Idiot’s Delight

Okay, “Happy New Year” to one and all…but I might as well say that on January 5th or June 2nd or whenever. New Year’s Even is a silly, clueless ritual, and here’s to Hollywood Elsewhere’s time-honored tradition of completely ignoring it. Really. As I first remarked in ’07, nothing fills me with such satisfaction as my annual refusal to attend a NYE party or take part in any celebration whatsoever, especially in the company of idiots making a big whoop-dee-doo about it. But here’s to HE’s own Svetlana Cvetko and partner/editor David Scott Smith, who are sojourning in Paris right now. (Hi, guys!) HE readers are sick of my saying over and over that my all-time best New Year’s Eve happened in Paris 15 years ago during the ’99-into-’00 Millenium year. The kids and I stood two city blocks in front of the Eiffel Tower and watched the greatest fireworks display ever orchestrated in human history. And then we schlepped all the way back to Montmartre at 1:30 am with thousands on the streets after the civil servants shut the metro down.

“Embrace The Mistery”

Ciro Guerra‘s Embrace of the Serpent Embrace of the Serpent played the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and is on the nine-film shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. It will screen the 2016 Sundance Film Festival before opening domestically on 2.17. Pic “tells two stories, taking place in 1909 and 1940, both starring Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his tribe. He travels with two scientists, Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, to look for the rare yakruna, a sacred plant. The film is loosely inspired by the diaries written by the two scientists during their field work in the Amazon.”

Streaming Cups

Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups, which spent two years in post before debuting at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival but which won’t open stateside until 3.4.16, is streaming on pirate sites left and right, and in a nice high-def condition at that. I’m sorry but it is. I’ve never watched a film on a torrent site and I’m not about to start now, but I corresponded earlier today with an HE regular who reports as follows: “I saw it on mkvcage.com. It’s a 1080p source compressed to 720, and definitely a good one. When stuff shows up on these sites and are classified as web downloads that usually means someone grabbed it from a VOD site. So they look and sound like Bluray. A lot of times they are snagged from iTunes. I didn’t see it on there so I was wondering what the source was. It’s the real deal though. Not like those Academy screeners floating around.” The film, which costars Christian Bale, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett, opened in mid November in Taiwan, Australia and South Korea, and in France and Brazil in late November. The German Bluray pops on 1.14.16 — about two weeks hence.

Snap Crackle Pungency

I’ve been allowed to catch the first six episodes of The People vs. O.J. Simpson, the ten-part “American Crime Story” miniseries (exec produced by HE pallies Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and directed/co-produced by Ryan Murphy) that FX will launch on Tuesday, February 2nd. It’s way too early to comment but I can at least say the show is very, very good — “epic”, engrossing, smartly written, expert performances up and down, well handled in nearly every respect. It plunges you right back into that tragedy, right back into that media storm and all the “dream team” bullshit and the prosecutors who didn’t understand how to play the game like crafty Johnny Cochran did. (I wonder how Simpson trial juror Brenda “Moron” is faring these days.)


(l.) Author and Vanity Fair reporter Dominick Dunne, who covered the O.J. Simpson criminal trial from late ’94 to late ’95; (r.) Robert Morse as Dunne in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, a ten-part FX “American Crime Story” saga debuting on 2.2.16.

One of the many performances I was highly impressed by was that of Mad Men‘s Robert Morse as author and investigative journalist Dominick Dunne, who covered the Simpson trial for Vanity Fair from late ’94 to late ’95. (For whatever reason Morse’s credit isn’t on his own or the show’s Wikipedia/IMDB pages.) But my brain did an odd thing after first spotting him in…whatever, episode #4 or #5. My first thought was “hey, is that Bob Morse?” but then I said to myself, “But of course it’s not because Morse died a year or two ago.” Not. Somehow my lulled and lullaby-ed self had drifted into a notion that Morse himself had passed because his last scene on Mad Men, that last musical number that Don Draper sees and hears in his head, felt so complete and poignant.

Accomodation

“There you are, somewhere near the Missouri River, on a freezing day. You’ve got no place to stay so what do you do? You check into a horse. If you’re Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), the hero of The Revenant, that is your preferred method, and it’s hard to quarrel with, though it can’t be much fun for the horse. You slit open the belly, tug out the guts, strip naked, crawl inside, read a little light fiction for a while, and nod off.” — from Anthony Lane‘s New Yorker review, in the 1.4.16 edition.

One Of Most Irksome Title Changes Of All Time

For decades a certain neorealist classic was known as Vittorio DeSica‘s The Bicycle Thief. But then eight years ago the Criterion guys came along and used the unfortunate original Italian title — Bicycle Thieves (i.e., Ladri di biciclette) — when they released their remastered DVD. They’ll be sticking with this, of course, when the Criterion Bluray pops in late March 2016. When the film opened in the U.S. in late 1949, the U.S. distributor Mayer-Burstyn (co-run by Arthur Mayer and Joseph Burtsyn) went with the more elegant singular title, and that stuck for nearly 70 years until Criterion came along and literalized all to hell.

The Bicycle Thief is the title of a poem. Bicycle Thieves is a phrase in a police report (i.e., rapporto della polizia).

DeSica’s post-war drama is about a poor, struggling husband-father (Lamberto Maggiorani) who becomes desperate when a bicycle he needs for a new job has been stolen. His young son is played by Enzo Staiola. Most of the film is about Maggiorani’s unsuccessful attempt to find the stolen vehicle. It climaxes when, at wit’s end and desperate to hold onto his job, he steals someone else’s bike, and is quickly seized by authorities. Thus (and be warned, what follows is one of the most groan-worthy observations ever made by a reputable film critic in world history) the alternative U.S. title is “misleading”, in the view of The Observer‘s Philip French, because “the desperate hero eventually becomes himself a bicycle thief.”

Good God, man! The singular title is far more intriguing because it allows the viewer to decide if it refers to thief #1 or thief #2. (The presumption during the first 90% is that the title refers to the former; the heartbreaking finale suggests the latter.). By not being precise it suggests that the term “bicycle thief” may refer to anyone who is poor and hungry and driven to criminality out of desperation — it universalizes the singular. And the use of the plural “thieves,” of course, tells the first-time viewer to expect a second felony to punctuate the story sooner or later, thereby diluting the effect when it happens. (more…)

Cards On The Table

Two recycled stories about male behavior and character. As perceived by women on dates. They may sound disparate but they share a theme, which is that women respect guys who are frank and don’t shilly-shally around.

When Elaine Stritch died 18 months ago I posted a story she recounts about John F. Kennedy in Chiemi Karasawa‘s Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me. It happened in Manhattan in the late 1940s. She was about 23 or 24 at the time, and wouldn’t be losing her virginity, believe or not, until she was 30. They had a nice first date and then went out a second time. When they got back to her place she said, “Do you want to come up for a nightcap?” Kennedy said, “Does that mean what I think it might mean, or does it mean listening to records and looking at photo albums and eating butterscotch pudding?” “It means butterscotch pudding,” Stritch said. “Well, no offense but I’m not interested in that,” JFK replied, “so I’ll just kiss you good night and wish you well and see you the next time.”

And Stritch said to herself when she got upstairs, “That guy is going places. He wants what he wants, lays it on the line, doesn’t mince words and is courteous but frank.” (more…)

Repeating — Leo Has It In The Bag

Leonardo DiCaprio has acted the hell out of many vividly written roles over the last 23 years, starting with 1992’s This Boy’s Life. In my book he gave his supreme performance as Jordan Belfort in 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, but a few immensely perceptive Academy blue-hairs thought Martin Scorsese was winking at that character’s flamboyant criminality so they denied Leo’s Best Actor Oscar. But this year it’s settled — he wins for The Revenant. Not necessarily for the finesse in his super-committed, 90% physical performance as Hugh Glass, but because Leo seriously suffered up there in the Canadian cold (and down there in Argentina). He wins because (a) he’s been cranking it like a champ for 22 years and (b) in hitching his wagon to the Inarritu team he got half-killed by a CG bear, swam in ice water, froze his ass off, rode a horse off a cliff (i.e., not really) and ate a live fish and raw bison liver — it’s that simple. No other Best Actor contender (Fassbender, Damon, Redmayne, Hanks, Smith) can beat that narrative.

“Don’t Fuck It Up”

In any creative enterprise the worst mantra you can repeat to yourself is “don’t fuck it up.” Those words are, of course, rooted in fear and a corresponding lack of confidence on the part of the artist. I know. In the late ’70s I tried to be a credible movie journalist while repeating these words over and over, fearful as I was of exposing myself as the marginally talented, somewhat under-educated guy I feared that I was deep down. Anxiety, insecurity and fear are jail cells. “Don’t fuck it up” did nothing but freeze my instincts and make me afraid of my own voice, and of what the world might think.

What are helpful words to go by when you’re creating? “Let’s see what happens if I fuck with this or fiddle with it in some fuck-all way” has always worked for me. Once you stop giving a shit, everything starts to flow. You can’t uncork artistic discovery if you’re too worried about disappointing your bosses or fans or whomever. If you overdo the fuck-all you can always formalize and clean it up, but you can never fix work that’s been created with a sword over your head.

From a 12.29 Reverse Shot piece by Eric Hynes: “This is the era of do-not-fuck-it-up. Ant-Man? It’s fine — at least Peyton Reed didn’t fuck it up. Batman v. Superman? Don’t fuck it up, Zack Snyder, like you did Watchmen. X-Men: Apocalypse? Let’s bring back Bryan Singer because he didn’t fuck up those first few X-Men movies. The first thing art director Nash Dunnigan told a fan-filled crowd at Museum of the Moving Image in advance of a screening of The Peanuts Movie? ‘Don’t worry, we didn’t screw it up.’ (more…)

“It’s a Cosby Sweater! A Cosby Sweater!”

Bill Cosby has finally began to pay the long-overdue piper. He was charged in Pennsylvania today with “aggravated indecent assault” of Andrea Constand in ’04. Costand has told authorities that Cosby’s basic routine — “friendship”, offer of career help, drugging into unconsciousness followed by rape — happened to her at his Pennsylvania home 12 years ago. Distrcit Attorney Kevin Steele told reporters the charge stems from “new evidence” uncovered this year. The filing was just under the wire as the statute of limitations in this case expires next month.

Ob 12.8 The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin posted the following: “The comedian’s reputation has been destroyed in the course of 2015, as dozens (dozens!) of women came forward to say that he had drugged and sexually assaulted them. Cosby’s lawyers have denied most of the charges, when they have addressed them at all. But, in 2016, Cosby will suffer a lot more than bad publicity. A criminal investigation and multiple civil lawsuits are moving forward against him. The statute of limitations has been Cosby’s ally throughout his legal troubles, but the number and magnitude of the allegations should overwhelm him this year. It’s a good guess that Cosby will end 2016 in prison — and that he will end his life destitute.” (more…)

Likely 2016 Quality Contenders: Second Pass

Just over two weeks ago I posted HE’s first 2016 quality-film roster riff. My initial impression was that ’16 seemed light on the kind of films I prefer (i.e., smart, crafty, subtle, undercurrents, made for people with at least a high-school education and/or voracious readers). Now I’m realizing things are better than that. I’ll do a third pass in late January. What am I overlooking or mis-ranking? 22 films looking good to very good. Again, Wikipedia’s 2016 film roster + my recent Sundance ’16 preference list plus the following:

Highest Expectations (random order): David Gordon Green‘s Stronger; Martin Scorsese‘s Silence; Ang Lee‘s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; Tom Ford‘s Nocturnal Animals. (4)

Genre Unto Themselves: Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Hail Caesar! (dry knucklehead period comedy) (1)

Beware of Highly Budgeted Asian Action Fantasy “Blockbuster”: Zhang Yimou‘s The Great Wall (1).

Very Interesting, Slight Hedging of Bets (random order): John Hancock‘s The Founder (biopic of McDonald’s kingpin Ray Kroc; Jodie Foster‘s Money Monster (political thriller); Woody Allen‘s 1930s period film (Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively); Damien Chazelle‘s La La Land; Robert EggersThe Witch; David Michod‘s War Machine; Richard Linklater‘s Everybody Wants Some. (7) (more…)

Ten Days That Will Shake The World…This Is It!

My pulsebeat is racing, you don’t want to know what Scott Feinberg‘s is, and Sasha Stone‘s is probably off the charts. Academy Award nominations voting opened two hours ago and, as Jackie Gleason‘s Ralph Cramden might have said if he could time-trip from the mid ’50s to share in our profound excitement, “Hominah-hominah-hominah-hominah-hominah…!” Academy voters need to submit their nominations today, tomorrow (12.31) and over the first eight days of ’16. Oscar nomination voting closes at 5 pm Pacific on Friday, 1.8. And over the next 12 days (i.e., from now through 1.10) the shape of things as they more or less stand right now will be ratified by other ballots, nominations and final calls.

So this is really, really it, Paul Dano! People of taste and refinement are totally counting on you to carry the ball into the Best Supporting Actor end zone. Oh, and winning several Best Actor awards for your Brian Wilson performance is not a negative as a BSA contender — it’s a plus!

Annie Award online voting opens on 1.1.16 (go, Anomalisa!). On January 2nd the ACE Eddie Award nominations will be announced. January 4th is the DGA deadline to submit votes for feature film nominations…no more dithering!..as well as the WGA deadline for preliminary screenplay online voting. Great balls of fire will surge forth on Tuesday, January 5th, when the Producers Guild Awards nominations are announced along with the Art Directors Guild nominations. And if those aren’t enough, the National Board of Review Awards ceremony happens that night….pant, pant. On Wednesday, January 6th the final Golden Globes ballots from HFPA members are due, and the WGA’s Theatrical and Documentary Screenplay nominations will be announced. (more…)

Questions, Repetitions…Nobody’s Perfect

Nicholas Spargo‘s 12.23 YouTube essay didn’t persuade me that The Force Awakens is worse than the hated prequels, but it does point out several issues that are hard to dismiss. Above and beyond the similarities to Episode 4, I mean. Mostly logic disputes. Worth mulling.

Lame, Dishonest, Deranged

Yes, there is male genitalia in Anomalisa, and a chaste depiction of man-on-woman oral sex. But surely the MPAA’s CARA ratings board understands that this content is mitigated by the fact that the audience is looking at a recreation of male genitalia on a fucking puppet and that puppet-on-puppet oral sex is a wee bit different than watching live humans do the same. To be fair and upfront the MPAA’s explanation for the R rating should say that the film contains “STRONG SEXUAL PUPPET CONTENT” and “GRAPHIC PUPPET NUDITY.” Find me one Middle-American prude — one! — who will straight-facedly complain about naked puppets engaging in stop-motion simulation of intimate acts.

David vs. Goliath + Power Trumps Quality

At noted there are two making of The Godfather scripts on the Black List — Terry Clyne‘s I Believe in America and Andrew Farotte‘s Francis and the Godfather. There’s no question in my mind that Clyne’s is the superior work — cleaner, simpler, more compelling. But Farotte’s has a better chance of being made, I’m told, because CAA is representing it and is better positioned to cope with all the rights issues while Clyne’s script has no producer and no agent — just a manager representing Cline. David vs. Goliath.

To make either film a producer would have to get the rights individually from everyone in the script (Evans, Coppola, Pacino, et, al.) to proceed with any aspect of development or production. This is creatively a challenge as living characters always want creative control over their depiction — any depiction — which is not possible to give and still make a movie. And they will each want a lot of money. Each deal also has to be negotiated individually. I think Coppola is still repped by CAA so they probably already have his tentative approval on Francis and the Godfather along with Pacino, et al. And CAA will automatically prevent any other script in the marketplace from moving forward because they probably already control some of the necessary individual rights. (more…)

“Because They Hate The Movie, Michael”

I recently wrote of my admiration for Terry Cline‘s I Believe in America, a screenplay about the making of The Godfather. A day or two later a guy suggested that a script based on Steven Bach‘s “Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster in the Making of Heaven’s Gate” might be an even more compelling read. A sprawling, dialogue-driven, slow-motion calamity flick, set mostly in Hollywood and New York with occasional detours to the shooting set with fascinating, whip-smart dialogue and one of the most unusual villains of all time — director Michael Cimino. The instant I heard this my brain spun around, clicked its heels and said “yes!”

 This could be a brilliant six-episode HBO or Netflix series, I’m thinking. Or a ten-episoder…whatever. Not long after posting about the Godfather script I was informed by a producer friend what a complete friggin’ nightmare it can be to produce films about the making of this or that classic film/play/anything if any of the principals are alive. I don’t know if getting the rights to Bach’s book (which of course was legally cleared when it was published 30 years ago) would lessen difficulties or not, but I’m dead certain that the entire world would stop whatever it’s doing to watch a miniseries about this catastrophic Hollywood saga. I got so high on the idea that I ordered a paperback version of Bach’s book — I haven’t read it in over three decades. (more…)

Synapses

My year-old 64 gig iPhone 6 Plus ran out of space so a couple of weeks ago I bought a slightly used 128 gig version. Now I’m dumping the 64 gig for $450. It cost me around $700 new not counting an extra $80 I just shelled out to fix the sound “so don’t even think of offering less than $450,” I said in my Craigslist ad. “This is an excellent deal for someone. I don’t need to sell it but I’d like to.”

The first nibble came in a half-hour ago. Our initial discussion went as follows (all punctuation exactly as received):

Possible buyer: “hello is this iPhone 6 Plus still for sale?”
Me: “Yes. My number, as I said in the ad, is ——-.”
Possible buyer: “That’s good the i need it to look like new cause my wifes birthday is fast approaching and i cannot afford a brand new phone at the moment so i would love to get her this phone once i am sure that it is in a good condition.”
(Several minutes transpire)
Me: “So do you want to see it or not?”
Possible buyer: “where are you located?”
Me: “Good God, man…the ad says West Hollywood.”

Honorable Failure

A growing consensus appears to be saying that more than just a few isolated problems have plagued the Ultra Panavision 70 roadshow presentations of Quentin Tarantino‘s The Hateful Eight. If anyone has any first-hand reports, please post them — but the word thus far has made the situation fairly clear. Private industry venues are one thing, but a significant percentage of commercial cinemas clearly weren’t up to the task. And this is no mark against Boston Light and Sound‘s Chapin Cutler, who was hired by the Weinstein Co. to make sure that the Ultra Panavision 70 showings went smoothly. There is no finer or more knowledgable projection technician in the world than Cutler, but he was facing an insurmountable situation. The technology wheel has turned, and there was only so much Cutler could do to remedy that.

Nobody loved this idea more than myself. But the 70mm projection I saw earlier this month at the Linwood Dunn didn’t look “wow” or “extra” by any visual standard I’m familiar with. It looked ripe and sharp but I could have been looking at a 35mm presentation — it just didn’t scream “70mm!” On top of which (this had been noted by just about everyone) Robert Richardson‘s cinematography doesn’t pop that much — not with two-thirds of it shot in a shadowy, basketball-court-sized cabin lit by lanterns, a fireplace and occasional windowlight. (more…)

“Vietnam Vietnam Vietnam, We’ve All Been There”

“‘Quakin’ and shakin’, they called it, great balls of fire, contact. Then it was you and the ground: kiss it, eat it, fuck it, plow it through with your whole body, get as close to it as you can without being in it or of it, guess who’s flying around about an inch above your head? Pucker and submit, it’s the ground. Under Fire would take you out of your head and your body too. Amazing, unbelievable, guys who’d played a lot of hard sports said they’d never felt anything like it, the sudden drop and rocket rush of the hit, the reserves of adrenalin you could make available to yourself, pumping it up and putting it out until you were lost floating in it, not afraid, almost open to clear, orgasmic death-by-drowning in it, actually relaxed. Unless of course you’d shit your pants or were screaming or praying or giving anything at all to the hundred-channel panic that blew word salad all around you and sometimes clean through you. Maybe you couldn’t love the war and hate it at the same instant, but sometimes those feelings alternated so rapidly that they spun together in a strobic wheel rolling all the way up until you were literally High On War, like it said on all the helmet covers. Coming off a jag like that could really make a mess out of you.” — page 63 of a dog-eared 1978 paperback version of Michael Herr‘s “Dispatches.”