A big flatscreen filled with all those monochrome Presidents, and then the screen being smashed, glass ceiling-wise, with shards falling away and a smiling Hillary Clinton, wearing a bright red tunic, emerging as a very possible next President, and the DNC emotions that followed. My feelings about Clinton aside, this was pretty good television. I was impressed; I admired it. When slick promotion really slams it home and falls into place just so, it can get you in the gut.
I went to a seriously rowdy party in Mill Valley in the early ’80s. I arrived late with a friend, drank a fair amount of Jack Daniels, got fairly bombed, nuzzled a couple of girls and awoke the next morning at dawn — fully dressed and sitting in a chair at a dinner table with a half-filled drink in my right hand. It’s always amusing to remember wild parties and whatnot, but bacchanalia in and of itself isn’t funny in a movie. When I worked at Cannon publicity in the late ’80s my colleagues used to joke a lot about sex. I used to say “the more you joke about it, the less you’re getting.” Same with heavy boozing and Chris Farley behavior at parties. The more you’re into stumbling around and dancing on table-tops, the more clueless and anxiety-ridden you are deep down. Translation: If you do it once in a while, fine, but if you’re getting bombed and silly every weekend you’ve got a problem.
During the last six years of his movie-star career, Humphrey Bogart took to wearing bow ties. And when he began doing that, sometime around 1950’s In A Lonely Place or ’51’s The Enforcer, he started to suppress and de-mystify his image. He went from radiating that classic Bogart vibe — that confident, half-surly, nocturnal know-it-all thing he’d owned since The Maltese Falcon — to something a little cautious and less swaggering. He began to look less like a private detective or a soldier of fortune and more like an accountant or a department store manager. Every time I see a Bogart bow tie movie (they also include Deadline U.S.A., Beat The Devil, The Barefoot Contessa and The Harder They Fall) something inside me wilts.
James Schamus‘s Indignation (Summit/Roadside, 7.29) is a respectable, adult-friendly, nicely refined period drama (i.e., early ’50s) about values, academia, obstinacy, surprisingly good sex, Jews (in particular a tough Jewish mom) and — this is key — brutally cruel fates. The ending alienated me to no end, and I can’t explain why unless I discuss (or at least allude to) the last 15 minutes. So that’s what I’m going to do.
If you’re planning on seeing Indignation this weekend (which I’m recommending by the way — any film that riles or angers is usually up to something interesting), you might want to do that before reading this.
If for no other reason Indignation is worth the price for a 16-minute interrogation scene that happens in Act Two. It’s between a Winesburg College freshman named Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman, once again projecting that deer-in-the-headlights quality that I can’t stand about him) and Hawes Caldwell, an overbearing college dean (Tracy Letts). Hawes senses that Messner is too fickle, too much unto himself, not social enough. And he wants to know why Messner doesn’t mix it up more. But Messner is who he is — stand-offish, bright, obstinate, something of a Jewish mama’s boy. And so he stiffens and lets Caldwell have it right back.
It’s “theatre”, this fine scene. Dialogue, dialogue, point, counter-point. It doesn’t exactly “go” anywhere but it grabs and holds.
But the story! And the mostly positive reviews (84% as we speak) which don’t even hint at how Indignation makes you feel at the end. (This is why some people hate critics. Because they too often evaluate a film without telling you what it feels like.) How did Indignation make me feel? Pissed. Taste of ashes. I wanted to take a poke at Schamus.
Indignation is mainly about a half-obsessive, half-uncertain relationship between Messner (who, like original “Indignation” author Phillip Roth, hails from Newark, New Jersey) and a beautiful blonde shiksa named Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) who is gradually revealed to be a victim of chronic depression and at least one suicide attempt, but whose sexual openness and generosity is like manna from heaven for a pissy, slow-to-catch-on gloomhead like Messner.
I chose to sidestep last night’s all-media screening of Jason Bourne in order to catch Pete’s Dragon on the Disney lot. I’ll be seeing Bourne tonight at the Grove, but facts may as well be faced: some initial reviews more or less agree with what I was told last week — i.e., that it’s more or less satisfying if you aren’t measuring it by hard-ass standards but it doesn’t blow your socks off, which of course is what everyone wants.
There seems to be general agreement that a first-act, high-tension sequence in Athens is quite effective. But there is disagreement about the Las Vegas finale.
Last week’s guy told me that the Las Vegas finale excites and delivers, but Variety‘s Peter Debruge seems to disagree: “The instant the movie hits the Exocon convention in Vegas, where the potential for high-tech malfeasance ought to hit an all-time high, the film’s energy flags.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy writes that “the big action climax, a slam-bang speed race through a jam-packed nocturnal Strip, is as preposterous and incoherently staged as the Athens opening is striking and convincing.”
Of the Toronto Film Festival Galas and Special Presentations announced today, between 25 and 28 are worth a tumble. Okay, make it 20. How many of the 20 will turn out to be way-up-there exceptional? Less than ten, if that. Probably less than five. More films will be announced, of course, but let’s be honest and admit that right now the TIFF slate feels a bit weak.
I woke up this morning to an abbreviated Variety headline on my iPhone. It read “Toronto Film Festival Opens with Denzel Washington’s…” before the jump. My first thought, “Holy moley, Toronto is going to debut Fences?…that’s very exciting!” Then I realized Variety‘s Denzel possessive was incorrect. TIFF’s opening night attraction will be Antoine Fuqua‘s The Magnificent Seven (Columbia, 9.23), which for Denzel is nothing but a straight mercenary paycheck gig + a chance to go up against Yul Brynner and Toshiro Mifune. Fuqua is a genre wallower, a shoveller, a primitive.
Even though Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival has been given a TIFF gala berth, it’s listed as a Canadian premiere so the Telluride debut I mentioned last weekend still holds.
Toronto Gala Head-Turners: Peter Berg‘s Deepwater Horizon (you know Berg — Patriot’s Day may turn out be one-note, rah-rah patriotic crap, but right now it reps his best potential shot at non-escapist, popcorn-transcending respectability); Garth Davis‘s Lion (Dev Patel uses Google Earth to find his parents after 20-year separation); Paul Dugdale‘s The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! — A Trip Across Latin America, Oliver Stone‘s Snowden (no Telluride), Jeff Nichols‘ Loving (as an opportunity to re-appraise Ruth Negga‘s performance). Ama Asante‘s A United Kingdom (2nd interracial marriage drama following Loving) (6)