Another Excuse (But A Good One)

It wasn’t just the raptor hate directed at the Gandolfini funeral piece that slowed me down. Okay, that was half of it but there’s another reason. I haven’t been banging out six or seven pieces per day because I’m feeling kinda serene and dreamy and…oh, fuck it, I feel happy. Because of a lady, all right? One of those once-in-a-decade things. Connection, trust, touch, comfort, serenity…when the right combination kicks in you’re finished. Then again finishing or anticipating each other’s sentences is pretty great. Yeah, the feeling is mutual and all that. This morning I said to her, “I guess this is what being happy is like. You don’t feel like working that much.” All I know is that I have to push pieces out now, and before it was mostly a matter of opening the door and they would run out on their own steam.

Wells to Gerwig

It’s bad form to linger. I think we all know this. Keep moving, don’t look back. And so you and Noah Baumbach have this film in the can called Untitled Public School Project, described as “another New York-set film co-written with Gerwig, reportedly ‘looser and wonkier‘ than Frances Ha…costarring yourself and Lola Kirke and comparable on some level to The Great Gatsby and Something Wild (or so Baumbach has indicated) and slated for release in 2014.

But I took the A train up to the IFC Center last night, you see, and I saw Frances Ha again. My first viewing was at Telluride last September. We spoke there at that Film Society of Lincoln Center party with guys like Scott Foundas and Ed Lachman hanging around. (You also spoke to my son Jett.) Anyway I just want to tell you how unusually radiant and wide-open you are in Frances Ha given your character’s faint depression and uncertainty about almost everything. Such a vulnerable, excited state of being and aliveness…live-wire, super-exposed, open-nerve stuff. People say “award-calibre” too often, but this is award-calibre. I just wanted to share this.

Streetcar Named Vodka

There’s an under-undiscussed aspect to the talk about Blue Jasmine (Sony Classic, 7.26) being Woody Allen‘s take on A Streetcar Named Desire.

You need to start with Jasmine‘s basic plot — i.e., a fanciful, vodka-slurping, self-absorbed lady who’s fallen on hard times (Cate Blanchett) comes to live in San Francisco with her less fanciful, working-class sister (Sally Hawkins). In so doing she encounters what you might call a “party of apes” — Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and (maybe) Louis C.K. There is conflict in particular with Cannavale, who thinks Blanchett is full of shit, but Hawkins begs him to cut Blanchett some slack as she’s so fragile and unstable.

And then there’s Blanchett’s telling the Wall Street Journal‘s Charles McGrath that her part in Jasmine is “[a] kind of opportunity [that] doesn’t come along all the time. The character’s like a combination of Ibsen, Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare. There’s such electricity in the gap between her knowing and not knowing.”

Blanchett, of course, played Blanche Dubois in a BAM stage presentation of Streetcar, directed by Liv Ullman, in late 2009. (Which Santa Barbara Film Festival chief Roger Durling took me to see — thanks, Roger!) I don’t know that Allen caught Blanchett’s performance, but it would have been extremely remiss not to have done so. At the very least you have to figure Allen caught wind of the hugely positive responses to the Ullman-Blanchett collaboration, and given his ties with Ullman through his ardent, lifelong admiration of the films of Ingmar Bergman, you can guess how it all came together in his head. Tell me I’m reaching. I don’t think so.

Nice Little Moment

Nobody remembers Gore Verbinski‘s The Mexican (’01) with much affection. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t work. Cynically sold as a Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts romantic thing, but the most intriguing relationship in the film was between Robert and James Gandolfini‘s gay hit man.

Hold That Middle Ground

Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine (Sony Classics, 7.26) starts screening next week, and in concert with this is an exquisitely written Charles McGrath interview piece with Allen in the Wall Street Journal. Choice information: “[Jasmine is] based on a story Allen’s wife, Soon-Yi, told him about a woman she knew whose lifestyle became suddenly downsized after a financial disaster. Cate Blanchett plays a pill-popping, vodka-swigging East Side sophisticate married to a Waspy version of Bernie Madoff (Alec Baldwin). When he’s found out, she loses everything and has to move into the San Francisco apartment of her adoptive sister — a bagger at a grocery store — and her two mouth-breathing sons.

“The story is more serious than comic, and though it’s hard to take your eyes off her, the Blanchett character isn’t always likable. Will it work at the box office? Allen can’t stop to worry about that. He’s already at work on the next one.” (more…)

Misfit Toys

N.Y. Times reporter Brooks Barnes and script doctor Jordan Roberts came up with a fairly ridiculous pitch for a Washington, D.C.-based Hollywood blockbuster — deliberately bad, but only a step or two beyond the $150 million films that are getting made these days — and showed it to producer Lynda Obst and other Hollywood sharpies. To call their responses deeply depressing isn’t the half of it. Q: What do you call 500 production execs who subscribe to this insane megacorporate mentality about gambling big on elephantine, CG-driven bullshit movies…what do you call these guys at the bottom of the Philippine trench? A: A good start.

“Because [big fat-ass blockbusters] need to attract the biggest global audience possible, they are increasingly manufactured by committees who tug this way and pull that way,” Barnes writes. “Marketing needs this, international distribution needs that. The all-too-common result is a Frankenfilm, a lumbering behemoth composed of misfit parts.

“When they work, there is a box office bonanza. Studios this year have rejoiced over The Hangover Part III, World War Z and Iron Man 3. When they don’t — well, it’s After Earth or John Carter. (The next big-budget movies to face judgment are The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Pacific Rim, a robots-versus-monsters movie from Guillermo del Toro.)”

Do I Blow $15 Or $16 Bills To See This?

You’re reading A.O. Scott‘s review of The Heat, and he states early on that the film, directed by Bridesmaid‘s Paul Feig, has broken a sexism barrier by being the first cop-boddy comedy without guys. It “wears its feminism lightly and proudly, though not always comfortably,” he says. And yet it’s “a fairly standard summertime R-rated comedy, which I guess could be described as a kind of progress.” In other words, it’s bad but not altogether bad given the feminist breakthrough this film has achieved…if you want to be generous about it.

“A simpler, and probably more relevant, way to describe this movie would be to say that it’s around two hours of Melissa McCarthy spewing profanity while Sandra Bullock cringes, flutters her arms and sighs in exasperation. If you need another reason to see it, I can’t in good conscience supply one, since the story is sloppy and thin, many of the jokes are strained or tired, and the level of violence is a bit jarring. But the volatile chemistry between Ms. McCarthy and Ms. Bullock is something to behold, and carries The Heat through its lazy conception and slapdash execution.

The Heat “is not a very good movie,” he says in paragraph #8. “Its script is a rehash of the obvious and the pointless, without the knowing self-mockery of 21 Jump Street. And it suffers from the familiar, crippling desire to be naughty without risking offense. So there are jokes at the expense of albinos and people with Boston accents and halfhearted race- and class-based gags.”

I ought to just man up and pay the ticket price and see this, but I honestly don’t know if I can take it. Honestly.

Write-Off

Does Sylvester Stallone have any idea how good it would be for his reputation and karma to make a prison-escape movie in the vein of Don Siegel‘s Escape From Alcatraz? This Escape Plan trailer indicates the opposite. It suggets that the film will be some idiot-level, power-pumped macho testosterone ghoulash aimed at the “international market” — i.e., not-very-discerning under-25 males in Manila, Bangkok, Riyadh, Sofia, Johannesburg and Seoul.

“What The Hell Happened?”

The above is Steve McQueen‘s final line in Robert Wise‘s The Sand Pebbles (’66). It’s also what Roland Emmerich, Amy Pascal and Sony marketing guys are asking each other this morning with White House Down having underperformed yesterday (earning less than Olympus Has Freakin’ Fallen) but also…choke, cough, sputter…After Earth. Jesus! This means, presumably, that the not-that-hip, not-that-aware popcorn-munchers said to themselves “eff this noise…we just saw this movie with Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman, and that one sucked so why let ourselves in for more punishment?”

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Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour

Who am I? What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I try and write more Thursday night and especially Friday after filing the Gandolfini thing on Thursday? Because I’m a sensitive, intelligent individual and my feelings were hurt. I felt stung, morose, detached, weak in the knees. I needed to heal, I guess. And I needed to walk around the city and buy shoe trees and lose umbrellas (it rains, I buy one at Duane Reade, and I go to a screening or something and leave it there) and just “be.” Everybody goes through these interludes and time-outs. I do them a couple of times a year. The rest of the time I’m a hammer.

Since returning a week ago I’ve seen The Way Way Back, White House Down, Stuck in Love, Pacific Rim and Our Nixon…which I saw the night before last. (A conflict kept me away from the all-media screening of The Heat, and this didn’t sink in until two days after.) I can and will write about Stuck and Way Way Back (which is quite good as far as this kind of smart, well-acted, Fox Searchlighty, mid-range, modestly scaled character material tends to go) today or tomorrow. But I can’t write about Rim until much later. (more…)

Strangers on a Train

One of the hottest sequences I’ve seen in ages. Especially when the older woman says “and then you take him into the lavatory and have sex” and the young girl drops her gaze, bashfully or somewhat ashamedly. And then the cutaway as she enters the train compartment. This is pervy but good. Who’s the teenager?

Post-Traumatic

I always file less whenever I have an event to attend. (Naturally.) When I have two events within six or seven daylight hours I’m barely able to post more than a story or two. Yesterday was the Gandolfini funeral plus a press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel for The Way Way Back. Plus there was such an avalanche of bile and toxicity in response to the Gandolfini thing that I felt as if I’d been infected by a flu virus of some kind. The poison that coarses through men’s souls! All I did was soberly and respectfully attend the funeral of an actor whose performances I worshipped. My hands were clasped and I said my amens and I took Holy Communion and even gave a hug to two people sitting nearby, but because I had the temerity to use the term “funeral crasher” and talk about Altoid mints I was all but stoned to death. I love you too, guys. Fucking piranhas. (more…)

Not So Fast on Pacific Rim Tracking

We’ve all been reading about how Guillermo del Toro‘s Pacific Rim (Warner Bros., 7.12) isn’t tracking as well as Grown-Ups 2 and yaddah-yah. Well, a highly-positioned industry figure with an interest in Pacific Rim‘s fate is disputing, to wit:

“These tracking reports are exaggerated, snarky and premature,” he wrote. “We started our campaign last week. We had focused on the core group, which is the most vital group for this film. Since then and as of today’s tracking we are steadily rising in a significant way. We are getting on track. The sensationalist headlines about Grown-Ups 2 are just that. Even a slight contextualizing shows that any sequel or reboot has much bigger built-in awareness than a new property with no stars. The numbers they were quoting were the early numbers from last week. There is also a fundamental truism in the summer, which is that your tracking always pops much later in the campaign.”

Hemsworth as Snowden

Sometime earlier today (perhaps as I as attending the James Gandolfini funeral?), Salt and Clear and Present Danger director Phillip Noyce told NBC News that (a) Edward Snowden is a great subject for “a suspenseful film with some comedic elements”, (b) that Noyce would love to make such a film, and (c) that Liam Hemsworth is an ideal choice to play Snowden.

“This is a movie that’s playing out before our eyes, even though we can’t see anything,” Noyce said. “We can’t see the hero or the villain — the central character. Like Salt, it’s a story where you’re not quite certain if you’re dealing with a heroine or a villain. And we may not be certain until the end of the movie or even beyond that. That’s a beautiful duality to deal with when you’re making a story or watching a movie. You can speculate he’s motivated by complete unselfish motives through belief in protecting worldwide public interests. Or you can speculate he was himself a victim of knowing that notoriety might bring him immortality.”

Cosmic Intervention

I got hated on big-time for tweeting about having crashed James Gandolfini‘s funeral this morning at Manhattan’s St. John The Divine. Yes, I flippantly used the term “funeral crasher!” because that’s what I was. But it’s the singer, not the song. The haters ignored the fact that I (a) asked for God’s forgiveness in having crashed, (b) ascribed my crashing success to the intervention of angels, and (c) said that I crashed with reverence and respect for James, David Chase and all the “made” Sopranos guys. The rush-to-judgment pissheads simply weren’t listening. They never do. They’re scolds…shrill finger-wagging scolds going “tut-tut!” and “no, no, no!”

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Stern Is Gone

Famed fashion and portrait photographer Bert Stern, 83, died this morning at his home in New York City. His passing was announced by his wife, filmmaker Shannah Laumeister (Bert Stern: Original Madman), whom Stern married in 2009. I’m a huge fan of this doc — I went apeshit for it last March and April. A brilliant, zeitgeist-defining photographer during his late ’50s to mid ’70s heyday, Stern had been suffering from unspecified old-age maladies and had recently been treated at Manhattan’s Beth Israel hospital.


Bert Stern (1929 — 2013)

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Judge Hardy Disapproves

A recently posted Vanity Fair piece containing choice portions of an extended 1988 Ava Gardner interview given to biographer Peter Evans includes the following about Mickey Rooney, Gardner’s first husband: “I still didn’t know that he was the biggest wolf on the lot,” Gardner says. “He was catnip to the ladies. He knew it, too. The little sod was not above admiring himself in the mirror. All five foot two of him! He probably banged most of the starlets who appeared in his Andy Hardy films, Lana Turner among them. She called him Andy Hard-on. Can we say that…Andy Hard-on?”

“He wasn’t what I’d call a handsome may-an, and his shortness surprised me, but there was definitely something appealing about him. He had thick, red-blond wavy hair, crinkly Irish green eyes, and a grin that was…well, it definitely wasn’t innocent, honey, I can tell you that!”

Jewish Solidarity

15 days after Tablet‘s David Mikics previewed Ben Urwand‘s The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler, about collaboration between the big studios and the Nazi regime during the 1930s, N.Y. Times reporter Jennifer Schuessler has reviewed the basics and spoken to Urwand. (The book isn’t out yet.)

“What [Hollywood] wanted was access to German audiences,” the Tablet piece reads. “What Hitler wanted was the ability to shape the content of Hollywood movies — and he got it.”

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Little Bears

As a fan of Jeff Garlin‘s I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With and given the smart-sounding dialogue in the trailer, I’m definitely into seeing Dealin’ With Idiots (IFC Films, 7.12, VOD and iTunes). Official obit: “Faced with the absurd competitiveness surrounding his son’s youth league baseball team, comedian Max Morris (Garlin) acquaints himself with the parents and coaches of the team (Gina Gershon, Fred Willard, Bob Odenkirk, JB Smoove, Richard Kind, Kerri Kenny-Silver) — not just to help his kid but to find material for his next film.