My attention is diverted by a low-priced Witness Bluray streeting on 10.13. This offers an opportunity to praise one of the most satisfying punch-out scenes ever captured in the history of motion pictures. It works because it arrives after nearly an hour of milking cows, raising barns, fixing car engines and making goo-goo eyes at Kelly McGillis. It feels so good when those bullies start giving grief to Alexander Godunov because they don’t know what’s coming…but we do. You’re about to get schooled, assholes.
Ageism can be hilarious! The underlying message in this broad slapstick piece, an apparent creation of Huffpost‘s Ricky Camilleri, is that companies should think twice about using 60-plus interns because of their health issues and whatnot. They might drool or crap in their pants or even die on you. Note: The white-haired actor dies too quickly. He should look worried, exhale loudly a few times, put his right hand over his heart and then die.
From my Tellruide Film Festival review of Davis Guggenheim‘s He Named Me Malala (Fox Searchlight, 10.2): “The people on my gondola coming down from the Chuck Jones Cinema were beaming, almost swooning. But they were reacting, trust me, more to the subject matter than the film itself. Which feels and plays like a lesson, a sermon, an 80-something minute educational piece that…you know, we all need to see and contemplate and so on. It’s a good-for-you spinach movie, as I supposed it would be yesterday.
“One can’t help but feel touched and inspired by the saga of teenaged Pakistani education activist (and current resident of Birmingham, England) Malala Yousafzai, and particularly how she managed to not only survive being shot in the head three years ago (when she was 15) by a Taliban fanatic, but how she recovered and continued to campaign for female education in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, and how she won the Nobel Peace Prize late last year. The more this film is seen worldwide (particularly in Middle-Eastern territories where the suppression of women is appalling), the better.
“But Guggenheim’s film is just okay. If you wanted to be a sorehead you could say it almost flirts with mediocrity. But I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to discourage anyone from seeing it. He Named Me Malala stands for the right things, shows the right things, says the right things and uses watercolor-like animation to convey portions of Malala’s life…all to the good. But it never seems to find any kind of levitational groove or strategy that would result in a 2 + 2 = 5 equation.
Three days ago Etiquette Pictures released a Bluray of The American Dreamer, a 1971 doc about the late Dennis Hopper during his looniest, druggiest, hippie-dippiest phase. About five years ago I was invited by co-directors L.M. Kit Carson (a longtime friend who passed last year) and Lawrence Schiller to a special Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of the film. Here’s a portion of my review, which I titled “American Boob”:
“Speaking as a longtime pal of Carson’s and an admirer of Schiller’s, I regret being unable to think of anything remotely flattering to say. The vibe in the room was kindly and sympathetic, but what I heard and felt after the show was mainly polite astonishment. Why had Schiller and Carson decided to even show this thing?
“I was stunned by the doc’s shapeless sloppiness, and amused and repelled by its portrait of Hopper as a bearded, drug-fried horndog on the verge of destroying his directing career with the abomination that was The Last Movie.
“You might expect The American Dreamer to be a portrait of an allegedly gifted director (Hopper helmed Easy Rider two years before the doc was shot) at some kind of personal crossroads, his state of mind clearly affected (to put it mildly) by pot and hallucinogens. You’re thinking you’ll at least get to sample Hopper’s milieu and personality as he was finishing editing on The Last Movie, a film so allegedly incoherent that it ended his behind-the-camera career until he finally sobered up in the mid ’80s. And maybe get to ‘know’ the guy on some level.
Strange as this may sound, Hollywood Elsewhere doesn’t have that much of a problem with Nancy Meyers‘ The Intern. I caught it last night, expecting to be underwhelmed or narcotized in the usual Meyers way…and yet somehow this combination of two 20 mg. Xanax tabs and a mild slice of quiche went down easy. Does it give you a feeling of electric discovery and high-throttle wowser and a flood of emotion pouring out of a fire hydrant? No, but it lulls you into thinking that there’s more to life than just this. Especially if you’re 50-plus with a vial of Cialis in the bathroom cabinet.
It’s about Ben, a 70 year-old retiree (Robert De Niro) who needs a job of some kind to keep from losing his mind, and so he lands a senior intern gig at an online fashion company run by Jules (Anne Hathaway), a driven, detail-obsessed entrepeneur. And nothing really happens. Not that much, I mean. The Intern reminded me of “Nothing Is Easy,” the Jethro Tull song, but in a different context. Sometimes “nothing” is no sweat.
The sharp, organized and always gentlemanly Ben fits right in, and not only does he not fuck anything up but Hathaway eventually realizes he’s a kind of low-key gift from the Gods — nice guy, problem-solver, friend, chauffeur, silver smoothie, confidante, etc. A 21st Century Mr. Belvedere. De Niro and Hathaway and the friendly, well-groomed supporting cast just amble along. This happens and that happens. Easy does it. How can you hate a film that begins and ends with a nice Tai-Chi class in a park?
The Intern has (a) one really funny line that I laughed out loud at, (b) the usual over-heated slapstick-style reactions to anything to do with sexuality, and (c) a steady supply of mellow.
All I know is that if you can let The Intern in (and I realize that could be a problem in some quarters), it gives you a nice, comfortable, settled-down feeling. Sometimes it’s okay just to lie back and submit to a nice foot massage. As long as you’ve just showered and had a recent pedicure, I mean.
The worst thing that happens is the issue of Jules’ cheating stay-at-home husband, Matt (Anders Holm). But it’s nothing to get bent out of shape over. One look at Holm’s reddish beard and floppy bohemian hair and bathrobe-and-sweat-pants attire and I decided “whatever…not that hot…a bit of a belly that will grow over the years…considerate guy but not that dynamic…if he and Jules get divorced, fine…they can share custody.”
The allusion, of course, is to John Carpenter‘s They Live and not Costa Gavras‘s Z (’69). The latter title echoed a popular Greek protest slogan that meant “he lives” — a reference to assassinated Greek leftist politician Grigoris Lambrakis. Speaking of politicans, I’m actually a wee bit concerned that Donald Trump’s poll numbers are slipping. The better he does in the Republican primaries, the better things look for Hillary/Biden/Sanders.
There are three months left in 2015, and if you boil the fat and pretense out of all the noteworthy films released or seen over the last nine months, the ones that really stand out big-time are Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, Love & Mercy, Carol, Son of Saul, Truth, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, It Follows, About Elly and Brooklyn. Yeah, that’s right — Love & Mercy in third place. And it’s time turn the engine over and start with an award-season campaign. I’m looking to do phoners with a few name-brand actors and filmmakers who are fans and don’t mind saying so. Five or so, I’m thinking. I’ll call it “The Love & Mercy Conversations: Artists Speak Up For The Little Movie That Could and Did”…something like that.
I forgot about last Monday’s all-media screening of Nancy Meyer‘s The Intern so I’m catching a 7 pm showing at the Hollywood Arclight — 3 and 1/2 hours from now. 53% at Rotten Tomatoes, 51% at Metacritic. I know what I’m getting into here. Fave quote #1: “It’s astonishing to watch De Niro — who’s been great in great movies like The Godfather: Part II and Taxi Driver, and sometimes just as good or even better in imperfect ones like New York, New York — and realize that he’s just as capable as any other actor of slouching through a film like a lump of mold making its way down a tree limb. It’s as if he’s trying to keep all traces of actual personality or verve under wraps.” — Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice. Fave quote #2: “Meyers has wit and a solid sense of craft, but mainly she makes movies about high thread counts and comfy, pricey throw pillows.” – Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune. High thread counts?
I felt as if I’d been injected with an exciting spiritual drug when I first saw Ondi Timoner‘s BRAND: A Second Coming, which opens tomorrow. I’ve seen it three times since last March and have felt the same juices each time. Because it’s a film about transcendence — about the transformation of Russell Brand from hyper comic libertine to social revolutionary. I fell in love with the arc of his life, which is that he finally found his focus and got it right after floundering around (somewhat like Che Guevara, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X, all of whom found their calling after an uncertain period in their 20s). He became truly interesting when he stopped projecting like a hyper, swaggering, shag-crazy narcissist and became a “champagne socialist” revolutionary and began saying “look at what’s wrong here”…that’s when Brand became a lightning bolt.
Russell Brand, director Ondi Timoner during final shooting on BRAND: A Second Coming.
I wrote last March that Timoner’s doc (partly shot by HE’s own Svetlana Cvetko) is “one of the most unusual and impressive documentary portraits of a famous person I’ve ever seen because of…well, its eagerness to step out of the standard function of a documentary and take the proverbial ride. It’s a film that transcends itself and becomes something else by embracing the attitude and temperament of its subject. Just as Brand has begun moving the focus of his life beyond fame and wealth and the lowest form of humor (i.e., simply making people laugh), Brand: A Second Coming is about seeing and transcending and turning a page.”
Through all the excitement I chose to ignore Brand’s decision not to travel to Austin to help promote Timoner’s doc, which basic professional courtesy required. Brand explained that despite his admiration for Timoner’s film that he wasn’t comfortable discussing the portion of her doc that covers his sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll period (i.e., roughly the first 40 minutes).
I also looked the other way when he got together with Michael Winterbottom to make a somewhat similar documentary, The Emperor’s New Clothes, that covers a lot of the same material in Timoner’s film. Clothes was barely paid attention to on these shores, but the most forgiving person in the world would have to admit this was a huge dick move on Brand’s part.
All hail the debut of “Little Gold Men“, a twice-monthly podcast from Vanity Fair‘s Katey Rich, Mike Hogan and Richard Lawson. They mainly focus on the two biggest Toronto Film Festival flicks, Spotlight and Room. Following the first press-and-industry screening of Spotlight everyone was saying “this will win Best Picture,” Lawson says. “It’ll win?” Rich replies. Soon after she opines that Room, winner of the Toronto Film Festival audience award, is small and sentimental and quite affecting. No mention of any XY chromosone pushback but there’s a brief derogatory mention of yours truly — “the Jeff Wellses of the world and the notorious Hollywood Elsewhere.” That’s the only critical remark heard in the podcast. I don’t know about these guys. They’re no one’s idea of ruthlessly honest, but every so often they’re ruthlessly accommodating. Can’t give those award-season advertisers anything to get pissy about.
The title of the piece that accompanies the podcast is “So, Is Johnny Depp Finally Going to Win That Oscar?” Answer: No, but he might be nominated because of the Alaskan husky contact lenses and hair-sprayed Bulger wig. Rich asks if Johnny Depp‘s performance in Black Mass will be an Oscar-level thing, and mentions that she “really love[s]” Joel Edgerton in Black Mass…c’mon! His Bahhstun accent is grating and he slightly (and sometimes oppressively) over-emotes in every scene. Rich admits later on that the film probably isn’t good enough to deliver a serious springboard bounce for Depp, but says that Depp’s performance might keep the film alive in a conversational sense.
In the speculative spitball realm Cate Blanchett is running against herself in the Best Actress category. The Weinstein Co. is pushing her touching Carol performance for Best Actress consideration, and in their usual favored-nations way Sony Pictures Classics is advocating her nomination in the same category for her gutsy, steely turn in James Vanderbilt‘s Truth. Blanchett may be nominated for one of these but winning the Oscar again after her 2013 Blue Jasmine victory is unlikely. The only way to win a second time is to top the previous performance, and if you ask me her Truth performance definitely outshines her work in Carol, and even, I feel, the acting she delivered under the direction of Woody Allen. Her work in Truth is blistering, ballsier; the role is more realistically tragic. I made a similar statement 15 years ago when Steven Soderbergh‘s direction of Traffic and Erin Brockovich were deemed equally award-worthy. I posted a “letter to the Academy” piece on Reel.com that insisted his work on Traffic was far superior, and that’s what he finally wound up taking the Best Directing Oscar for. It would be gracious if the Weinsteiners were to decide to focus on Rooney Mara‘s expected Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as Blanchett’s lover and let the Blanchett thing go. They won’t do that, of course. Award-season strategizing is not a game of croquet; it’s more like rugby. But the proof is in the pudding and Blanchett’s Mary Mapes, trust me, is quite the thing.
All hail the late Yogi Berra — one of the greatest baseball players and most noteworthy philosophers of the 20th Century, and a real-deal American legend. I’m not much for eulogies of baseball champs as I’ve been to fewer than ten games in my entire life, but boy, did I love what Berra was or seemed to be — a guy who looked a bit like a monkey from a mezzzanine-level seat but had the spark of something-or-other, something that felt grand and hearty and poetic — he stood for persistence, leg muscles, hard work, a sense of humor, Yoohoo soft drink and Miller High Life. And he had a gift for dugout eloquence second to none. Short, strong, muscular, great smile, great attitude…and he lived in Montclair, New Jersey. What a guy.