Prague is downshifty enough to leave room for something I probably wouldn’t get around to in Los Angeles — a screening of Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (’27) with live musical accompaniment. I’ve seen nearly all of the worthwhile Hitchcock films, but not this one. Tonight at 7 pm, or three hours hence.

Kate, a 20 year-old English-speaking waitress who works at Restaurace U Bile Kravy, an excellent little steak joint not far from Wenceslas Square.


The Whiteness, or Why The Old “Birds of a Feather” Rationale Doesn’t Cut It Any More and Why Mixed-Culture Characters Are Better Than European Anglo-Germanic Types

Reviews of Cameron Crowe‘s Aloha (Sony, 5.29) will finally pop later today. One presumes that reactions will be mostly non-adoring (here’s a review by The Stranger‘s Erik Henriksen). And yet a seasoned, been-around guy who attended Tuesday night’s all-media says that (a) it’s actually a fairly pleasing film and (b) his wife called it the most engaging she’s seen this year. (This will almost certainly turn out to be a minority view.) I won’t see Aloha until I return to the States on Monday…well, actually Tuesday as I’ll be catching a 7 pm Manhattan all-media of Entourage on 6.1.

In any event I’ve been thinking about the beefs against Crowe’s film by the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, which are basically that the Hawaii-based film ignores the multicultural nature of society in general (i.e., not just Hawaiian) by telling a story that is pretty much entirely about white people — Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin.

“Caucasians only make up 30% of the population of Hawaii, but from watching this film, you’d think they made up 99%,” a MANAA press release reads. “This comes in a long line of films — The Descendants, 50 First Dates, Blue Crush, Pearl Harbor — that uses Hawaii for its exotic backdrop but goes out of its way to exclude the very people who live there. It’s an insult to the diverse culture and fabric of Hawaii.”

MANAA is mostly right. Nativism and multiculturalism are the reigning theologies today, and anyone making a film about a group of white people in a region or country in which the vast majority are non-white risks seeming a bit jaded, and certainly out of step with the times. On the other hand it should be allowable for Crowe, a white guy who grew up in Wonderbread San Diego in the ’50s and ’60s, to make a movie about a social realm in which he used to live in, and in which he probably to some extent still lives in in his head. (more…)

“B-Move Gold”?

From Peter Debruge’s 1.31.15 Sundance review: “Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea for Kevin Bacon’s corrupt small-town sheriff to leave the keys inside his unlocked patrol car. And maybe he should have thought twice before tossing his gunbelt in the backseat and stuffing a beaten-and-bound criminal in the trunk. But all those bad decisions make for B-movie gold in Jon WattsCop Car (Focus World, 8.7), a tight, easily marketable genre exercise that pushes its lean premise and all-around disrespect for authority to entertaining extremes, taking wicked delight in imagining what might happen if two 10-year-olds were to stumble upon an abandoned police cruiser and take it for a joyride.


Busy Corner in Los Feliz

The Aero is still my all-time favorite Los Angeles theatre — excellent repertory selections, first-rate digital projection. Closely followed by the Egyptian. But I won’t see 35mm shows at either venue for the simple reason that with very few exceptions, 35mm projection almost always guarantees a degraded experience. But the Vista, a first-run vintage theatre hanging by its nails, is probably the best place to watch a film in an old-timey atmosphere. (I’m not counting the downtown LA venues that occasionally host special-event screenings.) Digital plus 35mm, beautiful marquee, haunting pre-war decor, great-tasting popcorn, good enough seats. Cinefamily is my third favorite venue, especially if I’m able to sit in those cushy armchair-like seats near the front. For whatever reason I almost never think about going to the Nuart these days. And way, way, way down at the bottom of the list is Quentin Tarantino‘s New Beverly Cinema, which only shows 35mm and is therefore committed to perpetuating a kind of ’70s nostalgia time-machine atmosphere. If I never see another 35mm film it’ll be too soon. And I’m speaking as a former projectionist. And yet there’s something oddly alluring about seeing Fritz Lang‘s The Big Heat there on Wednesday or Thursday, 6.3 or 6.4. I know it won’t look or sound as good as the Bluray, but just once I want to see The Big Heat in a theatre.


Talk It All Through

In a 1.24.15 review from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, N.Y. Post critic Kyle Smith called James Ponsoldt‘s The End of the Tour (A24, 7.31) “by far the most moving and profound odd-couple buddy movie [to play here], with a funny, lightly intellectual script by Pulitzer Prize winning dramatist Donald Margulies that should merit heavy awards consideration. Falling halfway between Almost Famous and My Dinner with Andre, this love song to the art of conversation is about a Rolling Stone journalist, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) who is infatuated with the postmodernist novelist David Foster Wallace’s gargantuan novel ‘Infinite Jest’ and begs for the opportunity to profile the author, who’s about to leave his snowbound rural home in Illinois for a five-day book tour to Minneapolis.” I tried to fit this film into my Sundance schedule but stuff got in the way. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Okay, maybe I didn’t try hard enough on some level. Maybe I don’t relate all that well to guys who who have trouble controlling their appetites or who live in Illinois or who off themselves. But I wanted to see it. Want to, I mean.

When All Else Fails

Consequence of Sound’s Michael Roffman, filed on 3.16.15: “Not since Anton Corbijn’s Control, his excellent 2007 retelling of the life and death of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, has a biopic felt so authentic and conditional of its own subject. Screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner lean heavily on a number of must-read bookmarks in Brian Wilson’s career, but [director Bill] Pohlad adds a surreal touch, capturing the ’60s druggy landscapes and Wilson’s manic inner voices with dreamy perspectives Love & Mercy leaves the darkest hours of Wilson’s life — his weight gain, his drug abuse, and his rigorous early therapy sessions alongside Eugene Landy — for the imagination or extra-curricular studies. The film has enough struggles to resolve, specifically how Wilson’s love for music nearly crushed him, and how love eventually saved him. The way Pohlad orchestrates this strange dichotomy on-screen is about as beautiful and heartwarming as any of The Beach Boys’ best material. And when your favorite songs bubble up or weave through Atticus Ross’s unique score, the marriage of sound and screen will win your tears, your smiles and your soul. To paraphrase Wilson, that’s what you need tonight.”

Uncle Bernie By A Country Mile

I’ll grudgingly vote for Hillary Clinton in the end, but I don’t like her that much. She’s okay in a corporately liberal, center-right sort of way, and like everyone else I love the idea of a woman succeeding Barack Obama. But I really love who Bernie Sanders is — a man of balls and integrity and blunt truths. I would honestly prefer that he become the next President, or someone like him. But he’s the guy — he’s it. He won’t beat Hillary in the primaries, of course, but for the time being and the foreseeable future I’m a total Bernie guy, and that means donating and wearing a Bernie for President T-shirt and all the rest of it. But I wish they would make European-style Bernie T-shirts like they do for women. I won’t wear a coarse, inelegant, low-thread-count T-shirt for any reason, Bernie Sanders included.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

2015 X-Factor, Ambitious, Semi-Fresh, Social Undercurrent, Something More (28)

A Bigger Splash -- Luca Guadagnino (director); Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson. Fox Searchlight, presumably sometime in the fall.

Black Mass (Warner Bros.) -- Scott Cooper (director/screenplay); Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson. (9.18)

Bridge of Spies (Touchstone / DreamWorks / 20th Century Fox) -- Steven Spielberg (director); Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (screenplay); Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson.

Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight) -- John Crowley (director), Nick Nornsby (screenwriter) -- Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters.

By The Sea (Universal) -- Angelina Jolie (director, screenwriter). Cast: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Niels Arestrup, Mélanie Laurent.

Carol (Weinstein Co.) -- Todd Haynes (director); Pyllis Nagy (screenplay, based on Patricia Highsmith novel); Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler.

Concussion -- Peter Landesman (director-writer). Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson. Sony.

The Danish Girl -- Tom Hooper (director). Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts.

Demolition (Fox Searchlight) -- Jean-Marc Vallee (director); Bryan Sipe (screenplay); Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper. Fox Searchlight.

Everest (Universal) -- Baltasar Kormákur (director); Justin Isbell, William Nicholson (screenplay); Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright.

Hail Caesar! (Universal -- listed as a February 2016 release but if the film turns out to be half as good as the crackling script, it'll be criminal to relegate it to a dump month); Joel and Ethan Coen (directors, screenplay); Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill.

Untitled Warren Beatty/Howard Hughes Drama (no distributor) -- Warren Beatty (director, writer); Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Taissa Farmiga, Chace Crawford, Candice Bergen. 2015 or '16?

Icon -- Stephen Frears (director), Jon Hodge (screenwriter). An Irish sports journalist becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong's performances during the Tour de France victories are fueled by banned substances. Ben Foster, Lee Pace, Chris O'Dowd.

Irrational Man (Sony Classics) -- Woody Allen (director, screenplay); Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey, Emma Stone, Jamie Blackley. .

Joy (20th Century Fox) -- David O. Russell (director/screenplay). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramirez. 20th Century Fox, 12.25.

Love and Mercy -- Bill Pohlad (director). Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner (screenplay). Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti. Roadside Attractions, 6.5.

Money Monster (TriStar/Sony -- apparently shooting in early '15) -- Jodie Foster (director); Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf (screenplay). Cast: George Clooney, Jack O'Connell, Julia Roberts.

Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Bros.); David Gordon Green (director); Peter Straughan (screenplay); Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd. WARNING -- possible 2016 release.

The Revenant (20th Century Fox) -- Alejandro González Inarritu (director/screenplay); Mark "nobody can remember my middle initial" Smith (screenplay); Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson.

Sea of Trees (no distributor) -- Gus Van Sant (director); Chris Sparling (screenplay); Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Katie Aselton, Jordan Gavaris.

Silence (Paramount) -- Martin Scorsese (director); Jay Cocks (screenplay); Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Issei Ogata, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano. WARNING -- could be 2016 release.

Snowden -- Oliver Stone (director, co-writer). Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant. Open Road, 12.25.

Spotlight -- Thomas McCarthy (director, co-writer). Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, John Slattery.

Steve Jobs (Universal -- shooting began in January 2015, which indicates an intention to bring it out by late '15) -- Danny Boyle (director), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Scott Rudin (producer); Cast: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston.

Richard Linklater's That's What I'm Talking About (his "spiritual sequel" to Dazed & Confused) is opening sometime in the fall. Annapurna/Paramount.

Trumbo (Bleecker Street) -- Jay Roach (director), Michael London (producer), John McNamara (screenwriter). Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, John Goodman.

Truth (no distributor) -- James Vanderbilt (director, writer -- based on the 2005 memoir "Truth and Duty" by Mary Mapes); Cast: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood.

The Walk (TriStar / ImageMovers) -- Robert Zemeckis (director/screenplay); Christopher Browne (screenplay); Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Charlotte Le Bon. Sony/TriStar, 10.2.

2015 Quality-Grade Commercial / alphabetical order (9):

The Hateful Eight (Weinstein Co.) -- Quentin Tarantino (director-writer); Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, Kurt Russell.

In the Heart of the Sea (Warner Bros.) Ron Howard (director); Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson.

The Last Face (distributor) -- Sean Penn (director); Erin Dignam (screenplay); Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos.

Legend (Universal); Brian Helgeland (director, screenwriter); Tom Hardy (playing both Kray twins), Emily Browning.

Midnight Special (Warner Bros.) -- Jeff Nichols (director/screenplay); Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton.

Regression (The Weinstein Company) -- Alejandro Amenábar (director/screenplay); Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Dencik.

Ricki and the Flash (TriStar) -- Jonathan Demme (director); Diablo Cody (screenplay); Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt.

Tomorrowland (Disney) -- Brad Bird (director, cowriter); Damon Lindelof (co-writer); George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Thomas Robinson, Kathryn Hahn, Tim McGraw, Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer.

Trainwreck (Universal) -- Judd Apatow (director/screenplay); Amy Schumer (screenplay); Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Bayer, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Barkhad Abdi, Norman Lloyd.

Pleasingly, Vigorously, Assuredly Mainstream (or something in that realm) / alphabetical order (13):

Aloha (Sony/Columbia) a.k.a. Son of Deep Tiki -- Cameron Crowe (director, writer); Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel.

Criminal (Summit Entertainment) -- Ariel Vromen (director); Douglas Cook, David Weisberg (screenplay); Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman.

Crimson Peak (Universal / Legendary) -- Guillermo del Toro (director/screenplay); Matthew Robbins, Lucinda Coxon (screenplay); Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jessica Chastain, Jim Beaver.

Grimsby (Columbia) -- Louis Leterrier (director); Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston (screenplay); Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Annabelle Wallis, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, David Harewood, Johnny Vegas, Penélope Cruz, Scott Adkins.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.) George Miller (director/screenplay); Nick Lathouris, Brendan McCarthy (screenplay); Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Richard Norton, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Magic Mike XXL (Warner Bros.) Gregory Jacobs (director); Channing Tatum (screenplay); Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Gabriel Iglesias, Andie MacDowell, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Glover, Michael Strahan.

The Martian (20th Century Fox) -- Ridley Scott (director); Drew Goddard (screenplay); Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Mackenzie Davis, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan.

Masterminds (Relativity Media) -- Jared Hess (director); John Goldwyn, Lorne Michaels (screenplay); Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis.

Mississippi Grind (no distributor) -- Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (directors, writers). Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Ben Mendelsohn, Analeigh Tipton.

Southpaw (Weinstein Co.) -- Antoine Fuqua; Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Forest Whitaker, Victor Ortiz.

Spectre (MGM / Columbia) -- Sam Mendes (director); John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (screenplay); Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney / Lucasfilm / Bad Robot) -- J.J. Abrams (director/screenplay); Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay); John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker.

Triple Nine (Open Road) -- John Hillcoat (director); Matt Cook (screenplay); Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Chris Allen, Anthony Mackie.


Cynical Surrender to San Andreas

Brad Peyton’s San Andreas (Warner Bros., 5.29) is exactly what the trailers have been selling — a serving of stupidly entertaining, over-the-top disaster porn that flirts with absurdity. Yes, everyone plays it totally straight and the script hits the usual predictable beats as the all-but-total destruction of Los Angeles, San Francisco and much of California is reduced to a story of six or seven people who show what they’re made of when push comes to shove. But it’s the very sincerity in which Peyton and his cast and FX team embrace this mudslide of cliches that makes it screamingly funny. Not “wow, these guys are really hilarious” funny but “wow, these guys will stop at nothing…they’ll push any button they can think of.” You just have to laugh or at least chortle.

After it’s all over at the very end we’re shown small groups of survivors holding hands and praying together along with a fence display of paper-mounted photos of possible survivors with messages asking if anyone has seen this or that person. We’re also shown a huge American flag being unfurled from the remnants of the Golden Gate Bridge. “You contemptible whores,” I muttered to myself. “You’re using memories and echoes of 9/11 to augment your finale, which you’re totally ‘sincere’ about. Serious balls, gentlemen…hats off.”

This is an appalling, never-boring, kill-the-world action film — a movie that goes beyond what any reasonable person would call a bogus, full-of-shit dramatic strategy to embrace something crazier and more meta. I’m not sure how to describe it except to say that San Andreas makes Irwin Allen‘s The Towering Inferno look like Elia Kazan‘s On The Waterfront. (If you’re fair about it you’ll acknowledge that Inferno was at least semi-realistic in its use of practical fire-fighting realities.) It’s not so much a “we will rock you” experience as one that says — boasts! — “we are the owners of this bullshit and we will fucking amaze you with our shamelessness.” And I submitted. I had to. I just shook my head and sat back in my 4DX chair and muttered, “Whatever, guys…go to town.” (more…)

The Men Must Not Know What I Know

You can stream Jerzy Skolimowski‘s Moonlighting (’82) but every now and then a Bluray comes along that you just want to own. Because on some level owning this or that title will make me feel good and affirmed. And because I want to re-experience the mesmerizing big-screen impact when this great allegorical film played during the 1982 New York Film Festival. I have it in my head that this British Bluray will somehow deliver a better facsimile than ever before. I love that moment when Jeremy Irons is lying on his bed and staring at a photo of his girlfriend (Jenny Seagrove) and suddenly she seems to come alive within the frame, very slightly and somewhat erotically. I’ve been remarking for years that the world is divided into two camps — those who hear Moonlighting and think of Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepard and those who think of Irons and Skolimowski and that ending with those shopping carts crashing into the wall.

Stranded, Despondent, Done For

Ridley Scott‘s The Martian (20th Century Fox, 11.25) is about Matt Damon somehow figuring out ways to survive on Mars for months on end despite being stranded with meager supplies of water and food. The film has a healthy roster of costars — Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels — so it’s not some man-alone thing like Castaway or 127 Hours, but even if Damon’s ingenuity allows him to survive (and I’m presuming it will) I just don’t believe the U.S. government would spend God knows how many hundreds of millions (billions?) to send a rescue mission to save him. I think the powers-that-be would say, “We’re very sorry but every now and then you have to face reality and stand down and let nature take its course.” The film is based on Andy Weir’s book, which I’m not going to read as preparation.

If Bad Hurt Is So Good…

I’ve just finished reading a 5.24 Salon piece about an allegedly strong domestic drama called Bad Hurt, which played at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival but currently has no commercial distributor. Bill Curry‘s article, titled “Karen Allen’s brilliant comeback: A Raiders of the Lost Ark star forsakes Hollywood for a brilliant, blue-collar film,” describes Mark Kemble‘s film, an adaptation of his 2007 stage play called “Bad Hurt on Cedar Street,” as an American kitchen sink drama — “a good movie that felt very real.”

“American cinema never got into social realism,” Curry writes. “Italian neorealists like De Sica, Rossellini and Fellini had counterparts in British ‘kitchen sink’ auteurs such as Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson in new-wave film movements everywhere in the world but here. Such films show people trapped by income, education or family circumstance who don’t get rescued by upward mobility or the kindness of strangers. In America the idea of anyone being trapped in the system is heresy, but after 40 years of political and economic stagnation that may be starting to change.” (more…)

Son of Deep Tiki Poster Contest

With Cameron Crowe‘s Aloha opening three days hence with no buzz and no currents in the wind except those that spell dread, how much worse could the reception be if Crowe and Sony had adopted Hollywood Elsewhere’s pet title for this calamity, i.e., Son of Deep Tiki? Especially with certain native Hawaiians reportedly disapproving of the Aloha title, which they feel is “a disrespectful misappropriation of culture and simplifies a word that’s rich with meaning”? I’m asking anyone with modest Photoshop abilities to take a crack at a Son of Deep Tiki poster. I’ll post the best of the submissions. C’mon…it’ll be easy. The more subversive, the better.


Bygone Sensibilities

A few days ago and for no timely reason at all A.V. Club‘s Mike Vanderbilt posted a piece about original reactions to William Friedkin‘s The Exorcist, which opened in December ’73. It reminds you how jaded and cynical the culture has since become. The Exorcist gobsmacked Average Joes like nothing that they’d seen before, but you couldn’t possibly “get” audiences today in the same way. Sensibilities have coarsened. The horror “bar” is so much higher.

But there’s one thing that 21st Century scary movies almost never do, and that’s laying the basic groundwork and hinting at what’s to come, step by step and measure by measure. Audiences are too impatient and ADD to tolerate slow build-ups these days, but Friedkin spent a good 50 to 60 minutes investing in the reality of the Exorcist characters, showing you their decency and values and moments of stress and occasional losses of temper, as well a serious investment in mood, milieu and portents. It had the trappings of class — a genuinely eerie score, flush production values and the subdued, autumnal tones in Owen Roizman‘s cinematography. It was only in the second hour that the shock-and-awe stuff began.

The best parts of The Exorcist don’t involve spinning heads or pea-soup vomit. I’m talking about moments in which scary stuff is suggested rather than shown. The stuff you imagine might happen is always spookier.

Such as (1) that prologue moment in Iraq when Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow) is nearly run over by a galloping horse and carriage, and a glimpse of an older woman riding in the carriage suggests a demonic presence; (2) a moment three or four minutes later when Merrin watches two dogs snarling and fighting near an archeological dig; (3) that Washington, D.C. detective (Lee J. Cobb) telling Father Karras (Jason Miller) that the head of the recently deceased director Burke Dennings (Jack McGowran) “was turned completely around”; (4) Karras’s dream sequence about his mother calling for him, and then disappearing into a subway; (5) that moment when Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) mimics the voice and repeats the exact words of a bum that Karras has recently encountered — “Can you help an old altar boy, father?” My favorite bit in the whole film is that eerie whoosh-slingshot sound coming from the attic. (more…)

Will Weinsteiners Downplay Rooney Mara’s Cannes Triumph By Running Her As Supporting Actress?

One of my early reactions after seeing Todd HaynesCarol was that costars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, who play closeted lovers in this 1952 Manhattan-based tale, are evenly matched in every sense of the term — neither dominates the other in terms of passion or screen time, and both parts are equally important.  But conventional thinking says that the Weinstein Co. campaigning Blanchett vs. Mara in the Best Actress category would be self-cancelling (how could it not be?), and so a theoretical narrative seemed to emerge over the last few days that Blanchett, who’s already won two acting Oscars (Best Supporting for portraying Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, Best Actress for her lead perfofmrance in 2013’s Blue Jasmine), would be pushed for Best Actress with Mara presented as a Best Supporting Actress contender — even though that idea makes no sense if you’ve seen the film. The argument that Blanchett’s titular character drives the narrative is not an open-and-shut proposition — one could easily argue that Rooney’s character is in fact the lead protagonist. In any event the Blanchett-first scenario has now been upended with Mara having won a Best Actress prize during last night’s Cannes Film Festival awards. Yes, the Weinsteiners can wave this off and still insist that Blanchett is their Best Actress pony with Mara campaigning in a supporting capacity, and that might work if everyone agrees to wear blinders. I only know that after last night there’s a strong argument against running Mara in supporting. There’s no way to kick this around without seeing Carol first, but any way you slice it Harvey Weinstein and his marketers are looking at a tricky situation.

“Pool photo” by Yves Herman accompanied a 5.24 Manohla Dargis N.Y. Times interview with Haynes.

Usually Averse But Not This Time

“In 2013, the parents of a five year-old recovering from leukemia asked the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation to help him become a superhero for a day. The event’s announcement went viral, thousands of volunteers and well-wishers flooded the streets of San Francisco, and millions more tuned in online — all recounted in Dana Nachman‘s documentary Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World. Prior to the film’s Slamdance world premiere, Julia Roberts‘ representatives announced that she’s attached to produce and star as one of the event’s key organizers in a feature film version of Batkid’s story. Whether that development will drive theatrical response for this documentary or simply seal the deal for small-screen opportunities, this project might not be the last we’ll hear of the young boy’s heroic exploits.” — from Justin Lowe‘s THR review, dated 1.30.15. The New Line release opens on 6.26.


Less Is Fine, Thanks

The basic point is to recover from Cannes by doing almost nothing. Okay, very little. Filing, reading, naps, a nightly two-hour roam-around, screenings (San Andreas, Spy), Tunnel Bear movies on the Macboook Pro. No aggressive sightseeing, definitely no big meals. The temperature is barely 70 now, dropping to 60 or below this evening…curious. Sweaters, jackets, scarves.


Selected Cannes Press Conferences

These end-to-end capturings of press conferences offer a sense of the vibe and decorum, in large part due to moderator Henri Behar, who’s always been a good friend (and who allowed me to sublet his apartment in Cannes way back in ’92, which was my first time here). Among these five I attended the conferences for George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road and Todd HaynesCarol. (I’m visible taking iPhone video before the start of both, at least as far as the back of my head is concerned.) Having to be at a major screening prevented my attending the Son of Saul conference, which I wanted to witness. I decided against attending the conferences for Sicario and Sea of Trees, no offense, in order to file and also, frankly, because neither film did it for me.


Those Confounding Decisions By Cannes Jury

Last night’s Cannes Film Festival awards weren’t just curious in some respects, but almost bizarre. The jury will never cop to their deep-down motives or to the complete political picture, but I know that Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux chose a fair amount of French films to show competitively, some regarded as disappointing or mezzo-mezzo, and the decision to give three of the top awards — the Palme d’Or, Best Actor and Best Actress (or half of it) — to French recipients was, whether the jury admits it or not (or was conscious of it or not), some kind of political gesture of support. A friend wrote last night that this “had the effect of making what was a very bad showing for the French all around, as almost all of their many entries were average at best and sometimes far worse, look pretty good.”

Giving the Palme d’Or to Jacques Audiard‘s respectable but far-from-stellar Dheepan was a huge forehead-slapper. Laszlo NemesSon of Saul, which won the second-place Grand Prix award, would have been a far more deserving recipient; ditto Todd HaynesCarol, which many fell to their knees over. (A producer pal: “Every year the Cannes critics rave about a film like Carol, so then the Jury goes out of its way to not to give it a prize. It’s as if they have to defy the pure merit of it all just so as to not appear ‘populist.'”)

I’m telling you that nobody and I mean nobody expected Dheepan to win anything, much less the Palme d’Or. In this sense it’s fair to say that the Cannes Jury (chaired by Joel and Ethan Coen) was completely divorced from a perceptual reality shared by nearly every journalist I talked to during the festival. Nobody even fantasized about Dheepan emerging as the Big Winner…nobody.

Journalists: “Dheepan is easily the least distinguished of Audiard’s last three films — a good or even a pretty good film but far from exceptional. At best a modest achievement.” Ethan Coen: “[The jury's reaction to Dheepan] was swift…everybody had an enthusiasm for it. To some degree or another we all thought it was a very beautiful movie. We’re different people, some people had greater enthusiasms for other things or lesser, but in terms of this movie, everybody had some level of excitement, some high level of excitement and enthusiasm for it.” There was no overlap here. Cannes journalists were on one planet, the jury was on another. (more…)