I was over at the Cole Avenue DMV this morning to (a) renew my Class C driver’s license, which expires early next month, and (b) get a motorcycle license. The first part is the written test, and of course I failed it. I got five or six questions wrong, but my answers were only sorta kinda somewhat wrong. I always choose the most conservative-sounding answer but they flunked me anyway. Dicks. I’ve been driving scooters and motorcycles for decades, man. I know everything about handling myself on two wheels but they got me. The questions ask you to choose one of three answers, and two out of the three answers usually sound fairly reasonable. The (b) answer isn’t crazy or stupid — it’s just not quite as correct in a bureaucratic petty-ass way as (c). Now I have to study the damn booklet tonight and take the test again tomorrow. And then a driving test. When’s the last time you needed to study something in order to pass something? I always hated school. It took me years to get past the feelings of low self-esteem, etc. Almost everyone who gets good grades grows up to be a dullard, and the ones who get lousy grades always grow up to be cool.
A little while ago Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson assembled a few thoughts about the late L.M. Kit Carson and sent them along: “We met Kit twenty years ago. Kit and Cynthia had come back to Texas to put Kit’s biological son Hunter through school there, and we submitted ourselves to be his adopted ones, hoping to become his latest discoveries. (We weren’t the first as Kit was a natural guru.) He was the only person we’d ever met who actually worked in the movie business, and we had never come across someone who so automatically and instinctively turned any idea or experience or suggestion into a story — a pitch. Sometimes it was only at the end of the story that you realized “this has a purpose, he’s advising us, these are ‘notes.'”
“Kit had a rustic glamor, like a sort of a cowboy-screenwriter. He never told us much about his childhood except that the L. was for Louis and the M. was for Minor, two old men he was named after. What we heard about was guerilla filmmaking and gonzo film journalism and Dennis Hopper in Taos and Peru. We loved Kit in David Holzman’s Diary which we saw with him in Dallas, and we had already loved his work in Breathless and Paris, Texas. He had longish, stringy, sandy hair, and he clomped through the house in hiking boots all year round. He gave us a one-on-one tutorial in script-writing and short-film-editing (and, also, a lesson in how to hustle a project into existence). [Kit’s wife] Cynthia said to us that of all the people who were lucky to have known Kit, we were the luckiest. It certainly feels that way to us. He introduced us to the rest of our lives.
L.M. Kit Carson, the legendary Texas screenwriter, actor, documentarian, short-film impresario (Direction Man), hotshot journalist, ex-husband of Karen Black, father of Hunter Carson, a kind of godfather to Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson in ’93 and ’94, Guillermo del Toro pally and a personal friend (we first met around ’87 when I was working at Cannon Films), died last night after a long illness. Hugs, tears…I’m sorry. Kit was a good egg. Always with a grin and some kind of sly, wise-man quip. Condolences to Hunter (with whom I corresponded about Direction Man last year) and Kit’s wife Cindy Hargraves and the general sprawling family of friends and acquaintances.
Carson began as a movie-realm journalist and documentarian (David Holzman’s Diary, American Dreamer) and gradually ambled his way into screenwriting. He had the vibe and the touch. He understood how it all was supposed to be, or could be. I don’t know where he “was” over the last decade or so, but in the ’80s and ’90s he always seemed to have the whole equation in his head.
The early to mid ’80s were Carson’s peak years when he co-wrote Jim McBride‘s Breathless (a 1983 remake of the 1959 Jean-Luc Godard original with Richard Gere) and Wim Wenders‘ Paris, Texas and a thing called Chinese Boxes that I’ve never even seen, and then came that wonderful Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 screenplay, which was a dry, darkly comedic kill-the-yuppies thing that was heralded in an issue of Film Comment (it might have been Harlan Jacobson who wrote “it’s okay to like it”). But alas, director Tobe Hooper came along and fucked it all up when Cannon decided to make it.
Amir Bar-Lev‘s Happy Valley “is a perceptive, shrewdly sculpted study of denial — of people’s willingness and even eagerness to practice denial if so motivated. The specific subject is the Penn State child-abuse sex scandal of 2011 and 2012, which resulted in convicted pedophile Jerry “horsing around in the shower” Sandusky doing 30 years in jail and the late beloved Penn State coach Joe Paterno being at lest partly defined between now and forever as a pedophile enabler. Cheers to Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story, My Kid Could Paint That) for delivering another riveting sink-in.
“The Freeh report (conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his law firm) stated that Paterno, Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and school vp Gary Schultz all knew about Sandusky probably being guilty of child molestation as far back as 1998, and that all were complicit in looking the other way. State College residents and especially Penn State football fans were enraged when Paterno was fired for not saying or doing enough. Even after the Freeh report they wouldn’t let go.
How aware are Academy members of their reputation outside their little bubble? I’m wondering this because I keep hearing over and over that the biggest hit with well-heeled Academy-type viewers is Morten Tyldum‘s The Imitation Game, and I’m wondering if Academy members will have the balls to make fun of themselves again by giving the Best Picture Oscar to a film that is a fairly close relative of The King’s Speech. Because it’s basically another Masterpiece Theatre period drama directed in the Richard Attenborough style…set in the past, about a male protagonist overcoming a disability or roadblock of some kind in order to do good…emotional, touching, tidy. Does the Academy know or care that handing the Best Picture Oscar to The King’s Speech denigrated their reputation among thinking people the world over? If they do, are they willing to do the same thing all over again by tumbling for The Imitation Game? I’m not putting it down, mind. Really, I’m not. I got it when I saw it in Telluride….”yup, this is a good one,” I told myself. It works by the terms it sets out to fulfill. But Game is, indisputably, informed by the same DNA that created The King’s Speech. You can’t argue that.
“Too much alpha chuckling can be an unwelcome thing, and I don’t mind saying that Poland’s relentless chuckling can feel truly oppressive at times. After a while it can feel like a form of torture. What happens in these DP/30 interviews is that people talk a lot — expressively at times and certainly at great length — but every so often the interviews drive me crazy because it hits me that all I’m watching is a lot of chuckling and effusive blather because Poland’s questions are sometimes inane and forced and anxious. It’s Poland going ‘bee-duh-bee-duh-bee-bee-bee-bee’ and the interview subject going ‘well, okay, hold on…I’m going to answer you, of course, but I’m going to slow it down a bit.” — from an 11.14.10 riff called “My Soul Wilts.”
Edward Norton’s first scene in Birdman is about his character, Mike Shiner, rehearsing a Raymond Carver play with Michael Keaton‘s Riggan Thomson. And within 90 seconds he “runs through a Crayola box of tones and emotions, jumping between Shiner and Shiner’s character in the play like he’s changing shirts,” says Grantland‘s Kevin Lincoln. “Throughout the rest of Birdman, flexibility defines Norton’s performance. He fistfights in a floral Speedo. He wields an erection like it’s his first. He throws himself into being a maniac. Norton empties the playbook, turning a flimsy role into Dada madness.
Last night In Contention‘s Kris Tapley posted an assessment of the Best Actor situation, and in so doing declared there’s only one slot open once you factor in Birdman‘s Michael Keaton, Foxcatcher‘s Steve Carell, The Imitation Game‘s Benedict Cumberbatch and — last but far from least — Eddie Redmayne‘s turn as the afflicted Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
(l.) The distinctly nominatable Tom Hardy, star of the Locke and The Drop; (r.) In Contention columnist Kris Tapley.
The piece contains one questionable call and one glaring omission.
Tapley’s not wrong about Keaton, Cumberbatch and Redmayne but holdupski on Carell for one minute. Carell has carved himself a rep as Mr. Career Balls. The fact that he really burrows into the psyche of the late, very creepy multi-millionaire John Dupont is proof of that. But the reason Carell is considered a lock is because (a) he’s a rich and famous comic actor (he still makes awful, Norbit-like mainstream comedies like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), and because he (b) played Dupont with a kind of spazzy-wonky accent and (c) wore a prosthetic hook nose.
It’s not that Carell doesn’t deserve to be in the conversation. I fully respect what he did in Foxcatcher. I just don’t think he’s a stone-cold lock. Remember what Denzel Washington said before he announced that Nicole Kidman had won her Best Actress Oscar for The Hours? “By a nose…” Prosthetic noses are very big deals with the Academy. Be honest — would Carell be a presumed Best Actor lock if he hadn’t worn a fake schnozz?
Who could slide into Tapley’s rhetorical fifth slot? I’ll tell you who absolutely fucking should slide into it, and that’s Tom Hardy for delivering two ace-level, world-class performances this year — firstly his solo turn in Locke, easily one of the year’s best films and yet all but ignored by the know-it-alls because there’s no campaign afoot and they don’t see anyone buttering their bread, and secondly as the quiet, low-key barkeep in The Drop — a man of few words but with a cagey nature and an iron will. The year’s biggest take-away line — “Nobody ever sees you coming, do they, Bob?” — alludes to Hardy’s character in this film.
…and in fact the entire GenY twee film culture (along with the various other permutations) and smiles contentedly, knowing that he had a lot to do with it in a sense, at least from an inspirational standpoint. You have to give the man credit. He was twee-ing his ass off back in the late ’50s, for God’s sake.
I always correct my mistakes (typos, factuals) as quickly as possible, but I do make them nearly every damn day. It is therefore gratifying to see the Guardian blow a caption in its report about Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan (Sony Pictures Classics, 12.31) having won the Best Film award at the London Film festival. The gentleman in the photo is Leviathan producer Alexander Rodnyansky and not, as the caption claims, Zvyagintsev.
When long hair began to emerge among teens and 20somethings in the mid ’60s, the World War II generation (born in the ’20s) was appalled. To most of them Beatle hair was revolting. “Are you a boy or a girl?” was their mantra. Here’s an expression of that in Harper (’66), released in February 1966 and shot the year before. The person who set up this shot was saying “do you fucking believe this? What has happened to male-female distinctions among younger people?”” That person was director Jack Smight, born in ’25 and clearly a bit of an asshole. Another example can be found in Goldfinger (’64). Sean Connery‘s 007 says to Shirley Eaton‘s Jill Masterson that “there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.” The Goldfinger screenwriters were Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn.
Sony Pictures Classics’ trailer for Andrei Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan popped a couple of days ago. I’ve seen the film three times now, but I’ve yet to see it in this country on a whopper-sized screen with knock-your-socks-off sound, which I how I caught it last May at the Salle Debussy during the Cannes Film Festival. “Simultaneously a modern essay on suffering, an open-ended thriller, and a black social comedy, it is most importantly of all a thinly-veiled political parable drenched in bitter irony that takes aim against the corrupt, corrosive regime of Vladimir Putin.” — Hollywood Reporter critic Leslie Felperin.