“Just Give It To Me…”

A little after 9 pm I followed Truth director-writer James Vanderbilt and producer Brad Fischer to the Harmony Gold theatre, where a showing of their film was just finishing. We ran into a spiffily dressed Elizabeth Moss next to the rear parking-lot entrance. And then we all moved inside to the “green room.” There we found a very casually dressed Cate Blanchett, who looked, in the coolest way imaginable, like she’d just gotten off a plane from Australia and hadn’t had time to change into uptown duds. Oversized sweater, dress of some kind, white sneakers. She probably didn’t care one way or the other. They were only going to chat about the film with a bunch of slumbering SAG members so what did it matter if she looked red-carpet ready? This is what serious artists do — they wear whatever and shine the dress code when the mood suits. They do whatever the fuck.

(l. to r.) Truth director-writer James Vanderbilt, costar Elizabeth Moss, star Cate Blanchett during last night’s post-screening discussion at Harmony Gold.

I had spoken to Blanchett two and a half years ago during an after-party at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, but celebrities don’t hang onto this stuff. (The average famous actor says hello to thousands of unfamiliar faces every year.) I told her that I’d fallen for Truth in Toronto and had seen it twice so far. She asked if I’d read anything in-depth about it, and I confessed I hadn’t even read Mary Mapes‘ book (“Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power“). She said she’s read Mapes’ daily notes to herself about the events as they were unfolding and was struck by how meticulous and even-toned they seemed. “And then she went home and wrote the book and let go with the anger,” Blanchett said (or something close that). (more…)

Truth‘s Vanderbilt, Fischer Won’t Get Into Debate With Feinberg-Like Critics

I sat down last night at Greenblatt’s Deli with Truth director-writer James Vanderbilt and producer Brad Fischer. Both are Hollywood Elsewhere “lurkers,” they told me, and are highly appreciative of my pro-Truth views. We talked for about 40 minutes. We covered this & that but my chief focus was the press’s response to the film. Not how much Truth has been admired by top-tier critics and columnists (Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn, Variety‘s Justin Chang, Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy, Time Out‘s Tom Huddleston, N.Y. Post‘s Lou Lumenick, The Telegraph‘s Tim Robey, The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard), but how Vanderbilt and Fischer will respond if more Scott Feinberg– and Kyle Smith-style hit pieces pop up between now and opening week.  Their answer, more or less, was “we knew this would be a controversial film from the get-go, but we’re proud of it and whatever happens, happens.”

(l.) Truth director-writer James Vanderbilt; (r.) Truth producer Brad Fischer.

 To which I said okay, fine but you can’t let the critics (depending on how many are out there) gain the upper hand. If those two articles are the end of it, fine, but if others attempt to slam Truth for offering an overly-supportive portrait of the conflicted journalistic record of former 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (fiercely portrayed in the film by Cate Blanchett) and CBS anchor Dan Rather in the matter of the 60 Minutes Killian memos story, something similar to what happened with Zero Dark Thirty might potentially occur.

I for one don’t feel that Truth glorifies Mapes and Rather’s journalistic misstep (i.e., submitting the disputed Killian memos as proof of George Bush‘s less-than-sterling National Guard record) as much as immerse the audience in a truly hot journalistic mess, one that feels more and more enveloping as the film goes on and which still starts ignites arguments 11 years after the fact.

Critics of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s Zero Dark Thirty claimed that it endorsed torture and should be accordingly shunned. A decision by Sony publicists to to not put up a fight three years ago when Zero Dark Thirty came under attack allowed the film to be tarnished and in so doing killed its Oscar chances.

I’m not saying it’s likely that Truth will get into a similar sticky wicket, but it’s possible. If this happens it might lose out as a potential Best Picture contender — an honor and distinction that I feel it fully deserves — and that would be a shame.  Either way Vanderbilt and Fischer have made up their minds, they say, to just let the film speak for itself and not jump into the fray (if in fact a fray awaits). I suggested that at the very least that Rather (played in the film by Robert Redford) should tap out a 1200-word guest editorial piece that debates whatever shortcomings the Feinberg-Smith team has accused the film of, and feed it at the right time to the N.Y. Times or Variety or Salon or whomever.

Here is most of last night’s chat, which happened over pickles and a couple of really sloppy egg-salad sandwiches. After we wrapped I followed Vanberbilt and Fischer over to the Harmony Gold facility for a post-screening q & a between Vanderbilt, Cate Blanchett and costar Elizabeth Moss, which was hosted by Variety‘s Jenelle Riley.

Give Best Picture Oscar to a Feelgood, Scientific-Minded Jerry Bruckheimer Film?

I keep talking to folks who are supposed to know a thing or two, but who nonetheless believe that Ridley Scott‘s The Martian, a feelgood sci-fi thriller that everyone likes (myself included), will probably land a Best Picture nomination. Why? This is the third HE post that disagrees with this silly notion, mainly because moderate, sensible-minded adults won’t shut up about it. The Martian is an amusing, engaging, science-friendly popcorn flick that is making money hand over fist — why does it have to be Best Picture-nominated on top of everything else? No one is a bigger fan of clever, well-crafted Jerry Bruckheimer films, which is what The Martian basically is, but Best Picture nominees ought to be made of…I don’t know what exactly but surely something more daring, audacious or nutritious. “Let’s all figure out a way to pool our forces and rescue this funny, resourceful guy so he can come home and promptly get himself in trouble on Twitter”….please.

From Kyle Buchanan‘s 10.2 posting of Oscar Futures: “Will Oscar voters like The Martian enough to vote for it, or will it be hastily dismissed as a genre play? Academy members have shown a willingness to go for sci-fi films like Distict 9 and Avatar if they feel like there are significant thematic underpinnings, so Team Martian would be wise to tout the film’s spirit of can-do cooperation.”

HE to Buchanan: “The spirit of can-do cooperation” is not a thematic underpinning — it’s a marketing fancy, Reddi-whip, an emotional massage.

Even worse: Buchanan reports that “word has it that this very funny film will be submitted in comic categories at the Golden Globes, where it could actually contend for some high-profile wins.” Hello? People want to slot The Martian as a possible Best Comedy or Musical Golden Globe contender and others are seriously suggesting it might be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar? Get real. The Martian is what it is, and everyone’s fine with that. Drop the award-calibre talk so we can all chill on the same page. (more…)

Spielberg in Spyland — Talky, Modest, Dialed Down

Steven Spielberg‘s Bridge Of Spies (Dreamworks, 10.16) isn’t half bad — a sombre, dialogue-driven, fact-based spy tale. It’s a little Spielbergy in the second half (i.e., visual punctuations or signatures that feel a bit pushed or manipulative) but not in ways that I would call excessive or tedious. It’s aimed at the over-40 crowd as younger auds will most likely steer clear. The only obvious stand-out, Oscar-worthy attribute is Mark Rylance‘s droll supporting performance as real-life Russian spy Rudolf Abel, but it’s a keeper. Rylance owns this movie the way Jane Fonda owns Youth; he may very well snag a BSA nomination.

Regular HE readers know how I feel about Spielberg, and I’m telling you I didn’t feel as if I was suffering through this at all. Half of Spies is actually pretty good and the other half is…well, in and out but basically tolerable. From me that’s almost a rave. And I don’t think that’s proportional. This is not a “great” film but a smart and mostly satisfying one, especially if you’re getting older and fatter and have a few faded memories of the days when Russian commmies were the big baddies.

Tom Hanks, once again portraying a walking emblem for American front-porch decency and Atticus Finch-style values, is James B. Donovan, the late American attorney who defended Abel after his arrest in ’57, and then, following the 1960 Russian capture of U2 spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers, was asked to fly to Berlin to negotiate for Powers’ release by swapping him for Abel. Donovan also managed to free wrongly accused academic Frederic Pryor, whom the East Germans were holding on suspicion of espionage.

Spies is basically two espionage flicks, the first and best taking place in New York City in the late ’50s and the second occuring in Berlin in ’61 and early ’62. The Spielbergy stuff starts to kick in during the second half, and when it happens you’ll say to yourself “okay, here we go…time for Spielberg to remind us every so often what a great and exacting cinematic composer he can be.” What’s so great about part one (i.e., the New York chapter) is that Spielberg doesn’t insert any conspicuously brilliant flourishes at all, or at least none that demanded my attention. (more…)

Supporting Actress Derby Summary

Four or five days ago Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone posted a Best Supporting Actress spitball piece. She settled on ten performances that are probably on the proverbial list at this stage, she feels. Here are those ten plus an extra name or two coupled with my reactions. By my sights there are four near-locks and one compelling maybe. (Open to debate, of course.) The rest feel dubious for this and that reason.

Near locks: 1. Rooney Mara in Carol — emphatically yes. Except Mara will have to figure some way around that impassive ice-maiden thing she kinda gives off, which won’t serve her well in the long run, red-carpet-wise. 2. Jane Fonda in Youth — definitely. A hot-skillet performance given by a respected, consummate pro who knows exactly how to play the game — probably the front-runner as we speak. 3. Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl — yes, okay, but mainly because her performance is being talked up as better than Eddie Redmayne‘s. 4. Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy — yes, definitely. 5. Rachel McAdams, Spotlight — quite possible (this is the “compelling maybe” I spoke of) as she gives a deft, assured performance in a universally admired film. (more…)

Shannon’s Time Is Now — Dual Supporting Perfs Rule

I finally saw Freeheld on Friday night, and I didn’t find it half bad. A TV movie, okay, but heartfelt, reasonably well constructed, straightforward. But I mainly I came away convinced that Michael Shannon‘s performance is the best thing about it, and that coupled with his performance as a guarded real-estate guy in 99 Homes he absolutely deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Shannon is 41 (three months older than Leonardo DiCaprio) and has been delivering honest, first-rate work since the ’90s but especially, I feel, since his breakout role as a dysfunctional but ruthless truth-teller in Revolutionary Road. In Freeheld he plays an Ocean County detective who stands by his lesbian professional partner (Julianne Moore) when she’s afflicted with cancer and has to fight local bureaucrats to pass along her pension to her partner (Ellen Page). I like and respect this guy more than his 99 Homes character, who is basically a scared, flinty prick…but with a measure of vulnerability. Shannon definitely steals that film from Andrew Garfield. And he steals Freeheld from Moore and Page. And both films are playing side by side at the Arclight now. Shannon is the guy, the master of that thing that he does. He doesn’t have to be nominated for anything — he’s fine — but he should be.

Michael Shannon as a fearful real-estate shark in 99 Homes.

As Julianne Moore’s Ocean County detective friend/platonic partner in Freeheld.

Fonda Beams, Takes Bow, Ignites Youth Campaign

Jane Fonda would probably tell you she had a good time last night in Santa Barbara, or more precisely at the Bacara in Goleta. Dressed in a fetching forest green gown and looking like $75 million bucks, the two-time Oscar winner accepted the 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film award, which was presented by Santa Barbara Film Festival honcho Roger Durling. The underlying agenda, of course, was to launch her Best Supporting Actress campaign for that fierce seven-minute performance as a fading actress in Paolo Sorrentino‘s Youth, which everyone went apeshit for five months ago in Cannes.

“That’s a burn-through, that scene,” I told her when I was ushered into her realm by a publicist. “You own that film completely or…you know, pretty much. That was definitely the consensus among my know-it-all journalist pals in Cannes.” Yes, a typical kiss-ass thing to say during a ballroom conversation, but it’s true — Fonda blows Michael Caine and everyone else off the screen.

Love & Mercy costar Elizabeth Banks, Diane Lane delivered lecturn praise for Fonda at the conclusion of the ceremony.

Fonda, Santa Barbara Film Festival director Roger Durling following her acceptance of 10th annual Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film award.

Fonda thanked me for the compliment (“It’s the truth,” I replied) but said right after that even though she and Keitel and Sorrentino shot it over and over, she wishes she could’ve done the scene once more. (She thumped my chest with her fist as she made this point — great sensation!) Her actress character is from Brooklyn, she explained, and as she gets more and more wound up during her frank-talk scene with Harvey Keitel (who plays a 70ish director) she could have slightly regressed into her Brooklyn accent. Which would’ve made it a tiny bit better, she feels.

I love this about her. All artists feel these frustrations. They’re glad that what they’ve done has tuned out reasonably well, but they mostly see the flaws, the shortcomings. Fonda said the same thing at the lecturn when she accepted the honor: “People were asking me about the clip reels…what do you feel when you see them? It’s hard…it’s hard. You just want to do them over again, make ’em better. I’m nearly 78 and I still feel like a student.” (more…)

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

2015 X-Factor, Ambitious, Semi-Fresh, Social Undercurrent, Something More (15)

Black Mass (Warner Bros.) -- Scott Cooper (director/screenplay); Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson. (9.18)

Bridge of Spies (Touchstone / DreamWorks / 20th Century Fox) -- Steven Spielberg (director); Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (screenplay); Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson.

Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight) -- John Crowley (director), Nick Hornby (screenwriter) -- Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters.

By The Sea (Universal) -- Angelina Jolie (director, screenwriter). Cast: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Niels Arestrup, Mélanie Laurent.

Carol (Weinstein Co.) -- Todd Haynes (director); Pyllis Nagy (screenplay, based on Patricia Highsmith novel); Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler. Cannes reaction: Best Picture, Best Actress/Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay (Phyllis Nagy).

Concussion -- Peter Landesman (director-writer). Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson. Sony.

The Danish Girl -- Tom Hooper (director). Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts.

Joy (20th Century Fox) -- David O. Russell (director/screenplay). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramirez. 20th Century Fox, 12.25.

Love and Mercy -- Bill Pohlad (director). Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner (screenplay). Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti. Roadside Attractions, 6.5. General post-opening response: Best Picture, Best Actor (Dano, Cusack), Best Director (Bill Pohlad), Best Screenplay (Oren Moverman).

Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Bros.); David Gordon Green (director); Peter Straughan (screenplay); Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd.

The Revenant (20th Century Fox) -- Alejandro González Inarritu (director/screenplay); Mark "nobody can remember my middle initial" Smith (screenplay); Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson.

Spotlight -- Thomas McCarthy (director, co-writer). Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, John Slattery.

Steve Jobs (Universal -- shooting began in January 2015, which indicates an intention to bring it out by late '15) -- Danny Boyle (director), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Scott Rudin (producer); Cast: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston.

Trumbo (Bleecker Street) -- Jay Roach (director), Michael London (producer), John McNamara (screenwriter). Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, John Goodman.

Truth (no distributor) -- James Vanderbilt (director, writer -- based on the 2005 memoir "Truth and Duty" by Mary Mapes); Cast: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood.

2015 Quality-Grade Commercial / alphabetical order (6):

Crimson Peak (Universal / Legendary) -- Guillermo del Toro (director/screenplay); Matthew Robbins, Lucinda Coxon (screenplay); Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jessica Chastain, Jim Beaver.

Everest (Universal) -- Baltasar Kormákur (director); Justin Isbell, William Nicholson (screenplay); Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright.

The Hateful Eight (Weinstein Co.) -- Quentin Tarantino (director-writer); Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, Kurt Russell.

In the Heart of the Sea (Warner Bros.) Ron Howard (director); Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson.

Legend (Universal); Brian Helgeland (director, screenwriter); Tom Hardy (playing both Kray twins), Emily Browning.

The Walk (TriStar / ImageMovers) -- Robert Zemeckis (director/screenplay); Christopher Browne (screenplay); Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Charlotte Le Bon. Sony/TriStar, 10.2.

Pleasingly, Vigorously, Assuredly Mainstream (or something in that realm) / alphabetical order (9):

Criminal (Summit Entertainment) -- Ariel Vromen (director); Douglas Cook, David Weisberg (screenplay); Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.) George Miller (director/screenplay); Nick Lathouris, Brendan McCarthy (screenplay); Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Richard Norton, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Magic Mike XXL (Warner Bros.) Gregory Jacobs (director); Channing Tatum (screenplay); Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Gabriel Iglesias, Andie MacDowell, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Glover, Michael Strahan.

The Martian (20th Century Fox) -- Ridley Scott (director); Drew Goddard (screenplay); Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Mackenzie Davis, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan.

Masterminds (Relativity Media) -- Jared Hess (director); John Goldwyn, Lorne Michaels (screenplay); Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis.

Mississippi Grind (no distributor) -- Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (directors, writers). Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Ben Mendelsohn, Analeigh Tipton.

Southpaw (Weinstein Co.) -- Antoine Fuqua; Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Forest Whitaker, Victor Ortiz.

Spectre (MGM / Columbia) -- Sam Mendes (director); John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (screenplay); Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney / Lucasfilm / Bad Robot) -- J.J. Abrams (director/screenplay); Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay); John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker.


Still Inebriated on Drunk Stoned

I’ve been Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead-ing for eight and a half months now, or since I fell for this snappy, punchy-assed doc at last January’s Sundance Film Festival. I’ve raved and raved (“Quite the cultural landmark…about something that nearly everyone understands or identifies with to some degree, which is the seed and birth of anarchic, counter-conventional, ultra-outlandish comedy, which everybody takes for granted today but was a whole new thing when it popped out of the National Lampoon in 1970″). I’ve expressed surprise that it took six long months to cut a deal for theatrical release. I sought out and interviewed columnist, author and former National Lampoon editor P.J. O’Rourke. I’ve noted the film’s popularity at film festivals over the first seven months of this year, etc. I’ve riffed on it every which way.

Doug Tirola, director of Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, at Andaz Hotel last Wednesday afternoon.

So when I was offered a chance to speak with director Doug Tirola a few days ago, I responded “but of course!” I was an hour late. (Sorry.) We met in a conference room at the Andaz in West Hollywood (i.e., the former “Riot House.”) . We batted the ball around but I was feeling a little sloppy in the brain. The vibe was easy and relaxed but something wasn’t quite clicking. Amiable ping-pong for the most part.

Then I struck a vein. I noted that with the film in circulation now would be an excellent time to make available all those years of National Lampoon issues (’70 to ’80) online. Tirola nodded, grinned. And then he half-shrugged. “So why isn’t it?,” I asked. “What’s the hold-up?” He answered that the National Lampoon operation is now headed by CEO Jerry Daigle and president Alan Donnes and that they had mainly managed to calm things down and put out fires. Whatever that means. I know that despite knowing for at least a couple of years that Tirola’s doc would almost certainly be hitting theatres sometime in’15, these guys haven’t been able to get it together enough to offer online sales of back issues. (more…)

All Wine Shriekers & Gigglers Deserve The Boot

As one who has suffered over and over from the shrieking, ear-rupturing laughter of groups (particularly women) who’ve had a couple of glasses of wine, I heartily agree with giving such rabble the heave-ho. I’ve sat through this dozens of times in bars and cafes from coast to coast, and giggly wine laughter is gross and repulsive. I therefore applaud last month’s decision by conductors on a Napa wine train to boot 11 women who wouldn’t stop wailing and howling and having a gay old time. The fact that this was an African American group (i.e., The Sistahs on the Reading Edge Book Club) may have been a factor. It certainly shouldn’t have been, and it absolutely wouldn’t have if I’d been the conductor, I can tell you. The only consideration would have been an apparent lack of breeding. Warning #1: “Hey, girls…we’re all here to have a good time but could you maybe keep it down a little bit? People are complaining.” Warning #2: “Please, ladies of the grape…not so loud…think of the other folks on this train.” Third warning: “Ladies, if you can’t show a little consideration for your fellow wine lovers you’re outta here.” Final communication: “All right, that’s it…you guys are off at the next stop.” The issue isn’t ethnicity but manners. Uncouth is uncouth, vulgar is vulgar. The more times loud people get disciplined, the better for civilization as a whole.

The Walk Ain’t Walkin’

A 10.3 box-office assessment piece by ForbesScott Mendelson reports what was obvious to anyone who visited a plex last night — The Martian is kicking ass while The Walk is going “whoa, whoa…what happened?…shit, I dropped my balancing pole! No, no, no, no….aaagghhhhhhh!” The Robert Zemeckis film opened on 441 IMAX screens to jumpstart word-of-mouth (it doesn’t open big-time until next Friday) but “it’ll be lucky to earn $1.75 million during its first five days,” Mendelson writes. Compare that to the $7.22 million earned by Everest during its opening IMAX engagement. Question for HE readers: what happened to the two conversational points that were supposedly driving interest in The Walk — (1) “You have to see the last 25 minutes!” and (2) “Are you man enough to handle the WTC walk sequence without throwing up?” That whole daredevil-vomiting thing seems to have flatlined. Mendelson: “I’m not sure how helpful it was for we critics to harp on how the first two acts weren’t that great while the third act was a barnburner. Audiences don’t exactly have the option of paying 1/3 of the ticket price to only watch the last act of the film.” Was that a factor, knowing that people like myself were saying that the first four-fifths of the film blows? I still say it’s essential to see The Walk for the last 25 minutes alone.

Hillview Blockage

I paid a visit a couple of days ago to the construction site of Sunset LaCienega, the Las Vegas-like eight-story complex that’ll be completed sometime next year. It’s actually modest by Vegas standards but it does interrupt or diminish views of (or from) the Hollywood hills to some extent. Buildings have to get bigger and taller to accommodate an expanding population and business environment — I get that. You can bitch and moan but you can’t stop progress. But I would be more than a little unhappy if my view of the flatlands (or of the hills) was being blocked by this, or by the other big-ass Strip buildings that will surely follow. I’m not happy with this thing on general aesthetic grounds. I would prefer it, frankly, if the Strip looked like it did in the video after the jump.


Another 1.66 Exception To The Rule

Ask any 1.85 fascist (like occasional HE commenter Pete Apruzzese) to explain the basic aspect-ratio laws and you’ll hear the same thing time and again: All non-Scope films released after the fall of 1953 should be presented at 1.85 unless otherwise specified by the director. They’ll allow for exceptions among some 1950s and early ’60s releases (various British films, United Artists releases) and/or when the director specifies 1.66 or 1.78 or whatever. But their general attitude is 1.85, 1.85 and 1.85 unless otherwise noted. Most of the 1.66 Bluray croppings are found in films from the ’50s and ’60s, but they begin to radically thin out when you move into the ’70s and beyond. (One glorious exception: the 1.66 aspect ratio of John Schlesinger‘s Sunday Bloody Sunday.) Which is why my heart soared when I noticed a 1.66 aspect ratio being used for the Criterion Bluray of James Ivory‘s A Room With A View (’86). The fact that the a.r. was approved by Ivory kills any pushback, but the thought of Apruzzese and Glenn Kenny and all the other 1.85 strict constructionists seething and gnashing their teeth is just heaven to me.

Eisenhower-Era Eroticism

Monica Belucci, 50, will become the oldest “Bond girl” in history when her performance as Lucia Sciarra, “the widow of an assassin killed by Bond”, is seen in Sam MendesSpectre (10.26 in England, 11.6 worldwide). The below b & w photos are from Esquire. They remind us of one the most tedious aspects of the Bond franchise — i.e., the legendary no-nips policy and a general rule that erotic suggestion can’t exceed that of a typical 1956 LIFE magazine photo spread. 007 franchise producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have insisted all along that the Bond films must be family friendly. What other movies or franchises live in this kind of time-capsule realm? Isn’t the term “Bond girl” culturally synonymous with “Playboy bunny” and all those other randy terms left over from the Eisenhower-Kennedy-LBJ eras?


No Restored Spartacus Bluray Until Tuesday

I’ve been waiting a long time to see Universal Home Video’s restored Spartacus Bluray, which streets on Tuesday, 10.6. I asked earlier today if I could snag a review copy but they said they had none, so I bought a copy on Amazon. DVD Beaver‘s Gary Tooze was sent a review copy, at least, and he’s posted quite the review: “The green is in the title, the dye restored and colors are a dramatic improvement in replicating the original appearance,” he writes. “Skin tones [have] a more natural state and there is also more information in the frame on all four sides! Detail has tightened [and] there is a sense of depth…magnificent!” Plus the disc contains a nine-minute “Restoring Spartacus” essay.

Framne captures from Gary Tooze’s DVd Beaver review. The above image is from the “shiny” 50th anniversary Bluray issued in 2010; the bottom image is from the restored version.


The Things I Do

I need to see the reportedly not-so-hot Freeheld for sake of Michael Shannon‘s performance, which I hear is the stand-out element. If Shannon’s performance turns out to be as good as Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer and others say it is, this plus his performance as 99 Homes might warrant serious talk about a Best Supporting Actor nomination. If Shannon has nailed it (as he often does) I want to report that. You think I’m looking forward to this?


Best to Worst Bond Films

In my humble view the best James Bond films are the first two — Terence Young‘s Dr. No (’62) and From Russia With Love (’63). These are the only ones featuring a lean and rugged Connery without an obvious toupee and before he began to pack on a couple of pounds, and facing semi-believable combatants in a half-credible, real-world milieu. After these two a sense of technological swagger and more than a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor started to penetrate the franchise with Guy Hamilton‘s Goldfinger (’64) — the last Bond film you could accept as an occasionally semi-realistic fantasy. These are the only three I re-watch on Bluray, although I don’t like Goldfinger as much as the first two.

I have a certain affection for Lewis Gilbert‘s The Spy Who Loved Me (’77) — the beginning of a brief ’70s period when the 007 series descended into light comedy. There was an effort to use a bit less gadgetry in John Glen‘s For Your Eyes Only (’81 — the only Bond film I ever paid a visit to at Pinewood) and I didn’t mind Glen’s The Living Daylights (’87). And I was amused by the return of Connery is Irvin Kershner‘s Never Say Never Again (’83). And I admit to feeling a surge of excitement when I first saw Martin Campbell‘s Casino Royale (’06)

All the other 007s except are somewhere between glossy flotsam and aggressive popcorn. Yes, including the other Daniel Craig films. (Be honest and ask yourself why you’ve never re-watched Skyfall or Quantum of Solace.) Yes, including Goldeneye, which some have a thing for. (more…)


53 years ago Joseph Wiseman, in the person of Dr. No, looked Sean Connery in the eye and explained that he was “a member of SPECTREspecial executive for counterintelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion.” Every Bond fan in the world memorized that acronym, and before long it was as famous as CIA, KGB, MI5 and MI6…infamous, I mean. And yet in the new Spectre trailer Daniel Craig‘s 007 asks Lea Seydoux, “This organization…do you know what it’s called?” At the very least the Spectre screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth) should have had Craig say, “Spectre? That relic from a half-century ago?” And then Seydoux could set him straight. But for Bond to say in this day and age that he’s never even heard the name is ridiculous. The next thing he’ll say is that he’s never heard of Ernst Stavro Blofeld or the white cat or Rosa Klebb.

Temple of Rock Dreams (i.e, “No Music, No Life”)

Six and a half months after the South by Southwest 2015 debut and several weeks after that ridiculous stonewalling episode sparked by Gravitas Ventures’ spokesperson AJ Feuerman, I finally saw Colin HanksAll Things Must Pass (Gravitas, 10.16) late yesterday afternoon. And I have to say it’s much better than I expected. I was hoping for something reasonably well done or “good enough” or attaboyish, but this rise and fall of Tower Records history is extra-level — tight, comprehensive, exacting, epic-scaled. Hanks has clearly invested rivers of feeling and loads of hard work.

This thing is emotional. Especially that. If you lived through and savored the Tower Records heyday (mid ’60s to early aughts but more essentially the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s) it’ll open the floodgates big-time. The doc is full of characters and personalities and the usual eccentricities and foibles. It’s not just a recitation of occurrences or statistics. It’s about the heartbreak of time, about the cost of loss and how it all falls away sooner or later. It’s about “what happened to the fun?”

Because ATMP is not only a chronicle of a mythical record-store mecca but a farewell valentine to the now-concluded era of the record (or video) store as a family meeting place — an organic, tactile clubhouse where you went to hang and converse and debate as well as occasionally buy stuff. Streaming has made everything bountiful in terms of access but the face-to-face community aspect is toast. Social media is a chillier, lonelier way of communicating. Which is why I still go to Amoeba once or twice a week. Half the time I’ll decide to rent a streaming version of a Bluray I’ll see in the racks or pay less money by buying online, but I go for the visitation vibes, the personalities, the energy, the people-gazing.

Because (and I realize this is probably the most common observation of 21st Century life out there right now) there’s obviously an isolating element to social media absorption. I “talk” to more people these days than I ever did before Twitter and texting, and in much more intimate and particular terms in a sense, but the conversational quality isn’t the same. (more…)