Last Tuesday all the Cinemacon journos went apeshit after seeing ten minutes of footage from Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing (Paramount, 12.22), myself especially. Yes, it’s “comedic” but a long way from lighthearted. For all the humor and cleverness and first-rate CG it feels kind of Twilight Zone-y…a kind of Rod Serling tale that will have an uh-oh finale or more likely an uh-oh feeling all through it.
Last Tuesday I wrote that the undercurrent felt a teeny bit spooky, like a futuristic social melodrama in the vein of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
In its matter-of-fact portrait of middle-class Americans willing to shrink themselves down to the size of a pinkie finger in order to reap economic advantages, Downsizing doesn’t appear to be the sort of film that will instill euphoric feelings among Average Joes. It struck me as a reimagining of mass man as mass mice — a portrait of little people buying into a scheme that’s intended to make their lives better but in fact only makes them…smaller. A bit like Trump voters suddenly realizing that their lot isn’t going to improve and may even get worse.
A day after the Downsizing presentation I was chatting with a bespectacled heavy-set female who works, she said, for an Arizona exhibitor (or some exhibition-related business) in some executive capacity. She struck me as a conservative, perhaps one who processes things in simplistic “like/no like” terms, definitely not a Susan Sontag brainiac.
I told her that I thought Downsizing was brilliant and asked what she thought of it. Her response: “I don’t know what I think of it.”
HE translation: “No offense but I don’t want to spill my mixed feelings with some Los Angeles journalist I’ve just met. I didn’t like the chilly feeling underneath it. It didn’t make me feel good. My heart wasn’t warmed by the idea of working people shrinking themselves down so they can live a more lavish lifestyle. I have to work really hard at my job and watch my spending and build up my IRA, and I didn’t appreciate the notion that I’m just a little struggling hamster on a spinning wheel.”
Again — my initial reaction to the footage.
I never reported on Amazon Studio’s Cinemacon presentation, which happened at a Thursday (3.30) luncheon. It still seems as if their biggest attraction and potentially hottest award-season title (maybe) is Michael Showalter, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon‘s The Big Sick (6.23), which opened to big acclaim at last January’s Sundance Film Festival and will probably do well commercially, at least in hip urban markets.
But if Sick comes up short during award-season (a fate that often befalls relationship comedies), it’s possible that Todd Haynes and Brian Selznick‘s Wonderstuck will carry the weight. A time-flipping drama (two scenarios separated by 50 years) with a strong emotional current, pic stars Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Amy Hargreaves, Millicent Simmonds, Oakes Fegley and James Urbaniak. The trailer (which has a kind of swirling, flirting-with-euphoria quality) got me going. Haynes doesnt fool around.
Tied for third place among Amazon’s most appealing ’17 films: (a) Richard Linklater‘s Last Flag Flying, a decades-later sequel to The Last Detail with Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne (the kind of film that could really benefit from a Cannes debut), and (b) Mike White‘s Brad’s Status, about a 50ish dad (Ben Stiller) dealing with vague frustrations about his accomplishments plus the seeming fact that his college-age son (Austin Abrams, who doesn’t resemble Stiller in the least) is likely to do better. Both were trailered, both look great.
Laurent Bouzereau and Mark Harris‘s Five Came Back, a brilliant three-hour doc about the transformative experiences of five name-brand Hollywood directors (John Ford, Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens and John Huston) during World War II, premiered last night on Netflix. Please see it, and if at all possible in a single sitting. Here’s my 3.22 review.
That said, I’m obliged to re-irrigate a dispute between Harris, author of the same-titled 2014 book, and Ford biographer Joseph McBride about the doc’s claim that Ford’s service as a WWII documentarian-propagandist basically ended after he went on a three-day bender following the D-Day invasion.
In a 3.23 HE piece called “Ford’s Bravery, Drinking, Sentimentality,” McBride articulated his dispute with Harris based on Harris’ book vs. what McBride had reported in “Searching for John Ford,” a respected 2001 biography.
But yesterday McBride doubled down and then some after seeing the Netflix series [see below] and taking it all in. I naturally passed his complaint along to Harris. Harris came back this morning with a stern and specific reply [also below].
If nothing else, Cinemacon 2017 persuaded me that three previewed films may well become finalists in the 2017/18 Best Picture race — Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing, Steven Chbosky and Steven Conrad‘s Wonder (this year’s Lion-like contender) and The Greatest Showman, an apparently sumptuous musical biopic about the legendary P.T. Barnum with Hugh Jackman in the title role.
Pic costars Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Williams, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Natasha Liu Bordizzo and Zendaya. It’s been directed by Australian commercial director and (uh-oh) “visual effects artist” Michael Gracey and written by Michael Arndt, Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon. A handsome, spirited trailer (pic’s dp is Seamus McGarvey) was screened.
The Greatest Showman has been in the planning stages for several years. Gracey was hired to direct in August 2011. Principal photography began on 11.22.16.
Jackman’s presentation of the forthcoming 12.25 release was the highlight of the 20th Century Fox Cinemacon show, which was easily the finest and grandest of all.
Yesterday Sasha Stone rode to the rescue and singlehandledly saved the Hollywood Elsewhere redesign, which wasn’t on a good footing earlier this week. She threw together some Armory-based roughs in two or three hours, and right away I knew she was on the right track. I’m feeling enormous relief that a friend whose taste I trust is handling things now. I’ve also asked Chicago-based designer Mark Frenden (the guy who inserted yours truly into an awesome American Friend poster) to contribute whatever ideas he may have.
I decided against seeing Amir Bar Lev‘s Long Strange Trip (theatrical 5.26, Amazon Prime 6.2), his four-hour Grateful Dead doc, at Sundance, but I’ll be catching it on 4.12 at a Los Angeles press screening — 5 pm to 9:30 pm with a half-hour refreshment break.
A Variety review by Owen Gleiberman plus the film’s Wikipedia page state that the running time is 235 minutes, but p.r. releases have reported slightly longer lengths — 238 and 242 minutes. Update: Obscured Pictures’ R.J. Millard, a recent addition to the team, clarifies that “the final running time will be 241 minutes (4 hours, 1 minute).”
The only Grateful Dead album I’ve ever really liked is Live Dead. Recorded at San Fransico’s Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West in early ’69 and released later that year, it was the first live album to use 16-track recording. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau wrote that side two of the double album “contains the finest rock improvisation ever recorded” — agreed.
I presumed from the get-go that Long Strange Trip would be an above-average thing because of Bar-Lev‘s esteemed track record — My Kid Could Paint That (’07), The Tillman Story (’10) and Happy Valley (’14).
From Gleiberman’s review: “[Pic] has the sprawl and generosity of a good Dead show, yet there’s nothing indulgent about it — it’s an ardent piece of documentary classicism. I’m one of those people who can’t stand the Grateful Dead…yet I found Long Strange Trip enthralling. For the first time, it made me see, and feel, and understand the slovenly glory of what they were up to, even if my ears still process their music as monotonous roots-rock wallpaper.”
Earlier this month a research-screening veteran conveyed measured enthusiasm about Joseph Kosinski‘s Granite Mountain (Lionsgate, 9.22), a Peter Berg-style firefighting melodrama based on the real-life Yarnell Hill tragedy of 2013 in which 19 elite firefighters (all from nearby Prescott, Arizona) bought the farm. The worst firefighter tragedy since 9/11.
Pic costars Miles Teller, Ben Hardy (who?), Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, Andie McDowell and Josh Brolin.
I half-trust this “measured enthusiasm” guy because he loved Call Me By Your Name, which he saw at Sundance at the same Eccles showing I attended, and because we sat down in Las Vegas couple of days ago and talked about the whole realm.
“It’s average Peter Berg fare in most respects, but emotionally it hit harder than your normal fact-based epic,” he opined. Take this with a grain but he claims that Teller delivers his “best work, a mature and nuanced performance.” (MT is portraying Brendan McDonough, the one member of the 20-man Granite Mountain Hotshots who didn’t die in the blaze.)
“Bridges keeps it going with his underbitten West Texas accent from Hell or High Water, and it never gets old. Jennifer C. has some awesome scenes when she yells and cries…pretty heartbreaking.
After plugging Transformers: The Last Knight (Paramount, 6.23) at Cinemacon, Mark Wahlberg paid a visit to the Las Vegas Wahlburgers, which is right next to my Bally’s hotel. I just bought a burger there — pretty good. The burgeoning fast-food chain is co-owned by three Wahlberg brothers — Paul (chef & general honcho), Donnie and Mark. It’s also a reality series on A&E. No Wahlburgers in Los Angeles yet.
It’s not the humans per se who will suffer a final defeat at the finale of War of the Planet of the Apes, but an army of aggressive dicks led by Woody Harrelson‘s Trump-like Colonel. Which of course makes the Ape victory palatable to the likes of you and me. Matt Reeves is a sharp, quality-level filmmaker, and this trilogy finale, obviously, is going to be a strong, well-made film.
Finely shaped and timed as this trailer is, it played a helluva lot better on the huge screen inside the 4000-seat Caesar’s Palace Collisseum than it does right now on my Macbook Air.
By the way: I felt extra-thrilled when a brief clip from John Huston‘s The Maltese Falcon was shown one or two days ago. As great as this 1941 classic looks when I watch the Bluray seems when I watch it on my 65″ 4K screen, seeing it in the big Collisseum screen was a lot better. I’d pay serious money to watch it on a huge super-screen with super-amped sound some day.
Amir Bar Lev‘s Long Strange Trip (Amazon, 241 minutes) is a first-rate chronicle of a great, historic American band. Don’t...More »
This morning I read a 6.9 profile of MGM CEO Gary Barber by Deadline‘s Peter Bart (“A Resurgent MGM Builds...More »