Every frame of Ben Affleck‘s Live By Night (Warner Bros., 12.25) looks immaculate and painterly and damn near perfect, which means that no matter how good the film turns out to be, Affleck owes a huge debt of gratitude to legendary cinematographer Robert Richardson (Shine a Light, Inglourious Basterds, Shutter Island, Django Unchained, World War Z, The Hateful Eight). Dying to see this, but I’ll be forced to miss Wednesday night’s big press screening due to my Key West excursion beginning early Wednesday morning. That’s okay — I’ll catch it the following week.
I’ve been in a state of quiet, suppressed worry over Warren Beatty‘s Rules Don’t Apply (20th Century Fox, 11.23) for nearly four weeks. As noted I’ve been chatting enjoyably with Beatty for a quarter-century and I feel real affection for the guy (and I always will), but I can’t wiggle around the fact that while the movie is certainly its own bird and reps a strong vision, it’s mainly a spotty, in-and-out thing.
I recognize that several critics are fans and I’m happy for that, and I’ve heard it’s definitely popular among certain Academy types — cool. I hope Rules does well commercially and that Warren lands a Best Actor nomination for his trouble, although I think he and his strategists should have gone for a Best Supporting Actor nom instead. Just my opinion.
(l. to r.) Lilly Collins, Alden Ehrenreich and Warren Beatty on the red carpet at Thursday’s AFI Fest premiere of Rules Don’t Apply.
Beatty has been telling everyone that Rules Don’t Apply isn’t a Howard Hughes biopic, and that it’s primarily a love story between a pair of 20something Hughes employees — Marla Mabrey, a virginal would-be actress played by Lily Collins, and Frank Forbes, a driver-assistant played by Alden Ehrenreich — who want each other but feel constrained by the sexual puritanism of the ’50s. But the film is a Howard Hughes film, no question, and Beatty’s performance as the eccentric billionaire is by far the strongest element.
You come away thinking about Beatty’s performance — he’s got the charisma, conviction, weirdness, authority — but hardly at all about Collins or Ehrenreich’s, due to their characters feeling thin and under-written and muffled. And while the movie feels like it’s using the conventions of farce to keep things peppy and funny, at the same time it seems a little afraid of playing it straight and plain.
But Rules is engaging here and there and at times even approaches a kind of brilliance by way of a klutzy, off-center mentality. Which is to say…I don’t know how to put it. I’m scratching my head as I write this.
Rules Don’t Apply isn’t so much a “dramedy” as an arch, dialed-down farce that feels inspired here and there and at other times like a movie that never really takes flight. It’s a mix of conflicted and conflicting impulses and cross purposes, and yet is all of a curious piece. I saw it for a second time two nights ago, and I’m afraid I felt the same as I did after the first viewing in mid-October, which was “hmmm….in and out, not bad here and there, Warren is good, maybe Academy members will like it, crazy movie, some good scenes,” etc.
It feels turgid and constricted in some ways, and yet has a silly, loose and fuck-all tone at other times. A bent, tightly-sprung attitude.
It’s been edited like a sonuvabitch — cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. Many scenes during the first 25% or one-third feel a bit choppy and abbreviated. Yes, that’s the way farces are usually paced. It reminded me at times of Ernst Lubitsch‘s Design for Living (that’s good) and at other times like Charlie Chaplin‘s The Countess From Hong Kong (don’t ask). And yes, I recognize that it’s personal to some degree in that Warren came from a somewhat repressed religious culture in the ’50s.
From a 2.10.15 N.Y. Times “Insider” piece: “On 11.21.22, The New York Times gave its readers their first glimpse of Adolf Hitler, in a profile that got a lot of things right — its description of his ability to work a crowd into a fever pitch, ready then and there to stage a coup, presaged his unsuccessful beer hall putsch less than a year later. But the article also got one crucial point very wrong — despite what ‘several reliable, well-informed sources’ told The Times, his anti-Semitism was every bit as genuine and violent as it sounded.”
Before The Flood director Fisher Stevens to Hollywood Elsewhere during yesterday’s phone interview: “You’re right — the election was the worst possible thing that could have happened for the environmental movement. But I don’t want to be on one of those people who says ‘fuck this’ and rolls over and gives up. I’m going to do my best to get to Trump and try to make him understand that everything he does politically or strategically can probably be changed, but everything he does to the environment cannot be changed. (Here’s the mp3.)
“His daughter Ivanka, whom I know and can get to…she seems a bit sensible…our kids were born the same day in the same hospital. I’m going to implore her to tell her father to oppose government corruption, to make a stand. Most of the climate deniers are on the payroll of lobbyists. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s the only think I can think of to keep myself from going into a big black hole. We have access to her, and we’re going to try to sit down with her and try to influence her before Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell and others….what worries me most is not Trump but the people he’s surrounding himself with.
“Leo is really depressed [about the election], but he’ll join me in this [strategy]. There’s a lot of passion. We’re not going to give up. We’re gonna keep fighting. If Ruth Bader Ginsburg can hold on for another four years…” Again, the mp3. Watch Before The Flood for $2.99.
We all have a basic instinct in our genes to show obeisance before power. Once the big gorilla has beaten his chest with sufficient fervor and shown territorial dominance, something deep-rooted compels lesser primates to go “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo” and bow down when he passes. I for one have always resisted this for the most part. Bill Maher exhibited no monkey submission last night, and neither did John Legend when he came on the show at the halfway mark. Sad to say, Oprah Winfrey did the other day. “To hear President Obama say that he has renewed confidence in the peaceful transition, I think everybody can take a deep breath,” she said. “Hope is still alive.” Oprah has always been a kowtower. Thankfully tens of millions of others are made of sterner stuff.