A few days ago I posted a riff about Will Smith being regarded in some quarters as an eccentric-orbit kind of guy, and therefore is probably looking at an uphill effort to win a Best Actor nomination for his performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the real-life forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), in Peter Landesman‘s Concussion (Sony, 12.25). Reaction from guy who’s seen Concussion: “Uh, no. And by the way, there were only three standing ovations at Hollywood Film Awards last Sunday night — Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro and….Will Smith.” To which I responded, “I suspect they were applauding his fame and monetary success, not the man and certainly not the artist.” Concussion guy: “Not so sure. But maybe, just maybe, you should wait to see the film (it’s great) before beginning the takedown.” Me: “What takedown? I have no dog in this. Smith’s rep is his rep.”
The Hateful Eight‘s cinematography is, I really must say, remarkably handsome and very nicely lighted. One observation: When Jennifer Jason Leigh mimics the act of being hung the gesture seems way outside the historical realm of the film. I realize this is taking place in Tarantino Land, of course, and not the real Old West, but sticking your tongue out as you pretend to choke to death…that feels like something aimed at the folks in the cheap seats.
It’ll be reality-facing time tonight for Angelina Jolie‘s By The Sea (Universal, 11.13). The ’70s-style “European art film” (a description offered by a Universal guy as well as Tom Brokaw in his recently aired Today report) opens the 2015 AFI Fest at the Chinese with the screening expected to begin around…oh, figure 8 or 8:15 pm despite the official 7:30 pm screening time. Jolie recently told N.Y. Times contributor Margy Rochlin that “I know some people are going to hate it…some are going to like it…but it was important to me to feel like an artist again.” It’ll be facing a tough house, let’s face it, but I like old-fashioned European art films about crumbling marriages. Just don’t, you know, bore me — that’s all I ask. Just maintain story tension. And throw in a surprise or two. And don’t be too gloomy. Maybe throw in a little pervy sex. And be as good as the last half-hour in Richard Linklater‘s Before Midnight. And try to reanimate the spirit of Harold Pinter.
I always feel a certain serenity when I’m in working in a Starbucks cafe, especially after the morning rush hour when there’s not too much traffic. Vibe is right, music is agreeable, people are low-key…this is where I belong, where I could stay for hours. But it’s extra nice when it’s a little cool outside (L.A.’s Panamanian weather cycle finally ended two or three weeks ago) and especially when they’re serving cappuccinos in those red holiday cups. That means November, scarves, the scent of spices, the approach of the holidays, etc.
There’s nothing to say except “yes, of course” to Carey Mulligan‘s performance as the long-suffering Maud in Sarah Gavron‘s Suffragette. She’s playing the Sad-Eyed Lady of the London Lowlands, and in my book performances don’t get any sadder or subtler than this one. I guess I could be liberal and say Maud is more-or-less on the same keel with Saoirse Ronan‘s Eilis in Brooklyn (i.e., the other slamdunky Best Actress contender). If you want to do cartwheels for Brie Larson‘s obsessive, stringy-haired performance in Room, knock yourself out …but you also need to come down to earth and admit that Mulligan is way, way more nominatable. Maud, I feel, is her new signature role — yes, more so than her breakout performance in An Education.
Suffragette star Carey Mulligan during last night’s press gathering at Lucques — roughly 6:55 pm or thereabouts.
Less than 2 seconds later.
1.5 seconds after that.
Meryl Streep is the 60something version of a classic gold-standard brand she created some 36 or 37 years ago. Cate Blanchett is the 40something version of…well, not the same thing, of course, but close enough, obviously rendered with her own particular artistry, brushstrokes and genetic code. And Mulligan is the just-turned-30something version with decades to come and miles to go. And everyone knows this.
Last night there was a “hang out with Carey” gathering at Lucques, the upmarket restaurant on Melrose. I didn’t arrive until 6 pm or so. Mulligan looks amazingly thin for someone who just gave birth…what was it, six or seven weeks ago? (Her daughter’s name is Evelyn.) I’ve “been” through two pregnancies (just ask Glenn Kenny) and therefore know a little something about what it takes to shed after delivery. It’s no walk in the park.
I told Carey I was hugely impressed by her stage performance in David Hare‘s Skylight, which I saw last May in New York. I asked if anyone had captured it on video, and she said no, not for commercial consumption but that it had been video-captured and sent to certain parties out here via a private link. I asked her publicist if I could be allowed to re-see it this way. I’m sensing that it might happen.
Quentin Tarantino sounded reasonable and matter-of-fact yesterday when he spoke to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about the cop-boycott thing. I thoroughly respect his decision to not back off one iota. Publicists are always telling their clients to walk it back and apologize and ask the public to cut them a break — not Tarantino. Between the cop thing, Ultra Panavision 70 and the probable “n”-word and Samuel L. Jackson blowjob controversies, QT and The Hateful Eight are doing just fine. Everything is ducky & cool because a lot of people who might have conceivably side-stepped this film are now going to pay closer attention and most likely pay to see it. Plus the n-word thing has been more or less neutralized. How is that a negative?
We’re all just passing through. Everything fades, evaporates, decays, falls apart. All the more reason to cherish serenity when it happens to find you or you it, which doesn’t happen all that often. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who passed Wednesday in Los Angeles at age 65, had a hand in making a few movie moments seem somewhat magical. Like E.T., The Extra Terrestrial, which she wrote. I’ll never forget how I felt after my first press screening of that film in the spring of ’82, a few weeks before it opened and the mass audience got hold of it and turned it into something I’d rather not think about. The light was upon Mathison back then; she got married to Harrison Ford the following year (’83), and they wound up having two sons. She also wrote The Black Stallion, The Escape Artist and the forthcoming The BFG. Nothing lasts, everyone dies…but life never stops happening. Sorry but this is what hit me just after I read the story.
The virulent pan of Spectre (MGM/Columbia, 11.6) by Forbes‘ Scott Mendelson is almost…touching? Mendelson is really, really disappointed in this thing — “the worst 007 film in 30 years,” he claims, or since, like, A View to a Kill or whatever. This indicates, obviously, that Mendelson doesn’t go to Bond films for a nice wank-off, like most of us probably do. He apparently believes that Bond films have the potential to redeem and cleanse and change our lives…okay, his life for the better. Skyfall came a lot closer to this, he contends, and…uhm, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were relatively decent? Something like that.
Let me tell ya somethin’, fella. I sat through Skyfall and Spectre with the exact same sense of slumbering, half-narcotized amusement. No better, no worse…flatline. I don’t go to Bond films for any kind of fucking deliverance. Nobody except guys like Mendelson do that. I go to fucking Bond films because I’ve been invited to the fucking all-media screenings and…you know, I need to watch and take mental notes and review and whatever the fuck, keep up with the other blogaroonies. It goes no deeper than that.
I give as much of a fuck about this franchise as Daniel Craig does. Okay, probably less because Craig’s getting handsomely paid and I’m getting…what am I getting out of watching these things? Mild diversion, mild stimulation, mild amusement…all is mild, all is faint boredom, all is theatre-seat sprawl and the usual submission to corporatism. My popcorn bucket was accidentally kicked over by some shuffling older guy on his way to the bathroom and I didn’t even care. I just looked down and saw the popcorn all over the rug and said to myself, “Oh…okay, whatever.” And then I looked back at the screen and something else was happening that I didn’t care much about.
Angelina Jolie recently said that By The Sea (Universal, 11.15) is the “first film completely based on my own crazy mind.” She said in the same article that the drama, set in the ’70s, is “not autobiographical” — i.e., not based on anything she and husband Brad Pitt have gone through. But it does seem to have been “drawn loosely” from a marital trauma suffered by Jolie’s late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who died in January 2007 from ovarian cancer. It happened when husband Jon Voight catted around in 1976, when Angelina was barely a year old. Andrew Morton’s unauthorized biography of Jolie reports that Voight had an affair with actress Stacey Pickren, who played Ophelia to his Hamlet during a production of Shakespeare’s classic at the University of California in Northridge, where Voight was an artist-in-residence. Bertrand filed for divorce in 1978; it was finalized in ’80. My understanding of By The Sea‘s basic plot is that the marriage between Brad and Angie’s couple is coming apart due an incident of infidelity on Brad’s part. So basically Brad is more or less playing Jon Voight and Angie is more or less playing her mom. Not precisely but close enough. It all fits together. [Tip of the hat to Sasha Stone, who shared this view a couple of hours ago.]
Speaking to Vanity Fair‘s Julie Miller about By The Sea, Jolie said that “I know some people are going to hate it [and] some are going to like it. But it was important to me to feel like an artist again.”
“If Spotlight feels dogged in its procedure, then why does it exert such command? Because, I think, [director Tom] McCarthy is tackling something more basic than paranoia — namely, pride of place, and the way in which it offers both an embrace and a choke hold. ‘Born and raised,’ Walter Robinson says, when asked if he’s from Boston, and the same rings true, throughout the film, for the hunter and the hunted: for the Spotlight squad, for the fund-raisers at a charity gala, and for the authorities at Robinson’s old high school (across the street from the Globe), who harbored an abusive cleric in their midst. And what of the paper’s subscribers, who are fifty-three per cent Catholic? Will they be willing to read of rot in the foundations?
“Paul Guilfoyle has a wonderful turn as a Bostonian grandee, confident that any unpleasantness can be smoothed away with a hand on the shoulder and a quiet drink. He’s not a monster, or a hypocrite; he’s a decent sort, oiling the wheels of society. To stop them turning, in the interests of justice, takes not only guts but imagination.
“That is why Marty Baron, of all people — shy, taut, and humorless, in Liev Schreiber’s clever portrayal — struck me as the hero of the hour. He is mocked for being, as one insider labels him, ‘an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball,’ but it is precisely his status as an outsider that allows him to initiate the quest. Folks in the Church, and elsewhere in the city, know what went on, yet they don’t really want to know. It’s all too close to home. Baron wants to know.” — from an 11.9 review by New Yorker critic Anthony Lane.
From A.O. Scott‘s 11.3 N.Y. Times review of John Crowley & Nick Hornby‘s Brooklyn: “When a family emergency summons Eilis back to Ireland, Brooklyn discovers its plot and reveals the stakes of its heroine’s story. And heroic she is, even though her drama is firmly anchored in the mundane. At home, she finds familiar comforts and also a new suitor, a local boy grown into handsome Domhnall Gleeson.
“Eilis’s romantic predicament is agonizing, for her and also for the viewer. I can’t remember the last time I cared so much about the marital prospects of a fictional character, and I don’t think that’s just because it’s in my nature to root for a guy named Tony against a skinny redhead.
“The real reason is Ms. Ronan, who has grown from an uncannily intelligent child actor into a screen performer of remarkable force and sensitivity. On the page, Eilis comes alive through the fineness of Mr. Toibin’s prose. A devotee of Henry James, he registers the fluctuations of the character’s inner weather with meteorological precision. Inwardness is a great challenge for filmmakers. The human face is a wall as well as a window. Words lose their power. Everything depends on the ability of actors to communicate nuances of feeling and fluctuations of consciousness.