In mid-October the Nobel Committee revealed that Bob Dylan had declined to respond after it was announced he’d won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. On 10.28 The Guardian‘s Edna Gundersen wrote that when she’d asked if he’d be attending, Dylan replied, “Absolutely, if it’s at all possible.” On Saturday night (12.10) the Nobel ceremony happened in Stockholm, and Dylan wasn’t there. It wasn’t because of his concert schedule, which is finished for the year. At least he sent Patti Smith to represent him. (She did a great job singing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”) And he wrote a speech.
Surely some HE regulars saw Damien Chazelle’s musical last night or today, particularly those back east. You’ve been hearing for months about La La Land being the leading Best Picture contender, and now it’s finally here. What’s the uber-ticket-buyer verdict? Which reminds me that earlier today some were saying they wanted to write about Manchester By The Sea. Presumably some have seen both — which has more Oscar heat? And if these aren’t as bull’s-eye as the blogaroos have been saying, what film is a more likely Best Picture contender? The forum is open.
After John Glenn died on 12.8 someone in the comment thread mentioned how great Phillip Kaufman‘s The Right Stuff (’83) was, and I disagreed as follows: “I’m sorry but The Right Stuff is not great. It’s a diverting film with some above-average passages, agreed, but too much of it feels like commoner soup. I expected some kind of semblance of the Tom Wolfe book, which was eloquent and savvy and well-researched and often funny, at least in a snickering sense.
“Almost every amusing element that landed in the Wolfe book fails to land in the film. Every scene in the Kaufman film feels broad and over-acted in order to appeal to the folks in the cheap seats. Urination jokes (i.e.. Alan Shepard letting go in his space suit), masturbation jokes, seasick-vomiting jokes, rubber-tube-up-the-ass jokes — everything primitive is used. Very little in the way of low-key, the-way-it-really-was pilot stuff. Almost every scene feels performed by actors.
“Wolfe wrote about Glenn (Ed Harris) telling Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) that he needs to stop catting around at the local cocktail lounges because it’ll be bad for the Mercury astronaut’s image if it gets out, and how Shepard told Glenn that girls are none of his damn business and to bugger off — great in the book, doesn’t work in the film.
“Wolfe wrote about Gus Grissom‘s ‘death dimes’ — two rolls of dimes that he took with him on his Mercury flight in order to pass them out to friends later on, but which made it difficult for him to tread water in the Atlantic after his capsule sank, because of their weight. (“And now this big junkheap of travel sentiment stuffed in his knee pocket was taking him under… dimes!…silver deadweight!”). Great in the book, ignored by Kaufman.
“I hate those awful, over-emphatic San Francisco mimes, cast as journalists, with their stubby little moustaches and narrow-brimmed hats running around like the Keystone Cops. And the absurdly crude portrayal of Lyndon Johnson as an intemperate oaf. And how Kaufman makes a big deal about Aborigine natives lighting bonfires as Glenn’s soars over Australia. I remember watching this back in ’83 and saying to myself ‘Who gives a fuck if Aborigines are lighting bonfires or not? What have Aborigines got to do with the space program?’
“The book was an absorbing, insightful take on a governmental program that promoted personalities and heroism to sell itself to the public. It passed along the technical intrigues of the early flights and especially the seminal Chuck Yeager lore and how that cockpit attitude influenced every pilot who ever lived. The film was a popcorn denigration — an attempt to make populist puree out of almost everything fascinating in Wolfe’s book.”
Martin Scorsese‘s Silence (Paramount, 12.23) is a long, sluggish, big-canvas spiritual epic that has obviously been sculpted with precision and passion. Set in 17th Century Japan and beautifully shot by Rodrigo Prieto, it’s clearly the work of a top-tier filmmaker who’s unloading in a very rooted way, and with great delicacy. But it’s a vast, sprawling thing, and some of it, to be honest, is boring and slow, and some of the violence is difficult to watch.
And yet it does pay off at the end, and I didn’t expect it to, given my feelings about religion and Catholics in particular, and so I was surprised by this. I wasn’t head over heels with what I’d seen and I was deciding around the midway point that it probably should be shorter, but the film (which runs 159 minutes) does sneak up and turn the key during the last 20 or 25 minutes.
But those first 130 minutes…whoa daddy. Quite the eyeful, eloquent writing, handsome design but glum and arduous and snail-paced like a sonuvabitch. But it’s still a fine film for what it is. You just have to say to yourself “this is not a film about my enjoyment…it’s a journey, a meditation, a lesson. Just man up and sit through it.”
Based upon the 1966 novel by Shusaku Endō, Silence is about the 17th Century persecution of Catholics in Japan, and particularly the Jesuits who introduced Catholicism to that country and did what they could to scatter the seeds.
Start to finish Silence is about matters of the spirit, but the visual depictions are about almost nothing other than unpleasant acts and conditions. Cruelty, torture, deprivation, starvation. I’m talking about crucified victims being drowned and burned to death, starved and beheaded and hung upside down with blood seeping out of an arterial neck wound. But the victims take it and eventually die (all but one, I should say) because they believe in the salvation of Jesus Christ.
Who gets into fights with cab drivers? I’ve had some mild disagreements with drivers from time to time, but the only time I’ve really argued with one was in Toronto two or three years ago, and that was because I had my GPS bearings and he was driving without a clue — no sense of instinct or direction or anything. He was an idiot. But nobody argues with a cab driver if they can help it, and getting into a physical fight with one sounds fairly ridiculous. And yet I feel a measure of empathy for Silicon Valley and Office Christmas Party star T.J. Miller, who was arrested last night after taking a poke at a Los Angeles cabbie. A Hollywood Reporter story says that Miller got physical “over a political argument involving Donald Trump.” I get it, man. You’ve persuaded a portion of the entertainment community that you’re an immature, hair-trigger type, but I understand. I would dearly love to bitch-slap a Trump supporter, and I haven’t clobbered anyone since I was 13.
With last night’s report about the CIA having conclusively determined that Russian hackers fed info to Wikileaks last summer in order to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Donald Trump win the election, a Trump transition spokesperson said the following: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction” — what? “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history” — indisputable bullshit. “It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again'” — sociopathic denial cloaked in a nationalist campaign mantra, and fully in keeping with the mindset of innumerable despots and tyrants of the past.
The Washington Post reported Friday evening that the CIA told U.S. Senators earlier this week says Russia hacked DNC emails and funnelled them to Wikileaks in order to help Trump win the election. During the meeting, CIA officials told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal. Quote from official to Post reporter: “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected. That’s the consensus view.”