Jimmy Kimmel wasn’t too bad at the White House Correspondents Dinner, I thought. Okay, some of the material didn’t work but the sum of the parts hardly constituted a “flatline,” as Deadline‘s Dominic Patten described it. President Obama, less but far from anyone’s idea of a wipe-out.
Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel‘s The Five-Year Engagement is a tank…a dead manatee. Yesterday it earned a lousy $3.4 million in 2,936 situations, averaging $1158 per screen. That forecasts a $10 million weekend haul, or about 50% of what Universal, its distributor, was looking for.
So what happened? Was it the prospect of sitting through a relationship that never goes anywhere and just kind of flounders around? Was it the Jason-Segel-isn’t-a-star factor, or should I leave that one alone? Does this hurt Segel and costar Emily Blunt, or was it just the so-whatter concept or…?
This Sunset Strip footage, shot around 1948 or ’49, is mainly of the Sunset Plaza area. Commercially restrained, to say the least. None of the riff-raff atmosphere of 2012, or of ’92 or ’82 for that matter. The traffic isn’t anywhere near as congested as it is today. And those cars! And that young dark-haired girl (who’s either dead or in her 80s right now) crossing the street. 16mm footage is relatively smooth, probably shot with a tripod.
“It’s hard to say whether Sound of My Voice is a wholly bogus and pretentious indie enterprise or a weirdly compelling bit of low-budget storytelling,” writes Movieline‘s Stephanie Zacharek, an obviously bright critic and a fine writer whom I don’t trust any more. “Probably it’s a little of both — this is the kind of picture that may often make you snort audibly, even as you’re wondering how the heck it’s going to resolve itself.
“And ultimately, even if the payoff isn’t quite what it should be, the picture leaves a faint chill in its wake. You probably won’t feel totally shafted for sticking with it — maybe just a little punk’d.”
Incidentally: I really don’t like to watch people eating. A shot of somebody slipping or stuffing any sort of prepared food into their mouth pretty much ruins any idea I might have at the moment to eat or sample something. And my skin positively crawls when I watch someone applyiing pate or some exotic spread to a cracker of some kind and then popping it into their mouth.
Alfred Hitchcock‘s Dial M For Murder may well have been composed so that 1.85 projections would look presentable, but that doesn’t mean that a 1.78 or 1.85 version will look better than the basic and very pleasing boxy proportion that people have been watching for decades.
I’ve been examining Dial M for Murder all my life at 1.33 or 1.37. I saw it in 1.33 or 1.37 3D at the Eighth Street Playhouse in the West Village in the early ’80s. And the compositions and framings were and are entirely satisfactory and didn’t need to have their tops and buttons CHOPPED OFF WITH A MEAT CLEAVER.
The 1.78 or 1.85 a.r. on the Dial M For Murder Bluray was favored because of one reason only — because this a.r. conforms to the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of high-def flat panels. The people who made this call were nothing but a FASCIST REVISIONIST GANG.
“We have a vision,” their manifesto reads. ‘A vision of all films shot from the early ’50s to mid ’60s with their tops and bottoms CHOPPED OFF, and we will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. Because of 16 x 9 high-def screens, we are committed to killing visual information. And we will succeed because we have the factual data and research to back up the assertion that these films were shot to be shown at 1.85, but could also be shown at 1.33 or 1.37 for purist film buff screenings and for television airings and VHS and DVD versions.
“Repeat after us: WE HAVE A VISION, and it is about KILLING VISUAL INFORMATION by slicing off the tops and bottoms of films.”
These films look completely fine and have much more breathing space at 1.33 or 1.37 and in fact are VISUALLY PREFERRED this way by the Movie Godz and all good men of taste and conscience.
I feel like Gregory Peck‘s Captain Ahab at the end of Moby Dick: “Oh, damn thee, 1.85 aspect-ratio fascists! To the last I grapple with thee. From hell’s heart I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee!”
It’s been suggested (but not confirmed) by HE reader Pete Apruzzese that the 1.85 fascists may have their way with a possibly forthcoming Bluray of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Dial M For Murder. I’ve seen this talky 1953 drama, which was originally shot in 3D, countless times on broadcast TV, VHS, DVD and theatrically, and each and every time at 1.33 or 1.37. But Warner Home Video may — I say “may” — have chosen to present its forthcoming Bluray at 1.78 in order to conform to 16 x 9 screens.
Apruzzese has tirelessly and tediously pointed out that in 1953 the studios, terrified by the threat of television, decreed that all standard Academy ratio films shot in 1.33 would henceforth would be shot or framed so that they would look presentable at 1.85, and that 1.85 would henceforth be the going thing because it looks wider than television and blah, blah. That’s true as far as it goes but…
The exceptions to 1.85 croppings in the mid ’50s to mid ’60s — 1.66 presentations, I mean, as well as perfectly pleasing 1.33 or 1.37 renderings on VHS and DVD — are too numerous to even mention in condensed form, but the fact is that the decision to present films of this era in either 1.78 or 1.85 aspect ratios is simply an accomodation (some would say a capitulation) to the fact that high-def screens are 16 x 9 and that 1.78 or 1.85 films fully occupy these screens, and that 1.33 or 1.37 do not. The primitives out there want every inch of their flatscreen TVs utilized, and the home video companies, terrified of their shrinking market share, are complying.
DVD Beaver‘s Gary W. Tooze reported six years ago that a British PAL Hitchcock box set, assembled by Warner Home Video, contained a 1.85 or 1.78 version of Dial M For Murder. “Many Hitchcock films were composed for both framings and projected theatrically in the US at 1.85:1,” Tooze notes. “As suspected this PAL edition is indeed cropped from 1.33 to 1.85:1, although it has slightly more horizontal information than the R1 transfer. Strange decision to transfer in opposition to the Region 1 [version]!”
A few hours ago I explained to Apruzzese that Dial M for Murder 3D “has always been shown at 1.33. If it’s going to be presented in a 1.78 a.r. on Bluray, it’s because the 1.85 and 1.78 fascist gang has muscled the home video community into thinking this way. Congrats on mauling another 1.33 film for no good reason other than arrogance.”
[For whatever idiotic technical reason, the jump page on this story refuses to appear when the story has been posted in full. So I’m breaking it into two chunks — part 2 in the next post.]
I’m flying to Berlin next Thursday and hanging there nine or ten days before heading down to the Cannes Film Festival so I haven’t much time to see Dark Shadows. It has to be Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m currently pleading my case so we’ll see. If they refuse to budge I can see it at a commercial cinema in Belgium on 5.9 or in Berlin on 5.10, or a day before it opens in the States.
I was never much of a baseball fan, but even I knew a little bit about Bill “Moose” Skowron, the slugger and first baseman who peaked from the mid ’50s to early ’60s with the N.Y. Yankees. But I never really knew his batting or fielding record — I just knew his name. For Moose Skowron has to be one of the great baseball names of all time, right up there with Goose Gossage, Miller Huggins, Ty Cobb, Bobo Rivera, Ryne Duren, Yogi Berra, Hoyt Wilhelm, Duke Snider and Mookie Wilson.
These were baseball names, gentlemen. Of their batting averages and RBIs, I cannot say or even be bothered to research. But I know the sound of a great name, and when you added “Moose Skowron” to those line drives and homers and those big shoulders, those intense, close-set eyes and that hulking forehead and all the rest of it, you had a real baseball player.
“Moose” was a childhood nickname that didn’t come from young Skowron resembling or suggesting the physique of a moose, but because his head was shaved as a young kid and his friends thought he looked like Benito Mussolini. By the same standard the guy who co-founded Musso & Franks could also be called “moose” if his head had been shaved as a kid. And the little girls who palled around with Rene Russo when she was seven and eight could have called her “roose.”
Moose Skowron died today at age 81 at his home in Liberty Heights, illinois.
I’m sorry because I don’t like to get out the whip when there’s no need, but this is what I wrote last September after seeing Bruce Beresford‘s Love, Peace and Misunderstanding (IFCFllms, 6.8) at the Toronto Film Festival:
“If you’ve ever been stuck in some hippy-dippy atmosphere or environment that you couldn’t escape from…if you’ve ever been more or less forced to spend time with graying, balding, pot-bellied, granola-slurping doobie-tokers…a prisoner of smiling people dressed in Mexican peasant shirts and sandals and beads and easy-fit jeans who won’t stop speaking in ’60s psycho-babble platitudes…if you’ve ever had to suffer this way, as I have once or twice over within the past 15 or 20 years, then Bruce Beresford‘s Love, Peace and Misunderstanding will bring it all back home.
“It’s pretty close to excruciating. How could the director of Breaker Morant and Tender Mercies make something like this? How could Jane Fonda, so bright and brilliant and transporting in B’way’s 33 Variations, give such an oppressively banal, cliche-spouting performance as an aging hippie grandma?
“The script is by Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, and if I was an actor those names alone would scare me off.
“The only actor who comes through unscathed is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays a local carpenter-musician who falls for Fonda’s uptight daughter, played by Catherine Keener. Morgan brings his own alpha force field to the game. It’s not that Elizabeth Olsen and Chace Crawford, who play Keener’s children, are painful to watch but they give off a vibe of feeling vaguely trapped, which is how I more or less felt as I watched it.
“I talked to the son of a critic friend as I left, and he said ‘that might be the worst film I’ve ever seen.'”
It’s pleasing to note that Richard Linklater‘s Bernie, which I liked even more after catching it a second time, is doing reasonably well with critics — 77% on Rotten Tomatoes and 73% on Metacritc. Some have issues because it’s not any one thing — not a comedy or a study of bizarre closeted psychology or a straight murder-in-a-small-town tale, but all these things and more. And Linklater’s direction is so clean and true and precise. It’s a dark but amiable delight.
And as I noted nine or ten days ago, Bernie says something about human nature that everyone will recognize as rock solid when and if they see it. Which is basically that feelings and likability rule, that Americans trust beliefs more than facts, and that we’re governed less by laws than emotions. You can say “yeah, I know that without seeing a film” but the observation sinks in extra-deep after hanging with Richard and Bernie.
Linklater based this half-drama and half-odd duck comedy on a true story by Skip Hollandsworth that appeared 14 years ago in Texas Monthly. It was about a story that occured in the ’90s in Carthage, a nice little pine-tree town in East Texas.
Jack Black‘s Bernie is a sweet, impeccably mannered mortician who’s much loved by the townfolk, and Shirley MacLaine is Marjorie, a rich, miserable, foul-mannered and acutely disliked woman whom generous-hearted Bernie becomes special friends with, and then her employee and then her travelling companion on trips to Europe and such.
He likes her money, of course, but even gracious and super-patient Bernie can’t quite handle her temperamental personality. He abruptly loses it one day and shoots her four times in the back, and then stuffs her body in a freezer in Marjorie’s garage because he hasn’t the heart to bury her or otherwise hide the body.
Bernie is eventually found out and tried and convicted, but it struck me that his crime is roughly the same crime of passion (or temper) that Ben Gazzara was tried for in Otto Preminger‘s Anatomy of a Murder. The difference is that Gazzara’s Lieutenant Manion is found not guilty because the jury accepted a temporary insanity defense urged by attorney James Stewart.
The specific scenario was that Manion was seized by an irresistible impulse to shoot Barney Quill, a tavern owner who had raped Manion’s wife (Lee Remick). For whatever reason the Texas jury that weighed Bernie’s case didn’t buy this, but what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, no?
The Wiki page says that “in criminal law, irresistible impulse is a defense by excuse in which the defendant argues that they should not be held criminally liable for their actions that broke the law, because they could not control those actions” due to “some form of insanity.”
When the Bernie jury announces their guilty verdict, I wanted to climb right through the screen like Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo and say to the jurors, “Hold up, people, wait a sec…did any of you guys ever see Anatomy of a Murder? ‘Cause this is pretty much the same deal, and from what I can tell Bernie’s irresistible impulse to shoot Marjorie was at least as justified as Ben Gazzara’s was, and to hear it from the people of Carthage a lot more so. So how come Lt. Manion walked and Bernie didn’t? Lorena Bobbitt was found not guilty when her defense argued that an irresistible impulse led her to cut off her husband’s penis, and that was surely a weaker circumstance than the one that befell poor Bernie.”
Every so often I have the feeling that money is just pouring out of me. Everything I do and everywhere I turn I’m bleeding 20s, 50s and 100s. Hundreds, thousands. Sooner or later this awful feeling attains critical mass and I have to stomp on the brakes and shut down because I just need the hemorrhaging to stop. Need a tourniquet, getting short of breath.
My 21-inch suitcase is looking a little ragged so I was looking at new ones yesterday in the Swiss Army store in the Beverly Center. I liked a modest one that went for $260-something but with the tax it was just about $300, and something in me said “no! no!” and I thanked the sales guy and left. This morning at LAX I bought a New Yorker and a N.Y. Times and a Tic-Tac and some gum and it cost $15 bucks…what?
I can’t go back to LA so I want to retreat to some podunk town and stay in a rented room and eat apples and take long walks and just not spend anything…Jesus.