Principal photography on John Cameron Mitchell‘s How to Talk to Girls at Parties (A24, 5.18) began on 11.9.15 in Sheffield, England. Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson. Synopsis: Female alien (presumably Fanning) hooks up with two earthling girls in London suburb of Croydon. HE suspicion/presumption: 21st Century Earth Girls Are Easy without the music? Bottom line: Iffy, don’t count your chickens. 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, 44% on Metacritic.
The above headline is a line from Lewis Milestone‘s Mutiny on the Bounty (’62), spoken in Act Three by Tarita (Maimiti) and aimed at Marlon Brando (Fletcher Christian).
Before today and for whatever reason I’d never laid eyes on the original uncropped photo used for the cover of Surrealistic Pillow…just saying.
With one-fourth of 2018 completed, it’s time to assess. What was the best film to open between January 1st and March 31st? Although nothing really rang my bell, I was mostly pleased with the last hour of Ryan Coogler‘s Black Panther. With everyone insisting that the hugely successful Disney release has to be ratified as a Best Picture nominee next January, I suppose I could call it 2018’s best film so far without sounding like too much of a whore.
Curious as it sounds, I was a little more admiring of Steven Spielberg‘s Ready Player One — another rousing third act but also with a relatively decent beginning and middle. “I came to scoff but came away placated, and even mildly enthralled by certain portions,” I said the other day. “For what it is, you could do a lot worse than Ready Player One…strange as this sounds there were times when I actually enjoyed the ride.”
But in terms of serious goodness and elemental nutrition, four foreign language releases share the prize — Sebastián Lelio‘s A Fantastic Woman, Andrej Zvyagintsev‘s Loveless and Samuel Maoz‘s Foxtrot (all from Sony Classics) and Ziad Doueiri‘s The Insult (Cohen Media Group).
Armando Ianucci‘s The Death of Stalin may have assembled the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating outside of Black Panther (95%) “I’ve no argument with the critics who are doing handstands and cartwheels,” I wrote on 3.8, “except for the fact that it’s more LQTM funny than the laugh-out-loud kind. There’s nothing wrong with LQTM humor, which I’ve also described as no-laugh funny — you just have to get past the idea of expecting to go ‘hah-hah, ho-ho, hee-hee’ because that never really happens.”
Alex Garland‘s Annihilation was easily the most overpraised film of 2018’s first quarter. “A visually imaginative, microbe-level, deep-in-the-muck monster-alien flick that will bring you down, down, down,” I wrote on 2.21.18. “Inventive in terms of the day-glo tree tumors and in a generally fungal, micro-bacterial, fiendish-mitosis sort of way, but it’s unrelentingly grim…basically a film about lambs to the slaughter.”
The 15:17 to Paris was half-tolerable but mostly underwhelming. “Weak docudrama tea and weirdly Christian to boot, but I didn’t hate it,” I wrote on 2.11. “Most of it felt like I was sitting in the back seat of an Uber or on a high-speed European train, waiting to reach my destination…was it horrifically boring? No, but it wasn’t what anyone would call engaging or riveting…it’s mildly weightless.”
Two different sources have told a CBS source heard that the “active shooter” situation at You Tube offices in San Bruno is a “white female.” “Multiple law enforcement sources” have told NBC News that the female shooter “is down.” Another says dead of a self-inflicted wound. Somewhere between 10 and 15 shots. Ten or eleven victims including a woman who was shot “multiple times.” Obviously a highly unusual occurence as shooters are almost invariably male. The last female shooter, Tashfeen Malik, was one of the two participants in the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist incident.
At the recent Los Angeles premiere for Chappaquiddick, Entertainment Studios honcho Byron Allen told Variety that “there are some very powerful people” — one of them being Chris Dodd? — “who tried to put pressure on me not to release this movie. They went out of their way to try and influence me in a negative way. I made it very clear that I’m not about the right, I’m not about the left. I’m about the truth.”
Chappaquiddick is truthful, all right. It could have been even more damning, in fact, but it conveys the necessary facts. It doesn’t slap you across the chops, but it delivers and lingers. There’s no forgetting it the next day.
It’s about how Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Jason Clarke) suffocated his soul late at night on 7.18.69, and thereafter showed his family and colleagues (and eventually the world) what kind of person he was. About how he recklessly and probably drunkenly drove his Oldsmobile off a small wooden bridge around 11 pm that night, plunging into the black seawater, somehow climbing out of the vehicle but failing to save his passenger, a 28 year-old campaign worker named Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara). And about how Mary Jo, stuck inside the submerged, upside-down vehicle, didn’t drown but almost certainly died of gradual suffocation in an air void.
In my view (and probably in the view of those who see it this weekend), Chappaquiddick is about how irresponsible, well-connected rich guys call their friends and cover their tracks, and about how average bystanders sometimes stand by and shake their heads or shrug their shoulders and perhaps say to themselves “not mine to judge or condemn…I merely have my life to live, but the rich and powerful have their agendas to serve.”
In the late summer of ’16 I threw some praise at a 5.11.16 draft of Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan‘s Chappaquiddick script. I tore through it in no time. It’s the kind of well-finessed backroom melodrama that I love — no bullshit, subdued emotions, no tricks or games. It’s tense and well-honed, and, like I said on 8.18.16, a nightmare that had me shaking my head and muttering “Jesus H. Christ”.
Like the script, film is a damning, no-holds-barred account of the infamous July 1969 auto accident which nearly destroyed Ted Kennedy‘s political career save for some high-powered finagling and string-pulling that allowed the younger brother of JFK and RFK to wiggle out of serious trouble and more or less skate.
Just about every scene exudes the stench of an odious situation being suppressed and re-narrated by big-time fixers, many of whom are appalled at Ted’s behavior and character but who do what’s necessary regardless.
Last weekend I watched a 4K streaming version of Steven Spielberg‘s Saving Private Ryan. There’s no question that this 1998 WWII drama is one of the most brutally realistic and emotionally affecting war films ever made, and is certainly among Beardo’s finest. And yet I found myself flinching at the occasionally forced or unlikely moments, at the too-broad “acting” and emotional button-pushings. It kept ringing my phony gong. “Jeez, I don’t know if I even like this movie any more,” I said to myself. “Even the Omaha Beach landing sequence is starting to bother me.”
I had the same kind of reaction when I rewatched Close Encounters of the Third Kind in ’07, or 30 years after it opened. The bottom line is that Spielberg’s sentimental or overly theatrical instincts aren’t aging any better than John Ford‘s similar tendencies.
The greatest offense comes from Harrison Young‘s awful over-acting as the 75-year-old Ryan. His face is stricken with guilt as he shuffles through the Omaha Beach cemetery, and he walks like a 90-year-old afflicted with rheumatism. In ’87 I visited this same cemetery with my father, who’d fought against the Japanese during WWII. He was quietly shaken, he later said, but he held it in because that’s what former Marines do under these circumstances. They show respect by behaving in a disciplined, soldier-like way. They don’t moan and weep and flail around like some acting-class student.
I almost lost it when the teary-eyed Young collapsed upon the grave of Cpt. Miller (Tom Hanks). “Oh, for God’s sake!” I said out loud. “Show a little dignity…be a man!” Kathleen Byron‘s performance as white-haired Mrs. Ryan is almost as bad. All she does is eyeball her doddering, bent-over husband. The whole family, in fact, is staring at the old coot like he’s about to keel over from a heart attack.
Then comes one of the most dishonest cuts in motion picture history, going from a close-up of Young’s eyes to the D-Day landing craft carrying the Ryan squad — Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel — as they approach Omaha beach. Matt Damon‘s Ryan (Young’s 21-year-old counterpart) won’t meet them for another couple of days, when they’re inland a few miles.
I don’t believe that loaded-down soldiers drowned after being dropped by landing craft into 15 feet of water. That might have occured in real life, but I didn’t believe this in Saving Private Ryan — it just seemed absurd. I didn’t believe that bullet wounds would cause the water off Omaha Beach to turn red with blood — in fact Spielberg’s crew poured 40 barrels of fake blood into the water to achieve this effect. The basic effect is one of Hollywood exaggeration blended with historical, real-life horror.
Then comes Hanks’ big zone-out moment when he hits the beach. He’s an Army captain in the thick of battle with machine-gun bullets whizzing by and guys getting drilled and blown apart, and he chooses this moment to go “Ohhh, I can’t think or move…it’s too much…I’m so upset by war and its carnage that I need to go catatonic for a couple of minutes…don’t mind me…I’ll come back to life after this sequence is over.” I’m sitting there going “get it together, man! You wouldn’t do this in a Samuel Fuller or Howard Hawks film…you’re only zoning out because Spielberg likes the idea of spacing out and turning the sound down.”