Amazon is apparently serious about not ever releasing Woody Allen‘s A Rainy Day in New York. They’re scared of how the “always believe the victim” crowd will react if they open it, despite the Moses Farrow essay and the overwhelming evidence that Allen is no child molester. Amazon washing their hands is a way of saying (a) they don’t believe Moses and everyone else who’s shared a sensible evaluation of the accusation, or (b) they’re cowards. If and when they walk away they’ll be officially condemning an innocent man.
By my sights, Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma is much, much more than just a series of hauntingly beautiful, silver monochrome, to-die-for capturings of life in Mexico City around 1970 and ’71, and particularly that of a certain middle-class family (more or less based on Cuaron’s own) going through various trials and struggles and annoyances, including a constant supply of dog turds in the sheltered driveway of their two-story home.
At first it seems like Roma might be too laid back, too slow — a cross between Eric Rohmer‘s watching-paint-dry aesthetic and a black-and-white Nuri Bilge Ceylan film.
But as the incidents and details accumulate the scheme becomes clear — we’re getting to know this brood (an aloof doctor father, a spirited but resentful wife-mom, three young brothers, a sister and two live-in maids) and their realm in a bit-by-bit, layer-by-layer fashion, and gaining more recognition and understanding as it builds and moves along, everyone and everything becoming sharper and more dimensional in stages.
The strategy begins to pay off with greater and greater dividends around the halfway mark, and the last third is just wow, wow, wow, wow. And it’s not just the family that sinks in but the whole culture of Mexico City and the swirl of sexual and political events, characters and currents of that era, and especially how the infamous Corpus Christi massacre of 6.10.71 affects the fate of one of the maids, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), in a devastating way.
Put another way, Roma isn’t just one killer Alexa 65 shot after another, although you could theoretically ignore the particulars and just trip out on the widescreen coffee-table photo book art of it all. It’s a movie that doesn’t appear to be following a narrative through-line (or more precisely a collection of through-lines) until it gradually begins to do that, and then the hook is in and you realize that Roma owns you.
I’ve been in but mostly out on director Karyn Kusama — loved Girlfight, hated Aeon Flux, loathed Jennifer’s Body but found The Invitation a truly fascinating creepout. The latter is why I caught her latest, Destroyer, early this afternoon.
I felt three ways about it. One, I respected Kusama’s intention to out-badass every other badass rogue cop flick ever made. Two, I hated watching it. And three, for over an hour I was filled with self-loathing for being too chicken to leave.
It’s a complex L.A. crime tale about Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), a wasted, walking-dead Los Angeles detective trying to settle some bad business and save her daughter from a life of crime and misery. It unfolds through a complex, pain-in-the-ass flashback structure, and is punctuated by all kinds of nihilistic, hard-boiled behavior by the mostly criminal flotsam characters.
Nicole Kidman as Detective Erin Bell in Destroyer.
Destroyer has guns, uniformed cops, blood, a scene in the Westwood Federal building cafeteria, purple ink, ugly asshole criminals with sickening haircuts, drugs, a handjob given to a dying criminal slob, a bank shootout, blah blah. Everything in this well-made if godforsaken film is scuzzy. Everyone and everything is covered in the stuff. Even I felt scuzzed out from my seat in the tenth row of the Herzog. Scuzzed and miserable.
Inner dialogue: “I’m in a beautiful Rocky Mountain town, surrounded on all sides by hotshot Hollywood types and cool rich people, and I’m in hell.”
30 minutes after it began I was going “oh, God, help me.” At the one-hour mark I had decided that stepping over six or seven persons sitting to my right would be too awkward, and at the same time a contrary voice was telling me “don’t do it, Jeff…tough it out.” At the 90-minute mark I was thinking “maybe if I take a short nap I’ll feel better when I awake and will enjoy the film a tiny bit more.” Then I decided “fuck it” and exited past two people to my left. I ducked out under the hanging velour curtain…freedom!
The movie is mostly about the way Kidman looks in this thing, like a combination vampire-zombie with dark eye bags and a complexion that suggests a heroin habit mixed with twice-daily injections of embalming fluid. Plus a Desolation Row, gray-streaked hair style.
Kidman and Kusama are saying “have you ever seen such a badass, hardass undercover female cop in your moviegoing life? Even in a zombie movie?” HE answer: No, I’ve never seen a cop character who looks this wasted, this dead-to-the-world, this gutted, this excavated, this George Romero, this Bela Lugosi-ish. Hats off!
Every Destroyer actor gives the kind of performance that makes you feel like your soul is draining out of the hourglass…Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Toby Kebbell, Scoot McNairy and Jade Pettyjohn. Hats off to them all.
Now that Telluride screenings are flying fast and furious I’m going through the usual homina-homina-homina. No time to write anything, squeezed from both ends, Macbook Pro batteries dying too soon, Jean-Luc Godard‘s Breathless. It’s 6 am as we speak. I crashed just after 1 am and awoke four hours later to get a jump on things, but I couldn’t make myself get out of bed until 5:30 am. I have to catch the gondola up to the Chuck Jones at 8 am to catch a 9 am screening of Alfonso Cuaron‘s Roma. I feel as if a bear is scratching at the door of my room and going “mwwaagghhh!…more reviews, more coverage…Instagram and Twitter posts aren’t enough, bitch…mwaaghhAWNNN!”
Last night I saw Damien Chazelle‘s First Man at 7pm, followed by Jason Reitman‘s The Front Runner at 10 pm. Both were (and probably still are) wowser thumbs-up immersions, but I have to say that Reitman’s film delivered a slightly bigger jolt in that I wasn’t sure how it would play (it’s a sharp, highly believable, exacting, well-acted, tip-top adult thing in all respects) whereas Chazelle’s film had been praised to the heavens in Venice. I therefore knew First Man would be dealing strong cards, but it was quite the surprise to realize by midnight that both films are heavy hitters.
The Front Runner is an exacting, brilliantly captured political tragedy, and easily Reitman’s best since Up In The Air. Yes, a Reitman comeback movie, and a good one at that. The 40-year-old director totally knocked it out of the park with Thank You For Smoking, Juno and Up In The Air but then seemed to lose that special touch over the last nine years. Now it’s returned. At least by my sights.
Gosling, Foy, Chazelle in Venice three days ago.
Hugh Jackman, Jason Reitman in Herzog theatre lobby last night around 9:40 pm.
The Front Runner reminded me at times of Michael Ritchie‘s The Candidate and sometimes surpassing that 1972 political drama in terms of believable campaign minutiae and a general drill-bit focus on the hundreds of little docudrama-like details that convince, divert and persuade. It also reminded me a bit of Mike Nichols‘ Primary Colors and James Vanderbilt‘s Truth, a first-rate politics-and-journalism film that was unjustly given the bum’s rush.
Hugh Jackman is totally first-rate as 1988 presidential contender Gary Hart — the ’80s liberal superstar in the Kennedy mold whom everyone angrily turned on at when his campaign totally fell apart over a brief, sloppily-arranged affair with a well-educated wannabe campaign worker Donna Rice. (She’s 60 now!)
But the screenplay, based on Matt Bai‘s “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” and co-written by Bai, Reitman and Jay Carson, portrays Hart in much more sympathetic terms — a guy who sadly screwed himself out of a shot at the White House over a mere dalliance but who had a real point when he argued that the media’s National Enquirer-like fixation on a sexual side issue that meant nothing and was nobody’s business to begin with was by far the greater mistake or misstep. Jackman makes you feel the rage about this.
The Hart-Rice affair was uncovered by Miami Herald reporters. Yesterday a friend from the Herald wrote to ask if the film identifies them chapter and verse, and I responded as follows: “The Miami Herald is completely and fully identified and the relationship between the Herald and Gary Hart is depicted as deeply antagonistic, especially on the Herald’s part. Kevin Pollack plays publisher Bob Martindale and Steve Zissis plays Tom Fiedler, one of the Herald reporters who chased the story. The Herald effort comes off as dogged but ultimately sleazy. This is not a positive portrait of the Herald or the press in general.
First Man is an intense, unconventional, psychologically penetrating take on the experience of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his wife, Janet Shearon (freckly-skinned Claire Foy, whom I last saw in Steven Soderberg‘s Unsane) from the early to late ’60s, culminating in the historic moon-landing mission of July 1969.
It’s no Ron Howard movie, that’s for sure — jarring, louder, lonelier, scarier, and well removed from that emotionally familiar, somewhat jingoistic universe of dramatic ups and downs that we all recall from Apollo 13.
I was seriously impressed with First Man because it’s really quite different — a kind of 16mm art film approach to an epic journey, an intimate, indie-styled, deeply personal movie writ large and loud with a rumbling, super-vibrating soundtrack. I agree with Owen Gleiberman‘s view that it’s the Saving Private Ryan of NASA space epics. The last 40 minutes or so (the 1967 fire tragedy to Neil and Janet’s post-mission meeting in an isolation area) are truly outstanding and suspenseful as fuck. It’s surely one of the measures of top-flight filmmaking that I was tense and worried about the success of a 50 year-old triumphant mission from 50 years ago.
And that rightwing “why have they ignored the planting of the American flag?” complaint is bullshit. The film shows two shots of the flag plus Neil’s kid raising the flag plus a shot of Neil saluting, or so it seemed to me.
Foy delivers the conventional emotional currents, calling Neil on his emotionally constipated bullshit but Gosling acts the hell out of Neil. Everything he does and says is very internal but you can read him in every scene. Don’t let anyone tell you that Foy owns this film — she does in an outwardly familiar sense but Gosling is doing something much braver and more intense in its own way.
Oh, the shaking, the throbbing, the rumbling, the overall loudness….wuuhhhrrrrnnannnggg…bang, bang, BANG, BUHNNG, WHAM, CLANG, ROAARRRRRRRMMMMmmmmm!