more than 40% of women vote for him?

Moore: I’ve had to listen to guys, liberal guys, all my life, when they’re single. One lament of the liberal, feminist, single guy is that women would rather date assholes. I’d say, ‘Don’t say that. That’s not true.’ But every heterosexual guy has seen this since high school. Guys will say, ‘I’m nice…they don’t want nice.’ Listen, I don’t know the psychology of this, but men have been running the show for a few thousand years, and it’s not unusual throughout history for the oppressed to come to identify with their oppressor.

Wells comment: One, a lot of women voted against Hillary because, like many of their hinterland husbands and boyfriends, they didn’t like, trust or want her, period. Two, an actor friend told me a long time ago that “women…not all women but many of them…will always kneel before the conqueror.” Because the conqueror is strong and provides security and protects women from the dark unknown. Mussolini had a lot of women in love with him. Hitler also. You’d think that 21st Century feminism would have eliminated or weakened that curious impulse in women, but even with that cultural current 40% of women voted for this fucking monster — which is also, I suspect, because they felt they couldn’t roll with Hillary. And three, when guys say women “don’t like nice,” what they mean is “they don’t like semi-passive, thoughtful, pale-complexioned, semi-wimpy types like myself.” Women like the rascal, the rogue, the gunslinger. Just ask Princess Leia. (more…)

Nice “Hippo” Daughter, Remarks Dad

I’m sorry but this still feels way too broad, too “aimed at the peons in the cheap seats.” Which is not the kind of film that Fox Searchlight releases as a rule. Which is all the more surprising from the minds of Daniel Clowes and director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins), whom I respect. I like dry LQTM humor, like the kind that Noah Baumbach went for in Greenberg. Wilson (playing at Sundance, opening on 3.24) seems to have been made for Kevin James fans. Not my cup.


Sundance Jazz Wanderings

I used to try figure out the next Sundance Film Festival five or six ways from Sunday. Suss it out, call around, do the research, nail it down. It’s not that I’ve been reluctant to do this again, but I know what most of the heavy-hitters will probably be (including the Inconvenient Truth sequel and that suspicious-sounding Donald Trump doc) and I’m figuring “what the hell, just hit this film and that one and wait for the buzz and play it by ear, and above all pace yourself.”

I leave bright and early Wednesday morning, 1.18, and it all starts to happen the following day. Park Regency, here I come! The forecast is for snow showers during most of the festival — cool. Overcoat, gloves, four pairs of long-johns, motorcyle jacket, scarves, cowboy hat.

It’s a fairly safe bet that I won’t see some of the hotties as quickly as I might want to given my notorious press pass downgrade (thanks again, Sundance press office!), and that I might not get into everything I want to see. But you know what? Whatever happens, happens. I’ve got my instincts and my willingness to sleep only five hours per night for ten days straight. If anyone has any suggestions above and beyond the following premieres, please advise.

Posted on 12.5.16: While 35% of my time at any Sundance Film Festival is split between screens at the Library, the Holiday Village, the Egyptian, the Doubletree (formerly the Yarrow) and the Prospector Lodge, 65% is spent watching the premieres at the Eccles. So with today’s official announcement of the 2017 Sundance premieres, two-thirds of my Sundance agenda has now been determined. Here are my Eccles favorites: (more…)

“You Don’t Have To Know At 17 What You’re Gonna Do With The Rest Of Your Life…”

This might be an impolitic thing to ask, but among this particular group of directors — Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Oliver Stone (Snowden), Denzel Washington (Fences), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Mira Nair (Queen of Katwe), and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) — who is the most likely to be commonly referenced by film scholars 50 years from now? The answer is Stone and Chazelle. Stone for his lightning period of the mid ’80s to mid ’90s, and Chazelle for what he’s done so far and will do over the next 25 or 30 years.

Which Would You Prefer?

Every day publicist Lee Meltzer has been posting a banal, Kathie Lee Gifford-level question on his Facebook page. Some have been either/or questions: In-N-Out Burger or Shake Shack? Skiing, sledding or snowboarding? At first I was slapping my forehead, but then these questions began to remind me that when my kids were six, seven and eight they used to throw morbid either/ors at me all the time, except they were more than morbid — taken in the aggregate, they were almost mind-bending: “Daddy, how would you rather die — drowning in a huge vat of liquid boogers or being eaten by alligators?” Or “would you rather be torn apart by lions or squeezed to death by a boa constrictor?” So I mentioned the liquid snot-vs.-alligators thing on one of the Meltzer threads, and I got two replies. Meltzer himself said “I think I’d go with the liquid snot, probably not as painful” and another guy said “alligators might be quicker.” This is the kind of shit you get into on a holiday when there’s nothing going on. Sidenote: I used to have nightmares around that age about sinking into quicksand and adios muchachos. This thought still terrifies me.

Don’t Misremember Mommie Dearest

Yesterday HE commenter Bobby Peru attempted a takedown of Frank Perry‘s Mommie Dearest, calling it a “florid embrassment” that uses “cheap, tacky artifice to generate cartoonish shocks” and “unintentional comedy.” I’m sorry but that’s been the prevailing rant against this film for decades, and it’s just as wrong today as it was 35 years ago. I explained what it actually is as concisely as I knew how.

Mommie Dearest is maudlin soap-opera realism,” I replied, “overbaked but winkingly so, everyone in on the joke and yet taking it ‘seriously,’ and at the same time a melodrama that’s occasionally intensified and heightened to the level of Kabuki theatre. The comedy is not ‘unintentional,’ but at the same time it’s not really a ‘comedy’ — it’s a kind of hyper-realism with a campy edge.”

“If Perry had modulated Dunaway’s performance, some of the great lines — ‘No wire hangers EVER!,’ ‘Don’t fuck with me, fellas!’ — wouldn’t have worked so well. Those lines are the stuff of Hollywood legend, right up there with Bette Davis saying “what a dump!” and Vivien Leigh saying “I’ll never by hungry again.” (more…)

You Been Had, Took, Hoodwinked, Bamboozled, Sold A Bill of Goods

Without taking anything away from the reputation and legacy of the great Martin Luther King, who was born 88 years ago today, I’ve always been more of a Malcolm X man. Not just on a level of admiration but of kinship. Yes, me — a suburban white guy from New Jersey and Connecticut. Without reservation I feel as close in spirit to Malcolm X as I do to Arjuna, the central figure in the Bhagavad Gita. I feel as much personal rapport with Malcolm X as I do with the spirits and legends of JFK, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Timothy Leary, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, et. al. I admire and respect MLK, but I worship Malcolm X, and I mean going back to my teens.

I relate to his story (wayward and reckless as a youth but then finding the path as he got older…that’s me!) and the combination of bravery and emerging mental clarity that led to his political and spiritual metamorphoses. A person who stays in the same place — who can’t evolve and change as increasing amounts of light reveal increasing degrees of truth — is nothing, and in this sense Malcolm X was, in my eyes, one of the greatest human beings to walk the planet in the 20th Century. If I had my way we’d all celebrate Malcolm X day on on May 19th, and our nation would be better for that.

If you ask me Denzel Washington‘s titular performance in Malcolm X (’92) is hands down one of the most electric and rousing of all time, not just because of technique and commitment but because Denzel really seemed to channel the man — the voice, the spirit, physical resemblance.

Al Pacino‘s Scent of a Woman performance took the Best Actor Oscar that year (“Hoo-hah!”) but looking back I really think that was a mistake on the Academy’s part. Pacino’s win was part of a payback equation, his having been passed over for so many top-tier performances in the ’70s and ’80s, but Denzel really gave the more monumental performance. I haven’t re-watched Malcolm X in a good 15 years or so, but I just rented a high-def version that I’ll sit down with tonight. An HD Malcolm X on a Sony XBR 4K 65-inch…yes! (more…)

More Realistic Depiction of Raw Ocean Turbulence Than Waterworld, And It Was Shot In A Studio Tank

Almost four years ago (April 2012) Eureka / Masters of Cinema released a Region 2 Bluray of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Lifeboat (’44). I bought it, liked it as far as it went. It was a little worn and soft-focused at times; other portions looked great. Now there’s a domestic Bluray from Kino coming 3.7.17. Took ’em long enough.

There’s also a high-def Amazon streaming version that may or may not look good.

Set entirely on a 40-foot-long lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic, Lifeboat is the first of Hitchcock’s four confined-space films, the others being Rope (’48), Dial M for Murder (’54), and Rear Window (’54).

One of my favorite moments happens just as Tallulah Bankhead has offered a priceless diamond bracelet to be used as a lure to catch a fish with. “I can recommend the bait,” she says. “I should know, I bit on it myself”.

Passed along by Bill McCuddy, originally from a book by Jeffrey Lyons: “A few days into shooting the Lifeboat dp or assistant director comes to Hitchcock and says ‘Tallulah isn’t wearing any underwear.’ Hitchcock asks and she admits it, and Hitch says, ‘I don’t know whether to call hair or make-up.'”

The last two minutes are about a young German sailor, his ship torpedoed and sunk, pulling a gun on the boat’s inhabitants (Bankhead, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Hume Cronyn, etc.), and then, having been disarmed, asking “aren’t you going to kill me?” I’ve always loved the final line, spoken by Bankhead.

The writers were John Steinbeck, Jo Swerling, Ben Hecht, Alma Reville, MacKinlay Kantor and Patricia Collinge.