Critic Chum on Gone Girl

The buzz for the last couple of months has been that David Fincher‘s Gone Girl is a movie that some couples might break up over. A chillingly entertaining, top-notch Fincher drill bit with a startling Rosamund Pike performance. A critic I know has just seen it and says the following: “The movie’s heart is curdled and cynical and black, and Fincher doesn’t pull any punches. I’m not sure it will catch on with mainstream audiences, but I’m really happy he made it. It’s so beautiful. Ben Affleck is aces, perhaps the best he’s ever been. It’s more of a provocative date movie than high art. I wouldn’t call it slamdunk Best Picture material, but watch out for a nomination for Rosamund Pike — she’s that good. Original author and screenwriter Gillian Flynn could get one too. I’m kinda surprised the book caught Fincher’s interest as it’s 95 percent dialogue in living rooms and 5 percent Fincher-style grotesquerie (including an insane bloody murder). Not showy or flashy in any way. I also really liked Patrick Fugit‘s near-silent performance. Fincher is so detailed oriented and specific he reminds me a little of Kubrick. It’s maybe 15 minutes too long, but Tyler Perry can act!”

Thank You, SCE

Southern California Edison informed me today that equipment replacements will cause my particular area of West Hollywood to be without power for as long as 11 hours starting tomorrow around 7 pm. In a heat wave? Thanks, bozos! I’ve never heard of equipment replacements causing an outage lasting a full half-day. I’m presuming that the actual power-less period will be closer to an hour or two, but the SCE robots have been instructed to say it might last as long as 11 hours. So I booked a room for tomorrow night (check-in at 3 pm) at the Beverly Terrace hotel, which is just outside the grid area. It’ll cost over $200 bills but I don’t want to risk being without air conditioning or fans for that long a period. Am I acting like a spoiled nelly? Should I man up and cancel the reservation and just deal with it like the late Steve McQueen would have?

Aunt Witchy — Feistier, Somewhat Older Malificient With Song

I know who Rob Marshall is. I know what he’s capable of, where his instincts lie, where he’s likely to go. I know what Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides were. He makes smooth, costly, handsomely designed films. You’re not going to get me to believe that his latest endeavor, a filmed adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s Into the Woods (Disney, 12.25), is going to be anything more or less than another Rob Marshall film. What that will finally amount to is, of course, anyone’s guess. But you know what I mean.

Here We Go Again

At first glance Gabe Ibánez‘s Automata (Green Room/Millenium, 11.18) looks like a blend of Blade Runner and Neil Blomkamp‘s District 9 (particularly the dusty atmosphere and bleachy color scheme) with a shaved-head-sporting Antonio Banderas playing a variation on Harrison Ford‘s Dekker. His character, Jacq Vaucan, is an insurance agent for the ROC Robotics Corporation (which sounds like a branch of the Tyrell Corporation) who’s looking into the case of a robot apparently modifying itself (which is vaguely similar to a replicant named Roy trying to take charge of his own destiny by extending his life). Whatever it is, I feel like I’ve been here before.


Tombstones Is Mature, Restrained, Grade-A

It needs to be fully understood that Scott Frank‘s A Walk Among The Tombstones (Universal, 9.19) is at least two or three cuts above your typical Liam Neeson whoop-ass actioner, and that it deals restrained cards all the way through with intelligent dialogue, logical plot progressions and action scenes that are rugged and jarring without being stupidly overwrought. It’s a smart-guy detective film in the vein of Chris McQuarrie‘s Jack Reacher — sensible, pruned down, less is more. Most of it is dialogue- and character-driven, and it all gradually makes sense. The mostly off-screen violence is horribly brutal (the bad guys are like ISIL without Allah) but it doesn’t feature a single under-25 woman using vocal fry patois or uptalk or the sexy baby vocal virus…thank God!

The only passage that doesn’t work happens at the very end — a violent climax that uses occasional freeze-frames as we listen to somebody recite the twelve steps from Alcoholic Anonymous. An industry journalist noted the same thing when I saw him in the parking lot. But when I said, “Okay, I felt that way also but c’mon, that’s not worth getting hung up on…this is a tough, disciplined smart-guy detective thriller,” he frowned and shook his head. My blood ran cold. “You…wait, you’re telling me you prefer the same old Taken-style Neeson whoop-ass shit to this?”,” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “Oh, my fucking God,” I said. (more…)

Murky 16mm Look Simulates Low-Budget ’70s Aesthetic

“In Listen Up Philip, Alex Ross Perry continues his cinematic quest to test the limits of just how far you can take the obnoxious misanthropy of your leading characters,” writes Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy. “Explicitly set in the literary world, this ambitious venture focuses on the willfully self-destructive impulses of a talented young novelist who simultaneously sabotages the potential success of his new novel and his love life, partly through his admiring relationship with a venerable older writer whose antisocial behavior is far more evolved than his own. Critics will gather around this indisputably talented work for its risk-taking, dark humor and barbed portraiture of creative individuals, but beyond sophisticates with a masochistic streak, audiences will not take up Perry’s dare to embrace this acridly engaging work.”

Birdman Dissers Waiting In Wings

Right now there are two critics against Birdman — elite contrarian James Rocchi (here’s his Film.com review) and Film Freak Central‘s Walter Chaw (whose review is instantly dismissable because of his belief that Guillermo del Toro‘s Pacific Rim is a more respectable/honorable film than Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s 21 Grams and Babel). No biggie, minor potholes — there’s always an intelligent naysayer or two. No, the real machine-gun fire is going to come from somewhat older women who prefer safe-haven comfort movies. That’s not to say a sizable percentage of the Birdman dissers aren’t (or won’t eventually be revealed as) older males — I’m just confining myself for now to first-hand reactions that have dropped in my lap.

There’s a wife of a friend whose reactions to this or that award-season film have proven to be bellwethers in years past. When I asked her about Birdman she said, “Wild, isn’t it?” That’s code for “not my cup of tea.” But last night I was told she has serious reservations…uh-oh. HE’s own Glenn Zoller, a part-time Telluride resident, says that an older local woman hated it also. This woman and her husband were talking to a couple of middle-aged guys in a downtown Telluride-to-Mountain Village gondola, and she said at one point, “Whatever you do, don’t see Birdman.” And the guy across from her said in a perfect deadpan, “I financed Birdman.” (more…)

The Melancholy In Winning

Robert Altman‘s California Split was screened earlier this month at Telluride as part of Kim Morgan and Guy Maddin‘s special programming effort. I would have loved to have kicked back and just settled into the loose-shoe groove of this film, but I had to catch the hotties. Split is “one of those movies so special it’s hard to even write about,” Morgan wrote on 8.31. “It’s just so alive and breathing and real and charming and sad you can practically smell it. It’s a movie I turn to time and time again because, even if I know it’s not a healthy world, I want to be in that world again. I want to experience its off-kilter cool, its bummer vibes. I want to, once again, fall in love with its scruffy-cool, wisecracking, charismatic leads.”


Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

Best Picture Contenders (i.e, Presumed High-Pedigree, The Right Stuff): Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Birdman, James Marsh's The Theory of Everything, Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, J.C. Chandor's A Very Violent Year, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice, Ava Duvernay's Selma, Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings, David Fincher‘s Gone Girl, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken; Jean Marc Vallee's Wild (i.e., the Reese Witherspoon hiking drama), Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, Rob Marshall's Into The Woods, Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper, Saul Dibbs' Suite Francaise, Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children.

Already Positively Reviewed: Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel (Berlin Film Festival review here), Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher (seen & praised at Cannes); Steve James' Life Itself; Steven Knight's Locke; Lynn Shelton's Laggies, Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood; Mike Leigh‘s Mr. Turner (seen & praised at Cannes); Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins, Damien Chazelle's Whiplash; Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman (seen & admired in some quarters); David Cronenberg‘s Maps to the Stars.

Some Appraised, Some Not: Maya Forbes' Infinitely Polar Bear, Rupert Goold's True Story (Jonah Hill, James Franco), Noah Baumbach's Untitled Public School Project; Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, David Gordon Green's Manglehorn, Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, Charlie McDowell‘s The One I Love, Tate Taylor's Get On Up (Chadwick Bozeman as James Brown); Thomas McCarthy's The Cobbler, Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent de Van Nuys, Justin Kurzel's Macbeth, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, David Dobkin's The Judge.

Vague Cloud: Stephen Daldry's Trash; Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes; Jon Stewart's Rosewater; David Ayers' Fury; Thomas Vinterberg's Far from the Madding Crowd; Fatih Akin's The Cut; Liv Ullman's Miss Julie; Daniel Espinosa's Child 44; Jeff NicholsMidnight Special,Dylan Kidd's Get A Job; James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour; Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert; Stephen Frears' Untitled Lance Armstrong Project; Alex Garland's Ex Machina, Christian Petzold's Phoenix (likely Telluride); Michael Roskam's The Drop; Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes; Rupert Goold's True Story; John MacLean's Slow West; Michael Cuesta's Kill The Messenger.

Opening in 2015: Sarah Gavron's Suffragette (Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep); Anton Corbijn's Life; Untitled Cameron Crowe, Todd HaynesCarol; Justin Kurzel's Macbeth.

Third Tier (i.e., Respectable Megaplex Movies): Matt ReevesDawn of the Planet of the Apes, Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah (seen, praised, successful), Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow, Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (huge success), Evan Golderberg and Seth Rogen's The Interview; Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer, Shawn Levy‘s This Is Where I Leave You, Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s 22 Jump Street, Spike Lee's Sweet Blood of Jesus.


Gotta Make It Real

Do you believe that an unarmed older guy, no matter how strong or commando-trained, can take out four or five bad guys with his hands, a knife, a corkscrew and another guy’s gun in less than 30 seconds? I think it’s showoffy. No serious ex-commando would go into a roomful of villains un-armed. Whether you believe it or not, this is the best violent scene in Antoine Fuqua‘s The Equalizer (Columbia, 9.26). It only gets crazier and more ludicrous after this. Fuqua violates HE’s ten-shot rule, by the way. By the end of the film (and the final bullshit finale inside an unlighted Home Depot-type store) a couple of thousand rounds have been fired, minimum. I liked the first half-hour and then I began zoning out.

Boy On The Bus

I was mostly miserable when I was 11 and 12 years old. I was miserable before that (I think I started to feel really badly about life’s possibilities when I seven or eight) but the onset of puberty seemed to make things worse in so many ways. My only encounters with happiness, however brief, came from hanging with certain friends and catching new films at my local theatre (the Westfield Rialto) and on WOR’s Million Dollar Movie or the CBS Late Show when I visited my grandmother, who would always let me stay up as late as I wanted. My childhood was a gulag experience. So were my teens. Things started to get a little better when I began as a film journalist but my life didn’t really pick up until ’80 or thereabouts. And even then it was constant struggle, struggle, toil and trouble.

My home town of Westfield, New Jersey, was a pleasant enough place, but the social aggression and general bullshit in junior high school meant there was always a taunt and a challenge and some kind of shit going on being your back. A fairly rancid atmosphere. Everything was awkward or tortured or tedious. So I got into the habit when I hit 13 or 14 of taking the bus into Manhattan (a secret mission as my parents wouldn’t let me go alone) and just roaming around Times Square and looking at the various marquees and just soaking it all in. It was a mild little weekend adventure. I’d take the bus in the late morning, visit Mecca for three or four hours and get back for dinner by 5 or 6 pm. I paid for these trips with my modest weekly allowance plus a little extra lawn-mowing money. I used to love the smell of bus exhaust inside those Port Authority parking areas. To me those fumes were the city itself — they smelled like oxygen.


Howling Man

Last night I made the mistake of watching a Region 2 Bluray of Phil Kaufman‘s Invasion of the Body Snatchers (’78). People turning into emotionless seed-pod versions of themselves in Don Siegel‘s 1956 original was a perfect metaphor for 1950s conformity, but the idea doesn’t fit into the liberal culture of late ’70s San Francisco. There was social pressure to submit to the human potential movement, of course, but that was all about open emotionality and uninhibited sexuality and not stiff, robotic behavior. So many scenes are poorly (i.e., woodenly) acted. Kaufman’s idea of naturalism is for people to talk at each other; no one seems to listen to what anyone else is saying. And all the effort put into icky-gooey pod makeup and prosthetic models and special FX realism is for naught — it’s boring. The film generates a creepy noirish feeling in the third act, aided by Michael Chapman‘s shadowy photography, but the only aspect that got my full attention is the fact that Telluride Film Festival director Tom Luddy has a significant (if dialogue-free) cameo as a pod person. (Siegel and original Body Snatchers star Kevin McCarthy also appear briefly.) I was also reminded that San Francisco culture was one hell of a traumatic thing in late ’78 — the mass suicide of the followers of San Francisco-based Jim Jones in Guyana on 11.18.78, the murder of San Francisco’s openly gay supervisor Harvey Milk on 11.27.78, and the opening of Kaufman’s film on 12.20.78.

Youngish Tom Luddy in one of many scenes in which he appears in Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Nanook of the North

The Altmans are a family of Jewish neurotic grown-ups who come home for their father’s funeral in Shawn Levy‘s This Is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros., 9.19). Mom is played by well-tended shiksa Jane Fonda, and the four kids are Judd (Jason Bateman), Wendy (Tina Fey), Paul (Corey Stoll) and Phillip (Adam Driver). Driver obviously resembles no one in the family, and I mean not even a tiny bit. Not with his long John Carradine face and those black-weasel eyes and that huge honker and that tall, lanky, broad-shouldered bod. He doesn’t even look like a cousin. Driver’s lineage is pretty much all English, but he looks part Russian, part Mongolian, part ape and part Jewish Navajo. I didn’t much like the film but every time Driver was on-screen I was saying to myself, “Why was he cast? He’s obviously an alien. If Levy and his casting director decided to go wildly inappropriate, why not cast Tracy Morgan?” The obvious solution would have been to make Driver an adopted son. Two or three lines of dialogue and the problem would be solved. Brilliant, guys.

Sidestepping Paycheck Syndrome?

In the view of Empire‘s Dan Jolin, Scott Frank‘s A Walk Among The Tombstones (Universal, 9.19) is “in many ways the anti-Taken. Matt Scudder, an ex-cop played by a grizzled Liam Neeson, “doesn’t pack heat. Although he throws a mean punch, violence is something he avoids if possible, preferring to talk his way out of tricky situations. His particular set of skills involves wheedling information out of people (without resorting to torture), pounding pavements and having “a strong bladder”. He’s an old-school shamus, suspicious of cellphones and computers. Frank has unapologetically served up something talky, complex, grown-up.


Looking For A Fresh Heavyweight

L.A. Times critic Betsy Sharkey believes that most of the offerings from the 2014 festivals (Cannes, Telluride and Toronto) have been underwhelming so far, and that a kind of “void” is in the air — a sense of “movie malaise.” She’s not the only one. I’ve heard “this has been a weak year so far” from two distribution executives over the past couple of weeks, and where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. “There was no Gravity to lift us up” at the end of Toronto, Sharkey writes. “No 12 Years a Slave to leave us weeping. No American Beauty. No Slumdog Millionaire. No Silver Linings Playbook. No handful of movies that you just know will take hold, capture the imagination of filmgoers, if not the awards. If ever there has been a year looking for a dark horse, 2014 is it.”

I don’t know what Sharkey has seen or not seen, but so far this year I’ve been levitated and gobsmacked by Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Birdman (i.e., “the new 8 1/2“), Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan, Damian Szifron‘s Wild Tales, Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood, James Marsh‘s The Theory of Everything, Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Steven Knight‘s Locke, Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins, Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash and Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies. They all had their big debuts at Sundance, Cannes, Telluride or Toronto.

Imitation Fellatio Theory

It’s Monday morning and everyone needs to calm down about The Imitation Game having won the Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice Award. It’s certainly a classy, highly efficient Richard Attenborough film but there is some evidence to suggest that the Toronto win was pushed through by Benedict Cumberbatch’s hopped-up fan base. Mr. Lizard Face (Cumberbatch has said he looks like “something between an otter and something people find vaguely attractive”) is very hot with women in their 20s and 30s right now, in large part due to the BBC/PBS Sherlock series. On 9.10 Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson reported that during a post-Imitation Game discussion a female audience member asked Cumberbatch if she could “feast on [your] yumminess.” Cumberbatch’s response: “I did not go into this q & a about a gay icon who killed himself at 41 thinking I’d have to answer questions from someone who wants to taste my deliciousness.” There’s no proof that this yummy deliciousness is what led a majority of female and gay TIFF fans to put Imitation Game at the top of the list, but you can’t say that alleged Cumberbatch lust didn’t have at least something to do with snagging the Big Vote.

Adulthood Has Been Ebbing For A Long Time

I can’t think of a single interesting thing to say about A.O. Scott‘s “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” which appears in today’s Sunday N.Y. Times magazine. I despise submental, diaper-boy humor in comedies (Zak Galfianakis, etc.) but I’m sick of bitching about that. Maybe it’s best to just re-run an HE piece called “Party On” that I posted in July 2006? Scott’s piece is broader and thinkier but mine addressed similar concerns.

“There’s a trend in movies about GenX guys in their early to mid 30s who’re having trouble growing up,” I began. “Guys who can’t seem to get rolling with a career or commit to a serious relationship or even think about becoming productive, semi-responsible adults, and instead are working dead-end jobs, hanging with the guys all the time, watching ESPN 24/7, eating fritos, getting wasted and popping Vicodins.

“There have probably been at least fifteen or twenty films that have come out over the last four or five years about 30ish guys finding it hard to get real.

“The 40 Year-Old Virgin was basically about a bunch of aging testosterone monkeys doing this same old dance (with Steve Carell’s character being a slightly more mature and/or sensitive variation). Virgin director-writer Judd Apatow has made a career out of mining this psychology. Simon Pegg’s obese layabout friend in Shaun of the Dead was another manifestation — a 245-pound Dupree.

“Prolonged adolescence is an old pattern, of course. The difference these days is that practitioner-victims are getting older and older. (more…)

The Old Heave-Ho

As my first official act upon returning from the Toronto Film Festival, I’m getting rid of my Masters of Cinema Blurays of Double Indemnity and Red River, both of which are all but smothered in grain. I’m trading them in for store value at Ameoba. The Universal Home Video Bluray of Double Indemnity and the Criterion Bluray of Red River are beautiful — full satisfaction. From here on I’ll think twice before buying another Masters of Cinema Bluray.

Downey Was Cooler When He Was Doing Drugs, Less Wealthy

The 49 year-old Robert Downey sounds like a satisfied, fair-minded guy with a good amount of smarts and self-knowledge in Krista Smith’s interview piece in the current Vanity Fair. But the old truism about a performer’s personal happiness and stability having little if anything to do with how exciting or magnetic their “act” might be still applies. Downey was a fascinating actor for 20-plus years, and then he became a corporate franchise megastar starting with Iron Man in ’08. I really, really don’t care how wealthy he is now (although Vanity Fair‘s editors clearly do) or how close to ruination he was during his druggie period of the late ’80s and ’90s. I only know that my favorite Downey performance was in James Toback‘s Black and White (’99), and that my second favorite was his crime reporter character in David Fincher‘s Zodiac. I also know that talented people leading unhealthy, high-throttle lifestyles can sometimes exude peak-energy highs. From my vantage point John Lennon was much, much cooler when he was struggling with his demons (’64 to ’74) than when he became a happy house-husband. Jackie Gleason and Sid Ceasar seemed much cooler when they were live TV madmen in the ’50s and, from what I’ve read, boozing almost every night in midtown Manhattan. I’ve been told by more than one friend that I was a funnier, more whoo-whoo type of guy when I was drinking…fair enough.


Window Seat For Captain America

Chris Evans was on my Air Canada flight last night — five and a half dull, bordering-on-miserable hours from Toronto to LAX. He sat five rows ahead of me. He seemed to be wearing the exact same black baseball cap and blue flannel shirt as in the photo below. He had a carry-on bag and a modest 21-inch suitcase that he wheeled off. A big, black, bad-ass SUV met him at the arrivals level so he avoided the mob and the baggage carousel. I was thinking about introducing myself and saying “I didn’t see Before We Go but I’m sorry Scott Foundas called it lukewarm” but I thought better of it.


“On My Way…”

Kino Lorber’s Bluray of Richard BrooksElmer Gantry pops on 9.23. I don’t know what the aspect ratio will be but I’m guessing 1.66:1, in keeping with the United Artists standard for non-Scope films of that period. (1.85 fascists need to acknowledge the 1.66 masking in the clip below.) If you’re a real movie star like Burt Lancaster was at the time, you can sell this scene. But you need a certain largeness of spirit and stand-up confidence. Who could do this scene today if Gantry were to be remade? Who could generate at least a semblance of this planted, here-I-am energy? Chris Evans? Chris Hemsworth? Give me a name. Update: See? No submissions.

Revival of Roadshow Kingdom

In 2006 Fox Home Video released a Bluray of the director’s cut of Ridley Scott‘s Kingdom of Heaven, which ran about 190 minutes or a bit more than 45 minutes longer than the theatrical version. On 10.7 Fox is issuing a four-disc roadshow director’s cut Bluray that pays tribute to the film’s ten-year anniversary. The only difference is that it runs about 194 minutes due to the inclusion of an overture, intermission and entr-acte music.

Marquee of Laemmle’s Fairfax, taken in early January 2006, where the 190-minute director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven played for a two-week period. This is where I first saw this far superior version.

Here’s the piece I wrote about the longer cut: “It’s not a rumor and there’s absolutely no question about it: Ridley Scott’s 190-minute version of Kingdom of Heaven is a considerably better film than the 145-minute theatrical version that opened in May 2005.

“I saw it yesterday afternoon at the seedy-but-functioning Laemmle Fairfax in West Hollywood. The projection and sound were fine, but why is a must-see, calling-all-cars revival like this playing in a theatrical equivalent of a doghouse?


Big Mercy Comedown….Splat!

It turns out I allowed my gushing enthusiasm for Bill Pohlad‘s Love & Mercy, a critical hit at the Toronto Film Festival over the last few days, to muddle my understanding of the likely distribution scenario. There’s no question that Paul Dano‘s performance as Brian Wilson in Pohlad’s film is a staggering, world-class channelling, but that doesn’t mean shit in the larger commercial scheme. Roadside Attractions apparently intends to open Love & Mercy in 2015, and not even give it a one-week qualifying run later this year to attract year-end accolades. Pohlad reiterated this morning that discussions about the release strategy “are ongoing” but I’ve heard elsewhere that Roadside considers it a 2015 release…period, end of story.

A friend says “if they’re smart they’ll release it in the summer…it ‘s the Beach Boys, man!” I said to him, “You can’t be serious. You’re joking, right? Love & Mercy is not about escapism or sunblock or surfboards or Mike Love‘s bullshit view of the world. It’s about the creative highs and personal lows of a fragile, melancholy man (i.e., Wilson) with dreams in his head….there’s nothing ‘Fun Fun Fun’ about it in the least except for one no-big-deal beach scene and one minor sailing scene.” “Yes,” the guy said, “but it can be marketed to the Beach Boys crowd. There are plenty of fun scenes in it.” What Beach Boys crowd?, I asked. Retirees wearing sensible shoes and thinking about moving to assisted-living facilities? “Yes, the crowd that knows about and cares who Brian Wilson is. I went to his concert at the Greek. It was all paunchy stomachs and thinning hair, my friend.”


When Hayes Reigned

I missed Tom HayesSmiling Through The Apocalypse, a doc about Harold Hayes‘ legendary tenure as editor of Esquire from the early ’60s through early ’70s, when it played at the 2013 Palm Springs Film Festival. And I didn’t hear zip about yesterday’s New York theatrical release in advance. Ben Kenigsberg‘s N.Y. Times review complains that the film is too short (98 minutes) and too obsequious. “Cramming more than 40 interviews into an unreasonably brief running time, [pic] overflows with dishiness [while] the son chimes in with fawning praise, offering barely any personal insight. It’s both a credit to, and a shortcoming of, the movie that it suggests an illustrated bibliography. It makes you want to stop watching and, instead, read or reread all of the pieces mentioned.”


“Very Simply, Very Inexpensively”

Douglas Trumbull demonstrated and discussed the MAGI medium (120 fps, 3D, 4K digital projection) at the Toronto Film Festival on Thursday afternoon. The ten minutes of MAGI-captured footage he showed was from UFOTOG, a who-gives-a-shit? short about an eccentric guy tracking UFO activity. And yet the nighttime footage in this short was drop-dead amazing — it was the first time I’d seen footage that accurately simulated what nocturnal vision actually looks like. Trumbull’s main point was that shooting at 60-frame-per-seconds is just a matter of flipping a switch on any high-end digital camera — no extra costs, no nothing. All MAGI does is take 60 fps footage project an alternating left eye-right-eye image or 60 frames per second per eye, which results in 120 frames of pure fluid motion per second. I think it looks fantastic. The MAGI process costs very little, Trumbull stated again and again. It seems to me like the only way to really up the impact levels big-time when it comes to theatrical presentation of action and CG-driven fare. Trumbull believes that James Cameron will definitely be shooting the Avatar sequels in a high-frame-rate process, and he reported that a name-brand action filmmaker (possibly Michael Bay, I deduced) is also keenly interested.

“Daisy, Daisy…”

I had a couple of opportunities to see Julianne Moore‘s performance as a psychologist and college professor coping with “Al Z. Heimer” (a Norman Mailer term) in Still Alice. If I’d gone I could offer an assessment or two, but I decided against seeing it because I have a problem with “surrender to the void” movies in which the main character is totally doomed from the get-go. The young organ donors in Never Let Me Go, Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A.. It’s great that Moore is now back in the conversation as a potential Best Actress contender, but I’m going to have to overcome my resistance to what sounds to me like a feature-length version of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which Keir Dullea disconnects HAL’s higher brain functions.

Love & Mercy Is What Award Season Needs…Seriously

I just did a phoner with Love & Mercy director Bill Pohlad, who was calling from his home in Minneapolis. We covered the usual bases. I emphasized that it would be a shame if his film isn’t released this year, at least on a platform basis, so as to qualify for awards and nominations and whatnot. (Pic was acquired during TIFF by Lionsgate/Roadside.) I went apeshit for Love and Mercy and particularly Paul Dano’s phenomenal performance as the younger version of Brian Wilson. The film time-flips between the mid ’60 and mid ’80s; John Cusack plays a 40-something Wilson in the ’80s portion. As Variety‘s Andrew Barker wrote, Love & Mercy is “a wonderfully innervating cure for the common musical biopic.” Again, the mp3.

Paul Dano in mid ’60s Brian Wilson mode, Bill Pohlad during filming of Love & Mercy.

“Once in a while, though, you see a biopic that brings off something miraculous, that recreates a famous person’s life with so much care that the immersion we seek is achieved. When you watch Love & Mercy, a drama about Brian Wilson, the angelic yet haunted genius of The Beach Boys, you feel like you’re right there in the studio with him as he creates Pet Sounds. And it’s a little like sitting next to Beethoven: the film is tender and moving, but also awe-inspiring. Paul Dano, the audacious young actor from There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine, plays Wilson in the mid-1960s, when he was becoming the greatest creative force in American pop music. The moment we see Dano in the film’s daringly off-kilter opening shot, which is just Brian noodling around at the piano and talking to himself, the actor seems to transform into Wilson’s very being. The pale, cute moon face, the smile with a hint of a grimace, the disarming spaciness — this isn’t just acting, it’s channeling of a very high order.” — from Owen Gleiberman’s 9.11 BBC.com review.

Skeletons All Over

“It’s hard to say if Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader give wonderful comic performances with a tragic dimension in The Skeleton Twins, or wonderful dramatic performances with a comic dimension. What’s easy to say is the key word wonderful, which applies equally to the film. This short, sweet and stirring feature, directed by Craig Johnson from a script he wrote with Mark Heyman, sweeps away any distinctions between funny and serious. It plays to the antic gifts of its stars, two Saturday Night Live luminaries reunited in the roles of troubled twins reunited by near-tragedy, yet it also turns them loose to explore deeper regions of hurt and love. Johnson’s work with his actors is impeccable, and his style is freewheeling — from the delicacy of the twins’ first tentative encounters to serial explosions that include a crazed adventure in dental hygiene and a triumphant duet, lip-synced to Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, that transports Maggie and Milo to a happier time.” — from Joe Morgenstern‘s 9.12 Wall Street Journal review.

Mad Women on the Prairie

With a new trailer for Tommy Lee JonesThe Homesman (Roadside, 11.14) having popped, here’s a condensed version of my 5.18.14 Cannes Film Festival review: “Just because it’s a feminist western with an oddly unusual story that regards the plight of Old West women in a compassionate light…that doesn’t mean it gets a pass. It basically says that life on the prairie could be so brutal and unforgiving that some women went plumb out of their heads; it also says some were so gripped with despair that they offed themselves. That’s a new kind of sadness to bring into a western, and that’s what The Homesman is selling. But it only warrants a modest salute.

“Based on a 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout (The Shootist, Where The Boys Are), it’s a well-made, handsomely-shot drama (set in Nebraska territory) with a few plot turns that are just too what-the-fucky to add up or calculate in a way that feels right. It’s an odd, minor-key effort at best. (more…)

Specific Response to Gulf Guy

Here’s how I replied when I received this morning’s EPB vs. ETP piece: “Yes, Boyhood is basically a stunt film, but does that make it synonymous with esoteric (i.e., ‘intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest’) and thinky? I think not. Thematically and gut-wise Boyhood is an emotional sweep piece about the changes and struggles and evolutions that we’ve all been through, especially as parents. I know you weren’t that taken with it, but I don’t see how esoteric and thinky fits into that. The whole movie is an Emotional Push Button (i.e., EPB) experience. You could also call Birdman a stunt film by virtue of the one-take, no-visible-cutting visual scheme (or the simulation of same), but again, does that make it thinky or esoteric? It’s the new 8 and 1/2…it’s all about acting and the fear of failure and irrelevancy and trying to get back and the chasm between the Hollywood cultural genocide machine and the risky, snap-crackle-pop humanistic stage…plus it’s funny. Plus it ends with a great EPB moment. (more…)