During yesterday’s downtime I listed my favorite film performances from the late Charles Durning, who passed on 12.24 at age 89. Jack Amsterdam, the corrupt fixer-politician, in True Confessions. Det. Sgt. Eugene Moretti, the cop-negotiator in Dog Day Afternoon. The jovial song & danceman Governor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. And Lt. William Snyder, the bunko detective from Joliet, in The Sting, “searchin’ all the joy houses ’till I find him.”
I never saw Durning perform on stage. I’m especially broken-hearted that I never saw him in the Public Theatre presentation of That Championship Season. I interviewed him sometime in the mid ’80s at his place on Wilshire Blvd near Westwood. I remember his talking about “wise guys” he knew in the ’30s, and how they had “the glint of madness” in their eyes. And he was quite the movie buff. He had piles and piles of VHS tapes of all the great films, or most of them.
Durning’s N.Y. Times obit quotes a Parade interview in which Durning recalled a hand-to-hand combat episode during his World War II. “I was crossing a field somewhere in Belgium,” Durning said. “A German soldier ran toward me carrying a bayonet. He couldn’t have been more than 14 or 15. I didn’t see a soldier. I saw a boy. Even though he was coming at me, I couldn’t shoot.”
They fought and rolled around, and Durning was stabbed eight or nine times with the bayonet before he finally picked up a rock and slammed the kid repeatedly until he was dead.
Can anyone imagine this scene being re-enacted in a war film in a satisfying way? 98% of the audience would be thinking “what the hell is wrong with that G.I.? We don’t care how old the kid is. He has a bayonet…waste him!” The screenwriter wouldn’t write it, and if he did the director wouldn’t film it because it doesn’t work. The only thing this scene would accomplish would be to persuade the audience that the Durning character is some kind of sentimental, unreliable flake. But that’s the difference, I’m presuming, between brutal real-life combat and the more clear-cut kind in war movies.
“Mr. Durning said the memories [of kiling this kid] never left him, even when performing, even when he became, however briefly, someone else,” the Times obit says.
“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about,” During told Parade. “There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”
I loathe Christmas Day to start with but yesterday was a record-book downer with the site blocked by Google (and flagged as a trouble spot by Firefox) for about 13 or 14 hours because of some malevolent Kazakhstan-based predator who sent out a trojan missile on 12.24 that manifested in God knows how many dozens or hundreds of websites. I begged three tech-support guys with my ISP Softlayer for any constructive help in the wee hours of 12.25, and they all said “sorry but it’s your problem — we just provide the bandwidth.”
The Godzilla trojan infected my ad server, it was finally determined. The only way to remove the Google block was to remove the ads and disable the ad server and then inform Google that I’d done this. They finally removed the block late yesterday afternoon. The ad server is being scrubbed and cleaned as we speak. The ads will presumably return before the day is out.
It didn’t feel awful to be out of business for a day. It just felt like…nothing. Stalled, neutered. I knew the problem would be remedied and over by sometime today.
So after sweating it out for 8 or 9 hours (plus a four-hour sleep break) I roused myself, picked up some Indian takeout and chilled at my girlfriend’s home. For the most part that meant suffering through a DVD screening of Brave. I’ve experienced moments of satisfaction and even uplift from the best Pixar films, but nothing suffocates my spirit like a glossy, connect-the-dots mainstream animated feature (i.e., big-name actors doing the voicing) looking to sell an empowerment fable about a young person being tested and fulfilling his/her destiny. I half-liked the big cowardly bear but it went no further. Every exaggerated expression and every gut-slam visual or aural effect felt like a tiny cyanide capsule. Give me a sword to hold as I jump into the wolf pit.
There is a certain Chicago life form who yesterday cheered Hollywood Elsewhere’s temporary misfortune. Exchanging blows in comment threads or on Twitter is part of the normal rough and tumble. But when you’ve been sidelined, most non-scumbags understand the basic Marquess of Queensberry about hostilties ceasing until you step back in, blah blah. But this is what we all love about the web, right? Mixing it up with halitosis creeps we’d cross a street to avoid if they were approaching, tossing this or that grenade and feeling low and filthy for the effort.
Sometime yesterday afternoon a trojan from Kazakhstan, and particularly a site identified as www.penetraterarest.com (don’t go there!) started spreading around the country. HE was hit sometime last night while I was at a large Christmas Eve party in Canoga Park. Google Chrome has blocked the site, and Firefox is sending out messages also. I haven’t checked Internet Explorer but Safari isn’t blocking as we speak.
I stayed up for 2 and 1/2 hours this morning (1 to 3:30 am) doing diagnostics and sending out “Mr. Watson, come here, I want you!” messages to friends and tech guys. I’ve had a request for review by Google Webmaster accepted, but nothing helpful will result. A tech friend (thank the Lord) is going through the steps. I’m being told I should shut the site down until I can fix this.
It’s always something. The world is crawling with predators. You need to carry a gun and cultivate the friendship of tech gunslingers who can help when this crap happens. The virus is a variant of the Java/Exploit.Agent.NEB trojan. The java file is called FojZQA.jar. For what it’s worth a friend has run a check on a diagnostic site that says there’s no malware detected.
It’s a surmountable problem. I’m doing everything I can but who knows how long this’ll take? I guess I should be thankful this is happening on one of the slowest days of the year.
Kazakhstan, the world’s largest landlocked country, spreads across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Its territory of 2,727,300 square kilometers (1,053,000 sq miles) is larger than all of Western Europe. Neighbored countries (starting due north and moving by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan (how many “stan” countries are there?) and also borders on a large part of the Caspian Sea.
Kazakhstan has the 62nd largest population in the world, which doesn’t amount to much given the size. The population density is less than 6 people per square kilometer (15 per square mile).
When I think of Jack Klugman, who died this morning at age 90, I don’t think of Quincy or Oscar Madison in the Odd Couple TV series. I think only of his Juror #5 character in Sidney Lumet‘s 12 Angry Men, and the following line: “I played in backyards that were filled with garbage. Maybe you can still smell it on me.” I like the way Klugman spoke quietly in that scene.
I also think of a story Klugman once told on (I think) The Dick Cavett Show. His wife was trying on different evening outfits as he sat nearby in their living room, he said. She was wearing skimpy or no underwear, he said, so every time she took off a dress she was Venus di Milo. And she was near a large living room window. As he sat there Klugman thought to himself, he said, “Gee, I wish I was across the street with a pair of binoculars.”
“What Zero Dark Thirty needs is more viewers to get their heads out of their asses and appreciate the movie as a major fucking work of art,” HE’s Jesse Crall wrote a little while ago. “The [moral] ambiguity of the American CIA agents involved only makes ZD30 more interesting.” But not to the Stalinists. They want movies in the vein of those 1930s films about tractors tilling the soil on Soviet wheat farms. Forward, socialism! Death to degenerate art movies that convey moral ambiguity!
“Yeah, I want a movie where the CIA agents are paragons of decency, heroically saving the pristine ideals of American exceptionalism through their honest overseas campaign,” Crall continues. “Let’s insert some more Captain America vibes into Biggy-Boal’s flick. That’s the ticket.
“Would The Bridge on the River Kwai get shit on because Alec Guinness‘s Col. Nicholson became proud of his completion of the bridge even if it benefitted the enemy? Fuck that. His conflicting thoughts” — initial pride and then “what have I done?” at the finale — “mark one of the coolest character dilemmas in film history. Jessica Chastain‘s reaction to torture and her response to the ‘victim’ of it will also stand out for decades to come.”
That irksome commenter called “Sperky” also said this morning that Silver Linings Playbook “never was.” Nope — it is. It’s not a bigger dog than Lincoln or Life of Pi or Zero Dark Thirty or Les Miserables, but it is a dog on the racetrack, perhaps not fated to win but definitely scampering and panting along with six or seven others. I also think that on some weird level SLP has picked up a little aversion-therapy headwind from the darkness of the last ten days.
A spark of this thought hit me yesterday while discussing things with Glenn Kenny. While SLP obviously has zero connection to Newtown, I suspect that deep down in the heart of the film industry it has become (or is becoming) in some small way a kind of emotional salve or antidote to the evil and malevolent vibes that rocked this country in the wake of that awful act.
I realized this yesterday morning when I came across two Sundance movies about guns and random killing (one of them being Alexandre Moors‘ Blue Caprice, about the 2002 Beltway sniper killings) and I said to myself “I don’t want to see those films…I’ve been wading in that hell pit with Newtown and then Wayne LaPierre‘s statements, and I don’t want to go back there.”
So maybe this is just me but I don’t think so. I think people are really sick over that event, which in the realm of shooting-death tragedies has sunk in almost as heavily as 9/11 did 12 years ago, and they don’t want to taste it in any way, shape or form right now. To the extent that they may want to champion a film that delivers a totally contrary spirit.
I’m not saying Silver Linings Playbook will win because of a horrible tragedy. There can be no discussion of the Best Picture race and the murder of 20 small children in the same article. Which I’m not engaging in. I’m just been observing that sensitive, compassionate people in this town are hugely distraught by what happened on 12.14, and suggesting that some may be subconsciously lunging towards any distraction that feels like a kind of polar-opposite energy source. Maybe.
I haven’t thought this through so it may just be pollen in the air that I’m misinterpreting or something. I only know that I won’t be seeing those two gun-killing films at Sundance, and from that a related thought has taken flight.
An HE commenter named “Sperky” (one of the dumbest-sounding handles I’ve ever heard) has just spitballed that Zero Dark Thirty is dead as a Best Picture winner because of the ridiculous charges that it somehow endorses or celebrates torture. As revolting and wrong-headed as this press gang-up has been (a truly repugnant chapter in awards-season history), I hate to admit this guy may be right.
I also suspect that the only thing that can save Zero Dark Thirty in the Best Picture race is a loud, coordinated, balls-out, full-court-press response by Sony Pictures publicity and the filmmakers and their top defenders, standing (or sitting) together at a press conference and declaring once and for all that ZD30 has been painted with smears by people with an agenda, and that it’s gotten out of hand and that the record is clear among those in the know and so on.
Sony, in short, has to man up. They have to get tough and militant and explicit about this and slap down the film’s accusers and tell them to go eff themselves…or it’s over. It may be over already. I don’t know.
A journalist friend confided this morning that he’s not even sure, given how this film has been colored by negative controversy and the way Academy people aren’t mentioning it in conversation, if ZD30 will even be Best Picture-nominated. I gasped when I heard this. My face literally lost color.
I do know that this morning a CBS This Morning anchor stated that Sony “hasn’t responded” to the ZD30-criticizing letter from Acting CIA Director Michael Morell or to a similar letter written to Sony by Senators Diane Feinstein, John McCain and Carl Levin.
Even with holiday distractions and whatnot, Sony’s silence on this matter has been deafening.
It makes me sick to my stomach to think that a film as masterful as ZD30 can be taken down by a vitriolic ideological mob, but as Samuel Goldwyn might have said if he were here right now, “If people want to smear a film, you can’t stop them.” Except you can stop them, or Sony can, I mean. They can at least try. They might lose, but where is the honor is letting this teardown happen without standing up and explaining in detail how the accusers are dead wrong or wildly off on their own beam?
ZD30 may or may not be a goner, but Sony ought to at least make a valiant last stand, guns blazing. When JFK was being accused of being unfit for the Presidency because as a Catholic he would favor the Vatican, did he let it lie and duck the accusers like Sony has been doing?
A few hours ago on CBS This Morning, senior correspondent John Miller, a former Associate Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analytic Transformation and Technology who once interviewed Osama Bin Laden, called Zero Dark Thirty “extraordinarily accurate in the way that movies are accurate.”
More: “All of that happened [and] one of the detainees who was…subject to waterboarding actually did give up the name of [Osama bin Laden’s] courier…the wrinkle is that he gave it up before the waterboarding…[but] I think what the film is trying to say is that overall this was a big part of the process of questioning people. Could they have obtained the same formation without the waterboarding? We’ll never know.”
And please, please listen to Miller explaining the content of an internal memorandum from Acting CIA Director Michael Morell (which was circulated a week before the press release that criticized ZD30], and particularly Miller’s summary of the final graph in that memorandum.
I haven’t Oscar Pokered for three weeks so I recorded two today — one with MSN’s Glenn Kenny and the second with Hitfix‘s Drew McWeeny. The Kenny chat, Oscar Poker #104, went on for 90 minutes. (For faster loading here’s part 1“>part 1 and part 2.) We discussed the attacks on Zero Dark Thirty and the Stalinist mindset of the torture-lamenters, Django Unchained, Jack Reacher and spitballed next year’s films, etc. Here’s Glenn’s 12.17 Some Came Running piece that addresses the ZD30 issue.
The second, Oscar Poker #105, happened right after Kenny, and we covered some of the same topics. Okay, many of the same topics but Drew had his responses and Glenn had his so I don’t see the problem.
Earlier today Glenn Kenny (who joined me for an Oscar Poker podcast) said none of the ZD30 opponents would even think about trashing Gillo Pontecorvo‘s The Battle of Algiers (’66), which (a) also deals in torture and (b) says it worked in at least one instance.
Kenny also accurately called them Stalinists, people who want only the morally correct, ethically forward-thinking representations of history in the films they see. Like all political harridans and supporters of p.c. causes, they wanted Zero Dark Thirty to say the right thing about the practice of torture, or to show what en evil thing it is. Because it presents a morally ambiguous portrait of the effort to find Osama bin Laden, they are against it.
Are you going to tell me that if your son or daughter has been kidnapped and is being held in some secret, all-but-impossible-to-discover location and might possibly be killed if you don’t find him/her…are you going to tell me that if you’ve captured a close accomplice of the kidnappers who refuses to talk…are you going to tell me that all you’re going to do is take this guy out to lunch and feed him hummus and tomatoes, and if that doesn’t work you’re going to take him out for drinks and then set him up with $5000-a-night prostitute in hopes that he’ll reveal the location?
Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t precisely say that torture was the thing that got the information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, although it has obviously been applied for several centuries, and presumably with some benefit to the torturers. (Why else would the practice continue over the millenia? Because people like to torture?) Maya (Jessica Chastain) and Dan (Jason Clarke) and their CIA colleagues do whatever they can to get their captors to talk. They try a little torture, they try little hummus. And by hook or crook, they finally get the info they want. Are you going to tell me that if they’d used only hummus, they would have discovered Bin Laden’s Abbotobad address?
It’s moments like these when I’m less than proud to be a lefty. Because the way the liberal Hollywood mob is ganging up on this film is appalling, and close to disgusting. A bunch of sensitive pantywaists towing the sensitive-liberal p.c. line.