Much Better War Dogs Trailer

Okay, now I’m psyched. Notice how Miles Teller is apparently playing it real, or at least isn’t overtly winking or hinting that you’re watching a comedy and are therefore expected to laugh? I have a feeling it’s going to be his movie more than Jonah Hill‘s, and I’m saying this as a major Hill homie.

Posted on 3.24.16: I love the term “American biographical criminal comedy.” Todd Phillips‘ film is about the real-life saga of arms dealers Efraim_Diveroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller) who ran afoul of the law five or six years ago for selling crap-level arms to the Afghan army. (more…)

Still A Tight Window

There will be a little more time for Academy members to fill in their nomination ballots next January. Balloting will begin on the morning of Thursday, 1.5.17 or six days later than last year’s 12.30 balloting kickoff. It will conclude at 5 pm on 1.13.17, or nine days later. Last year the nommie balloting period lasted 10 days (12.30.15 to 1.8.16). The slackers (i.e., those who routinely refuse to attend screenings or watch screeners until the very last minute) will be able to begin the process a little later, but they’ll have a day less to sort things through. Some guy tweeted today that “you’d be amazed how many members don’t watch all the movies because they’re away for Xmas and New Year’s.” I’m not amazed in the least. The default attitude on the part of many older Academy members is one of extreme laziness. The Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, 1.24. The PGA and DGA awards will happen on 2.4 and 2.6, respectively. Final voting will open on Monday, 2.13 and finish on Tuesday, 2.21. The Oscar telecast will happen on Sunday, 2.26.

Equity At Long Last

I caught Meera Menon‘s Equity at last January’s Sundance Film Festival, and while I liked or respected most of it, I decided in the end that it was just pretty good. And when I sat down to write about it, nothing happened. I was “with it” and attuned and waiting for the power-punches to land, but they were never thrown. The behavior gets darker and nastier as things move along, but the film pretty much stays on the same level start to finish. Which isn’t a “bad” thing — it’s a totally decent film — but I felt a wee bit underwhelmed.

Promoted as “the first female-driven Wall Street movie,” Equity basically says that financial sector women are just as predatory, conniving and deceitful as the guys in Wall Street or The Wolf of Wall Street. The main problem is that it starts out with someone you’re thinking might be the audience’s friend (Anna Gunn‘s Naomi Bishop) — a rooted, charismatic lead to stand by and root for — but then shit happens and the floorboards don’t hold and [SPOILER!] Naomi gets more or less elbowed aside. We’re left at the end without a friend or a hero or anything, really. 

It’s basically a chilly film about people you don’t like or identify with, and everyone fucking their marks or rivals any way they can. (more…)

Another Malick Doodle-On

Floundering in the editing room since 2011 or thereabouts, Terrence Malick‘s Voyage of Time was first envisioned in the late ’70s as a project called Q, a naturalist epic about the beginnings of life on earth. Portions of it turned up in The Tree Of Life, but now (after a July 2013 lawsuit filed by Seven Seas, claiming that nearly $6 million in production funds had been more or less pissed away on nothing) Voyage has finally been completed and will open as two films — a 40-minute IMAX version narrated by Brad Pitt, and a 35mm feature-length version narrated by Cate Blanchett

No offense but I’ll take the Pitt and shine the Blanchett.

The Voyage kin will open on 10.7.16 but really, nobody cares. Nobody except critics and the cloistered film-society monks who’ve taken it upon themselves to guard the Malick flame. VFX by Dan Glass and Douglas Trumbull, music by Ennio Morricone…flatline. If Voyage had popped 15 or 20 years ago it might have seemed like something, but it’s arriving in the midst of The Great Malick Rejection and is therefore a wildebeest calf facing wild dogs.

Nobody will give a damn about Weightless either. Critics will see it, of course, and take it for a spin around the dance floor but not a bird will stir in the trees. Unless, of course, Malick has reinvented himself with Weightless but what are the odds of that? Barring a miracle the man is over. The current incarnation, I mean. He could always go out to the desert and meditate for six months and return a changed man. Anything is possible. I’m sorry but he did this to himself.

Gene Roddenberry’s Silent Scream

Albert Brooks: I know you like and respect him. I’ve never seen you like this about anyone, so please don’t get me wrong when I tell you that Justin Lin, while being a very nice guy, is the Devil.
J.J. Abrams: This isn’t friendship. You’re crazy, you know that?
Brooks: What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around?
Abrams: God!
Brooks: Come on! Nobody is going to be taken in by a guy with a long, red, pointy tail! What’s he gonna sound like? Acchh-acchh-acchh! I’m semi-serious here.

Abrams: You’re seriously…
Brooks: He’ll be attractive! He’ll launch his career with a fascinating Sundance film called Better Luck Tomorrow. He’ll direct a shitload of Fast and Furious movies that will make many millions for all concerned. He’ll never do an evil thing! He’ll never deliberately hurt a living thing…he’ll just bit by little bit turn the art of cinema into a more synthetic, less recognizably human, more audaciously cartoonish form of megaplex wankery, and the empty Coke bottles will love him for it. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along, flash over substance. Just a tiny little bit. And he’ll constantly talk about the need to out-perform the last bullshit swizzle-stick, quarter-of-an-inch-deep CG event movie, and about the next level of razzle-dazzle CG porn we’ll need to put into the next one. And he’ll get all the great women.

Did The Super-Heroic Thing, And Then His Pay Was Cut & Pension Slashed.

Wikipage excerpt #1: “Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger (born 1.23.51) is a retired airline captain and aviation safety consultant. He was hailed as a hero when he successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 upon NYC’s Hudson River on 1.15.09, after the aircraft was disabled by striking a flock of Canadian geese during its initial climb out of LaGuardia Airport. All of the 155 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft survived.”

Wikipage excerpt #2: “In a 60 Minutes interview, Sully was quoted as saying that the moments before the crash were ‘the worst, sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling’ that he had ever experienced. Speaking with Katie Couric, Sully said: ‘One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

Wikipage excerpt #3: Sullenberger testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’s Subcommittee on Aviation of the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure on February 24, 2009, that his salary had been cut by 40 percent, and that his pension, like most airline pensions, was terminated and replaced by a ‘PBGC’ guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar.

“Sullenberger cautioned that airlines were ‘under pressure to hire people with less experience. Their salaries are so low that people with greater experience will not take those jobs. We have some carriers that have hired some pilots with only a few hundred hours of experience…there’s simply no substitute for experience in terms of aviation safety.’ Sully also mentioned his pay cut in a 10.13.09 appearance on The Daily Show.”

See How Right I Was About Captain Phillips?

This morning I was re-reading a nearly three-year-old review of Paul Greengrass‘s Captain Phillips, and I think I said a few things back then that were right on-target. Please review these excerpts and answer two questions — (1) did everyone go just a little too easy on Phillips? and (2) have you re-watched it any time over the last three years?

Excerpt #1: “It does an interesting thing by inserting a slight vein of sympathy or measured compassion by depicting the Somali hijackers as desperate, dirt-poor losers who are entirely outflanked and out of their league when they attempt a takeover of this scale. Because boiled down Phillips is about a team of well-funded, corporate-backed cargo-ship guys supported by the might of the U.S. military vs. four jerkoffs in a motorboat carrying guns.”

Excerpt #2: “Phillips is not quite up to par by the measure of Greengrass’s past works. It’s not as bracing or emotionally affecting as Greengrass’s United 93 or Bloody Sunday, his two previous dramatic recreations of melodramatic real-world events. Nor does it challenge the jolting tone and hardcore immediacy in Zero Dark Thirty, which was/is more gripping and intriguing as far as this sort of thing tends to go.”

Excerpt #3: “It’s not the filmmaking chops, which are always excellent with Greengrass at the helm. It’s not the integrity that clearly went into the making of it. It’s the material — the necessary emotional punch and dramatic juice simply aren’t there. I’m not saying Captain Phillips doesn’t cut it. It does and then some, but only as far as the material and those Greengrass moves allow.” (more…)

Comeback Saga on Steroids

Ben Younger‘s Bleed For This, the overcoming-tragedy story of middleweight boxing champ Vinny Paz, is obviously a movie-movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. All the hallmarks of a strong boxing flick including a flirting-with-nutso lead performance, given by Miles burn-it-down Teller (who also got into a bad auto accident in Whiplash). Bleed has already been shown to a select few, and will be screening for a few more this summer. I don’t know about a Telluride appearance but it’ll definitely play Toronto. Open Road will debut it commercially on 11.4.

Jacob Tremblay’s Mask

I’m reading that Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay will costar in Wonder, an adaptation of the R.J. Palacio young adult novel. Except Palacio’s book isn’t aimed at teens but readers in the 8-to-12 range…Jesus. The story’s about Augie, a kid with a facial deformity going to public school for the first time, and of course dealing with all the loathsome shit that elementary school kids give to anyone odd or different. Problem #1: Any Y.A. adaptation gives me the willies. Problem #2: I’m all Tremblayed out from last year’s Room campaign…later. Problem #3: I’m not much of a fan of Owen playing dads. I want him to be that insincere Wedding Crashers man-child for the rest of his life. Problem #4: The director is Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower).

More Than Just The Rudiments

“At first glance I was a little afraid of David MacKenzie‘s Hell or High Water (CBS Films, 8.12), as it seemed B-movieish. It turned out to be not just a tight and forceful bank robbers-vs.-cops drama, but a wry and eloquent one also. It has guns and loot and getaway cars, but the real subject is the tapped-out hinterland economy and how it all seems to be about despair and downhill attitudes out there in shitkicker country. The wise, sometimes funny and sometimes solemn screenplay, written by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario), is the saving grace. Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster (who’s looking a lot beefier than he did five or six years ago) bring their own moods, voices and energy currents.” — filed from Cannes on 5.17.16.

Drawn To The Stink

When Dwayne Johnson is starring in a film, you know there’s a decent chance that Johnson’s character will smash through a plate-glass window and drop three or four stories to the ground without injury. You know the film will be crude, submental, loud, never good enough. Every single film he’s starred or costarred in over the last 15 years has been the stuff that headaches are made of.

Be Cool (’05) was half decent, but Johnson’s casting in that F. Gary Gray film was a cosmic accident. Since then he’s shown an instinct for shit that few have even approached, much less rivalled.

Dwayne Johnson

Which is why I’m posting this — what other big star has a more bottom-of-the-barrel record? Whose name at the top of the poster is a more reliable assurance of a mind-numbing, kill-me-now experience? I’m asking.

None of this matters in terms of success and swagger, of course. The megaplexers seem to love the guy, and making shitty movies haven’t slowed him down yet. Johnson is worth between $125 and $160 million, and that figure will almost certainly double or triple or better before his string runs out.

Johnson is the new Schwarzenegger, but he’s totally ignored the game plan or pattern that Schwarzenegger followed by occasionally making smart, semi-entertaining, half-decent films — The Terminator (’84) Predator (’87), Total Recall (’90), Kindergarten Cop (’90), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (’91), True Lies (’94), Eraser (’96), Batman and Robin (’97), etc.

Three Little Words

How many years did ago did the culture completely accept that anyone saying “ohmyGod” in any conversational context needed to be automatically written off, or at least take a serious hit on the NASDAQ? I’ve been flinching at OMG for at least a decade, but when Brad Pitt‘s health-club trainer said the magic words eight years ago in Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Burn After Reading, I figured “okay, now the outre factor has been explicitly stated in a mainstream film — now the awareness is unavoidable.” But under-educated, slow-on-the-pickup women still use it without blinking an eye. I heard it last night at a party and I went “okay, that’s it…this person’s future is laid out…she might be happy or loaded but she’ll never be accepted by people in the cool, cultured realm.”

Grubby, Surly, Bitter

I’m as much of a sucker for the Warren Oates mythology as the next guy. I just rented Race With The Devil for $3.99, and I would have never gone there were it not for the prospect of Oates’ supporting performance. Last month I bought a Bluray of John Milius‘s Dillinger because I’d never seen it and felt it was time to finally savor Oates’ gangster swagger. But man, what a glum, soiled attitude he had — always a couple of days away from the last shower, resentful, too grubby and cigar-smelly to get laid except in Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, small-minded, always bitching or seething.

And yet…this is the thing that anchors many of Oates’ performances…he always suggested a kind of decency and even tenderness under the crust.

I understand the argument that The Wild Bunch isn’t “a Warren Oates film.” But when I think of that 1969 groundbreaker I always go right to the screaming, mortally-wounded Oates firing that machine gun at the very end. He all but owns that Sam Peckinpah film, and yet the geniuses at the Film Society of Lincoln Center have decided not to include Bunch in “Warren Oates: Hired Hand,” a retrospective that runs from 7.1 through 7.7.

I can imagine standing in the lobby and casually eyeballing the indifferently dressed, over-50 film bums that will attend. If LexG lived in the New York area (what a thought!) he’d be among them. (more…)

Disliked, Deepy Irritating, Undeserved Grand Prix Winner

5.18.16 HE review of Xavier Dolan‘s It’s Only The End of the World: “The words that best describe It’s Only The End of The World are ‘infuriating’ and ‘arrogant.’ The 97-minute non-drama is about a successful 34 year-old writer named Louis (Gaspar Ulliel) who announces at the very beginning through voice-over narration that he’s dying and is on his way home to tell his family, whom he’s avoided seeing for 12 years.

“Except when he gets there he can’t bring himself to break the news, and in fact say much of anything. He can’t even throw out bon mots or witty conversation. Nothing. And it stays that way. Louis is either wimping out or so full of loathing for this suburban brood (played by Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel) that the words just won’t come.

“And so we, the audience, are trapped in hell as he stares at his mother (Baye), brother (Cassel), sister (Cotillard) and sister-in-law (Seydoux) and listens to them rant about their anger and frustrations and sense of entrapment. And then he stares a bit more and listens a bit more and sweats and continues to stare, his eyes all glistening from the feeling. And then he throws up out of sickness (or possibly from anxiety) when he’s alone in the bathroom.

“In short Louis seems to be trying to divulge his situation but lacks the courage or conviction. He’s so consumed by the enormity of what he needs to say that he can’t say it.

“I think it’s safe to call it the worst film of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival thus far.” (more…)

George Seaton’s 15 Hours

I made a careless mistake in booking last weekend’s round trip to NYC, and for this I was made to endure 15 hours of travel yesterday — that’s how long it took door to door. The mistake was in failing to realize I had accidentally booked a return trip that stopped off in Las Vegas. 

The departure of the Vegas to LAX plane was delayed by 90 minutes, and that meant sitting in McCarran Airport for roughly four hours. Touched down in L.V. around 7:30 pm, didn’t leave for LAX until 11:30 pm. I ate a salad, did some writing and crashed on the McCarran floor for about 45 minutes.

Instead of taking a Metro North train into Manhattan followed by an A train voyage out to JFK, which can take a little more than two hours if the Gods are with you, I decided to take a Red Dot limousine from a Fairfield hotel to JFK, which took about 135 minutes or about 45 minutes longer than expected. I left the Fairfield house at 1:15 pm to catch the limo departure at 1:40 pm. 

JFK was swarming. Thanks to Red Dot I only had about 90 minutes before the JFK-to-Vegas flight left at 5:20 pm, and it was hellish enduring the long-ass lines and TSA security crap.

Again, the LV-to-LAX flight left around 11:30 pm. Between McCarran and LAX tarmac delays I finally exited the plane around 12:45 or 12:50 am. The cab got me back to my place around 1:30 am, or 4:30 am NY time — a tad more than 15 hours after I left to catch the Red Dot limo.

A Time For Submission, Stepping Back, Taking The Pain

All white performers who’ve mimicked or sampled black music, performers or styles are dickish exploiters who need to be corrected and bitchslapped. Justin Timberlake, who has appropriated aspects of black culture in his musical performances (and who was apparently, in the view of some, the careless orchestrator of Janet Jackson‘s boob-flash during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show), found this out yesterday. His crime was tweeting that he was “inspired” by remarks during Sunday’s BET Awards by Grey’s Anatomy actor and social justice activist Jesse Williams, and for subsequently tweeting to a black critic that “the more you realize that we are the same, the more we can have a conversation.”

Williams ranted about “this invention called whiteness” that has specialized in “ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit”. Williams said in so many words that “we need to restructure whites’ function, and ours.”

In short, guys with attitudes like Timberlake’s need to be straightened out and probably diminished for the time being, and, by extension, the memory of infamous music-industry exploiters like Morris Levy needs to be retroactively re-addressed. I don’t think it’s pushing things too far to say if Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips had returned to earth to give their own BET speech, the audience probably would have thrown fruit and booed their asses…right?

Perhaps Presley and Phillips would have been pelted with tomatoes and with ample justification, obviously, but they were coming from a whole different era when they stole black music in order to sell it to ’50s whites. We all do what we can according to the rules and restrictions we encounter when we step up to the plate.

Consider this 6.27 Guardian piece by Rebecca Carroll, which riffs on what Williams was saying. It’s angry and dismissive and reiterates the basic p.c. chant of many progressive black artists, which is that (a) we ain’t “all one” and (b) it’s time for white-ass artists, music executives and TV/movie producers to shut up and chill at the back of bus while artists of color reap the cultural whirlwind, correct the imbalance and reshape things to come. (more…)

He’s Dead And I Don’t Know It. Well, I Do But I’d Rather Not.

Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert‘s Swiss Army Man did $105K last weekend in three theatres, which is pretty good. It opens wide this coming Friday. The initial Sundance kerfuffle (i.e., the film being nearly killed by Jeff Sneider and Ramin Setoodeh) seems to have subsided in favor of this A24 release becoming a “thing.” The 62% Rotten Tomatoes rating obviously means it has a fair amount of fans — that figure could just as easily be 72% or 52%. There seem to be more people agreeing with than disputing this Amy Nicholson remark: “When I first saw it at Sundance, I wrote it off as sublimely stupid. The second time, I realized it was stupidly sublime.” What do I think? After the Sundance rumble I was ready to blow it off because of the farts alone (any movie that makes liberal use of peeing, farting, shitting and belching usually encounters some form of HE resistance), but I guess I’ll be seeing it….uhm, by Wednesday?

Out-of-Town Tryout

I was watching portions of this yesterday between flights. There’s acting here, obviously, but I felt it anyway. Every successful campaign needs a certain lift-all-boats factor, and I can sense a certain musical convergence here. Agreed, it’s mainly the Warren music but she does have a way of making the hold-your-nose-and-vote-for-Hillary idea seem…well, something I can let go of. There’s a current here. Yesterday’s Ohio rally was obviously a tryout. Hillary wanted to see how it would go, how it might feel. Now she knows.