David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet — the movie that restored his reputation after the debacle of Dune — opened a little more than 30 years ago. True story: I did publicity for New Line Cinema in ’85 and ’86, and one of the films I focused on in particular was A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2. A colleague told me a story about calling Hope Lange, who had recently costarred in Nightmare 2 as well as Blue Velvet. He was calling about some print interviews he’d arranged for her to do, but as they began speaking he realized Lange was under the impression that he was working on Blue Velvet. When he explained otherwise, her gracious and inviting tone disappeared. “Oh, you’re calling about the other film,” Lange said.
From Paul Krugman‘s “The Tainted Election,’ posted on 12.12: “Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more.
“If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?
“And it wouldn’t have been seen as a marginal victory, either. Even as it was, Mrs. Clinton received almost three million more votes than her opponent, giving her a popular margin close to that of George W. Bush in 2004.
“So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement” — i.e., Comey.
A friend who saw Rogue One at the Pantages two nights ago calls it “the best Star Wars film I’ve ever seen.” I asked what his favorite Star Wars film is, and he answered The Empire Strikes Back. Me: “You’re saying it strikes the same kind of heavy chords?” Friend: “Well, it’s not as darkly themed or artily photographed but it’s really good…they had to start from scratch with brand-new characters.”
I could have gone into my song-and-dance about Empire being such a one-of-a-kind thing, but I didn’t want to be tedious. But I doubt that Rogue One is going to be all about losing, betrayals, self-doubt, hauntings and evil having its way, which is what consumes Irvin Kershner‘s 1980 film. (And which is precisely what’s happening in this country right now.) They’re no glory in Empire. The heroes get their asses kicked from beginning to end, and at the end they’re grateful not to be dead and ready for a nap. Like most of us these days.
An out-of-town critic who saw it this morning said the following: “I’m not much of a Star Wars fan, but this one struck me as easily one of the best in the series. It goes on too long — 133 minutes — with one of those endless battle sequences at its climax, but the story is pretty interesting, there is actually some moral complexity, and it appears the franchise has finally entered the 21st century in terms of casting. The heroes are a Mexican, an English woman, two Asians and a Pakistani/Muslim/Englishman. So the film’s racial and ethnic composition is kind of a ‘fuck you’ to Trump and the alt-right.”
I’m seeing Rogue One this evening at 7 pm on the Disney lot.
For the 17th time: The fact that I adore grimly serious fast-car movies means that I have no choice but to loathe the Fast and Furious franchise, and to condemn F. Gary Gray‘s The Fate of the Furious (Universal, 4.4.17) sight unseen. Because this franchise has steadfastly refused to invest in any semblance of road reality, and has thereby locked me out of the action time and again.
Because I really love that low-key Steve McQueen machismo thing. I worshipped the driving sequences in Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Drive. Those screeching, howling tires and clouds of smelly white smoke in their wake. The kind we can really believe in. Hey, guys? McQueen is looking down from heaven, and he thinks you’re all pathetic. Particularly Diesel and Johnson.
Last night I watched the last three episodes of HBO’s Divorce, which I’ve liked enough to stay with but not enough to write about. But here I am writing about the music played over the closing credits of episode #10 — the Little River Band‘s “Lonesome Loser.” This was never more than a second-tier song (the lyrics are kind of awful in a self-pitying way) but it got me nonetheless. Because the chorus has a nice hooky harmony thing, and because it’s been 30-plus years since I’ve had a listen. All to say there are some songs out there that you know aren’t very good but you listen to them anyway, especially when you’re driving. I have a place in my head for songs like this, and I’m sorry.
It’s immediately apparent that Martin Scorsese‘s Silence has a grand scheme in mind, and that the task of the viewer to drop to his or her knees and settle into it like a great novel or an extended church service. Immersive, enveloping. A kind of spiritual obstacle course, and transfixing for that. And yet you’re waiting for some shift in the wind, a turning of a page. But what? Will Silence hear thunder from the sky or be shaken by an earthquake or clapped with a bolt of lightning?
No, it turns out — somewhere around the 110-minute mark Silence will suddenly be lifted and cue-balled and spun around by a guy I’ve never heard of but whose energy is obvious and exceptional — Issey Ogata, a 64 year-old Japanese actor giving a “where did this come from?” supporting performance that makes you sit up in your seat and go “yes…he’s kicking it…give it to me!”
Ogata is playing a bad guy (i.e., Inoue Masashige, a real-life figure in the Japanese persecution of Christians) but with relish and pizazz. He gives Andrew Garfield‘s Sebastiao Rodrigues hell wth a forked tongue. His every line says “I love debating cowering Christians and explaining with supreme confidence how completely meaningless they are in 17th Century Japan…and I love swatting flies and twitching my eyebrows and flaunting my quirkiness.”
In short, Ogata is a kind of Hans Landa in Japanese garb.
The Academy loves scenery-chewers. Who doesn’t?
Today a well-sourced, nicely written piece about Don’s Plum (’96), the long-suppressed, improvisational hang-out film that costars Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Kevin Connolly, appeared on Vanity Fair.com.
Written by Chris Lee, it covers the long, soul-draining saga of what began as a short film made by a group of bros in ’95 and ’96, but expanded into a feature-length thing when director R.D. Robb and producer Dale Wheatley sensed during editing that they’d shot something crazier and more complex than what a short could contain.
The problem was that DiCaprio and Maguire didn’t want Don’s Plum released as a feature, partly because they didn’t find their loose-shoe performances flattering and partly because it was never supposed to be more than a short. They eventually took measures to have the feature-length verson killed as far as U.S. and Canadian distribution was concerned.
The film finished shooting 20 years ago and you still can’t see it domestically, although you can buy the German Region 2 DVD.
I wrote 5,000 words about Don’s Plum in ‘late 97 for Mr. Showbiz, only the piece has been deleted and presumably trashed. (I might have a color print-out stuffed in my closet.) I contributed some of this story to a People magazine article about DiCaprio than ran in January ’98.
The backstory boils down to this: Robb, Wheatley and producers David Stutman and John Schindler should have gone along with requests from DiCaprio and Maguire to make a short instead of a feature, and used it as a calling-card thing. But they decided to be ambitious instead, and paid the price for that. DiCaprio and Maguire felt betrayed and eventually went to court to stop the film (which I’ve seen a couple of times in a muddy, dupey VHS form) from being released, and succeeded.
I didn’t crash until 2 am last night so I damn sure wasn’t going to bound out of bed at dawn for the Golden Globe nominations. No way. There are plenty of sites posting the nommies chapter and verse so I’ll just mention a few eyebrow raisers:
(1) No Best Motion Picture, Drama for Fences, and no Best Director nomination for Denzel Washington — Oddly, unjustly, the “Fences isn’t cinematic enough” observation has stuck to the wall as far as the HFPA is concerned. Hollywood Elsewhere’s view is that Fences, a straight-sauce delivery of August Wilson‘s finest play, has the confidence to not flourish things up with ambitious camera strategies. It just watches without comment, letting Wilson’s dialogue (along with the perfect performances) carry the ball. That’s integrity, son.
(2) No Best Supporting Actor nomination for Hidden Figures‘ Kevin Costner — I’ve noted more than once that Costner is one of those world-class movie stars who’s mastered the fine art (as once explained by James Cagney) of planting your feet, looking people in the eye and telling the truth. This steady, balanced, fair-minded vibe fortifies his Hidden Figures character, NASA honcho Al Harrison (a composite character partly based on the late Robert Gilruth), and the film as a whole.
(3) Total blowoff of Martin Scorsese’s Silence — Even among those who’ve expressed this or that concern about Scorsese’s 17th Century spiritual epic, no one is disputing that Silence is a deeply personal, fully-realized masterwork of sorts — not the easiest film to sit through perhaps but one that indisputably pays off at the end, and which sticks to your ribs for days following. It doesn’t seem right or respectful to just wave this film off like a side order of asparagus. No nominations at all.
(4) No Michael Keaton nomination for his fascinating, ethically ambiguous, neither fish-nor-fowl performance as McDonald’s kingpin Ray Kroc in The Founder — As I wrote on 12.2, “Most people like their moral-ethical dramas to adhere to a black and white scheme, and The Founder boldly refuses to do this. It treads a fine ethical edge, allowing you to root for Keaton’s ‘bad guy’ despite reservations while allowing you to conclude that the McDonald brothers were stoppers who didn’t get it.” Keaton’s brilliant performance never instructs you how to feel or what judgments to arrive at, and therein lies the genius.
(5) No nomination for Gold‘s Matthew McConaughey — I haven’t posted any opinions about Gold (Dimension 12.25), but I’m not in the least bit surprised that Matthew McConaughey‘s performance as ‘Kenny Wells’ (a gold-prospecting character based on the real-life John Felderhof, who figured prominently in the Bre-X financial scandal of the ’90s) is being bypassed for awards action. For McConaughey’s performance is the most annoyingly actorish he’s ever given, crammed with makeup and affectations — a bulky weight gain, a mostly bald head, fake teeth, an attitude of oily greediness and the relentless smoking of cigarettes in every damn scene. The only thing McConaughey doesn’t do makeup- or affectation-wise is (a) walk with a pronounced limp or (b) wear a Quasimido-like hunchback prosthetic. The McConnaissance was over after Sea of Trees, but his Gold performance made me want to run and hide — no offense.”