I keep flip-flopping on my Best Picture chart. Like everyone else I’m torn between my constantly evolving concepts of what constitutes serious film art vs. well-crafted films that I feel a special kinship or bond with. One minute I’m a Green Book guy, and the next I’m back on Team Roma. I know which films are most likely to be nominated, but I can’t stand behind some of them them with the same fervor that I feel for films that I know deserve extra-special merit badges. I can’t seem to settle on an order that relaxes me; I’m always fiddling around or re-thinking. I guess that’s how it should be.
A couple of weeks ago I posted an HE-plus piece about one of the most moronic time-passage sequences in the history of motion pictures. It’s contained in Chris Weitz‘s New Moon, the second Twilight film. It proves one of two things: (a) the Twi-harders were either bone dumb or (b) the producers believed them to be.
New Moon contained an ambitious shot that tried to visually convey how completely Kristen Stewart‘s Bella had sunk into depression. Months and months of sitting in a stupor. The camera circled around her three times as she sat in her bedroom in front of a bay window that looked out on her front yard, and either you spotted what was happening or you didn’t.
Anyone with a reasonable number of brain cells would have noticed how the front yard changed from month to month. In the first shot a tree has brown leaves and kids on the street are wearing Halloween costumes. In the second the branches are bare and somebody’s raking leaves on the front lawn. In the third shot the lawn is covered with snow.
And yet Summit producers decided to place titles — OCTOBER, NOVEMBER, DECEMBER — over each camera pass so viewers wouldn’t be confused about the time-passage aspect. Presumably fans complained during test screenings that they couldn’t understand why leaves would fall of a tree so quickly or how there would suddenly be snow covering the front yard, etc.
I don’t believe Weitz decided to use the titles on his own. I’ll bet $100 he was forced into it.
I’ve been a Jonah Hill admirer from the get-go. It’s not just his nervy, envelope-pushing talent that I love, but his moxie and ambition. He began as a Millennial jokester but since The Wolf of Wall Street and Moneyball Hill has been upping his serious actor game, and now he’s a director of considerable merit. You can call me one of Hill’s obedient little bitches, but I know a serious X-factor talent when I see one.
Now, I wasn’t over-the-moon about Mid90s (A24, 10.19), his autobiographical West L.A. skateboard-culture film, but I definitely felt respect and admiration. And in my 9.10 review I included three or four blurbs that could have been easily been used in the new, just-posted Mid90s trailer:
(1) “Mid90s holds its own, and that ain’t hay”; (2) “Jonah Hill has stepped up to the plate and swung on a fastball and connected…crack!”; (3) “[Hill] has honored that straight-from-the-pavement aesthetic by dealing no-bullshit cards, at least by the standards that I understand”; and (4) “This is a fully realized, nicely shaded, highly engaging first film.”
So what review quotes did A24 marketers choose for the new trailer? Fellatio quotes. Review excerpts that are so gushingly positive that the likely Average Joe response is “Uhm, really?…it’s that good?”
According to the trailer the Globe and Mail‘s Barry Hertz has called Mid90s a “straight-outta-the-gate masterpiece.” Now that’s just ridiculous. That’s an undisciplined effusion. Mid90s is a real-deal, shrewdly honed and honestly observed film but it’s not a “masterpiece”…c’mon!
Little White Lies critic Hannah Wooodhead has called it “a scrappy triumph with heart, soul and boundless energy.” Really? “Boundless” energy? Does anyone remember Tom Tykwer‘s Run Lola Run? That had boundless energy. Mid90s is mostly a dialogue-driven thing, group shots and two-shots and whatnot. Some skateboard action but mostly a hang-out deal. And what does she mean by “triumph”? A triumph over what?
Business Insider‘s Jason Guarrasio called it “beautifully authentic.” Yes, that’s true, I’ll go along with that.
On the other hand Vice‘s Justin Staple has allegedly called Mid90s “the film of the year.” Whoa there, sunshine. You can’t call a very well done, emotionally trustworthy skateboard flick “the film of the year”…c’mon! The film of the year in what sense? Critics who ejaculate without discipline accomplish one thing and one thing only — they diminish their cred.
Collider‘s Perri Nemiroff called Mid90s “masterful” Okay, I’ll buy that. Within its own realm Hill does exert a certain masterful command.
All to say that A24 should’ve come down to earth and used one of my quotes. Because unlike 80% of the critics whose blurbs they used, I’m a Hill admirer whose feet are on the ground and who hasn’t gotten carried away.
Before last night’s screening of Asghar Farhadi‘s Everybody Knows, Salle Debussy journalists were more or less obliged to sit through live video of the red-carpet arrivals as well as opening remarks and tributes inside the Grand Lumiere. I was half-watching and half-texting while scrolling through Twitter. But Kristen Stewart‘s appearance struck me as comment-worthy.
I asked a youngish British journalist sitting to my right what she thought of Stewart’s radically cut, blonde-streaked hair, and she said “Oh…uhhm.” In other words she found it striking but didn’t want to share any impressions. I said, “The shorn sides and odd streaks and the smoky eye makeup…it’s just not very attractive.” Certainly not in a conventional hetero sense of that term, I meant, which is what Hollywood Elsewhere more or less goes by.
The journalist said, “Well, I don’t think ‘attractive’ is the idea.” What would the idea be then, I wondered? I actually was telling myself that the idea was to project an edgy sapphic thing, or some kind of statement against what most of us would call conventional foxy norms. But I didn’t want to discuss in detail that so I just said, “She doesn’t want to project an attractive appearance?” No response so I added, “You mean as a gay thing?”
That stopped the conversation in its tracks. British journo woman stared silently at the screen and I went back to Twitter.
I’m an occasional jaywalker. I’ll alway use the crosswalk if it’s there, but if it’s more than a half block away or if I’m in a serious hurry, I’ll take my chances with the traffic. But when I jaywalk I always do it carefully, like a hawk or a deer. I never run out into traffic with a wing and a prayer with my fingers crossed. I spot the approaching gaps between cars and make my move, one lane at a time. I’ve been jaywalking since I was ten, and I’ve never had a close call. Not once has a car slammed on its brakes and dramatically squealed to a stop, and I’ve never had a “Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy” moment with a cab — not a single damn time.
All to say that I’m sick and tired of movie characters running out into traffic and always causing cars to screech to a halt or, worse, dodging the car like a ballet dancer and maybe rolling over the hood when the car has stopped eight inches shy of hitting him. This happens twice in The Post and I’m sick of it, sick of it, sick of it! From now on any movie that pulls this crap gets an automatic demerit. Same as when characters stare at their front-seat passenger as they’re driving — watch the damn road!
In an 11.28 W profile by Lynn Hirscherg, Phantom Thread star Daniel Day Lewis took a stab at explaining why he’s decided to retire from acting. Well, he didn’t actually explain it but he said that a certain soul-draining ennui had seeped into his system as a result of making Phanthom Thread. It had dropped him into a mysterious and enveloping mood pocket that he didn’t want to settle into. Or something like that.
But many of us feel this way at one point or another. Our lives or professional callings are no longer fulfilling us and or have become draining. But very few of us retire or quit our jobs as a result. Why? Because quitting or retiring will require that we live on a smaller income, and most of us don’t want to sacrifice the quality-of-life factor. So we grim up and put up with our frustrations and disappointments and push on.
Why then is Daniel Day Lewis actually retiring? Because he can afford to. He’s got enough put away or enough invested or what-have-you. If he couldn’t afford it he wouldn’t be doing it. Simple as that.
Ostensible reason #1: “Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting. I do know that Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.” HE comment: Poor baby.
Ostensible reason #2: Hirschberg reports that Jim Sheridan, the director of My Left Foot and two other Day-Lewis films, once remarked that “Daniel hates acting.” Day-Lewis to Hirschberg: “I’ll think, is there no way to avoid this? In the case of Phantom Thread, when we started I had no curiosity about the fashion world. I didn’t want to be drawn into it. Even now, fashion itself doesn’t really interest me. In the beginning, we didn’t know what profession the protagonist would have. We chose fashion and then realized, What the hell have we let ourselves into? And then the fashion world got its hooks into me.” HE comment: So the fashion world flew down like an eagle and pounced on poor Daniel and dug its sharp talons into his back and carried him away. Poor baby.
Ostensible reason #3: “There are spells in these films that you can’t account for,” DDL tells Hirschberg. “Paul and I spoke a lot about curses — the idea of a curse on a family, what that might be like. A kind of malady. And it’s not that I felt there was a curse attached to this film, other than the responsibility of a creative life, which is both a curse and a blessing. You can never separate them until the day you die. It’s the thing that feeds you and eats away at you…gives you life and is killing you at the same time.”
All my life I’ve been vaguely bothered by the gaseous nature of Jupiter, and the distinct possibility that it has no terra firma core of any kind — that it’s just a big ball of fucking gas. What’s the point of being a planet if a spaceship can’t land on it? Or if a Death Star can’t blow it up? Jupiter has what…eight orbiting spherical moons out of a total of 67, and you’re telling me they’re orbiting around a mere ball of gas? 2001‘s black monolith beamed radio signals at Jupiter for a reason, right? 48 years ago Dave Bowman soared in his little spacecraft over Jupiter’s purple and green seas and orange and crimson mountain ranges, only to end up inside an 18th Century chateau residence. Even if the Jupiter chateau was all in Bowman’s head, at least it felt like something. Gas is nothing. I just find it bothersome. Juno (which incidentally weighs nearly four tons) needs to settle this matter once and for all.
I was speaking earlier today to author-critic Shawn Levy, and he was telling me about his latest book — “Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome” (Norton, 10.4.16).
It’s really about a Roman era that lasted from the mid ’50s until the making of Cleopatra in ’61 and ’62. The Roman decadence thing was actually thriving right alongside the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin-Peter Lawford-Sammy Davis, Jr. Rat Pack thing (which Levy wrote about a few years ago). Both eras came crashing to a close with the coming of the Beatles in late ’63, which signaled the turning of a generational page. And then the British invaders merged with the whole folk-rocky, Dylan-influenced, Civil Rights movement thing, and then the early-acid-tripping, “grow your hair and start pushing back against the establishment” mentality of ’64 through ’66 kicked in, which then triggered the counter-culture.
Boilerplate: “From the ashes of World War II, Rome was reborn as the epicenter of film, fashion, creative energy, tabloid media, and bold-faced libertinism that made ‘Italian’ a global synonym for taste, style, and flair.
“A confluence of cultural contributions created a bright, burning moment in history: it was the heyday of fashion icons such as Pucci, whose use of color, line, and superb craftsmanship set the standard for women’s clothing for decades, and Brioni, whose confident and classy creations for men inspired the contemporary American suit. Rome’s huge movie studio, Cinecitta, also known as ‘Hollywood-on-the Tiber,’ attracted a dizzying array of stars from Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra to that stunning and combustible couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who began their extramarital affair during the making of Cleopatra.
This morning I read a 6.9 profile of MGM CEO Gary Barber by Deadline‘s Peter Bart (“A Resurgent MGM Builds Clout For New Film & TV Acquisitions”).
Boiled down it said that Barber doesn’t do interviews but boy, has he turned things around at MGM! Good for MGM stockholders, but to me Barber, his executive accomplishments aside, is still the dick who refused to permit an independent restoration of the 70mm roadshow version of John Wayne‘s The Alamo, and in so doing oversaw its apparent destruction.
(l.) Me Before You star Emilia Clarke, (r.) MGM CEO Gary Barber at Me Before You premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater on 5.23.16.
Bart quotes a distribution exec who describes Barber as “a movie fanatic.” No — Barber’s treatment of the 70mm Alamo elements absolutely disqualifies him from ever being so described. What he is, at least in this particular realm and certainly from the perspective of the hovering ghost of Alamo director-producer John Wayne, is a seemingly arrogant egoist, or at the very least a smug one.
“In its own quiet way, MGM produces 5-7 movies a year, has 14 TV shows on the air, has earned a profit of $124 million in its first quarter, and is positioned to make some intriguing acquisitions in the coming year,” Bart wrote. “For a company that five years ago was mired in more than $5 billion in debt and that many in the industry had considered comatose, this is a formidable achievement.”
It seems evident, in short, that outside the Alamo situation Barber is a smart, aggressive, well-organized exec who knows how to get things done. Great. Then why has he shown such callous disregard for the condition of a not-great but generally respected film that could have been saved in its original 70mm form, but is now lost for the most part? What kind of South African buccaneer, unwilling or unable to spend money to restore the 70mm version of a 1960 John Wayne film, refuses to allow a restoration of said film to be independently funded?
It was nearly two years ago when Beverly Faucher, MGM’s VP of Asset Management and Delivery Services, said in an official statement that “the original 65mm theatrical elements of The Alamo are in fine condition and are not in need of restoration” — one of the most outrageously ignorant, bald-faced lies offered by a representative of a Hollywood entertainment company in the history of western civilization.
Here are meh-level GoPro capturings of (a) a portion of our scooter journey through the farmlands south of Hue (3.23.16) and (b) a bicycle journey through Hanoi traffic on a Sunday (3.20.16). Unless GoPro footage is really extra-spectacular (skydiving, dropped from a plane, accidentally capturing some disaster, strapped to a seagull’s beak), it’s not much of a turn-on. We’ve become accustomed, jaded. But 10 or certainly 15 years ago this Vietnam footage would have been regarded as half-diverting.
There’s been no chatter about my response to Julie Miller’s Vanity Fair conversation with Amy Schumer (posted on 5.4), which included a reference to myself and last February’s Schumergate episode. I’m naturally anticipating more Twitter hate so even though this is a dead-horse issue for regular readers, I’m posting one final clarifying retort. As I noted a few weeks ago, there’s almost no point in responding to these things. The legend or the meme about what I allegedly wrote but did not in fact write has totally taken over. Nobody wants to read or re-examine anything.
At one point during Miller’s chat with Schumer about the “male gaze” factor, Schumer says, “Like the only person who has ever written anything saying that I am not pretty or attractive enough to be on camera was that one guy, Jeff Wells. I did not read [the post], but of course my best friends are like, ‘It was so fucked up!’”
Well, I didn’t say Schumer wasn’t “pretty or attractive enough to be on camera,” which of course mirrors the premise of her 12 Angry Men parody on her Comedy Central show. I wrote that in the context of the first Trainwreck trailer, in which her character was depicted as being the absolute belle of the ball who’s being hit on constantly with this and that guy almost fighting for her attention, she didn’t seem quite as hot as all that. I still think this. Schumer is attractive enough and a spirited barrel of laughs and so on, but in my mind she’s in the realm of 7.5 or 8. Is that really such a terrible thing to think or say?
Today is the 100th birthday of the great actor-producer Norman Lloyd, whom I had the honor of interviewing at his home a little more than nine years ago. At the time I was hopping up and down over Lloyd’s smallish but eloquent and quite stirring performance in Curtis Hanson‘s In Her Shoes. Two or three years ago I ran into Lloyd again when he was being honored in Cannes. Here’s a Todd McCarthy tribute that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter a week or so ago, and here’s a piece from Variety‘s Scott Foundas that posted yesterday. Scott Feinberg‘s two-part, two-year-old video interview with Lloyd is after the jump, ditto my ’05 interview. If there’s any kind of gathering for Lloyd today or tomorrow I’d sure like to drop by and pay my respects. Wells to Kenny: Norman Lloyd is another guy you wouldn’t want to describe as “really nice.” He is that, of course — one of the most kindly and gracious men I’ve ever spoken with — but there’s so much more to him that calling him “really nice” would almost sound like a kind of banal dismissal.