Checks and Balances

In a David Cronenberg interview posted on 2.23, The Dissolve‘s Calum Marsh mentioned a quote from Mubi critic Miriam Bale: “Bruce Wagner wrote Maps to the Stars as a broad comedy, but it isn’t directed that way.”

Cronenberg’s response: “It’s almost true. There are elements that are broad comedy, but I can quote [Maps star] Julianne Moore, in fact, who said she thought Bruce’s extreme hyper-emotionality and humor and my cool, neutral observational direction made a really good combination. And I think that’s sort of a more detailed version of what this critic was saying.

“If you had a director who really went with that other stuff, you would get a very over-the-top, exaggerated, and, to me, maybe a false movie instead of what it is — which is still funny. But the humor comes from within the characters, from the observation of the absurdity of the human condition, rather than a sort of self-parodying thing, or something that you could’ve done with it. And I think that’s correct. (more…)

Moscow Rules

Is there any semi-logical basis to not strongly suspect that murdered Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed for his strong criticism of Russian president Vladimir Putin? At least six other Putin critics have paid the price over the last eight years. Russian journalist and human-rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, a critic of Putin’s war in Chechnya, was shot and killed in her apartment in October 2006. Russian intelligence operative Alexander Litvinenko died from radiation poisoning a month later after claiming that Putin ordered Politkovskaya’s death. Accountant and auditor Sergei Magnitsky was imprisoned in November 2008 after exposing massive corruption, and was found dead in his cell a year later. Russian human-rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who had represented Politkovskaya and other anti-Chechen-War dissidents, was shot to death outside the Kremlin on 1.19.09. Human-rights activist and documentary filmmaker Natalya Estemirova was abducted and shot to death in July 2009. After renouncing two awards he had “received from Putin’s hands” because he was “ashamed,” Russian actor Alexei Devotchenko was found dead in his apartment last November, apparently under suspicious circumstances. Who’s next on the hit list? Leviathan director Andrey Zvyagintsev?

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The Fog of Mamet

After seeing Focus I naturally wanted to flush it out of my head, and I figured the best way to do that would be to see a really good con-man movie. So I bought a DVD of David Mamet‘s The Spanish Prisoner (’97). I’m pleased to report that it arrived yesterday and I’ll be watching it sometime later today. But here’s the odd thing. I haven’t seen it in 18 years (i.e., the 1997 Sundance Film Festival) and I can’t remember a single damn thing about it. Okay, I can recall three things. One, it was enjoyed and well-reviewed by the Sundance crowd. Two, Campbell Scott, Rebecca Pidgeon, Steve Martin and Ben Gazarra were the main costars. And three, it had a sly, measured vibe that was definitely pitched to older, smarter adults, and which everyone felt flattered by. Is this a new HE topic? Movies that (a) have a sterling reputation and (b) that you’re dying to see again, but which (c) you have no specific memories of. I can’t remember anything about Mamet’s Heist either, but I know I was favorably disposed when I saw it 13-plus years ago.

Marvel Plague Just Around Corner

The Avengers was an unwelcome education when it came to the instincts of Joss Whedon. I called it “funny at times but basically a bludgeoning…corporate CG piss in a gleaming silver bucket.” The destruction-of-midtown-Manhattan finale was almost as hellish as Zack Snyder‘s 50-minute-long Man of Steel finale. My instinct, of course, is to to avoid Avengers: Age of Ultron (Disney, 5.1). I know…okay, strongly suspect it won’t be anywhere near as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that damn FOMO voice won’t leave me alone. I’d like to duck it altogether but the job unfortunately requires confronting films like this on the slim chance they won’t be soul-deflating. And it will seem necessary to respond to the reviews that Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci, who live for films like this, will probably write.

Another Seven-Year-Old Music Doc

Yesterday I posted a riff about Andy Grieve‘s Can’t Stand Losing You, a Police doc shot seven or eight years ago and finally getting a commercial release next month. As it happens there’s another seven-year-old rock music doc, Denny Tedesco‘s The Wrecking Crew, that’s opening on 3.13 or a week before the Police doc. On 7.6.11 Bryan Wawzenek reported that the doc, which Tedesco began working on in the mid ’90s, had been held up over music rights. The Wrecking Crew tells the story of a group of highly respected Los Angeles-based session musicians who played on a lot of popular singles from the mid ’60s to early ’70s. The Wiki page says the original “crew” was composed of Earl Palmer, Mel Pollen, Bill Aken, Barney Kessel and Al Casey. It also lists roughly 65 musicians who earned their stripes as floating Wrecking Crew musicians. That’s not a crew — that’s a town.

He Done ‘Em Wrong

Yesterday TheWrap‘s Jeff Sneider reported that the Weinstein Co. will distribute The Founder, a Social Network-like drama starring Michael Keaton as McDonald’s super-hustler Ray Kroc. Sneider doesn’t mention when the film might happen but I’m presuming sometime in ’16. John Lee Hancock, a guy who seemed to understand how to make square, conservative-minded characters look interesting and sympathetic until he made Saving Mr. Banks, will direct from Robert Siegel‘s script. And you know it’ll be in the 2016/17 Best Picture conversation if Harvey has anything to say about it.


Museum-like replica of first McDonald’s franchise restaurant under Ray Kroc, located in Des Plaines, Illinois. The original Des Plaines franchise, launched in the mid ’50s, was actually torn down in the mid ’80s.

Could someone please send me a PDF of Siegel’s script? Not to review, just to read.

The Founder will presumably focus on Kroc’s marginally unscrupulous dealings with original McDonald’s founders Mac and Dick McDonald, not so much when he persuaded them to franchise McDonald’s nationally in 1954 as when he bought them out in ’61 for a relatively modest sum of $2.7 million. But I guess you can’t blame Kroc if the McDonald brothers weren’t smart enough to demand a better deal. (more…)

Exceptional Year, Same Old Routine

I’ve added four titles to my 2015 Oscar Balloon list of Ambitious X-Factor films — Tom Hooper‘s The Danish Girl, John Crowley‘s Brooklyn, Bill Pohlad‘s Love and Mercy and Stephen FrearsIcon — for a total of 28. Add these to HE’s list of quality-calibre commercial films, which number 10, and you’re obviously looking at 38. And that’s not even counting my list of 13 hopefully or presumably high-grade popcorn flicks, which of course takes it to 51. 2015 is going to be a great year, and yet I wonder which of the 38 will be ready to screen in Cannes, or whether their reps or distributors will be interested in screening them there?


(l. to r.) director Alejandro G, Inaritu, Leonardo DiCaprio, dp Emmanuel Lubezki on the set of The Revenant.

The bottom line, as per custom each and every year, is that the majority of these presumed heavy-hitters won’t begin to peek out until the late August to mid September festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Probably a good 30 or so will be crammed into a twelve-to-fourteen-week release period. With the usual lean pickings between now and then. I don’t mean it’ll be awful but you know what I mean. The usual March and April-level releases over the next two months, and then the summer crap begins in early May and continues until late August. The Cannes interlude is always a blessing but we’re mainly looking at six months of theatrical deprivation between March 1st and fall festival time. (more…)

What’s Been The Hold-Up?

Andy Grieve‘s Can’t Stand Losing You (3.20 NY, 4.3 LA), a doc about the nine-year ride of The Police from the perspective of guitarist Andy Summers (and based on Summers’ “One Train Later: A Memoir“), has been a long time coming. The film’s website says it “brings together past and present as the Police members reunite, two decades [after breaking up], for a global reunion tour in 2007-’08.” (Sting formally quit The Police in 1986 but the group had been on hiatus starting sometime in ’84.) So the bulk of it was apparently shot seven or eight years ago. Plus it was first screened at DOC NYC in November 2012. Why did it take almost two and half years to open this film commercially? There’s a hint why in John DeFore‘s 11.12.12 Hollywood Reporter review: “Of interest to Police fans but hardly a rock-doc for the ages, it’s best suited to small screens.”

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Wise Blood

“I’m not talking about ‘following your dream’ either. I never liked the inspirational value of that phrase. Dreaming is a way of trivializing the process, the obsession that carries you through the failure as well as the successes, which could be harder to get through. It’s important and imperative to always be awake to your feelings, your possibilities, your ambitions. Every day is a re-dedication. Every step is a first step. Every brushstroke is a test. Every scene is a lesson. Every shot is a school. So let the learning continue.” — Martin Scorsese

Weekend Binge

All 13 episodes of House of Cards‘ third season are up and rolling. The idea, of course, is to binge-watch between now and Sunday night. The plan, ideally, is to watch two today or tonight, and then six on Saturday and five on Sunday. It’s my earnest hope that Kevin Spacey‘s Frank Underwood will out-connive or out-bludgeon his enemies and slither away from all his troubles like the black snake he is and always will be. I know Frank deserves to go down and be eaten by predators, but there’s something perversely enjoyable in watching him turn the tables and eat them.

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Nimoy/Spock Belongs To The Ages

I’m sorry that Leonard Nimoy has left the earth, but know that his soul is moving at light speed through the heavens, an element in the cosmos, serene and absolute and soaring and eternal. I’m glad Nimoy, 83 when he died, had a long and fulfilling life for the most part, and that Mr. Spock meant so much to so many millions of Star Trek fans during the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s even (the last Star Trek film starring Nimoy was Nicholas Meyer‘s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991). I mostly hated Phil Kaufman‘s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’78) but I thought Nimoy was quite good as a San Francisco spiritual psychobabble guru type. And I’ve always loved his “Highly Illogical” song. The poor guy passed from the after-effects of smoking. Nimoy reportedly stated on Twitter that “I quit smoking 30 years ago…not soon enough.” Zachary Quinto, the 21st Century Spock in JJ Abrams‘ two Star Trek films, has posted the following on Instagram: “My heart is broken. I love you profoundly, my dear friend, and I will miss you everyday. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Silver Deckard

10 months hence we’ll see Harrison Ford bring Han Solo back to life, and then sometime in 2017 Ford will revive Blade Runner‘s coolest replicant, Rick Deckard. Maybe in a lead or supporting capacity, but definitely in a Blade Runner sequel that’ll shoot in the summer of 2016. Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies) will direct from a script by Michael Green and original Blade Runner co-author Hampton Fancher, based on an idea by Fancher and producer Ridley Scott. My usual response is to say “why?” and “1982 was then, this is now” and so on. But maybe. Reactions?

Wouldn’t Play Ball

From a 1.8.10 N.Y. Times article by the late David Carr, called “Me, Campaign? Just Go To The Film”: “Mo’Nique, 42, says she cares deeply about Precious and is thrilled to be among the mentioned, but she is not about to reorganize her life or her priorities to get her mitts on an Oscar. The Mo’Nique Show, her daily talk show on BET, just began in October, and while other hopefuls are criss-crossing the country for all manner of events, chatting up Oscar bloggers and making sure that everyone knows that they want it, Mo’Nique is mostly here in Atlanta, tending to her show, this past year.

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Chill Therapy

A friend has been applying for a job he’d really like to get and has gone through a series of interviews so far, the last being with the head of the company. He just got a call saying that the honcho wants to meet again, apparently because my friend seemed a little nervous and the honcho felt he was off his game on some level. Right away a suggestion came to mind but I hesitated before sharing it. If you don’t want to be nervous before a job interview just slip into a bathroom stall about 20 minutes before the interview and jerk off, and you’ll be as centered as Buddha. I seem to recall reading that Bill Maher does this before taping Real Time. Matthew McConaughey told Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street to have a wank once or twice a day because it leaves you in a Zen place.  Chris Elliot said the same thing to Ben Stiller in There’s Something About Mary when Stiller said he was nervous about going on a date with Cameron Diaz.

Get It Off Your Chest


I might as well just admit that I’ve never seen Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert. I bought the Bluray last night but I still haven’t seen it. I’ve been sensing all my life that it’s basically an industrial gloom-trip thing, but I’ve finally pushed past that.

This ISIS-like tableau (the victim is obviously a gay guy) is in the display window of a small LGBT-friendly shop on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, located right next to Laurel Hardware.

Net Neutrality Approved By FCC — i.e., No Fast Lanes

Well, it turns out that all the bellyaching and predictions of doom about the demise of net neutrality and the advent of “fast lanes” and all those assumptions about FCC Tom Wheeler being a cable-industry toady were wrong. For this morning the Federal Communications Commission did the right thing by voting 3 to 2 to regulate broadband internet service as a public utility, which is a major milestone and a blow for equal internet access and cause for dancing in the streets.

This is excellent news for everyone out there and easily one of the proudest accomplishments of the Obama administration. If David Carr was still with us he’d write a hell of a column about this. Sasha Stone owes Wheeler an apology.

The new rules ensure that no content will be blocked and that the net will not be divided “into pay-to-play fast lanes for big media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else…[which] are hallmarks of the net neutrality concept,” in the words of the N.Y. Times story. Wheeler said the F.C.C. was using “all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers” and preserve the internet’s role as a “core of free expression and democratic principles.” He added that interest access was “too important to let broadband providers be the ones making the rules.” (more…)

To Be Young, British and Appallingly Smug

An instinct told me to put off seeing Lone Scherfig‘s The Riot Club (IFC Films, 3.27 theatrical/VOD) during last September’s Toronto Film Festival. I had gone cold on her after enduring One Day, which I found almost shockingly tepid and underwhelming after Scherfig’s highly enjoyable Italian for Beginners and especially An Education. The Riot Club is based on Laura Wade‘s Posh, a 2010 stage play about a swaggering attitude of entitlement and imperviousness known to the sons of the British conservative upper classes. (British Prime Minster David Cameron is a former member.) The play and the film (which Wade also wrote) are based on the real-life Bullingdon Club, an exclusive all-male dining club at Oxford University, going all the way back to 1780 and known for its grand banquets and trashing of restaurants.

I think we all know about rich assholes, don’t we? Do we really need to be told again that they’re all quite arrogant and loathsome?

To non-Brits, The Riot Club “will play like Brideshead Revisited meets Donna Tartt’s The Secret History meets Lord of the Flies,” wrote Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney. “An anesthetizing inevitability creeps into the film as damning evidence stacks up that these ‘Wild Boys’ believe they can buy their way into any pleasure of their choosing and out of any scrape of their making. The far-from-revelatory conclusion is that the deck remains stacked in the class war. Duh.” (more…)

Mercy Teaser

I said it last September and I’m saying it again: Paul Dano‘s performance as the youngish Brian Wilson in Bill Pohlad‘s Love and Mercy (Roadside, 6.5) is almost spookily great. I’m telling you straight and true this is 2015’s first must-nominate performance. “Wilson’s disturbed spirit hums and throbs in the 30 year-old Dano, who looks like he gained 35 or 40 pounds to play the genius Beach Boy maestro in his mid ’60s blimp period,” I wrote on 9.8.14. “You can really feel the vibrations and sense the genius-level ferment and the off-balance emotionality. Inwardly and outwardly it’s a stunning, drop-dead transformation and the finest performance of Dano’s career, hands down.

“Not to mention John Cusack also as the 40ish Wilson in the same film, which shifts back and forth between the mid to late ’60s (i.e., the recording of Pet Sounds and Smile) and the mid to late ’80s (i.e., “the Landy years”). For the last few years Cusack has been on a downturn, playing ghouls and creeps and psycho killers…my heart aches for the guy. True, he’s had two good roles over the last couple of years — Richard Nixon in The Butler and the husband-masseuse in David Cronenberg‘s Maps to the Stars — but this is a revelation. Cusack plays a gentle but very solemn and intimidated Wilson during the period in which he was under the firm hand of the disreputable Eugene Landy, who died in 2006. Cusack is child-like and Gentle Ben-ish, and as convincing and fully submitted to his task as Dano is to his. For the first time in my moviegoing life I wasn’t bothered by two actors playing the same character — quite a landmark. (more…)