England Is Mine is a ringing title, but name one Smiths song that you hum to yourself on occasion. I can name several. The Smiths are my life. When I shower I’ll often sing “Girlfriend in a Coma” or “Still Ill” or “Panic” or “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.” A portion of my living room walls are covered in Smiths’ album jackets. The Queen is Dead, Meat Is Murder…come softly to me, Smiths! I’d obviously like to see Mark Gill’s film (who wouldn’t?) — a friend just sent me a link. Seriously: I always understood that I needed to respect The Smiths, but in the same way I never saw a Beth and Scott B. film, I never gave them a single listen on my own dime.
With all the Donald Trump animus it doesn’t seem right that Chicago artist Mitch O’Connell couldn’t make a deal with a domestic billboard company to display his They Live art. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that billboard companies pretty much nationwide don’t want to touch anything so political,” reports the Chicagoist‘s Steve Gossett. Later this month O’Connell’s creation will finally be displayed, albeit “along Norte 69, in Naucalpan, just northwest of Mexico City.” Has McConnell ever heard of Robbie Conal? The image should be duplicated by the tens of thousands and wild-posted everywhere, every city and town, sea to shining sea. Someone needs to fund this.
Mike White‘s Brad’s Status is clearly a smart, bone-dry comedy about an insecure, middle-aged dad (Ben Stiller) who’s more than a bit haunted by underachievement and, worse, the blooming success of his son. My first reaction was “this’ll be good, I get this, I wanna see it.” But right after that I thought, “Wait, Stiller’s playing the same kind of anxious 40ish guy he played in Noah Baumbach‘s While We’re Young (’14). Should he be doing another one of these so soon?” But I’d jump for joy if he’d make Greenberg 2.
Right after the reported encounter with alien craft, Indianapolis air-traffic control asks the pilot if he’d like to report a UFO. Silence. The air-traffic guy asks again if the pilot wants to report. Finally the scratchy reply: “Negative…we don’t want to report.” That’s much, much better than what this trailer passes along (“I wouldn’t know what to report.”) Trailer-cutters are dedicated to removing the intrigue and the shading. They’re always dumbing things down.
I’ve made it clear I’m no fan of Mervyn LeRoy‘s 1950s films, and that certainly includes The FBI Story (’59). James Stewart gives a reasonably engaging performance as FBI agent Chip Hardesty, whose 25-year history with the bureau serves as the basic throughline. If you can excuse or ignore the fact that The FBI Story is essentially a J. Edgar Hoover propaganda film (the closeted FBI director assisted the producers every which way), you could give it a pass. But it’s always struck me as a stodgy, Joe Friday-ish, overly righteous thing with a broomstick up its ass.
And yet I’ve always loved Elmer Bernstein‘s main-title theme. It summons your inner right-winger, and as such is almost as good as Jerry Goldsmith‘s Patton theme (including his entr’acte music). Every so often Bernstein’s scores would surpass the films they were meant to enhance; this was one such occasion.
An announcement popped this morning about principal attractions slated for the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. As usual, Hollywood Elsewhere will be there with bells on following my Telluride attendance. All hail the enticement of Darren Aronfosky‘s mother!, even if it’s not playing Telluride. Why turn down an Aronofsky film, Tom?
Don’t knock the Toronto rock: Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water (following showings at Venice and Telluride), Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour, Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing (which will also have previously played Venice and Telluride), the noteworthy inclusion of Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name after the forehead-slapping turndown by Telluride, George Clooney‘s Suburbicon, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton‘s Battle of the Sexes, Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Venice but no Telluride), Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles, Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles, Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird (also a Telluride firstie), Ruben Ostlund‘s The Square, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s The Current War, Stephen Frears‘ Victoria and Abdul, et. al.
The first thing you have to ask about any TIFF is “how many high-profile titles are grim stories about some form of assaultive or debilitating trauma followed by painful recovery or, failing that, acceptance or closure”? I’m not posting a comprehensive list of these films here and now, but Toronto Agonistes certainly applies: Andy Serkis‘ Breathe, David Gordon Green‘s Stronger, Angelina Jolie‘s First They Killed My Father, Hany Abu-Assad‘s The Mountain Between Us, Paul McGuigan‘s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier‘s Long Time Running, et. al.
Thanks to TIFF’s regional designations after every film (listing them as a North American, Canadian or international premiere), we know almost everything about who’s doing Venice, Telluride and/or Toronto. Jig’s up, cat’s out of the bag.
I doubt that Telluride will be showing Dee Rees‘ Mudbound, which played Sundance last January, but if they do they’ll be granting it an exception that they didn’t grant Call Me By Your Name, which Tom Luddy deep-sixed for having played Sundance and Berlin. But Sebastian Lelio‘s A Fantastic Woman, which played Berlin and other international festivals, is going to Telluride, as indicated by TIFF’s calling it a Canadian premiere, which means the film will have been celebrated as a U.S. and international premiere prior to Toronto.
Going to Telluride: Joe Wright‘s Darkest Hour (which TIFF is calling a Canadian premiere), Paul McGuigan‘s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (Canadian premiere), Alexander Payne‘s Downsizing, Sebastian Lelio‘s A Fantastic Woman (Canadian premiere), Angelina Jolie‘s First They Killed My Father (Canadian premiere), Chloé Zhao‘s The Rider (Canadian premiere), Guillermo del Toro‘s The Shape of Water, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton‘s Battle of the Sexes (calling it an “international premiere” = no Venice or Berlin), Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles (international premiere), Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird (international premiere) and Joachim Trier‘s Thelma.
NOT going to Telluride: Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (HE response: boooooo!), Robin Campillo‘s BPM (Beats Per Minute), Darren Aronofsky‘s mother! (baahh), Ruben Östlund‘s The Square (boooo!), George Clooney‘s Suburbicon, Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Stephen Frears‘ Victoria and Abdul, Andy Serkis‘s Breathe, Deniz Gamze Ergüven‘s Kings, Hany Abu-Asasad‘s The Mountain Between Us, David Gordon Green‘s Stronger, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s The Current War
Emilia Clarke‘s Rolling Stone cover is another celebration of her Game of Thrones fame (i.e., “Queen of Dragons”). Clarke has been dining out on that hugely popular HBO series for six years now, but gradually realized, as every star of a hit cable series has in the past, that she had to do more rep-wise than the usual usual, which in her case meant wearing that blonde wig and performing the occasional nude scene. The long game required it.
And so last summer Clarke starred in Phillip Noyce‘s Above Suspicion, a fact-based, late-’80s drama about Susan Smith, a drug-addicted Eastern Kentucky mom who lunged at an affair with a married FBI guy named Mark Putnam (Jack Huston) as a possible means of escape from her dead-end existence, but played her hand too hard and wound up dead in the woods.
(l.) Jack Huston as Mark Putnam, (r.) Emilia Clarke as Susan Smith in Phillip Noyce‘s Above Suspicion.
Clarke did good. Her emotionally poignant performance as Smith proves that she can operate above and beyond the realm of Tits and Dragons, and with scrappy conviction to spare. Tart, pushy, believably pugnacious. Clarke is English-born and raised but you’d never know it. Her Susan is the Real McCoy in a trailer-trash way, but she brings heart to the game. In other words she’s affecting, which is to say believably scared to death. What Clarke delivers, trust me, is a lot more than just the usual collection of redneck mannerisms.
Speaking as one who despises rednecks in general and who presumes that the residents of Pikeville, Kentucky, where Smith lived and died, went heavily for Donald Trump last November, it means something that I wound up feeling genuinely sorry for this spunky, self-destructive, long-dead woman whom Clarke has brought back to life.
How do I know all this? Noyce’s film screened last week for a select group of elite blogaroo types, and I can say straight and true that Above Suspicion, which is based on Joe Sharkey’s 1993 true-life novel, is a triple-A, tightly-wound, character-driven genre flick (i.e., rednecks, drug deals, criminals, lawmen, murder, car chases, bank robberies) of the highest and smartest order.
Most people would define “redneck film” as silly escapist trash in the Burt Reynolds mode, but there have been a small handful that have portrayed rural boondock types and their tough situations in ways that are top-tier and real-deal. My favorites in this realm are John Boorman‘s Deliverance, Billy Bob Thornton‘s Sling Blade, and Lamont Johnson‘s The Last American Hero. I’m not saying Noyce’s film is the absolute, dollars-to-donuts equal of these films, but it certainly deserves to stand side by side as a peer, and is absolutely a close relation with a similar straight-cards, no-bullshit attitude.
Noyce always delivers with clarity and discipline but this is arguably the most arresting forward-thrust action flick he’s done since Clear and Present Danger. Plus it boasts a smart, fat-free, pared-down script by Mississippi Burning‘s Chris Gerolmo, some haunting blue-tinted cinematography by Eliot Davis (Out of Sight, Twilight) and some wonderfully concise editing by Martin Nicholson.
Over the just-finished weekend Tatyana and I stayed with Santa Barbara Film Festival honcho Roger Durling and his partner, Dan. They live in an elegant, Spanish-styled, single-story home (brick adobe exterior, stressed clay roof tiles) in a gated Goleta community. On Sunday Dan’s son Alex dropped by and we all went for brunch at the Bacara Resort & Spa, about a mile to the west. During that meal and for the rest of the day we were a fucking gang of five — a posse.
We ate like a posse. We travelled in the same car like a posse. We went to a local Best Buy so I could buy a computer charger, and we all strolled around like the Jets from West Side Story. We walked down to the beach like a posse. We watched Game of Thrones like a posse. At 7 pm we went back to the Bacara for dinner and chowed down like a posse — chuckling, joking, half-owning the room. When one of the Bacara staffers came up to say hello, Roger gestured in our direction and explained to the guy in a soft-spoken, put-on way, “This is my posse.”
I hadn’t hung with a posse since 11th grade. For years I’ve been putting down posses (my animus started with Leonardo DiCaprio‘s pussy posse in the late ’90s) for what seemed like a kind of arrogant, entitled swagger. My mantra had been “be a man and walk alone or with your girlfriend…only immature schmucks walk around in a wolf pack of five or six.” Now I feel differently. It’s nice to hang with a posse. It makes you feel safe and secure and relaxed. They’ve got your back and you’ve got theirs.
Only now can it be told, six days later: I was watching TV last week when I decided to hit the kitchen in a hurry. I was in a slumping, nearly horizontal position on the big blue couch with my legs on the ottoman, so I bolted upright and began my journey. But the material covering the ottoman had been pushed off by Tatyana the night before, and somehow or other the material caught my right foot as I took my first stride. Right away my balance was gone as I began to stagger forward. Before I knew it I was completely off-balance and hurtling toward the dining-room table like George Foreman after that final punch from Muhammud Ali in Zaire. I landed on the right side of the table, causing it to tip over and with it all kinds of stuff — two laptops, a lamp, a coffee cup (shattered), charging wires, pen holders, a mouse pad, a bottle of computer-screen solvent, envelopes. After the table tipped I went with it, of course, and wound up on the floor. No wounds, no bruises, no dents. But Tatyana was watching with fascination and I felt a bit embarassed. Until the moment of impact I hadn’t caused that much domestic wreckage in my entire life.
My bad for not highlighting this Snowman trailer last week or whenever the fuck it surfaced. You can tell this chilly British crime thriller is a standout, in part because you know director Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor Solder Spy) has his shit together. Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J. K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Chloë Sevigny. The Universal release opens on 10.20.17.
Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s Detroit (Annapurna, 7.28 and 8.4) is a raw-capture history lesson hoping to arouse and enrage, but it mostly bludgeons. I’m saying this with a long face and heavy heart as I like and admire these enterprising filmmakers, but there’s no getting around the fact that they’ve made a brutal, draggy downer. Detroit lacks complexity and catharsis. It doesn’t breathe.
I was hoping that this blistering docudrama, which isn’t so much about the 1967 Detroit riots as the bloody Algiers Motel killings, would play like Gillo Pontecorvo‘s The Battle of Algiers, but alas, nope. Failing that I wanted Detroit to be an investigative political thriller in the vein of Costa Gavras‘s Z, but that wasn’t the scheme either.
No one is more beholden to Bigelow-Boal than myself; ditto their magnificent Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. But after these two films I’ve become accustomed to brilliance from these guys, or certainly something sharper, leaner and more sure-footed than this newbie.
At best, Detroit is a hard-charging, suitably enraged revisiting of what any decent person would call an appallingly ugly incident in the midst of a mid ‘60s urban war zone. And of course the system allowed the bad guys to more or less skate or not really get punished. What else is new?
The Algiers Motel incident happened, all right, to the eternal discredit of Detroit law enforcement system back then. But guess what? It doesn’t serve as a basis for an especially gripping or even interesting film.
Detroit has good chaotic action, street frenzy, bang bang, punch punch and lots of anger, and I really didn’t like sitting through it and I watched it twice, for Chrissake. For they’ve made a very insistent but air-less indictment film — militant, hammer-ish, screwed-down and a bit suffocating.
In and of itself, the Algiers Motel incident repels but dramatically under-delivers. There’s not a lot of complexity in the portraying, although the episode obviously reflects upon several well-documented 21st Century instances of white-cop brutality and murder.
The white-guilt factor is abundantly earned in terms of the behavior of three pathetically brutal Keystone cops who also happen to be racist fucktards — Will Poulter‘s “Phillip Krauss”, Jack Reynor‘s “Demens” and Ben O’Toole‘s “Flynn”. But it needed more than this.
Ugly, blatant racism in and of itself is obviously repellent, but Detroit doesn’t feel sufficiently layered. It makes for a jarring but rather one-note movie.
The principal actors portraying the victims of harassment — John Boyega as Melvin Dismukes, Algee Smith as Larry Reed, Anthony Mackie as Greene — hold their own; ditto those portraying the shooting victims — Jason Mitchell as Carl Cooper, Nathan Davis, Jr. as Aubrey Pollard and Jacob Latimore as Fred Temple.
I can’t think of a single good sticker line — a line in the vein of Al Pacino‘s greatest Heat moments, say — or anything in the way of clever, diversionary movie craftsmanship. The Detroit script barely feels “written” in the sense that any number of urban thrillers have been. It doesn’t feel tightly sprung or strategized as much as thrown at the wall.
Too often the film feels coarse, pushed, misshapen, misjudged. I plainly, simply didn’t like watching it.
I didn’t even like Barry Aykroyd‘s photography — way too many tight close-ups. And if you ask me the cop haircuts feel a wee bit too long for ’67, when straight-laced society was still rocking short hair and whitewalls. Longish hair (hint of sideburns) didn’t sink into mainstream society until ’69 or ’70 or ’71.
It feels like a decent if rudimentary attempt to recreate the Detroit chaos of ’67 rather than some wowser re-visiting or, you know, a major redefining or rejuvenation of same.
Yes, there are four or five uniformed law enforcement figures plus a nurse (played by Jennifer Ehle) who come off as decent human beings, but otherwise the idea seems to have been to remove any and all shading, dimension and subtlety as far as the white characters are concerned. After a while your spirit wilts in the face of this diseased, cut-and-dried cardboard slime factor.
I’m not saying that white Detroit beat cops were anything but foul and deplorable for the most part back in ’67 (as many cops have recently shown themselves to be when it comes to treatment of black suspects in God knows how many altercations in recent years), but a movie of this sort has to deliver some kind of balance and finesse and shared humanity and quiet-down moments (i.e., we’re all scared children running around on God’s blue planet) or it’s just crude caricature — a racial hit piece.
Whatever the content or mood or metaphorical thrust, all good movies have to feel cinematically sexy. You have to be charmed by their chops, aroused by their strategy. If a movie doesn’t turn you on in one way or another or doesn’t at least make you sit up in your seat, it probably isn’t very good.
I could’ve rolled with Detroit if it had felt more slick and “commercial.” If only it had the look and professional cutting and smooth camerawork and assured pacing of Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning. Yes, I know — an absurdly inaccurate film history-wise, but a very good one in terms of chops, and a damn sight better than Detroit in this respect. Remember the repetitive hammer music in Parker’s film? Not very melodic but it really worked, really connected.
Detroit makes its points but it’s direct and blunt to a fault. The attack on the bin Laden compound finale in Zero Dark Thirty was 11 or 12 times better than anything in Detroit. Ditto that lively firefight involving Ralph Fiennes’ character in The Hurt Locker.
What happened to the smooth, fleet editing, and the sense of planted authority and versimilitude that I got from Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker? I’ll tell you what’s happened to it. It’s taken a powder.
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