This Carey Mulligan closeup is from Emerald Fennell‘s Promising Young Woman (Focus Features 12.25), which I highly approve of for the most part. I’m presuming that Mulligan is wearing a wig, but maybe not. Either way I haven’t been this taken with an elaborate hair color job in a long, long time. The IMDB says credit belongs to key hair stylist Bryson Conley and hair department head Daniel Curet.
Yesterday I finally saw a good portion of Steve McQueen‘s “Small Axe” quintet — specifically Mangrove, Red White and Blue and Lover’s Rock. (I’ve yet to watch Alex Wheatle, which I’m been told is the least of the five, and Education.) I was delighted to be finally sinking into the Big Three. McQueen is such a masterful filmmaker. He elevates material simply by focusing, framing and sharpening. His eye (visual choices) and sense of rhythm are impeccable. This, I was muttering to myself, is ace-level filmmaking….this is what it’s all about.
I was hugely impressed by all three, but especially by Mangrove, a gripping, well-throttled political drama which echoes and parallels Aaron Sorkin‘s Trial of the Chicago 7.
Both are about (a) landmark trials involving police brutality in the general time frame of the late ’60s and early ’70s, (b) activist defendants and flame-fanning media coverage, (c) an imperious, disapproving judge (Alex Jennings is McQueen’s Frank Langella), (d) a passionate barrister for the defense (Jack Lowden as a kind of British Bill Kuntsler), and (e) a decisive verdict or narrative aftermath that exposed institutional bias.
Mangrove (Amazon, currently streaming) is primarily about the late Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the owner-operator of a neighborhood-friendly Notting Hill restaurant that served spicy food, attracted a cutting-edge clientele (locals, journalists, activists, Jimi Hendrix) and became a kind of community nerve center for political hey-hey.
Racist British cops raided the Mangrove 12 times between January ’69 and July ’70. A “hands off the Mangrove” protest march happened in August ’70. The event ended in violence and the arrests of nine protesters (the “Mangrove Nine”), who were tried in the Old Bailey. They were almost entirely acquitted of all charges.
Everything about the 128-minute Mangrove is perfectly fused and balanced just so — the brilliant script by McQueen and Alastair Siddons, Shabier Kirchner‘s cinematography, Chris Dickens‘ editing and just about every performance (Parkes, Jennings, Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby, Lowden, Rochenda Sandall, Nathaniel Martello-White , Darren Braithwaite, Sam Spruell).
The decisive way in which McQueen focuses on Crichlow/Parkes when the jury verdicts are finally read — staying on him, never cutting away, drilling down on the feeling — is one of the most riveting courtroom shots I’ve ever seen.
I was saying to myself that if Mangrove was a Best Picture contender, it would absolutely be right at the top of my list. Actually it is at the top of my list, except Amazon hasn’t categorized any of the “Small Axe” films (which were aired as a British miniseries) as features, and is aiming them, award-wise, at Emmy voters. But Mangrove is easily good enough to stand alongside Nomadland, Mank, Trial of the Chicago 7 and any other highly-rated 2020 film you might want to celebrate.
Mangrove is a major, grade-A motion picture — angrily alive, emotionally and atmospherically vibrant and urgent, heartfelt and rooted in real-deal history and hurt. And yet Amazon has decided, for reasons that no doubt make sense from a certain perspective, that it doesn’t belong the Best Picture competish. For me Mangrove is the second major 2020 film that warrants the top prize but which no one will be considering, the other being Roman Polanski‘s J’Accuse (i.e., An Officer and a Spy), which I saw earlier this year and went totally nuts for.
“Meryl Streep Isn’t on Our List of Greatest Actors — Here’s Why” is a 12.4.20 Times Insider piece by Sarah Bahr. The article explores the thinking about A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis‘s recent, widely ridiculed “25 Greatest Actors of 21st Century” piece.
Does Bahr address the obvious, which is that the 25 were (a) chosen according to a progressive woke checklist that favored women, POCs, international actors and Wes Studi, and (b) downplayed white cis males (i.e., Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc.)? Of course not. Does she allow or encourage Scott to dispute the forehead-slapping response to his not only having selected Keanu Reeves but put his name near the top of the list? Nope.
I get the idea behind celebrating a “man of the people” actor whose emotive gifts are, shall we say, on the somewhat brusque or understated side. If Tony and Manohla had somehow time-tripped back to 1975 and prepared a “25 Greatest Actors of the Last 25 Years” article, I would have completely understood if they’d picked the original Steve McQueen, and offered special praise for his less-is-more acting in The Sand Pebbles, Bullitt, Junior Bonner and The Getaway. That I would have totally agreed with, but Keanu effing Reeves?
Here’s Scott’s Keanu statement:
Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Georgia) is a blondie, zombie, chilly-souled Republican who spouted the usual scary-liberal accusations against her opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock, in today’s Georgia Senate runoff debate.
How can Georgians vote for Loeffler after a federal financial disclosure document showed last March that she and husband Jeffrey Sprecher, chairman and CEO of the Intercontinental Exchange (a corporation that owns the New York Stock Exchange), “sold stock in companies vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic with an aggregate value of several million dollars, and that they began selling stocks on 1.24.20, the same day Loeffler attended a private briefing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions on the spread of the disease”?
Warnock is clearly, obviously a better human being. Loeffler, whose personal worth is in the hundreds of millions, is obviously in it for the money.
I posted my admiring review of Thomas Bezhucha‘s Let Him Go on 11.3.20. I described it as “a kind of period western, set 50 or 60 years ago, about family, horses, children, continuity, guns, axes and fingers…so well composed, so exacting, so nicely honed.”
In short I was totally thumbs up for all aspects of this Kevin Costner-Diane Lane drama, except for one or two that I couldn’t discuss.
SPOILER WARNING: That was over a month ago. Let Him Go has been streaming since 11.6.20. So I’m posting a discussion I had with a friend about it on 11.2.20. If you’d rather not read, please don’t but either way SPOILERS await.
HE to friendo: “I’m loving Let Him Go…loving the mood, tone, cinematography, muted behaviors. But Lesley Manville and her scurvy yokel sons just chopped Kevin Costner’s fingers off and I really, REALLY didn’t like that. You don’t chop off the fingers of the laconic, tough-as-nails hero….you don’t do that!”
Friendo to HE: “[The finger-chop scene is] one of my favorite things in the film. You’re right — you don’t do that. It’s not done. And that ‘rule’ makes our hero feel implicitly protected. So that rule-breaking moment raised the stakes. It said: These people are THAT dangerous — the hero isn’t going to be protected by the usual hero mythology.
“I thought the horror of that event made what followed more suspenseful, as well as placing George on a path toward martyrdom (though we don’t know that yet).”
HE to friendo: “Kayli Carter is the villain of the piece. She had a good gentle husband (the son of Costner and Lane) and then, with a young son, she married a violent sociopath (Will Britain). She couldn’t sniff a whiff of trouble from that guy? Any half-intelligent adult could have. Especially with a three-year old to think about.
“Diane Lane was distant or less than embracing after her son died and so Kayli had no choice but to marry the first available psycho who came along? After all is said and done, that kid is going to be seriously traumatized for the rest of his life. Years of therapy.
“And of course Manville and her scurvy, white-trash, seed-of-Satan sons are cut from the same cloth that Trump supporters will come from 50 or 60 years hence. OF COURSE they are. Trump yokels + Deliverance + Australian crime family.
“And why did Kayli rat them out by telling Manville & Sons that Costner/Lane wanted her to move back with them? She knows that awful family is violent & territorial and yet she told on them?
Friendo to HE: “That plotting with the daughter is a weakness; it’s fuzzy. But I don’t think she’s villainous. The implication is that Donnie kept his true nature mostly hidden.
Vampire Rudy, 76, has tested positive for the coronavirus. But you knew that, of course, and we all know how this will turn out. Rudy will most likely be given the same super-medications that Trump was given during his brief bout with the disease, and will be more or less out of the woods within two or three weeks, if not sooner.
I wish it were otherwise, but wealthy and connected righties seem to be sliding by. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, 87, tested positive a month ago and has since returned to work.
Who’s dying from the virus then? Those suffering from frail constitutions, obesity (although that didn’t stop former New Jersey governor Chris Christie), respiratory issues (cigarette smoking), a lack of Vitamin D, etc. And those with threadbare health insurance.
Love this excerpt from Maggie Haberman’s N.Y Times story about Giuliani’s illness: It was unclear why Mr. Trump was the one announcing [Giuliani’s infection]. It was also unclear whether Mr. Giuliani, 76, is symptomatic. But at his age, he is in the high-risk category for the virus.”
HE-posted a few weeks ago: “First and foremost Mank has been made by and for film monks — smartypants types, devotional cineastes, those with a general sense of X-factor sophistication, guys like Bob Strauss, etc. That probably leaves out a certain portion of the community who will bestow earnest praise for its technical accomplishments. We all know what that means.”
While Mank currently has a respectable 88% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it has a slightly more concerning 79% rating on Metacritic. A reasonably decent aggregate between them, agreed, but then I read Ann Hornaday’s 11.18 Washington Post review, a half-and-halfer, and I realized that my respectful and admiring assessment of David Fincher’s film wasn’t as widely shared as I thought.
And then Mank began streaming on 12.4, and views of certain industry folk began to surface on Twitter and Facebook. This morning two Facebook threads this morning — one launched by Paul Schrader, another by Dale Launer — gave me pause.
Schrader complained that Mank “fails the first obligation of telling the story of a flawed protagonist — to convince the viewer that this character merits two hours of their time.” I replied that I initially felt this way, largely because Gary Oldman’s Herman Mankiewicz (20 years too old to be playing a 40something) to be mostly about being soused.
“But then, curiously, I began to like him more and more. Sappy as it may sound, he quipped and charmed his way into my heart.” And then Tesla executive Landon Johnson asked “how many times did you watch it before it charmed you?” And I replied “once” but at that very moment I knew Mank was in trouble with working industry types and related know-it-alls.
Mank will still be Best Picture-nominated, I suspect; ditto Fincher for directing and Eric Messerschmidt‘s black-and-white cinematography. But to go by almost everyone Amanda Seyfried‘s performance as Marion Davies is easily the most admired element — she’s the only real slam-dunk.
Consider Launer’s Facebook critique, which frankly made me go “hmmm.” A longtime seasoned screenwriter and a man of candid description and admission, he riffed on Mank in real time, and didn’t cut it much slack.
“I was going to have a nice evening by ordering in and watching Mank, which from the trailer looked stunning,” Launer begins. “But from the trailer, I wasn’t sure if it was a good movie or not. It is not.
“Annoying, pretentious dialogue dominates the movie. The writing has the feel of someone who went to an Ivy league school and want to show it off in their writing. Hence dialogue that sounds very ‘drawing room’ (or so it attempts) and is reaching for a sophisticated feel. This gives it a slightly ‘old timey’ feel — but not in a good way. A lot of ‘clever’ talk, but in statements rather than actual dialogue…witticisms but nothing that approaches reality. Superficially classy, but without elegance. Amateurish, like when a studio hires someone with a refined background and assumes they can write a compelling story. First with ‘exposition’ like someone saying ‘You remember when…’ instead of just showing us. I’d rather SEE the flashback.
“Then there’s a scene where there’s a writers room filled with east coast playwrights and journalists and they’re introduced as though the audience will be impressed. Best to impress us with their actions rather than their introduction. This is going to be a slog but to be fair, I’m only 28 minutes in and had to take a short break so my annoyance doesn’t turn out out and out anxiety. The first act is about to end (I think) and there should be a direction that takes off in an interesting way.
“The look, however is sensational. Shot on a digital black-and-white camera — production design, cinematography and the direction — all top notch.
12.8.20 will be the 40th anniversary of John Lennon‘s murder. I’ve written about this four or five times, but how can I ignore the 40th? How can I not go there?
I was in London, waking up on a couch in Stockwell, when I heard the news. I was there to do a Gentleman’s Quarterly interview with Peter O’Toole, whose career-reviving performance in The Stunt Man was one of the hot topics of filmdom. (I wound up doing it a couple of days later in the basement of “Shady Old Lady”, O’Toole’s Hampstead home at 98 Heath Street.)
So I was crashing with a couple of ladies I knew through a journalist friend, and the first thing I heard in the early morning light (maybe 6 or 6:30 am) was “Jeff, wake up…you need to hear this.” And then the radio came on.
Being in London that morning made me feel vaguely closer to the Lennon legacy. Somewhat. Even though Lennon had been a U.S. resident for eight-plus years. I felt gutslammed like everyone else, but I didn’t choke up for another few hours. That evening in fact. After a couple of pints. Alcohol does that.
My stoic younger brother wept, according to my mother. He visited my parents’ home (45 Seir Hill Road, Wilton, CT) the following day to talk it over, and it all leaked out. The poor guy didn’t wind up living what anyone would call a driven or a bountiful or even a somewhat happy life. He passed from an accidental Oxycontin and alcohol overdose in October 2009.
If I’d been in the States I doubt I would’ve heard the news from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. I’ve never watched football games, ever, for any reason. And I never will.
Many rock stars had died of drugs and fast living in the ’70s (Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin), but Lennon’s murder was the first big twentysomething and thirtysomething boomer tragedy — an event that throttled the big media world, and which made everyone who’d ever learned Beatle harmonies feel suddenly slugged in the heart, not in a sharply painful romantic breakup way but in a slightly older person’s (certainly not a younger person’s) way…a terrible weight of the world thing…an awful sense of vulnerability and the jabbings of a harsh and cruel world.
In the obsessively warped mind of Mark David Chapman, Lennon was killed for having betrayed his destiny as a kind of spiritual leader and torch-bearer, which he arguably was from ’64 through ’70 (the end of the dream coming with the release of Plastic Ono Band).
He was therefore assassinated, in Chapman’s mind, for the crime of having withdrawn from the hubbub and become a retiring house husband in the Dakota…just another pampered rich guy whom Holden Caulfield would have strongly disapproved.
YouTube guy: “I was watching that night. Never in a million years would I have imagined that John Lennon would be murdered, and that I would learn of his death from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football. Like millions of fans, I burst into tears. I felt like I’d personally been robbed of most of my childhood. Of course I grieved for his family, but I was a member of John Lennon’s larger family, which was the whole world.”
When I posted this two years ago the comment thread was hijacked by weirdos, including Kid Notorious. Just a nice holiday recollection piece…mood, spirit, aroma. But the piss-spray commenters ruined it:
Christmas was great when I was a New Jersey kid of seven, eight and nine. Almost everything felt magical or tingly or transporting on some level. Mostly the aromas — the pine needles, oven-fresh turkey, hot gravy over mashed potatoes, warm pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream — but also the tree decorations, the store lights at night, the wrapped gifts, the chilly air, listening to Dylan Thomas‘s recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” and watching Alistair Sim‘s A Christmas Carol, and those occasional visits to Manhattan with my mom (department stores, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall).
But the warmest flow-through Christmas vibes I’ve ever felt, topping even those of my impressionable youth, happened at a post-Thanksgiving holiday party at Robert Towne‘s large Pacific Palisades home in late November of 1997.
Yeah, I know — I mentioned this in a piece I ran after Curtis Hanson passed a couple of years ago. But oh, what a night, what a fine English Tudor vibe on a grand holiday evening in which all the elements were in place.
The gathering was just the right size and full of people who mattered a great deal at that moment (Hanson, Jerry Bruckheimer, Phillip Noyce) and the aromas…my God! The place smelled like cinnamon and mistletoe and cigar smoke and turkey gravy and rum egg nog, and Towne and his wife Luisa had hired three professional singers to roam around and sing Christmas carols and I mean in perfect harmony, all dressed in top hats, shawls, bonnets, gloves and hoop skirts…classic Dickensian garb.
It was glorious. I remember coming down the big staircase and looking at this choice industry crowd having such a great time and saying to myself “everyone should experience this kind of perfect Christmas gathering at least once in their lifetimes.”
Because even the most poignant Christmas get-togethers with my own family weren’t this heartwarming, this extra-perfect.
It was even better than a holiday feeling that filled my heart when I was in London in early December of ’80, when I was walking around and sensing how lucky I was to be in the Stockwell section at that particular moment. It was hardly a flush area of town but it felt exactly right as I settled into a quiet neighborhood pub and ordered a lager as I listened to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” on the juke box.