So many things have gone downhill or been degraded in our culture, but I never thought badminton rackets and shuttlecocks would be among them. Baseball mitts, hardballs and wooden bats feel just as good as they did when I was a kid, and a lot of other sporting equipment — basketballs, squash rackets, golf clubs, footballs, tennis balls — hasn’t changed. But badminton rackets (or at least the ones that I recently bought in a Big 5 Sporting Goods store) are small and thin and cheaply made, and shuttlecocks are made of run-of-the-mill plastic. Yes, you can buy a nice classic badminton racket and feathered shuttlecocks, but you have to search around online. They’ve become a connoisseur thing. Like saddle shoes.
Just a note of gratitude to those who did the supportive and generous thing over the last three days. I wasn’t sure how this would play, but 97% of the responses were about respect and tribute and even love. A nice warm vibratey feeling all through your gutty wuts. Like I said earlier this week, the Jimmy Stewart-in-Vertigo thing won’t last forever but it’ll be a thing for a while. Late October, early November. I just want to say thanks, thanks and thanks again.
I loved Armando Iannucci‘s In The Loop and I’ve enjoyed watching Veep from time to time, but I’m not getting the Death of Stalin thing. Based on Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin‘s graphic novel “The Death Of Stalin,” and so what? Soviet apparatchiks scrambling for position in the wake of Stalin’s passing? Who cares what a demimonde of paranoid Russian assholes were up to 64 years ago? It may be “funny” on its own terms, but why? Featuring Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Rupert Friend, Andrea Riseborough, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Whitehouse and Adrian McLoughlin. Playing at TIFF 2017, opening in the U.K. on 10.20, getting a U.S. release via IFC Films sometime…what, in March?
The downish critical response to Matt Ruskin‘s Crown Heights (Amazon/IFC, 8.25) is shameful. At the very least it’s harsh. I know an absorbing, well-paced docudrama when I see one, and yet some of the nyah-nyahs have pissed on it. It certainly deserves an aggregate rating in the 80s, and yet it currently has a 62% Rotten Tomatoes score and a 52% on Metacritic.
This is a believable, tightly woven, emotionally engaging tale of a real-life Brooklyn guy, Colin Warner, who did 20 years in the slam for a murder he didn’t commit. The fact that it deals straight cards, that every scene counts (it runs only 94 minutes) and that it pays off with one restrained, affecting performance after another (especially from co-leads Lakeith Stanfield and Nnamdi Asomugha) are three reasons why it won the Audience Award for U.S. Dramatic Film at last January’s Sundance Film Festival.
Is Crown Heights as moody and atmospheric as HBO’s The Night Of, which tells a vaguely similar tale and which all the critics flipped for? No, but that’s partly because The Night Of ran eight fucking hours. (The always admirable Bill Camp costarred in both.) The Night Of said the same thing over and over — “If the system decides to fuck you, you’re fucked…and even if you’re freed one day you’ll still be fucked because prison life has turned you into a criminal.” Crown Heights is about shit out of luck, bad breaks, friendship, character and persistence.
For me, Crown Heights made the evils of institutionalized racism seem a lot sadder and far more disturbing than two viewings of Detroit did.
Is Crown Heights as psychologically studied and unsettling as Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Wrong Man (’56), which told approximately the same tale minus the racial context and nearly 20 years of jail time? No, but the Crown Heights narrative is more gripping than the Hitchcock — it holds you on a beat-by-beat, “what’ll happen next?” basis. The Wrong Man, a dull commercial failure, is a grim slide experience — a stacked-deck, can’t-win scenario that offers little hope for a reversal of fortune. Innocent Henry Fonda is accused, interrogated, fucked over and put through hell, and it never stops. Until the clouds finally part at the very end, that is.
In the case of at least two relatively recent Criterion Blurays, Only Angels Have Wings and His Girl Friday, the tech guys darkened images that were slightly or distinctly brighter on previous Blurays and DVDs. Criterion has an occasional fetish for inkiness in the black-and-white realm. Two HE reviews, “Dark Angels, Black Barranca, Noir All Over” and “Inky, Grain-Smothered Friday Doesn’t Deliver Decent Bump”, complained about this.
Review quote: “Like their 2001 480p DVD, the image [on the new Criterion Bluray] is darker than [previous] digital releases. From our experience and comments from transfer specialists, ‘darker’ is usually more accurate to the theatrical presentation. You can see from the screen captures that the Criterion shows less information in the frame [and yet] the Criterion actually shows more on the top.”
Look at George Sanders‘ Jack Favell in these DVD Beaver-captured images. The lighter version is from the 2012 MGM Bluray (which I am totally happy with — thank God there’s a fine-looking Rebecca that hasn’t been inked up) and the darker, of course, is from the Criterion. What kind of sick-fuck cineaste would prefer the darker image? It looks as if heavy thunderstorm clouds are passing over Manderley, and that Favell is about to get soaked.
The late Sam Shepard passed this story along four or five years ago. Definitely worth a listen. It’s a tale about a horse-riding stunt in The Right Stuff that didn’t go as planned, largely due to Shepard’s own steed being involved and a large black cable that may have resembled a snake. I’ve always hated The Right Stuff (I re-explained why eight months ago), but I’ll bet that the making of it was a great adventure.