Bluray.com forum posting: “Peter Yates‘ The Hot Rock (’72) will be arriving on Blu-ray from Twilight Time on August 21, 2018…a limited edition of 3000 units.” Fact: The Howard Hawks seal of approval is bestowed if and when a film has three great scenes and no bad ones. The Hot Rock — a completely insubstantial heist film — has at least eight great scenes and several great bits, and I’m sorry but most of them are arguably better than any similar moments in Ocean’s 8: (a) Robert Redford John Dortmunder being released from jail at the very beginning (Warden: “You couldn’t just go straight?” — Redford: “My heart wouldn’t be in it”); (b) the Central Park negotiation scene between Redford, George Segal and Moses Gunn, (c) the failed museum robbery, (d) the state prison breakout scene, climaxing with Ron Leibman driving the convertible getaway car, (e) the helicopter ride through lower Manhattan on way to the fake bombing of the lower Harlem police station, (f) the Zero Mostel fake-out scene in the warehouse with “Chicken”, (g) the ridiculous Miasmo hypnosis scene, and (h) the safe-deposit diamond recovery scene followed by Redford’s joyful stroll up Park Avenue.
The last time I posted this true story, about an event that happened in ’81, I was accused by some of having lacked scruples. That wasn’t the thing. I’m going to try it again with extra wording — maybe this time it’ll be understood. The original title was “My Own Llewyn Davis Moment“:
For a good portion of ’81 I was living in a sublet on Bank Street west of Hudson, almost exactly opposite HB Studios. The rent was around $350 per month. (Or so I recall.) The sublessor was a 40something guy who lived in Boca Raton, Florida. The landlord, who knew nothing of this arrangement, was one of those tough old New York buzzards in his ’70s.
Anyway the landlord got wind and told me to vacate as I was illegally subletting. He naturally wanted a new fully-approved tenant who would pay a bigger rent, but he wouldn’t consider my own application as I was a shiftless scumbag in his eyes. I hemmed and hawed and basically refused to leave until I could find something else. And then one day I came home to find my stuff (clothes, IBM Selectric typewriter, small color TV, throw rug, framed American Friend poster) lying in a big pile in the hallway with the locks on my apartment door changed. The buzzard was playing rough.
When you’re looking at sleeping on the sidewalk, you man up and do what you have to do to avoid that by any reasonable means necessary. Which is what I did. There was no point in paying any rent at that point as I was a marked man who would have to leave the place fairly soon. The sublessor’s actual rent was $185 or something like that so he’d been making a monthly $165 profit from me. I figured once the buzzard started playing rough by (a) refusing to consider my application for a legit lease and (b) changing the locks and moving my stuff into the hallway that all bets were off and it was a game of habitat survival at all costs until an alternative presented itself.
Think of all the high-octane action stunts in George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road. Quite a few and all of them eye-popping in this or that way, but none were as insane as this tragic real-life incident that happened a few days ago in Thailand. I’m not trying to turn this into some abstract discussion because the poor guy (his name was Yuttapong Hawilee) died, but this dashcam footage has a “holy shit!” factor that nothing in Miller’s film quite captured. It sounds cold to say this, but real-life stuff always hits you harder than movie fakery. Think of the aesthetic gap. Audiences can whoop and cheer at all kinds of grotesque violence as long as it’s “performed,” but we’re expected to dial it down and speak only of regrets when we see the real thing.
“You asked me before about perjury, about 20 times in court. I don’t know why you people don’t understand the system. You wanna convict ’em but you’ve got these stupid search and seizure laws. And wiretap [laws]. Case #1 never got made without an illegal wiretap. And nobody’s ever gonna get convicted if a cop don’t commit perjury. You want the big dealer out of business? The only way I know how to push him outta business is to steal his cash. Otherwise somewhere down the line, he’s gonna buy out. He’ll buy himself a bondsman, a D.A., a judge. The scumbag dealer’s back on the street before the arresting officer. The only way I know how to stop him is to steal his cash.”
It’s always been my inclination to speak to little kids as if they were 28 years old. That’s how I spoke to my sons when they were tykes. I simplified my words, of course, and spoke a bit more slowly. I always looked them right in the eye and shrugged my shoulders and behaved as if they were on an equal footing with me and vice versa. I tried to radiate calmness and coolness.
When I meet a kid I generally don’t flash one of those shit-eating, God-loves-you grins like Mr. Rogers did on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I figure that a 28 year-old in a small frame doesn’t need that patronizing nursery-school crap. I’m presuming they can smell that, the way adults behave when a kid is around. I can remember being three or four and vaguely resenting it when some older uncle or aunt or stranger would speak to me like Mr. Rogers did on the show, talking in a higher-pitched voice and smiling too broadly and leaning forward and blah blah.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect and admire Morgan Neville‘s Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and I’m glad it’s already caught on with ticket buyers. (Since opening on 6.8 and in only 29 theatres, it’s made $1,691,704.) It’ll probably be nominated for a Best Feature Documentary Oscar, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins.
Do I think that the vibe of kindness and caring that the film radiates…do I think this special warmth, this dandelion pollen from Planet Rogers is what we all could use to de-toxify those awful, noxious Trump vibes? Can the spirit of Mr. Rogers reach out from behind the membrane and heal our country’s divisions?
Naahh. I think you could feed bowls of kindness and consideration and emotional caresses to Trump voters from now until doomsday and they’d still be clueless fucks. They’re damaged, deluded. Hell, many of them are racist ghouls. Redemption for folks of this sort is generally out of the question. I don’t want to listen to these monsters — I want to defeat them at the Battle of Gettysburg.
And speaking of Republicans, there’s something a tiny bit bothersome about the fact that Fred Rogers was one of them. I can’t shake this off. A lifelong Republican, I’ve read. Which meant what exactly? That he probably voted for Eisenhower and Nixon, probably believed in “traditional values”, probably approved of the Vietnam War, was probably skeptical of the anti-war left? You tell me.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is doing well, I suspect, because the little kids who loved Mr. Rogers 40 or 50 years ago are now in their 50s or 60s and are probably looking to re-experience that tenderness, those feelings, that kindly atmosphere. But I also suspect (this is just a guess) that this film is reaching only to 50-plus types. Okay, maybe to their kids or grandkids in some instances. It’s almost certainly not touching under-35 types. It’s an analog memory-lane thing.
From Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review: “To see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is to be moved, in the end, to tears by the audacity of what Rogers incarnated: the belief that we stop listening to each other at our peril, and that the spirit of higher listening — of love — could be spread through the medium of television. Fred Rogers, in his way, was an activist (in one startling clip, we see him literally save public television with his testimony before Congress). But he was also a forward-thinking individual who says, in one unusually direct and serious interview clip, that it’s essential for us to make ‘goodness’ a foundation of ‘the so-called next millennium.’
It’s hard to set aside time to read a book when you’re already putting in several hours a day on a column plus the usual chores, reveries and occasional screenings. Last night I nonetheless read five or six chapters of Seymour Hersh‘s “Reporter“, which hit stores less than two weeks ago. I read the ones about Hersh serving as an Associated Press Pentagon reporter and as press secretary for the presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy in late ’67 and ’68, and two chapters about his breaking the My Lai massacre story — “Finding Calley” and “A National Disgrace.”
Of course and indisputably, “Reporter” is a page-turner. First-rate writing and reporting — pruned to the bone, no wasted words. I was completely hooked and immersed, and then appalled all over again when I got to the Calley chapter. After I finished I found “Finding Calley” in a recent Harper’s post.
Remember that scene in Full Metal Jacket in which a blustery helicopter gunner regales Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) with stories about how he “sometimes” mows down women and children, etc.? That was, of course, the My Lai sensibility, albeit diluted for mass consumption.
Hersh: “One GI who shot himself in the foot to get the hell out of My Lai told me of the special savagery some of his colleagues — or was it himself? — had shown toward young children. One GI used his bayonet repeatedly on a little boy, at one point tossing the child, perhaps still alive, in the air and spearing him as if he were a paper-mache pinata. I had a two-year-old son at home, and there were times, after talking to my wife and then my child on the telephone, when I would suddenly burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. For them? For the victims of American slaughter? For me, because of what I was learning?”
Hersh’s initial My Lai report broke on 11.12.69. He wrote about the atrocity in “My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath” (’70), but a long excerpt in Harper’s appeared a few weeks before that. Hersh had interviewed nearly 50 Charlie Company perpetrators. The initial indictment said that 109 My Lai (or Son My) villagers had been murdered — the figure was actually 504. Two years later a second Hersh book, “Cover-up: The Army’s Secret Investigation of the Massacre at My Lai 4“, was published.
Ocean’s 8 costar Mindy Kaling has repeated a lament about crotchety male critics that Brie Larson, Sandra Bullock and others have voiced, which is basically that Rotten Tomato dudes don’t get women’s films and that their dominance is a problem in and of itself.
Kaling is quoted in a two-day-old Guardian piece. She told a junket journo that the white male critic heirarchy is “unfair”, and explained that “if I had to base my career on what white men wanted I would be very unsuccessful, so there is obviously an audience out there who want to watch things like [Ocean’s 8], what I work on, what Sarah [Paulson] works on.
“And the thing about so much of what this movie is, I think white men, critics would enjoy it, would enjoy my work, but often I think there is a critic who will damn it in a way because they don’t understand it, because they come at it at a different point of view, and they’re so powerful, Rotten Tomatoes.”
Ocean’s 8 costar Cate Blanchett: “The conversation has to change, and the media has a huge responsibility.”
Hollywood Elsewhere exception #1: If more women elbow their way into the film-critic conversation, great. But any critic worth his or her salt will tell you the same thing, which is that it’s not about gender as much as quality. A caper flick has to have the right attitude and the right kind of chops, which is to say the kind that appeal to both genders. A heist movie that chooses to deal frivolous wank-off cards can be fine, but it has to do so with charm and finesse and a certain air of confidence.
I still say that the high-water mark for this kind of thing is Peter Yates’ The Hot Rock (’71). It was totally throwaway, but it was reasonably well-plotted in an absurdist way, and it had a clear-cut comedic tone.
Hollywood Elsewhere exception #2: For what it’s worth I didn’t find Ocean’s 8 all that problematic. In my 6.7 review, I said “it doesn’t deliver much but it’s not that bad. To my profound surprise it doesn’t get into emotional stuff at all. It’s like ’emotion who?’ It deals almost nothing but dry, droll, mid-tempo cards. And I kind of liked that. Was I knocked out? No, but I felt oddly placated.”
Producer Martin Bregman, the elegant New York smoothie who basically built a career out of producing five Al Pacino movies and five starring Alan Alda, has passed at age 92. The Pacinos were Serpico (’73), Dog Day Afternoon (’75), Scarface (’83), Sea of Love (’86) and Carlito’s Way (’93). The Aldas were The Seduction of Joe Tynan (’79), The Four Seasons (’81), Sweet Liberty (’86), A New Life (’88) and Betsy’s Wedding (’90).
To me Bregman was always the consummate, well-connected gentleman producer with a deep voice who gave great on-camera interviews, especially about the making of Scarface. Brooklyn-born and Bronx-reared, he was a classic New York “industry” personality — as much of a staple of a New York filmmaking attitude (make things happen, finesse the unions, grease the right palms) as Sidney Lumet. He seemed cut from the same (or at least a similar) cloth as producer and talent agent Jerry Weintraub, who also hailed from Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Bregman started in insurance and real estate, and then sashayed into the entertainment biz as a nightclub agent and a personal manager, eventually representing Pacino, Alda, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, et. al. He also produced Phillip Noyce‘s The Bone Collector (’99) and The Adventures of Pluto Nash (’02), an Eddie Murphy vehicle. In ’05 Bregman also produced a Carlito’s Way prequel that his son Michael wrote and directed.
A sharp producer who hails from the east and has been around: “Bregman played it pretty close to the vest. He was a tough guy who could deal with the goombahs who for many years controlled the city streets that were needed for outdoor locations in New York. He had the connections. Nobody fucked with him. And he was widely respected by left coasters for being the insider who got the job done.”