Best 9/11 Whoop-Ass Movie Ever Made

The first five paragraphs of “The Perverse Thrill of Chaotic Times“, a 3.25 N.Y. Times piece by Teddy Wayne, offer an uncannily accurate capturing of how Type-A types have been feeling deep down since Donald Trump‘s election. I fell into it like a guy on a bungee cord. Yes, exactly…we’re in a monster movie, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and while I’m 70% freaked, I’m also 30% jazzed.

But the thing that really turned my head arrived about 14 paragraphs in. After noting that “political journalism — itself under attack by the president — hasn’t been this ardent since Sept. 11,” Wayne reminds that the World Trade Center attacks “ushered in the era of the superhero, with desire for American might to overcome evil projected onto a single figure.”

This reminded me of something I said almost exactly 13 years ago about Tony Scott‘s Man on Fire, in my mind the best rightwing superhero whoop-ass movie ever. Denzel Washington‘s Creasy made the bad guys (i.e., Mexican cartel kidnappers) howl and sweat and scream before killing them like a meter maid hands out a parking ticket, water off a duck’s ass.

In my mind (and in Scott’s, I’m thinking) the cartel guys were stand-ins for the terrorist “other.” Everyone understood that, I think, and millions relished the feeling of payback. No mercy, no quarter. No CG superhero movie has ever made me feel this way. I was in the men’s room adjacent to the Zanuck theatre after my first Man on Fire viewing, and guys at the urinals were going “whoa, fucking Denzel…he doesn’t fuck around…Jesus!”

Man on Fire opened on 4.23.04 — two and a half years after 9.11. I don’t think I’ve ever succumbed quite as fully to a film espousing this kind of rightwing, scorched-earth vengeance. No, I don’t feel good about the likelihood that Steve Bannon and the Breitbart guys probably like Man on Fire as much as I do, but I can’t deny that I feel and endorse what it’s putting out. Yes, still. (more…)

Minor Hitchcock

Kino Lorber’s Bluray of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case (’47) pops on 5.30. Please understand this is a sub-par Hitchcock from his post-Notorious, pre-Strangers on a Train phase, which was largely about treading water. He finally got the old pizazz back with Strangers. Stage Fright and Under Capricorn were also made during this fallow period, which lasted four and 1/2 years, give or take.

I’m tempted anyway, of course. I’ve never seen Paradine in 1080p — only once or twice via standard-def cable. I’ll sit through just about any flush big-studio ’40s film if it looks good enough. Hitchcock’s dp this time was Lee GarmesDetective Story (’51), The Lusty Men (’52), The Desperate Hours (’55), and Howard HawksLand of the Pharaohs (’55).

The Paradine Case is a straightforward portrait of obsession and downfall,” I wrote on 12.16.15. “It’s a carefully measured, decorous, stiff-necked drama about a married, middle-aged attorney (a too-young Gregory Peck) who all but destroys himself when he falls in love with a femme fatale client (Alida Valli) accused of murdering her husband.

A foolish love affair is one thing, but Peck’s exists entirely in his head as Valli isn’t the least bit interested and in fact is in love with Louis Jordan, whom she was seeing before her husband’s death. Not much of an entry point for a typical moviegoer, and not a lot to savor.

“It’s essentially a romantic triangle piece (Peck, Valli, Jordan) but you can’t identify or even sympathize with Peck as Valli is playing an ice-cold monster. But I’ve always respected the tragic scheme of it. By the second-to-last scene Peck’s humiliation is complete and absolute.” (more…)

Klaatu Barada Nikto

The way this Amazon drone hovers and then slowly descends towards a landing spot on a big green lawn…well, c’mon. You can tell me this wasn’t staged to resemble the arrival of Michael Rennie‘s spaceship in The Day The Earth Stood Still. Yes, I realize that Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos wasn’t even born until ’64, or 13 years after Robert Wise‘s sci-fi classic opened, but he knows this 1951 film cold, trust me. Don’t tell me Klaatu’s arrival wasn’t in the mind of whomever staged this event…don’t tell me that!

Fair Shake for Baywatch

As a longtime loather of all things Dwayne Johnson (on 12.8.16 I called him “a comme ci comme ca Republican who’s out to make dough and keep things as vapid and formulaic as possible…an amiable baba with a ripped bod”) and one who harbors strong negative suspicions about Seth Gordon’s  Baywatch (Paramount, 5.26), I feel obliged to turn the other cheek and pass along some buzz from a friend. Take it with a grain.

“I can tell you that everyone is surprised at how well that Baywatch plays and has tested,” the guy says. “It went through development for years and years, but somehow the tone came out right and it apparently channels The Rock’s sweet spot.   [Allegedly] the best comedic use of Johnson to date. There’s a satirical current that sends up Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay cinema, mocking the omnipresent shallowness and overt calculation of every set piece, plot point and storyboarded CGI action sequence. Baywatch wasn’t super-expensive, save for its stars, and will surprise audiences as a smart, funny film that works like gangbusters.”

(more…)

All Chatters In All Checkout Lines, Take Heed

In my experience the worst checkout-line schmoozers (i.e., people who couldn’t care less if their chit-chat is delaying you and the others in line for God knows how many minutes) are found in pharmacies. These are people who are probably dealing with some sort of affliction, and in lieu of a doctor are hoping for a touch of emotional comfort and reassurance from the pharmacist. So they talk about their aches and discomforts and lack of sleep or whatever, and the pharmacist, invested in a general alpha attitude towards all customers, feigns interest and offers suggestions along with a caring smile. Which prompts the chit-chatter to unload all the more about whatever’s ailing. And I’m standing there third or fourth in line, listening and sighing and rolling my eyes.

Gertrude of Arabia

While Werner Herzog‘s Queen of the Desert “doesn’t deserve outright trashing, it can’t be classed as anything other than a disappointment. Because it’s not even the sort of bad that makes Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans such a gonzo blast. The notoriously stodgy historical biopic genre looks as self-serious, surface and inert as it would from any old journeyman. Herzog clearly loves both Nicole Kidman and his subject, Middle Eastern explorer and deal-maker Gertrude Bell, to the point of allowing no blemish to show. It’s such a disappointment when you consider the wild portraits of pioneers that Herzog has given us before, that he’s so reverent here. Isn’t he the director who can locate the madness in everything he sees? Where is Bell’s madness?” — from by a 2.6.15 review by Indiewire‘s Jessica Kiang. Yes, that’s right — filed over two years ago.

Ford Again

Why isn’t a high-def version of Peter Bogdanovich‘s revised, expanded version of Directed by John Ford, which came out on DVD seven and a half years ago, streaming on Amazon or Netflix or wherever? One of the finest docs about a legendary director ever made and it’s still on DVD?

On 11.6.06 I posted an HE piece about Ford, called “Snarly Softie.” It was triggered by a viewing of Bogdanovich’s doc, which had its big debut on Turner Classic Movies in the spring of that year. The DVD popped two and a half years later, on 9.15.09.

That Ford piece I posted yesterday about his World War II service and more specifically his post-D-Day bender (which is mentioned in Netflix’s Five Came Back) led me back to the ’06 article:

“I’ve tried and it’s impossible — there’s no feeling just one way about John Ford. His movies have been wowing and infuriating me all my life, and after seeing Peter Bogdanovich‘s Directed by John Ford, the muddle is still there.

“But Bogdanovich’s film gives you a feeling — one that seems clear and genuine — that you’ve gotten to know the old coot better than ever before, that you’ve really and truly seen past the bluster and the scowl and the cigar, beyond the scrappy Irish machismo and into some intimate realm. After many years of saying “Ford sure made some great films but what a snappy old prick he was,” I’ve finally come to like the guy. And I feel I owe Bogdanovich a debt for that.

“I tried to say this during my Monday afternoon phone chat with Bogdanovich. We spoke for 25 or 30 minutes. And I never quite said what I felt the film had taught me about Ford, which is that he was a shameless softie who used a snarly exterior manner to keep people from getting inside and discovering who he really was. But of course, his films made that pretty clear on their own. (more…)

Let Bumblefucks Suffer The Consequences Of Their Own Electoral Stupidity

In a 3.19 New York article called “No Sympathy For The Hillbilly,” Frank Rich examines the whole social-political psychodrama that we’re currently embroiled in for 23 long paragraphs. His assessments are sharp as a tack, but you’re waiting for him to say “aah, the hell with it” and spill his guts about the rurals who insist on voting against their interests no matter what — i.e., the bumblefucks. And then he finally does:

“Perhaps it’s a smarter idea to just let the GOP own these intractable voters. Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the consequences.

“If, as polls tell us, many voters who vilify Obamacare haven’t yet figured out that it’s another name for the Affordable Care Act that’s benefiting them — or if they do know and still want the Trump alternative — then let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests. That they will sabotage other needy Americans along with them is unavoidable in any case now — at least until voters stage an intervention in an election to come.

“Trump voters should also be reminded that the elite of the party they’ve put in power is as dismissive of them as Democratic elites can be condescending. ‘Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap,’ Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National Review. ‘The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.’

“He was only saying in public what other Republicans like Mitt Romney say about the ’47 percent’ in private when they think only well-heeled donors are listening. Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used their ballots to commit assisted suicide? (more…)

Huge Relief As Corporate-Fellating Republican Leadership Cancels Trumpcare

From N.Y. Times: House Republican leaders, facing a revolt among conservatives and moderates in their ranks, pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor Friday afternoon in a spectacular defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency.

“House Speaker Paul Ryan: “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

“Ryan had rushed to the White House shortly after noon to tell Mr. Trump he did not have the votes for a repeal bill that had been promised for seven years — since the day President Barack Obama signed his landmark health care act into law. Trump, in a telephone interview moments after the bill was pulled, blamed Democrats and predicted that they would seek a deal within a year, he asserted, after ‘Obamacare explodes’ because of high premiums.”

Continuity, Distinctive Style Are Important

A re-design is underway of Hollywood Elsewhere. The idea is to make it look and feel more 21st Century (the design mentality of the current site is 13 years old — it actually looks like it could have been designed in the late ’90s), and to load faster and be more ad-friendly and so on.

I’m down with this, but my concern all along has been to make sure the new site conveys a distinct “things haven’t changed that much” feeling — an assurance that HE’s identity and attitude is alive, intact and continuing within this new design. The new site should say “sure, this look significantly different in some ways, but it’s still very much the site that I’ve built, poured my heart into and self-branded over the last 12 and 1/2 years.”

A fresh, here-and-now design is essential but, as I’ve told the designers, Hollywood Elsewhere is nothing if not about my personal brand — my views, attitude, personality, passion, errors, shortcomings, gushings, travels, tenacity, aspect ratios, experience, arguments, prejudices…all of it. The new design needs to recognize this and embrace continuity.

Please look at the test site as it now stands. Keep in mind that it’s a very early stab. I’m not hugely unhappy with the mobile version but the classic HE identity, I feel, has been all but erased. The initial idea was to take a generic uptown design, which looks like a Paris fashion magazine and which I thought was half-decent, and merge it with HE’s style and personality.

The small, almost-postage-stamp-sized HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE logo in the top left says it all. The designers of this test site seem to be interested in obscuring if not erasing the entire identity of Hollywood Elsewhere, which has been running since August ’04. (HE has actually been punching it for 18 and 1/2 years if you count my Mr. Showbiz, Reel.com and Movie Poop Shoot incarnations between October ’98 and July of ’04.)

It’s a mistake, for starters, to jettison the HE Hollywood sign logo, to not use my photo for identity purposes, to not use the same copy and headline fonts. Continuity is vital. (more…)

Ratner Reality Check

Yesterday EW and others went with a story about Ratpac producer Brett Ratner calling Rotten Tomatoes “the destruction of our business”, mainly because Batman v Superman was hurt by its 27% rating. BvS also earned a 44% Metacritic score — that didn’t matter? And what about the fact that Batman v Superman was mostly a drag to sit through, and that everyone more or less agreed with that view?

The viral thing that really damaged the reputation of Batman v Superman, I feel, was the sad Ben Affleck junket-interview footage overlaid with Simon & Garfunkel‘s “The Sounds of Silence.” One look at Affleck’s forlorn expression and people who hadn’t seen BvS just knew.

By the way: Ratner’s comments were from last weekend during his visit to Sun Valley Film Festival (3.15 to 3.19). As EW filed Thursday morning Ratner’s comments were most likely issued sometime late Wednesday, so someone sat on this for at least three days and possibly four. Whoever reported Ratner’s comments (a journalist? a festival staffer?) is a real go-getter.

Related development: In a hastily called press conference this morning, the producers of La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea, Hell or High Water and Zootopia joined Ratner in condemning the Rotten Tomatoes effect.

“The fact that our films all scored in the mid to upper 90s is beside the point,” saidu La La producer Jordan Horowitz. “Yes, these scores probably reflected the fact that our films are very well made, emotionally affecting and widely admired, but the important thing from our perspective is to stand by Brett and movies like Batman v Superman, and to remind everyone that the point of modern megaplex cinema is to sit there in meek submission as you’re pounded and drowned by comic-book formula and CG torrents and the imaginings of guys like Zack Snyder. That’s what really matters, and is why we all love movies.” [Note: This is a made-up parody quote — a couple of readers have actually asked if it’s real or not.] (more…)

Omen

The question on Time‘s new cover arguably captures the cultural mood as closely as the famous “Is God Dead” cover did when it popped on 4.8.66. A little more than a year later, or sometime in the summer of ’67, Rosemary’s Baby director Roman Polanski took a shot of Rosemary (Mia Farrow) looking at the cover while waiting to see Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin), an obstetrician. The film’s story spans from late September of ’65 through June of ’66. (Ira Levin‘s novel was published on 5.12.67.) The film shows John Cassevetes‘ Guy watching a live broadcast of Pope Paul’s 10.4.65 visit to Yankee Stadium. And when Rosemary’s pregnancy is confirmed she’s told that the due date is 6.28.66. The visit to Dr. Hill’s office would have happened just before the June birth but the appearance of the Time cover is close enough, especially given that an April issue could have easily been in anyone’s waiting room a couple of months later.

“You Make Me Sick With Your Heroics…

“There’s a stench of death about you. You carry it in your pack like the plague. Explosives and L-pills — they go well together, don’t they? And with you it’s just one thing or the other: destroy a bridge or destroy yourself. This is just a game, this war! You and Colonel Nicholson, you’re two of a kind, crazy with courage. For what? How to die like a gentleman. How to die by the rules. When the only important thing is how to live like a human being!”

No Evasive Action

Why don’t technically-sophisticated, state-of-the-art space vehicles in recent space flicks (Life, Passengers, Gravity) have the ability to track oncoming objects and/or debris and alter their flight path in order to avoid collisions? Remember the oncoming-Russian-missile sequence in Dr. Strangelove (“confirmed…definite missile track…continue evasive action”) and how Slim Pickens‘ B-52 banked and swerved and did all it could to avoid the missile? And how they managed to see the missile coming with this amazing technology called “radar”? Why can’t these space vehicles, 1000 times more technically advanced than an early ’60s B52, detect an approaching threat and commence evasive action (ducking, dodging, swerving) to steer clear of harm’s way? I’ll tell you why they can’t. Because the filmmakers like collisions. The rule in these films is that if an object or a debris field of some kind is coming your way, YOUR SPACE VEHICLE IS GOING TO TAKE A BIG HIT, period. No radar, no escape…it’s a demolition derby up there.

Orbiting Actors Deserve To Die

Daniel Espinosa‘s Life (Columbia, 3.24) is bullshit — an absolutely dreadful, soul-draining Alien ripoff. It’s basically just another CG display show (the monster is an unstoppable CG jellyfish-sting ray named Calvin) and an assurance of death among a crew of six on an International Space Station, and a question of how painful and gorey or grotesque their endings will be. We’re talking about rote handbook plotting, completely tired and 100% predictable…no snap, no freshness…unimaginative, uninvolving, checking my watch every 15 minutes.

Any critic who gives this thing a thumbs-up should never, ever be trusted again. Despite its first-rate CG and production values, Life is the very definition of a derivative piece of dogshit. On top of which Espinosa makes it perfectly clear at the finale that a sequel called Life: Eat The Earthlings is almost certainly in the offing. Don’t flatter yourself, pal. The only factor behind green-lighting this thing was a belief that the Calvin CG would be so cool that audiences wouldn’t be able to resist.

I was rooting for Calvin like my son Jett roots for the N.Y. Giants. For the cardinal sin of stupidity I wanted to see the crew members (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya) die horrible slithery deaths…”get them, Calvin!….get them!…die, actors, die!” And since I didn’t give a damn about any of them and was also bored stiff by Calvin (too omnipotent, too slithery, no weaknesses, no intrigue), the film seemed to take about two and half hours to end, even though the running time is 103 minutes.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that you and a slithery monster are sharing a space capsule that’s about to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere. You’re dead meat and you know it — no hope. But before the monster crawls into your mouth and transforms your bodily organs into currant jelly, you have a chance to make an adjustment. You can angle the capsule’s re-entry so that the heat shield doesn’t protect the capsule from the furnace-like conditions that occur during re-entry, which would cause the capsule to burn and melt and disintegrate into 10,000 flaming cinders. Which would kill the monster and save countless earthlings from a terrible fate.   If you have any heroism or nobility it’s the only thing to do. (more…)

Ford’s Bravery, Drinking, Sentimentality

What terms or descriptions come to mind when you say the name John Ford? The first thing I think of is “revered auteur-level director,” the second is “exquisitely balanced visual compositions,” the third is “cranky personality,” the fourth is “Irish sentimentality” and the fifth is “enjoyed drinking too much.” But I have a new sixth term after seeing Five Came Back — “Sent home from Europe after going on a three-day bender after witnessing the horrors of D-Day.”

This is a shorthand summary, delivered by director Laurent Bouzereau and writer Mark Harris in the forthcoming three-part Netflix documentary, about why Ford’s work for the War Department ended soon after the D-Day invasion.

In yesterday’s rave review I wrote the following about this incident and also Ford’s post-WWII films: “Ford, who incurred the wrath of his military superiors after descending into a three-day alcoholic bender after witnessing the bloody D-Day slaughter (4000 Allied troops died on 6.6.44), became less of a Grapes of Wrath or Informer-styled social realist and increasingly devoted himself to Western myths and fables, which could be seen as a kind of sentimental retreat.”

Ford biographer Joseph McBride has read Harris’s 2014 book but hasn’t seen the Netflix doc, but he’s taken issue with the above-described summary and has passed along his own account of Ford’s activities and status following the D-Day invasion. I passed along McBride’s recap to Harris so he could respond or clarify.

What follows is (a) McBride’s D-Day account, (b) Harris’s response and (c) McBride’s dispute with my view that after the war Ford’s films invested more and more to Western myth and sentimental notions about the past.

McBride #1: “I cover the post-D-Day period in “Searching for John Ford“, pp. 397-404. Ford did go on a bender for a few days after his supervising of the massive D-Day filming operation for the U.S. Navy. (Ford was serving with the Navy and the OSS.) He was on a boat anchored near Omaha Beach when the invasion began on June 6, 1944, and hit the beach later that day.

“The OSS wrote of Ford, ‘After landing he visited all of his men in their various assignments, and served as a great inspiration by his total disregard of danger in order to get the job done.’ “The film footage shot by his cameramen and by automatic cameras on landing boats was sent to London for assembly into a secret film shown only to Churchill, FDR, and Stalin.

“I write that Ford went on a bender at a house in France serving as headquarters for a combat camera outfit of the Army Air Forces First Motion Picture Unit, after ‘badly needing to unwind from the supreme tension of the invasion,’ adding that he was ‘physically and emotionally spent.” (more…)

I Believe In America

Cinemacon‘s Mitch Neuhauser announced earlier today that Big Sick star and co-screenwriter Kumail Nanjiani will receive the CinemaCon Comedy Star of the Year Award on Thursday, 3.30, inside Caesar’s Palace Colosseum. Congrats, but there’s still the question about whether anyone will remember Nanjiani’s name, much less how to spell it.

Every time I think of this dry-attitude comedian and Silicon Valley costar I say to myself “yeah, yeah, whatisname…karma Khalil Mangiafani…whatever.” Honestly — that’s as far as I get. But I’m working on it. I love Nanjiani’s droll, low-key performance in The Big Sick (Amazon/Lionsgate, 6.23), but I can’t get my brain to cooperate.

The trick in remembering a difficult name is to link it with something easy and familiar. Ten years ago I was having trouble remembering the name of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and then I read that Katie Couric, who had experienced the same problem, had learned it by saying “I’m a dinner jacket,” which mimics the cadence and some of the sound.

Except I can’t think of anything I know that sounds like Kumail, which I believe is pronounced “koo-mile.” This is a big stretch but all I can think of is Boy George singing “Karma Chameleon” or, even stretchier, the female Hindu god Kali, whom Eduardo Ciannelli‘s anti-colonialist “thugs” worshipped in George StevensGunga Din. Or Khalil, a Palestinian terrorist played by Sami Frey in George Roy Hill‘s The Little Drummer Girl (’84). (more…)