I’m finding it vaguely alarming that Eyes Wide Shut opened 18 years ago. I clearly remember seeing the unrated, uncensored-orgy version out at the Warner Bros. lot, and then being shown the censored version and producer Jan Harlan taking questions about this. I swear that didn’t happen more than 13 or 14 years ago, despite what the calendar says. Time seems to be rushing along at greater and greater speeds.
Diana, the former Princess of Wales, died on 8.31.97. I was attending the Montreal Film Festival when the news broke. I remember talking it through with colleagues and then retreating to my hotel room and tapping out a reaction piece for my L.A. Times Syndicate column. The next day Rod Steiger, a guest of the festival, delivered a rant about how the papparazzi had killed her. Which they did in a way. But the primary villain was Dodi Fayed, the millionaire asshat whom Diana had been fucking for a few weeks.
I was working at People when Diana began seeing Fayed in July 1997. Two or three of us were asked to make some calls and prepare a file on the guy. Within three or four hours I’d learned that Fayed was an irresponsible playboy, didn’t pay his bills on occasion, lacked vision and maturity and basically wasn’t a man. And yet Diana overlooked this or didn’t want to know. And that’s why she died. She orchestrated her demise by choosing a profligate immature asshole for a boyfriend.
Fayed was just foolish and insecure enough, jet-setting around with his father’s millions and looking to play the protective stud by saving Diana from the paparazzi, to put her in harm’s way. It all came to a head on that fateful night in Paris. Fayed told his drunken chauffeur to try and outrun a bunch of easily finessable scumbag photographers on motorcycles, and we all know the rest.
Deep down in the mineshaft pit where his darkest nightmares slither around, this is Donald Trump at his most naked and peeled away and vulnerable, the essence of the man without the bluster and bullshit and the expensive dark-blue suits. Or forget about Trump and just re-absorb perhaps the most intensely honest, stripped-down agony moment in cinematic history. What other great scenes in which the armor fell away and only the weeping child remained, begging for forgiveness? Anthony Quinn‘s on the beach during that final minutes of La Strada. Thomas Haden Church crying and pleading in Paul Giamatti‘s hotel room in Sideways. Others?
Remember that hot Icarus buzz during last January’s Sundance Film Festival? It was the Russian doping doc you had to see. It was electric, brilliant, a real-life thriller…all hail Bryan Fogel! Here’s what I posted on 1.26.17. I sensed that Icarus would probably shake things up when it opened down the road, and that it would almost certainly land on the shortlist for the 2017 Best Feature Doc Oscar.
Well, Icarus “opens” today on Netflix with a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and the buzz is almost nonexistent. Because a Netflix debut means almost nothing when it comes to the blogosphere and the pulsebeat on the street. A Netflix debut is tantamount to a kind of burial. It’s streaming, yes, but buzz-wise it’s like a tree falling in the forest 20 miles away.
From my 1.26.17 review: “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. The prime takeaways are (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.
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?”
Last night Paul Schrader posted a Facebook lament about Detroit (i.e., the Algiers Motel brutality goes on forever). It drew the following reply from Tony Joe Stemme: “It’s an oddly structured movie. The first 20 minutes or so lead the viewer to believe they are going to see an overview of the Detroit riots. Then we are plunged into the horrid events at the Algiers for at least an hour (might even be longer if you add the intros leading up to it). And then we get another half-hour of the aftermath including trials. Sadly, I don’t think it works, but it’s a daring strategy.”
The best reply came from Savas Alatis: “The Passion of the Detroit.”
One of the basic rules of movie plotting demands that just desserts be served. Movie justice can be subtle (Michael Corleone‘s barren solitude at the end of The Godfather, Part II is one manifestation), but one way or another a principal character must face it. If there’s a proverbial bad guy causing harm and pain during Act One and Act Two (and I’m referring to Barbara Stanwyck‘s Phyllis Dietrichson as much as anyone else), he/she must be somehow punished or brought down in Act Three, period.
Alas, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal‘s Detroit refuses to provide justice in the case of Will Poulter‘s “Phillip Krauss”, a racist, belligerent, beetle-browed fuck cop who causes the death of three innocent black dudes during the Detroit riots, and it’s infuriating. Yes, Bigelow and Boal are sticking by the historical facts, but I’m sitting in my ninth-row aisle seat with my small popcorn and coke and I don’t want “facts”. I want that asshole dead or beaten badly, or condemned to a hellish prison term with regular anal invasions.
This is why Detroit will fail with Joe and Jane Popcorn this weekend. Because it refuses to do the thing that audiences want their movies to do. You take a ticket-buyer’s money, you have to do the thing. If you don’t do the thing, the ticket-buyer will recoil and rebel and tell his friends to stay the fuck away.
Paul Newman was a shit to the end in Martin Ritt‘s Hud. He never repented, never softened, never apologized. And at the end of Act Three he was the owner of a ranch with plenty of oil beneath. But he was also completely alone, and all he had in that final scene was a lit cigarette, a fresh beer and a sneer. That was justice, and was all the audience needed.
Monica Vitti and Gabriele Ferzetti didn’t know what was up or down at the end of Michelangelo Antonioni‘s L’Avventura. They were still hovering in the same affluent, spiritually resigned atmosphere that the film began with, and that was a form of justice. The “no exit” kind reserved for lost souls.
Last night author and former Premiere editor Peter Biskind trashed Dunkirk, calling it “total garbage, confused and confusing, a criminal waste of several of England’s greatest actors,” etc.
I posted my stock reply: “Funkirk — purely immersive, post-narrative, high-throttle IMAXian viewing pleasure start to finish.”
Hamish McAlpine: “What a ridiculous, anti-intellectual critique. I am no fan of Christopher Nolan, to put it mildly, but this is his best film since Memento. You obviously wanted a paint-by-numbers conventional 1950’s war film. What you got was a film which tried to capture the essence of WHAT IS WAS LIKE TO BE THERE. That was the purpose of the film, not to provide a History Channel Reenactment.”
Nicholas Meyer: “I think the filmmaker had an idea and an approach which differed from conventional narrative techniques. Like many artistic innovations, it make take some time to be fully evaluated. Is it a failure or something ahead of the curve? I’m not an unadulterated Nolan fan and couldn’t get behind his Batman movies (to be fair, I can’t watch any movie that ends in ‘man’ except Searching for Surgarman), but I did love Momento and I think the worth or non-worth of Dunkirk may take a while to become clear. All I can say with confidence is that the film stayed with me.”
I’d like to see Dunkirk again this Sunday. At the Universal Citywalk IMAX, of course.
Margaret Betts‘ Novitiate is about various repressions (mostly spiritual) visited on a group of young women who’ve committed to be nuns-in-training, or novitiates. It’s mostly set in 1964, which is when various Vatican-led reforms, known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, were being implemented.
It’s a reasonably well done thing, a little eccentric, a little Sundance-y but not bad. And boy, does it have a hot lesbo scene in the third act! And this new Sony Pictures Classics trailer doesn’t even hint at this. Why, Michael and Tom? What do you have against lesbo tingles? Straight guys the world over eat this shit up, and you won’t even allude to it?
Right off the top you’re going “hmmm, possibly an austere Robert Bresson-like film about the denials, devotions and disciplines of the life of a young would-be nun.” The young protagonist is Cathleen (Margaret Qualley, 22 year-old daughter of Andie McDowell), and over the course of this 123-minute film “her faith is challenged by the harsh, often inhumane realities of being a nun,” etc.
The strongest supporting performances are from Melissa Leo as Reverend Mother (basically doing the same kind of thing that Meryl Streep did in Doubt, only with a heavier hand), Julianne Nicholson as Qualley’s skeptical, non-religious mom, and Denis O’Hare as an Archbishop pressuring Leo into adopting Vatican II’s more liberal “suggestions” about how to run things.
I’m not saying Novitiate is mostly or even partly an erotic thing, but that third-act scene…yowsah! The old axiom about “the stronger the constraints, the hotter the eroticism” certainly applies here. After the Sundance showing I asked around and everyone agreed this was the stand-out — trust me.
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