Segel Steps Up

I still can’t get over how good Jason Segel looks without the usual oppression. This is one of the most surprising physical transformations of the 21st Century. It would have been rough on audiences if he’d done these Sex Tape scenes with his This Is 40 / The Five Year Engagement / I Love You Man girth. Hats off, genuine respect, different fella. He’ll relapse, of course, but it’s nice to see a beefy guy do the hard cockatoo thing. I know I’m repeating myself.

Smells and Aromas

How mystical is moviegoing? Vigorous marketing campaigns for bad or humdrum or otherwise misbegotten films never seem to matter all that much. They open and people just don’t go. Or they do. Why? Because they know. Because they can smell the hits and the tanks before they’ve read the aggregate review sites, and sometimes even before they see the trailers. A certain percentage will pay to see crap even though they know it’s crap. Why? Because wildebeests just want to see the crap that they want to see. Either way all marketers can do is fan the flames of embers that have already begun to glow on their own.

Question: Anyone can pick the big upcoming hits and misses, but which films in the 2014 Oscar Balloon will have to struggle to get off the ground? (more…)

Arguably Only Really Good Idea George Lucas Came Up With Over 45 Year Career

When George Lucas passes on and his ashes are deposited in a plot with a tombstone, the epitaph should read “Inventor & Destroyer of the Star Wars series” but also “Inventor of the Light Sabre.” Even I, a Lucas hater going back to Return of the Jedi (i.e., for the last 31 years), will admit that the light sabre is perhaps the greatest weapon ever invented for a motion picture. The coolness of it (particularly the sound of it) will live on through the millenia. That said, the Darth Maul variation (i.e., two light sabres shooting out in opposite directions from a single handle or power generator) was a cheap movie whore’s idea for an improvement in the basic design. The essence of a light sabre is simple elegance — the Darth Maul sabre was comic-book bullshit.

Coen Brothers-Authored Dud…Gone, Drowned…The Movie That Wasn’t There

One of the reasons everyone’s excited about Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken (Universal, 12.25.14) is that the script was written by Joel and Ethan Coen (apparently after earlier versions had been penned by Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson). But there are no guarantees in life, even for the Coens. Remember that they wrote an allegedly above-average script for Gambit, a remake of a 1966 Michael Caine-Shirley Maclaine cat-and-mouse thriller, and it turned out horribly. It earned a 19% Rotten Tomatoes rating when it opened in England in the fall of 2012, and then disappeared stateside. To my knowledge you can’t even stream it on VOD. It’s purchasable as a PAL DVD/Bluray, but who cares? Just don’t count those Unbroken chickens before they’re hatched — that’s all I’m saying.

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“Repressed British Clod”

Not so long ago Colin Firth was on top of the world. At the very least he enjoyed a remarkable three-year hot streak between 2009 and 2011. His sad but dignified performance as a suicidal gay professor in Tom Ford‘s A Single Man (’09) resulted in critical huzzahs and award-season accolades. His stuttering King George VI in The King’s Speech (’10) led to several Best Actor prizes, including an Oscar. And his performance as the treacherous Bill Haydon in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (released in early ’12 but viewed at major festivals in late 2011) was seen as nearly equal to Gary Oldman‘s George Smiley and at least at par with Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Peter Guillam.


Colin Firth in the duddish, faint-pulse romantic drama Arthur Newman

But right after Firth won his King’s Speech Oscar in February 2011, his luck changed. Or perhaps he was infected with a slumber virus. Or he decided to snag a few paychecks while the getting was good. I only know that his last four films over the past three years — Gambit, Arthur Newman, The Railway Man and Devil’s Knot — have been critically panned as inept or lackluster sleepathons. Suddenly Firth became renowned for going into his “repressed British clod mode,” as Empire Kim Newman put it a couple of years ago, regardless of the role or the film. It now appears that Firth’s next film — a Rowan Joffe-directed thriller called Before I Go To Sleep, costarring Nicole Kidman and Mark Strong — is a B-level distraction, at best. (more…)

Mr. Callahan Takes A Vacation, Falls For Wounded Vigilante

In this “Trailers From Hell” tribute to Sudden Impact, Alan Spencer decides to omit that the most legendary Clint Eastwood line of all time — “Go ahead, make my day” — was written by the great John Milius. This is more or less common knowledge, of course, but it can’t hurt to underline. Note: if you’re any good at doing Eastwood imitations, the best way to say this line is to imagine you’ve been forced to say it over and over for hours on end, and that you’re sick of the sound of it. If you have to say it one more time you’ll vomit on the sidewalk. But you say it anyway.

Another All-But-Forgotten Russell

The definitive scene from Ken Russell‘s Savage Messiah (’72) was highlighted by the one-sheet. It was more of a brief sequence than a scene, not lasting more than 10 or 12 seconds…a snippet. Wielding a jackhammer on a London street, sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brezka (Scott Anthony) completes a pavement etching as a crowd of passersby cheer and applaud. I’ve seen Messiah only once (and many moons ago), but this moment never left my head. That’s filmmaking — the art of penetration and lifelong embedding.

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Diction Lesson

“Y’know a scary thing about ‘um? They dohn need powuh…” Which male, raspy-voiced costar of Matt ReevesDawn of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox, 7.11) is saying this line? I’ll tell you this much — the actor (or the character he’s playing) wasn’t reared by upscale, well-educated parents, and he damn sure didn’t attend a Connecticut prep school or an Ivy League university. If Reeves had hired me to play a guy somewhat like myself and I had the same line, here’s how I’d say it (after a rewrite session): “You know what’s threatening about all this? They don’t need electricity or warmth or grande cappucinos or Gap stretch T-shirts or any of the usual comforts. They’re animals. They’re fucking animals.”

All Making-Of Docs Should Be Like This

When I first heard about Grindhouse Releasing’s Bluray of The Swimmer, I had an inkling that Chris Innis‘s 150-minute “Story of The Swimmer” doc might be the most interesting aspect. Well, I watched it last night and can say without hesitation that it definitely is. (I’m not a huge fan of the film itself.) Innis has assembled a genuinely interesting account of the conflicted shooting and re-shooting of this 1968 effort. It’s the story of an intelligent, obviously ambitious project that was probably doomed to be a commercial failure from the get-go, and which still doesn’t work all that well. But in today’s context, it’s at least a respectable attempt to capture that spiritually corroded aura of the John Cheever realm (alcohol, affluence, New York-area suburbia) of the ’50s and ’60s.

Innis, winner of an Oscar (with Bob Murawski) for her cutting of The Hurt Locker, has not made a masterwork here. In some ways it’s a little bit splotchy and piecemeal but it’s basically a solid, stand-up effort, no stone unturned. Especially considering that all the creative principals (Burt Lancaster, Frank and Eleanor Perry, Sam Spiegel, Janice Rule, Kim Hunter, Barbara Loden, Sydney Pollack, Elia Kazan, Marvin Hamlisch) are dead and gone. (more…)

Career Interruptus

Until this morning I had seen this scene from Go Tell The Spartans just once. It was during a Manhattan press screening of Ted Post‘s 1978 film, sometime in May of that year or nearly 36 years ago. But I never forgot the fellatio-in-the-gazebo story told by Burt Lancaster‘s Major Barker — a gem. After ducking the Vietnam War for almost 15 years (except for John Wayne‘s 1968 fantasy film called The Green Berets), Hollywood finally began to make films about that misbegotten conflict starting in ’76 (which is when Apocalypse Now began shooting) and release the first wave in ’78 — Spartans, The Boys From Company C, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter. Apocalypse Now opened in August ’79.

“Can’t Hack It? Tough.”

Some well-meaning idiot (presumably a Christian) has defaced the Noah poster at the corner of Highland and Franklin. Yeshua of Nazareth taught peace but God the Father? Not so much. If you want to reduce the wonder of infinite creation and destruction into “lessons,” here are some that God the Father routinely passes along: (1) “Sink or swim, pal! Don’t expect any help from me”; (2) “You’re lonely, lost in the woods, aching, looking for love or tenderness or a reason to persevere? I’m not going to offer the slightest solace. Symbolically or metaphorically on some inferred level, perhaps, but you’re basically on your own. Man up or woman up…or don’t. Life is not a bowl of cherries, my friend. Have you ever seen an Ingmar Bergman film called The Silence? Trust me– that guy knew me very well”; (3) “Peace? Yeah, I’m for that. I prefer laughter and song and fresh flowers to ash and bullets and cinders. But I’m not married to anything in particular. As you know I routinely allow or at least don’t interfere with all manner of horror…machete slaughter in Rwanda, child molestation, the Inquisition, the Holocaust against European Jews, mass murder, AIDS, the 9/11 massacre…all of it. I’m not a peace guy, okay? I’m a ‘life is what it is and if you want to make the world a happier place, it’s on you’ kind of guy.”

Morlocks Eat Their Flesh

George Pal‘s The Time Machine (’60) is too old-fogeyish to connect with Millenials or even young GenXers, but you can’t beat the metaphor of the Eloi — undereducated lightweights robotically submitting to the call of their corporate masters. It’s interesting that Eloi behavior didn’t really manifest in appreciable numbers until….when, sometime in the early ’80s with the arrival of MTV and mega-malls and other corporate lures? Initially contained in H.G. Wells1895 novella but delivered with greater impact by the sight of Yvette Mimieu and her brainless brethren walking blindly into the Morlock caves, “Eloi” became a favored HE term starting about six or seven years ago. Does anyone even remember Simon WellsThe Time Machine (’02)? I don’t. A Bluray of the ’60 version will street in mid July.

Not Enough Friedman

I was reading a Vulture piece by Silicon Valley creator Mike Judge about early influences from the art/entertainment realm. He mentioned the National Lampoon and its artists, among them Drew Friedman. I suddenly remembered I haven’t seen (and am not presently seeing) enough Friedman illustrations in my life. Yes, naturally, of course — I’ll always feel indebted to Friedman for that Last Action Hero/Arnold Schwarzenegger drawing, which appeared in Spy sometime in the fall of ’93. It’s been hanging, framed, on my living room wall for over two decades.

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Honestly?

I don’t relate to the Cadillac guy (played by Neil McDonough) for two reasons. One, he’s obviously a Republican and probably worships the idea of one-percentism and income inequality and doesn’t give a shit about climate change. And two, he’s got pale, pinkish, all-but-hairless legs. His worldview is almost identical to the one voiced by Stephen Boyd‘s Messala character in that courtyard scene with Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur. But I don’t relate to the Ford-promoting Pasho Murray either. What’s with the super-sized Afro? (And what time is the Free Angela Davis rally?) And collecting zoo manure? Locally-grown food is an excellent way to go but I draw the line at picking up giraffe and lion turds with chopsticks and putting them into plastic baggies.

Momma Don’t Allow

From Anita Busch‘s Deadline box-office report, updated this morning: “Noah was playing like a mainstream movie when it opened, but that [box-office] bump indicates that it had some cross-over from the faith-based audiences which [are continuing] to keep God’s Not Dead in business. Although based on the Biblical story, Noah doesn’t mention the name God once. How funny that God’s Not Dead [has] made such a surprise second weekend showing, as if to say, ‘Oh yeah?’

What is this, a revival meeting under a tent in Corpus Christi, Texas?

Perhaps Busch didn’t get the memo so I’ll resend: Cheering for the God team isn’t cool among Los Angeles industry types. With this crowd you’ve gotta go agnostic, atheistic, dispassionate, Bill Maher‘s Religulous…whatever. If you’re a spiritual-leaning type go with Hinduism, Buddhism or Taoism but leave “God” out of it. It’s a cultural thing — you don’t want to side with the fundamentalist yokels. Why in any event would you want to believe in “God” as some kind of cosmic moral force who has a rooting interest in the human condition? The idea of reducing an eternally perfect cosmic symphony of science and math and mystery and altogetherness into an entity with a personality who ponders the moralistic fate of the residents of a speck of micro-mulch known as planet Earth….why, it’s insulting! (more…)

Want-To-See Factor

“Wickedest of all is the casting of the in-house temptress, who praises Arthur’s work to his face and then destroys it in front of others. (A colleague excuses her fickleness as an ‘amorous gesture.’) Her governing principles are clear: Treachery! Disunity! Lingerie! She is played by Julie Gayet, who was in the news recently as the woman to whom the real French president, Francois Hollande, was paying regular visits to on his little scooter. And the name of her character is Valerie, which is the name of the partner whom Hollande was allegedly spurning for Mme. Gayet. This is not life imitating art. This is art going to bed with life and staying there for the rest of the afternoon.” — from Anthony Lane‘s New Yorker review of Bertrand Tavernier‘s The French Minister (IFC Films/Sundance Selects, date), otherwise known as Quai d’Orsay.

“Get Your Damn Hands Off My Cadillac!”

A little suspicion is in order when the Houston-residing Joe Leydon reviews a film set in Texas and/or written by a Texan. You just can’t trust that local-pride factor. Better to consult Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore, to wit: “Robert Duvall and Bill Witliff return to the Southwest in Emilio Aragon‘s A Night in Old Mexico, where the Lonesome Dove screenwriter and its irascible star follow an aging rancher on an ill-advised trip South of the Border. Formulaic and often hard to swallow, the picture offers little beyond the familiar pleasures of Duvall’s old-coot mode; it has moderate theatrical appeal, but will stand as a blip in its star’s filmography compared to Dove and his other cowpoke outings.” Never forget the immaculate restraint in Duvall’s Tender Mercies performance — one for the ages.

Vivian and Cleopatra


No particular reason to post this summer 1963 snap except that I’m queer for old color Times Square marquee photos. I had never seen a shot of the Cleopatra marquee until today. The Todd-AO process that was used to shoot Cleopatra was a degraded, 24-frame version of the 30-frame process used to shoot Oklahoma!

Stanley Kubrick hugging daughter Vivian during filming of The Shining in 1979. Until today I’d never seen a photo of Kubrick being physically affectionate with anyone. Vivian, 18 or 19 at the time of the photo, joined the Church of Scientology sometime around 1999, the year her father died. A resident of Los Angeles, Vivian has been, according to Kubrick’s widow Christiane, largely estranged from the family and uncommunicative for several years. She allegedly attended LACMA’s Stanley Kubrick exhibit more than once and, according to a friend, with some regularity on Tuesdays. (Photo source: theoverlookhotel.com)

Semple Is Gone

Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple, Jr., a classy, first-rate screenwriter who peaked in the late ’60s and ’70s but is probably best known to 21st Century types for his “Real Geezers” video critiques with Marcia Nasatir, died earlier today. His best screenplays were Pretty Poison (’68), The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (’71), Papillon (co-penned with Dalton Trumbo, ’73), The Parallax View (co-written by David Giler, ’74), The Drowning Pool (’75) and Three Days of the Condor (with additional flavorings and grace notes by David Rayfiel, ’75). Semple was a sharp, shrewd, blunt-spoken professional — my kind of old guy.