Cloak and Sickle

TMZ is reporting that Suge Knight got into a fight today on a movie set in Compton, jumped into his SUV, floored it in reverse, ran over and killed an alleged friend named Terry Carter, and then fled the scene. “Multiple witnesses tell us a movie was [being filmed] with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre when Suge pulled up in his car,” TMZ reports. “We’re told security told Suge to leave and that’s when trouble began.” I don’t mean to sound cynical but isn’t this what Knight often does? Get into rage-filled violent encounters, I mean. Always with the blam-blam or the wham-bam. An innocent man dying is never a ho-hummer, but it almost is when you factor in Knight’s reputation.


I’ll always be a devout fan of Rodney Ascher‘s Room 237 because it’s a treasure chest of endless imaginative theorizing about Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining. I loved the fruit-loop quality. But his latest, a documentary about sleep paralysis called The Nightmare, is almost completely devoid of imaginative riffing of any kind. The film is entirely about descriptions of creepy, real-deal encounters with “shadow men” — Freddy Krueger-like spooks who have terrorized several real-deal folks in their bedrooms (always in the wee hours) and caused them to freeze and be unable to speak and in some cases have trouble breathing. It just goes on and on like this for 90 minutes…”I was half-sleeping and then I felt something and the boogie man was behind me,” etc. Okay but what’s really going on? Why these people and not others? (Ascher himself has been visited.) What kind of scientific proof has been collected? Has anyone ever found any physical evidence, made any recordings, observed changes in electrical energy…anything? One tip-off is that a female victim says that the spooks went away one night when she said the name of Jesus. (What if she’d said Yeshua or Buddha or Sri Krishna?) Another is that the shadow men seem to be a manifestation of individual weakness, vulnerability and fear. But why do the goblins all look like the same (some along the lines of the monster in Michael Mann‘s The Keep) or alien-like creatures with huge serpent eyes? I’m not saying the victims are making stuff up, but just hearing their descriptions over and over isn’t enough. I began to feel antsy about a half-hour in.

Disembowel This Movie With A Viking Sword

Universal Pictures is about to pull the trigger on a Chris Pratt action-fantasy flick called Cowboy Ninja Viking Samurai Street Fighter Fucknose Bare-Knuckled Stud With a Nine-Inch Wang. Pic will be co-directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, whose John Wick wasn’t too bad for the most part. Sources have told Variety‘s Justin Kroll that Pratt has met with Leitch and Stahelski between servings of cheeseburgers and fries and “has given his stamp of approval.” Based on a graphic novel (what else?), the story follows “a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder and is put into a government program to be turned into a super-soldier” with the attributes of a cowboy, a ninja, a viking, a samurai, a street-fighter and a fucknosed, bare-knuckled stud with a nine-inch member. I’ve already explained…okay, indicated…that Leitch and Stahelski are robo-directors, and that they (along with Zack Snyder and all the other zombies in good standing) represent everything about the action-fantasy-superhero franchise business that is rancid, puerile and devoid of a soul. I’ve also noted that Stahelski is the last name of an electrician, a surfer, pool-maintenance guy, a hot-dog chef at Pinks, a garbage man or a guy whose grandfather worked in the same New Orleans factory as Stanley Kowalski.

Grantland Wises Up, Changes Hackman Headline

After eyeballing a Twitter link last night to a Grantland essay about the greatness of Gene Hackman (except for his performance in The Poseidon Adventure), I too wondered if the retired octogenarian had left this mortal coil. That’s because the headline read “The Greatest Living American Actor at 85: Gene Hackman Is Gone But Still in Charge.” There aren’t too many different ways of interpreting the word “gone.” It means “not here,” “elsewhere,” “took a powder” or maybe dead. Gone Girl alludes not just to a disappearance but a permanent state of absence. After thinking it over for ten or twelve seconds I realized Hackman was probably still with us, but others feared the worst. A Hackman spokesperson has told ABC News that Popeye Doyle is alive and well and walking around. Grantland has erased the word “gone” and all is back to normal.

Saying Again

Here’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it teaser for the trailer for Brad Bird‘s Tomorrowland (Disney, 5.22). The real thing will play during Sunday’s Superbowl telecast. It’ll probably turn out to be a moderately satisfying commercial ride, but like I said on 10.9.14, the hand of Damon Lindelof scares me: “To me, Lindelof attached to a film or TV project constitutes a threat. They don’t mean ‘this movie will be shit’ but they do mean ‘okay, here we go on the fucking inconclusive Lindelof train to Meanderville.’

“After slogging through the frequently infuriating The Leftovers I’m convinced that Lindelof isn’t so much a story-teller as a situational explorer. He’s strikes me as this dorky, bespectacled, comic-book-generation guy who goes ‘Oooh, here’s a cool idea! What if this happened and that happened and then our lead character suddenly realizes…well, let’s not get hung up on resolutions but this is a cool realm…let’s play with it!’

“Lindelof was one of the many architects of Cowboys & Aliens but I’m sure he did what he could to imprint himself upon it, and I hated it. He rewrote Jon Spaihts on Prometheus and I double-hated that one. The Star Trek film he co-wrote was okay, but World War Z was basically a situational zombie slog with no way out, and then came The Fucking Leftovers. (more…)

Fair Is Fair

Make no mistake — Mike Binder‘s Black or White is a strong, nervy film that deals fair cards, as Steve Harvey acknowledges in an episode airing on Friday, 1.30. But many critics have slapped it down for, I believe, not saying the right things in the right way. Some are claiming it deals from a stacked deck; what they really mean is that they don’t like the hand. Here’s my Toronto Film Festival review. As I said on 12.3.14, Black or White “wears its emotions a little too plainly at times, but Binder’s script doesn’t slavishly follow the sensitive liberal line about the black-white chasm and the stereotypes that cling to that, and so it’s been thrown under the bus.”

If Ava DuVernay had directed and co-written Black or White and cast Kevin Costner as the lead, would the reception be the same? I suspect that DuVernay’s Black or White would have been saluted and celebrated a hell of a lot more than Binder‘s version has been. The only difference between Binder’s Black or White and DuVerNay’s is that Ava would have gone easier on the Reggie character by removing the drug problem and making him an attorney or a doctor. It’s not just the movie these days — it’s the combination of the right movie and the right filmmakers behind it. (more…)

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Best Picture: “American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers; “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers; “Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers; “The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers; “Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers; “The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers; “Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers.

Best Director: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu; “Boyhood” Richard Linklater; “Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson; “The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum.

Best Actor: Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”, Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”, Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”, Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, and Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything.”

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”, Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”, Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”, Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”, Reese Witherspoon in “Wild."

Best Supporting Actor: Robert Duvall in “The Judge”, Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”, Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”, J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”; Laura Dern in “Wild”; Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”; Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods."

Best Adapted screenplay: “American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall; “The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore; “Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson; “The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten; “Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle.

Best Original Screenplay: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo; “Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater; “Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness; “Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy.

Best Cinematography: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman; “Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski; “Mr. Turner” Dick Pope; “Unbroken” Roger Deakins.

Best costume design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero; “Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges; “Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood; “Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive; “Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran.

Best Documentary Feature: “CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky; “Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel; “Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester;
“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier; “Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara.

Best animated feature: “Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli; “The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight; “How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold; “Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young; “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura.

Best Documentary Short Subject: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry; “Joanna” Aneta Kopacz; “Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki; “The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello; “White Earth” J. Christian Jensen.

Best Film Editing: “American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; “Boyhood” Sandra Adair “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Barney Pilling, “The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg, “Whiplash” Tom Cross.

Best Foreign Language Film: “Ida” (Poland), “Leviathan” (Russia), “Tangerines” (Estonia), “Timbuktu” (Mauritania), “Wild Tales” (Argentina).

Best Makeup and hairstyling: “Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier; “Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Best Original Score: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat; “The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat; “Interstellar” Hans Zimmer; “Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon; “The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Best Original Song: “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie” (Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson); “Glory” from “Selma” (Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn); “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights” (Music and Lyric by Diane Warren); “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” (Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond; “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again” (Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois).

Best Production Design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock “The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald; “Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis; “Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock; “Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts.

Best Animated Short: “The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees; “The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi; “Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed; “Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove; “A Single Life” Joris Oprins.

Best Live Action Short: “Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis; “Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney; “Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret; “Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger; “The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas.

Best Sound Editing: “American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman; “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock; “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas; “Interstellar” Richard King; “Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro.

Best Sound Mixing; “American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin; “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga; “Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten; “Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee; “Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley;

Best Visual Effects: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick; “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist; “Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould; “Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher; “X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer.


Never-Before-Seen Color Images of Waterfront Shoot

I’m a fool for color snaps of famous actors during shooting of renowned black-and-white films. So naturally my heart skipped a beat when I noticed a couple of nights ago that Stevan Riley‘s Listen To Me Marlon uses a few seconds of 16mm color film taken during the Hoboken filming of On The Waterfront in late ‘1953 and early ’54. Riley found the film in the AMPAS library and managed to secure permission to use it. To the best of my knowledge no color images from this 1954 Best Picture winner have ever been seen, much less published, until now. I really enjoyed and admired Listen To Me Marlon — an intimate, fascinating, full-scope portrait that turns rather sad during the final 20 minutes. I also did a quick interview with Riley Tuesday afternoon. More on Thursday.

Lee J. Cobb, Brando shooting nocturnal bawl-out scene. The one in which Rod Steiger goes, “It’s an unhealthy relationship!”

I don’t know much about shooting for black-and-white, but this shot makes it seem as if Brando was wearing a certain degree of makeup (eyeliner, some kind of base or facial smoother). He doesn’t look au natural. His eyebrows have been darkened, intensified.


Eternity’s Embrace

There is something about dying way too young from some cruel force or circumstance (cancer, car crash, suicide, a Hunger Game) that just floors teen and 20something audiences, and to some extent authors and filmmakers. I don’t know how many YA novels have used this plot element, but movie-wise we’ve had If I Stay, The Fault In Our Stars, The Lovely Bones…a lot of kids buying the farm. Hell, cancer-wise you could go all the way back to Arthur Hiller and Eric Segal‘s crushingly maudlin Love Story. They’ve all been manipulative and overbearing to varying degrees. And now we have Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl…yes, another one. Lukemia killing a teenaged girl. But this time the material is finagled in a much hipper, somewhat dryer, less maudlin, a lot more clever, Wes Anderson-like form, and it’s not half bad. Much of the crowd seemed to be moved; I was a bit more circumspect. At times I felt the film was behaving in an almost oppressively sensitive fashion. But it doesn’t quite. At times I felt it was too much in love with the main character’s (i.e., Greg Gaines) sensitivity and the way his heart is slowly cracking as a pretty girl named Rachel, with whom he’s fallen in love, slowly succumbs. But most of the time it holds back just enough. The youngish Gomez-Rejon is a gifted and inventive filmmaker who prays at the church of Criterion — he has a deep and abiding worship of movie lore — and he weaves his hip-film-nerd sensibility into Jesse Andrews‘ screenplay (based on his 2013 novel of the same name). I’m not sure I want to see this film again because on some level it almost felt like a chore. Please. But it’s definitely the smartest and coolest and arty-doodliest film about a cancer-afflicted teen that I’ve ever seen. Damning with faint praise? No, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is what it is. I have to catch the Jared Hess film at 6:30 pm…25 minutes from now. I’ll expand on this later.


Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: Where Today’s Comic Attitudes Came From

Aside from a relatively short list of stand-out narrative features, for the most part Sundance ’15 has been a festival of great docs, particularly Alex Gibney‘s Going Clear, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon‘s Best of Enemies and — my personal favorite — Doug Tirola‘s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead — The Story of the National Lampoon. A generally hilarious history of a great magazine and a period of inspired anarchic subversion, it’s essentially about the birth and shaping of the irreverent mindset that has defined American comedy for the last 40 years, or since the debut of NBC’s Saturday Night Live (’75), National Lampoon’s Animal House (’78) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (’83). But the magazine and its half-demented staffers were the finest and most outrageous expression of this, and Drunk, Stoned is an absolutely vital history lesson for under-35s who’ve never read any National Lampoon issues or sunk into the mythology. I don’t know what the distribution picture is, but I could see this film again right now. It captures the whole saga in one swift, punchy, well-finessed package.

Curtis’s Bitter Lake

Any film by noted British documentarian Adam Curtis is worth carving out the time to see. I’ve raved over the last decade or so about his two landmark docs, The Century of the Self and particularly The Power of Nightmares. which introduced an idea that the anti-western Islamic terrorists and the neocon hardliners are almost identical in their purist fervor, and are pretty much cut from the same philosophical cloth. Now comes Curtis’s Bitter Lake, which popped in England last weekend and is now viewable on YouTube. The Guardian‘s Sam Wollaston has called it “a story full of violence, bloodshed, and bitter ironies, mainly about how the west, through misunderstanding and oversimplification, repeatedly achieved pretty much the opposite of what it was trying to achieve. America protected Wahhabism through its thirst for Saudi oil, and in doing so helped sow the seeds of radical Islam today. In Afghanistan they built dams to irrigate the Helmand valley, making it perfect to sow actual seeds — opium poppy seeds. The past is strewn with patterns, and warnings, if only anyone had bothered looking and tried to understand.”

Wednesday Downshift Mood

Today begins my eighth day in Park City and my seventh day of serious Sundance humping (screenings, filings, running around town). I’ve been averaging four films per day but today I have only two — Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s much-buzzed-about Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at the Library at 2:30 pm, and Jared Hess‘s highly anticipated Don Verdean at the Eccles at 6:30 pm. Thursday’s schedule looks underwhelming and to be perfectly honest I’m starting not to care that much. If they would arrange for a special p & i Brooklyn screening I’d be there with bells on, but that’s not in the cards. My “fuck it” mentality always kicks in around the seventh day of any festival. Let’s see what what happens.

Silly Blizzard Hysteria Aftermath, or Babies Go “Waahh”

DataLab‘s Harry Enten has reported that the ridiculous New York blizzard hysteria of the last two or three days was due to an over-reliance on the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting. Late Sunday evening less excitable data came out of the SREF, or Short-Range Ensemble Forecast. “Five of the 21 models in the SREF [predicted] less than 10 inches of snow falling,” Enten summarizes. “Nine of the 21 predicted a foot or less. Only eight could have been said to support 18 or more inches of snow in New York City. By Monday afternoon, 11 of the 21 members were on the 10-inches-or-less train. Eight of the 21 still supported big-time snow, but they were a minority.”


Icy Moscow Malevolence

Daniel Espinoza‘s Child 44 (Lionsgate, 4.17) is a serial-killer thriller set during the Stalinist chill of 1953 Soviet Russia. Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Charles Dance, Jason Clarke, Vincet Cassell. Filmed in Prague, Ostrova and Kladno in Czech Republic. Based on novel by Tom Rob Smith; screenplay by Richard Price. Boilerplate: “A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders,” et. al.

Choose The Hot American Guy….Please

During my 20-odd years of attending the Sundance Film Festival I’ve demonstrated an uncanny instinct for missing at least one or two major-buzz films. Two days ago I decided to catch a 6 pm press screening of Stevan Riley‘s Listen To Me Marlon instead of a 6:30 pm showing of John Crowley and Nick Hornby‘s Brooklyn…mistake. It was announced last night that Fox Searchlight has acquired Brooklyn, a period romance starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. Pic allegedly does the thing (“Despite its familiar structure it’s a thing of beauty, a delicate, tender period piece about nice people trying to do their best,” said N.Y. Post critic Kyle Smith) and looks like a fall awards-contender. No more screenings between now and Friday morning, which is when I leave. I’ll probably wind up catching it in Telluride/Toronto next September.

“So Many People Scoffing and Sneering…”

Warner Bros.’ decision to secretly screen Andy and Lana Wachowski‘s Jupiter Ascending (opening 2.6) last night at Park City’s Egyptian theatre didn’t turn out all that well. The Egyptian is a small theatre but the crowd was far from capacity, according to Variety and a couple of tweets, and all were forbidden from reviewing until next week. The elf-eared “space opera” is anything but a typical Sundance-type film, and everyone has been presuming all along that it’s some kind of problem movie so why show it here in the first place? A fair number of Sundance-attending press weren’t invited, were turned away at the door or didn’t even know about the screening, to go by several conversations I had last night.

From Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh: “Despite the hype of a secret Jupiter Ascending screening, clusters of seats inside the 300-person venue remained empty, and a handful of patrons walked out” — bailed! — “of the two-hour-plus space epic starring Mila Kunis as a princess and Channing Tatum as an intergalactic soldier tasked with rescuing her.

“The Wachowskis’ flair was fully on display, with sequences reminiscent of The Matrix or Star Wars. But when the film ended, the usually gracious Sundance audience didn’t clap at the closing credits.

“‘I hated it,’ said one of the festival’s volunteers, who asked not to be identified for fear of irking Sundance. ‘It’s just ridiculous.’ (more…)

“I Prefer Slip-Ons To Sandals…That Is The Truth”

I can roll with austere minimalism as well as the next guy, and I certainly respect what Rodrigo Garcia and Emmanuel Lubezki are up to in Last Days of the Desert, which is basically about the 40 meditative days that Yeshua of Nazareth (Ewan McGregor) spent in the desert before embarking upon his calling as the Ultimate Lamb of God. Except it’s a little too spare — there’s not much feeling or drama in this thing, which is mostly about performances, photography and an impressive sense of stillness. The focus is not so much about Yeshua’s spiritual battle with a mirror-image Satan (also played by McGregor) as it is his decision to hang with a family of desert dwellers (Ciaran Hinds, Tye Sheridan, Ayelet Zurer) and help them build a small stone abode atop a mountain peak. That in itself felt like a problem. We all understand fasting in the wasteland to attain spiritual purity, but why would a family — anyone — live in that Godforsaken inferno? No soil, no water to speak of, no grass for the goats…a situation without a thread of logic or believability. I was also bothered by the footwear. In each and every Bible flick ever made guys have worn standard-issue sandals — a thick hunk of foot-shaped leather with a couple of straps. But McGregor and Hinds wear a kind of burlap slip-on — call it a desert hiking loafer. If you go to the Nordstrom site a close facsimile is available — Tom’s classic metallic burlap slip-on. I’m not being snarky. Any creative decision that diverts your attention form the main order of business is a mistake. Garcia and his wardrobe designer should have gone with boilerplate King of Kings sandals.

Tapley Exceptions, Clarifications

Yesterday In Contention‘s Kris Tapley assessed the out-of-the-blue Birdman surge and the apparently strong likelihood that Alejandro G. Innaritu‘s film has the Best Picture Oscar in the bag. It’s an astute piece but some assertions/observations need addressing.

Assertion #1: “No one was really expecting this of Birdman, and boom, there it is.” True — I had been urging people to vote for Birdman all along but I wasn’t expecting a PGA or SAG win. I had more or less wilted and accepted the Boyhood-is-all-but-inevitable theology…and then lo and behold!

Assertion #2: “I’ve always sensed some softness in the Boyhood steamroller.” Indeed — it’s been soft all along. I sensed that softness as I watched and absorbed Boyhood at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but tea-leaf readers kept insisting it had the Best Picture goods, and after a while most of us started to think, “Hmmm, yeah, maybe it does…okay, fine.” (more…)

Dope Clarity Crusade Gaining Momentum

All hail Grantland‘s Wesley Morris for looking askance at the bizarre euphoria that has greeted Rick Famuyiwa‘s Dope, and for standing on my side of the debate. “You can see Famuyiwa going for a certain class of skuzzy Los Angeles odyssey, like the ones of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson,” Morris observes. “[But] this is more like Doug Liman‘s Go, which was like Kwik-E-Mart Tarantino. But Dope isn’t made with even the sustained wit of Go. It has its moments, all of which involve the attempt to humorously unpack racial baggage. There just aren’t nearly enough.

And yet Dope “has been the most hotly auctioned film of the festival,” Morris notes. “I don’t know whether Open Road and Sony Pictures, who’ve acquired Dope, went for it because it feels, to them, authentically black or because the blackness is familiar to the world’s marketplaces.” Or because Famuyiqwa is supplying the kind of “black shit [that] white people like.” (more…)

Cruise, Travolta Need To Grow A Backbone

In a 1.27 q & a with Variety‘s Brent Lang, the Going Clear guys — director Alex Gibney, whose doc about the malignancy of Scientology is arguably the finest and most riveting film to play at Sundance ’15, and author Lawrence Wright, whose book is the basis of Gibney’s film — call on Tom Cruise and John Travolta to wake up, man up and speak out against Scientology’s abusive practices.

Gibney: “By now there is a well-documented record of abuses in the Church of Scientology, yet Cruise and Travolta have never spoken out about them. By not speaking out, it’s a kind of an endorsement and I think that’s why we’re right and properly critical.”

Wright: “They’re selling a product and the product they’re selling is oppressing some of the people inside the church, especially the clergy, which is called the Sea Org, and Cruise has spent countless hours out on the Sea Org base where — on that same base where he has a special chateau — there [are] these double-wide trailers called the hole, which is a kind of re-education camp where people have been incarcerated for years. Sleeping on the floor on bedrolls with ants crawling around, abused physically, made to lick the floor or the toilet with their tongue. It’s just unbelievable degradation. (more…)

We’re All Fantastic, or We Will Be Eventually

Some superhero movies (like the two Captain America flicks) are just good films, but the superhero megaplex virus is fed by a widespread sense of diminishment, impotence and insignificance, felt most acutely by under-35s who are either just starting to realize or have recently realized how un-heroic and unexceptional their lives are likely to be. On the other hand Miles “don’t be a pervert, man” Teller is one of the paycheck fantastics.

Going Clear: Devastating Scientology Takedown

I naturally expected Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief to rip Scientology, founder L. Ron Hubbard, current Scientology honcho David Miscavige, John Travolta and particularly Tom Cruise big-time, but the hard, well-ordered substance of the film knocked me back regardless. The case against Scientology and Miscavige in particular has been on the table for years, but Going Clear still packs a mean punch.

If you’ve done any reading about Scientology over the years Gibney’s film is not exactly a torrent of fresh information, but for those who are relatively uninformed the doc, which will air on HBO, is a seriously brutal indictment. It’s clear and tight and comprehensive as hell about Hubbard’s history, and is quite convincing with three ex-Scientology notables, including Marty Rathbun, formerly the church’s second-highest ranking official before leaving in 2004, spilling the beans big-time. (more…)

Flying Fuck At a Rolling Sundance Donut

I’ve been choking for the last 24 hours or so. Having seen six Sundance films over the last day and a half and ten since Saturday morning, I haven’t been able to write much about them. Earlier today I was telling myself to just write whatever comes to mind. The less I have to write about, the easier it is. I can take a slim thread of a feeling or a notion I’ve had in the shower and turn this into four or five graphs, easy. But movies are substantive topics — each one demands some kind of thorough, full-on exploration. And that’s hard when you’re seeing four per day. The only approach that works is to pick one or two aspects of a film that bother me. Once I’ve covered that I can usually add a sum-up response or boilerplate appraisal of some kind. I love Sundance but there’s a part of me that would almost rather be in New York City right now. I love walking around in snowboots as everything grinds to halt. A blizzard in Manhattan and not a snowflake falling here. It’s getting warmer, in fact.

Jesus Wept

You can tell right off the bat that Sam Rockwell will be doing his usual low-key sardonic routine in Jared Hess‘s Don Verdean, a Lionsgate release that pops at Park City’s Eccles theatre on Wednesday, 1.28 at 6:30 pm. The fact that Rockwell plays “a biblical archaeologist propositioned by a church that wants to finance his digs in exchange for creating a museum of sacred relics” tells you that sanctimonious righty Christians are going to take it in the neck. Amy Ryan, Leslie Bibb, Will Forte and the absolutely demonic Danny McBride costar. Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) directed and co-wrote somebody from his family with the first name of “Jerusha.”

Take Dope Hype With A Grain

Sundance critics appear to be as delighted with Rick Famuyiwa‘s Dope as the Open Road and Sony execs who’ve paid $7 million for the rights plus a $15 million p & a commitment. It’ll almost certainly be a hit — a just reward for being a snappy (i.e., jizz-whizzy), cartoonish, wild-ass Inglewood ‘hood action farce about friendship, guns, ’90s sounds, romance, sellin’ somebody else’s cocaine, gangstas, bullets flyin’, gettin’ into college (hey, maybe Harvard) and foxy, model-esque girls flashin’ that come-fuck-me look at hapless geeks with “who me?” gee-whiz expressions (in this instance Shameik Moore), and one of those hotties, drugged way the fuck up, stumbling across a busy street and then pissing outdoors in the shrubbery of a faux-Starbucks and the incident getting covered big-time by local TV news. Of course!

Dope pallies (l. to r.) Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Shameik Moore.

In other words, for all its keep-it-comin’ energy Dope is smartly assembled exploitation crap. Okay, not fair — it’s too superficially engaging to be called “crap” but it’s definitely insubstantial — a fleet, Tarantino-like hodgepodge of fantasy bullshit in the vein of a New Line Cinema release from the ’90s (i.e., House Party), and adapted to the general sensibility of 2015. In other words it’s fun as far as it goes but definitely not that great. Everything that happens fits a carefully calculated Hollywood street sensibility and is right the fuck on the nose; nothing is soft or subtle or indirect. Plus it’s too long by 15 or 20 minutes. At the 90-minute mark I was saying to myself, “Wait, wait…this thing should be wrapping up by now but it isn’t…it feels like it’s still building and developing points rather than starting to pay off.” (more…)

Feelings of Being Overwhelmed, Almost A Kind of Creeping Futility

Instead of the usual routine of writing in the morning and then starting screenings around noon, this morning I’m catching a 9 am showing of Rodrigo Garcia‘s Last Days in the Desert (which Variety‘s Justin Chang has called “a quietly captivating and remarkably beautiful account of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before the beginning of his ministry”) and then Rick Famuyiwa‘s much-buzzed-about Dope at 11:30 at the Prospector. And then, starring around 2 pm, three hours of writing before catching Stevan Riley‘s Listen To Me Marlon at 6 pm at the Holiday Cinemas, and then Joe Swanberg‘s Digging for Fire at 9:45 pm at the Eccles. I got up at 5:30 am to get a jump on filing, but seeing four films per day (which is what I’ve been averaging) means there’s never enough time to write much of anything. Maybe I’ll cut it back to three-per-day starting tomorrow (i.e., Tuesday, 1.27). I return to Los Angeles on Friday, 1.30, around noon, so between now and then I’ll be seeing about 13 films, counting today’s four.

Game Over?

With Birdman having just won SAG’s Best Ensemble award on top of snagging the PGA Zanuck trophy last night, it’s looking even more likely that it’ll take the Best Picture Oscar. Right, Sasha Stone, Scott Feinberg, Pete Hammond, Tom O’Neil and Steve Pond? It may not, of course, but if Boyhood wins instead (as an L.A.-based, Sundance-reporting journalist is still insisting will happen), it’ll be a huge shocker. And by the way, The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne winning SAG’s Best Actor award means over-and-out for Michael Keaton?


Distracted this morning by Birdman euphoria and other matters, I now have 17 minutes to tap out something about Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig‘s Mistress America, a whipsmart, acrid, His Girl Friday-like comedy which I was entirely delighted with. Comedy is hard but making a fast, rat-a-tat-tat comedy is, I’m guessing, all the harder, especially when you’ve managed to fortify it with serious character shadings and a touch of pathos. I was also pleased and gratified by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden‘s Mississippi Grind, which has an assured, nicely textured, low-key ’70s quality, and is easily the best film that Ryan Reynolds (whose performance as a good-natured knockabout is completely centered and confident) has ever starred in. I was fairly charmed and definitely amused by Patrick Brice‘s The Overnight, which I caught last night at 11:30 pm. It’s a congenial sex-kink comedy about an innocent 30something couple being gently and lovingly manipulated into sexual receptivity to a mellow predatory couple looking for a little action. It really works all around, but I have to leave for Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead…later.

Tea Leaves Had Little To Do With It

I guess I should say thanks to Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone for giving me some Birdman/PGA props and for not backhanding me too badly in the process. “Jeff has been a one-man champion for Birdman where others were mere admirers from afar,” she wrote. “Older women in the Academy won’t go for it, Jeff proclaimed, after he was told in Telluride that a fellow journalist’s wife didn’t like it. It’s too divisive to win, went the mantra. But Jeff was there. Day in and day out, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health — not just championing the film but predicting it to win when no one else did.” Except I wasn’t so much predicting a win (okay, I was in HE’s Oscar charts) as saying Birdman ought to win because it’s the only 2014 film with a swirling, magical, go-for-it feeling. Which the haters gave me a ton of shit for saying.