While I have concerns about aspects of Michael Hoffman‘s The Last Station (Sony Classics, 12.4), I certainly understand and agree with the Helen Mirren-for-Best Actress thing. Her performance as Sofya Tolstoy is a little florid, but I think that’s appropriate given who and what she is and what she’s up against. Her spirit is infectious, intxoicating.
The long-awaited Bluray of Michael Mann‘s Heat (Warner Home Video, 11.10) lacks that Bluray schwing. Here I am sounding like a plebian again, but dammit, you buy a Bluray version of a film you already own on DVD because you want enhancement — something with finer detail, more color gradation, sharper focus — a more robust pop-through quality. That’s what you pay for, right?
Diane Venora, Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s Heat.
The Heat Bluray offers a slight sense of enhancement, okay, but there’s nothing all that “extra” about it. The instant I popped it in last night I said to myself, “Oh…this again.” That’s because it looks almost exactly the same on my 42-inch plasma as the Heat Special Edition DVD looked on my 36″ Sony analog back in West Hollywood.
If I didn’t understand and respect what Mann has approved here — he wants a theatrical look and/or doesn’t believe in tweaking what a film looked like to begin with — and if I was in a pissy-type mood, I’d call this Bluray a bit of a burn.
As DVD Beaver’s Gary Tooze puts in his just-up review, “The Heat Blu-ray presentation “is significantly ahead of the DVD counterparts but doesn’t exhibit the demonstrative depth and detail that many have come to expect from this new format.”
The Heat Bluray is a very handsome and honest presentation of how the movie looked on the big screen under the finest of circumstances. There’s obviously nothing “wrong” with that — shot on film, looks like film, etc. I guess I’m just a Blanche Dubois type where Blurays are concerned — “I don’t want realism, I want magic!”
You know what does look significantly enhanced and more visually exciting than its previous DVD version? The Planes, Trains & Automobiles “Those Aren’t Pillows!” special edition DVD that came out on 10.20. I know the previous DVD very well and this, played on my 42-inch plasma, looks very nice. And it’s not even a Bluray.
So in a Pepsi-challenge battle with the Heat Bluray, PTA wins. I’m sorry, but it’s more pleasing to the eye.
I read Armond White‘s absolute corker of a Precious review yesterday afternoon as I was rushing to the L train and a 5 pm appointment in town, etc. I knew it would be all the online rage and of course it is that now, but everyone knew that White-the-contrarian would go for the kill on this one, especially with the Oprah Winfrey connection. Is White regarded as such a kneejerk trasher of popular liberal-minded entertainments that the spectre of a brilliant African-American critic obliterating Precious won’t count? I wonder.
“Shame on Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey for signing on as air-quote executive producers of Precious,” he began. “After this post-hip-hop freak show wowed Sundance last January, it now slouches toward Oscar ratification thanks to its powerful friends.Winfrey and Perry had no hand in the actual production of Precious, yet the movie must have touched some sore spot in their demagogue psyches.
“They’ve piggybacked their reps as black success stories hoping to camouflage Precious‘ con job — even though it’s more scandalous than their own upliftment trade. Perry and Winfrey naively treat Precious‘ exhibition of ghetto tragedy and female disempowerment as if it were raw truth. It helps contrast and highlight their achievements as black American paradigms — self-respect be damned.
“Precious is meant to be enjoyed as a Lady Bountiful charity event. And look: Oprah,TV’s Lady Bountiful, joins the bandwagon. It continues her abusefetish and self-help nostrums (though the scene where Precious carries her baby past a “Spay and Neuter Your Pets” sign is sick).
“Problem is, Perry,Winfrey and director Lee Daniels‘ pityparty bait-and-switches our social priorities.
“Personal pathology gets changed into a melodrama of celebrity-endorsed self-pity. The con artists behind Precious seize this Obama moment in which racial anxiety can be used to signify anything anybody can stretch it to mean. And Daniels needs this humorless condescension (Hollywood’s version of benign neglect) to obscure his lurid purposes.
“Sadly, Mike Leigh‘s emotionally exact and socially perceptive films (Secrets and Lies, All or Nothing, Happy Go Lucky) that answer contemporary miserablism with genuine social and spiritual insight have not penetrated Daniels,Winfrey, Perry’s consciousness — nor of the Oscarheads now championing Precious. They’ve also ignored Jonathan Demme‘s moving treatment of the lingering personal and communal tragedy of slavery in Beloved.
“Both Leigh and Demme understand the spiritual challenges to despair and their richly detailed performances testify to that fact. Gabby Sidibe and Mo’Nique give two-note performances: dumb and innocent, crazy and evil. Monique’s do-rag doesn’t convey depths within herself, nor does Mariah Carey‘s fright wig. Daniels’ cast lacks that uncanny mix of love and threat that makes Next Day Air so August Wilson-authentic.
“Worse than Precious itself was the ordeal of watching it with an audience full of patronizing white folk at the New York Film Festival, then enduring its media hoodwink as a credible depiction of black American life. A scene such as the hippopotamus-like teenager climbing a K-2 incline of tenement stairs to present her newborn, incest-bred baby to her unhinged virago matriarch, might have been met howls of skeptical laughter at Harlem’s Magic Johnson theater.
“Black audiences would surely have seen the comedy in this ludicrous, overloaded situation, whereas too many white film habitues casually enjoy it for the sense of superiority — and relief — it allows them to feel. Some people like being conned.”
One awfully nice thing about pets is that you don’t have to look your best for them. They’ll take you with your hair combed or scattered, pants on or pants off, showered or not, with or without a manicure. They’ll put out the same you-and-me-forever vibe as long as you’re mellow and affectionate and put food on the plate. And they won’t walk into the room and say, “I’m really sorry but I just met this cat lover in the other building who makes me feel more secure.”
Aura — Thursday, 11.5, 11:05 am.
In a brief 11.5 riff about the Weinstein Co.’s poster for Tom Ford‘s A Single Man, In Contention‘s Guy Lodge wrote, “Call me cynical, but are they trying to hide the fact that it’s about a gay man?” Gee, I don’t know…maybe? Movie Marketing 101 says that you always conceal or downplay the gay element contained in any film, whether it be in the story or lead character or whatever. The Weinsteiners did the usual thing.
But it’s surprising that they didn’t try and convey the film’s selling point, which for me is its sense of taste and restraint, a feeling of early ’60s elegance, an extravagant and yet muted visual mood. A Single Man is about a gay man, sure, but more precisely about a sad and spiritually deflated one, and while it pulsates with a certain high-toned homoeroticism, it’s really more about rediscovering a yen for life — that sense of want, expectation and delectation that keeps us all going.
I would have tried for a kind of Michelangelo Antonioni vibe if I’d designed the poster. An image that would have suggested a film that delivers a gently classy atmosphere that doesn’t “hide” the gayish current as much as make it palatable and intriguing for viewers of all persuasions.
I was thinking to myself as I walked along First Avenue in the East Village last night that I really love walking around Manhattan. (As long as it’s not windy or bitter cold, I mean.) And it hit me that if you’re not feeling really happy about the relatively routine aspects of your life — about the simple joys of being alive and healthy and mobile and being able to dodge a cab at the last millisecond — then you’re missing something very basic.
Too many people look to highs and crescendos and big career accomplishments in life as the primary definers of happiness or fulfillment. I’ve just been through a stirring and delicious adventure with a beautiful blonde over the past month or so — definitely one for the record books. But I honestly felt more spiritual satisfaction last night on First Avenue than from anything that came out of the hormonal and spiritual intensity of the last four weeks. It’s not the riding of the great waves that matters the most (and I’m saying this as not just a lover of breathtaking women but also boogie-board surfing) — it’s the way you feel as you’re sitting on the beach and watching the waves at sunset, right before you roll up the towel and head for the car.
This feeling of serenity and contentment is what A Single Man puts across at the very end, and it’s really quite wonderful.
On 10.29 I expressed regret at not being in Los Angeles this month in order to catch American Film Market screenings of Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg and Sofia Coppola‘s Somewhere, which New Yorker columnist Richard Brody had claimed would be showing there based on a Variety ad. It turns out this was a wrongo — neither film will be showing at the AFM. Now I feel less deprived.
Now that the World Series is over and the N.Y. Yankees are world champions (first time since 2000, 27 wins overall), I feel free to ask a question I’ve had on my mind since the series began: why do so many baseball players these days have the bodies of linebackers? What happened to the concept of pitchers and catchers and shortstoppers being relatively trim and, well, athletic-looking?
N.Y. Yankees pitcher Carsten Charles Sabathia
I’ve been looking at pitchers the last few days who almost look like sumo wrestlers trying to lose weight. Seriously, half of today’s players look like Babe Ruth, and he used to be a total stand-out in his era — the swaggering, jowly-faced slugger with a big pot belly. Nobody looked like that in the old days except the Babe. And yet some of today’s players make Ruth’s physique seem relatively contained.
All I know is that once upon a time they all used to look like Lou Gehrig or Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford or Reggie Jackson or Don Mattingly or Derek Jeter. Guys who didn’t exactly have lithe Olympic-swimmer bodies but who at least seemed to have the ability to show restraint when they ate.
When I played softball as a kid we’d make fun of a kid named Brendan McCran, who had portly tendencies. We used to call him “the fatter batter.” This wouldn’t happen today because Brendan-sized kids and professional players have become the norm.
It’s the culture and the fatty foods out there, of course, and the fact that most American males are fat or least seriously beefy-looking. Outside of aesthetes and fat-recoil types like myself we’ve all come to accept bulk and girth as the social/cultural norm, and bit by bit this has crept into professional baseball culture, and now it’s almost gotten to a stage in which the average player looks like early-SCTV-era John Candy or Dan Blocker (i.e., “Hoss”) from Bonanza.
John Goodman as Babe Ruth
It takes a non-baseball fan like myself, a guy who might go to a game every two or three years (I love sitting alongside the third- or first-base lines and smelling the earth and the damp grass) and who only watches baseball games during the World Series to stand and notice stuff like this. The regular fans don’t say anything about lardbucket players because they’ve slowly been conditioned and made the adjustment. But I remember and I know. Baseball players used to be guys who looked like they were in some kind of shape. Obviously Alex Rodriguez looks fine, but you’ve got tons of barrel-gut types out on the diamond these days. You can’t tell me I’m wrong.
Side-issue: I also don’t like the way everyone seems to have dropped the high-sock, calf-leg, knee-britches thing that baseball players wore for decades. Now they just wear these droopy, dopey-looking pants that look like pajama bottoms. What are they going for, comfort? No flair or sense of style. (Again — this is from someone who doesn’t watch baseball all that much. I realize this has been more or less the norm for years.)