Better Than Expected

Some of the forecasting on Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler (including my own) was off the mark. The other day I bitterly lamented the apparent inclination on Joe and Jane Popcorn’s part to stick to traditional Halloween fare this weekend. But things have turned around and now it appears that Nightcrawler will come in at #1 for the weekend and finish somewhere between $12 and $13 million, or possibly a bit higher. Not anyone’s idea of a huge haul but it’s definitely over-performed. The film had been predicted to earn around $10 or $11 million. I’m wondering if that “amazeballs” quote on the latest trailer might have goosed things.

HE’s Feature Doc Shortlist

134 films are up for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar. The list broke today. A shortlist of 15 films will be announced sometime in early December. The final five nominees will be announced on 1.15.15. I’ve seen only about 25 docs this year but I’m keeping close tabs and I’m guessing that the shortlisted will be among this list of 21. If there’s a major standout I’m missing, please advise. What embarassing omission will the the doc committee come up with this year? There will be hell to pay if Laura Poitras‘s Citizenfour doesn’t end up as one of the final five…just saying.

(1) Stuart Cameron‘s All You Need Is Love, (2) Chapman and Maclain Way‘s The Battered Bastards of Baseball, (3) Jeremiah Zagar‘s Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, (4) Tea Lessi and Carl Deal‘s Citizen Koch, (5) Laura Poitras‘s CitizenFour, (6) Todd Douglas Miller‘s Dinosaur 13, (7) Chieme Karasawa‘s Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, (8) John Maloof and Charlie Siskel‘s Finding Vivian Maier, (9) Nicholas D. Wrathall‘s Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, (10) Amir Bar Lev‘s Happy Valley, (11) James Keach‘s Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me; (12) Andrew Rossi‘s Ivory Tower, (13) Frank Pavich‘s Jodorowsky’s Dune, (14) Rory Kennedy‘s Last Days in Vietnam, (15) Steve JamesLife Itself, (16) Chuck Workman‘s Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles, (17) Robert Kenner‘s Merchants of Doubt, (18) Gabe Polsky‘s Red Army, (19) Mike MyersSupermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, (20) Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard‘s 20,000 Days on Earth; and (21) Joe Berlinger‘s Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger.

Disney’s Feast — Making Of A Fat Dog

Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed‘s Feast, a Disney-produced animated short that will be seen in theatres before showings of Big Hero 6, is basically a corporate advertisement for the joys of junk food. It is one of the most odious and gastrointestinally irresponsible animated films ever made. Feast is basically about a lovable pooch, Winston, and his beefy owner bonding through the junk-food meals they share (pizza, french fries, nachos with cheese, burgers, garlic bread, pasta and sauce-covered meatballs), and how their relationship hits an impasse when the owner falls for a thin lady who’s into lean cuisine and who places sprigs of parsley on every dish she prepares. Winston is miserable about being deprived, of course, but he feels his master’s misery when the girlfriend leaves. But the couple eventually gets back together and then — deliverance! — Winston’s bliss is restored when a new baby comes along and starts feeding him crap again.

The crowd I saw it with at the Savannah Film Festival was head over heels, and I’m sure this reaction was indicative of how crowds nationwide will respond next weekend. Feast basically says to its audience “pig out…we get it guys…you love crap covered with melted cheese and so do we! Go for it!” It also says there’s something grim and chilly about eating healthy.


“Huh-huh…No Big Deal!”

There’s something vaguely irksome about the idea of a group of gifted, name-brand musicians (including Elvis Costello and Marcus Mumford) getting together to perform and record a bunch of “Basement Tapes” songs that Bob Dylan wrote back in the Big Pink days of 1967. (Only 24 songs appeared on the 1975 “Basement Tapes” album, which leaves several dozen that were written or adapted or kicked around back then.) Question #1: Why didn’t Dylan himself choose to record and release some of these presumably cool songs? Because they weren’t quite good enough, right? And yet these musicians are obviously tickled that they’re playing previously unheard Dylan material. Question #2: Is there a reason why I, the viewer, should be tickled or even mildly intrigued? This trailer for Sam JonesLost Songs (Showtime, 11.21) is nicely done except for a portion around the 52-second mark when the narrator says the doc will include a “new and exclusive interview with Bob Dylan,” and then we see a murky old snap of the Big Pink house (57 Parnassus Lane, Saugerties, New York) but no Dylan footage, and then we hear the Great Man say, “I just wrote what I felt like writing.” As opposed to…what, writing what he didn’t feel like writing? As opposed to being forced by a gang of masked marauders to write these songs at gunpoint?


Another Selma Peek-Out

On 9.20 director Ava Duvernay screened about five minutes’ worth of Selma (Paramount, 12.25), the broad-canvas ’60s-era civil rights drama, at the Urbanworld Film Festival. It was announced today that a bit more Selma footage — 30 minutes’ worth — will be screened at the Egyptian theatre on Tuesday, November 11th, as part of AFI Fest. A discussion between Duvernay, star David Oyelowo (pronounced “oh-yellow”) and producers Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner will follow. Based on this gradual emergence strategy, one can surmise that the full movie will be press-screened sometime around Thanksgiving or soon after.

Selma director Ava Duvernay, star David Oyelowo.

The only impression that came out of the Urbanworld viewing was from Blackfilm‘s Wilson Morales, who wrote that Oyelowo’s performance as Martin Luther King “is good enough to be in conversation for one of the five Best Actor slots…he embodies King.” (more…)

Artificial Intrigue

Alex Garland‘s Ex Machina (A24, 4.10.15) is about a carrot-head computer coder (Domnhall Gleeson) who’s gifted with a week at a lavish country home belonging to his company’s CEO (Oscar Isaac)…great. And then the catch: Carrot-head is obliged to participate in an experiment involving a new brand of artificial intelligence — i.e., a marginally hot-babe robot.

Into The Metaphor

The Scott Foundas quote used in the Foxcatcher one-sheet tells you that if you look closely enough and think hard enough about the observations in this film, you will find a large-scale portrait of a certain cultural malignancy. Or something like that. I have long worshipped Miller’s touch and technique and stylings and I respect this film enormously, but I didn’t derive as much from the film as Foundas did. That said I remain ready and willing to give it another shot.


Nest Of Commies Out At The Beach

In deciding to open the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! on Friday, February 5, 2016, Universal Pictures is telling us to relax and go easy with this “all-star comedy set during the latter years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.” That it’s basically a smart, very dry, typically perverse Coen Bros. entertainment and that’s all. That it’s a Burn After Reading-type deal, an Intolerable Cruelty thing, maybe some kind of Hollywood Ladykillers…whatever. Just leave us alone and we’ll bring the movie out in the final stages of the 2015 Oscar season and you’ll like it or you won’t or whatever. We don’t care. Well, we care but we’re doing what we’re doing because we feel like doing it this way. Principal photography begins in November or fairly soon. It’ll probably finish principal by sometime in January, and then the Coens will have months and months and months to fiddle with the editing.


What Big Movies Are “Opaque” or “Unavailable”?

“We don’t get many smart big movies. I understand why movies are big, but not why they’re not smart. And by smart, I don’t mean opaque or unavailable. But even as machines these movies are not smart. I did like X-Men: Days of Future Past, but, really, comic-book movies have destroyed the foreign-sales market. But the people want it. It’s an efficient market. That’s why I wish something like The Matrix would come out now — that was an extraordinary film. We need something like that to remind people that they can have a big movie that’s also smart and exciting.” — Director (Michael Clayton, Duplicity, The Bourne Deception), screenwriter and Nightcrawler producer Tony Gilroy in a conversation with Marshall Fine.

Wells response: Correct me if I’m wrong but “big” movies are “not smart” — i.e., fairly primitive with the exception of a relative few — because they’re (a) greenlighted and overseen by studio zombies and (b) primarily aimed at under-35 mainstream moviegoers, the majority of whom are generally understood to be the most video-gamey and comic-book-minded, the most ADD-afflicted, the least dialogue-tolerant and the most under-educated viewing audience in the history of human civilization, going back to the Greeks.

Philosophical Dispute

Due respect to A24 marketers but the slogan that appears on the new poster for J.C. Chandor‘s A Most Violent Year is a bit of a head-scratcher. Obviously the result of any earthly endeavor is always in question, depending in part on the particular path (method, approach, strategy, technique) chosen by the players. One assumes, therefore, that the “result” alluded to is death and therefore “the path you take to get there” is the only thing that matters. In other words, it’s not who wins but how you play the game. But death is not a “result” of a life — it’s simply a biological inevitability. A “result” always alludes to an end-game payoff or consequence that comes at the end of a practical endeavor — a winning of an election or a woman, the obtaining of a contract, the paying of a parking ticket when you park illegally, a fatal overdose when you shoot extra-strong heroin, the winning of a world series, etc. But as noted, these things are never done deals until they happen. So the slogan, no offense, doesn’t quite add up. For me. Maybe someone can help me out.



The legend of Inspector Javert, the dogged hard-ass in Victor Hugo‘s Les Miserables, has nothing on the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, which has again reportedly tried to extradite director Roman Polanski to the U.S. in order to face charges over having jumped bail in early 1978 regarding the Samantha Geimer statutory rape case. The guy who tried to have Polanski flown back in handcuffs last time was L.A. County district attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican, but he left the office in 2012. The current L.A. County district attorney is Jackie Lacey, the first woman and first African-American to serve as Los Angeles County District Attorney since the office was created in 1850. I don’t know if Lacey is behind this latest Polanski maneuver or not, but if she is…brilliant! This is rabid-dog behavior. Obviously there’s no end to the obsessions of the Polanski pitchforkers. These people really and truly need counseling. Along with a leash.

Old Times’ Sake

Way back in early February I tapped out a rave review of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. I did so from my room at Berlin’s Grand Wyndman Hotel during a Fox Searchlight junket for the film. The piece is fairly well written if I do say so myself. It also seems appropriate in this, the height of Derby season, to remind everyone what a superb film Budapest is, was and always will be because…you know, films released in February are sometimes presumed to be not as good as those released between Labor Day and late December. Here it is again:

Rest assured that while Budapest is a full-out ‘Wes Anderson film’ (archly stylized, deadpan humor, anally designed) it also delights with flourishy performances and a pizazzy, loquacious script that feels like Ernst Lubitsch back from the dead, and particularly with unexpected feeling — robust affection for its characters mixed with a melancholy lament for an early-to-mid 20th Century realm that no longer exists. (more…)

Chris Crispy vs. Ebola

Tickets to Monday’s premiere screening of Dumb and Dumber To (Universal, 11.14) are at a premium, but at least I’m on the waiting list. The Farrelly Brothers comedy was set to screen at the Virginia Film Festival but Universal yanked it a couple of days ago. They somehow got it into their heads that the comic sequel would screen only for University of Virginia students and not reviewing press. When someone tapped them on the shoulder and reminded them that any film screening at a film festival is fair game for review, they went “what!?” and pulled the plug. I really loved the Farrelly’s Three Stooges movie and I’m almost certain to like this one, despite the “younger dumb guys tend to be a bit funnier” consideration. Carrey to Letterman: “Once you’ve done a couple of press tours, you welcome death. And I’ve been married a couple of times so it takes a lot to scare me, Dave.”

Honest Space-Out

My Delta flight from Atlanta landed last night around 7:45 pm. I picked up my luggage (a single leather bag) and went to the curb and got a cab. Which is what I always do. And then I piddled around at home and crashed early (10:30 pm), and then got up late (9 am). I worked a bit and then went to the Theory of Everything luncheon and came back and filed three stories. And then a half-hour ago I went downstairs to drop some trash into the bin and I looked over and noticed that my car is missing. Wow. I tried to remember if I’d dropped it off with my local mechanic before leaving….nope. What could’ve happened? I was about to ride my bike to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station and file a stolen car report when it hit me. I drove down to LAX early Friday morning and parked my wheels in one of those $15 per day lots. Of course! Well, at least I don’t have to buy a new car now. Zoning out on stuff like this used to happen every so often when I was imbibing, but things have been really clean and clear since the sober thing began 31 months ago. Famous last words. Now I have to cab all the way down to LAX for another $45 plus pick up the car. The things I do.

Not Interested

Some instinct told me right away (and quite a while ago) that Susanne Bier‘s Serena, a rural period drama with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, was a wrong one. It was shot two and half years ago (March to May 2012) and then it took Bier 18 months to finish it, and then it got killed a few days ago at the London Film Festival and via general British release, and now it’s being VOD released by Magnolia on 2.26.15. Bier’s had a tough time recently, but she seemed unable to do wrong from ’02 through ’07, at least in my eyes — Open Hearts, Brothers, After The Wedding and the brilliant Things We Lost In The Fire.

New De Niro Bio In Town

Glenn Kenny did a first-rate job of analyzing the life and work of Robert De Niro in that Cahiers du Cinema book he wrote which came out last summer. But the book-publishing world can be a brutal, dog-eat-dog one, and now, alas, it’s time for Glenn’s tome to take a farewell strut and defer to Shawn Levy‘s “De Niro: A Life,” which came out yesterday — Tuesday, 10.28. I haven’t even skimmed through Levy’s biography yet. It was lying on my doorstep when I returned last night from Savannah. But I know his Jerry Lewis and Paul Newman bios, and whatever’s there Levy tends to uncover. Plus he’s an eloquent writer. On the other hand…De Niro again! What is new to say or learn? Same story, same trajectory — Mean Streets/Godfather Part II breakthrough, peaking into the mid to late ’80s (Raging Bull, True Confessions, Falling In Love, Cape Fear), resurgence in the early to mid ’90s (Goodfellas, Casino, Heat), and then the late 90s-post millenial sell-out downturn. I’ll read Levy’s book this weekend.

(l.) Shawn Levy’s “De Niro: A Life“; (r.) Glenn Kenny‘s Phaidon/Cahiers Du Cinema’s “Anatomy of an Actor” book about Robert De Niro, which came out last July.


Theory of Lunch

Earlier today Focus Features hosted a press luncheon at Lucques on behalf of James Marsh‘s The Theory of Everything (11.7.14), the rapturously received drama about the life of celestial physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne), his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) and their struggle with Hawking’s ALS disease, not to mention their extra-marital intrigues. Redmayne, Jones, producer Lisa Bruce and screenwriter Anthony McCarten took turns speaking with journalists at five (or was it six?) different tables. It was all so civilized and convivial. Everyone conversed, listened, minded their manners, laughed but not too loudly, enjoyed the excellent food, etc. Nobody spilled their drink or behaved like a gorilla or said the wrong thing.

The Theory of Everything star Eddie Redmayne during today’s luncheon at Lucques.

My table included In Contention‘s Kris Tapley, TheWrap‘s Steve Pond and Variety‘s Tim Gray. (The table next to us included MCN’s David Poland and Deadline‘s Pete Hammond.)

Theory opens in nine days. The big premiere happened last night at the Academy. Focus’s big mission, it seems to me, is to underline the notion that (a) Theory is indeed a Best Picture contender (most pundits agree) and (b) to convince the guilds and the Academy that it’s a better “eccentric British genius copes with a serious personal problem” movie — richer, trippier, more soulful — than Morten Tyldum‘s The Imitation Game (Weinstein Co., 11.21). (more…)

Eyes of Louis Bloom

The 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating earned by Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler (Open Road, 10.30) makes it easily the best-reviewed new film opening on Halloween weekend. This, of course, means zip to Joe and Jane Popcorn. They’ll see whatever they want to see, quality be damned, and most handicappers are guessing they’ll mainly be attracted to something that sounds more routinely spooky. Maybe Horns (63%) or the Saw revival (48%) or the dreadful sounding Before I Go To Sleep (54%) or The ABCS of Death 2. How do you get through to people who insist on seeing films that will make them feel like shit or at the very least burned? Answer: You can’t. Their minds are on lockdown. Throw up your hands.

New Yorker illustration by Boris Pelcer.

Oh, you could try repeating that Nightcrawler is all that matters this weekend…that it’s manic and furious and reckless, that it’s a high-speed L.A. adrenaline flick you’ll never forget because it feels so damned unusual and perverse, and that it’s spooky in a real-world way, and that Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Lou, a freelance news-video hound, is as much of a generic Halloween-type character as Lon Chaney‘s Phantom of the Opera or Max Schreck‘s Nosferatu. (more…)