You almost don’t have to read Julia Ioffe’s GQ profile of Donald Trump, Jr. Because Nigel Buchanan‘s illustration pretty much says it all. Final paragraph: “Like Republican populists of the past decade, Don speaks of ‘real Americans,’ people he defines as ‘the forgotten people between New York City and Malibu.’ It’s an improbable notion: that the billionaire’s kid from 66 stories above Fifth Avenue is the one who speaks for the disaffected and the overlooked. But it’s no less surprising than the faint rumors suggesting that he might someday run for office — a way to finally, perhaps, make a name for himself.”
Mike Molloy‘s cinematography for The Hit (’84) was sufficient but unexceptional — it might have been shot on 35m but looked like 16mm. Which wasn’t a problem — it was what it was. So buying the just-released French Bluray doesn’t seem worth it. I’d rent a streaming HD version but that’s not an option. The Criterion DVD is good enough.
John Hurt‘s performance as Braddock is grim and taciturn but entirely readable — he barely moves a facial muscle but you can sense what he’s feeling and struggling with and is scared of at every turn. As minimalist performances go it’s masterful — right up there with Steve McQueen‘s Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles and Kristin Scott Thomas‘s acting in I’ve Loved You So Long.
I’ve relentlessly shared enthusiasm for the idea of Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma, which will almost certainly debut at the Venice and Telluride festivals, or about ten weeks hence. (As well as Toronto in mid-September.)
Roma is Cuaron’s first film since Gravity, which debuted six years ago. The only 2018 film that even begins to sound like serious Best Picture rocket fuel, as in allegedly “beyond great” (i.e., a second-hand quote from a publicist who saw it). A Spanish-language film, yes, and digitally shot in radiant black-and-white. A year in the life of a middle-class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s, more specifically about the Corpus Christi Massacre of 6.10.71.
Team Roma will launch a balls-out, take-no-prisoners Best Picture campaign, as well as (I’m hearing) a Best Supporting Actress campaign for Marina De Tavira, a 44 year-old actress who apparently plays the maternal heart and soul of said middle-class family.
Will the Netflix factor (i.e., the company’s reluctance to commit to a serious theatrical exposure prior to streaming) get in the way? Ask the Mudbound people who managed four Oscar noms last year (Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Song). So probably not.
What about the foreign-language factor? Michael Haneke‘s Amour was Best Picture nominated six years ago so why not Roma? I’m presuming that, like Amour, Roma will aim for simultaneous Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Feature noms.
Remember when Buzz Gunderson (Corey Allen) explained the knife-fight rules to Jim Stark (James Dean) in Nicholas Ray‘s Rebel Without A Cause? “Now there’s no stabbing,” Buzz said. “Just a little sticking.”
A half day ago Rolling Stone published “The Trouble With Johnny Depp“, which is subtitled “Multimillion-dollar lawsuits, a haze of booze and hash, a marriage gone very wrong and a lifestyle he can’t afford — inside the trials of Johnny Depp.” It was written by the smooth and silky Stephen Rodrick. Less than exacting but a hugely skilled writer, Rodrick is no assassin. But he likes to “stick” his subjects with little cuts.
I know because he profiled me in a 2009 Los Angeles piece titled “the Blog Whisperers.” He implied something that struck me as unfair, and there were three or four inaccuracies. Rodrick also stuck it to Bill Maher, slightly, in a 2017 Esquire profile.
I could’ve told Depp to watch out before agreeing to Rodrick visiting his home in London. I’m not suggesting Rodrick hasn’t reported exactly what he saw and heard. Depp is almost certainly the louche, vaguely ruined fellow described in the piece, a guy who lives in his own psychological realm and who slurps red wine like it’s going out of style.
I love this early passage:
“Depp is dressed like a Forties gangster, jet-black hair slicked back, pinstripes, suspenders and spats. His face is puffy, but Depp still possesses the fixating brown eyes that have toggled between dreamy and menacing during his 35-year career.” Technically 34 years — Deep’s first film was Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street (’84), made when he was 20.
“‘So are you here to hear the truth?’ asks Depp as [his chef] Russell brings him a glass of vintage red wine. ‘It’s full of betrayal.’
“We move to the dining room for a three-course meal of pad thai, duck and gingerbread with berries. Depp sits at the head of the table and motions toward some rolling papers and two equal piles of tobacco and hash, and asks if I mind. I don’t. He pauses for a second. ‘Well, let’s drink some wine first.’
“This goes on for 72 hours.
If you search Rotten Tomatoes for “Cold War,” you’ll find seven titles. But there is only one Cold War — the latest Pawel Pawlikowski masterpiece, destined to win the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar, HE’s favorite Cannes film by a country mile. Jewel-perfect, exquisitely photographed, tight as a drum.
Amazon will release Cold War on 12.21.
5.19 HE blurb: “Cold War is so perfectly composed, a masterwork on every level. Pawlikowski’s story-telling instincts couldn’t be more eloquent or understated. Every plot point is always conveyed in the most discreet and understated terms, but you’ll never miss a trick. And the economy! A story that spans 15 year sis handled within 84 minutes, and you never sense that you’re being rushed along.”
On 6.2.18 I posted my latest best-of-2018 piece — i.e., “Ten Serious Winners.” I was restricting myself to films that have commercially opened. If I were to include the Cannes entries, my list would read as follows: Cold War, First Reformed, Hereditary, A Quiet Place, The King, You Were Never Really Here, Filmworker, Happy as Lazzaro.
A 5.23.19 IMDB comment from “Lucywalkercats“: “There is perhaps no greater example in recent memory of a film that so successfully makes the political personal and vice versa. It is moving without ever once feeling contrived. This deserves the next Foreign Film Oscar by a longshot.”
I’ve posted a few times about Matt Tyrnauer‘s Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (Greenwich, 7.27), a 98-minute doc about Scotty Bowers, the amiable, formerly unsung go-between who wrote about servicing Hollywood’s gay and bisexual community during the ’40s, ’50s and beyond. His six-year-old memoir is called “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.”
I will once again share what I came to believe during the watching of it, which is that Bowers, whose tell-all book has been challenged and mocked and who’s been described here and there as highly imaginative, isn’t lying about anything.
For most of Tyrnauer’s surprisingly intimate, low-key, non-gossipy film is about old Scotty — a 90something, white-haired pack rat who owns two or three homes in the Hollywood hills and lives with a good-natured, seen-and-heard-it-all wife who loves him — and only intermittently about the mostly gay and bi movie stars and celebrities (Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Walter Pidgeon, Vivien Leigh, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, Katharine Hepburn, Noël Coward, James Dean) who regarded Scotty as a trusted pimp and pleasure-giver who could and did set them up with same-sex lovers.
After studying Bowers for 98 minutes and listening to him talk about how terrifying things were for gay and bi actors in the intensely homophobic big-studio era, and considering the affection he has for his old gay friends and the strong feelings and immense respect they have for him…after the film is over you’ll probably be convinced, as I was, that Scotty is no bullshitter.
Next week Fox Home Entertainment’s Schawn Belston and James Finn are presenting a special 70mm screening of James Cameron‘s The Abyss (’89). I asked if they’re showing the original 140-minute theatrical version or the 171-minute special edition (i.e., the version that ends with shots of huge tidal waves) — no answer thus far.
I began to recall The Abyss in detail after receiving the invite. I can’t attend due to a screening conflict (the Sicario: Day of the Soldado all-media in Burbank) but even if I could I’m not sure I’d be all that enthused. It’s been 29 years, but I have two strong recollections: (a) The first two thirds are fairly riveting but (b) the last third drops the ball, especially when Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio is brought back to life by Ed Harris after clearly drowning, and especially that dippy ending with the aquatic alien butterflies.
There’s never been a Bluray of either version of The Abyss, and you can’t stream them in high-def. Abyss Wikipage: “In July 2016, while promoting the 30th anniversary Bluray release of Aliens at Comic-Con, Cameron confirmed that he was working on a remastered 4K transfer of The Abyss and that it would be released on Bluray for the first time in early 2017. ‘We’ve done a wet-gate 4K scan of the original negative, and it’s going to look insanely good,’ Cameron said.” Okay, but something kept this from happening.
The main thing about Eugene Jarecki‘s The King is that it’s less of a “rise and fall of Elvis” film than a meditative road-trip essay about the cultural decline of the U.S. of A. over the last…oh, call it 60 years. But with doses of music and feeling and irony and currents of straight talk. It’s a stirring musical sermon. How did we get here? Then vs. now. The bloat, the denial, the loathing…a nation arguably more at war with itself than at any time since the Civil War. Paul Simon rewrite: “We’re empty and aching and don’t know why.”
Well, actually we do. The same forces that gradually enveloped that young and jumpy Memphis rocker who exploded in the South in ’55 and then nationally in 1956 with a blend of rockabilly and white-boy soul…the musical-spiritual aura that defined him gradually dispersed, and then selling out became the be-all, the chimes of irrelevance…shitty movies, Las Vegas gigs instead of touring the country, Dr. Feelgood medication, endlessly beholden to Colonel Tom Parker, huddling with the Memphis mafia behind Graceland gates. A flamboyant, increasingly perverse, go-for-the-dough lifestyle that pretty much drained and ate him.
13 year-old country blues singer Emi Sunshine, who takes a ride in Elvis’s silver Rolls Royce and sings some tunes in Jarecki’s doc, and Mr. Jarecki himself — Tuesday, 3.6, following screening at UTA.
It can’t hurt to repost the official synopsis: “A musical road trip across America that explores how a country boy lost his authenticity and became a king while his country lost its democracy and became an empire.” 27 words. Marketers would say trim it down. “A half-musical, all-visual poem about how the Las Vegas aesthetic swallowed America in the same way it swallowed Elvis Presley.” Still too long?
As noted everywhere, The King itself was trimmed after its world debut at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, when it ran 117 minutes. Now it’s around 97.
My first viewing of The King happened three and a half months ago inside United Talent Agency headquarters. In a HE piece that posted on 3.6 (“King of Drain“), I said I was “pretty close to knocked out — touched and shaken to the depths of whatever — and I’ll eat my black Kenneth Cole desert boots if it doesn’t become a Best Feature Documentary nominee next January. It’s that good, that bell-ringy, that profound.”
Now the hour is nigh — The King (Oscilloscope) opens on 6.22.
The King isn’t the least bit grim or draining or forlorn — as you watch there’s a feeling that all the cultural threads and fibres have been woven just so. Not an Elvis doc, not an Elvis doc, not an Elvis doc…but a telling of his story (which most of us know backwards and forwards) in a way that expands and deepens and makes you lean forward.
Every talking head has two or three sage things to say: Greil Marcus, James Carville, Chuck D, Alec Baldwin, Roseanne Cash, Ethan Hawke, Emmylou Harris, Van Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Mike Myers, Dan Rather, Luc Sante, David Simon, Linda Thompson. My favorites are Hawke, Jones and Public Enemy’s Chuck D.
I was actually a tiny bit sorry when The King ended.
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.
“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.”
Billy Crystal is alive and crackling as we speak, obviously, but there’s no denying he had a great run in the early ’90s. A five-year period from ’89 to ’93, specifically. When Harry Met Sally… (’89) kicked things off. The came the near-great. enormously well-liked City Slickers (’91), which opened right smack dab in the middle of Crystal’s four-year-run as the Oscar host (’90 to ’93), which cemented his top-of-the-worldness. (Crystal also Oscar-hosted in ’97, ’98, ’00, ’04 and ’12.)
Things slightly downshifted for Crystal over the next five or six years — City Slickers 2, Mr. Saturday Night, Forget Paris, Hamlet, Deconstructing Harry, Fathers’ Day, My Giant. But he rebounded big-time with Harold Ramis‘s Analyze This (’99). Then he directed ’61, which I re-watched recently and has aged very well. And then he delivered a beautiful eulogy for Muhammud Ali two years ago. And he’s got the book. But the early ’90s!
I’d honestly forgotten that 10-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal played Crystal’s son, Danny, in City Slickers.
From Philip Lopate’s N.Y. Review of Books essay on Joseph McBride‘s “How Did Lubitsch Do It?” (Columbia University Press, 561 pp., $40.00): “McBride has set out to write not a biography (no need for that, since Scott Eyman’s ‘Laughter in Paradise’ is so satisfying) but an in-depth ‘essayistic investigation’ of the entire oeuvre. What has been lacking until this critical study has been a sustained, systematic, fully integrated overview of both Lubitsch’s German and American work. Without seeing his career as a single, unified whole, it cannot be fully understood or appreciated.”
Excerpt from “The Masters’ Master: Ernst Lubitsch and The Marriage Circle,” a McBride essay posted on brightlights.com, itself excerpted from “How Did Lubitsch Do It?”: “The name Ernst Lubitsch stood for the epitome of sophisticated humor and romance in what we now regard as the Golden Age of Hollywood. As fellow producer/director Mervyn LeRoy said when presenting him with an honorary Oscar on March 13, 1947, seven months before Lubitsch’s death, ‘He had an adult mind and a hatred of saying things the obvious way. Because of these qualities and a God-given genius, he advanced the technique of screen comedy as no one else has ever done.”
“[The German-born helmer’s] approach to style and theme was widely celebrated as ‘the Lubitsch Touch,’ a virtually indefinable yet almost tangible concept embodying an ever-fresh, delightful, tantalizing, slyly witty blend of style and substance. It combines a characteristic joie de vivre in the actors with an elegant visual design that conveys its meanings largely through sophisticated innuendo.
“But the phrase was something of a marketing cliché, like calling Hitchcock ‘the Master of Suspense,’ and Lubitsch himself was apt to joke about it. When people would ask him what it meant, he would say with a grin, ‘I would like to know myself…you find out and tell me, maybe?’ And he said, ‘I cannot give you a definitive answer because, fortunately, I’m not conscious of it. If I ever become conscious of it — Heaven prevent — I might lose it.’”