This is either a foyer or a section of the living room inside Marilyn Monroe’s home, the only place she ever owned, at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood. It was taken the morning of 8.5.62, a few hours after she’d been found dead.
The heritage of the home was classic Mexican adobe (overhead beams, classic brick patio), and she had bought a few pieces of Mexican-made furniture earlier that year when she visited Mexico City. On or about 3.1.62 she dropped by the set of Luis Bunuel‘s The Exterminating Angel, which was finishing shooting at Churubusco Studios. It played in Cannes less than three months later.
A copy of the N.Y. Times sits on the peasant bench, along with two coffee-table books (Mexico + the paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir).
What gets me is the dinky little portable stereo. You’d think she would’ve placed it atop a wooden table of some kind, but no — on the floor! The same kind of cheap-ass stereo player that kids fresh out of college put on their bedroom floors in the ’60s. Monroe either forgot to buy a table or thought the stereo sounded better on the carpeted floor, transmitting the vibes to the floorboards or something. Monroe wasn’t rich when she died. It’s so touching to imagine her deciding to go with an inexpensive college-dorm stereo rather than the swanky kind that, say, Frank Sinatra or JFK would’ve owned.
Here are some cheap retro record players.
This is the Marilyn Monroe I’ve always had in my head, as opposed to the bruised, traumatized, exaggerated victim in Blonde. A neurotic smarty who cared about culture, world events, good music, etc. I wonder what she listened to during dinner hour? Did she ever wander around Paris or Rome?
HE is down with Nicholas Stoller, Billy Eichner and Judd Apatow‘s Bros, which I saw Thursday evening. I admired the witty writing, the expert acting, the character-building and professional construction, and it also touched me in a somewhat old-fashioned way. It struck me as generally gutsy and first-rate schmaltz, and at times more than that.
Is it like a typical Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks romcom from the ’90s? Yeah, but a good one! And with boners and beards!
I felt a genuine kinship and a comfort level with the characters and even, to a significant extent, with the sexuality.
The alone-ness, defensiveness and brusque “I don’t trust you” personality of Eichner’s “Bobby Lieber”, an openly gay museum curator and musician, are very clearly and movingly conveyed, and I really liked Luke MacFarlane‘s “Aaron”, a muscular wills attorney and fledgling chocolatier whom Bobby falls for early on, only to stumble through the usual commitment-or-not issues.
I got as much of a relaxed upfront gay feeling from this as I did from Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me By Your Name, which is much tamer and less sexually provocative than Bros.
Coming from a straight guy like myself, this kind of approval means something. Or it might mean something, I should say. I caught a 5pm showing of Bros with a friend in Westport, and we were the only ones in the house.
I don’t know what Apatow’s writing input was, but aside from the pointed, confessional, signature-level writing from Eichner, whose story this primarily is, I could feel the Apatow-ness all the way through. It had a King of Staten Island-like feeling of assurance and carefully measured control…a professional sense of timing and pacing and all-around wholeness that I bought into. (Eichner and Stoller are credited as cowriters.)
Speaking of my straightness, Bros struck me (and I know what this is going to sound like) as a little too pronounced in terms of the gay consciousness factor. Just a wee little bit.
Did everything in this movie have to be about sexuality and sexual identity and frank, take-it-or leave-it, this-is-what-gay-life-is-like revelation? How many lines in this film dealt with the occasional banality or neutrality of things? How many lines in this didn’t address or comment upon gay behaviors or culture or history? Damn few. As Sigmund Freud might have said, occasionally a gay man will enter a tobacco shop for a couple of good cigars, and he’ll just say “gimme a couple of good cigars” without mentioning or alluding to his orientation.
Bros has been described as a somewhat predictable, straight-laced gay romcom, but there’s nothing restrained about the sexual scenes, which at times almost reminded me of Frank Ripploh‘s Taxi Zum Klo. Forgive me but I somehow don’t recall a scene in Sleepless in Seattle in which Meg Ryan talked to a girlfriend about peeing on Tom Hanks, or told Hanks during a vulnerable moment that she wants him to fuck her, or that the last time his big fat banana slid into her she went “oh wow.”
There are two great scenes (okay, one and a half) with Debra Messing. The Abraham Lincoln-was-gay thing is simultaneously acknowledged as bullshit but also pushed a little too far. But Amy Schumer’s Eleanor Roosevelt and Kenan Thompson‘s James Baldwin are just right. Ditto Bowen Yang, Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, a Ben Stiller cameo, etc.
Forgive me but there’s so much in our daily lives that falls under the headings of “banal” or “middle class whatevs”, and this movie just won’t ease up with the avoidance of that banality and the persistence of the gay experience and corresponding sensibilities.
There’s a dinner scene with Aaron’s parents that drives this aspect home. Along with Aaron, I was silently begging Bobby to ease up and tone it down. In this scene Bobby voices his support for educating second-graders about gay views and lifestyles. I don’t care what this sounds like coming from me, but kids 10-and-under should be left the fuck alone. That part REALLY didn’t work for me.
But otherwise Bros is refreshingly smart and engaging and well-structured, and I really liked the romcom squareness of it all. I can’t think of a kicker line so this’ll have to do.
No one in the world is more knowledgable than restoration guru Robert Harris about how films of distinction should ideally look on home video, particularly via 1080p and 4K Blurays. He is the absolute Yoda of this realm.
So after my recent traumatic encounter with the 4K Heat Bluray, I searched out Harris’s assessment of this disc on Home Theatre Forum, the most sophisticated platform anywhere for taking the measure of high-def capturings.
And I was absolutely crestfallen when I read Harris’s positive review.
Harris knows much, much more than I will ever know about this stuff, but I’ve seen Heat in all kinds of formats over the last 27 years (including a first-peek 35mm press screening at the Steve Ross theatre on the Warner Bros. lot). I was upset because I know for an absolute fact that the 4K Heat Bluray looks way too dark, and that what my eyes saw three nights ago was and is a desecration.
I felt confused and stunned by Harris’s remarks, and particularly by a suggestion that my settings may be “off.” HE’s Wilton TV, owned by the honorable Jody Jasser, is a solid, relatively new, state-of-the-art 65 inch Sony OLED.
4K’s middle name, after all, is darkness. But there’s a possible solution for due diligence types. “If you dig into the setup menu,” I was told, “you’ll find black level settings.”
HE commenter ‘Kyle D’: “The UHD Heat looks great on a calibrated display in a dark room, but it will probably look like ass on most displays in most viewing conditions, and I can’t really blame or disparage people for not putting in the effort to get it looking right.”
HE regulars know Harris as the guy who oversaw the exquisite, ace-level 2007 and ’08 Godfather Bluray restoration, along with his other famous restorations (Vertigo, Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, Rear Window, My Fair Lady).
“I just needed to remind myself that a 4K remastering of a great film doesn’t have to be an infuriating stew of murk and mud covered by a black nun’s stocking.
“While I understand that it’s not as true of a capturing of the 1972 original as your version, I was delighted by the ‘22 4K nonetheless
“The Willis blacks are deep and satiny and delicious as fudge, and that indoor golden-amber lighting and those luscious taxicab reds and the detail on those tweed overcoats and those shiny, hand-rubbed 1940s cars, and those sunlit hues during the wedding scene and the death in the tomato garden scene and in Sicily, and I didn’t have to go into settings and adjust the black levels on the 65-inch Sony OLED. Imagine! It just looked that way on its own.
“I will always prefer your 15 year-old version (I’ll always think of it as the one that Willis heartily approved of) but in the wake of my dreadful 4K Heat nightmare the Godfather 4K looked like absolute heaven on earth. And the 4K The Godfather Part II disc, which I watched earlier this year in West Hollywood…fuhgedaboudit.
“Heaving Seas,” initially posted on 4.25.20: All my life I’ve dreamt of sailing a long distance on a sizable schooner. Five or six months, maybe longer. Not as an owner, God forbid, but as a traveller somehow paying my way. Or as a guest or crew member or whatever.
Down the Pacific coast to Mexico and Central America, through the Panama Canal and around the Caribbean, stopping in Belize, Cuba, Turks and Caicos and wherever the spirit points. And then across the Atlantic to the Canaries and then through the Strait of Gibraltar and then all around the Mediterranean — Spain’s Costa del Sol, southern France, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Egypt. Maybe even push on across the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia…why not?
This 37 year-old Rod Stewart music video got me going. The schooner it was filmed on, I mean. I went looking for a facsimile and quickly found one — the Atlantic, a ten-year-old, three-masted schooner, 212 feet long, steel hull, currently moored off the coast of Italy. God knows what a craft this size would cost, but if you’re loaded…
Excitement, adventure, exotic climes, unfamiliar sights and sounds…all of it nourishing. But never, ever on a grotesquely over-sized cruise ship.
I was initially inclined to ignore the whole story about Jihad Rehab (aka The UnRedacted), which was reported last Sunday (9.25) by Michael Powell in the N.Y. Times. My thinking was “another story about wokester cowards throwing a filmmaker under the bus because of accusations of racism even though they liked the film to begin with”…big deal, that’s what these serpents do for a living, react to accusations by killing or maiming careers.”
But Megyn Kelly’s discussion of the story with Matt Taibbi got me going again.
Key passage from N.Y. Times story: “Abigail Disney, a grandniece of Walt Disney, had been the executive producer of Jihad Rehab and called it ‘freaking brilliant’ in an email to the doc’s director, Meg Smaker. Now she’s disavowed it. The film ‘landed like a truckload of hate,’ Ms. Disney wrote in an open letter.”
The murders are ghastly enough, but a double-down comes when, post-capture, Hanaei is bizarrely supported by fanatical zealots who believe he has done Allah’s bidding.
The first half is pretty much a straightforward crime drama. After graphically depicting two of Hanaei’s grisly killings, it follows an intrepid female reporter (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) who risks life and limb to bring about his arrest.
I can’t call this section any more than decent — efficient and good enough, but not exactly brimming with style or suspense or cinematic flair. Okay, the suspense does ratchet up when Amir-Ebrahimi’s journalist character Rahimi (who’s actually fictional), posing as a prostitute, is being driven by Hanaei to his home, and Amir-Ebrahimi’s colleague does a poor job of following them and suddenly you’re thinking, “oh, God…she could be next.”
The diseased social reaction among Hanaei’s fans in the second half is what shakes you. You’re left thinking “really?…a sizable contingent of Mashhad citizens cheered a serial killer because he was helping to rid the streets of streetcorner hookers? Who thinks like that? What kind of diseased culture?,” etc.
But then of course, this was Iran 20 years ago (the murders happened between ’00 and ’01) and the Masshad faithful were the country’s chief bumblefucks. All you can say is “wow.”
From Alan Sepinwall‘s “The 100 Greatest TV Shows of All Time,” a Rolling Stone piece posted on 9.27.22:
“Another art-versus-artist mess. Dave Chappelle’s legacy has unquestionably been tainted by his commitment in recent years to hardcore transphobia.” [HE insert: what?] Can we still enjoy the sketch-comedy series that he and Neal Brennan created, and the ways that the show bearing his name mixed hysterical parodies of Black celebrities like Rick James, Prince and Lil Jon with more nuanced but still funny ideas like the fake game show ‘I Know Black People’?
“As with several series on this list (and ones that didn’t quite pass muster with our voters, like Louie and The Cosby Show), perhaps it’s best to fondly remember the experience of watching it back in the day, rather than attempting to revisit and having to think more directly about the now controversial guy at the center of it.”
Sepinwall’s Chappelle diss aside, HE’s all-time favorite TV shows are…well, it’s not a massive list:
(1) Politically Incorrect and Real Time with Bill Maher,
(2) The Sopranos
(3) Curb Your Enthusiasm
(4) The Twilight Zone
(5) Mad Men
(6) The Larry Sanders Show
(7) Hill Street Blues
(8) Better Call Saul
(9) 30 Rock
(10) PBS’s American Experience series (which began in ’88)
(11) old kinescopes of live TV dramas from the early to late ’50s
(12) the original Twin Peaks (’90 and ’91)
NOT The Leftovers
(13) the first couple of seasons of Ozark (before it wore me down to a nub)
(14) 77 Sunset Strip (if watched ironically)
(15) NYPD Blue
(16) Freaks and Geeks
NOT The Wire or Breaking Bad (i.e., not a comment on their quality — I’ve seen episodes of both — but a comment on the HE comment vipers who’ve insisted for years that I watch them both in their entirety and then drop to my knees in absolute worship)
(17) The MacNeil-Lehrer Report
(18) Ted Koppel‘s Nightline
(19) Crossfire (’82 to ’05)
(20) SNL in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s
(21) SCTV during the John Candy glory years
(22) Late Night with David Letterman from ’82 to ’93 (NBC), and then in the ’90s and early aughts (CBS).
Friendo: Here’s a sexist comment for you, and one that the mainstream media would never touch. Do you think perhaps that George and Amal Clooney get along as well as they do (George claims they’ve never had an argument) because Amal was raised within a very traditional, patriarchal, Lebanese-Muslim family culture? Raised in England but still. I would never say this out loud.
HE: I suspect that’s probably one of the reasons they get along. She doesn’t do hissy fits, doesn’t challenge too strongly, doesn’t throw china and in all likelihood doesn’t occasionally moan and deride like a typically liberated American wife or girlfriend. Plus, being the brainy and studious type, she’s probably too smart to get into squabbles.
Friendo: Despite the British upbringing family ties and traditions are strong, and women raised by a Middle Eastern family tend to absorb “good wife” values in the Middle Eastern sense, and I don’t necessarily think that’s entirely a bad thing.
HE: That said, anyone will tell you that fighting is a fairly normal and persistent thing within marriages these days. Women are not going to back off and show obeisance just to get along. Those days are long gone.
Friendo: But the feminist movement…I know because I was part of it…was ME ME ME ME…my needs, my career, my pleasure, my empowerment, etc. If you have that mindset you’re never going to be happy in a marriage. The list is too lengthy and the collected angers are too great.
Friendo: This interview is just pablum. But Amal is very beautiful.
I’m personally heartbroken by David O. Russell‘s Amsterdam (20th Century, 10.7) I was so perplexed and confounded, I was almost in tears. How could a movie by a brilliant A-level director turn out this heebie-jeebie and wackadoodle?
I’m sorry but Amsterdam is pretty close to a disaster — a very busy and antsy period movie about an arcane, who-cares? bumblebee plot (something to do with ascendant U.S. fascism in the early 1930s) that won’t stop lurching to and fro and buzzing all around, and is totally irksome for that.
It’s all plot and exposition, plot and exposition, plot and exposition…jabber jabber, talk talk…over and over and over. No subtext, no heart, no downshifting, no “things that are there but not said.” I was having serious trouble trying to understand who was who and what was happening for the first hour. Only when Robert DeNiro‘s character (“General Gil Dillenbeck”) comes along at the 100-minute mark does the rubber begin to meet the road.
Christian Bale, Margot Robbie and John David Washington are pallie-wallies who first get together in the wake of World War I, and who reconvene in 1933 Manhattan.
Bale’s scarred, glass-eyed face struck me as an odd, meaningless distraction. Washington and Robbie share a deep attraction to each other but it goes nowhere and amounts to zero. For whatever reason Russell doesn’t show them being the slightest bit intimate. The reticence is strange.
There’s no question in my mind that Russell is a gifted madman, a firecracker, a genius. But something went horribly wrong this time. Seriously, this struck me as one of the worst films from a major director that I’ve ever seen in my life. Right up there with Michael Cimino‘s Heaven’s Gate, Brian DePalma‘s The Black Dahlia and Francis Coppola‘s Twixt.
Russell was on fire between Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook — call it 16 or 17 years. I wasn’t as much of a fan of American Hustle but we’ll let that go. All I know is that the spirit gods seem to have flown away and Russell hasn’t gotten airborne in nearly a decade. Shattering.
Russell needs to go simpler, smaller. A crazy family movie of some kind. No more films about greed and conniving and big evil shadowy plots.
I’m very, very sorry. I don’t know what else to say except when you fall down you need to pick yourself up and get back on the horse. Better inspiration next time.