I almost feel as if I’ve seen this already, but the trailer for The Mustang is well judged. Obviously a healing-and-therapy movie, but intriguing. The director is Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, whom I don’t know. I’m sensing the right kind of vibes. Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern, Connie Britton, etc. Slated for Sundance, opening in March.
It’s awfully damn hard to make a film that even half-works. It’s probably just as hard to make something that stinks. Everyone is always trying to like hell to make a film that will do them and their parents proud. Even makers of dumbshit comedies and genre spoofs. So what does it take to make something that’s actually, seriously good? Serious talent or the ability to channel divine inspiration…whichever is available. And the ability of above-the-line creatives to keep sweaty, thick-fingered, Sam Spiegel-ish producer types as far away as possible from the creative levers.
WB publicists have been adopting a qualified-hands-off posture with Clint Eastwood‘s The Mule because they’re scared of reactions to casually racist dialogue spoken by Clint’s p.c.-oblivious character, the 90-year-old Earl Stone (based upon real-life drug runner Leo Sharp).
They’ve presumably been fearful that the outrage brigade (a member of which would seem to be Variety‘s Peter Debruge) would howl about what an offense Earl’s vocabulary is to our delicate ears. An old white coot talking like an old white coot…horrors!
Debruge is all but apoplectic about Earl’s racist vocabulary — his review is almost a parody of knee-jerk woke-ism. “Most white Americans have a relative like Earl, who’s old enough to remember a time when good old boys ran the country and everyone else was their inferior,” Debruge notes. So when they start “spewing politically incorrect garbage, most of us let it slide, accepting that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Except you can and we must.
“There’s nothing inherently wrong with presenting bigoted people on-screen, since heaven knows they exist in real life,” Debruge goes on, “but the trouble with The Mule is that it invites audiences to laugh along with Earl’s ignorance. From here, it’s no great stretch to imagine a movement — call it ‘Make Hollywood Great Again’ — advocating for movies in which politically incorrect characters like the ones Eastwood has played for most of his career will be free to speak their minds again.”
Debruge is like Sessue Hayakawa‘s Colonel Saito in The Bridge on the River Kwai. There’s a part of him that would like to put Eastwood, his producing partners and screenwriter Nick Schenk into tin-box cages and let them bake in the sun.
Yes, there is a kind of amiable, jocular tone in the way Clint’s character tosses off politically incorrect racial terms and other inappropriate-isms, and it does make you half-flinch or at least shake your head. Yup, there are crotchety old guys who think and talk like this, and yeah, they probably voted for Trump, but at the same time they don’t appear to be emissaries of Satan as much as indifferent about whether or not guys like Peter Debruge approve.
As is usually the case with the 80-plus set, it’s best to just offer them a chair and a glass of lemonade and hope for the best.
The bottom line is that The Mule is a very decent, nicely handled film about family, aloofness, guilt and facing one’s own nature.
Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich says it’s Clint’s best in “more than 25 years” — better than Unforgiven? — but I’m playing it safe and calling it his finest since Gran Torino. It’s a plain-spoken, well-ordered saga of a guy coming to terms with his failures as a man and a father — a selfishly-inclined fellow who’s always preferred work over being with family, etc. I think it’s an entirely decent film in this respect, and a well-structured one to boot.
Wait…The Favourite is suddenly the most likely winner of the Best Picture Oscar?
The Critics’ Choice Awards, which in the movie realm are voted upon by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, have been the most accurate predictor of Academy Award nominations. There’s something about the non-elitist, emotional-pocket-drop BFCA mindset that seems to synch with the Academy. Remember when Spotlight was apparently losing steam in the 2015-2016 Best Picture race, and then to everyone’s surprise it won the BFCA’s Best Picture trophy? Spotlight won the Best Picture Oscar a few weeks later. I’m not saying that the Critics Choice and Oscar awards have always reflected each other, but BFCA and Academy members do seem to park their cars in the same garage.
If you go by the legend that the most nominated films tend to win the Best Picture Oscar, the fact that Fox Searchlight’s The Favourite corralled 14 Critics Choice nominations this morning — Best Picture, Best Comedy, Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Olivia Colman for Best Actress and Best Actress in a Comedy, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for Best Supporting Actress, Best Acting Ensemble, Best Editing, Best Original Screenplay (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), Best Cinematography (Robbie Ryan), Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Hair and Makeup — suggests that The Favourite might also turn out to be the most Oscar-nominated feature, and therefore (if you go by odds and tradition) the Best Picture Oscar winner.
All I can tell you is that this hit me in the stomach when I read the Critics Choice tally last night. Because as much as I admire The Favourite and as impressed as I am by Olivia Colman‘s brilliant performance as Queen Anne (not to mention the “supporting” performances by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), I don’t think The Favourite is slam-dunk Best Picture material, largely because the third-act doesn’t pivot or deepen the stakes of the story, let alone maintain the tension of the first two acts.
And because I’m more of a Roma, Green Book, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, First Man and First Reformed type of guy.
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther was the second most nominated film with 12 Critics Choice nominations. Damien Chazelle’s First Man accumulated ten nominations. Adam McKay‘s Vice, Bradley Cooper‘s A Star Is Born and Rob Marshall‘s Mary Poppins Returns tallied nine nominations each while Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma — which has seemed to many like the most esteemed and most arthouse-credentialed Best Picture contender — managed to assemble only eight nominations.
Slightly more dispiriting is the fact that Peter Farrelly‘s Green Book, seemingly the most beloved Best Picture contender (if you step outside of lefty fascist p.c.-scold circles) and easily one of the best acted and most finely crafted mainstream features of the year, ended up with only seven nominations.
Green Book is one of the year-end hotties, for sure, but a little man in my chest is saying “what’s going on here? Why are the films and performances that we know are the best of the year…why are they not faring as well as they should?”
HE approves of Ethan Hawke landing a Best Actor nomination for his First Reformed performance; ditto Paul Schrader for his Best Original Screenplay nomination. But the film itself should have been Best Picture nominated; ditto Alexander Dynan‘s 1.37:1 cinematography.
I’m seriously offended by the BFCA not having nominated Marielle Heller‘s Can You Ever Forgive Me? as Best Picture, or Heller for Best Director. At least they nominated Melissa McCarthy for Best Actress and Richard E. Grant for Best Supporting Actor, as they should have.
Viola Davis should have definitely been nominated for her lead performance in Steve McQueen’s Widows, but she wasn’t.
The thing about Sunset Boulevard that doesn’t quite play in today’s terms is Joe Gillis‘s refusal to confide to Betty Schaefer what he’s up to — that he’s become a kind of screenwriting gigolo, living high on the hog with a 50 year-old silent movie star. Gillis cares for Schaefer and vice versa — audiences can tell they’d be a good match — but he’s too consumed with self-loathing to let her know what’s up. That doesn’t figure. He was broke and ready to skip town when he met Norma Desmond. Now he’s hustling a rich meal-ticket while he plots his next move. What’s so shameful about that?
The first 30 minutes of Sunset Boulevard are sharp and catchy, and the last 15 are grand-slammy. But the middle 65 of this 110-minute film are a little slow and frustrating.
And why hasn’t Gillis insisted to Desmond that he has to be paid an actual weekly salary? If he got one he could save up enough to buy a new car and move back into his apartment and get his career going again, especially with Schaefer as his new writing partner.
Cameron Crowe: “There is a famous story from the first Hollywood screening of Sunset Boulevard [in 1950]. Louis B. Mayer [head of MGM] was standing on a stairway, railing about ‘How dare this young man, Wilder, bite the hand that feeds him?’ What did you say to him when you overheard all this?”
Billy Wilder: “I am Mr. Wilder, and go fuck yourself.”
Crowe: “What did he say to that?
Wilder: “He was astonished. He was standing with the great MGM bosses who were below him, there at the studio, Mr. [Eddie] Mannix and Mr. [Joe] Cohen. And that so astonished them, that somebody had the guts to say, “Why don’t you go and fuck yourself?” [And that’s when] I knew that I had a good picture there. — from October 1999 Vanity Fair piece, “Conversations With Billy.”
Christmas was great when I was a New Jersey kid of seven, eight and nine. Almost everything felt magical or tingly or transporting on some level. Mostly the aromas — the pine needles, oven-fresh turkey, hot gravy over mashed potatoes, warm pumpkin pie — but also the tree decorations, the store lights at night, the wrapped gifts, the chilly air, listening to Dylan Thomas‘s recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and watching Alistair Sims‘ A Christmas Carol, and those occasional visits to Manhattan with my mom (department stores, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall).
But the warmest flow-through Christmas vibes I’ve ever felt, topping even those of my impressionable years, happened at a post-Thanksgiving holiday party at Robert Towne‘s large Pacific Palisades home in late November of 1997. Yeah, I know — I mentioned this in a piece I ran after Curtis Hanson passed a couple of years ago. But what a night, what a fine English Tudor vibe on a grand holiday evening in which all the elements were in place.
The gathering was just the right size and full of people who mattered a great deal at that moment (Hanson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Phillip Noyce) and the aromas…my God! The place smelled like cinnamon and mistletoe and cigar smoke and turkey gravy and egg nog, and Towne and his wife Luisa had hired three professional singers to roam around and sing Christmas carols and I mean in perfect harmony, all dressed in top hats, shawls, bonnets, gloves and hoop skirts…classic Dickensian garb.
It was glorious. I remember coming down the big staircase and looking at this choice industry crowd having such a great time and saying to myself “everyone should experience this kind of perfect Christmas gathering at least once in their lifetimes.”
Because even the most poignant Christmas get-togethers with my own family weren’t this heartwarming, this extra-perfect. It was even better than a holiday feeling that filled my heart when I was in London in early December of ’80, when I was walking around and sensing how lucky I was to be in the Stockwell section at that particular moment. It was hardly a flush area of town but it felt exactly right as I settled into a quiet neighborhood pub and ordered a lager as I listened to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” on the juke box.
Two years ago the Sundance Film Festival withdrew my beloved Express Pass, which I was honored to carry for five straight festivals (’12 thru ’16) and by which I had easy access to screenings and therefore some extra, extremely valuable writing time. I was initially devastated but I gradually adjusted to grunt status during the ’17 and ’18 festivals. But now the Sundancers have really lowered the boom. Two days ago they told me they’ll be “unable to accommodate your request for press credentials at [the 2019] festival.”
Seriously — they actually said that.
I’ve been “going out” with Sundance for 25 years, and suddenly we’re done? I’ve been attending Sundance festivals each and every year since ’93, and if memory serves I filed a New York Post story about Robert Redford‘s launching of the Sundance Institute way back in ’80. A quarter century’s worth of round-trip plane tickets and condo rentals and hobnobbing and working my tail off to see and review everything…two and a half decades of wearing that cowboy hat and working and wailing and watching the history of independent film unfold in the snowy Wasatch mountains.
Has any other longterm Sundance veteran been told to take a hike after 25 years of devotion? I doubt it. Can anyone imagine the Cannes Film Festival guys doing this? I think this is fairly historic on some level. It’s been nice, Jeff, but that’ll do…we don’t like you any more.
I’ve been advised by journalist friends to let this go and just attend next month’s festival without a pass, and basically mooch tickets from publicist pals. Which I may do. But this is an instructive moment that tells us a little something about the punitive mindset of the cabal that’s running Sundance these days.
For this is clearly a censorious and illiberal response to my having written critical riffs about the matters near and dear to wokeness. I’ve lamented the off-with-their-heads Robespierre mentality within the #MeToo movement. I’ve stood by Woody Allen and particularly Moses Farrow. There exists, I gather, a suspicion that I’m not sufficiently supportive of woman filmmakers, which I’m sure will come as a surprise to Kathy Bigelow, Marielle Heller, Jennifer Kent (nobody worshipped The Babadook more than myself), Andrea Arnold, Sarah Polley, Lynne Ramsay, Sofia Coppola (whose direction of Somewhere reminded me of classic-era Michelangelo Antonioni), Ava DuVernay (whose Middle of Nowhere I flipped over six years ago) and Olivia Colman (whose performance in Tyrannosaur I found so devastating that I raised money to pay for press screenings that Strand Releasing wouldn’t spring for).
And it’s possible, I suppose, that my having called last year’s festival a “socialist summer camp in the snow” rubbed them the wrong way.
In a 1.21.18 piece titled “Sundance ’18 Feels Sluggish, Listless, Agenda-Driven,” I wrote that “this festival seems to be largely about woke-ness and women’s agenda films — healings, buried pain, social ills, #MeToo awareness, identity politics, etc.”
I’m not going to offer any sweeping judgments about the recently announced 2019 Sundance Film Festival slate, except to suggest that with a competition slate that is 53% female (i.e., nine of the 17 directors eligible for the festival’s top prize are women) it would appear that 2019 Sundance is going to be just as progressive-minded as last year’s festival, if not more so.
But even with the currents of p.c. instruction every Sundance delivers at least four or five knockouts, and the 2019 crop seems like it might be a little better than normal.
I’ve naturally written an appeal to the Sundance press office, and have been told they may change their minds.
Or I may have watched a half-hour’s worth before discreetly slipping out of the screening room. Or I may have seen the whole thing and then discharged it from my memory. This morning I watched a couple of clips (I love the David Letterman scene). The fact that I can’t recall says something in itself. Ditto the fact that the cover of Kino Lorber Bluray describes Cabin Boy as “the contentious classic that angered a nation.”
I was, however, somewhat taken by Michael Tedder’s 12.5 Ringer piece, “The Beautiful, Inspirational Disaster of Cabin Boy, 25 Years Later.” Here’s the best portion:
“Though flawed, Cabin Boy is a cinematic experience like nothing else, and one that has been extremely important to the development of American comedy.
“It’s often said that Mick Jagger failed to become a soul singer, and in the process became one of the greatest voices of rock music. Adam Resnick and Chris Elliott failed to make a big-budget Hollywood comedy, and in the process made a surreal, anarchist experience.
“It looks and feels wrong in a great way, in a way that a more technically accomplished director could never hope to achieve, much as no conventionally ‘great’ singer could ever hope to match the raw emotion of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Some Things Last a Long Time.’
“The film holds a mesmerizing power, from the contrast to the surrealistically fake ocean and old-timey garb of Elliott’s shipmates, played by character actors like Brian Doyle-Murray, and anachronistic elements like a limo and a microwave that are never commented on. The special effects are so delightfully chintzy, especially whenever the cuckold giant shoe salesman shows up. The jokes always arrive at the wrong time and never do what you expect them to do, such as when a giant cupcake spits tobacco on Elliott, and then disappears without explanation.
“[And} Elliott gives a fully committed performance, nailing the stunted man-child archetype years before Will Ferrell would popularize it, and using his posture and awkward gait to fully sell Mayweather’s metamorphosis into a Cabin Man.
A director-writer pally has seen Clint Eastwood‘s The Mule, and shared the following:
“I can confide this is B-level Eastwood in the tradition of Gran Torino — a star vehicle for the aging actor and compelling because of his iconic presence and star lineage.
“It’s also in the tradition of Space Cowboys in that it’s a well-made programmer with a certain emotional resonance based on longtime feelings about a star whose career is probably near the end.
“Seeing Eastwood play an actual old man is somewhat jarring to see — to his credit. Think of The Shootist in John Wayne‘s canon.
“The Mule isn’t as elegiac as Unforgiven, but is much more compelling than, say, Trouble With The Curve.
“Bradley Cooper adds some contemporary resonance as it’s compelling to see a current triple threat pursuing an older auteur, lending a unique subtext.
“And yes, there’s a song — ‘Don’t Let The Old Man In’ by Toby Keith.”
Mary Poppins Returns (Disney, 12.19) is going to be a very popular film with the light-hearted family trade, at home and abroad. 95% of it teems with euphoric, child-friendly alpha vibes. It’s so happy and swirly it gives you a headache. I can’t fathom why Gold Derby‘s Tom O’Neill, Joyce Eng, Chris Rosen, Susan Wloszczyna, Scott Mantz, Wilson Morales, Andrea Mandell and Matthew Jacobs have put it on their Best Picture spitball lists — you’d have to ask them. [Note: Yes, I erred when I mentioned “It’s A Good Life” — the kid’s name was Anthony, not Billy.]
Due respect for George H.W. Bush, whose long journey has ended at age 94. I realize he was far from evil personified and was, in fact, a semi-tolerable Republican president, especially when you compare him to Donald Trump.
But I was against Bush 41 in ’88. In fact, my ex-wife Maggie and I did some wild-posting with Robbie Conal‘s “It Can’t Happen Here” poster; we also rang doorbells for Michael Dukakis. Needless to add I was overjoyed when Bill Clinton beat him in ’92.
But climate-change obstructions aside, George Sr. wasn’t utterly horrible; he had some approvable qualities, laughed at Dana Carvey, etc.
I seem to recall his expressing uncertain reactions when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union broke apart. He didn’t seem to know what to say — wasn’t all that comfortable with the idea of governments being overthrown. Anyway, rest in peace and condolences to those who were close.
Snapped sometime prior to the 6.1.55 premiere of Billy Wilder‘s The Seven Year Itch. I tried watching this 20th Century Fox sex comedy a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t stay with it — it’s tedious, labored, constipated. I smirked a few times but I didn’t laugh once — not once. Tom Ewell wants to ravage Marilyn Monroe but he’s too chicken. On top of which I think his off-screen orientation came through on some level. I didn’t believe him.
Itch was the second of five ’50s films directed by Wilder during his “house director” phase, so-called because these films represented a creative hibernation for the director of Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. The usual Wilder traits — cynicism, opportunistic characters, smartass dialogue, ironic turnarounds — weren’t entirely absent in Sabrina (’54), The Seven-Year Itch, The Spirit of St. Louis (’57), Love in the Afternoon (’57) and Witness for the Prosecution (’57), but they were in relatively short supply. Wilder finally returned to form in ’59 with Some Like It Hot.
The house phase began in the wake of the success of Wilder’s Stalag 17 (’53), although the primary factor, I’ve always believed, was the failure of Wilder’s caustic and ultra-cynical Ace in the Hole (’51). After that film bombed critically and commercially, the word went around that Wilder needed to retreat from his hard-edged material and ease up for a while. He did.