Perverse Bond

I don’t have any special inside track on Sundance ’15, but Rupert Goold‘s True Story, a true-life drama about a bizarre relationship between a discredited N.Y. Times journalist (Jonah Hill) and a family murderer (James Franco), is certainly at the top of my list thus far. Based on a memoir by ex-Times reporter Michael Finkel. Costarring Felicity Jones. Co-produced by New Regency Pictures and Brad Pitt‘s Plan B Entertainment.


Cuba Libre

President Obama‘s decision to recognize Cuba and attempt another, less belligerent approach to “that imprisoned island,” as JFK described it 52 years ago, is a good move. I’ve never visited Cuba and within a year or two I’ll probably be able to do this without much difficulty. For the sake of his likely 2016 Presidential run and because he’ll need to appeal to hinterland yahoos, Jeb Bush was obliged yesterday to sound like a hardline enemy of the dictatorial socialists who’ve been running things in Havana since early 1959. But Bush surely knows, and as anyone who understands why Communism toppled in Europe and Russia between ’89 and ’91 will tell you, when a population starts to get a taste for Western comforts, lifestyles and technology, Democratic change is all but inevitable.

Flag of Cuba that’s been hanging above my desk for over a dozen years.

Paramount to Indie Exhibs: We Can Be Cowardly Too!

Paramount has reportedly kibboshed plans by the Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse chain and by Cleveland’s Capitol Theatre to show Team America: World Police in place of the now-cancelling bookings of The Interview. A Deadline report says that Paramount “won’t be offering” Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s 2004 satire (which focuses on Kim Jong-Un’s dad, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il) to Drafthouse or anyone else. Which means, I gather, that they’re not “offering” a DCP of the film. Are they also forbidding Drafthouse and others from projecting the Bluray? If I were in Austin or Cleveland I might be inclined to buy a ticket to a Team America Bluray presentation as a general endorsement of showing political satires on U.S. screens.

Corporate Is As Corporate Does

Sony Pictures Entertainment has apparently decided to dump The Interview every which way (no theatrical, VOD, DVD/Bluray or foreign…nothing) in order to recoup their investment through an insurance claim, or so TheWrap‘s Todd Cunningham indicated yesterday. (“One media report suggested that a total write-off was required to qualify,” etc.) If this was in fact Sony’s bottom-line rationale, this is typical corporate behavior. In caving like cowards, Sony essentially said “to hell with free speech and the example that this capitulation to cyber-terrorists sets, not to mention what this does to our relations with talent in this town…all we care about is the fucking dough.”

22 months ago I wrote a piece about Sony Pictures Entertainment’s response to the “pro-torture” attacks upon Zero Dark Thirty by the Stalinist left. In the view of L.A. Times reporters Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling, Sony publicists figured that controversy might somehow diminish or scare away interest in the film so they more or less threw ZDT under the bus in terms of the torture argument…but at the same time the film did generate an excellent domestic return (i.e., $95 million and change).

This is what corporations do,” I wrote on 2.20.13, “and I don’t mean this as a criticism of the Sony guys. It’s just a statement of behavioral fact as explained by Joel Bakan‘s ‘The Corporation.’ (more…)

Lords of Corruption

I understand, of course, that many if not most of those who glance at this week-old Elizabeth Warren rant won’t hit play and listen to her words about Citigroup. That was my response when I first clicked on it…”yeah, yeah, Warren again.” But you know what? That kind of attitude makes me part of the problem. So I listened again this morning, and I’m asking two things of the “Ready for Hillary” crowd. One, are you aware of any facts that argue with what Warren is saying here? And two, can you envision Hillary Clinton ever making a similar speech?

The Monsters Own Every House on Maple Street

From “The Birdcage,” Mark Harris‘s 12.16 Grantland piece about the all-but-total domination of Hollywood by comic-book franchise geek superhero mythology: “Over the 25 years that followed Star Wars, franchises went from being a part of the business to a big part of the business. Big, but not defining: Even as late as 1999, for instance, only four of the year’s 35 top grossers were sequels.

“That’s not where we are anymore. In 2014, franchises are not a big part of the movie business. They are not the biggest part of the movie business. They are the movie business. Period. Twelve of the year’s 14 highest grossers are, or will spawn, sequels. (The sole exceptions — assuming they remain exceptions, which is iffy — are Big Hero 6 and Maleficent.)

“Almost everything else that comes out of Hollywood is either an accident, a penance (people who run the studios do like to have a reason to go to the Oscars), a modestly budgeted bone thrown to an audience perceived as niche (black people, women, adults), an appeasement (movie stars are still important and they must occasionally be placated with something interesting to do so they’ll be cooperative about doing the big stuff), or a necessity (sometimes, unfortunately, it is required that a studio take a chance on something new in order to initiate a franchise). (more…)

They Call Him Billy

Yesterday I spoke with veteran film editor William Goldenberg on behalf of his work on The Imitation Game, which is so smooth and fleet and seamless that I didn’t quite notice it. In this respect great editing is sometimes like great film music — the less it stands out the better it might be. And yet everyone noticed and admired Goldenberg’s cutting of Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, the result being that he was Oscar-nominated for both and thereby competed against himself. He won for Argo but if you ask me his work on Zero Dark Thirty was more mesmerizing or musical or whatever. (In that invisible sort of way.) Goldenberg’s cutting of Michael Mann‘s Heat (’95) and particularly the big bank-robbery scene in downtown Los Angeles is also the stuff of legend. He’s now cutting Concussion, a football injury drama with Will Smith that’s currently shooting. We talked about (a) the relationship between music and editing, (b) why certain editing jobs stand out as opposed to others, regardless of quality, (c) different styles of action editing and Walter Murch‘s rule about no more than 14 set-ups per minute, (d) why the poison-apple scene in The Imitation Game was left on the cutting room floor, and (e) the general aesthetic about cutting being generally a lot faster these days than it used to be. Again, the mp3.

Editor William Goldenberg accepting Best Editing Oscar for his work on Argo.

Legendary Put-On Doc About North Korea

During my interview yesterday with Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu we briefly discussed the Interview situation. AGI asked if I’d seen Mads Burgger‘s The Red Chapel, a 2009 mock-doc about the repressions of North Korea, and I went “uhm…nope.” From the Wikipage: “It chronicles the visit of Brügger and Danish comedians Jacob Nossell and Simon Jul to North Korea under the pretense of a small theatre troupe on a cultural exchange. The entire trip is a ruse: the trio are actually trying to get a chance to portray the absurdity of the pantomime life they are forced to lead in the DPRK.” Here’s a 12.17.14 piece about it by Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Best Picture Finalists: 1. Birdman (HE approved); 2. Boyhood; 3. Gone Girl (HE approved); 4. A Most Violent Year(HE approved); 5. The Theory of Everything; 6. The Imitation Game; 7. Whiplash (HE approved); 8. Selma; 9. Foxcatcher; 10. The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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 Actor: 1. Michael Keaton, Birdman (HE approved); 2. Tom Hardy, Locke/The Drop; 3. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything; 4. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game; 5. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler; 6. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher; 7. Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner (despite my inability to hear half of Spall's dialogue due to his all-but-indecipherable British working-class accent); 8. Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins.

Best Actress: 1. Jenny Slate, Obvious Childs; 2. Julianne Moore, Still Alice; 3. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; 4. Anne Dorval, Mommy; 5. Reese Witherspoon, Wild; 6. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; 7. Shailene Woodley, The Fault In Our Stars.

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. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice.

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


SPE Apparently Doubling Down on Cowardice, Won’t Even Release Interview on VOD or DVD/Bluray

Deadline‘s Dominic Patten is reporting that in the wake of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s decision to cancel The Interview‘s 12.25 theatrical opening, they “will not be putting the now shuttered pic out on VOD, DVD or any other platform — at least not any time soon.” Patten has quoted a Sony Pictures spokesperson saying that SPE “has no further release plans for the film.” If this is in fact SPE’s firm decision, whatever minimal respect I had for Sony management, given the enormous trauma they’ve been going through over the last couple of weeks, is now out the window. They don’t even have the courage to release The Interview on VOD. These guys are doing an excellent job at persuading everyone that they have no souls, no courage, no investment in what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re not movie people, just empty bottom-line corporates. Good God, how can they look in the mirror?

Hollywood to Hostiles: Threaten Us and We’ll Fold Like Pansies Because Our Spines Are Made of Apple Sauce

Up in heaven John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Howard Hawks, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton, Theodore Roosevelt and other deceased macho Americans of consequence are beside themselves with rage, punching the refrigerator door and kicking holes in the wall over the terrible humiliation visited upon the dignity of this country by Sony Pictures Entertainment and U.S. exhibitors. Check out Twitter now and listen to what people (including many industry types) are saying…”you contemptible pussies!” With government officials having determined that North Korea was behind the Sony hack attack and with SPE and exhibitors having totally caved in response to a Sony hacker’s emailed (and almost certainly bogus) threat to attack theatres that might show the now-cancelled The Interview, everyone is red-faced and fuming. It sounds like sentimental conservative horseshit to pine for the hallowed traditions of honor, backbone and courage and resolve that used to be…well, at least part of the fibre that constituted the American character, but today’s decision makes it seem as if those qualities are fading fast if not evaporated altogether. This is the most humiliating episode in U.S. foreign relations since the failed 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran by the Carter administration.


Interview‘s 12.25 Opening Is Toast — VOD Is Only Decisive Option Now

Sony Pictures has officially deep-sixed the 12.25 theatrical opening of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s The Interview. Freedom of speech is lying on the canvas and down for the count, and cyber-terrorism has won. It’s now 7:13 am in Pyongyang. Kim Jong-Un is ecstatic…rolling all over the floor in delight, giggling and high-fiving his staff. This is his only big triumph as North Korea’s leader. “Made it, pa…top of the world!” Two victory celebrations are currently being planned for tonight — one for the public and another for North Korean governmental and business elites. All rsvps must be received no later than 3 pm Pyongyang time. Dress will be formal. Open bar, hors d’oeuvres.

Meanwhile, Variety‘s Brent Lang is reporting that SPE “is weighing releasing the film on premium video-on-demand, according to an insider.” I was all over this option yesterday, of course. As Ben Stiller would say, “Do it…do it…do it.”

But if Sony execs are thinking about VOD, why are they cancelling press screenings left and right? They’d still want reviews for a VOD opening, right? Oh, right, of course…they’re afraid that North Korean rogue agents might attack.

That ridiculous NATO suggestion about “delaying” the theatrical opening of The Interview was so mashed-potatoes pathetic I don’t even want to talk about it. What would John Wayne do in this situation? I’ll tell you what he wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t talk about “delaying” anything. He would draw and fire or keep his gun holstered, period. We are truly living through The Age of the Executive Candy-Ass. (more…)

An Adult, Delightfully Melodious Tale of Wonder and Disappointment

I’ve seen Into The Woods (Disney, 12.25) twice — once three and a half weeks ago (on Monday, 11.24 — the night of the Ferguson Grand Jury announcement) and a second time on a DVD screener a week or so ago. I’d nearly forgotten about it with everything else going on, but then the reviews broke today…of course! My reaction was and is basically positive — this is easily the best film ever directed by the not-tremendously-respected, more-or-less-regarded-as-a-hack Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha). He hasn’t gotten in the way or otherwise fucked up the spirited ingredients that made the original 1987 Stephen Sondheim stage musical such a triumph, and has actually enhanced the material in a reverent and respectable fashion. It may not be gloriously or rapturously inspired, but Into The Woods has spunk and smarts and more or less gets it right. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful musical that actually says something about storybook fantasy vs. reality, and it does so with rigor and discipline and a mesmerizing, high-Hollywood style. The tweener idiots might be shifting around in their seats (“Hey, we want more escapism!”) but the over-25s will get what’s going on and enjoy it as fully as they should.


Asian Guy Beaming As Candy-Ass Exhibitors Abandon Interview Bookings

Update: The Interview is apparently a dead duck as far as theatrical exhibition is concerned. Or do I mean a dead shark? Or a duck eaten by sharks? I obviously haven’t decided on the metaphor, but Deadline‘s Jen Yamato and Dominic Patten are reporting that all of the major chains including Regal (7318 screens), AMC (4988 screens), Cinemark (4434 screens) and Cineplex (1672 screens) will be joining Carmike, Bow Tie and Arclight cinemas in a decision not to show the Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg comedy following a most-likely bullshit threat of 9/11-style theatrical violence that was posted yesterday by the Sony hackers. So that’s it — Sony has to get in front of this situation and offer The Interview on a day-and-date VOD basis. There’s nothing else to do. Unless, of course, Sony distribution execs would rather just pull the plug altogether and retire to their respective offices and weep.

Earlier: It was reported this morning that Bow Tie Cinemas has joined Carmike Cinemas and possibly Arclight Cinemas in deciding not to show The Interview because a message threatening attacks on U.S. theatres was typed out by some Asian guy (probably in his 20s, probably an asshole) within the last couple of days. Imagine the potency this guy must be feeling today! A little impudence, a few keystrokes and wham!…giant U.S. corporations tremble and run for cover like mice. I am a kind of 21st Century anti-imperialist hero, this guy must be telling himself. I am a real-life James Bond villain, only cooler! Kim Jong-Un is my new homie. I am now sexier than ever before. Beautiful moist-lipped Korean women are dropping to their knees when I enter the room. What kind of car should I buy? Oh, wait…I’m not being paid that much. (more…)

Totally Sensible Idea

“If Sony is worried about theaters being targeted, why not release The Interview day and date on demand?” — suggested a few minutes ago by Bill McCuddy, a regular panelist on NY1’s “Taking Pictures on Demand.” McCuddy is obviously invested in this idea to some degree, but it does make sense in this situation. If Sony suddenly announces a day-and-date VOD premiere of The Interview on 12.25, they’ll probably do fairly well. They might do very well. Presto, no bogus terror concerns!

Sony’s Passive Capitulation to Cyber-Terrorists Is Cowardly and Ignoble

Deadline‘s Jen Yamato is reporting that Sony has more or less folded in the face of a blustery, probably full-of-shit threat from the Sony hackers who have warned of 9/11-style attacks upon theatres that play Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s The Interview. “Sony isn’t yet cancelling the Christmas release of The Interview,” Yamato wrote, “but the embattled studio has given its blessing to concerned theater owners who choose to drop the controversial comedy.”

A Sony source has told Yamato that “we’re leaving it up to the discretion of the theater owners and chains, and we will support their decision.” Variety‘s Dave McNary is reporting that Carmike Cinemas had decided not to show The Interview in their theaters. 8:55 pm update: The Arclight Cinema chain has also bailed.

Some chains or theatres may choose to play The Interview all the same but others, I suspect, may follow Carmike’s lead.

I realized earlier this afternoon after speaking to a couple of publicists about the threat that fear had quickly taken hold. Would that Americans are made of sterner stuff. But even if only a fraction of U.S. theaters decide not to show The Interview, the bottom line is that a major corporation has blinked and basically surrendered by saying, in effect, “Okay, maybe we shouldn’t do this but we don’t feel tough enough…maybe the bad guys are tougher than we figured…so they win.”

This decision will make a big impression, trust me, on hackers the world over. A light bulb is turning on in thousands of hacker brains right now. Is there anyone who doubts that Sony’s surrender has established a precedent that will encourage other bad guys to go to town? (more…)

Inarritu’s Dark-Happy Soul

Early this afternoon I stepped into in a palatial reception room inside the Four Seasons hotel for a chat with one of the nicest and most large-of-spirit guys I know in this town — Birdman director and cowriter Alejandro G. Inarritu. He’s on a break from filming The Revenant, a rugged revenge drama with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, in a really cold elevated area an hour or two from Calgary. He called Birdman “an unhappy comedy”, and Michael Keaton has said that Inarritu was drawing from his heart and mind when he created the somber and somewhat dour Riggan Thomson. And yet on his own Inarritu is alert, brilliant, good-humored, thoughtful. My initial impression when I first met him, 13 years ago at a Hollywood party for Amores perros, was that he seemed delighted….enjoying the moment, his work, his life. “There’s nothing downish in your personality,” I said, “or not in public at least, so why did it take four films for you to crack out a comedy…a movie with mirth, snark, wit and subversion? Inarritu basically said that the mirth is a front: “You know me and what I can be…I can be extremely dark and down…I have a complex, multi-dimensional personality that I embrace…I have to navigate through that and I don’t quit, I don’t surrender, but there’s an underlying negative [that] I’m fighting all the time.” But I’ll never think of him in this light. And I think Birdman is by far the most enjoyable, electric, live-wire film of the year. Again, the mp3.

Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu at the Four Seasons hotel — Tuesday, 12.16. 2:05 pm.

China Syndrome Was A Bit Luckier

Variety‘s Scott Foundas beat me to the punch in posting about the parallel between Michael Mann‘s Blackhat (Universal, 1.16) and James BridgesThe China Syndrome (’79). Both films achieved notoriety because real-life events, occurring within days of their release, spiked public interest. The Bridges film, a thriller about a meltdown at a California nuclear power plant, benefitted from the notorious Three Mile Island meltdown happening less than two weeks after the film opened. Blackhat, a cyber thriller about hackers and counter-hackers opening on 12.25, will probably get a boost from interest in the ongoing Sony hack.

The difference is that after today’s almost certainly bogus threat of attacks upon theaters playing The Interview, Nervous Nellies are probably going to stay home or perhaps even avoid the megaplexes altogether. Fear is illogical. Once it sinks in it’s very difficult to turn it off. An MSNBC interviewer led off a chat today with L.A. Times reporter Joe Bel Bruno by asking “is Sony going to pull this movie?” It would be shameful if Sony does this, of course.

Garbage For Apes

During his recently-popped interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, The Interview star, co-director and co-producer Seth Rogen delivered the following about the level of humor that tends to be popular at the megaplex: “Although the public clearly has an appetite for garbage, how much of that garbage should you provide them with? And how much should you try to insert something that is a little bit above garbage in your garbage?”

The following paragraph concludes my 12.13 Interview review: “[The Interview] is basically saying to the guys it was made to please that they really are ball-scratching apes. It’s basically a huge insult greeting card, this film. Rogen’s film is saying, ‘You get that we made this film for you guys, right? And that we emphasized what we emphasized because we think you’re too stupid to be interested in anything more evolved or sophisticated? You’re cool with that, right?'”

What is the substantive difference between what Rogen said and what I wrote?

Cheap Bluster, Sabre-Rattling

Variety‘s Brent Lang is reporting that Sony hackers out of Bangkok have released the promised “Christmas gift” of hacked files, which apparently focus on SPE CEO Michael Lynton. But their big play, which is almost certainly bullshit, has been to threaten some kind of terrorist havoc upon theaters that show The Interview, the object of North Korea’s ire. The goal, of course, is to scare American fraidy cats out into not seeing the film theatrically and therefore damaging Sony’s bottom line.

Interview in which Kim John Wayne Un (Randall Park) meets terrible death. I’m sorry…Jungle Jim Jong. Shit….King Kong Jong. Seriously, Kim Jong Un.

The latest message is comically ungrammatical but here it is: “We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places [that] The Interview be shown, including the premiere, how bitter [the] fate [of] those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.” Wells insert: Haven’t the Interview premieres already happened? I was at the Los Angeles one and nobody blew anything up.

“Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made,” the Bangkok goons have written. “The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. If your house is nearby, you’d better leave. (more…)

Do Cows Dream Of Open Gates?

Audiences the world over cheered when Kirk Douglas and fellow gladiators broke out of Peter Ustinov‘s gladiator school in Capua, Italy. They were heartened when Steve McQueen and dozens of other Allied soldiers escaped from that German P.O.W. camp. And every November we smile when President Obama saves a turkey from the axe. So naturally our hearts went out when a cow somehow escaped last Friday from Anderson Custom Pack in Pocatello, Idaho. And then we were appalled when the poor cow was shot to death. They shot a cow like a bad guy in a movie? And now everyone totally understands why four more cows slipped out Sunday through a suspiciously open gate. Somebody was stirred by the cop’s heartless response to Friday’s escape and decided to spread the feeling around, even if subsequent capture and death were sure to follow.

Extremism In The Defense of Coherence Is No Vice

Marshall Fine on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, posted on 12.15: “It’s as if filmmaker and novelist [Thomas Pynchon] alike are commenting upon the art form by denigrating it, poking mirthless fun. Even as Anderson trots out notable actors playing what could be memorable characters — Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, a wildly lascivious and knowing Martin Short and a hammer-headed Josh Brolinhe strands them on little islands of his own whimsy.

And if that’s not enough: “I was an early fan of Anderson but over his past three films he seems to be playing a game of chicken with the audience: Bet I can make you watch without actually revealing anything about what you’re watching. How long will you remain engaged with a work that seems to purposely challenge the viewer to understand what the filmmaker’s getting at?”

Same Old Murmuring, Interior-Monologue Arthouse Dingleberry Doodling With Swirling Camera Moves and Dream-Logic Cutting

Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups appears to be some kind of riff on La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2 or something along those lines. The Christian Bale character is some kind of louche Hollywood guy with too much dough, too many choices, too many women, not a lot of discipline…adrift in corruption, plagued by misgivings. Or something like that. Do the characters (Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman) talk to each other in it? Using words, I mean? Or will they mainly talk to themselves a la Tree of Life and To The Wonder? Is there any kind of (excuse this inexcusably vulgar term) story or is this just another impressionist Malicky meandering? I’m slightly intrigued but until it’s been proven to me that Cups is composed of actual scenes in which (a) characters have goals and demons and interact with each other and (b) a semblance of a story happens due to things actually happening, I’m not paying $2500 to see this puppy at the Berlinale. No way. And don’t call me a Philistine for not wanting to muddle my way through another To The Wonder again. Stories and characters used to manifest in Malickland…really. Doubters need to check out Badlands and Days of Heaven.


Who, Us?

George Stephanopoulos: “Are there any second thoughts, at all?” Seth Rogen: “At this point it’s too late to have any.” Why didn’t Stephanopoulos ask Rogen if he and Evan Goldberg would pitch and make the exact same movie if they could do it all over again? Or if he felt The Interview would have been diminished if a fictitious Asian dictator has been substituted? Or if he agreed with Aaron Sorkin‘s N.Y. Times anti-press screed?

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Smell of the Crowd

The more a lead character is brutally beaten and the more he suffers, the nobler and purer of heart and closer to God he is, and the more deserving of worship. This was basically the idea or strategy behind Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ, which obviously paid off with conservative hinterland Christians. This idea has now been more or less appropriated by Angelina Jolie, which surprised me. All along I thought Angie was just another fair-minded humanist liberal but there’s obviously a strain of conservative sentiment within. How it got there or why is a mystery, but it’s somewhere in her psyche.

Knight Of Cups In Berlin? Uhhm…

Is it worth it to fly to the Berlinale in February and stay at some Airb&b pad for four or five days and shell out at least $2500 so I can be among the first to see and review Terrence Malick‘s Knight of Cups? I think not. You never know with Malick these days. Will Knight contain dialogue or will the actors just whisper and roam around? Will it have a story of any kind? Will it make any sense? The fact that it’s been in the editing room for a couple of years suggests that Malick has been tossing the lettuce leaves pretty high in the air. I’ll wait until it plays at Cannes Film Festival, thanks. I attended the Berlinale last year when the big attraction was the debut of Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel, but that was a Fox Searchlight deal (air fare, hotel for three days). It just seems a bit much to fund a big Berlin thing all on my lonesome. On top of which I didn’t care that much for my Berlinale experience, to be honest.

Christian Bale, Natalie Portman during filming of Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups in 2012.

Warm Embrace, Good Hype, Stars At Tables, etc.

A lot of people and a lot of movies have been nominated by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, a.k.a., the givers of the People’s Choice Awards.** These guys know how to spread the love around. Birdman leads the pack with 13 nominations followed by The Grand Budapest Hotel (11 noms) and Boyhood (8 noms). Reminder with special attention to Hollywood Reporter awards handicapper Scott Feinberg — the film with the most nominations among all the award groups tends to generally kick ass and win the Best Picture Oscar…do the math.

Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler‘s Jake Gyllenhaal was nominated for Best Actor and the film was nominated for Best Picture…go Gilroy brothers! Ava DuVernay‘s Selma was nominated five times including Best Picture and Best Director. Chris Nolan‘s Interstellar collected four nominations but not for Best Picture or Best Director. The BFCA’s largesse was further indicated by the giving of four nominations to Unbroken, which has been shut out by the critics groups and blanked by the SAG and Golden Globe nominations. But the BFCAs gave it nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Angelina Jolie), Best Cinematogrpahy (Roger Deakins) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Coen brothers, William Nicholson, Richard LaGravanese).

Kevin Costner, Jessica Chastain and Ron Howard will receive special awards at the BFCA awards ceremony, which will happen on Thursday, January 15th.

** The BFCA nominations were revealed out last night but embargoed until Monday morning.

Click here to jump past HE Sink-In

“There’s no black or white, left or right to me any more…there’s only up or down.” — Bob Dylan as quoted by Martin Scorsese in No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.

When I first saw Mike Binder‘s Black or White last summer I knew that Kevin Costner‘s performance as Elliot, an angry, grieving attorney who’s drinking too much, was one of his all-time best. Not just a well-measured performance of skill and feeling but one that was “up” in a Dylanesque sense. Which is to say a kind of head-turner, which is to say a kind of high. Because it was basically about the old Jimmy Cagney thing of “planting your feet, looking the other guy in the eye and telling the truth,” which meant no crapping around with those little charm-school games that actors sometimes resort to. And it wasn’t one of Stanley Kubrick‘s “interesting” performances either. It was take-it-or-leave-it real which, in my mind, is always an “up” thing because the technique is more or less invisible.

Costner, I felt, had gotten under the skin of this somewhat testy grandfather of a mixed-race girl and made him whole, but he had also shown courage in playing Elliot in the first place. Because he and Binder pretty much did it alone.


Sorkin Flips Bird At Participating Journos

In a N.Y. Times op-ed piece titled “The Sony Hack and the Yellow Press,” screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has bitchslapped the editors and journalists who’ve published the Sony material stolen by the “Guardians of Peace” hackers in Thailand. These editors and journalists are slime, Sorkin is saying. That includes me, right? I’m a personification of slithery green ooze for joining in and riffing on the ramifications and so on? And what about my offering a clarification and defense of Amy Pascal? I thought that was okay.

“If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood,” Sorkin writes. “And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing. As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel.”

The most interesting paragraph, for me, is the one in which Sorkin gives a new title to the much-described, much-gossiped-about Jobs project, for which he wrote the screenplay. That project is called Steve Jobs, Sorkin says. Seriously? Steve Jobs? What, like Michael Clayton and Dolores Claiborne? Sounds sucky, man. A whole different ring. Dump it and go back to Jobs. Or call it something else. (more…)

Sony Toothpaste Must Be Put Back Into Tube and Henceforth Not Acknowledged, Sony Litigator Warns

The N.Y. Times is reporting that Sony attorneys, including litigator David Boies, have demanded that news agencies ignore any ill-gotten information that has come from hacked Sony emails and data. Pay no attention to those situations and scenarios behind the curtain because the information is “stolen,” which of course it has been. News orgs can stay with the story but no more tasty email excerpts can be posted or published. In the three-page letter Boies said that the studio “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use” of the information. You guys are reputable, front-line journalists, Boies is saying, and so you must disregard what all the other websites who are covering this story will almost certainly not disregard. You must abstain. You must not promote or assist the hostile desires of the Bangkok-based, most likely North Korean-backed hackers.

Vice Meets The Public

While there’s some contentment about Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice having earned $330,000 this weekend in five New York and Los Angeles theaters, there’s also concern that it might not match the earnings of previous PTA films (The Master, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) by the end of the road. I was half-and-half on The Master, seriously impressed by Blood, generally pleased with Love and Magnolia and delighted with Boogie Nights. But I’ve had difficulty with Inherent Vice both times I’ve seen it. My first reaction after the New York Film Festival showing was that I might not be smart or patient enough to get it, and that maybe the curtains would part upon my second viewing. Well, that didn’t happen. There’s always round three but I don’t know that I’m up for it. I really don’t want to hang with Joaquin Phoenix‘s Doc Sportello again, man. I hated his company like nothing else. Vice is far from thoughtless or haphazard and certainly deserves respect for PTA’s meticulous composition and use of…was it one or two Neil Young tunes? But I didn’t give a damn who did what (and neither did Thomas Pynchon — I get that) and I didn’t care about anyone in the entire cast except Martin Short. Pynchon fans might argue that Inherent Vice is an entirely different bird than Robert Altman‘s The Long Goodbye and Joel and Ethan Coen‘s The Big Lebowski, but these films are still quasi-detective stories about low-rent loser types trying to make sense of a complex Los Angeles demimonde and scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders at the perverse and ungainly sprawl of it all. I recognize that Vice is more liked than disliked by critics and that the HE comment symphony may take a few pokes at me, but I’m used to that. What’s the verdict?