The other day I was trying to figure a fresh way of addressing the same old megaplex malaise that the film industry has painted itself into a corner with. The domination, I mean, of superhero flicks, cheap horror, dumb comedies, family fantasies, romcoms and girl-power fables, etc. I’m boring myself by just repeating this. Not counting, of course, (a) the occasional middle-ground surprises, (b) the award-season films that are the oxygen of my life, (c) indie flicks and (d) the social realism and smart adult crime dramas that are pretty much owned by cable and streaming.

Then five days ago a numbers-and-trend analysis by TimStarz04 came along that analogizes Hollywood’s superhero-fantasy obsession with the 1% choke-hold that has increasingly controlled the U.S. economy over the last dozen or so years. The essay lasts 16 minutes (an eternity in the ADD realm) but is worth watching. No brilliant solutions and maybe a bit too much cynicism, but this is definitely the way things are right now.

Portion of 5.25 Weekly Standard summary by Jonathan V. Last: “The big movie studios are undergoing something like the same stresses the American middle-class has experienced over the last two decades: They’re seeing radical increases in the cost of living (for them actor salaries and marketing costs), increased competition from globalization and cheap labor (in the form of cable TV, internet streaming services, and amateur videomakers), yet they’re suffering from stagnant income (meaning that total movie revenues are more or less flat).

“The analogy goes a step further: Just as America has witnessed rising income inequality, the same phenomenon has hit Hollywood movies. Movie revenues aren’t growing much, but a smaller and smaller percentage of movies are claiming a larger and larger share of the total pie. Which movies are the 1 percent in this analogy? Comic book movies. (more…)

All That Family Stuff

I thought I made this clear three months ago when the first Deepwater Horizon teaser popped but let’s try again. I really, really don’t like cutaways to anxious, worried wifeys (Kate Hudson in this instance) and scared little daughters while brave daddy (Mark Wahlberg) and his resourceful buddies are grappling with a major catastrophe. Same deal with The Perfect Storm — cut to the girlfriend/wife waiting in a bar for the latest news and the movie stops cold. Deepsix the family stuff while there’s still time. (If Terrence Malick can erase characters and subplots in the editing room, why not Peter Berg?) Just start with Wahlberg and his buddies showing up for work on that fateful day and then just tell the story. How and why the BP shitstorm happened, what they were facing, who got killed and why, and how they finally capped the oil spill.


Leave It There

A friend sent me this photo yesterday. It’s a groaner when someone else says this, but it’s a shame, really, that you can’t really feel the full exuberance while you’re young. I know…shut up! What I mean is not that it’s a shame that things are currently…well, a wee bit dismaying from a biological standpoint (actually not that bad), but that so much of my youth was beset by poverty, anxiety, rejection and fear of what the future might bring (or, more to the point, what it might not bring) that I couldn’t really enjoy it. I was pretty much a lad of constant fretting.

I did enjoy things to some extent (okay, sometimes to a great extent) but so much was weighing me down. I felt the music but the rent was constantly due, not to mention my inability to pay for the serious tune-up that my VW Fastback desperately needed, not to mention all those unpaid parking tickets. Then again I was batting a good .400 or so with the ladies, so there was that. Water under the bridge. But I don’t where I got that sweater or where the hell I got the idea that it would be cool to, you know, wear it. (more…)

Ali: Brutalism Eats The Soul

Today’s cultural highlight was a visit to Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla museum (Krunska 51, Belgrade 11000). The other cultural immersion involved crossing the Saba river to visit high-rise workers apartments built in the Russian “brutalist” style of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. I’m sorry but they didn’t seem depressing enough to me — they were just dull. All hail the ghost of Nikola Tesla.

The ashes of Nikola Tesla, who died in 1943 at age 86, are kept within this small globe-shaped container inside the museum.


Stinky Bed

There’s nothing like lying on a bed and smelling…what is that? Something rank and musty. Sheets that might have been cleaned but were so cheap to begin with and have been slept on so often by so many dicey travellers (or by grandma and grandpa for decades) that they smell like a Goodwill store. The pillows smelled even worse. I finally used a pillow off the living room couch but that didn’t help much. And the bed was a fold-out so the mattress sagged and groaned and was maybe three inches thick. This is the first Airbnb I’ve ever been this unhappy with, bedding-wise. It’s not Airbnb’s fault — it’s the Belgrade thing. If you look beyond the rich culture and the storied architecture there are some economic and infrastructure issues. It’s been 17 years since the Kosovo War bombing but the city is still recovering in some respects. Am I unhappy here? No — I love it. But the bed is rank.


Last Words

I’ve posted this photo because I’m flabbergasted by James Stewart‘s baby blues. But I was also thinking how this moment in Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Man Who Knew Too Much isn’t all that different from that final bit in Sofia Coppola‘s Lost in Translation when Bill Murray whispers something romantic into Scarlett Johansson‘s ear. What if in addition to the information about an assassination attempt and “Ambrose Chapel” Louis Bernard had added, “I also want you to know before I die that I love you, and that if I were to somehow survive this knife wound and if you should ever reconsider the wisdom of being married to Doris Day, that you would never want for a better lover or a more devoted companion than myself”? Hitchcock’s 1956 film would acquire a whole ‘nother level of intrigue.

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. Steven Gaghan's Gold (Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramírez); 4. Ang Lee's Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; 5. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals; 6. David Frankel's Collateral Beauty (Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton); 7. Clint Eastwood's Sully (Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney); 8. Denzel Washington's Fences (Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby). (8)

War-Related Brad Pitt Flicks -- WWII Romantic-Dramatic, 21st Century Satiric: Robert Zemeckis' http://www.thewrap.com/brad-pitt-marion-cotillard-to-play-spies-and-lovers-in-robert-zemeckis-wwii-movie/">Allied w/ Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard (began shooting in March '16) and David Michod's War Machine (Netflix) w/ Pitt as Gen. Stanley McChrystal + Ben Kingsley, Emory Cohen, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter. (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. Ron Howard's Inferno; 5. Peter Berg's Patriot's Day (Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons); 6. Niki Caro's The Zookeeper's Wife; 7. Justin Kurzel's Assassin's Creed; 8. Ben Wheatley's Free Fire; 9. Tate Taylor's The Girl On The Train; 10. Ben Younger's Bleed For This (Miles Teller, Katey Sagal, Amanda Clayton, Aaron Eckhart). (10)

Hoo-hah!: Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon. (1)

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. Woody Allen's Cafe Society (Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively); 4. James Ponsoldt's The Circle (Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega), 5. Pablo Larrain's Jackie (Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard); 6. Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman (Sahahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti); 7. Pedro Almodovar's Julieta (the life of the titular woman, told between two time periods, 2015 and 1985). (7)

Dumped Into Early August Release: John Hancock's The Founder (biopic of McDonald's kingpin Ray Kroc, opening on 8.5.16). (1)

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

Overpraised at Sundance: Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation.

Overpraised at South by Southwest: Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some.

Delicious, High-Style Italian Island Perversity with Rolling Stones Soundtrack: A Bigger Splash.

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).

Feels Fringe-y: Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (based on Tarell McCraney's play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" -- a Plan B/A24 project about black queer youth amid the temptations of the Miami drug trade). (1)

Worrisome: Jodie Foster's Money Monster (political situation thriller). (1)

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

Spare Me: 1. Zack Snyder's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; 2. Terrence Malick's Weightless; 3. Derek Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans; 4. Gary Ross's Free State of Jones; 5. Benedict Andrews' Una (Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn). (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. Michael Grandage's Genius (biopic about esteemed book editor Maxwell Perkins); 9. Todd Phillips' War Dogs. (9)

A Little Worried But Maybe: 1. Oliver Stone's Snowden; 2. Warren Beatty's still-untitled Howard Hughes film; 3. James Gray's The Lost City of Z; 4. The Secret Scripture w/ Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana; 5. Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment; 6. Werner Herzog's Salt And Fire (Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal, Werner Herzog, Veronica Ferres); 7. Ewan MacGregor's American Pastoral (MacGregor, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, David Strathairn); 8. Garth Davis's Lion (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman -- released by Weinstein Co.); 9. Denis Villeneuve's Story of Your Life (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg -- Paramount). (9)

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

Seen, Praised, Genre Classic: Robert Eggers' The Witch.

Seen, Lowered Expectations, Written Down: Demolition; John Hillcoat's Triple Nine; Jeff Nichols; Ariel Vroman's Criminal; Midnight Special. (5)


Adventures of Thelma Kadiddlehopper

Yesterday Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone, currently in Manhattan with her daughter Emma for a performance of Hamilton (which probably set her back $800 or even a grand for two tickets), had her wallet stolen on the R train. Not a major tragedy unless she was carrying wads of cash, but still….hello? Here’s how Sasha put it on Facebook: “You know you’re in New York when someone steals your wallet right outta your purse…”

“Are you kidding, Sasha?,” I wrote on Facebook. “An out-of-towner having her wallet stolen? That’s Sandy Dennis and Jack Lemmon in The Out-of-Towners. You actually did that clueless tourist thing….whoa, wait, what happened? Never coming back here again!

A guy named Todd Alcott commented, “Don’t ride the subway while chewing on a piece of hay. It’s a dead giveaway.” But the phrase that caught my attention was “right outta your purse.” How did the thief manage that?

“You’ve lived in the city, Sasha,” I wrote. “You know the realm, you’re no dummy and you’re not Thelma Kadiddlehopper from Emporia, Kansas. Always carry your wallet in a super-snug place next to your person. NEVER in a large or medium-sized, semi-open or easily-openable handbag. (Of course it was one of those two.) That’s like carrying a sign saying ‘Hello, subway pickpockets! This is your chance!” (more…)

Patronizing Viewbies, In The Tank For HRC….Gimme A Break

Bernie is going to lose the California primary — agreed. But this a semi-closed primary that doesn’t allow people to vote unless they’ve registered (the deadline was 5.23) as either Democrats or “no preference” voters. Unfortunately thousands were dumb enough to register with the American Independent Party, which sounds good on the face but is actually an extreme right-wing, anti-gay party that can’t vote in the Democratic primarily. Plus there’s a sizable Latino voting bloc that’s in the Hillary camp; ditto African Americans who don’t like Bernie because he doesn’t look or talk like their kind of guy.

Respectful Dispute

Five hours of the great Werner Herzog sharing experiences about narrative and documentary filmmaking online for $90…sold.

Best thought: “Don’t look into a camera — look through it.” Of course, self-explanatory — always pay attention to content more than composition. Disputed thought: “Storyboards are the refuge of cowards.” No — always storyboard, always make sure your script is as clean and tight as a drum, always prepare until you’re blue in the face. And once you’ve done all that and you begin to shoot with your actors and crew, then you can re-think it and improvise and follow freshly-hatched instincts. Always, always have a well-prepared, fully thought-out scheme in case your momentary instincts lead you into an unworthy or mediocre realm.

Hey, I could do this. Five hours of stories and life lessons from an online poet-samurai columnist who’s been through it all, played the game, not played the game, learned how to churn out thoughtful, well-sculpted daily prose without frying my brain, enjoyed moments of triumph, made a better-than-decent living, hit most of the major film festivals, whored myself out to a select few festivals in cities with attractive architecture, worshipped The Kooples, run into occasional difficulties, kissed ass, had my ass kicked, sacrificed any resemblance to an actual “life” to this obsession, restored my soul, learned to be a bulky scooter/motorcycle man, bought Italian shoes with care, dealt with the Twitter scolds and banshees, fought it out in food courts, my cup runneth over, etc.

Five-Hour Belgrade Tour

I was bitching earlier about how some areas of Belgrade are a tiny bit ratty and rundown with altogether too much graffiti, but when you get into the cool, upscale regions (basically in the city’s center) everything is cool, refined and approved. All the spiritual and material perks of any hip town. This is a city, remember, that had the shit bombed out of it by NATO forces from 3.26.99 thru 6.10.99. I never knew before arriving here that everything is spelled with Cyrllic script as well as the Latin alphabet. The U.S. dollar goes a long way here.

Moritz Eis gelato, Vuka Karadzica 9, Belgrade.

Banks of the Sava River — Wednesday, 5.25, 6:55 pm. Belgrade is located right at the juncture where the Sava joins the Danube.


Cats and Dogs

Hollywood Elsewhere touched down at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport around 2:15 pm. It began raining within 20 minutes of my arrival, and then it stopped 15 minutes later. Now it’s started again. I have to say that I’m not impressed by the architecture in the Belgrade suburbs, which reminds me of the drab northern New Jersey area just to the west of the George Washington Bridge. The city is another story. I’m heading out now with HE’s own Svetlana Cvetko (who persuaded me to pay a visit) and editor/producer David Scott Smith for a walk and a bite. The Airbnb “loft” I’m staying in is about 50% smaller than I expected based on the photos.


Andre De Toth, Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, etc.

I just paid $20 and change for a Masters of Cinema Bluray of Andre de Toth‘s Day of the Outlaw (’59), a black-and-white “snow western” in 2.35:1. I succumbed against my better judgment because I’m queer for ’50s and ’60s films shot in this all but vanished format. (A cruddy-looking version is watchable on YouTube.) I will watch and consider buying almost any film shot in monochrome Scope.

Day of the Outlaw costars Robert Ryan, Burl Ives and the then-24-year-old Tina Louise. It was shot by Russell Harlan and written by Philip Yordan, who also produced. Yordan told a Ryan biographer that the Outlaw script was “one of the best I’ve ever written” but that the $400K budget “wasn’t big enough.”

The fact that Quentin Tarantino has spoken highly of Day of the Outlaw is an anecdote at best — he was either plugging his own snow western, The Hateful Eight, or acknowledging that the De Toth was an influence. Martin Scorsese allegedly saying that De Toth’s low-budgeter exists in the same respected B-movie realm as Sam Fuller‘s 40 Guns and Budd Boetticher‘s Seven Men From Now is also a concern. Never trust impassioned film buffs when it comes to B westerns. They’re too kind, too generous. (more…)

Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout

I’ve posted one or two Prague streetcar videos before. This one probably won’t be the last. Yeah, I have a thing about them. If you choose the right angle and hold the camera steady and just shoot and wait, it’s hard to miss. The short blonde running for the second train is what makes it.


Shaw Is The Keeper

Advance-review-wise it appears as if I chose a good week to be out of the country, at least in terms of the two big openers. Bryan Singer‘s X-Men Apocalypse and Tim Burton‘s Alice Through The Looking Glass both have lousy Rotten Tomatoes ratings, 52% and 48% respectively. The best-rated opener appears to be Ido Haar‘s Presenting Princess Shaw, a Magnolia-released doc about the YouTube star. It’s currently RT’d at 89%. If anyone has seen the doc, please advise.

Action Jones

I’m not predicting that Gary Ross‘s Free State of Jones (STX, 6.24) is going to be all that great, but at least this trailer seems to promise more in the way of Confederate racist ass-kicking than Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation. That’s the satisfaction element in these sagas, right? Seeing the defenders of an evil, inhumane system catch hell from those who despise slavery? After seeing The Birth of a Nation last January I lamented that the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner (Parker) takes too long to happen and is over too soon. It would appear that Jones, whatever its merits, doesn’t make that mistake.

Night of the Living Foodstuffs

Talking animated animals are fine; ditto talking tomatoes and celery sticks. But not processed foods. Why? Because all foodstuffs are dead. Even recently picked, fresh-smelling vegetables at outdoor farmer’s markets are dead. All food markets are, in a sense, large, antiseptic funeral homes for foodstuffs composed of elements that were once fresh and alive before they were picked, chopped, slaughtered, refined, pasteurized, reconstituted and corporatized. If you’re drinking fresh milk right out of a warm cow or swallowing the yolk out of freshly-cracked eggs a la Sylvester Stallone in Rocky — okay, not dead. But you certainly can’t get much deader than hot dogs (partly made from the unusable guts of steers scooped up from the slaughterhouse floor) and sausage, which of course were once pigs. (During an early ’80s visit to a working farm in New York State I ate fresh sausage from a recently butchered pig, and the taste was very robust and even spicy but that didn’t change anything.) Therefore the idea that foodstuffs are cute little quipsters with souls, personalities, hopes, dreams and crushes on would-be girlfriends is pathetic.

Gathering Fear Factor

Yesterday N.Y. Times/”Upshot” columnists Nate Cohn and Toni Monkovic explained why those new polls showing Bernie Sanders doing much better against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton should be regarded askance. One mitigating factor, Cohn points out, is that “Sanders supporters are a big reason Clinton is doing worse in her polling against Trump. The second is that Sanders hasn’t faced any major attacks on his record. The Republicans have cheered him on against Clinton, whom they realize they’re inevitably going to face. Clinton never really attacked him, either — no big negative television ad buys, for example — in no small part because she didn’t want to alienate his supporters.”

What Cohn and Monkovic fail to mention, of course, is this: while Sanders, who is essentially an FDR-style New Dealer, would be clobbered by Trump for being a “Communist” (an actual Trump description) who will make their lives miserable with higher taxes, Clinton, whose negatives are nearly as high as Trump’s, is going to be hammered just as brutally for all of her alleged transgressions (including, of course, the email thing, for which the FBI will probably not indict her). (more…)