I’m adding an 80th film to HE’s list of preferred films due this year — Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky‘s The Polka King, a true-life dramedy starring Jack Black as Pennsylvania polka king and ponzi-schemer Jan Lewan. Directed and written by Forbes and Wolodarsky; costarring Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver and SNL‘s Vanessa Bayer. If nothing else it has the markings of a big smash at Sundance, where it’ll debut on Sunday, 1.22.
“I’ve been very impressed with just about every Warner Bros. Archive Collection Bluray that’s crossed my path, and Bad Day at Black Rock is no exception. Presented in its original Cinemascope 2.55:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer represents a clear upgrade from the muddy and generally unimpressive 2005 DVD in every department. Image detail and textures are dramatically improved here, as are the film’s earthy color palette and grain structure; it doesn’t look nearly as dated this time around, which strengthens Black Rock‘s already-solid atmosphere to great effect. Dirt and debris are basically absent, and no digital manipulation (noise reduction, compression artifacts) was detected either. Without question, it’s a fantastic treatment of a deserving film. Die-hard fans will be extremely pleased.” — from Randy Miller‘s 12.28.16 DVD Talk review on the Bad Day at Black Rock Bluray, which will street later this month.
Something I never knew: According to a 3.10.17 TCM.com essay, Bad Day was the first MGM film to be shot in Cinemascope. According to director John Sturges‘ commentary track on the Criterion laserdisc release, it was also filmed at the same time in the then-standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio because studio executives still weren’t sure how well the widescreen format would work. The boxy version was never released, but I wonder if the elements might still exist. The Robe was shot in the same two formats, and the Fox Home Video Robe Bluray allows the viewer the option of watching the 1.33 version simultaneously along with the Scope version.
I’ve long fancied myself as a reasonably decent, sometimes better-than-decent photographer. I’m not brilliant but I know how to make a shot look pretty good. My primary influencers in terms of framing and balance have been Sergei Eisenstein, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Gregg Toland, Conrad Hall, etc. So speaking as someone who knows a little something about the craft, I have to give it up today for film essayist and Sunset Gun blogger Kim Morgan, who posted a selfie today that’s way, way beyond my level. It’s on the level, in fact, of Gunnar Fischer‘s work for Ingmar Bergman‘s The Seventh Seal. Snapped along the Oregon coast.
5 pm Update: I speculated earlier today that this probably isn’t a selfie, and that a friend probably snapped it. Morgan just got in touch and said nope, she took it herself. “I did indeed take that photo,” she says. “My arm was in the right spot…I had to lean over far.”
A N.Y. Times piece posted at 2:41 Eastern announced that Manhattan’s Second Avenue Subway extension finally opened today. Which boils down to the fact that the longstanding Q line, which begins in Coney Island, now travels to the Upper East Side with stops at 72nd, 86th and 96th Streets. (The Times piece was co-authored by Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Emily Palmer, Noah Remnick, Daniel E. Slotnik and Jonathan Wolfe.)
I’ve added seven more titles to HE’s previously posted roster of 2017 films. Not just any films, of course, but ones that will probably be of interest to discriminating audiences. (CG-driven fantasy, superhero crap and other low-end slop not included.) 65 as of 12.16; 74 as of 12.30 — the tally is now 80. I’m seriously interested in only two of these — Hany Abu Assad‘s The Mountain Between Us and Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky‘s The Polka King. Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles and Doug Liman‘s The Wall may or may not cut the mustard. The other three appear to be genre distractions.
If only half of the 80 are worth the candle (and I’m guessing that at least 50 will be), 2017 will be an exceptionally strong year.
Hany Abu Assad‘s The Mountain Between Us (20th Century Fox, 10.20.17) — Survivalist drama with romantic undercurrent, based on Charles Martin’s same titled novel with a screenplay by Chris Weitz (who reportedly rewrote drafts by J. Mills Goodloe and Scott Frank). A surgeon (Idris Elba) and a writer (Kate Winslet) stranded in sub-zero weather in the mountains of northeastern Utah after a plane crash.
Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles — In 1892 an Army captain (Christian Bale) agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) back to his tribal lands in the year 1892. Cosarring Rosamund Pike, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Ben Foster, Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World).
Doug Liman‘s The Wall (Amazon/Roadside, 3.10) — Two American soldiers (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena) pinned down by a lethal Iraqi sniper with only a smallish wall for protection.
Three possibly interesting genre thrillers: (a) Gore Verbinski‘s A Cure for Wellness (20th Century Fox, 2.17.17) — Boilerplate: “A young exec is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious ‘wellness center’ at a remote location in the Swiss Alps. He soon learns that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem. Costarring Dane DeHaan, Mia Goth, Jason Isaacs, Adrian Schiller; (b) David Leitch‘s The Coldest City (Focus Features, 7.28.17) — Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan. Set in late ’80s Berlin, about an MI6 spy (Theron) teaming with Berlin station chief (McAvoy) on a hunt for double agents. Based on Antony Johnston’s 2012 graphic novel of the same name…whoops!; (c) David Robert Mitchell‘s Under The Silver Lake (A24) — Neo-noir crime thriller costarring Andrew Garfield, Zosia Mamet, Jimmi Simpson, Riley Keough.
Two years ago I was impressed by the crisp intellectual clarity exhibited by author, podcaster, blogger, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris during his famous clash with Ben Affleck on Real Time with Bill Maher. That led to my flipping through “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion,” and a realization that Harris isn’t an atheist as much as a spiritualist who’s unbound by religious dogma. The term “atheism” itself suggests negative naysaying when in fact many if not most atheists reside in a much broader and deeper spiritual realm than devout members of this or that religion.
This morning I watched a month-old video essay by Harris, which is a visualization of a portion of an 11.10 podcast (i.e., “The Most Powerful Clown“). It connected with my inner “yes!” button more profoundly and satisfyingly than any post-election assessment that I’ve heard or read — straight, plain, frank. Harris has thoroughly explained why he despises Trump with every fibre of his being, but neither does he hold back in explaining two of the factors (among many) behind Clinton’s loss.
Harris notes that revulsion against p.c. tyranny was a big factor, which is hardly an outlier position. He also argues that Clinton’s refusal to acknowledge the pernicious threat of Islamic jihad within the Islamic community was a significant error. Yes, Harris has written a respected book about Islam and so he notes that Clinton’s refusal to divert from the p.c. liberal line about Islam (i.e., the one espoused by Affleck during that Real Time debate) was a problem for her. I noted this in a November 2015 post in the wake of the Paris massacre, particularly Clinton’s remark that “Islam is not our adversary…Muslims are peaceful and tolerant and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”
Imagine if TV cameras had somehow captured Walter Cronkite stumbling around totally shitfaced and grabbing women’s asses during a CBS holiday party back in the early ’70s. Or a dead-drunk Edward R. Murrow slurring his words and losing his train of thought while reporting on the London blitz in 1940. No question about it — CNN’s Don Lemon descending into an alcoholic abyss last night was one for the books.
Lemon and colleague Brooke Baldwin were doing a light-hearted CNN remote from The Spotted Cat in New Orleans. Lemon reportedly began downing shots of tequila before 9 pm. “People are saying that I’m lit,” Lemon said . “Yeah, I’m lit. Who cares?”
Since when do network news anchors get drunk before millions of viewers? On the other hand I felt a certain sympathy for Lemon, who had apparently decided to throw decorum out the window as…what, an expression of nihilistic fuck-all despair over the coming reign of Donald Trump?
Imagine the shame that Lemon must be feeling now — the shame and the feeling of last night’s poison coursing through his veins and the “wow, what the fuck did I do?” confusion. Imagine the look he gave himself as he stared into the bathroom mirror at 7:30 this morning.
Lemon was ready to submit to a nipple-piercing after Times Square co-anchor Kathy Griffin suggested this (he actually began to unbutton his shirt), but Baldwin talked him out of it. He also lamented that he was too work-oriented and pledged that he might be more open to a relationship in the coming year.