No Flirting With Bank Tellers

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been in a bank line and some guy at one of the windows is dragging things out because he’s flirting with the female teller. Maybe because he’s a bit lonely and hasn’t enjoyed any human contact that day. Either way he’s turning on the charm, turning it up to level 11, trying to alpha the poor girl into submission. She can’t walk away and she can’t tell him to fuck off and he knows that, of course. Even if the teller is just nodding and smiling while trying to complete the transaction as fast as possible, it still slows things down.

This happened today at my local Chase just before 5 pm, and there were three or four of us waiting for Mr. Lonelyhearts to finish the flirting and get down to fucking business already. We all pretended not to notice, but every person was staring at the back of this guy’s neck and hating on him. I could tell from the insect antennae vibes. I for one was telepathically urging this chucklehead to give a second’s thought to the fact that the more he dingle-dangled the more he was dragging things out a bit longer for three or four of us and…why don’t you, like, consider that possibility? Is your life that bereft of warmth and companionship?”

At that exact same moment the back of Mr. Happy’s sunburnt neck was telepathically saying to me “fuck you, dude…what’s your problem? It’s the end of the day and she’s cute and I’m gonna enjoy a couple of extra minutes with her…okay? Are you always this miserable? Have you ever connected with a bank teller who’s flashing green-light signals? This is one of those moments. Relax, man. Life is short.” (more…)

Brando Guy

I met briefly with Listen To Me Marlon director Stevan Riley during last January’s Sundance Film Festival, and then we sat down again a week or so ago in the outdoor lobby of the now-shuttered Aidikoff Screening Room. It wasn’t that great of an interview but here’s the mp3. I really enjoyed and admired Riley’s film — an intimate, full-scope portrait that turns rather sad during the final 20 minutes. Fascinating, never-before-seen footage. Everyone should see it, if not theatrically then at least when it hits Showtime.

I’d read Marlon Brando‘s autobiography (“Songs My Mother Taught Me“) but until I saw Riley‘s doc I’d never heard him really open up. His recollections and reflections almost shook my lifelong suspicion that he’d allowed defeatism and bitterness to consume him over the last 30 or so years of his life.

Never forget that Brando lived and screamed and wept and re-ordered the universe as people knew it in 1947 in New York City, and then rocked Hollywood in the early to mid ’50s, and left them both realms in a state of permanent shakedown and reexamination by the time of his effective departure from creative myth-making in late 1954 or early ’55….and then he shook things up again when he briefly re-emerged as The Man Who Knew and Owned Everything in the early ’70s. (more…)

Seven Months of Festival Glory

I’m presuming that sooner or later it will sink in amongst ubers and early adopters that Doug Tirola‘s Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead — The Story of the National Lampoon (Magnolia, 9.25) is one of the punchiest, funniest docs of the year and an absolute must-see if you have any interest in the traditions of anarchic comedy over the last half-century. I realize there are probably tens of millions who don’t give a damn about where SNL-styled comedy came from or who couldn’t care less about sampling the sensibilities of the original architects. GenXers and boomers will eventually wake up to it, I’m guessing, but if you’re a tiny bit younger Drunk Stoned is an important thing to absorb and take stock of.

All I know is that attending the world premiere of this film at last January’s Sundance Film Festival was like being on a viewing grandstand at Cape Canaveral in the early ’60s when one of those Atlas boosters lifted off and sent a Gemini team into space. The vibrational hum, the crackling excitement. And now Tirola’s film has been screening at elite festivals for the last seven months. I wish I’d been able to attend the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival last April. But now that the opening is just a few weeks off, it feels like the sand is leaking out on the floor. For guys like me, I mean. (more…)

Truth Has To Stand Up To Carol

Consult link story before reading: Are you ready for the ultimate Weinstein Co. vs. Sony Picture Classics award-season showdown? A Cate Blanchett-in-Truth vs. Cate Blanchett-in-Carol Best Actress duel that will most likely put Harvey Weinstein in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation with SPC’s Michael Barker and Tom Bernard? Because it seems all but inevitable at this stage unless, you know, somebody blinks.

Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, Robert Redford as Dan Rather in James Vanderbilt’s Truth (Sony Pictures Classics, 10.16).

Todd HaynesCarol (Weinstein Co., 11.20) was one of the biggest hits of last May’s Cannes Film Festival, and right away the buzz was that Blanchett’s performance as the titular character was a slamdunk Best Actress contender, even though many (myself included) felt that Rooney Mara‘s performance as Blanchett’s younger lover was just as penetrating. The Cannes Jury voiced their agreement when they gave Mara their Best Actress prize.

SPC announced today that Truth will be going up against Carol in an award-season sense, or rather that Blanchett will go up against herself. They formalized this situation with an announcement that James Vanderbilt‘s Truth, a presumed award-season contender about “Rathergate” starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, on 10.16. Except it’s been more or less common knowledge for some time that they’d be releasing the Insider-like journalism drama sometime in the fall. (more…)

The Agony and the Banality

Let me explain something very plainly and with zero ambiguity: any critic or riffing columnist who calls Vacationrespectably funny” or a “really fun summer movie” or who says “I laughed my ass off” is to be immediately placed on the “do not trust when it comes to comedies” list for the next ten years. No commutation of sentence, no probation board — they cannot and must not be trusted until July 2025, and even then clouds of suspicion will linger.

I’m not saying this because Vacation is stunningly unfunny, or more specifically ice-cold and misanthropic and toxic with contempt. I’m saying this because it’s a relentlessly one-note, one-joke device, and in so doing is like a kid who keeps poking you in the eye with his index finger, over and over and over. It makes you think awful thoughts. It drops you neck-deep into a cesspool of hate humor and humiliation gags and keeps you there.

Vacation is aimed at 10 to 14 year-olds who are so enraged and sickened by their parents’ appalling lack of coolness that any humiliation suffered by Helms and Applegate will be seen as wonderful and most likely hilarious.

I understand parent-hate. I used to regard my parents as gulag guards and think that 90% of the misery in my life would be instantly removed if I could somehow escape their tyrannical rule. They just didn’t get it. Everything they said was “no,” “not now,” “do your homework” and “time for bed.” But even then I recognized that they had…okay, perhaps a few qualities that might warrant respect in the outside world. (more…)

Travers Downgraded, Losing Staff Gig at Rolling Stone

Over the last decade or so nearly every film critic staffer at a newspaper or magazine has (a) gotten the axe, (b) accepted a buyout or (c) been told he/she will have to become an honored freelancer. So it’s not that surprising to hear that Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers has been told that his staff days are over and that he now has a choice of either becoming a contract writer or quitting. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Erik Hayden has reported that Travers blew his stack when publisher Jann Wenner delivered the bad news. “There was yelling and screaming,” a source confided to Hayden. Adding insult to injury, Travers was reportedly told (a) that if he accepts a freelance contract his pay “would be deducted from his severance package” and (b) that “either way he has to be out of his office next week.” Travers began working as Rolling Stone‘s staff critic in 1989.

Straight Outta Compton Lights The Fuse

F. Gary Gray‘s Straight Outta Compton (Universal, 8.14) screened tonight at Hollywood’s Arclight for junket press. Apart from it being a tight, satisfying, straight-ahead telling of the N.W.A. saga (roots, breakout, success, conflict and falling apart from ’86 to ’95, concluding with the death of Easy E.), it’s quite an indictment of police racism and brutality. And what a time for this to arrive in the wake of a string of video-captured police shootings and unwarranted arrests, the most recent being the shooting of Samuel Dubose. “Fuck Tha Police” and then some. Expect highly charged reactions.

“What’s He Done? Everything.”

The final, definitive trailer for Scott Cooper‘s Black Mass (Warner Bros., 9.18). The assumption, of course, is that Johnny “Alaskan husky eyes” Depp will slam it out of park as Whitey Bulger, but if it turns out he’s just good or pretty good there’s a great supporting cast to lean on: Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Corey Stoll, Sienna Miller, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, James Russo, Juno Temple, Erica McDermott, et. al. Keep those Boston accents subtle, boys. If you can’t do the accent like a native, leave it alone. Better to use your own voice. I don’t want guys soundin’ like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Depahted. I don’t want any guys sayin'”Bahstuhn.”

A Boy Embraces Evil, Brutality, Sadism

I strongly suspect that Carey Fukunaga‘s Beasts of No Nation (Netflix/Bleecker Street, 10.16) will be at least as unpleasant to sit through as Lenny Abrahamson‘s Room. If Fukunaga’s script cleaves to Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 source novel, it’s going to be one horror after another. It’s basically about a young West African boy named Agu (Abraham Attah) being molded into a bloodthirsty, emotionally vacant murderer by a ruthless warlord (Idris Elba) during a years-long war. Looting, random rape, machete killings of non-combatants, forced sexual servitude on Agu’s part, unsanitary conditions, starvation…you name it. I’m sure that the much-respected Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, Jane Eyre, season #1 of True Detective) has shot the hell out of Beasts and that critics will exclaim how devastating and powerful it is. But where can this go? How can it surprise? We’ve all heard about how young teenagers (not just in Africa but in big-city gang environments in the U.S., Mexico and Europe) can become the coldest and most horrific killers so what’s new here? Full Metal Jacket told the same kind of story with a less horrific brush.

I’ve No Choice But To See This

Director Lenny Abrahamson clearly has a thing about confinement and creepy obsessions. The titular character in his last film, Frank, played by Michael Fassbender, was a singer in an experimental band who walked around with his head inside a basketball-sized paper mache mask. Abrahamson’s new film, Room, based on the same-titled 2011 best-seller by Emma Donoghue, is about a mother (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) living for years in an underground cell in the backyard of a home owned by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). I’m guessing that Nick (a) is Jack’s dad and (b) ravages Larson whenever the mood strikes. The trailer doesn’t supply particulars but that’s the basic shot. And then they escape. Donoghue may or may not have admitted that Room was largely inspired by the case of Josef Fritzl, an Austrian monster who kept his daughter confined in a cellar for 24 years (’84 to ’08) and fathered seven children with her, but it almost certainly was. By the way: Until you read the credits there’s no telling that “Jack” isn’t a girl — the teaser makes no effort to suggest he’s a young lad. I’ll see Room but I’m not looking forward to it. Who would?

Dressed To Lose Weight, Turn Greenish-Yellow

I haven’t sat down and watched Criterion’s new Dressed To Kill Bluray (due on 8.18), but a recent review by DVD Beaver‘s Gary W. Tooze notes how it looks “extremely different” compared to Dressed to Kill Blurays issued by MGM Home Video (and released by Fox Home Video) on 9.6.11 and Arrow Home Video on 7.29.13. On top of which the Criterion version “seems vertically stretched (or the other two are horizontally stretched),” Tooze writes. “This makes the Criterion faces thinner and taller and the Arrow and MGM faces fatter. It is also more faded-looking and has a yellow/green tinge to it.”

I watched Nancy Allen in many films during the ’70s and ’80s, and her face was never as thin as it is in this DVD Beaver screen capture of Criterion’s Dressed to Kill Bluray…NEVER.

HE to Criterion’s Peter Becker (sent this morning): “I just looked at DVD Beaver‘s review and I’d appreciate your input if you could spare a moment or two. Has Criterion ever mastered a film in such a way that everyone comes out looking a few pounds thinner? It doesn’t look quite right to me. I’m guessing that it doesn’t look quite right to a lot of people. I’m not saying the MGM/Fox Home Video and Arrow versions are absolutely correct either (I don’t know anything), but they seem a bit more life-like and more naturally proportioned.

“I’ve long agreed with the age-old maxim that ‘you can never be too rich or too thin,’ but Criterion seems to have really taken that saying to heart, at least as far as Dressed to Kill is concerned. And what’s with the greenish-yellowish tint? And the much brighter exposure with the faded colors? I saw the film a couple of times in ’80 and I know it didn’t have this green-yellow thing. (more…)

To Hell In A Station Wagon

Six years ago I posted a short riff about “Vacation ’58,” the original John Hughes National Lampoon story (published in ’79) that became the basis of National Lampoon’s Vacation (’83). The HE piece (called “Eisenhower Days“) contained a once-valid link to the Hughes story. I used the same link last May in a riff called “Calling All Schmucks,” which referenced the first trailer for the new Vacation, which I’m reviewing tomorrow. (It’s awful.) Now dark forces have killed the original link to the Hughes story and you have to go to a recently-posted Hollywood Reporter page to read it. I wrote last May that the 1983 film (with a screenplay by a success-hungry Hughes) diluted the fuck out of his original National Lampoon short story, which was much, much darker — it really shook hands with the white-bread American angst of the pre-Kennedy ’50s and the repressed rage of the Depression and World War II-hardened dads who gave so many boomer kids such miserable childhoods.”

Cruise Used To Reach For The Heights, But Middle-Age Ended That

The basic thrust of Mark Harris‘s Grantland piece on Tom Cruise (posted as part of the site’s “Tom Cruise Week” tribute) is that his decision to become the dominant 50something energizer bunny of the action-franchise realm is unfortunate because he seems to have concurrently shut down his ambitious acting game. Harris says that Cruise’s peak acting years happened between 1988 and ’99, or the timespan in which Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire and Magnolia were released. That’s because Cruise’s performance in each landed a Best Actor nomination, but that’s not encompassing enough. Cruise also delivered riveting, touch-bottom performances as a selfish, resentful younger brother in Barry Levinson‘s Rain Man (’88) and as Vincent-the-compassionate-assassin in Michael Mann‘s Collateral, and he definitely pushed his limits in A Few Good Men (’92), The Firm (’93), Interview with the Vampire (’94) and Vanilla Sky (’01). And how can Harris write a here-and-now assessment of Cruise and not even mention Alex Gibney‘s Scientology doc and the portrayal of Cruise as an enabler/promoter of an unmistakably venal, predatory and vicious-minded organization? How can Harris ignore that and just say “ah, well, too bad Cruise isn’t interested in the big acting roles any more”?

Heroic Machismo in Benghazi

If Michael Bay‘s 13 Hours: The Secret Solders of Benghazi (Paramount, 1.15.16) is anything like Mitchell Zuckoff’s book of (almost) the same name, Hillary Clinton will have nothing to fear. The book is a workmanlike tribute to the private militia guys who defended Benghazi’s U.S. Embassy and CIA station as best they could during the 9.11.12 attack in Libya. The film is obviously minor or it wouldn’t be opening in mid January, but it might be respectable. The attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, foreign service guy Sean Smith and U.S. citizens Glen Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods. A story of duty, bravery and manning up when the bad guys are at the gate.

“Which Story Do You Want Us To Write?”

If Thomas McCarthy‘s Spotlight (Open Road, 11.6) is only playing the Venice and Toronto film festivals, fine. But as I noted yesterday, the fact that it’s been categorized by TIFF organizers as a “Canadian premiere” indicates a Telluride showing directly after Venice. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Brian D’Arcy James and — wait for it — Billy Crudup. The guy who used to play soulful heartthrobs, now he plays chilly creeps.

“Most Hated Man in America Who Never Advertised Jello Pudding on TV”

Wouldn’t it be great if Walter James Palmer, the dentist from Eden Prairie, Minnesota who paid $55K to track and kill Cecil the Lion, could be stripped naked, forced to drop a tab of ecstasy, set out on the plains of Kenya and be hunted down by animal conservationists? Not with bullets, mind, but with paintballs. Just so he could savor the experience. And then they could tie him to a tree and paint his dick blue. Something like that. This guy is disgusting. Boycott his ass. Warning: Anyone trying to steer the comment thread into any kind of comparison to abortion and dead fetuses will be instantly deep-sixed, and his/her comments will be deleted.

Kenny To Ponsoldt, Segel, End of the Tour: “How Do I Despise Thee For Misportraying My Late Bro? Let Me Count The Ways”

It’s been well telegraphed that Glenn Kenny, who edited and was on good bromancey terms with the late David Foster Wallace, is less than pleased with the latter’s portrayal in James Ponsoldt‘s The End of the Tour (A24, 1.31). He’s particularly unhappy with Jason Segel‘s hulking behemoth impersonation along with David Margulies‘ script, which is based on David Lipsky‘s “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.” Kenny has now vented his complaints in detail in a 7.29 Guardian piece.

What do they boil down to? Wallace was who he was and the guy presented by Ponsoldt, Segel and Margulies is a lot lumpier and gloomier and kind of suicide-obsessed with his clothing a half-size too small.

Kenny obviously knows what he knows but honestly? I found myself wondering if the ghost of Abraham Lincoln had similar reservations about Henry Fonda‘s performance in John Ford‘s Young Mr. Lincoln. How did the ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald feel about Gregory Peck‘s portrayal of him in Beloved Infidel?

Kenny beef #1: “I found The End of the Tour risible. [This] very conventional independent film left me so angry I actually had trouble sleeping the night I saw it. I lay awake obsessing over the best phrase that could sum up Jason Segel’s performance as Wallace. I came up with ‘ghoulish self-aggrandisement‘. For me, it recalls a line from a Captain Beefheart song: ‘I think of those people that ride on my bones.'” (HE insert: I think it’s fair to say that for most people the phrase “riding my bones” refers to some hulking behemoth putting the high hard one to a presumably willing recipient.) (more…)

Loathsome Sacramento Lightweights Try To Pull Cara Delevingne Down To Their Level

Yesterday EW‘s Mary Sollosi posted a clip of British supermodel and Paper Towns star Cara Delevingne enduring a hellish interview with three peppy but dismissive anchor-reporters from Good Day SacramentoMarianne McClary, Ken Rudulph and Mark S. Allen (i.e., the show’s resident film maven and BFCA member who attends all the movie junkets). It was a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers — Delivingne was the human and the Sacramento threesome were the pod people.

Things started off awkwardly with McClary addressing Delevingne as “Carla.” Then McClary asked if Delevingne had read the John Green book that the film is based on. (Translation: “You don’t seem like the deep-actress type. Are you just whirling along and grabbing the money and saying to hell with the art?”) Then Rudulph asked if Delevingne’s super-busy schedule was a problem, indicating an underlying “slow down, girl!” opinion. Then Allen told her flat-out that she wasn’t acting peppy enough. “I saw you in London talking a couple of weeks ago on TV and you seemed a lot more excited about it than you do right now,” Allen remarked. “Are you just exhausted?” (more…)

Amend The Constitution

My honest-to-God preference as to who should be the 2016 Democratic nominee for President? The person I’d be the most confident about and happiest with? Barack Obama. Seriously — a Rooseveltian third term would be an excellent thing. After Obama I’d like to see Jon Stewart run. Seriously. I wish he’d announce right now and go for it and see what happens. I realize that Bernie Sanders seems weak outside of his base. He doesn’t seem to connect with African Americans and Hispanics as much as he needs to. But I like him a lot more than Hillary. We’re unfortunately stuck with Hillary. I’m going to vote for her because even with her baggy eyes and pissy moods and secretive nature she’ll be a far better option, policy-wise, than Donald Trump or Jeb Bush.