Tapley Sees Wolf, Pisses Off Twitter Followers

Some friend of Hitfix‘s Kris Tapley got him into a SAG screening (presumably today) of Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street, and he doesn’t even hint about whether he was dumbstruck, delighted, pleased, mezzo-mezzo’ed or underwhelmed? Not even a whiff of a hint at what his scholastic or numerical grade might be? C’mon, Kris…give that shit up. All he’s saying is “big pop for Jonah Hill“…duhh, kinda knew that! And “standing O for Leonardo DiCaprio (naturally).” I’m very disappointed. If I’d been the lucky one I would have divulged more than this, you bet.

Class Distinctions

During a 1995 CSPAN2 interview for his book, Oswald’s Tale, the late Norman Mailer said the following about the culture of Minsk, the Russian city where Lee Harvey Oswald lived for a couple of years: “If you were an intellectual, doctor, professor, manicurist…everyone lives in the same level [in Minsk]. I lived in a relatively ordinary apartment house. The difference in Minsk, is that if you were an intellectual or a doctor or scientist, you lived no better than a worker and perhaps in some cases not quite as well as a worker, but what you did have, you had your superiority. You had your essential class superiority, which is that you were cultured and they were not. You had this incredible snobbery, this incredible class system. People had to find a vein of social superiority, no matter how.”

Banished

If there’s one thing I’m 100% dead certain of, it’s that I will never, ever watch even a snippet of any Asian-produced or Asian-set film involving the brandishing of swords. Ever. Even watching this trailer for Criterion’s Zatoichi collection puts me off. I’m saying this as an owner of an authentic, razor-sharp samurai sword, which I keep in my living room for worst-case protection. I hated Blind Fury (’89) also. I’m not even sure I could sit through Sydney Pollack‘s The Yakuza again.

Alien Underwear

As crude and simplistic as this seems at first (dreadful title design, cheap-ass music), I honestly felt more engaged by this short than by Jonathan Glazer‘s Under The Skin, which comes from a somewhat similar place (i.e., an alien life form dabbling in human sexuality). It works because of two elements. One, the sharp knocking on the door with no one found in the hallway. And two, the lights flashing off and on about halfway through. Even the shit-level FX at the end isn’t that much of a hindrance.

Lost Letter

“13th of July, 4:50 pm. I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point. But I am. I tried. I think you could all agree that I tried. To be true. To be strong. To be kind. To love. To be right. But I wasn’t And I know you knew this, in each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body. That is, what’s left of them. And a half day’s rations. It’s inexcusable, really. I know that now. How it could have taken that long to admit that, I’m not sure. But it did. I fought to the end. I am not sure what that is worth, but know that I did. I have always hoped for more for you all. I will miss you. I’m sorry.” — Spoken by Robert Redford at the very beginning of All Is Lost. Roughly 90 seconds. Approximately 130 words. (Dialogue recorded from screener, which arrived yesterday.)

American Hustle Bounce-Off

“The general consensus among pundits, with which I agree, is that American Hustle is immensely entertaining, features terrific performances across the board (led by supporting actress Jennifer Lawrence, who steals every scene in which she appears) and should score a bunch of Oscar and Globe noms, but is ultimately a light caper — sort of a higher-brow Oceans 11 — and may lack the gravitas necessary to pull off any major wins.” — from 11.27 posting from Hollywood Reporter award-season analyst Scott Feinberg.


Amy Adams, Christian Bale in David O. Russell’s American Hustle.

I caught David O. Russell‘s American Hustle last night inside DGA theatre #1, and I guess my reaction had something to do with the positive but somewhat tempered responses to last Sunday’s first-time-anywhere screening for a few L.A. bloggers. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, given the reaction from Hitfix‘s Kris Tapley. It may lack Best Picture gravitas, but it doesn’t lack for tingling texture or intrigue or exceptional flavor. I decided to tap out a letter to Russell directly this morning, and here’s some of what I said:

“David — The initial reactions to American Hustle were within the usual prism of ‘how award-friendly is it?’ I don’t give a shit about that calibration any more, but the person whom I asked last Monday morning ‘what is this film about?’ said ‘I honestly don’t know.’ And I said “you don’t know?” You saw the movie and you don’t know what it’s about?

“As you said last night during the q & a, American Hustle is obviously about (a) we all play roles and (b) who are we really, and who do we want to be? This is also a movie in love with the occasional sweep and elevation of cinematic pizazz…when music and emotion and camera-ecstasy just fuse and click together in the right mood-trip way, like that moment you described at the end of Mad Men‘s 2012 season when Don Draper walks off the commercial set to the strains of ‘You Only Live Twice.’ Your movie has at least four or five moments like this. Okay, three or four. (more…)

As You Might Expect

I don’t get to see Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street until Friday, December 6th, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association will have a looksee the day after tomorrow (Sunday, 12.1) and the New York Film Critics Circle, I’m informed, will see it a day later (Monday, 12.2). Presumably the National Board of Review will have a screening before voting also. LAFCA will catch it on Friday night. So whatever the reactions, everyone will be up to speed.

God Was Torturing People Long Before Coens Came Along

Two articles in recent days have discussed an apparent tendency by Inside Llewyn Davis director-writers Joel and Ethan Coen to torture their lead characters with a certain dry sadistic relish. In an 11.21 Tablet piece (“Coen Bros. Torture Another Schlemiel While Imagining They Are Dylan’s True Heirs”) Jim Hoberman wrote that their brand of “artful contempt” involves “bullying the characters they invent for their own amusement.” In an 11.28 piece called “Torture Your Darlings: On the Coen Brothers’ Cursed Characters,” Calum Marsh discusses the same thing. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to note that a sadistic current is detectable in what happens to Oscar Isaac‘s Llewyn Davis in the Coens’ latest.

This “sticking pins in their characters” tendency has been evident in the Coens’ films all along, but it became a bit more noticable four years ago, I feel, with A Serious Man. I kicked it around in a review that I wrote in September 2009 after seeing this film at the Toronto Film Festival, and then again while discussing it with Joel and Ethan in a hotel room. And I have to say that Marsh and particularly Hoberman don’t seem to be getting the joke. (more…)

Music Woven In

I’m trying to make a list of films with hummable themes that are not only heard on the soundtrack but sung or played by characters within the narrative. Like John Williamstheme for The Long Goodbye. It’s on the soundtrack, of course, but there’s also a bit in a bar in which some guy is trying to learn how to play it on the piano. We also hear it on a supermarket’s loundspeaker system. Leonard Rosenman‘s theme for East of Eden is hummed by Julie Harris and Richard Davalos. Musical scores are typically composed after principal photography and usually after the first initial edit. I just can’t think of other examples.

Selling Point

I’ve been waiting for this “Please Mr. Kennedy” clip to turn up on YouTube since I first saw Inside Llewyn Davis at last May’s Cannes Film Festival. I especially love this scene for (a) the pup-pah discussion between Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake, (b) the look that Isaac gives Adam Driver around the 34-second mark and (c) Timberlake’s reaction when Isaac says to him, “Look, I’m happy for the gig but who…who wrote this?” And yet Rope of Silicon‘s Brad Brevet has written that this “signature piece” is “something I would have never wanted to see or hear before experiencing it within the film’s narrative.” What?

Stop The Presses

Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neill is reporting that David O. Russell‘s American Hustle has been declared a comedy by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association eligibility committee. It might be that (I won’t see it until this evening) but the basic shot, of course, is that (a) the Golden Globe guys need five big-name comedies competing for “Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical,” and so (b) every year they try to shoehorn any film with the slightest amount of wit or flair or pizazz into their definition of a comedy. O’Neill is also reporting that Hustle‘s Jennifer Lawrence has moved up on Gold Derby’s Best Supporting Actress prediction charts from 7th place to 4th.

Wrapping Paper

Sometimes it’s nice to just take it easy and downshift and be gentle. The tender intimate stuff. Hugs and pecks and nice slow hands. Hair-strokings, back-scratchings. And some quiet, murmuring conversation. Later with the cat ‘o’ nine tails broomstick action. That said, I’d prefer to see the five-and-a-half hour version of Lars Von Trier‘s film when and if I attend the Berlin Film Festival. I read somewhere that this version might not screen until Cannes.

Boxy Bridges Still Eluding Fascist Cleaver

I’ve watched Mark Robson‘s The Bridges at Toko-Ri (’54) four or five times since the mid ’90s. I’m a fan for several reasons but one of the biggest is Loyal Griggs‘ richly Technicolored, perfectly lighted cinematography. But I’d never seen it in high-def until renting it last night on Vudu, and lo and behold this December 1954 release hasn’t been whacked down to 1.66 or 1.85, as per custom when ’50s films get remastered for high-def or Bluray presentation. Boxy is beautiful on its own terms, of course, but 1.37 renderings of high-def, sharply focused 1950s Technicolor…heaven.


William Holden as Lt. Harry Brubaker in Mark Robson’s The Bridges at Toko-Ri, a Paramount release that opened in December 1954.

Toko-Ri‘s lustrous, high-end appearance suggests it was shot in VistaVision, but it was captured in straight 35mm. It was clearly framed to protect a 1.37 aspect ratio with allowances for possible theatrical matting to 1.66, the aspect ratio that its distributor, Paramount Pictures, had been endorsing at the time. The studio was actually in the throes of changing over from 1.66 to 1.85 aspect ratios in December ’54. (Its first 1.66:1 VistaVision release, White Christmas, opened in January ’54.) Should this film ever appear on Bluray (which doesn’t seem especially likely), this history could be used by the 1.85 fascists to justify cleavering The Bridges at Toko-Ri down to 1.85 or at least 1.66. (more…)

Spirit of Attenborough

Justin Chadwick‘s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opens on Friday, 11.28. In my 9.9.13 Toronto Film Festival review, I called it a “classic” biopic in the sense that it feels like it was made 30 or 40 years ago. It’s basically the life of Nelson Mandela by way of the sensibility of Richard Attenborough‘s Gandhi (’82). That makes it a reverential but generally mediocre film about a great man and a great saga.

“It is saved or at the very least enobled by Idris Elba‘s stirring, highly charismatic performance as Mandela — the first breakthrough performance that the 41 year-old Elba has given on the big screen or anywhere else for that matter.” Note: Despite what some commenters are claiming, Elba’s striking, first-rate work in The Wire and BBC One’s Luther were not what any fair-minded person would call “breakthrough”-level. The applicable terms are “noteworthy” and “distinctive.” Winning over hip connoisseurs of cutting-edge cable fare does not a breakthrough make.

“This is a respectably safe, square and stodgy movie in which the political marches and demonstrations almost feel like they’ve been choreographed by a Broadway musical pro,” I wrote. “When an occasional political song is sung the demonstrators sing in harmony. Like Variety‘s Scott Foundas said, screenwriter William Nicholson has written a ‘CliffsNotes version of Mandela’s nearly 700-page memoir’ that ‘is slathered in golden sunsets, inspirational platitudes and John Barry-esque strings.’ The music drove me half-crazy, I must say. (more…)

Plague of the Snyder

All corporate CG-driven superhero zombie movies are torture to varying degrees, but Zack Snyder‘s Man of Steel‘s was a stand- out. It delivered an 80-minute action finale (Henry Cavill‘s Superman vs. Michael Shannon‘s General Zod) that may have been…no, was the most oppressively boring, prolonged and soul-numbing experience of my moviegoing life…ever. I realize that Snyder was probably trying to top a similar action finale in 2012’s The Avengers, but something really foul and acidic came alive in my system as I sat through Snyder’s version. I decided then and there that Snyder, whom I’d started to intensely dislike after seeing Sucker Punch, is some kind of despicable aesthetic force. I hated Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Only God Forgives more as a start-to-finish creation. I was half-okay with the first hour of Man of Steel (liked the solemn tone, thought Cavill was pretty good) but that finale…man, that finale was something evil. So let’s consider the possibility that Snyder is an actual cinematic demon. I’m not exaggerating. I think he’s as much of a spreader of a kind of disease as Michael Bay was thought to be in his own right. And I fear that Batman vs. Superman…I don’t want to think about it.

Screaming Thighs

I had Thanksgiving dinner today at a food court, eating very little and spending most of my time glaring and scowling at happy families who were laughing too loudly. Kidding — just messing with Glenn Kenny. Seriously, I just came back from a Runyon Canyon hike. A nice dinner followed. I couldn’t watch the Pittsburgh-vs.-Baltimore game so I’m about to watch a screener of Spike Jonze‘s Her. And then a Bluray of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Guys On The Take

I’m very comfortable with Sidney Lumet‘s Serpico in the same way I’m partial to all of his slightly ratty, splotchy, New York-based melodramas. Particularly the ones shot during the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s (i.e., Prince of the City) when Manhattan was a lot grimier and skankier and more challenging to the sensibilities of complacent out-of-towners than it is today. They’re immersions into the culture and character of a city that I miss in a way — a city that was much less corporate and yuppified and Starbucky. The irony (and I’m not entirely sure what to make of this) is that while I admire people of sharply defined moral character and purist rectitude, I’ve always felt more at ease with people who have allowed a modest portion of corruption into their life. You have to play ball in this world, at least to a certain extent. Which is another way of saying that I enjoy the milieu of Serpico more than the man portrayed by Al Pacino. Either way I wish I had the new Bluray (which streets on 12.3) in hand right now. A perfect Thanksgiving Day movie.

Cockatoo Thanksgiving

I’m very thankful for my life and career having turned out fairly well so far, and so there is a measure of peace as I leave Mexico this morning, the secret mission having been accomplished. The success of Hollywood Elsewhere and all that has flowed from that hasn’t been served on a plate. I earned it, brick by brick and phrase by phrase. The talent and discipline that I summoned to make this happen weren’t gifts either, but I’m enough of a meditative mystic to understand that luck is a big part of things, and so I’m grateful, very grateful, for the luck that has come my way. And for my two sons and my friends and occasional romantic flames, and the feeling of being loved. (Or at least liked or supported in some spiritual way.) I’m immensely grateful that I wasn’t born to a middle-class, downmarket family in Nebraska or Montana or to some resigned, lethargic, drinking-class environment. I’m thankful that sobriety is now the basis of my life, and that I don’t eat turkey or mashed potatoes or yams or sweet potatoes or any orange-colored vegetable served steaming at the table. I love Thanksgiving downshifting because it means a major Bluray and Vudu HDX submission for a day or two.

Warren, Sanders…And Then Clinton

The key to a healthy economy and culture is a strong, stable, adequately compensated middle-class, but that ideal has been steadily undermined for over three decades, or since the financial deregulation policies of the Reagan era began to take hold. This is the central, unassailable message of Jacob Kornbluth and Robert Reich‘s Inequality For All — a wise and perceptive documentary that doesn’t push an agenda as much as lay it down on the kitchen table, plain and straight. The cancer of our culture is extreme income disparity. The 1% oligarchs own 38 percent of the financial wealth of America, while the bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent of the wealth in America. If this isn’t a recipe for anger and despair, I don’t know what would be. Moral and social rot will continue to manifest in the form of pathetic and tedious wealth envy — i.e., “if only I could live like Kim Kardashian.”

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