Pre-Thanksgiving Smith-Feinberg Appetizer

“[All my life] I’ve really only created entertainment that my grandmother would be proud of…for my entire career I’ve yearned for that look of approval…[doing entertainment that reflects] values that she raised me with.” — Will Smith speaking to THR’s Scott Feinberg in an 11.25 post. Here’s my reaction to Concussion, Smith’s award-conversation film that was screened on 11.10 at AFI Fest.

All Hail Ludwig Goransson!

I’ve noted a few times that I prefer the kind of film score that seems to be watching the movie with you and expressing what you’re feeling as the story progresses. (Examples: Spotlight, Moneyball.) The other kind announces the emotional intention or goal on a scene-by-scene basis and more or less instructs you how to feel. Ludwig Goransson‘s Creed score is one of the latter, but it’s an arresting and often rousing example of this approach. Goransson, 31, is so with the film and feeling the current so strongly that he reminds you of old-school composers like Max Steiner or Franz Waxman. His music isn’t dancing in step with or augmenting the movie as much as a character unto itself — a kind of cheerleader that’s saying to the crowd, “Pay attention, this matters, ya gotta feel the feeling!” For what it’s worth, it’s a very stirring score of this type.

Assured Creed Is A Hit; Stallone Is A Lock For Best Supporting Actor Nom

Ryan Coogler‘s Creed, which I paid to see last night at the AMC Century 15, is the second high-quality, popular-with-the-proletariat formula flick to have elbowed its way into the award-season conversation this year (following Ridley Scott‘s The Martian). We’re definitely talking Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor…but will he campaign? (He’s delivered three commendable performances now — young Rocky Balboa in Rocky, 60ish Rocky in Creed and John Rambo in Ted Kotcheff‘s First Blood.) Creed is not so much a Best Picture or Best Director contender because it mainly follows the expected ambitious-young-boxer saga while tributing the first Rocky film. It’s not breaking any new ground, but it’s the first really good Rocky film in 39 years.

But it’s very well done within genre perimeters, and well written as far as it goes, definitely well acted and even excitingly directed at times. Coogler has made his sophomore bones with this film, and is basically set for life (if he wants to milk it) as the black Sydney Pollack. And Creed has a spiritual sports current you can really dig into and ride upon — a serious feeling of esprit de corps among sports-loving Philadelphians and particularly the scooter and moped-riding locals who live in the nabe where Michael B. Jordan‘s Adonis Creed lives and trains. This is the kind of solid, pulse-quickening sport-formula film that Joe Popcorn lives for. And it’s definitely a hit. People in the theatre applauded when Stallone came on screen, and they applauded when Ludwig Goransson‘s music cued up the traditional Rocky theme. They were into it and happy when it was over, and so was I as far as it went.

Hemingway’s Peak

I can rent a gleaming Technicolor pig-heaven version of Sam Wood‘s For Whom The Bell Tolls (’43) on Amazon Prime for only $4 bills, and it’s the restored 166-minute version with overture and entr’acte. Looks and sounds terrific. Why, then, did I just spend $13 and change for the recently popped German Bluray? Because as happy as I am with hi-def streaming these days, I feel a profound kinship with physical media and so I re-invest now and then, not out of desire or necessity but sentiment — because I don’t want it to go away.

The Morons Are Due On Maple Street

I’ve posted the following in the Guardian comment section following Andrew Pulver’s article: “This was over four lousy words on Twitter. FOUR WORDS! Sloppy of me, granted, but I posted a mea culpa yesterday, or a few hours after this blew up: ‘Agreed — I shouldn’t have said that. ‘Forget women seeing this’ is a gross simplification. I’m down on my knees and whining like a little piglet. If I had given the matter 15 or 20 seconds worth of thought I would have rephrased and qualified in some way. I’m not stupid, and I know that generalizations always get you into trouble.”


Continuing Malick Meditation: Tree Of Life & To The Wonder Go Hollywood

Life will repeatedly wound you, and profoundly disappoint you by the time you’re 13 or 14…jobs will disappear, lovers will leave you, pets will die, leaves will turn yellow and brown and fall from the trees so what the fuck? “There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.” — Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls. But you know what’s almost never “true,” or at least in the way Hemingway and other considerable persons have defined the term over the millenia? Fucking Twitter.

“Any honest person who’s kept up with Malick since his return to filmmaking in 1998 (and who has contemplated the three Malick films shot by Emannuel LubezkiThe New World, The Tree of Life and To The Wonder) would have to admit that Malick has all but destroyed his once-potent mystique because he’s placed too much emphasis on the purely visual. He doesn’t give enough consideration to script and dialogue matters, and seems to have more or less abandoned conventional narrative. This plus his now-customary prolonged fiddle-faddling in post-production has fed a growing notion that Malick is a gifted but flaky eccentric — i.e., Mr. Wackadoodle.” — posted in December 2013. (more…)

Scent of Aggression

As I noted on 11.17, I was disappointed with my under-energized, under-prepared handling of my Jane Fonda sit-down. David Poland, I feel, made much better use of his time with her. I just can’t do that hammering thing he does. When someone gives you a really honest and well-phrased answer to a question, the natural impulse (mine, I mean) is to reflect and ruminate upon that answer. To dive in and swim around in it. But no reflective moments for Poland. He comes right back with another hammerhead question…beedly-beedly-bee-bee-bee?…and Fonda seems…what, slightly stunned that he’s not a go-with-the-flow, ponder-the-serenity type of guy? But she answers his questions and he gets a better interview. If I was the celebrity-artist in the chair and Poland asked me a series of rapid-fire beedly-bee-bee hammerhead questions, I would turn hostile after a while.

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

ABL = all but locked, EP = extra HE passion, RD = respectful disagreement/disapproval, AG = afterglow/makeup for previous loss, SD/MG = special dispensation/support of Movie Godz, NYS = not yet seen, GW = gold-watch award for septugenarians & octogenarians.

Best Picture (in order of apparent likelihood): Joy (ABL, NYS), The Revenant ABL, NYS, Spotlight (EP, SD/MG), The Big Short (NYS), The Martian (RD), Steve Jobs, Carol, Room, Bridge of Spies (RD), Love & Mercy EP, SD/MG) (10). In Need Of Heat: Brooklyn, Beasts of No Nation, Mad Max: Fury Road, Suffragette, Son of Saul(EP), The Hateful Eight (NYS), The Danish Girl (7).

Best Director (in order of apparent likelihood): David O. Russell, Joy (ABL); Alejandro Inarritu, The Revenant; Tom McCarthy, Spotlight EP; Ridley Scott, The Martian (GW) (5). Heel-nippers: Cary Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation (EP); Danny Boyle, Steve Jobs; Steven Spielberg, Bridge of Spies; George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (EP); Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy (EP, SD/MG).

Best Actor (in order of apparent likelihood): Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant (NYS, AG); Steve Carell, The Big Short (NYS); Matt Damon, The Martian; Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl; Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs. Heel-nippers: Michael Caine, Youth (GW), Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies, John Cusack, Love & Mercy (EP, SD/MG); Will Smith, Concussion (NYS).

Best Actress (in order of apparent likelihood): Jennifer Lawrence, Joy (NYS); Brie Larson, Room (ABL); Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years (AG, GW); Carey Mulligan, Suffragette (EP); Cate Blanchett, Carol/Truth (EP); Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn EP.Heel-nippers: Lily Tomlin, Grandma; Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Supporting Actor (in order of apparent likelihood): Robert DeNiro, Joy (NYS); Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies; Mark Ruffalo or Michael Keaton, Spotlight; Paul Dano, Love & Mercy (EP); Tom Hardy, The Revenant NYS. Heel-nippers: Michael Shannon, 99 Homes, Freeheld EP; Benicio Del Toro, Sicario; Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation, Jason Segel, End of the Tour; Sylvester Stallone, Creed (NYS); Ryan Gosling, The Big Short (NYS).

Best Supporting Actress (in order of apparent likelihood): Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl; Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs; Rooney Mara, Carol; Jane Fonda (EP, GW), Youth; Elizabeth Banks, Love & Mercy (EP). Heel-nippers: Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years; Diane Ladd, Joy; Joan Allen, Room; Rachel McAdams, Spotlight (EP).



For me the most exciting Bluray announcement in recent days is the March 2016 release of Kirk Douglas and Richard Fleischer‘s The Vikings (’58) via Kino Lorber. The Vikings is one of the few large-format epic films (shot on 8-perf Technirama, the process used for Spartacus) still unreleased in Bluray/high-def. This will be the first time that a comprehensive, highly detailed capturing of Jack Cardiff‘s handsome cinematography will be viewable in over 55 years. In my book this as thrilling as Universal’s forthcoming Bluray of a restored One-Eyed Jacks, which was shot in VistaVision. Kino Lorber doesn’t do 4K as a rule but a 2k rendering would be nice.

“Mozart to Rimbaud to the Beats…”

The last time I saw Bob Dylan perform was at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago in April of 2005, and he was into a kind of scat-singing back then and putting aside guitar for the keyboard. I loved the way fiddler Elana Fremerman (of Hot Club of Cowtown) kept making goo-goo eyes at Dylan, and loving the crisp, tight-sounding band. But I also remember feeling a little sad that Dylan didn’t sound like his ’60s records. He had long since stopped singing straight and plain and just, you know, hitting notes and massaging the phrasing like he did in D.A. Pennebaker‘s Don’t Look Back (now on Criterion Bluray). Because he can’t repeat himself, has to change, has to shift gears to stay fresh and alive. I get it but I still miss it.

Streisand’s Medal of Freedom Flinch

It was amusing just now to watch Barbra Streisand step up to receive the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama at the White House, and to watch her facial expression flinch ever so slightly when the guy reading a few salutory words refers to her career having lasted “six decades.” In fact it’s lasted just over five decades (or not quite five and a half) with Streisand having begun to become known as a gifted singer in ’61, but who didn’t really get rolling until ’62-’63. The moment I’m referring to happens toward the end of this video.

Getting Clubbed Again By P.C. Twitter Goons Over Four Words

This morning I tweeted that Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s The Revenant, which I saw last night, is “an unflinchingly brutal, you-are-there, cold-wind, raw-element immersion like something you’ve never seen.” Because as beautiful as it is, it’s not a walk in the park, this thing. It’s rapturous, fierce, immersive, delirious…submerged in ice, arctic air, brutality…an ordeal of blood, agony, survival, snow, ice water, wounds and steaming horse guts.” If I’d just left it at that, everything would be fine. But because two women I saw it with reacted quite viscerally and with considerable discomfort (especially the one sitting next to me, a friend and a respected, high-level dp who’s been around and climbed her way to the top in a very tough business) and because a journalist friend told me The Revenant would totally freak his wife out, I added four words that got me killed on Twitter: “Forget women seeing this.”

Every time this happens, I feel like a wildebeest being surrounded and torn apart by hyenas or wild dogs. May I apologize for tapping out those words, or would you rather just continue to circle and bite and snarl and tear my stomach open, o ye fucking fang-toothed predators?

Agreed — I shouldn’t have said that. “Forget women seeing this” is a gross simplification. I’m down on my knees and whining like a little piglet….”wheee!…wheee!…I’m sorry…I’m sorry!” If I had given the matter 15 or 20 seconds worth of thought I would have rephrased and qualified in some way. I’m not stupid, and I know that generalizations always get you into trouble.

But if you had been watching The Revenant with a friend who was shielding her eyes every five or ten minutes and even going into a curled-over, fetal-tuck position at times, literally bending over and almost chirping like a chipmunk during the extra-violent or extra-gross scenes and being such a total candy-ass that I nudged her a couple of times (“Pssst…c’mon, show some respect for the filmmaker!”), what would you have been thinking? And what if you’d heard a fellow female journalist, sitting two seats away, call it “brutal“? And what if you’d been told by a fellow male journalist after the screening that his wife “wouldn’t last five minutes with this thing,” what would you be saying to yourself? (more…)

Film Independent Spirit Nom Predictions

Congrats to all the 2016 Spirit Award nominees, particularly Carol and Beasts of No Nation for having landed six each. Spotlight landed four noms plus a pre-determined Robert Altman award for ensemble acting. Best feature noms were handed to Carol, Spotlight, Beasts of No Nation, Anomalisa and Sean Baker’s Tangerine. And no Best Feature nom for Love & Mercy, which is 15 or 20 times the movie Tangerine is? Fuck is that about? Be honest: If Tangerine had been shot on a bigger budget with an Alexa HD instead of an iPhone 5, would it have even been nominated?

It seems to me that Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara snagging Best Actress noms is a pushback to the Weinstein Co. narrative of Blanchett being lead and Mara supporting.

Here are the 2016 Spirit Awards noms with a few HE favorite and Likeliest To Win distinctions on a per-category, whenever-I’m-into-it basis:

Best Feature: Anomalisa (not a wisp of a chance), Beasts of No Nation, Carol, Spotlight (HE Favorite, Likeliest To Win), Tangerine (double forget it).

Best Director: Sean Baker, Tangerine; Cary Joji Fukunaga, Beasts of No Nation (2nd Most Likely Winner); Todd Haynes, Carol; Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, Anomalisa; Tom McCarthy, Spotlight (HE favorite, Likeliest To Win); David Robert Mitchell, It Follows.

Best Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa; Donald Margulies, The End of the Tour; Phyllis Nagy, Carol (HE favorite); Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, Spotlight (Likeliest To Win), S. Craig Zahler, Bone Tomahawk. (more…)

Brilliant, One-Of-A-Kind Revenant Is No Easy Rider

The Revenant is an experience I’ve never had before. It’s totally its own beast. This is not a movie for sissies. A female friend sitting to my right frequently hid her eyes. It’s beautiful, fierce, immersive, delirious. Submerged in ice, arctic air, brutality and a kind of artful oppression. An ordeal of blood, agony, survival, snow, ice water, wounds and steaming horse guts. Great cinema is not always easy to absorb because it often challenges. It can sometimes feel hard or difficult, gnarly, awesome, almost too much…but it almost always sticks with you. I’m presuming The Revenant will do this. F.X. Feeney and I were talking after tonight’s screening of The Revenant, and he thinks it’s going to gather steam and percolate and sink into more and more systems as the years pass by. He compared it to Michael Mann‘s Heat in this respect; I was thinking it might eventually acquire the kind of rep that The Shining has now. Oh, and I fell completely in love with Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s simple, majesterial score.


Big Short = Ocean’s Four

The new Big Short trailer is trying to sell a revenge-caper plot that doesn’t exist. Early on the husky-voiced narrator says the following: “When the banks committed the greatest fraud in U.S. history, four outsiders risked it all to take them down.” Nobody, trust me, is looking to take anyone down in The Big Short. It’s about a few guys (including Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt‘s characters) shorting the residential mortgage market in order to profit off the stupidity of the big banks. Ladies, it’s okay with me if Paramount marketing wants to misrepresent the film. The Big Short is a delicious financial procedural, but people who go expecting a little Ocean’s 11 action are going to feel a wee bit underwhelmed. Again, the mp3.

Metaphor for Disappproving Rightwing Christians?

The Krampus legend, which originated in Austria in the 1800s, is about “a horned, anthropomorphic figure [who] punishes children during the Christmas season who have misbehaved.” But in Michael Dougherty‘s darkly comic film (Universal, 12.4), Krampus is looking to punish the whole family for being selfish, distracted, self-absorbed shits who couldn’t care less about the Christmas spirit, etc. In short, Krampus is at least theoretically a metaphor for rightwing Christians who despise non-believers and insist that Starbucks’ red cups without snowfakes or reindeer or any of the other bullshit decorations are an affront to the legend of Jesus. Will Krampus be half-funny? Will it be better than just another rank holiday movie looking to cash in? From screening invite: “Please note the review embargo is Thursday, December 3rd, 2015 at 4 pm Pacific.” If Universal had said it’s fine to post reviews at 10 am the day before it opens, that would obviously indicate a high level of confidence. But 4 pm is worrisome.

The Suffering

This poster was recently snap-captured by a relation of Sasha Stone‘s in a Los Cabos plex. In the ’80s or before the poster would read Silencio but everybody reads English now & nobody cares. Is the “do not be afraid” slogan aimed at moviegoers who might be concerned about sitting through another Kundun-like, Scorsese-goes-to-Asia-to-sink-into-the-spiritual film? Except this time the focus is on damp, bearded men of faith in 17th Century Japan who wind up getting, like, tortured. And why would a poster say “coming soon” with the first possible peek-out being next May’s Cannes Film Festival, at best?

Not Since The Era of William Wyler’s Ben-Hur

Invitations went out this morning for NY and LA press screenings of Quentin Tarantino‘s The Hateful Eight. Reviews are embargoed until 12.21. All screenings will present the slightly longer Ultra Panavision 70 version, which will run 175 minutes with a 12-minute intermission for a grand total of 187 minutes. I’ll be expecting, of course, an overture and an entr’acte musical passage between the two parts.

Tonight’s The Night

If you’re one of those impassioned, laser-focused, well-dressed media types you’ll almost certainly be driving towards the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn theatre tonight around 7 pm or so. Because the show starts at 8 pm and you’ll want a good seat. “Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone…The Revenant tonight! Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone…The Revenant tonight! Old situations, new complications,nothing portentous or polite…The Revenant tonight!” — from Stephen Sondheim‘s The Revenant Tonight” from A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum.