If You Can’t Tell The Difference…

…between the almost-comedic, dusty, wildly apocalyptic vibe of George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road and the corrupt, pumped-up CG bullshit of James Wan‘s Furious 7…if you can’t sense the differences between the high-torque swagger and clenched intensity in the performances of Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult vs. the preening, macho-robot posturings of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson and Michelle Rodriguez, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Joni Mitchell Concern

Joni Mitchell, 71, was rushed to the hospital this afternoon after reportedly being found unconscious, She was said to be alert in the ride down to “the hospital” (presumably UCLA or Cedars), but is reportedly in intensive care. I’ve spoken to a friend who was with her last week, and he said he sensed that all was perhaps not entirely well. Mitchell, he said, had called for “a healer” to drop by and lay on hands or help out in some kind of shamanistic way. Mitchell has been an unrepentant smoker all her life, beginning at age nine. My friend mentioned that there’s been some discussion (and perhaps an intention) of switching to electronic cigarettes but after six decades of reportedly heavy smoking…God help her. Obviously everyone wants her to recover and push on, but at a certain point the body just can’t take the nicotine and the toxins and complications will manifest.

Sidelight: I attended a short, smallish concert that Mitchell gave at Studio 54 in October ’82 to promote “Wild Things Run Fast.” The crowd was not huge, maybe 200 or 250, and I was standing fairly close and pretty much dead center. No female artist has ever touched me like Mitchell **, and I was quite excited about being this close to her. I was beaming, starry-eyed and staring at her like the most self-abasing suck-up fan you could imagine, and during the first song her eyes locked onto mine and I swear to God we began to kind of half-stare at each other. (Some performers do this, deciding to sing for this or that special person in the crowd.) Her eyes danced around from time to time but she kept coming back to me, and I remember thinking, “Okay, she senses that I love her and she probably likes my looks so I guess I’m her special fanboy or something for the next few minutes.”

Mitchell was dressed in a white pants suit and some kind of colorful scarf, and she sang and played really well, and I remember she had a little bit of a sexy tummy going on. Sorry but that had a portion of my attention along with the songs and “being there” and a feeling that I’d remember this moment for decades to come. (more…)

Underground

I understand the commercial reasons why Patricia Riggen‘s The 33, an upcoming drama about the 2010 Chilean mining disaster, would be performed in Chilean-accented English. The unfortunate downside, of course, is that it feels inauthentic. If I’d directed I would have shot two versions, one in Spanish, the other in English. It appears to be a straightforward rescue drama. The film completed principal photography a little more than a year ago, and apparently there’s still no U.S. distributor aboard. Riggen is the director, cinematographer and editor. Mike Medavoy and Edward McGurn are the producers. Antonio Banderas, Jacob Vargas, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba, Naomi Scott, Rodrigo Santoro and Juliette Binoche costar. James Horner has composed the score.

Worth A Sit

Andy Grieve‘s Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police, the doc about former Police guitarist Andy Summers, opens in Los Angeles on 4.3. I wasn’t stunned or blown away by the film, which is based on Summers’ 2006 autobiography “One Train Later,” but it’s a mildly intriguing, glide-along thing. I was never bored by it. In any event I had to talk to Summers, whose guitar-playing with the Police will be swimming around in my head forever. It killed me to learn in the doc (and from Summers himself) that The Police did a CBGBs gig one night in the fall of ’78, two shows in fact, and that not many people attended the second show. I was living on Sullivan Street, and I could have just walked over and caught the show….if only I’d known. But I didn’t know about the Police until I saw Sting in Franc Roddam‘s Quadrophenia in the fall of ’79, and then I started listening to pieces of Regatta de Blanc and Outlandos d’Amour and then, a full year later, I finally became a serious fan with Zenyatta Mondatta. The chat with Summers went well enough. The only real problem with the doc, I feel, is that it’s seven or eight years old (shot between ’07 and ’08 for the most part), and it’s been released too late in the cycle. A doc that was mostly shot before the 2008 election of Barack Obama can’t matter all that much to the realm of 2015. But it’s not uninteresting. It tugged at me here and there. I was okay with it. Again, the mp3.


Andy Summers, producer Norman Golightly at West Hollywood’s London Hotel — Thursday, 3.26.

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Is A Desperate Tangled Web “Funny” Or…?

Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul‘s The D Train (IFC Films, 5.8) “is by far the darkest and nerviest laugher I’ve seen in ages,” I wrote on 1.24. “It begins as a not-too-funny situation comedy about a neurotic, high-strung suburban family man (Jack Black) who goes to great fraudulent lengths to travel to Los Angeles to lure a former high-school classmate who’s now a more-or-less-failed Hollywood actor (James Marsden) to a 20th anniversary high-school reunion. What I didn’t expect to see was a detour into Brokeback Mountain territory by way of a Lars von Trier film.

“But at the same time, as I mentioned during the post-screening q & a, The D Train follows the classic structure known as the Three D’s — desire, deception and discovery.

“I can’t call The D Train howlingly funny — nobody could — but it’s brave and different and much darker than what most of us would expect when we sit down with a comedy. You can call it ‘comedic’ and that’s fine, but it’s really a kind of laugh-sprinkled Middle American psychodrama about denial, suppression, self-loathing and the traumatic process of change. And yet it ends on a note of comfort and completion. (more…)

Gleeful Action Porn Provides Glimpse Into Hell

James Wan‘s Furious 7 (Universal, 4.3) is, of course, a cyborg muscle-car flick made for people who despise real action flicks and prefer, instead, the comfort of cranked-up, big-screen videogame delirium inhabited (I don’t want to say “performed”) by flesh-and-blood actors and facilitated by a special kind of obnoxious CG fakeitude that grabs you by the shirt collar and says “eat this, bitch!” I hated it like nothing I’ve seen in a long time. The critics who went apeshit for Furious 7 in Austin are to be regarded askance for at least the next ten years. Anyone who looks you in the eye and says Furious 7 delivers great, gleeful escapism really needs to submit to psychological testing.

“What’s wrong with silly, stupid fun?” they all ask. What’s wrong is that movies like this are deathly boring and deflating and toxic to the soul. They’re anti-fun, anti-life, anti-cinema, anti-everything except paychecks.

Furious 7 is odious, obnoxious corporate napalm on a scale that is better left undescribed. It is fast, flashy, thrompy crap that dispenses so much poison it feels like a kind of plague. Wan’s film is certainly a metaphor for a kind of plague that has been afflicting action films for a good 20-plus years.

In Act 3, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus is asked by a crowd of alarmed plebians why he conspired to murder their leader. “T’was not that I loved Caesar less,” Brutus answers, “but that I loved Rome more.” By the same token I spit upon Furious 7 and the whole cyborg action muscle-boy genre not because I love sitting through cranked-up, power-pump, beyond-silly action flicks less (although my feelings of revulsion are as sincere as a heart attack) but because I love real action movies more.

I hated the first 65 minutes of Furious 7 so much that I was literally twitching and flinching in my seat and making little squeaky moaning sounds. I was checking my watch every five minutes, wondering how much more of this crap I could take. I was firing psychic hate grenades at the screen. (more…)

If You Haven’t Gotten The Foodie Thing By Now…

You don’t have to be a snooty type to be a connoisseur of gourmet dishes, but you need to be a person of at least some cultivation and taste. A person, let’s say, who might attend a revival screening of Going Places or Hiroshima, Mon Amour, or who might catch a Lower Manhattan showing of Abel Ferrara‘s Welcome to New York. What are the odds that fans of Furious 7 or Insurgent would appreciate this Netflix doc? I think we know the answer. I don’t need to belabor the point.

Necessary Vegas Slog

Three weeks hence Cinemacon, the annual four-day exhibitor convention held at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas, will kick off. Every year I ask myself, why am I spending $600 or $700 bucks minimum to drive (or fly) to Vegas and stay in a cheesy motel to watch product reels for three days? Answer: Because I’m afraid I might miss a hint of a spark of something special. All it takes is a special clip or two, the right joke, a special appearance by a big-name celebrity…anything that gets the blood rushing. I’m also going because it’ll give me stuff to write about. Not just the convention attractions but the corporate, soul-narcotizing experience of Vegas itself. Not to mention my down-at-the-heels accommodations.

Last year I stayed in a Motel 8 craphouse (I actually described it as a “spartan shitbag” motel) across the Strip from the Mandalay. This year I’ll be in the Howard Johnson Tropicana, which definitely represents a step up. Two nights for roughly $112 or something like that. And it’s only about an 18-block walk to Caesar’s. (more…)

What Would You Do If You Were Tom Cruise?

Last night a fair-sized portion of the HE community saw Alex Gibney‘s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief on HBO, and now it’s commonly understood that this is a seriously brutal, all-but-impossible-to-refute takedown documentary, and that the image of Tom Cruise as a coddled loon and an enabler of a decidedly venal organization is not going to dissipate. How can his brand not be in serious jeopardy from this? How can a person who’s seen Going Clear pay to see Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and not think “the Scientology stigma is stronger than the illusion of cool, super-brave Ethan Hunt”? Last night I tweeted that Cruise “has no honor if he stays with these maniacs…he has to stand up, man up, clear his head.” Who’s seen the Gibney doc, what’s the verdict and what would you do if you were Cruise? Would you just pretend it hasn’t been seen and that nobody cares? If he could just find a backbone and leave the Church of Scientology, he’d the coolest guy in town. As Going Clear author Lawrence Wright said in an interview last year, Cruise is “the pivotal figure who bears the greatest moral burden” within the whole ghastly Scientology scenario.

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What Bette Davis Said

This is a rough one. Maybe too rough to even get into here, but it’s real and happening and I don’t know what else. Devastating, certainly, but also a form of subtle spiritual torture. My mom has been coping with the ravages of old age, and there’s really no way to put it except to state the obvious, which is that things can’t improve. Assisted living facilities will naturally care for and maintain her to the last, but to go by her words (which have been relatively few) it’s all about ennui and despair these days. You can’t do anything except visit, hold her hand, gentle-vibe her and be absolutely powerless. Yesterday she mistook Jett for me and asked, “Are you here to save me?” Last weekend she fell, fractured her right hip. The doctors asked for permission to operate, I gave it and they fixed her up last Wednesday. When you’re 85-plus the ordeal of surgery (anesthesia, pain medication, the general trauma of it all) is tough to handle. She’s made of stern stuff (as I am) but she feels besieged and just wants to rest. Norman Lloyd, bless him, still plays tennis but my mom refuses to walk. A brutal final chapter. In Alan Watts‘ “The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” Ananda Coomaraswany is quoted as follows: “I would rather die ten years too early than ten minutes too late.” Dylan actually mentioned this quote as he, Jett and my ex-wife were leaving Danbury Hospital yesterday.

“I Do Not Avoid Women, Mandrake…But I Do Deny Them My Essence”

I am theoretically down with whatever Nicolas Winding Refn‘s The Neon Demon might be as long as nobody gets stabbed in the windpipe or in the temple or gets disembowled with any kind of blade. After Drive and Only God Forgives, Refn has to permanently resign from the sword-and-knife club. The generic description — the youth and vitality of an aspiring model are devoured by a group of beauty-obsessed women — obviously indicates something predatory. Refn: “I very much look forward to the odyssey I’ll be taking with all these wonderful actresses (and a few guys) to travel beyond The Neon Demon where all I see is the wicked dying young.” Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Desmond Harrington, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves. Principal photography begins today.

“She’s Killing For Sport”

One mark of a substandard thriller is to assign evil, malevolent motives to animals. Big animals with big teeth might seem scary to humans, but they don’t think evil thoughts or kill for “sport,” which is to say for perverse reasons. They’ll kill for revenge or because of tribal animosity (lions killing hyenas, giraffes kicking lions) but not sport. Humans do that. Animals are about basic instincts.

“Worshipful…Trademark Volatility Gets A Pass”

HE to HBO Publicists: “Sinatra: All Or Nothing At All pops next Sunday and Monday on HBO, and aside from Deadline‘s Michael Fleming and his ex-Variety boss and colleague Peter Bart, I don’t know a soul who’s been offered access to a screener or an online code or a theatrical screening or anything. N.Y. Post contributor Robert Rorke critic ran a review on 3.25, but nobody in my realm has seen it or anything. Anything you can tell me?”

About six and a half years ago I posted an mp3 of Sinatra’s “Soliloquy” — not the’46 version but the one recorded for the 20th Century Fox/Henry King film version of Carousel before Sinatra abruptly quit and Gordon MacRae was hired to replace him. Sinatra wasn’t quite the belter that MacRae was, but he brought so much more finesse to this song. The intimate phrasing, soulful tremolo, bassy comfort zone, etc. (more…)

Wham Bam Bambi

I’m sorry but this is the only Dwayne Johnson skit from last night’s SNL that I really laughed at. I would’ve responded earlier but I only caught the show this morning, and I was only half-watching anyway. SNL is so white noisey these days. Oh, and if they made a feature-length movie out of this (i.e., fuck the hunters), I would definitely buy a ticket.

Deaths Of Ondricek, Perinova

The great Czech-born cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, whose career began with ’60s Czech New Wave films including Milos Forman‘s The Firemen’s Ball and The Loves of a Blonde and who later shot Forman’s Taking Off, Hair, Ragtime and Amadeus, has died at age 80. Ondricek also shot Lindsay Anderson‘s If… and O Lucky Man!, Mike Nichols‘ Silkwood and George Roy Hill‘s Slaughterhouse-Five (i.e., “Schlachthaus-fünf”). He also dp’ed Penny Marshall‘s A League of Their Own. Salutes, sadness, condolences. One of the great ones. Ondricek’s work on Ragtime and Amadeus was Oscar-nominated for Best Cinematography but he didn’t win. I’ll take it very badly of the Academy if they don’t include this legendary artist in next year’s death reel.


Celebrated cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek

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Ferguson Is Over

In a 3.29 post, Deadline‘s Anita Busch has given some attention to a testimony-based play about the Ferguson tragedy by journalist and documentary filmmaker Phelim McAleer. The “staged reading,” based on grand-jury witness testimony from the Darren Wilson-Michael Brown shooting investigation, will be presented for four nights next month at L.A.’s Odyssey theatre. After the show ends “the audience will…judge whether Ferguson officer Darren Wilson should have been indicted,” Busch writes.

Excuse me? The last time I looked the Wilson-Brown incident had been thoroughly investigated in a fair and judicious fashion, and — I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t disturb anyone — the consensus is that Wilson is in the clear and that Brown would be breathing fresh air today if he didn’t act like an aggressive asshole when Wilson confronted him on Canfield Drive. On 3.4.15 Eric Holder‘s Department of Justice delivered an 86-page report about the 8.9.14 shooting, and concluded in no uncertain terms to Wilson acted reasonably and with justification. (more…)

Now That HE Crowd Has Seen Get Hard

So what’s the verdict on the Get Hard outrage? Some HE regulars must have seen it last night. Is saying “take it easy, this is way overblown” a semi-legitimate view or not? Does the politically correct anger seem excessive or more or less appropriate? Is Get Hard a rough equivalent of Eddie Murphy‘s “Mr. T in a gay bar” joke?

“I’m sadly very familiar with the aesthetic that drives this film. Hollywood will always pay lip service to the gay community but when it comes down to the bottom line, they are still going to dredge up those old derogatory tropes and stereotypes. Gay panic is one thing and rape jokes are another and to put these two things together is especially pathetic on the part of the studio. (more…)

Roadside Girl

My first thought was that (a) Marina Caregivers is an assisted living facility for elderly folks, and (b) it seemed a little bizarre to have blondie, who looks like a love doll, try to lure fresh customers from the corner of Washington Blvd. and Glencoe Avenue. Then I looked them up and realized they’re selling different strains of cannabis sativa. I don’t know how long blondie has been flashing their sign but what kind of fiend comes along and tears her arm off?

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Bill Forsyth, Peter Reigert and the Truth About Movies

In a 2008 More Intelligent Life piece about Bill Forstyh‘s Local Hero (’83), star Peter Riegert is quoted by Jasper Rees as follows: “Bill [Forsyth] understood that moviegoers are not interested in what the actors are feeling. They’re interested in what they’re feeling.”

Precisely! This is a perfect distillation of the entire Hollywood Elsewhere approach to reviewing movies and performances. This is the sine qua non, the emerald, the whole magillah, the words in passing from Peter Reigert, speaking six and a half years ago, that give the game away.

I’m always perfectly aware of the feelings that an actor is attempting to generate with his or her personality or application of technique or whatever, but all I care about is what I’m feeling as I sit slumped in my seat, tripping happily on the film or the performance or trying to make heads or tails of either one. I might “respect” what a filmmaker has tried to accomplish with this or that approach, but all I care about and all I’m going to write about at the end of the day is if this approach works for me. For I am King Solomon…the ultimate arbiter, the one-man jury, inspector of the final product, giver or denier of the FDA seal of approval.

A performance or a movie, in other words, is not about the idea or theme or cultural undercurrent propelling the filmmakers, but about how I fucking feel as I contemplate the finality of it
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