How Cool is Cruel?

James Schamus‘s Indignation opened in four theaters this weekend. It earned $89,072 for an average of $22,268 per situation. In my 7.26 review I wrote that it’s worth seeing for a 16-minute argument/debate scene between Logan Lerman (as a Newark-born freshman at an Ohio college) and Tracey Letts (as the college dean). Here’s a Village Voice piece about the writing and filming of this scene. I called Indignation a “respectable, adult-friendly, nicely refined period drama (i.e., early ’50s) about values, academia, obstinacy, surprisingly good sex, Jews (in particular a tough Jewish mom) and — this is key — brutally cruel fates.” I explained that “the ending alienated me to no end.” Did anyone happen to catch it? If so, any thoughts about the third-act windup and the fates that envelop Lerman’s Marcus Messner and Sarah Gadon‘s Olivia Hutton?

Done With Galafianakis. Really, I’ve Had It.

Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Michael Fassbender, Aaron Paul, Jon Voight…nobody ranks higher on Hollywood Elsewhere’s shitlist that Zak Galifianakis. Going back to the first Hangover flick and with the exception of his good work in Birdman, I’ve consistently loathed and despised ZG’s man-diaper performances for too long a period. He’s played the same bearded, bipolar low-life in film after film. Which is why I’m grimacing at the thought of watching Jared Hess‘s Masterminds (Relativity,9.30). It obviously has a lively, top-drawer ensemble cast (Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Ken Marino, Jason Sudeikis, Kate McKinnon), and, yes, is based on a true story. But comedies about rural idiots are never, ever funny. Masterminds was originally slated to open on 8.19.15, but it got sucked into the vortex of Relativity’s financial implosion.

Not So Fast on Jason Bourne Back-Pats

Back in ’07 The Bourne Ultimatum‘s earned a first-weekend tally of $69 million. But apply the inflation calculator and that $69 million becomes a bit more than $80 million in 2016 dollars. The just-opened Jason Bourne brought in $60 million this weekend, which represents a 25% dip. The bottom line is that on top of quality issues, Ultimatum still rules by a significant box-office margin.

Everyone agreed that Ultimatum was a bull’s-eye thrill ride, and so it was no surprise that it wound up taking in $227.5 million domestic or a multiple of just over three. The word on Jason Bourne, by contrast, is that it’s reasonably good (certainly in terms of the Athens chase sequence) and no one’s idea of a burn, but not exactly an experience that will blow your socks off. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you think Jason Bourne is going to achieve the same multiple as The Bourne Ultimatum. I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that.

If Jason Bourne manages a standard three-multiple it will obviously end up in the domestic vicinity of $180 million, give or take. Not bad but not exactly legendary. Then again Jason Bourne‘s $60 million debut is $22 million more than the $38 million earned four years ago by Tony Gilroy‘s The Bourne Legacy. And the newbie did earn $50.1 million overseas, which Variety is calling the “biggest overseas debut in the history of the action franchise.”

Blackheart

Khizr Khan, the father of Cpt. Humayun Khan, a slain Muslim American combatant, again trashed Donald Trump and his intemperance and seeming anti-Muslim disdain. “He is a black soul, and this is totally unfit for the leadership of this country,” Khan said. “The love and affection that we have received affirms that our grief — that our experience in this country has been correct and positive. The world is receiving us like we have never seen. They have seen the blackness of his character, of his soul.”

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Young Beardo

A Japanese documentary team visited Steven Spielberg in the early fall of 1982, around the time he was shooting his “Kick The Can” segment for Twilight Zone: The Movie, which opened in the summer of ’83. This was absolute peak-era Spielberg, and he was only 35. Raiders of the Lost Ark was recent history, having opened 15 or 16 months earlier, and E.T. and Poltergeist had rocked the industry only three or four months before this moment. People thought Spielberg had magic blood back then. Even I thought so at the time. It would never get any better for the guy.

But those sunglasses! If Michelangelo Antonioni had happened along, he would have taken Spielberg aside and told him to throw them in the wastebasket. But that’s Spielberg for you — he’s always been kind of a dork from Arizona.

I nearly did a Sherry Netherland hotel interview with Spielberg in the middle of the E.T. hoohah, but the arrangements were being handled by Peggy Siegel, who at the time was a contentious figure in my journalistic life, and for some insect-antennae reason I was fearful that my time slot was being nudged aside. (At the time I was finishing up an Us magazine cover story about Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore.) So I called the hotel suite where it was supposed to happen and lo and behold, Spielberg answered. I should have just left a please-call message and said thanks, but I explained that I was slotted to speak with him and was wondering about the schedule, etc.

Siegel hit the roof (“How dare you violate protocol by talking to talent without my permission!”) and that was the end of that. She was right — I should have played by the rules.

Peace In The Hills

A friend and I took a longish walk through Bel Air early last evening. The Bel Air Hotel on Stone Canyon (portions of which are getting a little too Kardashian for my tastes), winding west on Chalon Road, up and down steep hills, up Funchal Road and then south on Bellagio down to Sunset, and then back to Stone Canyon. A quiet, settled vibe.  Most of Bel Air is Neverland.  Immense calm, a sense of the past. I don’t care about the wealth — I care about feelings of serenity, the sound of crickets, the proliferation of nature. Hundreds, thousands of old, well-trimmed trees. Gates, gates and more gates. Ivy-covered brick walls, adobe walls, ivy growing everywhere, the wonderfully calming fragrances, the subtlety of the lighting outside dozens upon dozens of handsome Old Spanish homes. It smells like Tuscany, like the hill country of Vietnam. And there’s very little of the vulgar, over-lighted, nouveau-riche homes you see here and there in Beverly Hills, homes that are mostly owned by clueless types (people of Middle Eastern ancestry are certainly among them), people who will never understand that the homes of wealthy folks with a touch of refinement always exude a submission to history…old-world, low-key, pre-WWII stylings. The only unpleasant aspect was the traffic — people in a hurry, driving 35 or 40 mph around sharp curves, areas where 25 or 30 mph would have been more like it.

Greet The Monsters

I’ll be visiting the Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters exhibit at LACMA on Tuesday evening. The invitational press preview was…what, last night? The exhibit represents about 10% of GDT’s “Bleak House” creations, roughly 580 objects, all of which are based in a large mansion in Thousand Oaks. After the LACMA exhibit the monsters will visit Minneapolis, Toronto, Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris and New York. Four years ago Guillermo was good enough to honor me and HE’s own Svetlana Cvetko with a private tour — unforgettable.

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Among Favorite Main Title Sequences

The classic complaint against The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is the fact that Ransom Stoddard and Tom Doniphon should ideally be played by guys in their late 20s, and in their mid 30s at the oldest. Instead they’re played by James Stewart and John Wayne, who were 53 and 54, respectively, when the film was shot in 1961. With his full-head-of-hair wig Stewart could pass for a guy in his mid 40s, at least by the standards of the early ’60s, but the creased and pot-bellied Wayne looks like he’s pushing 60. Which makes it all the more difficult when he talks repeatedly about wanting to marry Vera Miles, who at the time was 32. When a supporting player asks the Duke if wedding bells are around the corner, he grins slightly, shakes his head and says “Don’t rush me…don’t rush me.” At his age?

Patience Is Ebbing

Steven Zallian and Richard Price‘s The Night Of is good — interesting, well written, attention-holding — but Zallian and Price are in no hurry. The Night Of is mostly a grim procedural. The main order of business isn’t about revealing who butchered the pretty girl as much what it feels like to be accused and powerless in the maze of New York’s criminal justice system — an apparently innocent guy (Riz Ahmed) arrested for murder, booked, grilled, counselled, kept in cells, moved to Riker’s Island, etc.

I say this having only seen episodes #1 and #2 (The Beach, Subtle Beast). I’ll need to catch episode #3 (A Dark Crate) on HBO Now before episode #4 (“The Art of War’) tomorrow night. The adaptation of Criminal Justice, an eight-year-old British miniseries, began on 6.24 via HBO on-demand.

It reminds me a bit of Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Wrong Man. That 1956 movie was all about slow procedure and acute frustration by way of mistaken identity. It runs 105 minutes but feels like two hours plus. After Henry Fonda is arrested at the 18-minute mark nothing happens until ten or twelve minutes before the end, when the real thief — a Fonda look-like — is caught. (more…)

Trump Reimagined

Donald Trump actually said all this stuff at a 7.28 rally in Davenport, Iowa (where Cary Grant died). Excellent dubbing by Peter Serafinowicz. A catty Trump is an incongruent concept, to put it mildly, but if he did speak like Richard Simmons he’d seem (I hate to say this) less odious because of the tone of mincing irony. The object of Trump’s scorn was former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who of course trashed Trump brilliantly last Wednesday night from the Democratic National Convention podium.

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Notorious HRC

Herein is a spiritual lithmus test for Sasha Stone and the hardcore Hillary brigade. If they hiss and arch their backs and go into their usual accusations against male heirarchy, well…there it is. But if they laugh a bit and take the bounce, that’s something else. Key phrase: “Since half the country will believe an evil cartoon version of Hillary Clinton, no matter what she says or does…” Second key phrase: “They don’t want kindly grandma…they want the wolf.”

No Offense But Eff These Guys

You know what I hate about the Suicide Squad guys, sight unseen? Everything. I despise nihilism as an entertainment concept, and I cringe at the idea of Jared Leto doing everything he can to out-demon and out-contort Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, and I loathe the idea of Will Smith pretending to be one of these guys as a career rejuvenation move, and I hate the fact that a huge audience is dying to see this thing. Because they love the idea of embracing nihilism beyond the reach of the law or social judgment. Grunting, cackling sociopaths too caught up in their cheap bad-ass posturings and anti-social swagger to give a damn about anyone or anything other than themselves…yeah! If anyone was stupid enough to inquire about their presidential preference, they’d almost certainly go for the Trumpster. The all-media screening isn’t until Tuesday, but if Suicide Squad was set in the mid ’60s somebody would say that “they kill, they maim and they call information for numbers they could easily look up in the book.”

Guarded Optimsim

At the very least the trailer for Rod Lurie‘s Killing Reagan (National Geographic, 10.16), which is based on Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard‘s partly disputed account of the March ’81 shooting of President Ronald Reagan, suggests that the film might be half decent, at least in terms of Tim Matheson‘s performance as the Gipper. John Hinckley‘s letters to Jodie Foster makes for difficult listening, but as far as I can tell they’re straight from the page.

Comparisons Unwelcome

With the “bad” Ben-Hur opening three weeks hence on 8.19, you’d think there’d be interest in the Aero or the American Cinematheque screening a DCP of the “good” 1959 version…no? Anyone can high-def stream the Wyler version at the drop of a hat, but I’ve never seen it projected with a full 2.76:1 aspect ratio. (The two or three times I’ve seen it in a theatre it’s always been shown at 2.55:1.) I suspect that the ’59 film hasn’t been screened because original rights holder MGM is a producing partner of the Timur Bekmambetov version, and fresh impressions of the Wyler (which is far from a great film but is (a) lucid and sturdy in a stodgy sort of way and (b) has a chariot-race sequence second to none) aren’t going to do the newbie any favors. 

I’m told, by the way, that so far the new Ben-Hur isn’t tracking all that well.

Critics Flunk Bourne, But What About Those Who Caught It Last Night?

If Jason Bourne was a tenth-grade student who had finished the year with a 57% grade average, he would have to take the class again during summer school. The Metacritic rating stands at 58%, almost exactly that of Rotten Tomatoes. Spoiler: I’ve thought and thought about Alicia Vikander‘s half-humanist, half-duplicitous CIA character, and I can’t decide who she really was or what she was really after. I’m not sure Vikander herself knew when she was performing the role. When she realizes that she’s been recorded saying things that indicate she’s been insincere in a discussion with Matt Damon, she says “shit” as in “curses! foiled again!” So she’s an untrustworthy baddie? That’s not what her actions indicate throughout most of the film so I don’t get it. And I’m not sure that I care either way. The not-bad Bourne made $4.2 million last night in nearly 3000 theaters. It will probably bring in between $55 and $60 million by Sunday night.

Spectacular Asian Slog — CG-Driven Historical War Flick With A Monster

Zhang Yimou‘s The Great Wall (Universal, 2.17.17) was previously slated to open globally on 11.23.16. It’s now opening in China in December and stateside two months later. The Wiki boilerplate calls it “an American-Chinese 3D science fantasy adventure-monster action film“…good God. Despite the screenwriting contributions of Tony Gilroy, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, Max Brooks, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, this is obviously made for folks in the cheap seats. Costarring Matt “paycheck” Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau. Filmed in China on a budget of $135 million — almost modest by U.S. standards. Everyone will speak English.

Wasn’t Thinking Strategically

First came yesterday’s announcement that Pablo Larrain and Darren Aronofsky‘s Jackie will be debuting at the Venice Film Festival. And then some speculation on my part that wasn’t altogether wise.


(l. to. r.) Carrot-top Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman, and an actor who resembles Animal Kingdom‘s James Frecheville (but who may not be).

Yesterday I wrote that “with Larrain already slated to attend the Telluride Film Festival with Neruda, it would be strange — a head-scratcher — if Jackie doesn’t wind up screening at Telluride also.” Convinced as I am that Telluride is the end-all and be-all of the domestic, ultra-refined, beginning-of-awards-season film festival experience, I asked “what possible strategy on the part of Jackie‘s producers could result in their film not playing Telluride?”

Answer: Jackie is looking to land a U.S. distributor, and Toronto, where it’ll screen after Venice, is much more of an acquisitions environment than Telluride. Plus a choice promotional berth at Toronto can be mighty tempting to a film in Jackie‘s position. So the decision to bypass Telluride has been made for the most practical of reasons. Fine. (more…)

The Morning After

If Hillary Clinton doesn’t get a decent bump out of the convention and particularly from last night’s speech, she’s in serious trouble. Hopefully she isn’t. Hopefully her poll numbers will uptick and that she’ll put Donald Trump away in the debates and we’ll be spared an Armageddon scenario, not by a comfortable margin, alas, but by the skin of our teeth. Maybe. I watched her speech last night (replay, not live) and she obviously handled it well. A commendable job. But I was almost fearful of what I wouldn’t see or feel from her delivery and presence, and I had to almost make myself watch it.


Nobody wants this headline to be true more than myself.

The speech was well crafted, and her delivery was good enough and that plus the cheers and those thousands upon thousands of balloons made for a stirring, well organized pageant moment. Hillary has brains, heart, steel and cojones. I’m a Bernie bro, but many — most — of her convictions are my own. But she has no music or poetry in her, and she’ll never strike a magical chord or hit a rhetorical home run with the bumblefucks.

God help us, she’s not what “they” want, and “they” are seemingly convinced that Hillary is indifferent to their economic pain and more particularly is against their cultural interests, and that she’s foursquare on the side of the big social-political changeover we’ve all been witnessing and sharing in over the last eight or ten or fifteen years (weakening of the rural, blue-collar economy plus, as Michael Moore noted a week ago, the growing power of the multiculturals, militant femme-Nazis and LGBTs) and for them it’s curtains for White Guy Rule, and so it’s the Last Stand at the Alamo.

I’m getting a really bad feeling here. I fear Hillary may be John Kerry. I’m sensing those same ’04 cultural vibes, the same “oh, yeah? we’ll show them” resentments.

For the first time in this election season I am really, genuinely scared.

HE’s own Sasha Stone posted the following on Facebook this morning: “This election will be a pure test of whether white males (on the left and right) can get over themselves and vote for the best candidate [regardless of] whether they like her speeches or not, whether they like her body or not, whether they want to sleep with her or not, whether they respect her or not and yes, whether they like her or not.

“The way I figure it is: likability is probably not the best reason to elect someone. TV charisma is an even worse reason. I think back to some of the best presidents this country has had — FDR included — and I think they would never get elected today. So it’s a test. We’ll see just how smart the people who are supposed to have the most power in this country do on this test.” (more…)

Bourne Connects Here and There

Jason Bourne isn’t too bad, but it feels like an aggressive effort to make money. More to the point, it doesn’t feel like it’s really about now. Except in one respect — cyber-tracking technology has become so immaculate and absolute that there are no chases any more. You can no longer lose the bad guys by ducking into an alley or an apartment building or some dark corner — the CIA and web technology know where you’re heading before you get there. So there’s now a kind of built-in futility to this kind of thing. The baddies are always breathing down your neck. Hell, they’re waiting for you.

Director Paul Greengrass, helmer of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum (i.e., the best of the bunch), delivers serious excitement in the early Athens bike-riding sequence, but the brutally insane Las Vegas car-chase finale is like something out of James Wan‘s Fast 7 — grotesque, nonsensical destructo-porn.

The Bourne franchise was hatched in the post-9/11 Bush era, and to some extent I think many of us sensed that the first three films (’02, ’04, ’07) were absorbing and reflecting the psychic atmosphere back then — the after-smell of smoke and dust and jet fuel, the venal Dick Cheney vibe, the blowback stench from the Iraq invasion, bad guys in charge, whiffs of coming economic chaos. But things feel different now after nearly seven and a half years of Obama, and the vibe just ain’t the same.

Question: Early on it’s clear that Matt Damon‘s Bourne character is living hand to mouth. He’s making ends meet by decking opponents in bare-knuckle boxing matches in northern Greece.  Which would bring in what? A few hundred bucks per match, if that?  And yet once the action kicks in he does the usual globe-hopping that he’s done in previous installments. He’s got plenty of different passports but you need serious dough to fly or take trains from city to city, not to mention food, hotels, temporary cell phones, etc. So where’d he get the scratch? (more…)