Icy Moscow Malevolence

Daniel Espinoza‘s Child 44 (Lionsgate, 4.17) is a serial-killer thriller set during the Stalinist chill of 1953 Soviet Russia. Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace, Charles Dance, Jason Clarke, Vince tCassell. Filmed in Prague and Ostrova in Czech Republic. Based on novel by Tom Rob Smith; screenplay by Richard Price. Boilerplate: “A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders,” et. al.

Choose The Hot American Guy….Please

During my 20-odd years of attending the Sundance Film Festival I’ve demonstrated an uncanny instinct for missing at least one or two major-buzz films. Two days ago I decided to catch a 6 pm press screening of Stevan Riley‘s Listen To Me Marlon instead of a 6:30 pm showing of John Crowley and Nick Hornby‘s Brooklyn…mistake. It was announced last night that Fox Searchlight has acquired Brooklyn, a period romance starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. Pic allegedly does the thing (“Despite its familiar structure it’s a thing of beauty, a delicate, tender period piece about nice people trying to do their best,” said N.Y. Post critic Kyle Smith) and looks like a fall awards-contender. No more screenings between now and Friday morning, which is when I leave. I’ll probably wind up catching it in Telluride/Toronto next September.

“So Many People Scoffing and Sneering…”

Warner Bros.’ decision to secretly screen Andy and Lana Wachowski‘s Jupiter Ascending (opening 2.6) last night at Park City’s Egyptian theatre didn’t turn out all that well. The Egyptian is a small theatre but the crowd was far from capacity, according to Variety and a couple of tweets, and all were forbidden from reviewing until next week. The elf-eared “space opera” is anything but a typical Sundance-type film, and everyone has been presuming all along that it’s some kind of problem movie so why show it here in the first place? A fair number of Sundance-attending press weren’t invited, were turned away at the door or didn’t even know about the screening, to go by several conversations I had last night.

From Variety‘s Ramin Setoodeh: “Despite the hype of a secret Jupiter Ascending screening, clusters of seats inside the 300-person venue remained empty, and a handful of patrons walked out” — bailed! — “of the two-hour-plus space epic starring Mila Kunis as a princess and Channing Tatum as an intergalactic soldier tasked with rescuing her.

“The Wachowskis’ flair was fully on display, with sequences reminiscent of The Matrix or Star Wars. But when the film ended, the usually gracious Sundance audience didn’t clap at the closing credits.

“‘I hated it,’ said one of the festival’s volunteers, who asked not to be identified for fear of irking Sundance. ‘It’s just ridiculous.’ (more…)

“I Prefer Slip-Ons To Sandals…That Is The Truth”

I can roll with austere minimalism as well as the next guy, and I certainly respect what Rodrigo Garcia and Emmanuel Lubezki are up to in Last Days of the Desert, which is basically about the 40 meditative days that Yeshua of Nazareth (Ewan McGregor) spent in the desert before embarking upon his calling as the Ultimate Lamb of God. Except it’s a little too spare — there’s not much feeling or drama in this thing, which is mostly about performances, photography and an impressive sense of stillness. The focus is not so much about Yeshua’s spiritual battle with a mirror-image Satan (also played by McGregor) as it is his decision to hang with a family of desert dwellers (Ciaran Hinds, Tye Sheridan, Ayelet Zurer) and help them build a small stone abode atop a mountain peak. That in itself felt like a problem. We all understand fasting in the wasteland to attain spiritual purity, but why would a family — anyone — live in that Godforsaken inferno? No soil, no water to speak of, no grass for the goats…a situation without a thread of logic or believability. I was also bothered by the footwear. In each and every Bible flick ever made guys have worn standard-issue sandals — a thick hunk of foot-shaped leather with a couple of straps. But McGregor and Hinds wear a kind of burlap slip-on — call it a desert hiking loafer. If you go to the Nordstrom site a close facsimile is available — Tom’s classic metallic burlap slip-on. I’m not being snarky. Any creative decision that diverts your attention form the main order of business is a mistake. Garcia and his wardrobe designer should have gone with boilerplate King of Kings sandals.

Tapley Exceptions, Clarifications

Yesterday In Contention‘s Kris Tapley assessed the out-of-the-blue Birdman surge and the apparently strong likelihood that Alejandro G. Innaritu‘s film has the Best Picture Oscar in the bag. It’s an astute piece but some assertions/observations need addressing.

Assertion #1: “No one was really expecting this of Birdman, and boom, there it is.” True — I had been urging people to vote for Birdman all along but I wasn’t expecting a PGA or SAG win. I had more or less wilted and accepted the Boyhood-is-all-but-inevitable theology…and then lo and behold!

Assertion #2: “I’ve always sensed some softness in the Boyhood steamroller.” Indeed — it’s been soft all along. I sensed that softness as I watched and absorbed Boyhood at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but tea-leaf readers kept insisting it had the Best Picture goods, and after a while most of us started to think, “Hmmm, yeah, maybe it does…okay, fine.” (more…)

Dope Clarity Crusade Gaining Momentum

All hail Grantland‘s Wesley Morris for looking askance at the bizarre euphoria that has greeted Rick Famuyiwa‘s Dope, and for standing on my side of the debate. “You can see Famuyiwa going for a certain class of skuzzy Los Angeles odyssey, like the ones of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson,” Morris observes. “[But] this is more like Doug Liman‘s Go, which was like Kwik-E-Mart Tarantino. But Dope isn’t made with even the sustained wit of Go. It has its moments, all of which involve the attempt to humorously unpack racial baggage. There just aren’t nearly enough.

And yet Dope “has been the most hotly auctioned film of the festival,” Morris notes. “I don’t know whether Open Road and Sony Pictures, who’ve acquired Dope, went for it because it feels, to them, authentically black or because the blackness is familiar to the world’s marketplaces.” Or because Famuyiqwa is supplying the kind of “black shit [that] white people like.” (more…)

Cruise, Travolta Need To Grow A Backbone

In a 1.27 q & a with Variety‘s Brent Lang, the Going Clear guys — director Alex Gibney, whose doc about the malignancy of Scientology is arguably the finest and most riveting film to play at Sundance ’15, and author Lawrence Wright, whose book is the basis of Gibney’s film — call on Tom Cruise and John Travolta to wake up, man up and speak out against Scientology’s abusive practices.

Gibney: “By now there is a well-documented record of abuses in the Church of Scientology, yet Cruise and Travolta have never spoken out about them. By not speaking out, it’s a kind of an endorsement and I think that’s why we’re right and properly critical.”

Wright: “They’re selling a product and the product they’re selling is oppressing some of the people inside the church, especially the clergy, which is called the Sea Org, and Cruise has spent countless hours out on the Sea Org base where — on that same base where he has a special chateau — there [are] these double-wide trailers called the hole, which is a kind of re-education camp where people have been incarcerated for years. Sleeping on the floor on bedrolls with ants crawling around, abused physically, made to lick the floor or the toilet with their tongue. It’s just unbelievable degradation. (more…)

We’re All Fantastic, or We Will Be Eventually

Some superhero movies (like the two Captain America flicks) are just good films, but the superhero megaplex virus is fed by a widespread sense of diminishment, impotence and insignificance, felt most acutely by under-35s who are either just starting to realize or have recently realized how un-heroic and unexceptional their lives are likely to be. On the other hand Miles “don’t be a pervert, man” Teller is one of the paycheck fantastics.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Best Picture: “American Sniper” Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan, Producers; “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers; “Boyhood” Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland, Producers; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson, Producers; “The Imitation Game” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman, Producers; “Selma” Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers; “The Theory of Everything” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten, Producers; “Whiplash” Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster, Producers.

Best Director: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu; “Boyhood” Richard Linklater; “Foxcatcher” Bennett Miller; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Wes Anderson; “The Imitation Game” Morten Tyldum.

Best Actor: Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher”, Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper”, Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Imitation Game”, Michael Keaton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, and Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything.”

Best Actress: Marion Cotillard in “Two Days, One Night”, Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything”, Julianne Moore in “Still Alice”, Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl”, Reese Witherspoon in “Wild."

Best Supporting Actor: Robert Duvall in “The Judge”, Ethan Hawke in “Boyhood”, Edward Norton in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher”, J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash”

Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”; Laura Dern in “Wild”; Keira Knightley in “The Imitation Game”; Emma Stone in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”; Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods."

Best Adapted screenplay: “American Sniper” Written by Jason Hall; “The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore; “Inherent Vice” Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson; “The Theory of Everything” Screenplay by Anthony McCarten; “Whiplash” Written by Damien Chazelle.

Best Original Screenplay: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo; “Boyhood” Written by Richard Linklater; “Foxcatcher” Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness; “Nightcrawler” Written by Dan Gilroy.

Best Cinematography: “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Robert Yeoman; “Ida” Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski; “Mr. Turner” Dick Pope; “Unbroken” Roger Deakins.

Best costume design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero; “Inherent Vice” Mark Bridges; “Into the Woods” Colleen Atwood; “Maleficent” Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive; “Mr. Turner” Jacqueline Durran.

Best Documentary Feature: “CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky; “Finding Vivian Maier” John Maloof and Charlie Siskel; “Last Days in Vietnam” Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester;
“The Salt of the Earth” Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier; “Virunga” Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara.

Best animated feature: “Big Hero 6” Don Hall, Chris Williams and Roy Conli; “The Boxtrolls” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable and Travis Knight; “How to Train Your Dragon 2” Dean DeBlois and Bonnie Arnold; “Song of the Sea” Tomm Moore and Paul Young; “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” Isao Takahata and Yoshiaki Nishimura.

Best Documentary Short Subject: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry; “Joanna” Aneta Kopacz; “Our Curse” Tomasz Sliwinski and Maciej Slesicki; “The Reaper (La Parka)” Gabriel Serra Arguello; “White Earth” J. Christian Jensen.

Best Film Editing: “American Sniper” Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach; “Boyhood” Sandra Adair “The Grand Budapest Hotel”; Barney Pilling, “The Imitation Game” William Goldenberg, “Whiplash” Tom Cross.

Best Foreign Language Film: “Ida” (Poland), “Leviathan” (Russia), “Tangerines” (Estonia), “Timbuktu” (Mauritania), “Wild Tales” (Argentina).

Best Makeup and hairstyling: “Foxcatcher” Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard; “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Frances Hannon and Mark Coulier; “Guardians of the Galaxy” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White

Best Original Score: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat; “The Imitation Game” Alexandre Desplat; “Interstellar” Hans Zimmer; “Mr. Turner” Gary Yershon; “The Theory of Everything” Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Best Original Song: “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie” (Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson); “Glory” from “Selma” (Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn); “Grateful” from “Beyond the Lights” (Music and Lyric by Diane Warren); “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me” (Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond; “Lost Stars” from “Begin Again” (Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois).

Best Production Design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock “The Imitation Game” Production Design: Maria Djurkovic; Set Decoration: Tatiana Macdonald; “Interstellar” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis; “Into the Woods” Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock; “Mr. Turner” Production Design: Suzie Davies; Set Decoration: Charlotte Watts.

Best Animated Short: “The Bigger Picture” Daisy Jacobs and Christopher Hees; “The Dam Keeper” Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi; “Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed; “Me and My Moulton” Torill Kove; “A Single Life” Joris Oprins.

Best Live Action Short: “Aya” Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis; “Boogaloo and Graham” Michael Lennox and Ronan Blaney; “Butter Lamp (La Lampe Au Beurre De Yak)” Hu Wei and Julien Féret; “Parvaneh” Talkhon Hamzavi and Stefan Eichenberger; “The Phone Call” Mat Kirkby and James Lucas.

Best Sound Editing: “American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman; “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Martín Hernández and Aaron Glascock; “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” Brent Burge and Jason Canovas; “Interstellar” Richard King; “Unbroken” Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro.

Best Sound Mixing; “American Sniper” John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Walt Martin; “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and Thomas Varga; “Interstellar” Gary A. Rizzo, Gregg Landaker and Mark Weingarten; “Unbroken” Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño and David Lee; “Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley;

Best Visual Effects: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Bryan Grill and Dan Sudick; “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist; “Guardians of the Galaxy” Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould; “Interstellar” Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Ian Hunter and Scott Fisher; “X-Men: Days of Future Past” Richard Stammers, Lou Pecora, Tim Crosbie and Cameron Waldbauer.


Going Clear: Devastating Scientology Takedown

I naturally expected Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief to rip Scientology, founder L. Ron Hubbard, current Scientology honcho David Miscavige, John Travolta and particularly Tom Cruise big-time, but the hard, well-ordered substance of the film knocked me back regardless. The case against Scientology and Miscavige in particular has been on the table for years, but Going Clear still packs a mean punch.

If you’ve done any reading about Scientology over the years Gibney’s film is not exactly a torrent of fresh information, but for those who are relatively uninformed the doc, which will air on HBO, is a seriously brutal indictment. It’s clear and tight and comprehensive as hell about Hubbard’s history, and is quite convincing with three ex-Scientology notables, including Marty Rathbun, formerly the church’s second-highest ranking official before leaving in 2004, spilling the beans big-time. (more…)

Flying Fuck At a Rolling Sundance Donut

I’ve been choking for the last 24 hours or so. Having seen six Sundance films over the last day and a half and ten since Saturday morning, I haven’t been able to write much about them. Earlier today I was telling myself to just write whatever comes to mind. The less I have to write about, the easier it is. I can take a slim thread of a feeling or a notion I’ve had in the shower and turn this into four or five graphs, easy. But movies are substantive topics — each one demands some kind of thorough, full-on exploration. And that’s hard when you’re seeing four per day. The only approach that works is to pick one or two aspects of a film that bother me. Once I’ve covered that I can usually add a sum-up response or boilerplate appraisal of some kind. I love Sundance but there’s a part of me that would almost rather be in New York City right now. I love walking around in snowboots as everything grinds to halt. A blizzard in Manhattan and not a snowflake falling here. It’s getting warmer, in fact.

Jesus Wept

You can tell right off the bat that Sam Rockwell will be doing his usual low-key sardonic routine in Jared Hess‘s Don Verdean, a Lionsgate release that pops at Park City’s Eccles theatre on Wednesday, 1.28 at 6:30 pm. The fact that Rockwell plays “a biblical archaeologist propositioned by a church that wants to finance his digs in exchange for creating a museum of sacred relics” tells you that sanctimonious righty Christians are going to take it in the neck. Amy Ryan, Leslie Bibb, Will Forte and the absolutely demonic Danny McBride costar. Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) directed and co-wrote somebody from his family with the first name of “Jerusha.”

Take Dope Hype With A Grain

Sundance critics appear to be as delighted with Rick Famuyiwa‘s Dope as the Open Road and Sony execs who’ve paid $7 million for the rights plus a $15 million p & a commitment. It’ll almost certainly be a hit — a just reward for being a snappy (i.e., jizz-whizzy), cartoonish, wild-ass Inglewood ‘hood action farce about friendship, guns, ’90s sounds, romance, sellin’ somebody else’s cocaine, gangstas, bullets flyin’, gettin’ into college (hey, maybe Harvard) and foxy, model-esque girls flashin’ that come-fuck-me look at hapless geeks with “who me?” gee-whiz expressions (in this instance Shameik Moore), and one of those hotties, drugged way the fuck up, stumbling across a busy street and then pissing outdoors in the shrubbery of a faux-Starbucks and the incident getting covered big-time by local TV news. Of course!

Dope pallies (l. to r.) Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Shameik Moore.

In other words, for all its keep-it-comin’ energy Dope is smartly assembled exploitation crap. Okay, not fair — it’s too superficially engaging to be called “crap” but it’s definitely insubstantial — a fleet, Tarantino-like hodgepodge of fantasy bullshit in the vein of a New Line Cinema release from the ’90s (i.e., House Party), and adapted to the general sensibility of 2015. In other words it’s fun as far as it goes but definitely not that great. Everything that happens fits a carefully calculated Hollywood street sensibility and is right the fuck on the nose; nothing is soft or subtle or indirect. Plus it’s too long by 15 or 20 minutes. At the 90-minute mark I was saying to myself, “Wait, wait…this thing should be wrapping up by now but it isn’t…it feels like it’s still building and developing points rather than starting to pay off.” (more…)

Feelings of Being Overwhelmed, Almost A Kind of Creeping Futility

Instead of the usual routine of writing in the morning and then starting screenings around noon, this morning I’m catching a 9 am showing of Rodrigo Garcia‘s Last Days in the Desert (which Variety‘s Justin Chang has called “a quietly captivating and remarkably beautiful account of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before the beginning of his ministry”) and then Rick Famuyiwa‘s much-buzzed-about Dope at 11:30 at the Prospector. And then, starring around 2 pm, three hours of writing before catching Stevan Riley‘s Listen To Me Marlon at 6 pm at the Holiday Cinemas, and then Joe Swanberg‘s Digging for Fire at 9:45 pm at the Eccles. I got up at 5:30 am to get a jump on filing, but seeing four films per day (which is what I’ve been averaging) means there’s never enough time to write much of anything. Maybe I’ll cut it back to three-per-day starting tomorrow (i.e., Tuesday, 1.27). I return to Los Angeles on Friday, 1.30, around noon, so between now and then I’ll be seeing about 13 films, counting today’s four.

Game Over?

With Birdman having just won SAG’s Best Ensemble award on top of snagging the PGA Zanuck trophy last night, it’s looking even more likely that it’ll take the Best Picture Oscar. Right, Sasha Stone, Scott Feinberg, Pete Hammond, Tom O’Neil and Steve Pond? It may not, of course, but if Boyhood wins instead (as an L.A.-based, Sundance-reporting journalist is still insisting will happen), it’ll be a huge shocker. And by the way, The Theory of Everything‘s Eddie Redmayne winning SAG’s Best Actor award means over-and-out for Michael Keaton?


Distracted this morning by Birdman euphoria and other matters, I now have 17 minutes to tap out something about Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig‘s Mistress America, a whipsmart, acrid, His Girl Friday-like comedy which I was entirely delighted with. Comedy is hard but making a fast, rat-a-tat-tat comedy is, I’m guessing, all the harder, especially when you’ve managed to fortify it with serious character shadings and a touch of pathos. I was also pleased and gratified by Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden‘s Mississippi Grind, which has an assured, nicely textured, low-key ’70s quality, and is easily the best film that Ryan Reynolds (whose performance as a good-natured knockabout is completely centered and confident) has ever starred in. I was fairly charmed and definitely amused by Patrick Brice‘s The Overnight, which I caught last night at 11:30 pm. It’s a congenial sex-kink comedy about an innocent 30something couple being gently and lovingly manipulated into sexual receptivity to a mellow predatory couple looking for a little action. It really works all around, but I have to leave for Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead…later.

Tea Leaves Had Little To Do With It

I guess I should say thanks to Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone for giving me some Birdman/PGA props and for not backhanding me too badly in the process. “Jeff has been a one-man champion for Birdman where others were mere admirers from afar,” she wrote. “Older women in the Academy won’t go for it, Jeff proclaimed, after he was told in Telluride that a fellow journalist’s wife didn’t like it. It’s too divisive to win, went the mantra. But Jeff was there. Day in and day out, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health — not just championing the film but predicting it to win when no one else did.” Except I wasn’t so much predicting a win (okay, I was in HE’s Oscar charts) as saying Birdman ought to win because it’s the only 2014 film with a swirling, magical, go-for-it feeling. Which the haters gave me a ton of shit for saying.

One Shot

My only opportunity to see Doug Aitken‘s Station to Station is a 3 pm screening today at the Park City Library. I could make it, but that would mean blowing of Alex Gibney‘s Going Clear, the anti-Scientology doc which I feel obligated to catch as soon as possible. It’s also necessary, I’m being told, to catch tomorrow morning’s 11 am showing of Rick Famuyiwa‘s Dope, a big acquisition title, along with tomorrow morning’s 8:30 am screening of Kim Farrant‘s Strangerland.

Respect, Affection for Joe Franklin

Joe Franklin, one of the great New York personalities and an indefatigable interviewer, has passed at age 88. Fare thee well to a hard-working New York institution who, according to a hilarious N.Y. times obit, “presided over one of the most compellingly low-rent television programs in history, one that even [Franklin] acknowledged was an oddly long-running parade of has-beens and yet-to-bes interrupted from time to time by surprisingly famous guests.” In 1993 Franklin reportedly claimed that he had interviewed than 300,000 guests during his show’s 40 year run. Yours truly sat on Joe’s couch in late ’79 or early ’80. I was plugging Sid Geffen‘s Thousand Eyes Cinema Guide, which I was the managing editor of. I remember that Joe suddenly asked me during our discussion what I thought of Akim Tamiroff. I was stunned. What the hell was I supposed to say? My response: “Uhhm…grizzled, unshaven Turkish guy, mannered, always with the bottle…Touch of Evil, Ocean’s Eleven…I don’t know, he’s okay.”


Behold A Dead Horse

During a Saturday afternoon female writer’s panel at Park City’s Egyptian theatre (“Power of Story: Serious Ladies“), Girls creator Lena Dunham demonstrated a dogged anti-Woody Allen tenacity by lobbing a fresh grenade over the months-old Dylan Farrow accusations. But she was a little sloppy about it. “Woody Allen is proof that people don’t think everything he says in his films is stuff that he does,” Dunham said, “because all he was doing was making out with 17-year olds for years and we didn’t say anything about it.” Allen had a relationship with a 17 year-old, played by Mariel Hemingway, in 1979’s Manhattan, but that was a one-off. Dunham added a stunningly cynical remark when she suggested that Allen falling for Soon-Yi Previn in ’91 (and then marrying her in ’97) was p.r. theatre meant to deflect moral criticism. “No one went that Woody Allen is making out with a 17-year old in Manhattan and I guess he’s a real perv,” Dunham said. “And then lo and behold…” Co-panelist Kristen Wiig completed the thought with a reportedly sarcastic “he fell in love.” That’s fairly venal. Also on the panel were Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) and Orange Is The New Black creator Jenji Kohan.

Bird Justice

All along I’ve been saying — insisting — that among 2014’s Best Picture contenders, Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Birdman is the only ecstatic, drop-dead brilliant contender. And all along a majority of the online know-it-alls (Gold Derby, Gurus of Gold, Steve Pond, Sasha Stone, Mark Harris, et. al.) have been saying the Best Picture Oscar will nonetheless go to Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood. And all along I’ve said that would be (a) a personal disappointment but (b) a fine, supportable decision because Boyhood is an inspired, spirit-lifting landmark of sorts — a stunt film with soul, finesse and an engaging scheme.

And then last night the roof fell in with chunks of sheetrock and ceiling styrofoam on the floor and all the Boyhood supporters stumbling around and rubbing plaster dust out of their eyes and going “what happened?” For Birdman won the Producers Guild of America’s Best Picture equivalent trophy, i.e., the Darryl F. Zanuck Award. Boom.

All across Oscarland and particularly among the prognosticators, wise guys are figuring ways to spin this so it seems as if they half-knew and half-expected this to happen all along. Hilarious.

Needless to add there is nothing but joy and elation up in Park City. If I wasn’t a sober guy I would have bought a bottle of champagne and guzzled it. For the first time since the triumph of Kathryn Bigelow‘s The Hurt Locker, which I had pushed from its first screening at the ’09 Toronto Film Festival, HE’s personal Best Picture pony appears to be surging and within reach of a big win.

Maybe. Don’t count your chickens. There could always be a backlash. (Sasha Stone tweet: “When Birdman becomes the frontrunner people will start to hate it too. Like clockwork.” Did she say “start” to hate it?) But this feels awfully good, I must say. (more…)

A Festival To Keep Up With

(l. to r.) Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach and Lola Kirke following Saturday evening’s screening of Mistress America.

(l. to. r.) D Train costars James Marsden, Kathyrn Hahn and Jack Black following last night’s screening at the Library.

James White star Christopher Abbott, director Josh Mond following Friday afternoon’s screening at the Library.

“Not a Black and White Movie…”

The American hinterland has spoken again this weekend about American Sniper. It will probably earn another $60 million this weekend on top of last weekend’s super-haul, and that means that Joe and Jane Bubba want Clint Eastwood‘s film to win the Best Picture Oscar. The Producers Guild Awards are unfolding as we speak, and they’re expected to give their Daryl F. Zanuck award to Boyhood…right? Just saying. Different realms.

Sundance Doesn’t Care If You’ve Overslept

Yesterday I caught four films over an 11-hour period, and I’ve got another three-and-a-half on the schedule today — a half-hour’s worth of Stevan Riley‘s Listen to Me, Marlon (2:30 pm, Prospector), Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck‘s Mississippi Grind (3:30 pm, Eccles), Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig‘s Mistress America (6:30 pm, Eccles) and then, possibly, most of Craig Zobel‘s Z For Zachariah (8:30 pm, Library). And if I want to be a serious madman I’ll catch an 11:30 pm screening of Patrick Brice‘s The Overnight at the Prospector.

On top of which I’m moving this morning from the somewhat larger suite #121 at the Park Regency to the somewhat smaller #124, which should take about an hour. A tight clock. Oh, to wander through the Sundance Film Festival solely on whims and instinct with no need to file…stop dreaming.

For me the smartest, most engaging and fully realized film I saw yesterday was Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon‘s Best of Enemies, a wise and propulsive capturing of a kind of clash-of-the-titans TV debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions.

But running a close second was Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul‘s The D Train, by far the darkest and nerviest laugher I’ve seen in ages. It begins as a not-too-funny situation comedy about a neurotic, high-strung suburban family man (Jack Black) who goes to great fraudulent lengths to travel to Los Angeles to lure a former high-school classmate who’s now a more-or-less-failed Hollywood actor (James Marsden) to a 20th anniversary high-school reunion.

What I didn’t expect to see was a detour into Brokeback Mountain territory by way of a Lars von Trier film. But at the same time, as I mentioned during the post-screening q & a, The D Train follows the classic structure known as “the Three Ds” — desire, deception and discovery. (more…)

Possible Addition

I might want to wedge in a Sunday afternoon Library screening of Ariel Kleiman‘s Partisan, an allegedly “sinister” melodrama about an enigmatic drifter (Vincent Cassel) who “becomes an unlikely mentor to a young boy” who’s starting to think for himself and see past some of the bullshit. Kleiman directs from a script he co-wrote with Sarah Cyngler. Winners and losers surface at every Sundance Film Festival. No predicting — you just have to roll with the punches. But at least up here you’re dealing with new material and live situations and the coolest people on the planet as opposed to calculating fickle Oscar odds and dealing with the January doldrums back in L.A.

Four for Texas…Sundance, I Mean

I was intending to see Ken KwapisA Walk in the Woods this morning, but I hesitated when I realized it will have only one public screening in Park City and no press & industry screenings at all (limited availability always indicates trouble) and particularly after costar Robert Redford said during yesterday’s opening press conference that showing the film during the festival “wasn’t my idea but John Cooper‘s.” Would Redford have said that if he had any serious affection for the film?

So instead I’ll be catching an 11:45 am Library screening of Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon‘s Best of Enemies, a doc about the notorious television debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions. This will be followed by a 2:30 pm screening of Josh Mond‘s James White (also at the Library). This will be quickly followed by a 5:30 pm MARC screening of Rupert Goold‘s True Story, the Jonah Hill-James Franco fact-based psychodrama. The final film of the day will be Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul‘s The D Train, about a Zelig-like guy (Jack Black) enduring the agonies of a 20th anniversary high-school reunion. (more…)

It Came From Ohio

For whatever perverse reason Sundance programmers will occasionally select a mostly dreadful, all-but-unendurable film to play in the Premieres section. The common consensus is that Bryan Buckley‘s The Bronze is one of these films. I can’t speak from authority because I left around the 15-minute mark, but I could smell trouble even before it began. Standing before the Eccles crowd and delivering his opening remarks, Buckley, 51, was affecting a look of a ski-slope party animal with a bright red parka and long blonde hair worn in a shaggy Iggy Pop or Chris Hemsworth-in-Rush style, and right away I was muttering, “No good can come of this….not from this guy.” I was right. Written by Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory) and her husband Winston, pic is about Hope (Rauch), a former Olympic gymnast who won a bronze medal in ’04 and is still coasting on that modest memory, ten years on, as she resides with her dad (Gary Cole) — the very embodiment of a self-entitled, delusional loser. Buckley had told the crowd they would be detesting Hope almost immediately, so the name of the game was “how hateful is this bitch going to be?” I decided within minutes — seconds, really — that my life would not be significantly diminished if I never found out. The easy-lay types were laughing but half-heartedly. An aura of uncertainty and then discomfort began to permeate the room. I grabbed the cowboy hat and bolted. I emerged from the Eccles a free man, elated and renewed and striding purposefully down Kearns Boulevard as I sucked in the frigid night air.

Prior to the start of last night’s screening of The Bronze. If you look closely you’ll spot a guy with a very worried expression sitting right in the middle, in the first row of the second section.

God Rest Nina Simone

Liz GarbusWhat Happened, Miss Simone? is a sad, absorbing, expertly assembled doc about the legendary Nina Simone (1933-2003), one of the greatest genius-level jazz-soul singers of the 20th Century as well as a classically trained pianist extraordinaire. Garbus is obviously a huge Simone fan, and she makes her case for — draws you into — this flawed, impassioned artist with skill and flair. Pic opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on Thursday night at the Eccles.

So Garbus’ film has the expertise and the feeling and the spirit. No one who sees it will leave feeling under-nourished. But I also found What Happened, Miss Simone? irksome because of several biographical facts that Garbus inexplicably leaves out. (Her birth year, the cause of her death, her first marriage, a shooting incident, etc.) I also found Simone herself a bit of a hurdle. Her lack of respect and reverence for her extraordinary singing gifts as well as a general indifference to the basics of maintaining a healthy career is perplexing and even alienating. Maybe it’s me but it’s hard to warm up to, much less feel a kinship with, haughty aloofness, a hair-trigger temperament and self-destructive behavior.

But oh, those pipes, that phrasing, that style…that magnificent, touched-by-God aura. (more…)

“Even The Jungle Wanted Him Dead…”

I just happened upon this beautiful photo this morning on Twitter. I had an emotional reaction that’s stayed with me all day. I had to a chance to watch a digitally remastered Apocalypse Now inside the beautiful Werner Herzog Cinema at last September’s Telluride Film Festival, but I went to see Wild instead because that was the hotter film at the moment. I’m really sorry I did that.

“My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam. It’s what it was really like. It was crazy. We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.” — Francis Ford Coppola speaking at a press conference during the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.

Bright Out — Forgot To Bring My Sunglasses

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival opening-day press conference was the exercise it’s always been — an attempt to define what the climate is and what’s changing, and an attempt by journalist to goad Robert Redford into giving them a tasty quote or two. The aging Sundance Kid was asked virtually all of the questions and obliged with his usual honesty. Festival director John Cooper and executive director Keri Putnam added their two cents from time to time. It was an okay discussion and frank as far as it went, but the answers at these conferences are always influenced by diplomatic sidestepping or at least a tendency to sand off the edges. Incidentally: I was struck by a bland, vaguely grotesque mini-mall across the street from the Egyptian theatre, where the conference took place. Bit by little bit Park City, which had a vaguely historic aura 20 years ago, is losing those remnants of the old mining town that it used to have. A kind of cultural blight is spreading. Shallow entrepreneurs catering to the rich and the tasteless are coming in and rebuilding it to fit their bullshit sensibilities.

(l. to .r) Salt Lake Tribune‘s Sean Means (moderator), Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper, exec director Keri Putnam, founder and costar Captain America costar Robert Redford during this afternoon’s press conference.

The ugliest addition to Main Street in many years — big and sprawling and exuding not a hint of personality or charm — a form of nouveau riche arrogance by way of architectural blight.

The Riverhorse Cafe used to be a pleasant gray — now it’s been repainted a dark gray with a touch of forest green. It almost feels funereal. No accounting for taste.