Strange Bedfellow

“It takes bravery for Kevin Costner and Mike Binder to go up against the strange phenomena of whites who no longer believe in themselves but assume guilt, and of blacks who assume entitlement. Both are typically disingenuous and untrustworthy progressive positions on racial problems, as in Selma. The title of Costner’s film makes a statement; yet, like Michael Jackson’s hit record, it also poses several questions: First about family, then character, then social values, and lastly about race. That may seem like backward priorities, given the way race has recently dominated film culture. But the order of the film’s interests suggests Costner’s integrity regarding showbiz moralizing.” — from Armond White’s 1.30 review of Black or White.

Saturday Shenanigans

I’ve only seen American Sniper once, as part of an 11.11.14 double-header when Clint Eastwood‘s film was shown with Ava DuVernay‘s Selma. I’m mentioning this because today I spoke to Sniper‘s Oscar and WGA-nominated screenwriter Jason Hall following the Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival writers panel, and he told me that the version I saw was a bit rough and incomplete and that a few slight trims were made for the final version. I resolved then and there to see it again, and soon. I was thinking about doing this anyway. Catch it with an audience of Average Joe ticket-buyers, I mean.

During this morning’s Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival writers panel, held at the Lobero Theatre and moderated by Anne Thompson.

SBIFF writers panel moderator Anne Thompson, Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore, Theory of Everything screenwriter Anthony McCarten.

American Sniper screenwriter Jason Hall conferring with ten film students who are visiting SBIFF as part of Student Film Studies Program, launched this year by fest director Roger Durling

That’s me under the SBIFF projection inside Santa Barbara’s Lobero theatre. Pic snapped during this morning’s writer’s panel.


Cheers to Ellison for Saving Vidiots

I absolutely agree that video stores, which are all but dead these days, improve a neighborhood’s atmosphere. An organic video store is as beneficial to an urban culture as an opera house, a nursery school, a storied cafe or hardware store. And so Annapurna producer Megan Ellison has therefore done a wonderful thing in helping to save Vidiots, the Pico Blvd. video store that’s been running since the mid ’80s. It was announced yesterday that Ellison has come to the assistance of co-owner Cathy Tauber, who had announced that Vidiots would close in April. That aside, I’ve had an attitude about Vidiots since something that happened in the late ’80s or early ’90s. I had rented a VHS of The Wizard of Oz and then lost the tape. Vidiots had sent me notices but I could’t find it. When it finally turned up weeks later they said I needed to pay them almost $200 in back rental fees. I thought it would be fair to charge me for the cost of the tape itself, which back then was in the neighborhood of $75 bills. (Less?) But no way was I going to pay them $190-something dollars. So we parted company and that was that. I’ve wandered into Vidiots five or six times since, but the vibe always seemed stuck in the ’80s with all those VHS tapes sitting on those highly-stacked shelves. The #1 rule applying to each and every business: “Adapt or die.”

My Arquette Problem

Boyhood’s alternate title might as well be Patricia Arquette’s Bad Choices. Mason’s life is shaped by her inability to stop herself from falling for abusive drunks, first a professor and then a soldier-turned-corrections officer. Neither man particularly cares for Mason, and Mason doesn’t particularly care for them.” — from a 1.30 essay by’s Sonny Bunch.

Boyhood‘s Patricia Arquette delivers a fine performance, although I didn’t care for her character subjecting her kids to not one but two abusive, alcoholic conservative assholes as stepdads. I’m a bigger fan of either Birdman‘s Emma Stone or A Most Violent Year‘s Jessica Chastain in this category. But the none-too-hip consensus gang decided on Arquette a long time ago.” — from 12.1.14 HE piece about the 2014 N.Y. Film Critics Circle winners.

Deeper Into Chandor’s Departure

I’m not saying I’ve spoken to anyone about J.C. Chandor‘s departure from Deepwater Horizon. Maybe I’ve just had a chat with myself. But the situation boils down to this: Lionsgate/Summit changed their minds about the kind of movie they wanted, and when they realized Chandor hadn’t changed his mind and was resolutely focused on the film he’d been talking about and planning to make for many months, they pulled the plug and reached out to Peter Berg, who has now lost whatever cred he had accumulated from directing Lone Survivor and is now back to being the hack who made Battleship.

Other Guy: “It was truly just a situation in which a filmmaker and a studio wanted to make two different movies. And you can probably tell from who Lionsgate hired what they wanted. It wasn’t some dramatic firing. Just a huge budget and two visions that weren’t the same.”

Me: “All that work, all those months of preparation…and suddenly there are two different versions? Chandor presumably wasn’t hiding his intentions over the last several months so either Lionsgate/Summit wasn’t paying attention all that time or they changed their minds.” (more…)

“Anything…Anything…All Just Beginning”

Jennifer Aniston‘s people booked her for a 2015 Santa Barbara Film Festival tribute under an assumption that most of us had bought into by last November or thereabouts, which was that she would snag a Best Actress nomination for her deft and skillful performance as a chronic pain sufferer in Cake. Then, to everyone’s total surprise, she got elbowed aside by Two Days and One Night‘s Marion Cotillard. But Aniston did herself proud and perhaps even boosted her profile by projecting good sport vibes. Incidentally: I was late to last night’s Aniston tribute at the Arlington, but I didn’t have my SBIFF press badge plus the women at the door warned me that pretty much every seat was filled, etc. So I walked around with the intention of returning for the after-party, but I made the mistake of returning to my hotel room for a 15-minute nap (having been up since 4 am Santa Barbara time) and wham…woke up with the lights and TV on around 2 am.

Out The Window

Walking around Santa Barbara last night was pleasant enough if you wore a jacket or sweater. 19 year-olds were roaming around in shorts and T-shirts but I know they do that at least partly to irritate people like myself. I’m completely aware of the difference between warm vs. lukewarm vs. agreeably cool vs. chilly so don’t tell me. 95% of the women I’ve known will say it’s “cold” outside unless the temperature is well into the high 70s or 80s. All to say that the local night air definitely turns damp and cool after 9 and certainly after 10 pm, and yet the Santa Barbara Holiday Inn insists on keeping this beautiful Spanish-styled window open to the elements all night long.

Looking northeast out of the third-floor hall window inside the Santa Barbara Holiday Inn.


Sticker Price

“I’ve misheard song lyrics all my life, and over time those wrong lyrics have sunk into my system and become frozen in amber, and now I can’t hear the correct lyrics to save my life. Most of the mis-heard lyrics were absorbed when I was a kid or a teenager, for the most part. I know it sounds silly but these idiotic re-wordings have stayed in my head.” — from “Surreal Song Lyrics,” 8.14.11. Latest example: “Layla…got me on mah knees, Layla…billion dollar please, Layla.” Who would want a woman who won’t show love or trust or rock your plimsoul unless you offer her a billion dollars? I find this so offensive that I’ve substituted my own Layla line: “Information, please.” Nonsense, of course, but at least it’s better than handing a billion smackers to a gold-digger.

“It’s Really Much Warmer Here”

I woke up at 5:30 am Park City time, and got picked up by the shuttle at 7:15 am. The first leg of my Southwest flight (Salt Lake City to Las Vegas) left at 9:35 am, and the Vegas to Burbank flight left at 10:50 am or thereabouts. Caught a cab to West Hollywood, checked in, rented a car (I don’t like to subject my car to trips) and left for Santa Barbara around 2:30 pm. Stopped in Ventura for a couple of items plus a smoothee. Checked into the Santa Barbara Holiday Inn around 5:15 pm. The purpose, of course, is to cover Roger Durling and Carol Marshall‘s Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival and the all the Oscar promoting lah-lah that happens here each year. Tonight is a tribute to Jennifer Aniston, which I’m a bit late for as we speak. The title of this riff is a line of dialogue from a certain mid ’60s comedy. (In the film the word “there” is used instead of “here.”) Bonus points for anyone who can identify the film and the character who spoke the line.

Chandor Most Likely Left Deepwater Horizon Over Some Integrity Issue…Right?

I’d love to know what the “creative differences” were that led to director J.C. Chandor walking off Lionsgate/Summit’s Deepwater Horizon, which will now be directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Battleship) starting in March. I asked around when I arrived at Burbank airport around noon today, but nobody replied. Fraidy cats. I’m presuming (and I know absolutely nothing) the split was about some aspect of Chandor’s integrity vs. some kind of issue about (a) truthfulness, perhaps related to some kind of threat or pressure from British Petroleum or related parties (who knows?), or (b) some kind of cost-cutting expediency on the part of Lionsgate/Summit. Somebody caved over something and Chandor said, “If that’s your decision I walk.” Something like that.

Director J.C. Chandor (A Most Violent Year, All Is Lost, Margin Call).

Chandor told me a bit about Deepwater when I ran into him at a N.Y. Film Festival screening of Inherent Vice four months ago. He also talked at some length about it with a Collider guy less than two months ago, describing where things were at and conveying great enthusiasm, etc. Whatever happened, it was something relatively recent, probably post-holidays, and of no small importance. (more…)

Celluloid Is A Stopper

Not so long ago I would have swooned at the idea of savoring a parade of black-and-white widescreen classics in their original celluloid splendor. Nobody is a bigger fool for this format than myself. Why, then, would I be ducking BAMcinematek‘s “Black & White ’Scope: American Cinema” (2.27 through 3.19), a 21-film series of widescreen monochrome masterpieces, if I was living in New York? Because 15 of the 21 are being shown in 35mm, and we all know what that means — dirt, scratches, pops, possibly too-dark illumination or murky images, occasionally weak sound, reel-change marks, etc. There’s just no romance left in film projection. That was then, this is now. Digital exactitude or nothing.

Fire Hazard

Two days ago I saw, as noted, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl at the Park City Library. I wasn’t entirely delighted — i.e., mixed-positive with a few quibbles — and yet I was sufficiently impressed by the witty film-nerd tone to want to capture video footage of the post-screening q & a.

I was sitting in the second row near the center aisle, and knew from experience that the footage would look compromised if not shitty with this or that person’s head in the way. So I ducked down and lowered myself onto the wooden floor, lying on my back in front of the first row of viewers so as to not to block anyone’s sightline, and started recording.

I had a pretty good angle with the iPhone and things were going nicely when I felt a tap on my left shoulder. A pudgy Sundance volunteer — a girl in her mid 20s — was telling me I couldn’t do what I was doing. I naturally ignored her as (a) I wasn’t planning on shooting for more than a couple of minutes so all I had to do was stall, and (b) there was no sensible reason for me to return to my seat anyway. A minute later another pudgy volunteer — a woman of a superior rank — tapped me on my shoulder and insisted. By then I had captured the footage so I grumbled and got up and returned to the second row. (more…)

The Hell He Said

During a Sundance Film Festival sit-down this evening with Robert Redford, producer George Lucas, who single-handedly destroyed the Arthurian-legend aspect of the Star Wars franchise by trivializing Return of the Jedi with furry Ewoks and a happy bonfire ending and particularly by turning the intensely disliked prequels into kid-friendly merchandising machines, complained that today’s movies “are more and more circus without any substance behind it.” True, but when’s the last time Lucas stood up and delivered a film with serious substance? Answer: 34, 35 years ago when he produced The Empire Strikes Back (’80). Which Lucas once called the least effective or satisfying Stars Wars film of the six…brilliant.

Cloak and Blade

TMZ is reporting that Suge Knight got into a fight today on a movie set in Compton, jumped into his SUV, floored it in reverse, ran over and killed an alleged friend named Terry Carter, and then fled the scene. “Multiple witnesses tell us a movie was [being filmed] with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre when Suge pulled up in his car,” TMZ reports. “We’re told security told Suge to leave and that’s when trouble began.” I don’t mean to sound cynical but isn’t this what Knight often does? Get into rage-fueled violent encounters, I mean. Always with the blam-blam or the wham-bam. An innocent man dying is never a ho-hummer, but it almost is when you factor in Knight’s reputation.


I’ll always be a devout fan of Rodney Ascher‘s Room 237 because it’s a treasure chest of endless imaginative theorizing about Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining. I loved the fruit-loop quality. But his latest, a documentary about sleep paralysis called The Nightmare, is almost completely devoid of imaginative riffing of any kind. The film is entirely about descriptions of creepy, real-deal encounters with “shadow men” — Freddy Krueger-like spooks who have terrorized several real-deal folks in their bedrooms (always in the wee hours) and caused them to freeze and be unable to speak and in some cases have trouble breathing. It just goes on and on like this for 90 minutes…”I was half-sleeping and then I felt something and the boogie man was behind me,” etc. Okay but what’s really going on? Why these people and not others? (Ascher himself has been visited.) What kind of scientific proof has been collected? Has anyone ever found any physical evidence, made any recordings, observed changes in electrical energy…anything? One tip-off is that a female victim says that the spooks went away one night when she said the name of Jesus. (What if she’d said Yeshua or Buddha or Sri Krishna?) Another is that the shadow men seem to be a manifestation of individual weakness, vulnerability and fear. But why do the goblins all look like the same (some along the lines of the monster in Michael Mann‘s The Keep) or alien-like creatures with huge serpent eyes? I’m not saying the victims are making stuff up, but just hearing their descriptions over and over isn’t enough. I began to feel antsy about a half-hour in.

Disembowel This Movie With A Viking Sword

Universal Pictures is about to pull the trigger on a Chris Pratt action-fantasy flick called Cowboy Ninja Viking Samurai Street Fighter Fucknose Bare-Knuckled Stud With a Nine-Inch Wang. Pic will be co-directed by David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, whose John Wick wasn’t too bad for the most part. Sources have told Variety‘s Justin Kroll that Pratt has met with Leitch and Stahelski between servings of cheeseburgers and fries and “has given his stamp of approval.” Based on a graphic novel (what else?), the story follows “a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder and is put into a government program to be turned into a super-soldier” with the attributes of a cowboy, a ninja, a viking, a samurai, a street-fighter and a fucknosed, bare-knuckled stud with a nine-inch member. I’ve already explained…okay, indicated…that Leitch and Stahelski are robo-directors, and that they (along with Zack Snyder and all the other zombies in good standing) represent everything about the action-fantasy-superhero franchise business that is rancid, puerile and devoid of a soul. I’ve also noted that Stahelski is the last name of an electrician, a surfer, pool-maintenance guy, a hot-dog chef at Pinks, a garbage man or a guy whose grandfather worked in the same New Orleans factory as Stanley Kowalski.

Grantland Wises Up, Changes Hackman Headline

After eyeballing a Twitter link last night to a Grantland essay about the greatness of Gene Hackman (except for his performance in The Poseidon Adventure), I too wondered if the retired octogenarian had left this mortal coil. That’s because the headline read “The Greatest Living American Actor at 85: Gene Hackman Is Gone But Still in Charge.” There aren’t too many different ways of interpreting the word “gone.” It means “not here,” “elsewhere,” “took a powder” or maybe dead. Gone Girl alludes not just to a disappearance but a permanent state of absence. After thinking it over for ten or twelve seconds I realized Hackman was probably still with us, but others feared the worst. A Hackman spokesperson has told ABC News that Popeye Doyle is alive and well and walking around. Grantland has erased the word “gone” and all is back to normal.