Posted on 2.3.21: Hollywood Elsewhere saw Sian Heder‘s much-adored, Sundance award-showered CODA this morning. It’s moderately appealing and nicely made for the most part. Understand, however, that it’s an “audience movie” — aimed at folks who like feel-good stories with heart, humor, romance and charm.
It’s about a shy Gloucester high-school girl named Ruby (Emilia Jones) with a decent if less than phenomenal singing voice. She’d rather attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music than work for her deaf family’s fishing business, we’re told. The film is about the hurdles and complications that she has to deal with in order to realize this dream.
CODA is one of those “real people struggling with life’s changes and challenges” flicks, but given the fishing-off-the-Massachusetts-coast aspect it’s fair to say it’s no Manchester By The Sea — trust me. It’s a wee bit simplistic and schticky and formulaic -— okay, more than a bit — and contains a fair amount of “acting.”
For my money Jones overplays the quiet, withdrawn, still-waters-run-deep stuff, but it’s an honest performance as far as it goes — she has an appealing, unpretentious rapport with the camera. Eugenio Derbez‘s performance as an eccentric, Mexican-born music teacher is probably the film’s best single element. Bearded, baggy-eyed Troy Kotsur and 54 year-old Marlee Matlin are engaging as Ruby’s live-wire parents.
Matlin and Kotsur are the source, actually, of some clunky sexual humor (frisky parents noisily going at it during the late afternoon, randy Kotsur urging chaste Ruby to make her boyfriend wear “a helmet” during coitus, that line of country). Except the jokes don’t really land, or at least they didn’t with me.
In a phrase, CODA is not a Guy Lodge film.
But it’s an okay thing for what it is. It works here and there. It didn’t give me a headache. I can understand why some are enthusiastic about it. It deserves a mild pass. Heder is a better-than-decent director.
Friendo: “It’s a by-the-numbers family romcom with an added progressive-minded openness for the deaf.”
Most name-brand directors, producers and actors enjoy 12-year streaks when everything is cooking and breaking their way. Some directors and actors are lucky enough to last 15 or 20 years or even longer. Your task, should you choose to accept it (and I know I’ve posted about this before), is to list any number of Hollywood heavyweights and when their 12-year hot streaks (or better) happened.
I’m not talking about the ability to work or get work — I’m talking about the years of serious heat and the best years falling into place.
Cary Grant peaked from the late ‘30s to late ‘50s. James Cagney between Public Enemy and White Heat — call it 20. James Stewart between Destry Rides Again and Anatomy of a Murder — 20. Clark Gable’s hottest years were between It Happened One Night (‘34) and The Hucksters (‘47). Humphrey Bogart happened between High Sierra / The Maltese Falcon (‘41) and The Harder They Fall (‘56) — a 15-year run. Robert Redford peaked between Butch Cassidy (‘69) and Brubaker and Ordinary People (‘80) — 11 to 12 years.
Elizabeth Taylor had 15 years — 1950 (Father of the Bride) to 1966 (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). Jean Arthur — mid ’30s to early ’50s (Shane) — call it 15 years. Katharine Hepburn — early ’30s to early ’80s (On Golden Pond). Meryl Streep — 1979 (The Seduction of Joe Tynan) to today…40 years and counting.
Martin Scorsese is the king of long-lasting directors — Mean Streets (’73) to Killers of the Flower Moon (’22)…a half-century! John Huston had about 15 years — 1941 (The Maltese Falcon) to 1956 (Moby Dick). Alfred Hitchcock had 23 years — ’40 (Rebecca) to ’63 (The Birds). Steven Soderbergh‘s had 23 years so far — 1989 (sex, lies and videotape) to 2012 (Magic Mike) and he’s obviously still kicking. John Ford enjoyed 27 good years — ’35 (The Informer) to ’62 (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).
John Wayne had an amazing 37 years — 1939 (Stagecoach) to 1976 (The Shootist). George Clooney‘s peak period lasted almost 20 years. Tony Curtis‘s hot streak was relatively brief — 1957 (Sweet Smell of Success) to 1968 (The Boston Strangler). Kirk Douglas had about 15 years — Champion (’49) to Seven Days in May (’64). Richard Burton — 1953 (The Robe) to 1977 (Equus) — almost 25.
It’s a basic creative and biological law that only about 10% to 15% of your films are going to be regarded as serious creme de la creme…if that. Most big stars (the smart ones) are given a window of a solid dozen years or so** in which they have the power, agency and wherewithal to bring their game and show what they’re worth creatively. We all want to be rich, but the real stars care about making their mark.
Please supply more noteworthy names and their peak periods.
Jeymes Samuel‘s The Harder They Fall (Netflix, later this year) seems to be a harmless, ultra-violent, all-black fantasy-revenge western — a gang of African-American desperadoes (Jonathan Majors, LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Delroy Lindo, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, R.J. Cyler, Damon Wayans Jr., Deon Cole) holdin’ up trains, settlin’ scores, blowin’ holes in a bunch of white guys, etc.
No harm, no foul…and it’s probably about as good as Antoine Fuqua‘s The Magnificent Seven (’16), which I called “cheap dogshit.”
For me the stand-out element is Zack Sharf’s IndieWire story about same — ‘The Harder They Fall’ Trailer: Netflix Western Unites Majors, Elba, King, Beetz, Lindo, Stanfield — which posted this morning at 8:15 am. At no point in Sharf’s story is there an acknowledgement that this is a western about an all-black gang (or gangs). Sharf notes that Netflix is calling this a “new school Western,” but that’s as far as he’ll go. The implication is that it’s somehow racist (or racialist) to acknowledge the basic shot here. Weird.
Synopsis: “When outlaw Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) discovers that his enemy Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is being released from prison he rounds up his gang to track Rufus down and seek revenge. Those riding with him in this assured, righteously new school Western include his former love Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), his right and left hand men — hot-tempered Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and fast drawing Jim Beckwourth (R.J. Cyler) and a surprising adversary-turned-ally. Rufus Buck has his own fearsome crew, including ‘Treacherous’ Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield), and they are not a group that knows how to lose.”
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021. It follows Brian and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine as they drive around Los Angeles and visit locations from Brian’s past. The Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently 100%.
Here’s a tale of a brief encounter I had with Brian in ’74 — originally posted on 9.9.14:
I was living in an upstairs one-bedroom apartment at 948 14th Street in Santa Monica, doing nothing, working as a tree surgeon…my lost period. (I began my adventure in movie journalism the following year.) Right below me lived a guy named Eddie Roach and his wife Tricia. At the time he was working with the Beach Boys as a kind of staff or “touring” photographer. Dennis Wilson fell by two or three times and hung out a bit, and one time I was part of a small group that played touch football with him at a local high-school field. Dennis mocked me that day for being a bad hiker, which I was. (But Dennis was a dick… really. Insecure machismo, didn’t like him, felt nothing when he died.)
Anyway it was a cloudy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and I was lounging in my living room when I began to hear someone tooling around on Eddie’s piano downstairs. It sounded like the beginnings of a song. It began with a thumping, rolling boogie lead-in, complex and grabby, and then the spirited vocal: “Back home boogie, bong-dee-bong boogie…yay-hah…back home boogie, bong-dee-bong”…and then he stopped. One of the chords wasn’t quite right so he played a couple of variations over and over, and then again: “”Back home boogie, bong-dee-bong boogie yay-hah!” and so on. Then another mistake and another correction.
Then he stopped again and started laughing like a ten year-old drunk on beer: “Hah-hah, heh-heh, heh-heh!” and then right back into the song without losing a beat. Really great stuff. Who is this guy?
I grabbed my cassette recorder and went outside and walked down the steps leading to Eddie’s place, and I laid it down on one of the steps and started recording. I must have captured two or three minutes worth.
Then I decided to knock on Eddie’s door and pretend I needed to borrow a cup of milk or something. I had to know who the piano guy was. Eddie opened the door and I said “hey, man,” and in the rear of the living room stood a tall and overweight Brian Wilson. He was dressed in a red shirt and jeans and white sneakers, and was cranked and excited and talking about how great some idea might be, gesturing with his arms up high. Then he saw me and almost ran over to the doorway.
I suddenly knew who it was and it was a huge internal “whoa!” Wilson looked like a serious wreck. His hair was longish and sort of ratty looking. His unshaven face was the color of Elmer’s Glue-All, and his eyes were beet red. I didn’t mean to disturb the vibe but a look of faint surprise or shock must have crossed my face because Wilson’s expression turned glum. It was like he suddenly said to himself, “Wow, this guy’s some kind of downhead…everything was cool until he showed up.” Eddie spotted it too and said, “Sorry to disappoint you.” I said everything was cool and retreated back upstairs.
Way back in ’83 or thereabouts, I was acquainted with a pair of youngish film producers (man and woman, probably married) whom I’d met at an industry gathering or screening. Their names escape…sorry. But we were moderately friendly, on good terms. They lived in a beautiful, old-world, high-ceilinged apartment inside Harper House, a pre-war Spanish building at 1134-1336 No. Harper Ave.
And I distinctly recall that in their living room Marlon Brando‘s Royal Navy uniform and bicorn hat, from Mutiny on the Bounty, was on display. Made of seemingly authentic materials, it rested upon a white, Brando-sized mannequin. I was deeply impressed, and asked if I could sniff it. I was hoping it might have retained the aroma of Brando or Tahitian sand or coconuts or some organic remnant of that 1962 film. Alas, it smelled like Holloway Cleaners.
In any event here it is on iCollector — it sold in December 2019 for $10K. How much had my producer friends paid for it in the early ’80s? Maybe one-tenth of that. Who knows? Or maybe it’s a scam — maybe dozens of would-be Brando uniforms have been made and sold as Real McCoys.
Leos Carax’s Annette (7.6.21, France) is an English-language musical set in Los Angeles that will feature original music from the ’70s rock band Sparks. It’s a love story about a stand-up comic (Adam Driver) and an opera star (Marion Cotillard). Completed in November 2019, pic will be told almost entirely through song, in classic rock opera tradition — all singing, all of the dialogue (or 95 % of it), “but in a way that’s stylistically true to Sparks’ sensibility, so if you can imagine that, Adam Driver doing Sparks, that’s what we have.”