Untethered Parisian Anxiety Movie (Haute Couture, Ectoplasmic Spooks, Eurostar Ghost Texting, Street Aromas, Scootering)

Olivier AssayasPersonal Shopper finally opens theatrically this Friday, almost ten months after jolting and dividing the Cannes Film Festival last May. It’s being shown tonight at LACMA with Assayas and Kristen Stewart sitting for a post-screening q & a. The excitement that I felt just after the Salle Debussy screening — a sensation I’ll never forget — will be semi-rekindled one last time, and then the movie will die like a mouse trying to cross the Santa Monica Freeway at rush hour.

Yes, this brilliant fear-and-anxiety flick is going to perish faster than you can snap your fingers, which is all the more reason to see it immediately. Unless, of course, you couldn’t care less about theatrical submissions and would rather wait for streaming, in which case I say “go with God” or “go fuck yourself” — take your pick.

Either way Personal Shopper is irrefutably one of the most original and unsettling ghost flicks ever made and certainly the nerviest this century. This has been proven, in a sense, by the pooh-poohers and naysayers. There’s never been an important, game-changing piece of art that hasn’t been trashed in the early stages by milquetoasts and conservatives.

Personal Shopper‘s brilliance is partly about the fact that it’s not so much a “ghost story” as an antsy mood piece about…well, a whole jumble of ingredients but all of them drawn from the here and now. It’s more of an uptown cultural smorgasbord that’s seasoned with a ghostly current that you can take or leave, but it certainly doesn’t hinge on standard shock moments — cracked mirrors, moving furniture and all that.

Remember that Assayas won the Best Director prize last May, and that honors of this sort are never given out lightly.

If you like typical bullshit fast-food ghost movies…if you’re a Conjuring fan…if you like your goose bumps served with pickles, onions and extra cheese in a to-go wrapper then I sincerely hope you have a miserable time with Personal Shopper. The more I think about paying customers who are too stupid or rigid-minded to get it, the better I feel. But if you liked The Innocents and The Haunting, there’s hope for you.

An Australian critic wrote last summer that “I didn’t know that all I wanted in a movie was Kristen Stewart scootering around Paris buying expensive designer fashions for rich people while texting a ghost who may or may not be her dead twin brother.” See? He didn’t know what was coming but he got it all the same. I’ve scootered all over Paris for years on end, and watching this film for the first time…I’m not exaggerating…was simply one of the greatest summaries of that transcendent Paris scooterbuzz thing…it was heaven.

Help me, God…help me to return so I can once again use my wits and agility to dodge all that Paris traffic at night and feel like Jean Paul Belmondo in Breathless.

Personal Shopper is partly about how urban life can feel at times, creepy and cold and yet exciting at the same time, but it’s also about the way it all felt in the fall of ’15 (i.e., when Personal Shopper was filming), and about the vibe when you were roaming around Paris or any big-league burgh and coping with that current and feeling varying shades of fluidity and flotation. It’s a darting, here-and-there thing, a fleeting experience about the flutterings and rattles of spirits around the corner. Or deep within. Or out in the ether. (more…)

Comparisons Unwelcome

With the “bad” Ben-Hur opening three weeks hence on 8.19, you’d think there’d be interest in the Aero or the American Cinematheque screening a DCP of the “good” 1959 version…no? Anyone can high-def stream the Wyler version at the drop of a hat, but I’ve never seen it projected with a full 2.76:1 aspect ratio. (The two or three times I’ve seen it in a theatre it’s always been shown at 2.55:1.) I suspect that the ’59 film hasn’t been screened because original rights holder MGM is a producing partner of the Timur Bekmambetov version, and fresh impressions of the Wyler (which is far from a great film but is (a) lucid and sturdy in a stodgy sort of way and (b) has a chariot-race sequence second to none) aren’t going to do the newbie any favors. 

I’m told, by the way, that so far the new Ben-Hur isn’t tracking all that well.

Paris in Hip Waders

The Great Paris Flood of 2016 is bad for tourism but quite the spectacle. And yet it’s nothing compared to the flood of 1910 when the Seine rose 28 and 1/2 feet (8.62 meters) above its normal level. The Seine levels are currently dropping. They had been at 6 meters (just shy of 20 feet) above normal. No tour boats, lots of bankside gawking, tons of mud and debris in certain areas. But the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay have not been flooded, and life will go on.

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In Post-Paris Environment, Crazy Righties Aren’t Entirely Crazy

In yesterday’s (11.20) address about responding to the Paris terror attacks, Hillary Clinton said the following: “Islam is not our adversary…Muslims are peaceful and tolerant and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” I’m somewhere between appalled and horrified at the post-Paris attitudes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson about Muslims and Syrian refugees in particular, but Clinton was flat-out wrong. A small but significant percentage of Muslims have openly described themselves as not just intolerant but supporters of the psychopathic barbarism of ISIS

An 11.17 Pew poll states that a small but noteworthy percentage of Muslims in nations with significant Muslim populations support ISIS. 4% of the Arab population in Israel, or roughly 42,000 souls, have a favorable view of that fiendish organization. 5% and 8% of Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank are also pro-ISIS. Positive ISIS numbers among Nigerian Muslims is around 20%, and 12% of Malaysian Muslims feel the same way. And you know that a certain percentage of the “don’t know” crowd are also pro-ISIS — they just don’t want to lay their cards on the table.

The bottom line is that a small percentage of Muslims support ISIS, and that the possibility of a Muslim community harboring or shielding ISIS militants is not, at the very least, a crazy racist notion. This is the fear driving conservatives in this country. I don’t agree with pushing away moderate Muslims or fanning hateful attitudes (which will play right into the ISIS scheme) and I have nothing but compassion for Syrian refugees, but I doubt that the PEW statistics are wrong.

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Paris-Like Street Pattern, But There The Resemblance Ends

It’s not like downtown Washington is a ghost town on Sunday afternoons and evenings, but it’s not far from that. Not that I minded. I began my hike at 3 pm, partly, I’ll admit, to escape the 2.95 Mbps download speed in the Airbnb pad. (I have 85 to 90 Mpbs in my WeHo home.) I stopped for 90 minutes at Le Pain Quotidien near Dupont Circle for a little writing/editing, and then off to the races. To appreciate the Paris-like street scheme you need to have roamed Paris, of course. Not the usual rectangular grids but big, broad boulevards connecting roundabouts and wide-open plazas with huge, stunning, illuminated-after-dark buildings. D.C. was designed in the early 1790s by Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Paris didn’t become this kind of city until Napoleon III and city engineer Georges-Eugène Haussmann began their 17-year makeover, beginning in 1854.


Since last July the White House has been on some kind of double-security lockdown — extra fences, barriers, uniformed security guys. Keep your distance, citizens! All due to the Secret Service Improvements Act of 2015. It’s like they’re expecting some kind of armed assault. In the early Clinton days you could walk right up to the iron fence surrounding the property and put your hands on the bars — no longer.

The exterior of the house where Abraham Lincoln died (a.k.a., the Petersen house, built in 1849) looks like brick but is actually some kind of fake plaster.

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Free Bum in Paris

Observation: Why do bums…sorry, why do gentlemen of character and consequence who are temporarily homeless always seem to sleep right in front of posh uptown establishments where there’s always a lot of heavy light and foot traffic? If I was a bum I’d sleep in a nice dark park under a bench or a tree. Anecdote: There was a slight incident that followed the taking of the Charles de Gaulle Etoile metro shot. A 30ish Middle-Eastern guy with a gray check flannel shirt (you can only see his right arm) wanted to know if I’d captured his face in the photo. Was he alarmed in roughly the same way that Anthony Quinn‘s Auda Abu Tayi became alarmed when Arthur Kennedy took his picture in Lawrence of Arabia? I never asked but I quickly proved he wasn’t in the shot by showing him the evidence on my iPhone screen. Then he and his friend wanted to talk — “Where you from? You American?” — and they kept up the chatter as the Nation train arrived, asking me about Los Angeles and blah-blah with one of them saying he liked my shoes and my jacket. A split second after the friend admiringly caressed my left jacket sleeve I flinched and snapped “the fuck away from me!” I only knew they were getting too close too quickly. The guy recoiled and told me to go fuck off…fine. An innocent misunderstanding? Possibly but nobody caresses my sleeve in a metro station.


Homeless guy on the rue de Rivoli earlier this evening.

The right sleeve of the too-friendly Middle-Eastern guy can be seen on the left.

SNCF train ticket to Cannes. Leaving at 7:19 am on Tuesday morning from Gare de Lyon.

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Wells in Paris vs. Sneider in Disneyland

Yesterday TheWrap‘s Jeff Sneider dazzled…well, enthralled his Periscope followers (and those Twitter followers who were sufficiently intrigued) as he rode the Astro Orbiter at Disneyland. Sneider was visiting the Magic Kingdom as part of a Tomorrowland press junket activity. I, meanwhile, took some GoPro video as I scootered around Paris. It would have been cooler to do it live on Periscope, granted, but that’s for another time. I’m not saying my footage is all that interesting. It might be, I suppose, to those who know Paris or who’ve never been here. But that’s probably a stretch. Sorry for the jarring whip-pans.

Madding Comparisons

I wouldn’t mind seeing John Schlesinger‘s Far From The Madding Crowd (’67) as a warm-up for Thomas Vinterberg’s version, which Fox Searchlight is finally opening on May 1st. But that seems unlikely as I can’t attend the upcoming London theatrical showing and the new British Bluray won’t pop until 6.1.15. If Fox Searchlight wanted to be clever about it, they would offer a screening of the 168-minute Schlesinger version to critics on both coasts. That effort, scripted by Frederic Raphael, shot by Nicholas Roeg and and starring Julie Christie, was regarded as a failure during its time. I have a recollection of it being handsome but dirge-like. If nothing else critics seeing (or re-seeing) it would probably emerge with a finer appreciation for Vinterberg’s film, as it runs almost a full 40 minutes shorter.

Slaughter in Paris

We can predict Bill Maher will say about the murder of 12 Charlie Hebdo staffers in Paris earlier today by Islamic wackjobs. And we can guess what Ben Affleck will say if asked (“This is no reason to condemn a billion peace-loving Muslims” or something along those lines). But the people who did this are tyrannical monsters, and you’d have to resort to extremely myopic thinking to not lay the inspiration for murders avenging the honor of Islam to the Quran. “The only religion that acts like the mafia, [that] says we will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing or draw the wrong cartoon” — Maher. Jihadists and Islamists are arguably 20% of the Muslim world. But let’s not be harsh or dismissive or…you know, indulge in Islamophobia.

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Down and Out In Paris

Israel Horovitz‘s My Old Lady (Cohen Media Group, 9.10) obviously costars Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas. This is one of those trailers that pretty much gives you the whole movie save for the last beat or two. It’s based on a Horovitz play that opened in 1996. Here’s a 2007 Denver Post review of a local production. Boilerplate: “Mathias (Kline), an all-but-destitute New Yorker, travels to Paris to sell a valuable left Bank apartment he’s inherited from his estranged father. Once there he discovers a refined old woman Mathilde (Smith) living in the apartment with her daughter Chloe (KST). Mathias quickly learns that he will not only not get possession of the apartment until Mathilde dies, but that he’s on the hook for monthly expenses of around $3K.” Terrific.

Paris Has Gone To Bed

I say this every year, but no New Year’s Eve celebration of any kind will ever match what the kids and I saw in front of the Eiffel Tower when 1999 gave way to 2000. A bit dippy from champagne and standing about two city blocks in front of the Eiffel Tower and watching the greatest fireworks display in history. And then walking all the way back to Montmartre with thousands on the streets after the civil servants shut the Metro down at 1 a.m. No cabs anywhere. Here’s a non-embeddable video. Three videos of tonight’s 2014 Eiffel Tower action after the jump.

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Hit Paris Hilton

This taste of Sofia Coppola‘s The Bling Ring (A24, 6.13) isn’t anyone’s idea of assaultive or frenetic. Not too much information but enough to entice. Attitude, entitlement, Emma Watson, swagger, cops, trouble, Taissa Farmiga, flash-bang, Halston Sage (cool name!), Leslie Mann.

Wiki page: “The Bling Ring was a group, mostly of teenagers based in and around Calabasas, California, who burgled the homes of several celebrities over a period believed to have been from around October 2008 through August 2009. In total, their activities resulted in the theft of about $3 million in cash and belongings, most of it from Paris Hilton, whose house was burgled several...

Paris Critic Slaps Prometheus

A day before today’s French debut of Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus, Le Monde critic Isabelle Regnier trashed it. I’m translating it word for word as we speak, but the headline reads as follows: “PrometheusAlien betrayed by his own creator, Ridley Scott.”

The snippiest quote in the 5.29 review doesn’t read all that eloquently (blame Bablefish) but here it is : “In the role of a company man being paid handsomely for his work, Ridley Scott follows the typical commercial road map. His mission: ressurect the Alien franchise and give the audience something a copy of something they like, nothing more.”

Forget Paris

The refusal of Jean Dujardin‘s Valentin to venture into sound is due to his French accent, which he fears will be a career killer. Why not then return to France, “the home of cinema”, and join Marcel Pagnol, Jean Renoir, Jean Vigo and Marcel Carne “who were making, or about to make, films that entrance audiences to this day?,” asks The Economist‘s “Prospero.”

This is not an option, he explains, because Valentin “is so in love with Hollywood that he would rather fail there, even to the brink of suicide, than return to ply his trade in France. If the actor’s vocal ‘flaw’ had been an accent that revealed unacceptably working-class origins, sympathy would be genuinely merited...

Oahu and Paris

The Descendants has won the WGA award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Midnight in Paris has won for Best Original Screenplay. Some are saying this is how it’ll go down at the Oscars seven days hence. But The Artist wasn’t eligible for a WGA award so, as Sasha Stone forecasts, “if it sweeps major categories, it also wins Best Original Screenplay.” Best Original Screenplay for copying and pasting A Star Is Born and Singin’ in the Rain? REALLY?

Paris Tops $50 Million

Congrats again to Sony Pictures Classics on its announcement that Woody Allen ‘s Midnight in Paris has surpassed $50 million at the domestic box office — $50,062,843, to be exact. It’s now Allen’s biggest all-time North American earner even more so. If, that is, you don’t adjust the grosses of Annie Hall (’78), Manhattan (’79) and Hannah and Her Sisters (’86) for inflation. If you do that, as I pointed out on 7.18, their respective earnings are $135,027,530, $129,427,567 and $80,568,922. But there’s nothing wrong with popping the champagne over Paris. Good show all around.