Sharp, Authentic, Evocative

Last week I did hotel-room quickies with A Most Violent Year director-writer J.C. Chandor and star Oscar Isaac. Chandor explained that the title doesn’t refer to a general New York City impression that 1981 was a very violent year across the board (although it was). It means that it was a most violent year in the view of lead characters Abel and Anna Morales (Isaac, Jessica Chastain), a married couple trying to protect a heating oil business from truck thieves while securing a loan for an advantageous property purchase. But even the film’s Wiki page doesn’t quite get it. It calls it “a crime thriller” when it’s really a crime drama. It’s punctuated with action, threats, tension and uncertainty, but I wouldn’t call it a “thriller.” A Most Violent Year may not make you want to hug your children, but there are other significant criteria in determining a film’s final worth. It’s easily among the year’s ten best. Again, the Chandor and Isaac mp3s.

Truth Comes Out

Everyone who was shocked and saddened by Tony Scott‘s bridge-jumping suicide, which happened on 8.19.12, wanted to know the story. So much talent, so much vitality, a family…why? For months I kept asking friends and colleagues…nothing. The day after Scott died (8.20) a report popped that Scott was dealing with “inoperable brain cancer,” but this was calledabsolutely false” by his widow, Joanna. TMZ reported that day that “we’re told Scott’s wife says Tony did not have any other severe medical issues that would have caused him to take his own life.”

In an 11.25 Variety piece Ridley Scott, Tony’s older brother who’s now plugging Exodus: Gods and Kings, tells Scott Foundas that his younger brother “had been fighting a lengthy battle with cancer.” Foundas explains that “the family elected to keep this diagnosis private during his treatments and in the immediate wake of his death.” Except nobody has said zip since Tony Scott died two and 1/3 years ago so “immediate wake” is a stretch. (more…)

How Deep Down Is This?

I’ve watched ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos cover the basics with Darren Wilson, the Ferguson cop who shot and killed Michael Brown last August. In self-defense, Wilson claims. Brown was a huge, raging “Hulk Hogan,” Wilson says. Brown would have taken him out, he believes, if he hadn’t stopped him. I didn’t spot any “tells” in Wilson’s answers but you tell me. He seems decent enough, hardly a fiend. The view of the protesters, I gather, is that he’s not decent enough, that he’s lying on some level, that he didn’t have to kill. All along I’ve bought into the suspicion that Brown fired wildly, unprofessionally, from panic. Now I’m thinking maybe not. I’m not supposed to entertain such thoughts, I realize. I also understand that the liquor store video is thought to be prejudicial on some level. Kidding. Here’s Piers Morgan’s response.


Another Civil-Rights Story of the South, Set In Mid ’60s

It was complete bullshit from an historical perspective (FBI guys saved the day, local blacks sang hymns in churches) but this Alan Parker film, released just shy of 26 years ago, is absolute aces from a purely stylistic or compositional perspective (excellent photography, exquisite cutting, rumbling score, affecting sense of underlying menace, tasty production design, etc.). And Gene Hackman‘s performance as a good-ole-boy FBI agent is one of his very best. And don’t forget Frances McDormand‘s as a long-suffering wife of an abusive lawman-and-secret-Klansman (Brad Dourif). “Ahh think this is all just some publicity stunt cooked up by that Martin Luther King fella…”

Never Pushed, Drops Right in

The reader response to last Sunday’s positive review of Jennifer Aniston‘s restrained, on-the-money performance in Cake was basically (a) “Being good in a so-so movie isn’t enough for an Oscar nom” and (b) “Have you taken leave of your senses, praising a performance by a former romcom star, a current costar of poorly reviewed comedies and a supermarket tabloid queen?” But I’m telling you Aniston gets her pain-besieged character. She delivers each line and moment with just the right emphasis, not going too heavy or too light. Dismiss her campaign if you want but I’m telling you. Really.

Today’s Arrivals

I actually received 11 screeners today. Jon Favreau‘s Chef also came from Open Road but I couldn’t fit it into the photo in a balanced symmetrical way. Plus it was the second Chef screener I’ve received. The first (received several weeks ago) was actually the first of the season.

Neverland Is Devalued Real Estate

Joe Wright, make no mistake, is a first-rate, major-league visionary director. I was totally on-board with his Anna Karenina, which I regard as a near-masterpiece. I’m therefore a bit sorry that he’s jumped into the Peter Pan legend, which we can all probably do without. Particularly an origin story. I think that Steven Spielberg‘s Hook killed the Pan mystique for anyone who was over the age of five when it came out. That said, Wright’s Pan (Warner Bros., 7.17.05) is obviously nicely designed and handsomely produced. Certainly interesting from a compositional perspective. And we all love the flying sailing ship. Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, Garrett Hedlund as James Hook (I’m presuming his hand will be bitten off by a crocodile in Act Three), Levi Miller as the orphan who became Peter Pan, Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, Amanda Seyfried as Mary, etc.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Best Picture Finalists: 1. Birdman (HE approved); 2. Boyhood; 3. Gone Girl (HE approved); 4. The Theory of Everything; 5. The Imitation Game; 6. A Most Violent Year(HE approved); 7. Whiplash (HE approved); 8. Selma; 9. Foxcatcher; 10. The Grand Budapest Hotel; 11. Interstellar; 12. American Sniper; 13. The Gambler. Unseen: Unbroken,Big Eyes.

Cult: Inherent Vice. Sturdy Generic WWII Actioner: Fury.

Most Visually Ravishing, "Painterly" Best Picture Contender: Mr. Turner, although I'd like to see it with subtitles down the road.

Best Director: Alejandro González Inarritu, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Richard Linklater, Boyhood; 3. David Fincher, Gone Girl (HE approved); 4. James Marsh, The Theory of Everything; 5. Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game; 6. Damian Chazelle, Whiplash; 7. Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher; 8. Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Tragic Absence of Sublime, World-Class Lead Performance due to (no offense to Roadside) an overly cautious release strategy: Paul Dano as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Best Director Maybes: Christopher Nolan, Interstellar; JC Chandor, A Most Violent Year; Angelina Jolie, Unbroken; David Ayer, Fury; Clint Eastwood, American Sniper.

Best Actor: 1. Michael Keaton, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything; 3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; 4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; 5. Tom Hardy, The Drop/Locke. 6. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner (despite my inability to hear half of Spall's dialogue due to his all-but-indecipherable British working-class accent); 7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler; 9. Ben Affleck, Gone Girl; 9. Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins.

Best Actress: 1. Julianne Moore, Still Alice (is Sony Pictures Classics going to screen this any time soon or what?); 2. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; 3. Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year/Miss Julie/Eleanor Rigby; 4. Anne Dorval, Mommy; 5. Reese Witherspoon, Wild; 6. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; 7. Shailene Woodley, The Fault In Our Stars; 8. Amy Adams, Big Eyes.

Best Supporting Actor: 1. Edward Norton, Birdman (HE approved); 2. J.K. Simmons, Whiplash (HE approved); 3. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood; 4. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher; 5. Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year; 6. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice.

Best Supporting Actress: 1. Emma Stone, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood; 3. Kristen Stewart, Still Alice / Clouds of Sils Maria / Camp X-Ray; 4. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game; 5. Jessica Lange, The Gambler; 6. Vanessa Redgrave, Foxcatcher.


Criminally Repulsive Feel-Good Milkshake

Richard Curtis‘s Love Actually opened roughly 11 years ago. I recall sitting through it like it was yesterday. I despised its grotesquely sentimental tone. It connected in my head to Robert Stigwood‘s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I saw at a New York all-media screening in July 1978. I remember a guy sitting in the front yelling “yecch! agghh!” when costar Peter Frampton sang “The Long and Winding Road.” That was my response to Love Actually. I almost went into convulsions. I was spitting, sputtering.

“I believe that Richard Curtis has done more to sugarcoat and suffocate the romantic comedy genre than any other director-writer I can think of,” I wrote about 14 months ago. “If there’s someone else who has injected his films and scripts with more mirth, fluttery-ness and forced euphoria, I’d like to know who that is. Curtis has no discernible interest in ground-level reality. When writing romantic material he seems interested only in those levitational moments when an attractive man and a simple-but-dishy woman can finally let their true feelings out and look into each other’s eyes and…aaahhh! (more…)

Tourists Will Be Eaten: Genetically Modified Hybrid Dino On Rampage

The first Jurassic World trailer was supposed to pop on Thursday (i.e., Thanksgiving) but Universal marketers jumped the gun. The jizz-whizz aesthetic applied to howling, snarling dinosaurs? In the words of Elliot Gould‘s Phillip Marlowe, “Ladies, it’s okay with me.” Does this movie have the balls to show a kid being eaten? Of course not. Does it have the balls to show a dishy 20something female tourist being eaten? Almost certainly not. Will it have the balls to show anyone of a vaguely sympathetic nature being eaten? Or will it follow a standard Spielberg-like scheme and have only corporate jerks and fat greedy guys and tour guides get eaten? Almost certainly.

Spirit Awards Will Basically Be About Birdman vs. Boyhood

The six nominations given to Alejandro G. Innaritu‘s Birdman for the 30th Film Independent Spirit Awards means it’ll probably take two or three top honors — definitely Best Actor (Michael Keaton), probably Best Feature and maybe Best Director for Inarritu, although Boyhood and its director, Richard Linklater, could nab the Best Feature and/or Best Director trophy as a split-decision gesture…who knows? Boyhood, Nightcrawler and Selma each snagged five nominations. Whiplash was also nominated for Best Feature. Ira Glass‘s Love Is Strange was nominated for Best Feature strictly as a token attaboy neck rub, strictly to round out the pack.

HE Suggestions/Predictions For Spirit Wins:

Best Feature: Birdman (suggested); Birdman or Boyhood (predicted).
Best Director: Alejandro G. Innaritu (suggested); Inarritu or Richard Linklater (predicted).
Best Screenplay: A Most Violent Year‘s J.C. Chandor or Nightcrawler‘s Dan Gilroy (suggested); ditto (predicted). (more…)

Smokey Aftermath

— excerpt from grand jury testimony of Officer Darren Wilson, posted by N.Y. Times.

“Leaving aside the present ugliness, no one should misunderstand a simple fact about cops, which is that they deal with the worst aspects of human nature 24/7 and that the only way to deal with them when they’re angry and barking some kind of order is to chill and obey. Don’t run or argue or flip the bird. Just give in and mildly submit and that’ll be the end of it. The key is to make them feel placated so they’ll move on. You will always make it worse if you give them any kind of shit. You can’t improve the situation by going ‘why don’t you leave me the fuck alone?’ Some people can’t seem to understand this.” — from an 8.14.14 post called “Is Ferguson (a) Cairo or (b) 1968 Chicago?”

Tweeted by “Joe Veix”, re-tweeted by Stu Van Airsdale.

“Boldly Illogical” Brain Tangle

Variety‘s Justin Chang calls Peter and Michael Spierig‘s Predestination (1.9.15) “an entrancingly strange time-travel saga [that] succeeds in teasing the brain and touching the heart even when its twists and turns keep multiplying well past the point of narrative sustainability. Playfully and portentously examining themes of destiny, mutability and identity through the story of two strangers whose lives turn out to be intricately linked, [pic] offers a skillful and atmospheric adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1960 short story ‘All You Zombies.’ If it’s better in the intimate early stages than in the more grandiose later passages, all in all it’s the sort of boldly illogical head trip that gives preposterousness a good name.”


Same Dinosaur Stuff

How much more dynamic can Jurassic World be if all the action takes place on Isla Nublar? It’ll basically be the same crap, which nobody will mind, I suppose. Boilerplate: “22 years after the initial events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a totally commercialized dino theme park, Jurassic World, with a surprisingly slimmed-down Chris Pratt conducting behavioral research on the Velociraptors. But when Jurassic World’s attendance rates begin to decline, a new attraction, created to re-spark visitor interest, gravely backfires.” A NOLA industry guy tells me Jurassic World features an aquatic dinosaur “and a sequence where a la Seaworld they feed a great white shark to the leviathan for the tourists to applaud.” I have a guilty liking for The Lost World, which came out 17 years ago. The full-boat trailer airs on Thanksgiving Day, seeking to arouse a nation slumping on the couch and all pigged out.

Eight Remotes

(l. to r.) Sherwood Region 2 Bluray, Time Warner cable, Samsung sound bar, Roku player, Rocketfish HDMI switcher, Oppo Bluray, Samsung 60″ Plasma, Apple TV.

A Pleasure To Hear You, Vice

For me, the throbbing, bassy sound mix at New York’s Alice Tully Hall killed a good half of the dialogue during the 10.4 screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice. Which I mentioned that night and in a morning-after piece the next day. I noted in the second riff that “I was able to understand somewhere between 15% and 20% of Katherine Waterston, Joanna Newsom and Jena Malone‘s dialogue, largely because they all seem to converse in hippie-chick fry.” Well, deliverance has arrived with the Inherent Vice screener, which the UPS guy dropped off an hour ago. I popped it in and watched the first scene (i.e., between Waterston and Joaquin Phoenix) and could hear 95% of the dialogue without the slightest difficulty. I still don’t understand what’s going on and Phoenix still sounds slurry-muttery here and there, but I can hear the words. Finally! Don’t even suggest that the Avery Fisher problems were about my own ears. Some readers tried this after I moaned about the Interstellar sound mix, and look what happened with that one. In all modesty I’m a Zen master of theatrical sound assessments.

Hot Tease

The first trailer for J.J. AbramsStar Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney, 12.18.15) will screen in theatres nationwide on Friday, 11.28. I’m guessing it won’t simultaneously appear online. This means that I’ll be humping it down to the AMC Century City or Hollywood’s El Capitan and paying full ticket price just to see it. Which is what happened on 11.6.98 when hundreds (including Paul Thomas Anderson) poured into Mann’s Village in Westwood to see the world premiere of the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. I was there. Every Los Angeles film fanatic with blood in his or her veins was there. The movie that nobody stayed to see was Edward Zwick‘s The Siege. The late Tom Sherak, Fox’s top marketing guy at the time, introduced the trailer. I remember how the mostly geek crowd was mocking the Zwick film…”Siege! Siege! Siege!” And then The Phantom Menace opened on 5.19.99, and the whole thing came tumbling down. It doesn’t matter how much money that mostly tedious movie made. It destroyed the Star Wars theology. True believers were shattered, crestfallen.

Honest, Bone-Headed Mistake

There’s no excuse for having posted the wrong Best Director and Best Actor Oscar Balloon charts last weekend, but somehow I managed it. Jett sent me the latest on Saturday. I saved the damn things, re-sized them, refined them and posted them…and they were the wrong charts. Fatigue, frenzy, too many balls in the air, hurly-burly, time-outs, replacing my HDMI cable switcher, shopping, briefly disappeared cat, exercise. I don’t know what happened but it’s infuriating. These are the currently correct versions.

Choosing Is Hard

Far From The Madding Crowd (Fox Searchlight, 5.1.15) is basically about the dreamy, cultured allure of Carey Mulligan‘s Bathsheba Everdene, and which suitor she’ll finally end up with — the earthy, well-muscled sheep farmer (Matthias Schoenhaerts) who probably climaxes too quickly, the somewhat rakish military man (Tom Sturridge) who’s heavenly in the sack, a giver of quaking orgasms, and the somewhat stuffy rich guy (Michael Sheen) who’s steady and reliable but who probably comes too quickly also. Always choose the dull, dependable guy. My personal blockage, to be perfectly honest, is that in real life Mulligan married a beefy, non-glamorous musician. I understand and respect that she married for trust and comfort, but Marcus Mumford is the guy who got in the way of the Mulligan mystique. It’s obvious that Charlotte Bruus Christensen‘s cinematography — exquisite, sophisticated — obviously knows from light and shadows. Could Bathsheba Everdene be the great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Katniss Everdeen? I’ll never forgive Dean Martin for changing the original Thomas Hardy title to “away from the maddening crowd” in “Volare.”

Tennessee Williams to Peter Bart: “Don’t hang back with the brutes!”

In the latest Mike Fleming-Peter Bart discussion riff on Deadline (posted today around noon), Bart puts down Birdman because it doesn’t play with Average Joes. “Critics don’t like to admit it, but the conditions under which you see a film strongly influence your opinion,” he says. “Birdman is a good example. If you see a film like this with a pack of cinephiles like at Telluride, everyone gets every inside joke, and you instinctively go along with the crowd. I made it a point to see Birdman with a paid civilian audience and it was like screening it in a mausoleum. No laughs, just occasional grunts and lots of walkouts.”

No shit, Peter? The average ticket-buyer has always been on the common side of the equation. He/she is simply less sensitive and attuned to wit and innovation and “da coolness” than movie-mad festivalgoers, and so a film that plays well at Telluride or Sundance is naturally going to have less of a heartbeat in front of a crowd of popcorn-munching Joes. Never judge a film by how it plays with those guys…please.


For Doing The Thing, Aniston Deserves Respect

I saw about 80% of Jennifer Aniston‘s Cake at the Toronto Film Festival, but I caught it again today (12 noon screening, Pacific Design center) start to finish. It’s basically an acting showcase drama with a highly commendable performance from Aniston, for which she’s currently taking bows around town in hopes of landing a Best Actress nomination. The film over-plays the meditation card and eventually becomes tedious — everybody just ambles along in this thing, behaving and commenting and sometimes weeping and arguing but never doing all that much. (Except, that is, when Aniston and her long-suffering assistant, superbly played by Adriana Barraza, drive to Mexico for pain pills.) But given that it’s a relatively weak year for actresses it’s not that crazy to suggest that Aniston, on the merit of her performance alone, could make the cut. And in so doing she might develop a new career groove in which she makes fewer crap-level successes like We’re The Millers and Horrible Bosses.

Cake star & exec producer Jennifer Aniston during this afternoon’s q & a at the Pacific Design Center. She’s dropped the weight she put on for the film, and her blonde hair looked fantastic. (Seriously, if I was a blonde female I’d want my hair to look just like hers. Really.) A young woman from the audience asked if she could have a hug, and of course Aniston obliged…but it felt a bit weird.

Cake is basically an indie slog about acute pain management and working past emotional anguish over some really bad stuff that happened a year or so back. The problem is that Aniston’s middle-aged character, deglammed and scar-faced and dropping handfuls of Percocets for the pain, wears out her welcome around the one-hour mark. The movie fails to pivot (in the Howard Suber sense of that term), and as much as you may enjoy her sharp-tongued commentary about anyone and anything she happens to find irritating or infuriating (including, to her immense credit, Orange County righties), you just don’t want to hang with this suffering crabhead any more. Enough. But at least Aniston (who exec produced) really gives it hell. She can be quite deft and subtle when she wants to be, always letting you know what’s happening inside with just the right amount of emphasis. And she certainly looks like a wreck with her stiff movements and brown stringy hair and somewhat heavier appearance.


Boyhood‘s Big Play

The Boyhood screener arrived last night. The fold-out jacket is quite elaborate and almost flamboyant by IFC standards. Obviously IFC Films honchos and their award-season strategists sat down a couple of months ago and agreed to put a big chunk of their funds into this. “Screeners are key,” somebody said, “and if we play up Boyhood‘s importance by emphasizing rave reviews on an attention-getting jacket, it’ll be money well spent.” IFC Films screener jackets have never looked this swanky. This one equals if not betters the usual award-season screener packaging from the major distributors.

Kubrick’s Own Hand

It’s interesting to note that the 11.22.63 Dr. Strangelove screening would have happened at the former Leow’s Orpheum (now AMC Leows Orpheum 7), which is way the hell up on Third Avenue and 86th Street. Nowadays nobody holds screenings north of 68th or 72nd Street on either side of town. I don’t think I attended an invitational screening on 86th Street during my entire 2008-to-2011 New York experience. And note the time — 8:30 pm. No invitational screenings start at that hour these days. For as long as I’ve been a journalist they’ve all begun at 7 or 7:30 pm. This harkens back to the ancient theatrical tradition of Broadway plays starting at 8:30 pm.

Woods Is Tweeting Fairly Well

Rob Marshall and Stephen Sondheim‘s Into The Woods was screened for a crowd of mostly mild-mannered types at 4 pm on the Disney lot. (I’ll be seeing it Monday night.) Deadline‘s Pete Hammond: “Ad line for Into The Woods says ‘be careful what you wish for’. If your wish was a smart, charming, witty Sondheim film, it’s been granted.” (The ghost of Gene Shalit?) Sam Adams: “Into The Woods overstays welcome & bleeds its many charms. Meryl Streep kinda grand, but third act drag undoes what was a slight but enjoyable film.” Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson: “Gorgeous & expensive Sondheim. Applause for Meryl Streep and the opening number. Johnny Depp is fine in short bit as The Wolf.” Wait…”gorgeous & expensive” are sidestepping terms, don’t address how good it is. Jenelle Riley: “I loved Into the Woods though the tone veers between theatrical and realistic. Whole cast is great…especially Streep, Chris Pine.” Hammond again: “Into The Woods defines what a great ensemble cast really is. They all shine but Streep soars. Kendrick. Blunt, Pine, James Corden all terrific.” Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone: “You could call this a darker interpretation of Into the Woods. Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick standouts. And Streep, of course. Wins costumes walking in the door. More serious and sad than the stage show I saw. Teared up a few times.” Wait…costumes?

A Perfect Nichols Meditation

I’ve been susceptible to the perceptions of UCLA film professor Howard Suber since the mid ’90s, which is when I first listened to his smooth, buttery commentaries on the Criterion Collection laser discs of Mike NicholsThe Graduate, Fred Zinneman‘s High Noon and Billy Wilder‘s Some Like It Hot. In 2012 I asked Suber to pass along some specially burned DVDs of these discs, but they didn’t look so hot and they skipped from time to time. Now, lo and behold, a YouTube post does it right — the entire Graduate synched with Suber’s commentary, the exact same trip offered to those who watched and listened to the original Criterion laser disc.

If you love and value The Graduate, this version will add to your appreciation of the film in ways you never quite gathered on your own, I swear. And it’s a perfect opportunity for a seance with the spirit of Mr. Nichols, who left us three days ago.


Hoping To Be Norman Lloyd Later In Life

On 11.9 I missed, to my everlasting discredit, a 100th birthday party for the great Norman Lloyd. So as a make-up I went to the Aero last night to hear Lloyd speak about Alfred Hitchcock‘s Saboteur (in which he played the villain, Fry, who fell to his death from the Statue of Liberty at the finale) and to hear any other recollections he had a mind to share. Lloyd is a legendary raconteur. I hadn’t spoken to him since I visited his home nine years ago, so it was a slight surprise to realize that Lloyd is just as sharp now as then. My mom, bless her, is not the woman she was a decade or two ago (whose elderly parents are?), but Lloyd is amazing. After the interview an Aero employee presented him with a birthday cupcake and 150 people sang “Happy Birthday.” A great moment. Note: In the video Lloyd is talking about director Lewis Milestone, who liked to gamble, and the making of A Walk In The Sun (’45), in which Lloyd costarred.

I’m Not There

Aren’t most discerning moviegoers over the age of 35 ignoring The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1? Shouldn’t they be? I am, I can tell you. My general interpretation from the get-go is that the Hunger Games trilogy is a big “fuck you” to the Boomers who are sending GenY and GenX into a future laden with economic doom and despair. I might hate the films but I’ve no argument with the metaphor. Here’s my initial 3.20.12 review of the first Hunger Games flick. Confession: Jennifer Lawrence‘s a cappella singing of “The Hanging Tree” is oddly affecting.