Tonal Allure

Everyone knows by now that Spike Jonze‘s Her (Warner Bros., 12.18), which will have its big debut at the New York Film Festival on Saturday, 10.12, is about a lonely dweeby guy (Joaquin Phoenix) falling in love with a non-human voice called “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson). And I’m kind of wondering why Jonze cast Johansson, whose appeal has always been primarily visual but who is never seen in Her (or so I understand). Her voice…I shouldn’t say anything before seeing the film but I’ve never found it to be (no offense) wildly captivating or mesmerizing. Particularly if you compare it to female voices that are renowned for a certain breathy or sultry quality…that slight insinuation of purring eroticism. Or just a soothing soulful vibe. Or just a brisk, snappy quality. Like those of (take your pick) Charlotte Rampling, Jacqueline Bisset, Cate Blanchett or young Faye Dunaway. Or Kim Novak‘s in Bell, Book and Candle. Or Mia Farrow‘s or the young Julie Christie‘s. If we’re talking voice attraction alone why not cast an actress whose voice really has something?

Bad Bullies

I was never that interested in Breaking Bad because I felt (and still feel) that the inevitable violent consequences of dealing methamphetamine in New Mexico and particularly having to grapple with a demimonde of Latino low-lifes is…well, uninteresting. Scummy criminal-class types hold no fascination for the simple fact that they’re born to lose. I respect the poetry of Walt Whitman as much as the next guy, but I never cared very much for poor, cancer-afflicted Walter White (Bryan Cranston) because I couldn’t identify with or root for a guy who was toast from the get-go, and because I’ve always felt repelled by Cranston’s slit eyes and heavily lined, stressed-out features — I don’t see myself in him and I’d rather not see him in me. And I was always irked by Aaron Paul‘s tennis-ball haircut and almost-midget-like stature. I’m not “right” or “wrong” to feel this way, but you’d never know that to go by HE commenters. I was dismissed, pitied, defamed, spat upon and written off by more people than I care to remember. Arrogant as this may sound, I feel I’m entitled to my prejudices about any drama portraying the ups and downs of the Albuquerque meth trade, even one as respected and praised and enjoyed as much as Breaking Bad was.

Monsters Are Here On Maple Street

“Early Sunday morning, all 231 House Republicans decided that crippling health care reform was more important than keeping the government’s doors open. It was one of the most irresponsible votes since the last shutdown in 1996. [Republicans] know that their proposal to put the health reform law on hold for a year and repeal a tax on medical devices stands no chance in the Senate…the real goal is not to delay but to destroy health reform by making it appear unworkable, in hopes that the public will not see the affordable premiums that will be available on the new health insurance exchanges where people can shop for plans starting Tuesday. It may be impossible to prevent a shutdown at this point if the House continues to prefer dueling to governing, but at least the public will clearly see the source of the nation’s wounds.” — Excerpt from 9.29 N.Y. Times editorial, “House Rushes to Shutdown.”

Another Oscar Poker Relaunch

I’ve been slacking on Oscar Poker podcasts so long they look like up to me. This morning Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone and I discussed the leading Best Picture contenders and all the attendant issues. Principal topics: 12 Years A Slave (including the “Steve McQueen problem” and the coming pushback), American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, the probable (if not yet confirmed) postponement of Martin Scorsese‘s Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, Captain Phillips (which is having its big L.A. premiere tonight), Spike Jonze‘s Her, Ben Stiller‘s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the possibility that George Clooney may be punking everyone with current Monuments Men assessments, and ongoing concerns about Bruce Dern possibly not making it as a Best Actor nominee for Nebraska. We’re pulling for you, Bruce! Again, here’s the mp3.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

“Amid a night of so many peaks, though, one raucous moment stood out: Elvis Costello, who was serving as Justin Timberlake‘s understudy, did a rendition of one of the highlights of Inside Llewyn Davis. Called ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’, the song is performed in the movie by Timberlake, Oscar Isaac and actor Adam Driver, and is a quick-tempo time capsule to 1962 that features lines about rocket ships. Onstage, Costello pleaded with the new president in song while Driver, best known for his role as Lena Dunham‘s off-and-on boyfriend in Girls, offered wickedly funny harmonies: rocket sounds, lip-blubbers, meteoric accents.” — from Randall Robertsreview of last night’s “Another Day, Another Time”/ Inside Llewyn Davis tribute concert at Manhattan’s Town Hall.

Inside Llewyn Davis costar Carey Mulligan during last night’s Town Hall concert.

Showtime will air the concert on Friday, 12.13 at 9 pm. Great — over two months from now. (more…)

What Else Should I Be Reading?

Theodore Melfi‘s St. Vincent de Van Nuys, which began shooting in July in various New York-area locations, is about a rootless young guy with just-divorced parents befriending a “misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran” played by Bill Murray. Costars include Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Naomi Watts — no idea who plays the kid. Noah Baumbach‘s While We’re Young is about “an uptight documentary filmmaker and his wife find their lives loosened up a bit after befriending a free-spirited younger couple.” (Hey, maybe they could hook up with Murray’s hedonistic war veteran and make it a real party?) It costars Ben Stiller, Amanda Seyfried, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver and Charles Grodin. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Birdman, which will most likely debut in Cannes next May, is about an actor known for playing an iconic superhero (Michael Keaton) struggling to prepare a Broadway play while at the same time attempting to recover his family, his career, and himself. (The play in the film is an adaptation of Raymond Carver‘s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”) Keaton’s costars include Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis.

They Make Stuff Worse These Days

Yesterday I decided not to spend $300 to fix my 50″ Vizio, which may or may not have died due to the slovenly Sajan Patel (i.e., the sublessee who all but ruined my apartment during my Telluride-Toronto-New York trip), but either way it’s definitely not working due to some kind of power board outage. So I went to Paul’s TVs on Sawtelle and bought a 60″ Panasonic Plasma for $950 plus tax. For some idiotic reason I paid an extra $50 for a professional set-up, but when the guys arrived with the set they didn’t do squat — they just attached the stand and plugged it in and handed me the remote. I figured the set-up guys would know a little bit about fine tuning. All they wanted was to screw it on the stand and head off to the next job. And then I realized they were serious morons because they didn’t even know what correctly proportioned images and aspect ratios are supposed to look like. (more…)

Rabid Dogs

A fascinating error is revealed in a 9.29 Screen Daily story about a Zurich Film Festival master class lecture by Weinstein Co. honcho Harvey Weinstein. While recalling his early film passions Weinstein said “his first emotional connection to film came when watching Old Yeller, the classic American tearjerker about a boy and his dog,” writes SD‘s Wendy Mitchell. “The idea of Gregory Peck having to shoot the dog, I saw the emotionality of that. And I questioned that decision with my dad.”

Correction #1: Old Yeller star Tommy Kirk (still living and active and 71 years old) was forced to shoot his rabies-infected Yellow Labrador in that 1957 Walt Disney film — not Gregory Peck. Correction #2: Peck, however, did shoot a rabid dog five years later in To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), so Weinstein’s confusion is understandable. Correction #3: Mitchell or her Screen Daily editors should have caught the mistake and pointed it out somewhere in the story. (more…)


This morning a filmmaker friend wrote the following: “I’m told by Academy members who’ve seen Saving Mr. Banks that it’s going to remake the Oscar race with a deliberately timed late finish.” Well, not that late — it’ll open the AFI Film Fest on 11.7.13 (i.e., roughly five weeks hence) with the commercial opening five weeks later (i.e., 12.13). I asked if his sources have seen 12 Years A Slave and he said no, but let’s go with this — John Lee Hancock‘s film has probably lived up to the potential of Kelly Marcel‘s script (which I praised to the heavens on 5.12) and is going to become one of the five Best Picture contenders. It might even become the late-arriving 800-pound gorilla, but I doubt it. Emma Thompson‘s portrayal of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. (i.e., Pamela) Travers will become, of course, a lock for Best Actress along with a likely Best Supporting Actor nom going to Tom Hanks‘ performance as Walt Disney — c’mon, it’s obvious. Marcel is also likely to land a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. But the film itself? Maybe.


The Informer

How brilliant of me to have missed screenings of Yuval Adler and Ali Waked‘s Bethlehemwinner of six Ophir awards last night and the likely Israeli submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar. It played at the Telluride and Toronto festivals and I was…what was I doing? Running around, filing, catching everything I could, consuming free party food. Variety‘s Leslie Felperin called it “a tightly wound, clock-ticking thriller [about] the fraught relationship between an Israeli intelligence officer and his conflicted Palestinian informant…although there are bound to be partisan viewers from both camps who will strive to find offense somewhere [it is] admirably evenhanded…pic comprises an impressive directorial debut for Adler who demonstrates a confident grasp of pace, place and thesp handling.” Adopt’s Jeff Lipsky and Mark Grady, who acquired Bethlehem for U.S. distribution a few days ago, will open it in early ’14. Presumably they’ll screen it for stragglers like myself in November and/or December to help goose word-of-mouth.

Life In A Cage

This guy likes to have conversations, but after the third or fourth time you get the feeling that he’s saying “it’s boring and stifling to sit in solitary day after day, and you’re a shit to keep me here for the rest of my life.” Even with his limited ability to assess and process I’m betting this parrot senses there’s a big vibrant world out there that he’s never going to experience. If he were in my home I’d let him fly around indoors for a couple of hours each day. And I’d buy a much bigger cage with another bird or two to join him so at least he’d have a little company. “No one is free — even birds are chained to the sky.” — Bob Dylan.

One Works, The Other Doesn’t

This two-month-old trailer for Sandra Nettelbeck‘s Last Love (formerly Mr. Morgan’s Last Love) feels classier and more elegant and generally more appealing than the trailer that was released on 9.27 (i.e., yesterday). For one thing the late July trailer admits that the film is set in a French-speaking city (pic was shot in Paris and Brussels) while the new version seems to be trying to obscure that fact. I haven’t seen Last Love (Image, 11.1), which costars Michael Caine, Clemence Poesy, Justin Kirk and Gillian Anderson. But I know that Nettelbeck knows what she’s doing. Mostly Martha (’01), which she also directed and wrote, is one of the most sensibly satisfying romantic films of this century.


Curtis Virus

I believe that Richard Curtis has done more to sugarcoat and suffocate the romantic comedy genre than any other director-writer I can think of. If there’s someone else who has injected his films and scripts with more mirth, fluttery-ness and forced euphoria, I’d like to know who that is. Curtis has no discernible interest in ground-level reality (as the way-above-Curtis’s-level David O. Russell does) . When writing romantic material he seems interested only in those levitational moments when an attractive man and a simple-but-dishy woman can finally let their true feelings out and look into each other’s eyes and….aaahhh! In my view anything with the Curtis stamp is an instant must-to-avoid.


A More Colorful Version

I’m inclined to accept John Wells‘ explanation about why August: Osage County (Weinstein Co., 12.25) ends with a shot of Julia Roberts driving down an Oklahoma road in a pickup truck rather than on the isolation of Meryl Streep‘s sharp-tongued matriarch sitting at home with Eric Clapton, which is how the play version ended. In a 9.11.13 L.A. Times story Wells, the film’s director, told Steven Zeitchik that research audiences didn’t like the Streep ending and “were terrified about what happened to [Roberts’ character]…keeping it the way it was in the play was just too alienating to the people the film needed to appeal to,” Wells says. “I heard it over and over again — to the point that it was ‘Let’s see what happens if we put Violet on the steps and then cut to Barbara.’”

“A Very Fragile World”

With the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination approaching, expect a deluge of articles, books, documentaries (including a new four-hour American Experience examination premiering on PBS on 11.11 and 11.12) and even a theatrical re-release of Oliver Stone‘s JFK. Yesterday I watched a four-month-old Newseum discussion of the JFK murder by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, both of whom were in Dallas that day. Lehrer is openly contemptuous of Stone’s 1991 film, and I must say their refusal to give any credence to conspiracy theories seems a bit smug and stubborn. But they were notepad-and-shoe-leather reporters who were right there — McNeil may have obliviously spoken to Lee Harvey Oswald in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, he says — and doing their best to differentiate between the wheat and the chaff. Agree with them or not, but they exude a certain authority.


Raised In A Zoo

Yesterday was a near-total loss due to a huge effort to get my apartment back into shape after it was turned into a wreck by the 20something guy I subletted to during my absence at Telluride, Toronto and New York (8.28 to 9.26). I always sublet during festival sojourns and have done so for 15-plus years without an issue, but my luck ran out when I okayed the smiling, mild-mannered Sajan Patel. I spoke to his boss as a reference, but this guy was a dog with fleas. He flat-out murdered 60% of my plants, killed my 50-inch Vizio plasma (it’s been stricken with some kind of fatal ailment), starved my cats (although my obese Siamese cat Mouse having lost 2 or 3 pounds is actually a good thing) and made the place look like a cyclone had blown through it. I asked this fine young fellow why he’d destroyed most of the plants and he actually replied, “They are not my responsibility as this is is not my home — I was only here for a month.” I gave him $100 bucks to cover his previously paid rent and immediately kicked his ass out. I had to buy a new TV last night, and will have to fork over $300 to $400 to replace the dead plants.


Underlining A Transition

At 1:47 cinematographer Robert Surtees does a kind of stylized fourth-wall breakthrough. Instead of resorting to the usual rack focus after Anne Bancroft exits the frame, he manually slows the focus on Katherine Ross‘s face, taking three or four seconds to portray what’s happening in her head. A similar device is used in The Verdict when the camera stares two or three developing Polaroid snaps of a comatose woman in a hospital bed. As they become more and more recognizable, a metaphor for the emergence of conscience in Paul Newman‘s ambulance-chasing attorney is conveyed. Name other instances in which a camera or a cinematographer stopped being invisible (i.e., unobtrusively delivering images) and in so doing briefly interrupted the narrative flow to actually “speak” to the audience about an emotional or intellectual development of some sort.

Detective Story

If you’ve read about John CassevetesShadows (’59) you know he shot it twice — once in ’57 and again in ’59. The Wiki page says that “the second version is the one Cassavetes favored,” and it’s clearly stated that the new Criterion Bluray is offering the ’59 version. And yet a DVD Beaver screen capture shows a Times Square cityscape that was probably shot in April or May of ’57. How do we know this? Pic shows the 1957 Dean Martin dud Ten Thousand Bedrooms (which opened on April 3, 1957) on the marquee of what I presume to be the marquee of Leow’s State (B’way and 45th). Movies had longer runs back in the day but Bedrooms was generally regarded as a mediocre film and was “not a success” and therefore almost certainly was gone within three or four weeks. Notice also that The Ten Commandments wqs still playing at the Criterion after opening there on 10.5.56, or a good six months earlier.

Why Pick On Edgar Allen Poe?

For a reason presumably known to Lars Von Trier but obscured to almost everyone else, the narration for this Nymphomaniac clip is a reciting of the first sentence from Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” This suggests that the film will be perverse or pretentious or maddeningly oblique. Or perhaps a combination of all three. “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”