Sure Doesn’t Feel Like 18 Years Ago

I was working at People when Diana, the former Princess of Wales, started seeing Dodi Fayed in July 1997. Two or three of us were asked to search around, make some calls and prepare a file on the guy. Within three or four hours I’d learned that Fayed was an irresponsible playboy, didn’t pay his bills on occasion, lacked vision and maturity and basically wasn’t a man. And yet Diana overlooked this or didn’t want to know. And that’s why she died.

In short she essentially orchestrated her demise due to choosing a profligate immature asshole for a boyfriend. Fayed was just foolish and insecure enough, jet-setting around with his father’s millions and looking to play the protective stud by saving Diana from the paparazzi, to put her in harm’s way. (more…)

Sudekis Moving Past Twerps? Great…But The After-Vibe Lingers

After playing nothing but sardonic twerps, sexual hounds and domestic dolts for the last six or seven years in Hall Pass, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, Horrible Bosses, The Campaign, Drinking Buddies, We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2, Jason Sudekis has suddenly turned over a new leaf and shifted into “heartthrob territory” in Sleeping With Other People (IFC Films, 9.11).

That’s the basic notion, at least, contained in yesterday’s 8.30 N.Y. Times profile of Sudekis by Kathryn Shattuck.

I’ve seen and had a pretty good time with Sleeping With Other People. There’s no question that Sudekis does a fine job of playing his best-written character yet — a smart, sensitive 30something sex-addict named Jake. A guy who seems relatively mature and balanced and open to the moment, and who knows how to treat a lady with kindness and tact. And who definitely knows what to do with his fingers.

I muttered to myself right away, “Okay, for once Sudekis is playing a guy who’s not only tolerable but somebody I can identify with.” (more…)

Satan Laughing With Delight

I don’t care if this video is a year old. I watched this about 15 times last weekend and I can’t get it out of my head. Look at that poor little girl’s expression when this godawful harridan takes the ball from her. And then the pixie-cut thief celebrates her triumph! Has she been flown to Syria and handed over to ISIS yet? Has anyone ever confronted her on the street and accused her of being one the worst people to walk the planet ever? I’ll bet even Heinrich Himmler never did this to a kid.

Tarantino Kinda Busted By Leydon Over Numerous Similarities Between Hateful Eight and 55 Year-Old “Rebel” Episode

In a just-posted Cowboys & Indians piece called “Quentin Tarantino: Rebel Filmmaker?”, Variety critic Joe Leydon has noted several similarities between the basic plot bones of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (Weinstein Co., 12.25) and an episode from the Nick Adams western series The Rebel (’59 to ’61) called “Fair Game.” The episode, written by Richard Newman, premiered on 3.27.60 as one of 33 Rebel episodes directed by Irvin (The Empire Strikes Back) Kershner.

I’ve read a draft of the Hateful Eight script and to go by Leydon’s synopsis of “Fair Game”, there are quite a few plot points shared by the two. If you’re willing to supply your credit card information (which I’m not — fuck these guys) “Fair Game” is watchable right here.

Leydon is quick to say that he’s “not accusing Quentin Tarantino of plagiarism.” He notes that everybody stole from everybody else back in the old TV days, and that Tarantino has already admitted to Deadline‘s Michael Fleming that he drew inspiration for The Hateful Eight “from such fondly remembered series as Bonanza and The Virginian.” QT to Fleming: “What if I did a movie starring no heroes, no Michael Landons? Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.” (more…)

Basic Dramatic Fulfillment

In an 18 year-old Paris Review piece inexplicably linked to by Movie City News, David Mamet explains “the trick of dramaturgy” as follows: “The main question in drama…is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.”

And that’s fine, but I’ve long believed that the most affecting kind of drama (or comedy even) is one in which the main protagonist wants something and then somewhere during Act Two discovers that he/she actually wants something else. Something that is less a thing of mood or sexuality or a longing for wealth or advancement and more of a tender, deeper, more emotional longing. A personal growth move, falling in love, doing the right moral thing. A character who stays with the same desire all the way through a play or a film is not, in my view, an interesting one. We don’t want to see the protagonist’s wishes “fulfilled or absolutely frustrated,” as Mamet says. We want to see those wishes evolve and thereby reveal something unexpected. (more…)

“Who Are You?”

“I have found a disease that no one has ever seen.” In Peter Landesman‘s Concussion (Columbia, 12.25), Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-Born, real-life forensic pathologist who 13 years ago discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE — a then-new disease affecting football players. When he revealed his findings the NFL naturally did everything they could to discredit him. What else were they going to do?

You can sense right away that Smith’s Nigerian accent feels right, and this alone may put him into the Best Actor conversation. Because it feels like “acting,” and a lot of folks eat that shit up.

As things now stand Concussion is one of five award-season contenders due to open on 12.25 — this plus The Revenant, Snowden, Joy and The Hateful Eight. That’s a lot of Christmas Day competition. The only semi-uplifting film in the bunch is Joy. I’m guessing that at least one of others will blink and move their date to early December or perhaps even late November. (more…)

What Is 2015’s Best-Known Signature Line?

“I drink your milkshake.” “If it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here.” “Fame has a fifteen minute half-life — infamy lasts a little longer.” “Show me the money.” “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” “Nobody’s perfect.” “Made it, ma — top of the world!”

I’ve been racking my brain and the only stand-out line from a 2015 film that I can think of is “Baskin Robbins always finds out.” From Ant-Man, of course. A catchy meme is never just catchy — it needs to spread out and take root out when you think about it for 10 or 12 seconds. And when you let the Baskin-Robbins line percolate you realize it’s just another way of saying (a) everything comes out in the wash, (b) there are no secrets in 2015, (c) a possibly benevolent Big Brother is listening 24/7, and (d) Edward Snowden accomplished too little and acted too late, etc.

I’m presuming there are other signature lines from films released during the first two-thirds of 2015. Please submit for consideration.

First Surfacing of the “Honest Trailers” Aesthetic

It occurred to me this morning that Jack Davis‘s legendary Long Goodbye poster (which was drawn, of course, in the Mad magazine illustrator’s trademark style — big heads, spindly legs, big feet) was an early print version of the playfully critical style of Honest Trailers. Except the dialogue balloons in Davis’s poster aren’t that playful — they’re bluntly critical by suggesting that The Long Goodbye is a coarse, somewhat tasteless film with a less than stellar lead (i.e., Elliott Gould) and a cast of curious eccentrics, two of which are portrayed by Hollywood interlopers (Nina van Pallandt, Jim Bouton). It was almost a warning to the none-too-hip crowd of 1973 that they might want to see something else. I’ve always worshipped the Davis poster but a smart one-sheet always appeals to the dolts along with the hipsters. What other theatre-lobby posters have suggested to Average Joes that they might not want to patronize this or that film?

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Rancid Cloak of Islam

Davis Guggenheim‘s He Named Me Malala (Fox Searchlight, 10.2) is a doc about teenaged Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai‘s campaign for female education despite being shot by the Taliban for advocating same. We all understand that Islamic paternal rule is the most backward and repressive on the face of the globe, but it can’t hurt (and it may be eye-opening) to submit to a reminder of this. Guggenheim explores the near-fatal shooting as he follows Malala on her 2013 book tour. Malala is the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I don’t know what else to say about this except that it feels a little bit like spinach, or a substance that is very good for your system.

It Gets Away From You

Sasha Stone and I kept getting detoured during this morning’s Oscar Poker recording. We began with the new Gurus o’ Gold spitball lists and then digressed into something or other. Then we got back on track but detoured a couple of minutes later into Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders or something along those lines. Life is chaos without focus and discipline. Recording these chats is like skiing. It feels as if you’re doing well enough at the top of the slope and then halfway down you’re suddenly off-balance and heading for a tree. Again, the mp3.

Caged Bird

One of the coolest things about the late Wes Craven, who passed earlier today from brain cancer, was the way his name sounded like a low-rent villain in a drive-in movie. The sound of it spoke to the slimier, spookier regions of the human soul — craven being synonymous with “cowardly, lily-livered, faint-hearted, chicken-hearted, spineless, pusillanimous” and rhyming of course, with Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Raven.” Nothing good could come of such a name or a man using it, you might have thought, and yet Craven became a major horror-exploitation figure in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and wore the crown of being the most influential fright maestro in Hollywood’s second-tier realm.

Craven’s career highlights included The Last House on the Left (which Roger Ebert described when it opened in 1972 as “a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that’s about four times as good as you’d expect”), The Hills Have Eyes (’77), the original Nightmare on Elm Street (’84) and the whole unfortunate Scream franchise of the mid ’90s and beyond, which made Craven very rich.

Craven also directed Vampire in Brooklyn, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs, Cursed, Red Eye and My Soul to Take.

How did Craven manage to direct Music of the Heart, a 1999 Meryl Streep film of Roberta Guaspari, co-founder of the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music? Politically, I mean. How did he swing it? That was always a curiosity. (more…)

Major Visual Event

I trust everyone understands by now that however Quentin Tarantino‘s The Hateful Eight plays in basic dramatic terms (and I’ve shared my suspicions a couple of times after seeing a version of the script performed last year), Robert Richardson‘s Ultra Panavision 70 lensing (which will deliver an extra-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio) is going to be pure visual dessert. As Indiewire‘s Bill Desowitz wrote in an 8.28 interview piece with Richardson, Ultra Panavision 70 “provides such unparalleled scope, resolution and beauty that everyone should be using it…it’s remarkable…stunning.” The process hasn’t been seen theatrically since Khartoum (’66), or nearly a half-century.

The thing to do, of course, will be catch it on an extra-large, extra-wide screen (like L.A.s Cinerama Dome). You don’t want to catch The Hateful Eight on a smallish screen, trust me. You want big, big, bigger than big because the a.r. is wide, wide, wider than wide. (more…)

Nothing Worse Than A Food-Staring Guy

Whenever I eat alone in public I’m always checking or posting tweets or reading articles or whatever on the iPhone. (I almost typed “reading a newspaper” but when’s the last time I did that? When I was in Paris in early May, I think.) One of the reasons I’m always reading is that I’m terrified of being one of those guys who just sits there and stares at his food, just eyeballing it like a hungry gorilla or a baboon under a tree in the jungle. Guys who never once look up or regard their fellow diners or savor the atmosphere or take out their phone…none of that. Guys who just stare at the grub, examining the steamed mishmash and deciding which clump of broccoli or sliced baked potato or radish or red lettuce leaf to fork into next.

I watched a guy do this a couple of nights ago. “Gotta study this, keep on top of it,” he seemed to be saying to himself, “because I want to eat this right. Because I’ve been waiting for this moment for a couple of hours now and now it’s here, and the food is nice and warm…my bowl of vegetables, my sustenance…mine. And this is all I care about until I’m done.” (more…)

Cold Re-Appraisal

I tapped this out a couple of hours ago in the comment thread for “Who Needs It?“: “The older Richard BrooksIn Cold Blood gets, the more Hollywood-ized it seems. Much of the film has always struck me as an attempt by Brooks (who once sat right next to me in a Manhattan screening room during a showing of his own Wrong Is Right) to almost warm up the characters and make them seem more ingratiating and vulnerable than how they were portrayed in Truman Capote‘s nonfiction novel.

“You can always sense an underlying effort by Brooks and especially by Robert Blake to make you feel sorry for and perhaps even weep for Perry Smith. That guitar, the warm smile, the traumatic childhood. Take away the Clutter murder sequence and at times Blake could almost be Perry of Mayberry. Scott Wilson‘s Dick Hickock seems a little too kindly/folksy also.

“These are real-life characters, remember, who slaughtered a family of four like they were sheep. I realize that neither one on his own would have likely killed that poor family and that their personalities combusted to produce a third lethal personality, but I could never finally reconcile Blake and Wilson’s personal charm and vulnerability with the cold eyes of the real Smith and Hickock (which are used on the poster for the film). (more…)

Who Needs It?

Is there really a crying need for a better Bluray of Richard BrooksIn Cold Blood (’67)? I’m presuming that the forthcoming Criterion version, due on 11.17 and rendered in 4K, will yield a more dynamic and detailed capturing of Conrad Hall‘s immaculate black-and-white cinematography, but the previous Bluray has always looked pretty good to me; ditto the high-def version you can stream right now off Amazon. Why then did Criterion decide to take a whack at it? Because peons like me are scratching their heads.

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Her Hottest State & The Pain That Followed

If Ingrid Bergman had the constitution and good fortune of Norman Lloyd she’d be celebrating her 100th birthday today. She stood 5′ 9″, or taller than Humphrey Bogart by a good two inches. Before coming to America to costar in Intermezzo (’39) Bergman had made twelve Swedish films, the first (in which she had a small part) being Munkbrogreven (’35). She wasn’t quite 27 when she costarred in Casablanca (’42). She was right around 30 when she costarred with Cary Grant in Notorious (’46). To think that Bergman was actually denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate for having fallen in love with Roberto Rossellini while still married to Petter Aron Lindstrom, and that she was more or less ostracized from the U.S. film industry for four or five years as a result. (The ethics and morals among high officials in this country were very odd and twisted back then.) What I didn’t know is that Bergman also cheated on Lindstrom with Gregory Peck during the filming of Spellbound. I’ve seen pretty much every significant Bergman film except for Rossellini’s Stromboli and Victor Fleming‘s Joan of Arc. She’d only just turned 67 when she died from breast cancer on 8.29.82.

Telluride No-Sleep Tweet Festival

Early this morning First Showing‘s Alex Billington tweeted that “this time next week, I’ll be waking up in the mountains getting ready to see some of the best films all year @ the Telluride Film Festival.” I’m excited also, but I can’t share in AB’s cherubic attitude. TFF is a sublime place to see films, for sure, but from a filing standpoint it’s a bear. The hot films don’t really begin showing until after the patron’s picnic (or around Friday at 2:30 pm), and most people have to head back around noontime on Monday so in practical terms it’s really a three-day festival, and if you need Monday morning to file and pack it lasts 2 and 1/2 days.

The following 14 films are presumed (i.e., not confirmed) to be playing TFF within that narrow time frame: Steve Jobs, Suffragette, Black Mass, Spotlight, Son of Saul, Beasts of No Nation, Carol, Amazing Grace, Marguerite, Charlie Kaufman‘s Anomalisa (probably), He Named Me Malala (maybe), Room, Hitchcock/Truffaut. There will probably be another one or two added so let’s call it 15. That means having to see a minimum of three films on Friday, five on Saturday and five on Sunday for a total of 13 — obviously missing one or two. And then maybe one final screening on Monday morning before driving back to Durango. 

If I ignore Carol, Son of Saul and Hitchcock/Truffaut (which I saw in Cannes/Paris) and blow off Room (which I hear has problems) and Anomalisa (which I’m frankly not looking forward to), I’m down to 8, but I still can’t catch all those and tap out 8 seven-paragraph reviews between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Maybe five or six.

So Telluride, for me, is basically a twitter festival with whatever writing I can squeeze in on the side in the early morning and late at night. Suggestions to Telluride guys: Start the festival on Thursday night as most people arrive that day, and show choice films on Friday morning for those who’d rather not attend the picnic.

I leave an hour before the crack of dawn on Thursday, 9.3. Burbank Airport to Phoenix to Durango plus the usual two-hour drive. Should be in Telluride by 3 or 3:30 pm. Dinner with friends that evening at La Marmotte at 8 pm.

Phoenix in HE Jail For Time Being

It hit me yesterday that despite a stated intention to sit through the Bluray of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice so I could read the subtitles, I never did. And I honestly don’t think I ever will. It all came flooding back when I watched the below clip.  I hate this movie, in large part because I can’t stand Joaquin Phoenix‘s performance and appearance — his slurry, muttery speech, puffy face, mandals, muttonchops, infuriating whimsicality, etc. In my book it’s absolutely one of the most detestable performances of all time. And honestly? Phoenix’s pot-bellied performance in Woody Allen‘s Irrational Man is a very close competitor. I was genuinely pleased when his character fell down the elevator chute.

This is a pretty good idea for a thread, come to think. What performances have so driven you up the wall that you briefly considered avoiding this or that actor or actress for the rest of your time on this planet? It sent you into a mood, I mean. I’ll be ready to forgive Phoenix at any time. All he has to do is crawl out of that foxhole he’s been curled up in. (more…)

Everything Is Post-Snowden…What?

During a Buzzfeed-reported Martian interview that posted on 8.27, Matt Damon said that the saga of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had ignited creative sparks that led to fifth Bourne film, which he and director Paul Greengrass have now committed to.

“[Paul and I] always looked at the Bourne movies as really about the Bush presidency, and so we kind of had to wait for the world to change,” Damon said. “Without giving too much of it away, it’s Bourne through an austerity-riddled Europe and in a post-Snowden world. It seems like enough has changed, you know? There are all these kinds of arguments about spying and civil liberties and the nature of democracy.”

So it’s about Jason Bourne, the proverbial renengade lone wolf, somehow coming into possession of information that this or that government (probably ours) doesn’t want leaked? No — can’t be that. Too familiar. (more…)