I’ve been reading about the Metrograph, a recently opened two-screen cinema at 7 Ludlow Street, and so this evening I dropped by. Nice two-story place. Brick exterior, spare design, darkish lighting. An upscale, refined salon for cineastes and cool cats. Beautiful wooden seats in theatre #1. (I didn’t visit theatre #2.) A restaurant and book shop upstairs. Exotic flavored popcorn (i.e., turmeric and cayenne pepper). They have the temerity to charge $4.00 for a roll of Reed’s cinnamon mints.

No marquee, austere, subdued but warmish.

I went to a 9:15 pm screening of Luchino Visconti‘s The Damned (’69), the classic ’30s-era melodrama about Naziism, steel mills, power and perversity. I haven’t seen it since the ’70s, but I have to say it underwhelmed. Makes its points about Germany’s Krupp family, leaves a strong impression but the shock value has worn off, and so you pay closer attention to the particulars.  I was surprised by how plain and even tedious the cinematography (by Pasquale De Santis and Armando Nannuzzi) seems at times — way too many zoom-ins and zoom-outs.

They showed an English-language version, which felt strange and even awful at times.

Helmut Berger is still a pervy hoot; Dirk Bogarde, Ingrid Thulin, Helmut Griem, etc. I didn’t hate it but it certainly hasn’t gained. (more…)

Granny Ticket (i.e., Clinton-Warren) Is The Only Manuever That Will Excite Sanders Wing

A 4.30 Politico piece by Annie Karni pours water on the idea of a Clinton-Warren ticket. She claims that while Hillary is intrigued by the idea of an all-female ticket, sources are saying she won’t ask Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who should have carried the progressive banner against Hillary instead of Bernie Sanders, to be her vice-president. One problem: Hillary is not and never will be the political lightning rod that Sanders is and which Warren is regarded as. The thunder of the last 12 months has been entirely about anti-Wall Street and anti-political-establishment feelings, and the only real excitement among voters, obviously, has been generated by the Sanders and Donald Trump candidacies. Hillary is a smart, crafty candidate who will almost certainly beat Trump, but she hasn’t harnessed the wildfire sentiments out there, certainly among the under-35s. If she wants to excite the Sanders progressives and do something that fence-sitters will actually feel cranked about, she should seriously think about partnering with Warren.

Bullets and Bombs

In a 4.25 N.Y. Times interview with Jodie Foster, Frank Bruni observes that Money Monster, her fourth directed film following Little Man Tate, Home For The Holidays and The Beaver, “is by far the most ambitious — a New York City thriller with SWAT teams, explosives, George Clooney and Julia Roberts.”

The other day I wrote that “if I was lord and dictator of The Nice Guys, I wouldn’t allow face-punching.” And if I was lord and dictator of Money Monster, I would definitely prohibit SWAT teams and explosives.

I realize that it’s about a hostage situation, and that Jack O’Connell‘s Kyle Budwell, a frenzied guy who’s lost everything, is holding a gun on Clooney’s Lee Gates, and that the rote thing would be for the SWAT guys to aim their weapons and pick him off if possible. But how sick are you of SWAT teams? How sick to death are you of movie explosions? I know this sounds silly, but what if Foster and the Money Monster writers were to respond to this dicey situation in a somewhat different way? Not just tactically but dramatically, I mean.

What if a TV station security guy or a detective from a nearby precinct were to say to everyone, “Look, can we break precedent for once and not send in the SWAT team? Yes, we’ve got a loose cannon threatening a guy but let’s tone it down. Let’s use our heads and figure this guy out and play it one soft step at a time.” I would melt in my seat if Money Monster did that. “Thank you, Jodie!,” I would shout from my tenth-row-seat.

Robert Towne went a little bit in this direction when he did an uncredited rewrite of 8 Million Ways to Die (’86), which was director Hal Ashby‘s last film. According to Ashby biographer Christopher Beach, Towne wrote a scene in which Jeff Bridges‘ Matt Scudder shoots a suspect who’s just hit a policeman with an unlikely weapon — a rocking chair. Ashby changed the weapon from a rocking chair to a baseball bat. Towne was furious at Ashby for doing so, and they were never entirely cordial after that.

Bottom line: Either you’re the kind of filmmaker who understands that rocking chairs are far more interesting, or you’re not. Either you get that people are sick of baseball bats, or you don’t.

Cooler King

I’d really like to see Cuba on a motorcycle or super-scooter before it turns into an extension of southern Florida. There’s a piece in the current Men’s Journal about a guy who did this a few months ago on a Triumph. Included in the article (which I read last night at LAX) is a story about Steve McQueen and a couple of friends rumbling across Cuba on bikes in ’58 or thereabouts. McQueen’s summary was included in a 1971 Sports Illustrated interview/profile piece:

“We were quite a group. An actor, a poet and a guy who was just plain nuts, or maybe we all were. Hurricane Audrey was sloshing around on the East Coast while we zipped down to Florida. Then we ran from Havana to Santiago, about 967 or so kilometers, as I recall. Batista and Castro were shooting it out down there in the Sierra Maestra, and there were uniforms everywhere. I was still a little wild in those days, particularly when I was on the juice. So what happens? I get thrown in the calabozo. (more…)

Hand of Fate

I went to a fair amount of trouble and no small expense scoring decent seats (3) for tomorrow’s Mets vs. Giants game at Citifield, and now there’s a 100% chance of the game being rained-out. If that happens it’ll be re-scheduled for Monday or Tuesday, I’m told, but unless it’s a night game Jett and Cait won’t be able to come because of work. Plus it’s unseasonably cool now (60s) so whichever and however jackets, sweaters and scarves will be de rigeur. The whole idea has just been a huge pain in the ass. I’m sorry it came to mind. I haven’t been to a baseball game in over a decade; I should’ve kept it that way.

At least there’s next Wednesday’s matinee of Long Day’s Journey Into Night to look forward to. Thanks to the IDPR guys for helping me score tickets.


LAX departure around 11 pm, arrival at JFK at 7something, baggage carousel, Air Train, A train…I’ve done it 30 or 40 times since moving to Los Angeles in ’83. And almost every time after arriving I’ve visited some little inauspicious diner and ordered a large breakfast. There’s something restorative about this. You can’t do fruit, yogurt, granola and tea — you have to go full tristate greasy spoon and order scrambled eggs, bacon, home fries and cappucino, etc. This morning the welcome-back joint was Toasties on John Street.

Even Without Subtitles…

You can tell Cristian Mungiu‘s Graduation (i.e., Bacalaureat) is made of strong, jolting stuff. To his everlasting and glorious credit, Mungiu is not Zack Snyder. When disturbing or traumatic things happen in his films (such as in Beyond The Hills) he never slams them into your face. He captures incidents from a distance, in the corners of frames, sudden and unforeseen. Consider what seems to be happening in this trailer at 1:10 and 1:34. Pic has been described as “a powerful and universal study about the imprecision of parenthood, the relativity of truth and the ambiguity of compromise, revealed by a father-daughter relationship.” The Romanian drama will soon play in competition in Cannes.

Boobs Are No Biggie

Hollywood Elsewhere approves of Jason Bateman‘s The Family Fang (Starz, 4.29). So does everyone else for the most part. But I have a very slight issue with Nicole Kidman‘s film-set boob scene, and more particularly the fact that she doesn’t flash. Not that I care one way or the other, but what’s the big deal about topless these days? Nobody cares. It’s one thing if biology has taken you down a peg or two but if you have a relatively nice rack where’s the harm? Why even do a boob scene in 2016 if you’re going to shoot it like Clive Donner shot Paula Prentiss in What’s New Pussycat (’65)? Julie Andrews flashed in Blake Edward‘s S.O.B. 34 years ago. If you’d rather not go there, fine, but if that’s the attitude why not shoot another kind of film-set scene that explores or reveals Nicole’s actress character?

Huey Newton Approves

When I think of Captain America: Civil War (Disney, 5.3), which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, I recall three things: (1) how I began to feel numbed and debilitated around the 100-minute mark (i.e., right after the Berlin airport brawl), (2) how much I loathed hanging with corporate Marvel whore Robert Downey, and (3) the only superhero character who really got my attention was Chadwick Boseman‘s Black Panther, if no other reason than the fact that he’s the new guy. All that stands out are the steel claws but I remember thinking, “Okay, he’s cool, nice outfit, whatever.”


Skeptical, A Certain Distance

You can tell Justin Chadwick‘s Tulip Fever (Weinstein Co., 7.15) is a carefully honed, well-crafted thing. The cinematography by Eigl Bryld (In Bruges) is obviously handsome; ditto the production design. It’s probably safe to assume that the screenplay by Tom Stoppard, based on a book by Deborah Moggach, will have a certain rhyme. But it has Christoph Waltz once again playing a cuckold with a much younger wife. His last outing in this realm was in Water for Elephants, in which Reese Witherspoon cheated on him with Robert Pattinson. This time it’s Alicia Vikander having it off with pint-sized portrait artist Dane DeHaan (who replaced the much brawnier Matthias Schoenaerts). The Dutch locale and the portrait painting also recall The Girl With a Pearl Earring. Not to mention those ridiculous 17th Century collars that Waltz has to wear. Fairly or not, it just feels like recycled material.

There — You’ve Seen Trapeze

I was going to catch a 2:30 showing of Sir Carol Reed‘s Trapeze (’56) at the TCM Old Tourists Watching Old Films Festival, which kicked off last night. I saw part of this 1956 film on TV decades ago but never all the way through. But Bosley Crowther’s review gave me pause — “dismally obvious and monotonous story…you never saw so much rehearsing or heard so much dull and hackneyed talk.” And then I ran this brief highlights reel and said to myself, “Okay, that’s fine, but don’t blow an afternoon over this.” One arresting shot: Burt Lancaster (who performed some of his own stunts) falling from a trapeze and bouncing off the net and onto the ground.

Cold Feet

The N.Y. Post‘s Emily Smith is reporting that Will Ferrell has courageously abandoned the idea of playing a dementia-afflicted Ronald Reagan in Mike Rosolio‘s Reagan, a satirical comedy about Reagan’s second term. A spokesperson for Ferrell, 48, essentially told Smith that while the 48-year-old actor “had seen the script and considered signing on” to star in and produce Reagan, he’s decided to turn tail and quit the project in the face of outraged complaints about the project from the Reagan family.

Ferrell spokesperson to Smith: “The Reagan script is one of a number of scripts that had been submitted to Will Ferrell which he had considered. While it is by no means an ‘Alzheimer’s comedy’ as has been suggested, Mr. Ferrell is not pursuing this project.”

I presume I don’t need to explain that Variety‘s Justin Kroll wouldn’t have been fed the “Ferrell is doing Reagan” story if the idea hadn’t been fully vetted by Ferrell and his team. Kroll might have heard about the project on the fly, but if I know Variety procedure the story wouldn’t have run if Kroll hadn’t been assured by someone close to Ferrell (agent, manager) that Ferrell was definitely on-board. (more…)

Avoidance Day

Rotten Tomatoes scores are always more exuberant and thumbs-uppy than Metacritic tallies when it comes to well-made films. Team Metacritic is more measured, always hangs back, never throws the confetti. But when a serious stinker comes along Rotten Tomatoes always posts a lower score. Latest example: The RT 8% rating vs. Metacritic’s 18% score on Gary Marshall‘s Mother’s Day.

As previously noted, Marshall’s last decent concoction was 1999’s Runaway Bride and his last two, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, were groaners. So it wasn’t a tough call when I decided a couple of weeks ago blow off a Mother’s Day all-media screening in order to catch a 70mm screening of Patton on the Fox lot. Patton looked okay but a little bit dupey — that “stunning density and sharpness of 70mm” thing didn’t manifest. But I still think I made the right decision.

Nice Guys Dipped In Grindhouse Sauce

In for a penny, in for a pound. Embrace, flaunt, proclaim. The tanking of Quentin Tarantino‘s Grindhouse notwithstanding. There’s a suggestion (ignored in this corner) that The Nice Guys, is going to incorporate a scratchy-faded-blurpy aesthetic start to finish. Not that I’m hoping or expecting to be underwhelmed, but if it doesn’t deliver something richer than what’s being conveyed here, etc. Note: If I was lord and dictator of The Nice Guys, I wouldn’t allow face-punching. Creative challenge!

The Agony of the Audition

Bar exams are an easier ordeal than being subjected to up-close scrutiny on a first date. Everything you do and say, every inflection, every look, every response…everything is being examined under a microscope for possible flaws or trouble signs. You feel like Henry Fonda being questioned by those two Queens detectives (Harold J. Stone and that other guy) in The Wrong Man. After the 50th or 60th question about your background or your core values or your history with your mother, your soul just starts to wilt. I remember having a “fuck it” moment on a second or third date with a fetching blonde who had previously gone out with a name-brand director. I shouldn’t have tried, I later told myself, because I didn’t have the director’s wealth or slick resume, but I went for it anyway. We were in the Malibu Canyon area, lying in the sun near a swimming hole, and she asked me another question that might reveal a bit more about who I really was, and something just snapped inside. I didn’t care after that, and it felt great.

“I Smell With My Tongue”

I’m sorry but I’ve watched this six-day-old segment containing Bill Maher‘s Ted Cruz jokes (“25 Things You Don’t Know About Me”) and I can’t stop laughing. I’m mostly an LQTM type, but Maher is laughing as much as Van Jones (who can’t contain himself) or anyone else, and it’s infectious.

Last Licks

I’ve always found the idea of bawdy bachelor parties offensive if not icky. Drunkenness, strippers, animal behavior. I’ve attended two and I vaguely regretted it both times. But I completely understand the idea of dipping the wick one last time before saying your vows. And not just among grooms-to-be but brides. I’ve gotten lucky twice with women who were about to get married, and it wasn’t really my idea. They flashed the come-hither — all I did was agree. They knew it was their last pre-marital opportunity.

I’m mentioning this because I happened to watch a Bluray of Sideways last night. I’m a big fan of Thomas Haden Church’s performance as Jack, the actor friend of Paul Giamatti’s Miles who’s due to be married in a few days but is determined to get laid during their wine-country safari any which way he can. Jack is a seven-year-old, but Church gives him a kind of dignity because he takes hound-dogging very seriously. He’s borderline insane but he means it.

This morning I re-read some coverage I wrote of the September 2004 Sideways junket in Santa Barbara. Excerpt: “You should have heard the journos at the press table imparting their p.c. sentiments about what a despicable misogynist Jack is. Maybe he is, but Jack is like 80% of all the engaged guys I’ve ever known or heard about. And don’t presume that the syndrome doesn’t include women.”

Does anyone have any weekend-before-the-wedding stories to share?

Money Monster‘s Last-Minute Screenings Prompting Snickers, Grousing

I’m not saying Jodie Foster‘s Money Monster has “issues”, but you have to give Sony publicity credit for persuading journos and critics that it might. Red flags always go up whenever a studio declines to press-screen a film until 24 to 48 hours before opening, which is what’s happening here. The obvious suggestion or suspicion is that Money Monster‘s soup might be served at room temperature. Or not. Who knows?

It can’t be that bad, can it? Not with a socially urgent theme (high-level financial chicanery), a proven director (Foster), a strong cast (George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West) and a presumably half-decent script by Jamie Linden, Alan Di Fiore and Jim Kouf.

The political situation thriller (i.e., angry guy takes a Jim Cramer-like financial soothsayer hostage in a TV studio) will press-screen at the Cannes Film Festival on the morning of Thursday, 5.11, with domestic press screenings slated for Wednesday, 5.10. The first U.S. commercial screenings will happen on Thursday night, so U.S. critics will have to bang out reviews immediately, especially if they want to keep pace with Cannes critics, who will post early Thursday afternoon (or roughly breakfast time in New York and 3 or 4 am Los Angeles).

Put it this way: If Money Monster isn’t problematic, it’ll do until the problematic gets here.

Viva Scores, Settles In, Joins HE’s Best Of ’16 List

I posted HE’s best of the first third of ’16 list too soon. Because I need to add Paddy Breathnach and Mark O’Halloran‘s Viva (Magnolia, 4.29), which I finally saw last night, to the roster. Yes, I’ve been delinquent. I should have seen Viva eight months ago when it played Telluride. But I’m on it now. This Irish-made Oscar submission (even though it’s set entirely in Havana and is spoken in Spanish) may follow a predictable course with a payoff you can see coming from a mile away, but it still does the trick.

Some films know how to turn the tumbler lock just so. This one does that, I swear. You might be suspicious of someone describing a formulaic pupa-into-a butterfly saga as fresh and enlivening, but these are the words that came to mind ten minutes after it began. Have I seen films like Viva before? Yes. But did I believe it, feel it, go with it? Yes. Breathnach’s direction has just the right finesse, O’Halloran’s script is skillfully honed and assured, you can feel and smell the Havana atmosphere in every frame, and the performances are completely persuasive and affecting.

It’s about Jesus (Hector Medina), a poor Havana hairdresser with a crew of close-knit friends (mostly drag performers plus an apparent boyfriend who hustles tourists). The plot is basically about how Jesus’s attempts to become a drag-lip-synch star are interrupted when his alcoholic, brutish father (Jorge Perugorría) moves into his apartment after being released from prison. This angry macho dickhead insists that Jesus not work in the club for the usual crap reasons (it’s dishonorable to be gay, effiminacy equals weakness), and for some curious, deep-seated emotional reason Jesus temporarily obliges. (more…)