To my eyes, the quality of streaming high-def films (Vudu, Amazon, Warner Classics) is fully at par with Blurays. Recently a TCM Bluray of Howard Hawks‘ Only Angels Have Wings went on sale, but I can’t imagine it looking richer and more detailed than a streaming HDX copy that I bought on Vudu. What’s the point? But I can’t surrender my love of physical media. Last night I bought the Criterion Bluray of My Darling Clementine (an impulse I’m almost sorry I succumbed to, given my vague dislike of John Ford‘s Monument Valley films) and I had to buy the Bluray of Thom Andersen‘s Los Angeles Plays Itself — been waiting to own this puppy for ten years now. And I’ve always had a thing for Uli Edel and Berndt Eichinger‘s The Baader-Meinhof Complex. Will I be buying Blurays five years hence? Good question. I know that I don’t like the idea of not replenishing the library. Which probably means I’ll keep shelling out as they long as they crank ’em out.
Last night Bill Cosby attempted to play the racial solidarity card by appealing to African-American journalists to adopt a “neutral” mindset in reporting about allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted over 25 women in his salad days. Speaking to N.Y. Post reporter Stacy Brown, who often writes for African-American media, Cosby said, “I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that you have to go in with a neutral mind.” Translation: “You guys need to watch my back because blood’s thicker than the mud…right? If I can’t get a break from black journalists, who can I get a break from?” This recalls Samuel Johnson’s famous line that “wrapping one’s self in the cloak of racial solidarity is the last refuge of a besieged African-American scoundrel.” Wait…did I get that right?
This is a pretty good concept — actors chatting with other actors. Kudos to Variety for dreaming this up. Edward Norton‘s story about “going up” (i.e., losing his focus) on-stage and skipping over a 15-minute chunk of the play is worth watching. (It starts around the two-minute mark.) Watch the conversation between Kevin Costner and James Corden in which Costner describes a movie in the middle of filming as “a patient that’s unable to speak.”
Two and a half months ago (i.e., 10.2.14) it was reported that Leonardo DiCaprio had decided to pull out of playing Steve Jobs in that Aaron Sorkin-written Jobs project that Sony was going to finance and distribute. In fact DiCaprio had bailed about two weeks earlier. A newly-revealed Sony hack email exchange, dated 9.18.14, has Jobs producer Mark Gordon and Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal calling DiCaprio’s decision “horrible” and “despicable.” Okay, maybe, but movie stars get cold feet, change their minds…it happens. On the other hand it sounds as if Pascal and Gordon were basically saying they felt betrayed and angry. Which was allowable, I think, under the circumstances.
But it’s also okay for Pascal to be generally pissed off at other people and things. It’s okay to say that this actor isn’t worth what he’s being paid but this actress will soon be worth more than her quote. Unkind or ill-considered opinions are entirely permitted. All big-wheels criticize employees, freelance contractors and various partners and allies who’ve suddenly turned tail. It’s expected. Any leader who would only smile and shrug when something hurtful or stunning has happened probably wouldn’t last long in the job.
Where is it written that studio chiefs have to kiss talent’s ass 24/7 and always turn the other check and can never confide gut feelings about anything that movie stars do? Are you telling me that Daryl F. Zanuck never shared disparaging views about the conduct or character of movie stars back in the ’40s or ’50s? Or that Harry Cohn, Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer or Jack L. Warner never did the same?
I found out today that I’m not one of Michael Mann‘s journalist sycophants who get invited to see his films before the all-media crowd. I used to be but no longer. Because since writing yesterday that no early-bird Blackhat screenings have happened so far, I found out today there has been a Blackhat screening for a small crowd of elite journos. A not-quite-final version but close enough. Thanks very much to the folks at Mann’s office as well as a Universal rep for keeping me in the dark. I’ve played the submissive journalist bitch game with Mann over the years. I’ve kept quiet over the years about all kinds of stuff, have never spoken out of turn or broken a promise or failed to show respect, and it doesn’t matter. I’m now a second-stringer at best. What the hell, just invite me to the all-media on January 6th or whenever. Blackhat opens on Friday, 1.16.
I never once laughed at Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s The Interview (Columbia, 12.25) but that’s okay. HE is mostly an LQTM site when it comes to 21st Century comedies. (My idea of laugh-out-loud funny is Phil Moskowitz saying “he lives in that piece of paper?”) I often just sit there and say to myself, “Uh-huh…mildly funny…yeah, not bad…okay, good one” and so on. I’d be happy to give The Interview a pass according to HE’s no-laugh-funny standards, but it’s clearly not trying to satisfy the NLF aesthetic. To be fair the industry crowd I saw it with on Thursday night was laughing its ass off. But it’s definitely aimed at the dumbasses. Rogen is a razor-sharp guy — much more brainy and sophisticated than most of his films indicate — but the level of guy humor is lower than a raccoon’s anus.
Marquee of the Ace Hotel theatre on Thursday night, taken just after the premiere screening of The Interview.
Grand lobby of the Ace Hotel theatre just after the screening.
So either Rogen being sharp is a myth or he’s a dedicated slummer. Obviously he and Goldberg believe that the target audience won’t titter much less laugh unless the humor is aimed at the dumbest, skankiest, biggest ball-scratching apes in the room, but honestly…what’s the point of being bright and sophisticated in the first place? Why don’t Rogen and Goldberg just get lobomotomies and be done with it?
What would Leo McCarey or Billy Wilder say? Let’s not get too high-handed here, but The Interview is basically another chapter in the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. And yet it’s a half-tolerable thing to sit through. Believe me, if it had been downright awful I would’ve bolted. It wasn’t….but it’s also nothing.
Yes, the opening 20 or 25 minutes is mildly engaging and yes, at heart The Interview is anti-Kim, pro-anti-Kim revolution and pro-people power and all that, but it never rises above the level of a good-enough programmer. Lampooning “shallowness” and “stupidity” with quote marks feels like a dead-end thing after a while, as joke after joke after joke are about what an empty asshole James Franco‘s Dave Skylark is. For the life of me I couldn’t understand why the premiere crowd felt it was all that funny. The movie delivers between 280 and 300 jokes that say Franco is a shallow personality and a submental goon in a suit…a metaphor for the cancer of tabloid TV and so on, and I was going “yeah, uh-huh, I see that, uh-huh, okay…are you guys ever going to shift gears?”
The rumble over the last couple of days is that Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal might lose her job over the North Korean hacking scandal, and more particularly over that recently leaked, acutely embarrassing email exchange between herself and producer Scott Rudin in which they bantered in mock-stereotype-in-quotes fashion about whether President Obama has certain racially-influenced preferences for certain films. An unbecoming thing to have disclosed, yes, but it seems hugely unfair and chickenshit to even talk about firing Pascal because of a silly little chat she had in private with a colleague. Which isn’t, at root, even the issue. Men of character and consequence don’t fire a major executive because of a criminal hacking which was probably paid for by parties allied with the North Koreans. They stand up and look that stuff in the eye and say “take a hike.”
It’s not just the frosty glare that Angelina Jolie gave Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal at the Hollywood Reporter‘s Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast last Wednesday morning, but what her right hand was saying. If there was any kind of comme ci comme ca vibe between these women Jolie would certainly have held Pascal’s forearm. I’ve been there. I know what that look means. It means “take cyanide.” And Pascal wasn’t even the one who called Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat” in that hacked email exchange. You have to give Pascal credit for at least trying to be upfront and adult about it.
Life is unfair and everyone is occasionally stunned and bruised by bad luck, but this is ridiculous. Because everybody talks like this to some degree — don’t kid yourself. There isn’t a major executive in this town who wouldn’t have gone along with the drift of that silly conversation if they had been in the room or part of the email thread. It was bizarre for Pascal and Rudin to have spoken in such racially dismissive terms, but it was mainly “schtick,” as Glenn Kenny said the other day. And, most of all, it was private. Powerful people tend to speak bluntly and coarsely with each other. Nobody talks in noble, highfalutin’ terms behind closed doors…trust me. Joshing like an intemperate junior high-school student is a kind of ritual among the powerful. Those who talk in profane “street” language and use crude cultural shorthand are on some level presumed to be more earnest and trustworthy.
In other words when Angelina Jolie‘s bizarre chickenpox outbreak was discovered a couple of days ago, it was decided by her “people” that a simple, straight-talking video announcement was the way to go because otherwise the story might not be believed…right? Who makes a chickenpox video? What adult gets chickenpox in the first place? If you did’t get it as a kid you get the vaccine…simple. “A chickenpox vaccine has been available in the U.S. since 1995 and is easy to get from a doctor or a public health clinic…between 70% and 90% of people who get vaccinated will be completely immune to chickenpox.” Was this some kind of stress-related reaction to having been recently described in less than admiring terms? There’s always an under-story. Just saying.
Before The Interview premiere at downtown L.A.’s Ace Hotel theatre, I dropped by a cocktail party for Rory Kennedy‘s Last Days in Vietnam at the Chateau Marmont. I spoke briefly to Rory and her husband Mark Bailey, who co-wrote this excellent doc. My sense is that the Best Feature Documentary race has boiled down to a Last Days in Vietnam vs. Citizenfour stand-off. It’s also hit me that these docs are coming from similar places, and yet hold different views about this country. Both are about the defiance of rules for the sake of a greater good, and both focus on callous, ignoble behavior on the part of senior U.S. officials. Vietnam is about Americans stationed in Vietnam ignoring orders not to assist South Vietnamese to evacuate prior to the April 1975 takeover of Saigon by the North Vietnamese and in so doing putting their careers in jeopardy. Citizenfour is about Edward Snowden heroically or self-sacrificingly ignoring the law in order to tell his countrymen and the world about the extent of NSA monitoring of U.S. citizens, which has led to an exiled life in Russia. The difference is that Vietnam spreads the heroism around — it’s about a small community of people who stood up and did the right, risky thing. In a sense it exudes a somewhat more positive view of human nature.
Last Days in Vietnam director-producer Rory Kennedy, husband and cowriter Mark Bailey during last night’s Chateau Marmont gathering.
As an ethical exercise, it would be hugely spirit-lifting if just one greatly-admired performance could land an Oscar nomination without the support of a costly campaign. Just one instance in which the Academy at least nominates a performance that doesn’t have big dough behind it…no payoffs, no Hollywood Elsewhere ads, no industry party schmooze, no post-screening q & a’s, no drinks on the house. I understand, of course, that the vast majority of Academy nominations come out of this process, and I’m certainly not complaining about this…hardly! I have my hand out along with everyone else’s.
But what if there was an Academy rule stating that in each acting category, a sixth nomination would be pro bono and go to any deserving performance that has NOT been promoted for whatever reason? Or which hasn’t been campaigned for because a certain actor or actress has a distaste for campaigning or is working on a new film and can’t get away or whatever?
How about if just one performance this year could receive this tradition-defying largesse?
We’ve all understood for the last 30-plus years that Michael Mann is a distinctive heavyweight who doesn’t make programmers. He’s makes classy, hot-shit Michael Mann films, some of which have been deemed award-worthy (The Insider, Last of the Mohicans) or genre-altering (Heat, Thief, Collateral, Manhunter) or at least exceptional in this or that way (Ali, Public Enemies, the “fumes” of Miami Vice). They’re always an event, at least in the minds of critics and Mann-heads and ubers. Which is why the current absence of invites to see Blackhat, Mann’s cyber-thriller which opens on 1.16.15, is puzzling. Mann’s previous pattern has been to let his critic loyalists (a group I’ve proudly belonged to for 20-odd years) have an early looksee before the all-media crowd, but apparently not this time. I’ve written and called Mann’s office twice about this….radio silence. All Universal publicity will say is they’re waiting for Mann to say “okay, let’s roll.” Odd. The town will shut down at the end of next week (1.19) and won’t be humming again until Monday, January 5th, at which point Blackhat will be only 12 days away from opening. I don’t want to think what I’m thinking but the signals suggest that Blackhat is less than a classic Mann “event” film. I’m crestfallen at the possibility. The Sony guys will tell you Blackhat is obviously in synch with the New Terrorism. The right movie at the right time…so what’s with the hesitation?