Listen to this “Old Jews Telling Jokes” guy, Larry Greenfield, take a whack at the old lumberjack joke, and then watch Warren Beatty tell it in Reds. A joke is the most delicate thing in the world. If you don’t tell it exactly right (and I mean with exactly the right attitude and timing and pace), it dies.
It’s nice to hear admiring words about Up In The Air from Indiewire’s Reel Geezers. Because supportive words about Jason Reitman‘s film have been scarce in my circle over the last ten or twelve days. It’s locked, of course, for a Best Picture nomination and there’s also the 90%/91% Rotten Tomatoes rating, but in conversation after conversation I’ve been hearing “overhyped,” “good but not great,” “won’t win Best Picture Oscar” and so on.
I’ve already mentioned the Avatar-rising-as-UITA-falls equation, but something else has been happening — I can feel it. UITA keeps getting diminished or knocked down every time it comes up in conversation. At least as far as people saying it can’t and won’t win the Best Picture Oscar. It doesn’t have to win, of course — what matters is what it is and seeing it for that. But as a major fan who has believed since last September that the odds greatly favored UITA winning, I’m feeling a little bit shocked that this vibe seems to have dissipated like that — that things have turned around so abruptly.
I know that guys like screenwriter William Goldman (whom I spoke to briefly at the UITA party at 21) admire it tremendously, and I recognize that maybe I’m just talking to too many sourpusses. Am I?
Can you imagine being on your death bed, as legendary critic and essayist Robin Wood was recently, and being suddenly seized by an urge to name your top all-time films, and as a friend sits down by the bed with a pad and pen, you sit up slightly and say, for openers, “Top of the list…my all-time favorite…Rio Bravo.”
What is that? You’re about to leave the earth and meet the monolith and the greatest film you can think of is Rio Bravo? A zero-story-tension hangin’ movie that constantly subjects viewers to screechy-voiced Walter Brennan, and which features the very soft-spoken, adolescent-voiced Ricky Nelson singing a duet with Dean Martin?
If Wood is listening from his side of the cosmic fence, let me try explaining this one more time. (I explained it in full on 7.27.07.) Rio Bravo, which I’m moderately okay with, doesn’t hold a candle to High Noon, which is more or less the same film — about a lawman facing up to bad guys who will kill him if he doesn’t arrest or kill them first.
The reason is that High Noon is about facing very tough odds alone, and how you can’t finally trust anyone but yourself because most of your “friends” and neighbors will equivocate or desert you when the going gets tough. That’s reality, while Rio Bravo is a nice dream about standing up to evil with your flawed but loyal homies and nourishing their souls in the bargain — about doing what you can to help them become better men.
High Noon doesn’t need help. It’s about solitude, values…four o’clock in the morning courage. Whereas the action in Rio Bravo is basically about the homies pitching in to help an alcoholic (Dean Martin) get straight and reclaim his self-respect. And about Chance (John Wayne) working up the courage to tell Feathers (Angie Dickinson) that he loves and wants her.
We’d all like to have loyal supportive friends by our side, but honestly, which represents the more realistic view of human nature? The more admirable?
Wood chose Rio Bravo, I suspect, because he was facing the void and he wanted warmth in his heart — he wanted to feel closer to others and selected a film that has always made him feel this. He chose a community solidarity film over a solitary strength film.
A very comforting Christmas Eve service at All Souls church on Lexington and 79th — 12.24.09, 7:25 pm. The choir, I’m told, is composed of professionals, and their singing was awesome. It was like watching a Christmas pagent produced by Broadway’s finest. Only in New York.
The Sherlock Homes of literary legend “has never been much for physical violence,” says NY Times critic A.O. Scott. And Guy Ritchie, director of the corporation-serving, would-be tentpole movie Sherlock Homes, has never been much for “intelligence [in terms of his] interests or attributes as a filmmaker.” But here the twain meets…synergy!
“The chief innovation of this new, franchise-ready incarnation is that Robert Downey, Jr.‘s Holmes is, in addition to everything else, a brawling, head-butting, fist-in-the-gut, knee-in-the-groin action hero. In this vein Sherlock Holmes is kind of cool” and “intermittently diverting…but that’s not really a compliment.
“The visual style — a smoky, greasy, steam-punk rendering of Victorian London, full of soot and guts and bad teeth and period clothes — shows some undeniable flair. And so do the kinetic chases and scrapes that lead us through the city, as Holmes and his pal Watson (Jude Law) scramble to unravel a conspiracy so diabolical that it fails to be interesting.
“It seems that an evil aristocrat (Mark Strong), executed for a series of murders, returns from the dead to mobilize an ancient secret society that he may have time-traveled into a Dan Brown novel to learn about. Doesn’t that sound fascinating? I thought not.
“But there will be a sequel, for which this frantic, harmless movie serves as an extended teaser, and it looks as if it might feature Holmes’s literary archnemesis, Professor Moriarty. No doubt Holmes will break a chair over Moriarty’s head, kidney-punch him and kick him in the face. Wittily, though, like the great detective he is.”
HE is wishing everyone a serene and soothing time on this, the ninth Christmas Day of the 21st Century. Not that I really buy into the holiday. Okay, I do buy into it in a sort of in-and-out, half-assed way. I just don’t like all the stores being closed and that On The Beach absence-of-humanity feeling on the streets. And all that sitting around and binge-eating and sipping of fatty holiday drinks.
Dylan and Jett Wells — 12.24.09, 9:55 pm.
The boys and I are attending a gathering today at a good friend’s home. Sit back, settle down, exhale and cherish the good things — I can go there, do that.