I caught Chris Rock‘s Top Five towards the end of the Toronto Film Festival, and despite liking it for the most part and the film having generated a certain hoo-hah, I somehow managed to not file anything. Odd. Rock has made a good, smart-ass, to some extent Annie Hall-ish comedy about…well, presumably his own personal and professional travails to some extent but in a broader sense the whole tangled mess of it all (career, alcoholism, creative burnout, media glare, bad-news trophy wives, family). Good-natured but sharp and sometimes stinging, his third directorial outing comes the closest to generating the wily energy of Rock’s stand-up routines…it feels pulled from the raw and “real” as far as it goes. The only weak spot is an odd decision to portray a N.Y. Times writer (Rosario Dawson) as guilty of an ethical breach that would never be tolerated in actuality. A bothersome issue that I buried in a drawer somewhere. Top Five is Rock’s best film so far, a breakthrough of sorts, an 8.5.
This trailer is telling me that Angelina Jolie‘s film is on the nose, right down the middle…emphatic, color-desaturated and kinda square. Somebody said the other day that it’s supposed to be a little more Robert Bresson-ish than David Lean-like…okay, but not here. N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply may or may not have have seen Unbroken, but in a 10.14 piece about three World War II-era films (this one plus Fury and The Imitation Game) Cieply writes that Unbroken “is perhaps the closest of the three to a conventional Hollywood film in its focus on an empathetic protagonist.” On top of which the sadistic Japanese camp commandant is too good-looking. I don’t know if Zamperini’s religious conversion in 1949 under the influence of Billy Graham is in the film or not, but it would be interesting as hell to end with this. First and foremost because it happened, and secondly because it would be ballsy to go against the liberal laissez-faire Hollywood attitude by ending a big awards-bait movie with a Jesus conversion. Which of course would play commercially in the hinterland.
Consider that very cool shot around the 35-second mark in which Moby Dick charges the ship just under the water line without breaching. Director Ron Howard may or may not admit to this later on, but I see a visual tribute to the early shot of James Mason’s Nautilus attacking a ship in Richard Fleischer‘s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea — similar angle, same attack, just under the water line.
James Mason’s Nautilus about to attack a merchant ship in an early scene from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
“Birdman, right now, is on the money. In Riggan and the rest of the cast, writhing with the dread of being a nobody but appalled by what it takes to be a somebody, we see not just the acting bug but also the New York bug, the love bug, and, if we’re honest, the life bug, diagnosed as what they are: a seventy-year itch.” — from Anthony Lane‘s New Yorker review. The praise is not dissimilar from that offered by many others, but I had to post Peter Strain’s illustration and it only seemed right to include an excerpt.
You can’t live in public only to claim privacy rights when you die. Yesterday’s announcement about poor Elizabeth Pena having passed at age 55 offered no cause. Pena’s manager, Gina Rugolo, said today that the Cuban-American actress died “of natural causes after a brief illness.” No other details were provided. Dying at age 55 is not “natural.” We’re all running around on this planet, ducking this and embracing that, trying to eat the right foods and avoid the poisons, coping with threats and challenges. Due respect but where does this idea come from that divulging the reason for a loved one’s death constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy?
All rugged heroes (or anti-heroes) in American-made films about gritty machismo under fire need to be shot at least three or four times before going down. Like a certain big-name actor in a soon-to-be-released film…one or two bullets are not enough to kill our guy as he’s made of sterner stuff. An enemy bullet in the chest cavity…aaggh but fuck you! A follow-up bullet in the shoulder…try again! Only bad guys or wimpy second- or third-billed good guys die after one shot. The more bullets it takes to bring you down = the more movie-star status you have, the greater your Hollywood reputation, the bigger your salary, etc. It all started when King Kong refused to fall off the Empire State building until he’d been hit by machine-gun fire…what, 10 or 12 times? The movement picked up steam during the Wild Bunch finale when William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates and Ben Johnson all took six or seven or eight bullets before signing off.
Exception to the rule: William Petersen went down and stayed down after getting plugged once in William Friedkin‘s To Live and Die in L.A..
In yesterday’s “Try To Look Serene or Cosmic…Like You’ve ‘Been Somewhere’” thread, I remarked that “every time the subject comes up, people say the same thing. The Theory of Everything vs. The Imitation Game. Battle of the Sound-Alikes. Eccentric British Genius vs. Eccentric British Genius. Wife vs Secretary. Dickens vs. Fenster. Mutt vs. Jeff.” And “Avatar” wrote the following: “As well they should, since both of them take up 75% of the same squares on a person’s Oscar Bait Bingo card. The main difference is that Theory takes the ‘Actor Imitates a Physical Ailment’ square, while Imitation takes the ‘…In the Fight Against the Nazis’ square.”
Fury director-writer David Ayer has stated that “the knives are out” over his “polarizing” hell-piss-blood-mud film. I don’t know about that. Most reviewers (myself included) have called it a grimly respectable adrenalized war flick. Yes, it’s presented by way of videogame action aesthetics but them’s the breaks if you wanna attract GenY and GenX males. The “knives”, if you will, are mainly about the absurd finale, and so far only six reviewers have manned up and called a spade a spade. If anyone else has levelled with his/her readers in this respect, please advise.
“[The finale] is occupied by a quasi-suicidal mission that Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) is ordered to undertake by a captain (Jason Isaacs). The command is issued so quickly that it’s not really clear why it’s so important for tanks to rush behind enemy lines; the Americans know they’re going to win, so the puzzlement over the reason for sending men into such peril at this stage impedes one’s investment in the climactic action. Plunking Wardaddy and his men down in such an impossible position doesn’t feel right dramatically, and [Pitt’s] stoic reaction…introduces a note of windy grandiosity that mildly rubs the wrong way against everything that’s come before.” — Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, 10.10.
“The film’s climax…abandons realism entirely, as the devastated crew seemingly takes on the entire German army with a single rusty, immobile tank. Fury lives up to its title with its great ferocity, but at a certain point, it begins to feel like a macho fantasy.” — Nathan Rabin, The Dissolve, 10.16.
“Would a team of five men with a half-disabled tank really dig in their heels and fight a [company] of Germans nearly 300 strong? This choice is [Fury‘s] most ‘Hollywood’ element.” — Peter Debruge, Variety, 10.10.