“Sandra Oh and Anne Heche delivers knock-down, drag-out poundings not once but three times in Catfight, indie writer-director Onur Tukel‘s razor-toothed takedown of obscene privilege in a world indifferent to real pain. While the broad political commentary is beyond obvious, the satire of ugly entitlement draws blood, thanks to balls-to-the-wall performances from the adversarial leading ladies.” — from David Rooney‘s Hollywood Reporter review, filed from the 2016 Toronto Film Festival.
Derek Wayne Johnson‘s John Avildsen: King of the Underdogs will screen twice at the Santa Barbara Int’l Film Festival (2.1. thru 2.11). Avildsen’s peak achievement years happened in the early to mid ’70s — Joe (’70), Save The Tiger (’73) and the original Rocky (’76). That was his glory period, tapping into the zeitgeist, as good as it got. Joe was his rawest and most explosive — a low-budgeter that caught the hardhat vs. hippies thing exactly at the right moment. I re-watched Rocky in high-def last year and found it even better than I’d remembered. Save The Tiger probably hasn’t aged as well but it has its moments. Avildsen directed three others that were at least decent — The Formula (’80), Neighbors (’81) and Lean On Me (’89). Avildsen is a contemporary of Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson‘s, born in the mid ’30s, baby bust. Very few directors can point to a respectable roster of grade-A films made over two decades; fewer still can say “I made three…okay, two that really rocked the culture.” Avildsen can say that.
The following texts were exchanged last June between myself and Emily, a woman who stayed in my place and fed the cats while I was in New York, Paris, Cannes and Prague. Everything seemed fine at first, but all that changed when I got home. All texts are verbatim:
Emily [sent in late May]: “The cats really miss you! Aura meows no matter how much I pet her and Zac does too. They both accept cuddles but they know it’s not you. Last few nights Zack stays out so late that I fall asleep before I can catch him inside and lock the door. It’s a good thing you’re coming home soon, they sure miss you.”
Wells [a few days later]: “Margarita should be contacting you about coming by Wednesday morning or afternoon. My plane hits the LAX tarmac around 4 pm. I’ll be at the place by 6 pm or thereabouts.”
Emily: “Sounds good. I’ll be leaving Wednesday morning and heading to work so we will miss each other so Margarita will probably have to let herself in.
Wells: “Just remember to not lock the top bolt lock — lock only the doorknob lock — and remember to check under the [redacted] to make sure the blue doorknob key is still there. That’s the key Margarita uses.”
Emily: “Yes, I remember.”
Wells: “How are the plants by the way? Any Fed Ex or UPS shipments?
Emily: “Plants are kinda dead like. I watered but they didn’t really bloom. There are some packages. Large boxes and envelopes.”
Wells: “The plants are kinda ‘dead’?”
Emily: “No, I don’t mean dead. Like they’re not in bloom. I’m sorry, I just woke up. You’ll be home soon, all good. Yay.”
Hollywood Elsewhere loves Icarus, the Russian doping doc that Netflix picked up two or three days ago. I’ve no striking observations or insights to add to the general chorus, but I can at least say that after a slow start Icarus turns into a highly gripping account of real-life skullduggery and paranoia in the sense of the classic William S. Burroughs definition of the term — i.e., “knowing all the facts.”
As noted, Bryan Fogel‘s two-hour film starts off as a doping variation of Morgan Spurlock‘s Super Size Me, and then suddenly veers into the realm of Laura Poitras‘ Citizenfour.
It doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know or suspect, mainly that (a) the use of performance-enhancing drugs is very common in sports (everyone does it, Lance Armstrong was the tip of the iceberg) and (b) there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Vladmir Putin and his top henchmen and the Al Capone mob of 1920s Chicago — lying, cheating sociopaths of the highest or lowest order (take your pick).
I was a little worried during the Super Size Me portion, in which bicyclist Fogel and Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov embark on a project with the goal of outsmarting athletic doping tests. It’s interesting at first, but it goes on too long. After a while I was muttering “so when does the Russian doping stuff kick in?”
Suddenly it does. Rodchenkov gradually admits to Fogel that he orchestrated a Putin-sanctioned doping program that gave the Russian athletes an advantage at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, which led to the winning of 13 gold medals. But in November ’15 Rodchenkov’s laboratory was suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) following a report alleging state-sponsored doping in Russia, and soon after Putin and the bad guys were looking to lay the blame on Rodchenkov. (Or possibly kill him.)