As Far As My Sluggish Thinking Takes Me

The Hitfix guys have been tossing around notions about which was the greatest film year of the past half-century. They’ve apparently decided, in short, that all the significant film years before 1965 are…what, not click-baity enough? Because most online film buffs regard the ’80s as fairly musty and before that it’s pretty much the Dead Sea Scrolls. Conventional wisdom says three of the greatest years were 1999, 1962 (here’s my list of 36 films released that year that enjoy classic status) and 1939, but only ’99 cuts ice with the Hitfixers, at least for the time being. And what about that piece I ran a while back about 1971, in which I singled out 28 films released that year that live in eternity? In any case the combination of having jetlag problems this afternoon and Drew McWeeny having somehow gotten it in his head that 1988 was some kind of landmark year has stalled my brain activity. You know what 1988 was? Three films — The Last Temptation of Christ, Mississippi Burning (despite the absurd and arguably racist attitudes inherent in the film’s jaundiced re-imagining of the FBI’s role in breaking the case of the three murdered civil-rights workers) and Bull Durham. I’m more of a 1989 type of guy — sex, lies and videotape, The Abyss, Batman, Born on the Fourth of July, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Dead Poets Society, Do the Right Thing, Drugstore Cowboy, Field of Dreams, My Left Foot, Roger & Me, Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally, etc. I don’t know. I guess I don’t care all that much. I’m not much of a list queen.

Round Two

With Ex Machina having caught a wave last weekend, A24 is looking for an enhanced uptick this weekend. The buzz is out there. A hot robot you’ll probably want to bang. If you missed it last weekend are you thinking of giving it a shot or is it…what, higher on your VOD list or just on it or what?

Guaranteed Best Actor Nom for Hardy’s Kray Twins — The Anti-Redmayne X 2

If Eddie Redmayne‘s Danish Girl performance as the transgender Lili Elbe is locked for a Best Actor nom, the Academy has to turn the other cheek and give another Best Actor nom to Tom Hardy for his dual performance as London mobsters Ron and Reg Kray in Brian Helgeland‘s Legend. Pic costars Colin Morgan, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton and David Thewlis. The Krays ruled London during the ’50s and ’60s (armed robberies, arson, assaults and the murders of Jack “The Hat” McVitie and George Cornell). On top of which Ronnie was openly bisexual and probably killed his wife of eight weeks, Frances Shea (Emily Browning), in a jealous rage.  The brothers were sentenced to life terms in 1969 for two murders.

Brooklyn Bagel Pit Stop

Last night’s LAX-to-JFK flight on Virgin America took off on time and was “comfortable” for the most part, but I was miserable for lack of sleep. The lack of blankets didn’t help. Popped a couple of Advils but unable to really sink to the bottom of the pond. In a certain sense it was agonizing. Early morning New York weather is a bit on the brisk side, almost (but not quite) chilly by L.A. standards. My Airbnb place is only a couple of blocks from the old Montrose-and-Bushwick apartment. The free wifi at the nearby Bread Brothers cafe (Bushwick and Messerole) isn’t lightning fast but why complain? I’m here, I’m good, etc.

What Can You Do To Help Stop Eddie Redmayne Juggernaut?

Far From The Madding Crowd costar Matthias Schoenarts has spoken to Hitfix‘s Gregory Ellwood about Tom Hooper‘s brazenly, unregenerately baity The Danish Girl and particularly Eddie Redmayne‘s performance as Lili Elbe, the first man-to-woman transgender pioneer. “We finished it like a week ago [and] I had a blast,” Schoenaerts said. “Working with Hooper is an experience. Extremely sharp, committed, intelligent and has a sense of humor. And then you have Eddie Redmayne, who I’m sure [is] gonna get a second Oscar nom. It’s impossible. What I’ve seen him do. It’s probably [his] second Oscar, period. Not even just a nod, period.”

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Feeney Tome Kicks Off Welles Centennial Tributes, Fanfare

The failure of Royal Road Entertainment’s Filip Jan Rymsza and director Peter Bogdanovich to deliver a completed, full-length version of Orson WellesThe Other Side of the Wind in time for the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth on May 6, 1915 is an unfortunate embarassment. At least F.X. Feeney‘s long-awaited study of the genius filmmaker, “Orson Welles: Power, Heart, and Soul,” has been written and published on time and readable as we speak, and selling for a mere $15. F.X. only sent me a copy last night so I’ve yet to get into it, but Welles biographer Joseph McBride has written that “among the many virtues of Feeney’s book is that it conveys, as no book ever has before, what it must have felt like to be Orson Welles…he manages to give us that sense through his deep empathy, understanding, and close yet still clear-eyed identification.” Here’s F.X. reading from a portion:

A reading of "Orson Welles: Power, Heart and Soul" by author F.X. Feeney from The Critical Press on Vimeo.

Misheard, Redefined

According to JoniMitchell.com, the first verse of “Refuge of the Roads” ends as follows: “‘Heart and humor and humility,’ he said, ‘will lighten up your heavy load’ / I left him then for the refuge of the roads.” All this time I thought the line went “hard of humor and humility,” as in “hard of hearing.” Perfect line! But all along it was mine and not hers. Ah, well. And why did she use “roads”? The road will always be a singular realm…a dream, an adventure, a thing unto itself. The plural is just a lot of red and blue lines on an old Texaco map.

What Was The Last Woody That Was Shot in 2.39?

Can’t write, can’t get it up, flabby, misanthropic, drinks too much, despairing…and then it all changes in a blink of an eyelash. I just realized…just now!…that Woody Allen‘s Irrational Man is (a) definitely one of his darker pieces and (b) is going to be at least pretty good. You can sense that. It’ll screen in Cannes less than three weeks from now. It opens stateside on July 17.

More Cannes Must-See Docs

In addition to Kent JonesHitchcock/Truffaut (88 minutes), the following docs will also be shown at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival: (1) Depardieu grandeur nature, dir: Richard Melloul (60 minutes); (2) Gabriel Clarke and John McKenna‘s Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (112 minutes); (3) Nancy Buirski‘s By Sidney Lumet (PBS American Masters, 103 minutes); (4) Stig Björkman‘s Ingrid Bergman, in Her Own Words (114 minutes); (5) Orson Welles, Autopsie d’une légende, dir: Elisabeth Kapnist (56 minutes); (6) This Is Orson Welles, dirs: Clara and Julia Kuperberg (53 minutes); and (7) The Golden Palm’s Legend, dir: Alexis Veller (70 minutes).

Birth of Hitchcock Legend

This morning I wrote Film Society of Lincoln Center programming director Kent Jones about his new feature-length documentary Hitchcock/Truffaut, which will screen during the forthcoming 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Jones directed and co-wrote with Cinemathèque Française director Serge Toubiana. I’m a huge fan of A Letter to Elia, a 2010 doc that Jones co-directed with Martin Scorsese, and all my filmgoing life I’ve worshipped Francois Truffaut‘s landmark q & a book “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” so I’m pumped for the newbie. I wanted to do a brief phoner but Jones has just landed in Paris to apply final tweaks so maybe we’ll talk tomorrow. Or not.

Boilerplate: “The film will journey through the extensive series of conversations between Hitchcock and Truffaut, illustrating their love for filmmaking and demonstrating their impact on modern world cinema. Legendary scenes from Hitchcock’s films, intercut with comment and opinion from contemporary filmmakers, will reinforce his iconic stature as one of the most influential directors of our time.” 

Hitchcock/Truffaut, an American-French co-production produced by Cohen Media Group, Artline Films and Arte, will presumably be released later this year.” (more…)

Sex, Wheels, Potency

Posted four years ago: “It was the early ’90s, and I was tooling along Santa Monica Blvd. on a nice, sunny afternoon in my relatively new but not quite super-hot Nissan 240 SX. But I felt the car looked and felt pretty damn good, and I was in a pretty good mood. Then I saw a ’60s muscle car of some kind (a yellow ’65 Mustang convertible?) with whitewall tires pull alongside me. It had a 4 SALE sign in the rear window. A very pretty…okay, hot girl was at the wheel, and her passenger window was rolled down.

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Considerable Highs, Innumerable Lows

Liz GarbusWhat Happened, Miss Simone? is a sad, absorbing, expertly assembled doc about the legendary Nina Simone (1933-2003), one of the greatest genius-level jazz-soul singers of the 20th Century as well as a classically trained pianist extraordinaire. Garbus is obviously a huge Simone fan, and she makes her case for — draws you into — this flawed, impassioned artist with skill and flair. Pic opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and will premiere on Netflix on 6.26. Here’s the just-popped trailer:

From my 1.22.15 Sundance review: “No one who sees Garbus’s film will leave feeling under-nourished. It delivers expertise, feeling, spirit…all of it. But I also found What Happened, Miss Simone? irksome because of several biographical facts that Garbus inexplicably leaves out. (Her birth year, the cause of her death, her first marriage, a shooting incident, etc.) And I found Simone herself a bit of a hurdle. Her lack of respect and reverence for her extraordinary singing gifts as well as a general indifference to the basics of maintaining a healthy career is perplexing and even alienating.

“Maybe it’s me but it’s hard to warm up to, much less feel a kinship with, haughty aloofness, a hair-trigger temperament and self-destructive behavior. But oh, those pipes, that phrasing, that style…that magnificent, touched-by-God aura. (more…)

True Colors?

This is two or three days old so excuse the slowness, but until last night I hadn’t heard about Robert Downey, Jr.‘s to-the-manor-born putdown of Alejandro G. Inarritu and particularly AGI’s remark, offered in a 10.15.14 Deadline interview as well as in Birdman, about superhero movies exuding a form of cultural genocide. “The way they apply violence to it, it’s absolutely right-wing,” Alejandro said. “If you observe the mentality of most of those films, it’s really about people who are rich, who have power, who will do the good [and] who will kill the bad. Philosophically, I just don’t like them. They have been poison…because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human.” Asked about this by the Guardian during the Avengers junket, Downey said “Look, I respect the heck out of him [and] for a man whose native tongue is Spanish to be able to put together a phrase like ‘cultural genocide’ just speaks to how bright he is.”

This wasn’t a “quasi”-racist remark, as a director friend has suggested, but flat-out racist — an expression of an obviously patronizing, dismissive attitude on Downey’s part toward Mexican Americans and Alejandro in particular. What’s the difference between this remark and Sean Penn‘s “who gave this sonavubitch his green card?” quip at the Oscars? Context. Penn is an AGI friend using a dismissive remark “in quotes” to deliver a form of guy humor while Downey was clearly miffed about AGI and Birdman having “talked smack” about him, and was looking to score a putdown. Downey defenders will no doubt say he was talking “in quotes” also but it doesn’t seem that way to me in the above clip. (more…)

“Whadja Dew That Night?”

“Returning to the director’s chair for the first time in more than a decade, Robert Duvall would appear to be playing to his strengths in Wild Horses. Casting himself as a Texas rancher who ran off his son (James Franco) years ago when he learned he was gay, he sets a scene allowing for both poignant reconciliations and the dredging up of family secrets. Unfortunately, his attempt to create a multigenerational Lone Star-like mystery doesn’t gel as John Sayles‘s film did, leaving so many dramatic moments unresolved that one wonders how many scenes must have been left on the cutting-room floor. A top-flight cast will attract attention on video, but the theatrical performances don’t come close to matching Duvall’s 1997 directing breakthrough The Apostle.” — from John DeFore‘s Hollywood Reporter review, filed from SXSW on 3.20.15.

Go, Bernie!

Hollywood Elsewhere will give what it can afford to Sen. Bernie Sanders‘ campaign for the presidency, which will be announced Thursday. Bernie can’t win, of course, but he can at least hold Hillary Clinton‘s feet to the fire about her laissez-faire corporate allegiances and right-center thinking on foreign policy. Bernie is doing her a favor, in a way. His campaign will toughen her up for the general election, which will be fairly brutal and perhaps without the “fairly.”

Fan Letter Tossed Through Front Gate

Not long after Joni Mitchell was rushed to a hospital on 3.31, I felt moved to write a fan letter. Just a few thoughts, recollections…nothing profound. A friend knows and visits her from time to time, but he told me last weekend (a) he’s been denied access since her fainting episode and (b) her daughter had just flown in from Toronto. That indicated Mitchell might be less well than usual and perhaps…who knew? So I wrote the letter and emailed it to the friend and asked him to give a printed version to her. But he declined because I’d included a portion in which I urged her to quit tobacco and smoke vapor instead. “She really won’t like that part and she’ll blame me on some level if I give it to her,” he explained. “But it’s obviously my opinion and not yours,” I answered. “It won’t matter,” he said.

So last Thursday I drove over to Mitchell’s 85 year-old Spanish home in Bel Air in order to pop it into the mailbox. But I couldn’t find the damn mailbox so I threw the letter through the iron gates. It was late at night and quiet like a forest. The hedges outside her place are towering and somewhat overgrown. As you approach I noticed that a portion of her curving street is cluttered with little mounds and potholes, which is odd for a ritzy area.

“Joni — I’ve never gotten to know or work the music realm like the movie business. Not professionally or politically, I mean, so I’ve never tried to interview you or anything. I’ve nonetheless been a rapt admirer of your music for eons. And I want you to know I felt serious pangs of fear when you were suddenly rushed to the hospital, and it made me want to finally say something. (more…)

Rolling Stones Are Back To Take Your Money

I might be down with re-purchasing a remastered Sticky Fingers (complete with added, never-heard versions of some of the songs) but forget the Rolling Stones’ baseball park concerts, the first of which will happen in San Diego’s Petco Park on 5.24. The shittiest upper-bleacher seat you can buy (section 327 or 328) will run you $184 or $189, respectively. If you bring a girlfriend plus parking and afterdrinks you’re talking $500 and change, but what will your girlfriend think of you if you sit in the section with the worst possible vantage point? If you want a decent seat (on the field, centered, not far from the stage) it’ll set you back $2500 and obviously $5K if you bring a date.