What Breaks Up A Marriage?

Anything that seriously threatens the family unit tends to result in serious difficulty and quite often divorce court. In my experience people break up over three things — not enough money, infidelity and a refusal to deal seriously with an addiction problem (alcohol, drugs, gambling). One of these three, mostly on the part of a husband, will usually persuade the wife that she can do better alone or with someone else. Honest question: Affleck-Garner were called Bennifer, which is what Affleck Lopez were also called, or so I recall. My preferred Affleck-Lopez term was B.Lo — did anybody at all use that or was it just me and five other guys?

Pheeeeladelphia

At the very least, Maryse Alberti‘s cinematography makes Creed (Warner Bros., 11.25) look better than half decent. Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station). Starring Michael B. Jordan, costarring Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Tony Bellew and Graham McTavish. If you want to get technical you could call it the seventh Rocky film but it looks more like a cousin than part of the immediate family.

Vulnerable, Commitment-Phobic, Saber-Tongued Schumer Is Judy Holliday/Jack Lemmon Reborn in Brilliant, Near-Perfect Trainwreck

I regard all raves of all films shown at South by Southwest as highly suspect. Way too many easy-lay geeks attend this Austin-based festival, and when they see something half-decent they all go “wheee!…we’re totally in love with the film and the filmmakers and distributors who allowed us to see it early because this makes us look necessary and important in the overall scheme!” So when Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer‘s Trainwreck (Universal, 7.17) was cheered in Austin last March, I said to myself, “Oh, yeah?…we’ll see about that.”

Last night I saw about that and all I can say is “holy shit.” Actually that’s not all I can say but it’ll do for starters. I guess I also need to say “fuck me” and “mea culpa” and all the rest of that hash. Then again I didn’t respond to the film last February — I merely shared a somewhat insensitive gut reaction to Schumer as a conceivable object of barroom desire within the prism of a trailer. But that’s all water under the bridge because Trainwreck, no lie, is dryly hilarious and smoothly brilliant and damn near perfect. It’s the finest, funniest, most confident, emotionally open-hearted and skillful film Apatow has ever made, hands down. I was feeling the chills plus a wonderful sense of comfort and assurance less than five minutes in. Wow, this is good…no, it’s better…God, what a relief…no moaning or leaning forward or covering my face with my hands…pleasure cruise.

I went to the Arclight hoping and praying that Trainwreck would at least be good enough so I could write “hey, Schumer’s not bad and the film is relatively decent.” Well, it’s much better than that, and Schumer’s performance is not only a revelation but an instant, locked-in Best Actress contender. I’m dead serious, and if the other know-it-alls don’t wake up to this they’re going to be strenuously argued with. Don’t even start in with the tiresome refrain of “oh, comedic performances never merit award-season attention.” Shut up. Great performances demand respect, applause and serious salutes…period.

I still think Schumer is a 7.5 or an 8 but it doesn’t matter because (and I know how ludicrous this is going to sound given my history) I fell in love in a sense — I saw past or through all that and the crap that’s still floating around even now. For it became more and more clear as I watched that Schumer’s personality and performance constitute a kind of cultural breakthrough — no actress has ever delivered this kind of attitude and energy before in a well-written, emotionally affecting comedy, and I really don’t see how anyone can argue that Schumer isn’t in the derby at this point. (A columnist friend doesn’t agree but said that Schumer’s Trainwreck screenplay is a surefire contender for Best Original Screenplay.) (more…)

Jesus…Aging Julia Roberts As Dirty Harry (i.e., Seething Vigilante Revenge Queen With A Badge)?

Billy Ray‘s Secrets In Their Eyes (STX, 10.23) is a remake of El secreto de sus ojos, a 2009 Argentine crime thriller film directed, produced and edited by Juan José Campanella. Pic was written by Eduardo Sacheri and Campanella, based on Sacheri’s novel La pregunta de sus ojos (The Question in Their Eyes). Roberts has bravely and respectably made no attempt to glam herself up — at 47 she’s the new Helen Mirren, and that’s cool.

Bottom Gun: Cruise vs. Drones

A few days go Skydance honchos David Ellison and Dana Goldberg told Collider‘s Matt Goldberg that Tom Cruise will return as fucking Maverick in Top Gun 2: Danger Zone. Pic will apparently be some kind of fare-thee-well, classic-values tribute to ace fighter pilots along with an uh-oh thread about the growing dominance of killer drones, at least as far as killing Islamic fundies is concerned. Cruise will turn 53 next month, and will be 54 or 55 when the filming begins, when and if. Obviously no change in the basic plan. Cruise is committed to being the big-budget, action-flick energizer bunny until he can no longer keep it up. How much more dough does he need? What does he want that he can’t already afford? “The future, Mr. Gittes…the future.”

Return of Oliver Stone?

Oliver Stone was a directing-writing god from the mid ’80s to late ’90s (Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July, Nixon, Any Given Sunday) but he became and in-and-outer when the 21st Century rolled around. Documentary-wise he’s been on a brilliant roll (Comandante, Looking for Fidel, Persona Non Grata, South of the Border, Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States) but his features…well, let’s just say that while Alexander was a highly respectable if somewhat laborious epic and W. was a ballsy, above-average biopic with a legendary Josh Brolin performance, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps and Savages felt insincere, slap-dashy and over-emphasized. I’d love it if Snowden (Open Road, 12.25) brings back some of that old Stone transcendence. I understand the concept of a slow reveal and the teaser focusing only on Old Glory and the slogan (“One Nation, Under Surveillance,” etc.) but I figured I’d be offered a taste of Joseph Gordon Levitt‘s performance as Edward Snowden…nope. (Note: This morning Snowden‘s Wiki page incorrectly named Warner Bros. as the U.S. distributor — it’s definitely Open Road.)

Alphabet City Confidential

Shari-Springer Berman and Robert Pucini‘s Ten Thousand Saints, a coming-of-age drama set in late ’80s Manhattan, is another Sundance film I missed last January. It has a 67% Rotten Tomatoes rating, which suggests an issue or two. JoBlo’s Chris Bumbray: “While the fact that Ethan Hawke [plays] an absentee father will likely draw comparisons to Boyhood, in reality this is more like a John Hughes movie than anything else, right down to the finely curated ’80s soundtrack and frequent lapses into heavy melodrama. The latter is not a criticism — I happen to like melodrama.”

Bumbray says it’s “set in Alphabet City right on the cusp of its gentrification”…bullshit. No way was Alphabet City about to be gentrified in 1987, which is the year that Eleanor Henderson’s book takes place. I roamed around Alphabet City a lot during the ’90s and even then it didn’t seem to be gentrifying very much. Maybe a tiny bit. When did the neighborhood really start to go bucks up? Try the early aughts. And it wasn’t really, really gentrified until 2010 or thereabouts. The ’80s were a fairly scuzzy time in Alphabet City. I used to scrape the scuzz off the soles of my boots so don’t tell me.

Come And Get Your Money

Earlier this month I asked a rhetorical question about the James Bond franchise. What would we lose as a community or a culture if a final, irrevocable pledge was made by producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli to never make another 007 film again, to just walk away and leave it forever? Allow me to ask the same question about the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Suppose that director James Gunn and star Chris Pratt and all the producers suddenly said, “We don’t really need the money, and the audience doesn’t need another Guardians movie…admit it. The first Guardians was fine. Where is it written that we’re obliged to fuck things up with a sequel? Even if we made a half-decent film, who would really care at the end of the day? The crowd would pay to see it, eat their popcorn, have a good time, quietly fart a few times in their seats and go home. Can we be honest? We don’t have a single half-decent idea for the sequel yet. Not one. But we’re making it anyway because we all want second homes.”

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The Old Crowd

The other day a friend mentioned a forthcoming high-school reunion gathering. There’s nothing like a reunion to make you want to hit the treadmill, I thought to myself. On the other hand what do I care? I love being in touch with my old friends but the classmates I never knew or cared to know can go suck on it for all I care. They probably feel the same way about me, and that’s cool. Reunions tend to remind a lot of us what a regimented environment and cultural concentration camp high school was. Most of us only realize this after we’ve found our footing as adults. I was lost but now I’m free, or certainly a lot freer.

My high-school years didn’t feel “miserable” in an unmistakable, lemme-outta-here sense; the unhappiness I lived with seeped into my system in a hundred subtle ways. I wasn’t anti-social but I didn’t party and run around all that much until my senior year, and once that phase kicked in I became a madman. The truth is that on a certain level I was a kind of functioning alcoholic (no serious behavioral problems but a few serpents under the surface) from my late teens until I quit the hard stuff in the mid ’90s. The real healing didn’t begin until I went sober three years ago, or so I tell myself.

Before I socially flowered I watched a shitload of TV and listened to a lot of music and lived in my head. I was a secret genius who could potentially be persuaded to join the crowd, but no one ever asked. I know that my father’s alcoholism felt and smelled like mustard gas in our home, especially during dinner hour, and that my self-esteem was in the basement. I mostly felt apart, diminished and unworthy when it came to women. In school I didn’t do sports or join clubs or do anything extra-curricular except for detention. (more…)

HE Meerkat Feed Around The Corner

Hollywood Elsewhere’s long-nurtured dream of live video feeds is finally at hand. Last Friday morning re/code’s Kurt Wagner reported that Meerkat, the livestreaming video app that broke out during South By Southwest last March, is now allowing users to embed their livestreams directly onto their websites. The option “may provide publishers with a little more incentive to stream more often,” Wagner speculated, “or use Meerkat over Twitter’s rival service Periscope, which doesn’t have an embed option.”

My first wish piece along these lines was posted in March 2012. I posted another one last March, stating that “there surely must be some way to adapt Meerkat’s or Periscope’s skill sets to generate Hollywood Elsewhere video from my iPhone at the touch of a button and have it appear on the site…live events happening at the Cannes Film Festival, say, or during a sojourn in Rome, Paris or Prague or wherever.” (more…)

Get Those Guys

Last Thursday Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton called for the removal of the grave of respected Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest from a Memphis city park, along with an attached memorial. The reason is that Forrest was a one-time Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon and slave trader. I understand and support Wharton’s view but with two qualifications. One, Forrest was a ruthless but quite brilliant general. He seems like a villain by today’s criteria but by the standards of his time and culture he was regarded as a heroic and formidable figure. And two, once you start removing monuments of renowned 19th Century figures who supported slavery or owned slaves, you’re on a slippery slope. As we all know, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and ten other U.S. Presidents owned slaves. Where do you draw the line? I’m presuming that Wharton would say that anyone with a public statue who belonged to the KKK is fair game. I can’t argue with that.

“Work” Done

“Life is a bombed-out, soulless cabaret in Christian Petzold’s Phoenix (IFC Films/Sundance Selects, 7.24), a haunting portrait of identity, loss and the search for answers in post-WWII Berlin. The sixth teaming of Petzold and his leading-lady muse, the extraordinary Nina Hoss, finds the duo once again refracting the social and political complexities of 20th-century Germany through the prism of American genre films — here, specifically, the rich strain of doppelganger psychodramas (A Woman’s Face, Vertigo, Seconds) that hinged on the immutable power of the human face. Like those movies, Phoenix demands a certain generous suspension of disbelief that may be more than some audiences are willing to muster.” — from a 1.12.15 review by Variety‘s Scott Foundas.

Stuck In Craw

Brokeback Mountain isn’t quite ten years old. It popped at the 2005 Telluride Film Festival (i.e., on or about Labor Day) and opened commercially on 12.23.05. But that isn’t stopping Variety from revisiting the film for its Marriage Equality issue. I think it goes without saying that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision and the alpha vibes that have followed that if the whole Brokeback Mountain-vs.-Crash competition had never happened a decade ago and that if both films were set to open this fall…I don’t think there’d be any question that Brokeback Mountain would be the decisive industry favorite.

It might still lose the Best Picture Oscar because…well, because The Revenant or Steve Jobs or The Danish Girl might win. But if 2015 was to somehow shake down into the same kind of face-off, Brokeback would be on top. The geezers who either voted against it or even refused to see it ten years ago would be far less influential, in part because a lot of them (including Tony Curtis, who once declared that “Howard Hughes and John Wayne wouldn’t like it”) have passed on. You have to let this stuff go, of course. Major cultural events happen in their own time and for their own reasons and you can’t reconstitute those circumstances, but I’ll never get over the Best Picture loss of Brokeback Mountain…not entirely.

Return of Pink Ladykillers…Beware!

Don’t be suckered into buying Studiocanal’s 60th anniversary Bluray of Alexander McKendrick‘s The Ladykillers, which as far as I know is a re-issue of the same Bluray that popped in February 2010. The cover of the newbie claims to be “digitally restored” but that could mean anything. Trust me — this is one of the ugliest and most repellent Blurays ever released in the history of the format, right up there with Criterion’s Stagecoach and the original grainstorm pressing of The Third Man. In my original review I called it “a strawberries-and-whipped-cream nightmare — perhaps the most visually unappealing manipulation of a classic film ever issued. It’s saturated with the brightest and bleachiest white light seen anywhere since the aliens stepped out of the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters. It’s like someone turned down the color key and then poured milk and cherry sauce over the master negative. The effect is one of rosey anemia — a sickly dilution like nothing I’ve ever seen from a 1950s color film.”


(l.) Anchor Bay DVD image; (r.) ditto from Studio Canal/Lionsgate Bluray.

Brent Lang Is A Cyborg

There are two forehead-slapping statements in a 6.28 boxoffice analysis piece by Variety‘s Brent Lang. Titled “Ted 2 Fumbles: Are R-Rated Comedies in a Funk?,” the piece seeks to understand or at least ask why Seth MacFarlane‘s decidedly unfunny, splooge-soaked sequel opened with a lousy $32.9 million…horrors! Lang’s basic takeaway is that “raunch isn’t selling like it once did.”

Forehead slapper #1: “The difficulty is that unlike other genres, novelty is a key selling point for comedies. That makes them unusually execution dependent.”

Wells reaction: May God protect Hollywood executives and their shitty mainstream movie slates from the dreaded, fang-toothed beast known as “execution dependent.” In Lang’s realm, execution is a mosquito that occasionally flies into your ear. Swat it and forget about it. Because in Lang’s realm audiences regard the concept of quality in the same light. They never evaluate comedies by way of the aggregate sites or trailers or even by sniffing the wind…right? Lang and his sources in production and box-office analysis (including the legendary Phil Dergarabedian!) apparently believe that if you put a raunchy comedy on their plate, they’ll eat it up like a starving dog. Or they used to, at least. If there’s one thing that’s absolutely verboten in Lang’s world, it’s the idea that people might not want to see a movie that reputedly sucks. (more…)

A Significant Wounding

Every nine months or so New Yorker film columnist Richard Brody will tap out something marvelous, which is to say an opinion I agree with. The topic this time is Inside Out, which drove Brody crazy for reasons that are much more specifically explained and dissected than I cared to get into in my little piffle reviews. I didn’t care that much; I just can’t stand the oppresively peppy energy of mainstream animated features. But Brody, man…Brody goes into the mouth of the leviathan with a scalpel and slides down the gullet and eventually finds the giant Pixar heart and stabs, slices and severs with precision…covering himself in whale blood.

Excerpt #1: “Since the subject of Inside Out is life lived in the grip of emotions, let me admit to mine: I emerged from the theatre feeling like W. C. Fields, hating children, all children, even my children, because of what those who purport to make movies for them have been doing, both to movies and to children.

Excerpt #2: “For all the cleverness of Inside Out I was jolted from the start by its deformation of children and of mental life. I saw a feature-length sales pitch — or, worse, an indoctrination — to mold kids into beings as artificial and uniform as those created, by computer graphics, in the movie. In effect, Inside Out is a feature-length training manual for seeing life like a Pixar movie, an imprint machine for creating its own consumers. (more…)

Sneakers

One of the most quietly thrilling episodes of my teenaged life…okay, stop right there. Let me assure before continuing that this story won’t get icky. Okay? I was in eighth or ninth grade, about 14 or 15, and I hadn’t done a damn thing with a girl. No flirtations to speak of, no dates…nothing. Nudie magazines were the extent of it. It was 9:30 pm on a Friday night (or so I recall — it might have been a Thursday), and a friend and I had walked a couple of miles to the home of a cheerleader who was going out with a jock-type dude we were friendly with. The names of my friend, the jock and the cheerleader were Jack, Chip and Pam.

It was a surreptitious arrangement so Jack and I didn’t knock on the front door but waited for Chip outside of a basement den room on the side of the home. I remember we were playing around with Pam’s dog for a bit. It was a coolish evening. We were wearing sweaters or fall jackets…something like that. As as the hour began to approach 10 pm, we began to wonder what was up. Chip had told Jack he’d meet us at Pam’s home around 9:30 or 9:45. (more…)

Bickle’s Fate

I’ve always believed that Travis Bickle died on the couch after that East Village shoot-out. Everything that happens in the aftermath — the newspaper articles praising him for having murdered a couple of pimps, Iris’s parents writing to thank him for saving their daughter, Cybil Shephard looking at him dreamily after he drops her off at her Grammercy Park apartment — is Travis’s dying fantasy. And then in the last shot he’s driving along and looks into the rearview mirror with a slight look of alarm, apparently sensing that something’s wrong and then…zhhhoop! Bickle disappears. It seems obvious as hell, but no one has ever agreed with me.

Devin Slams A Homer

I’ve been talking for a long, long time about how the bottom has fallen out of badness in movies. Basic levels of scriptwriting have been dropping, certainly when it comes to CG-driven tentpolers, for a good 10 or 15 years. Six or seven years ago I wrote that relatively few big-studio whammers are as well-ordered and “professionally” assembled as Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy, as silly and inconsequential as that 1955 film was. Two days ago the great Devin Faraci chimed in along similar lines, and with excellent drillbit phrasing.

“I think every movie should be ‘good.’ Especially really big, expensive ones that were worked on by thousands of people. And I don’t mean great, or perfect or transcendent or Oscar-worthy. When I say ‘good’ what I really mean is ‘competent.’

“Yet this bar, low as it is, is seen as excessive by some. Demanding basic competence — that a movie be adequately made on a fundamental level — is a sign of elitism. This bums me out [because] this tyranny of low expectations is why big movies can be, and often have been, so terrible. Why get the story right when the audience simply does not give a shit about it? (more…)