Gore-Vidal ’50s Stage Collaboration, Re-imagined by Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis brought an imaginative, surreal sense of humor to the table when he began directing. This is what the Cahiers du Cinema gang loved about his signature, and the reason his early to mid ’60s films — The Bellboy, The Ladies Man, The Errand Boy, The Nutty Professor, The Patsy — are currently respected. This telepathic bongo drums bit in Visit to a Small Planet, directed by Norman Taurog just before Lewis directed The Bellboy, was a typical Lewis creation. Call it lame and infantile but at least it was different and innovative, certainly for its time.

Notice Stanley Kubrick favorite Joe Turkel (Paths of Glory, The Shining) as a generic Beatnik type. Turkel isn’t listed in the credits, but that’s him.

Visit to a Small Planet Wikipage: “Gore Vidal wrote Visit as a TV play. It debuted on 5.8.55 on Goodyear Television Playhouse. Vidal intended a satire on the post-World War II fear of communism in the United States, McCarthyism, Cold War military paranoia and the rising importance of television in American life. (more…)

Liman Agrees To Wade Into Comic-Book Swamp

How wondrous and satisfying that Doug Liman, whom I’ve known for 20 years and who is fully capable of and keenly interested in making sharp, real-world, balls-to-the-wall films like Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, Fair Game, Edge of Tomorrow and the forthcoming American Made (i.e., Tom Cruise as TWA pilot and ’80s-era drug smuggler Barry Seal)…how terrific that Liman is the latest A-list director to accept a fat paycheck in exchange for contributing to the ongoing pestilence of comic-book movies, particularly one from the Warner Bros./D.C. Comics realm — Justice League Dark. All hail John Constantine, Swamp Thing, Phantom Stranger, Zatanna and Fred C. Blow-me. How wonderful, how riveting, how exciting for us all.

Late-Arriving THR Piece Posts Four Academy Opinions (Two Forgiving, Two Negative) About Nate Parker Brouhaha

This morning Hollywood Reporter award-season analyst and handicapper Scott Feinberg finally jumped into the Nate Parker thing (along with THR colleague Gregg Kilday) with an assessment piece that includes four quotes from Academy members about Parker and his situation. Tab Hunter and documentarian Mitchell Block want to cut Parker a break while producer Marcia Nasatir and actress Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest) are quite negative about the guy.

The article mostly reiterates a general feeling around town that Parker and his film are fucked as far as Academy or guild member opinions are concerned. I think it’s too late in the cycle to just repeat this by way of quotes. Feinberg should have filed right after the Deadline/Variety stories broke on Friday, 8.12, and certainly in the immediate wake of Variety‘s 8/16 report, filed by Ramin Setoodeh, about the 2012 suicide of Parker and Jean Celestin‘s unnamed victim.

Nasatir: “This is going to set off a thing in this town the likes of which we’ve never seen. I personally find it really hard to separate the man from the film when he wrote, directed and starred in it. Do I want to see a movie from someone who has committed an assault against a woman and who I do not think recognizes his guilt? Right now, based on what I’ve read, I would not go to the movie.” (more…)

Familiar Button

When Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker go to meet the aliens (called Heptapods) in the latest Arrival trailer, we see a smokey circle form against a glass barrier. It seems obvious to me that Villeneuve chose this image because it summons memories of Gore Verbinski‘s The Ring (’02) and more originally Hideo Nakata‘s Ringu (’98). The message is clearly “watch out, possibly something malevolent.” And yet that doesn’t appear to be where Arrival is coming from. Go figure.

Heptapod smoke circle in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.

Creepy circle image from Gore Verbinski’s The Ring

Where Would Heat Be Without Waingro?

A new 4K DCP restoration of Michael Mann‘s Heat will screen at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Wednesday, 9.7. I’ll be in Toronto that evening, rested and ready for the Thursday am start of the Toronto Film Festival. (TIFF had a 20th anniversary 35mm screening of Heat last year.) Christopher Nolan will moderate a post-screening discussion with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and other cast members.

This means, of course, that the 4K restoration will result in a better quality Bluray. (Sometime in the fall?) Why did the homies at Warner Home Video put out such an unexceptional Heat Bluray in the first place? It’s not “bad” looking but it’s far from a knockout. The 4K Heat was restored by Mann and Stefan Sonnenfeld of Company 3. The Bluray will be apparently be released by Fox Home Video.


Will LACMA “Do An AFI” or Man Up And Face The Wind?

The Birth of a Nation is not my idea of a great film, but it’s definitely see-worthy — a strong first effort, a powerful myth, an intensely powerful narrative. A month from now and two weeks after the big Birth of a Nation Toronto gala (which may or may not be tempestuous, especially with Fox Searchlight having decided that Parker will not do a TIFF press conference), the Los Angeles County Museum will screen Nate Parker‘s film for LACMA Film Club, Film Independent and N.Y. Times Film Club members. Nip that AFI shit in the bud. No turning tail and running for cover. Respect the effort, respect the achievement, respect the legend of Nat Turner. Parker made the film, yes, but he was merely the conduit, the means by which a story was told and an end was achieved. The Birth of a Nation is not about Penn State in 1999 — it’s about Southampton County, Virginia in 1831.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon


Highest Expectations (in order of confidence or expectation): 1. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea [locked Best Actor nomination for Casey Affleck]; 2. Martin Scorsese‘s Silence; 3. Denzel Washington's Fences (Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby); 4. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (based on Tarell McCraney's play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue"; 5. Steven Gaghan's Gold (Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramírez); 6. Ang Lee's Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; 7. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals; 8. Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper (Kristen Stewart); 9. Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg -- Paramount). (9)

War War II Brad Pitt Smoothitude -- Robert Zemeckis' Allied w/ Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard (began shooting in March '16) (1)

Give It A Pass, A Pat on the Back: Clint Eastwood's Sully (Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney).

Overpraised at Sundance + In Trouble For Other Reasons: Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation. (1)

Duelling Interracial-Marriage Period Dramas: Jeff Nichols' Loving (Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas); Amma Asante's A United Kingdom (David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike). (2)

Probably Solid/Decent/Interesting/Approvable, etc.: 1. Morten Tyldum and John Spaihts' Passengers; 2. Damien Chazelle's La La Land; 3. John Cameron Mitchell's How To Talk To Girls at Parties, 4. Peter Berg's Patriot's Day (Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons); 5. Niki Caro's The Zookeeper's Wife; 6. Warren Beatty's Rules Don't Apply; 7. Ben Wheatley's Free Fire; 8. Ben Younger's Bleed For This (Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, Amanda Clayton, Aaron Eckhart). (8)

Good Script: Pablo Larrain's Jackie (Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard).

Guilty Pleasure Trash: Tate Taylor's The Girl On The Train.

A Little Worried But Maybe: 1. Oliver Stone's Snowden; 2. James Gray's The Lost City of Z; 3. The Secret Scripture w/ Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana; 4. Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment; 5. Werner Herzog's Salt And Fire (Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal, Werner Herzog, Veronica Ferres); 6. Ewan MacGregor's American Pastoral (MacGregor, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, David Strathairn); 7. Garth Davis's Lion (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman -- released by Weinstein Co.). (9)

Very Interesting, Slight Hedging of Bets (random order): 1. Charlie McDowell's The Discovery w/ Rooney Mara, Nicholas Hoult (a love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified, or a more thoughtful version of The Leftovers); 2. Wim Wenders' Submergence (Alicia Vikander, James McAvoy); 3. James Ponsoldt's The Circle (Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega), (3)

Last-Minute December Release: John Hancock's The Founder (biopic of McDonald's kingpin Ray Kroc). (1)

Seen in Cannes, Approved or Praised to Some Degree: 1. Cristian Mungiu's Graduation; 2. Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman (Sahahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti); 3. Paul Verhoeven's Elle. 4. Pablo Larrain's Neruda; 5. Woody Allen's Cafe Society (Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively); (5)

Overly Obvious: Juan Antonio Bayona's A Monster Calls. (1)

Bumped Into '17: David Michod's War Machine (Netflix) w/ Pitt as Gen. Stanley McChrystal + Ben Kingsley, Emory Cohen, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter.

This Year's Animated Pixar Wonder-Package for the Whole Family: Andrew Stanton's Finding Dory. (1)

Spare Me: 1. Terrence Malick's Weightless; 2. Derek Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans; 3. Gary Ross's Free State of Jones; 4. Benedict Andrews' Una (Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn); 5. Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed. (5)

Genres Have Their Rules: 1. Paul Greengrass's Jason Bourne w/ Matt Damon (political action thriller); 2. Shane Black's The Nice Guys (darkly humorous thriller); 3. Peter Berg's Deepwater Horizon (real-life disaster action-thriller); 4. Antoine Fuqua's The Magnificent Seven (western remake); 5. Gavin O'Connor's The Accountant (action thriller); 6. Ed Zwick's Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (thriller); 7. Matthew Vaughn's I Am Pilgrim (murder thriller); 8. Todd Phillips' War Dogs. (8)

Who Knows?: Alex Garland's Annhiliation. (1)


“So That’s ‘The’ Lee Chandler…”

Trailers are always a montage of the usual fragments. So putting this out is fine, not a problem. But being a staunch admirer…actually a worshipper of this film, I feel something a little different is in order. There are many, many scenes in Manchester by the Sea that work just right, that tell you just enough but not too much. Make a trailer that’s just about one of these scenes. Just give viewers a small slice of the pie, just one slice, so they’ll know how it really tastes.

Oh, and by the way? All of the pull quotes in this trailer are generic-sounding. They don’t have anything extra going on — no snap, no flight, no spinning of the wheel. Here are four that make you sit up and go “hmmm…interesting”:

(1) “Some movies are applauded and whoo-whooed, and others just sink in and melt you down.”

(2) “[Some movies] get you in such a vulnerable place that your admiration is mixed with a kind of stunned feeling, like you’ve been hit square in the heart.” (more…)

Plug Pulled on AFI Birth Screening

The 1999 Penn State rape controversy that has hounded Nate Parker over the past week and a half has resulted in a cancellation of an American Film Institute screening of The Birth of a Nation on Friday, 8.26. AFI dean Jan Schuette — himself an embattled figure due to a recent AFI staff revolt — announced the yanking late Tuesday.

The AFI screening would have been followed by a discussion with Parker, the director, writer and star of the historical drama about Nat Turner’s 1831 slave revolt.   Oh, what a shitstorm that would’ve been.

The 17 year-old PSU incident, which was discussed by Parker a week and a half ago in interviews with Variety and Deadline, has all but torpedoed whatever hope BOAN had of becoming a strong award-season contender, particularly given the recent revelation that the victim in the case committed suicide four years ago.

“I have been the recipient of many different passionate points of view about the screening, and I believe it is essential that we discuss these issues together — messenger and message, gender, race and more — before we see the film,” Schuette said in a statement. “Next week, we will be scheduling a special moderated discussion so we may explore these issues together as artists and audience.” (more…)

A Conspiracy To “Muffle” Black History?

From an 8.23 Variety story, “The Nate Parker Interview: What’s Next for The Birth of a Nation‘ by Ramin Setoodeh: “The Birth of a Nation was supposed to finally end two years of #OscarsSoWhite, but the movie might cause further ripples within the Motion Picture Academy. Some prominent members of black Hollywood are standing with Parker, but they haven’t backed him publicly yet. ‘I don’t like the timing of this,’ says one well-known black director, who asked not to be named. ‘I’m not defending his actions, but something is wrong about the way it went down.’ Another black director who knows Parker, but also requested anonymity, said: ‘It worries me that a film and a guy with so much promise gets cut down a month before his masterpiece gets released. The last two years have proven how much our stories matter to this industry, and this seems like a way to muffle a very important piece of work.’”

“Good Morning, Mr. Dannreuther!”

Last Friday night (8.19) an extended cut of John Huston‘s Beat The Devil (’53) was screened at a tech symposium called “The Reel Thing,” which is co-sponsored and partly organized (or something like that) by the Association of Moving Image Archivists. The event happened between 8.18 and 8.20 at Hollywood’s Linwood Dunn theatre.

The 2016 “Reel Thing” program page says that this new Beat The Devil, which is currently available in truncated form at 89 minutes, was “restored by Sony Pictures” — i.e., by Sony archive honcho Grover Crisp — “in collaboration with The Film Foundation to the original, uncensored version.”

Crisp reports that the extended version runs 94 minutes.

An IMDB Beat The Devil page titled “alternate versions” states the following: “There are supposedly two edits of the film. One is described as a ‘butchered’ short version; the other as longer but with better storyline and continuity. The longer version is also listed as either elusive or practically impossible to get.” (more…)

Scorsese’s Telepathic Conveyance to Paramount About Silence

Director Martin Scorsese is currently editing Silence, which Paramount may or may not release this year. A recent cut of the film reportedly ran 195 minutes, which I’m sure Scorsese is looking to whittle down. Last weekend a startling intuition of Scorsese’s thoughts about the film flew into my head. I don’t know if he’s shared the following with his Paramount partners, but he might eventually convey something along these lines:

“I’m sitting here in the editing room with Thelma and flipping through a copy of Entertainment Weekly‘s fall movie preview issue, and you know what what I’m noticing? Silence isn’t even mentioned. As far as EW is concerned it doesn’t exist. That tells me something.

“A while back I told Roger Friedman that ‘it’s up to Paramount’ about when Silence will be released, but I’m getting a feeling, just a little inkling of a tingle of the hairs on the back of my neck, that you guys might be quietly thinking about bumping it into February or March of 2017, like you did with Shutter Island in 2010.

“Is that what you guys are thinking? You haven’t ‘dated’ it yet, and I think it’s fair of me to ask what’s going on.

“I’m not the delusional type. I know a lot of people out there are going to regard Silence, sight unseen, as a very tough sit. A three-hour historical persecution-and-torture movie set in 17th Century Japan starring…what did that guy write the other day?…a weepy, whining, constantly suffering Andrew Garfield, and without much screen time for Liam Neeson, who doesn’t even get to go all whoop-ass on the 17th Century Japanese persecutors.

“You guys have three serious Oscar ponies on your fall slateArrival, Allied and especially Denzel’s Fences. I’m not stupid. I’m not clueless. I can read the writing on the wall. At best you may be considering a small token qualifying release for Silence, just to get it out there before 12.31…right? (more…)

It Finally Dawns Upon Sasha Stone That Manchester Is Leading Best Picture Hottie

The recent decision of former Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers to include Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester by the Sea on his list of the ten greatest 21st century films has greatly impressed Sasha Stone. Because this suggests a serious headwind for a Best Picture Oscar, or so she suspects. “Travers, Joe Morgenstern and Kenneth Turan are really your best critics in terms of sussing out what Academy voters might value,’ Stone explains. “With The Birth of a Nation mostly sidelined, can Manchester by the Sea become the first Sundance opener to win Best Picture? We’ve seen Cannes openers deliver winners (The Artist, No Country for Old Men), Toronto (The Hurt Locker) and Telluride (Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire) but so far, nothing from Sundance. Boyhood looked like it might be that movie. The Birth of a Nation looked like it might be that movie.”

O Sand, How I Dread Thee

In the wake of the December 1962 opening of Lawrence of Arabia, some lightweight comic called it “four hours of sand.” Last night I watched the new Criterion Bluray of Hiroshi Teshigahara‘s Woman in the Dunes (’64). This, trust me, is the ultimate, ultra-definitive sand movie. Two hours and 27 minutes of the stuff. Lots of bugs, putrid water in wooden buckets, a fascinating clink-clank score by Toru Takemitsu, a certain amount of nudity and sex, luscious black-and-white cinematography by Hiroshi Segawa, and all tied together with a story that has something to do with Sisyphus, frustration, claustrophobia and escaping from whatever your daily grind may be. I had this horrible feeling of little particles of sand all over my bod. Sand and bugs, sand and bugs. Sand in my hair, in my ear canal, under my fingernails, inside my socks…Jesus! I honestly took a shower after watching it. Woman in the Dunes is indisputably an austere arthouse landmark. It has my respect for all the things it does perfectly or at least precisely, but I’ll never watch it again — guaranteed.


HE’s Top 25 of 21st Century vs. BBC Dweeb Picks

Based on a poll of 177 film critics, BBC.com has posted a roster of the 100 greatest films of the 21st Century. Because the BBC polled only scholastically correct, impressively credentialed dweeb types (and didn’t reach out to any unconventional clear-light samurai jazzmen like myself), their top 10 reflects a certain ivory-tower dweeb aesthetic. Here they are along with my comments:

1. David Lynch‘s Mulholland Drive (HE comment: trippy, striking, noteworthy but calm down); 2. Wong Kar Wai‘s In the Mood for Love (HE comment: The praise is almost entirely about Chris Doyle‘s cinematography); 3. Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will Be Blood (HE comment: Deserved); 4. Hayao Miyazaki‘s Spirited Away (HE comment: Not my cup but if you say so); 5. Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood (HE comment: Respectable, somewhat moving time-passage stunt film — overpraised during Oscar campaign). 6. Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (HE comment: The older it gets, the less it seems to be — you don’t have to be a Gondry loyalist to be in love with this film, but it helps); 7. Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life (HE comment: Lubezki-captured dream-trip aesthetic totally devalued in hindsight by To The Wonder and Knight of Cups — Malick has eaten his own tail); 8. Edward Yang‘s Yi Yi: A One and a Two (HE comment: Never saw it); 9. Asghar Farhadi‘s A Separation (HE comment: Brilliant); 10. Joel and Ethan Coen‘s No Country for Old Men (HE comment: Ditto).

I posted a similar thing last April — a rundown of the best films of the second decade of the 21st Century along with a summary of the best of the first decade. (more…)

I Dreamt I Saw Stephen Hill Last Night

Character actor Steven Hill (“Dan Briggs” in the original Mission Impossible series, “Adam Schiff” in Law and Order) has died at age 94. Hill’s performances were always sturdy. He always had a kind of melancholy, world-weary thing going on. For me the performance that stood out above all (and the one I instantly thought of when I heard of his death) was that outdoor park bench scene with Tom Cruise in Sydney Pollack‘s The Firm. Hill played FBI honcho F. Denton Voyles, and he made the following line stick: “I’m telling you that your life as you know it is over.” Hill, a strict follower of Judaism who killed his stage career by refusing to work Friday nights due to religious ritual, was 70 or 71 when The Firm was made. He never made another film after that. Honestly? If I was a theatrical or movie producer and an actor I liked told me “no work on Friday nights,” I wouldn’t hire him — simple as that.

If Los Angeles Was This Calming, Colorful, Softly Lighted…

Damian Chazelle‘s Los Angeles-based, ’50s-styled musical (debuting in Venice followed by Telluride and Toronto bows) should be titled La-La Land. The hyphen acknowledges that the two “La’s” are eternally bonded. The absence of a hyphen, on the other hand, suggests that one of the “La” guys might conceivably lose interest one day and move to Las Vegas or Vancouver. It’s just wrong, okay? Second thought: What if La La Land was Evita — an opera sans dialogue? I’m presuming it’ll follow the standard MGM ’50s musical style — dialogue, dancing and occasonally breaking into song with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone doing their best. Third thought: It’s nice that Chazelle has created a lulling, soothing, magic hour-meets-starlight Los Angeles because the actual look of the place is not that. Not even slightly, I mean.

I like the bit with Gosling dancing with the older black woman on the pier — classic.

The cultural mix of Los Angeles used to be whites, Hispanics, blacks, Asians. Over the last 15 or 20 years it’s become more and more Iranian, at least in my neck of the woods, and yet somehow I’m doubting that the lifestyle aesthetic of wealthy “Persians” — ostentatious bling, flashy cars, hijabs, atrocious taste in architecture, conspicuous consumption — will be included in La La Land, which seems to be about recreating sound-stagey, Arthur Freed-style Los Angeles from the ’50s. (more…)

Getting Tiresome

Ten days ago I complained about IFC Films not having decided on a release date for Oliver AssayasPersonal Shopper. Today I wrote the following to IFC Films honcho Jonathan Sehring plus their publicity staff:

“If you ask me Personal Shopper is a knockout — an artful, unusual, arguably groundbreaking Kristen Stewart spooker.  Unless there’s something wrong with me it seems (and please tell me if you think I’m wrong) like an obvious Halloween attraction. You guys have had it since Cannes, where Assayas won the Best Director trophy (shared with Cristian Mungiu). It’s won rave reviews from key critics, has landed a NYFF berth, and is opening in England and other European territories (UK, France, Belgium) at the end of ’16. And you still haven’t given it a U.S. release date.

“This is the first Kristen Stewart film with a supernatural atmosphere since the Twilight saga, and it’s at least five times better than all the Twilight films put together, and yet you seem unsure about its potential. If you were going to release Personal Shopper in late October you surely would have announced that by now. Halloween is only ten weeks away so I guess we know the answer.

“You’re presumably uncertain because it drew a divided critical response in Cannes. For me this is one of the best films of the year so far (it’s my second favorite after Manchester by the Sea), and yet you haven’t settled on a damn release date. Two months ago I was told that you were thinking of bumping it into the late winter or spring of ’17. If you’re going to bail on a fall release, would you at least confirm this? (more…)

Jordan Poker

Yesterday afternoon I asked occasional Awards Daily contributor Jordan Ruimy, who mainly files for The Playlist while writing his own online column, to join me for an Oscar Poker session. Jordan, who will soon move with his wife from Montreal to Boston, attended Sundance last January (he shared my condo) and also did Cannes, and he’ll be in Toronto. Plus he knows his stuff. We talked about the fall season in general, but the two hottest conversational topics were (a) why has IFC Films refused to firm a release date for Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper? and (b) will Paramount even release Martin Scorsese‘s Silence this year? Again, the mp3.