Having watched episode 2 of Impeachment: American Crime Story, I feel compelled to repeat my basic view...hell, everyone's view: It's simply not believable that President Bill Clinton -- prime of his life, a notorious hound, pick of the litter since he was Arkansas governor -- would select Beanie Feldstein, by any measure a meek and seriously chubby chipmunk, as his occasional lover. Login with Patreon to view this post
A trailer is only a trailer, but it appears as if Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story is going to be “more” than Robert Wise‘s 1961 Oscar-winning version — more vivid, more ethnically authentic, more alive, more fully felt, angrier, cooler, artier, more intense, more multi-shaded, less “Hollywood”-ized.
If the original Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents stage musical hadn’t opened at the Winter Garden in ’57, if Wise’s film hadn’t won all those Oscars four years later, if there hadn’t been so many revivals and re-interpretations over the years…if Spielberg’s film was a brand spanking new period musical, all pink and damp and fresh out of the nursery, it would be a huge wham-bammer. The Gold Derby whores would be calling it the presumptive Best Picture winner. But it’s not that.
West Side Story is an old chestnut that reflects a world that no longer exists…a capturing of urban racial tensions among poor Irish and Italians vs. poor Puerto Ricans during the mid-Eisenhower era, in a once-grubby part of Manhattan…it’s the umpteenth version of a musical that’s nearly 65 years old, and there’s just no getting around that.
The only shot I don’t like is the overhead view of the Jets and Sharks approaching each other with intense shadows merging in front of them — that’s Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski pushing the boundaries.
An adult all alone and on a phone, having to talk his or her way out of a tough, high-pressure situation. I don’t know how many times this set-up has been built into a compelling feature, but I’m thinking at least four**.
The very best is Steven Knight‘s Locke (’14), an 85-minute character study about a construction foreman (Tom Hardy) grappling with issues of personal vs. professional responsibility. Three years ago Gustav Möller‘s The Guilty, a gripping, Danish-made crime thriller that I just re-watched yesterday, delivered similar cards. Last weekend a same-titled remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, played at the Toronto Film Festival, and will debut theatrically on 9.24 before hitting Netflix.
And now there’s Phillip Noyce‘s Lakewood, which stars Naomi Watts as Amy, a widowed, small-town mom reacting not only to news of a Parkland-esque high school shooting, but to the possibility that her sullen and estranged son Noah (Colton Gobbo) may be involved in some way.
More than two-thirds of this 84-minute film (roughly 47 minutes) are focused solely on Amy and her iPhone in a remote wooded area. We’re talking about a torrent of smooth steadicam footage plus several overhead drone shots and some elegant editing (kudos to Lee Haugen), plus Watts stressing, emoting and hyperventilating her head off — a one-woman tour de force.
Right away I was thinking that Noah might be the shooter, and that, you bet, made me sit up and focus all the more. And that’s all I’ll discuss in this vein.
My second reaction was about Amy’s iPhone, and what an amazing reach it has. She’s in a woodsy area a few miles from town (I didn’t catch how many reception bars were showing) and yet she experiences only a couple of signal drop-outs, and she’s watching all kinds of video and whatnot without a hitch. I was also impressed by her iPhone’s battery — what power! (I never leave home without a back-up battery for my iPhone 12 Max Pro — I have too many active apps and the battery is always draining hand over fist.)
Despite all that’s going on at the high school and having to juggle all kinds of incoming info, Amy continues to jog during most of her phone marathon. If there’s one thing that all Lakewood viewers will be dead certain of, it’s that Watts will stumble and suffer an ankle injury. I was telepathically begging her not to. HE to Watts: “C’mon, stop…don’t…there are all kinds of obstacles on your forest path and you obviously need to focus so just start speed-walking”…down she goes!
The pace of Lakewood is very fast and cranked up, and Amy is nothing if not resourceful. She manages to persuade an auto mechanic whom she doesn’t know to supply crucial information about Noah’s whereabouts, as well as info about the possible shooter’s name and contact info. All kinds of conversations and complications ensue, and you’re always aware that Chris Sparling‘s script is determined to increase the stress and suspense factors.
Most of these efforts felt reasonable to me, or at least not overly challenging or irksome. Lakewood is a thriller. I didn’t fight it. I accepted the rules and requirements.
Jose Ferrer made it clear that he regarded his brief performance in Lawrence of Arabia as his best-ever screen work. Quote: “If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence.” I can’t think of any other non-comedic, cameo-level performance as good as Ferrer’s — can anyone?
Sean Connery‘s cameo as King Richard the Lionheart at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves wasn’t on Ferrer’s level. Connery was showboating, taking a bow.
Comedically speaking, Tom Cruise‘s Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder and Bill Murray‘s walk-on performance as a pretend zombie in Zombieland are obvious stand-outs. But it’s easy to be amusing in a quickie context.
Earlier today I mentioned the disastrous casting of 27 year-old Ben Platt as a sensitive high-school guy in Dear Evan Hansen — too old. In the comment thread “brenkilco” complained that Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci seemed too old to be playing their Goodfellas characters when young — not a problem, they passed muster. On the other hand James Stewart as Ransom Stoddard in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and as Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis — definitely too old.
Anyway I decided to switch sides and try to recall actors who either (a) seemed too young for their roles or (b) more or less fit them even though they were actually younger that they appeared.
So far I can only come up with two actresses and no actors. 36 year-old Angela Lansbury as the 33-year-old Laurence Harvey‘s mother in The Manchurian Candidate (’62). And 31 year-old Rosemary DeCamp playing 42 year-old James Cagney‘s mom in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
It’s been said that Jessie Royce Landis‘s performance as the mother of Cary Grant‘s Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest doesn’t work because they were born only eight years part (Landis in 1896, Grant in 1904). But it does work. Grant was 54 when NXNW was shot but looked 45 or 46 while the 62 year-old Landis appeared a bit older. So it worked if you imagined that Landis was an under-aged mom (17 years old, say) when Roger came along.
The 20th anniversary of the 9.11 attacks is tomorrow, and many of us, I suspect, are once again watching the catastrophic footage. I've been watching standard samplings of coverage as it happened, and one thing stands out. The determination to steer the conversation away from the obvious was somewhere between mind-bending and surreal. Login with Patreon to view this post
Earlier today I rented Impeachment: American Crime Story. I watched a portion of episode #1, and I just couldn't get over the wrongness of Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky. They just don't look similar, not even a little bit. Monica was shapely; Beanie is chubby. I can't invest in the supposed reality. I'd like to submit, but Feldstein keeps getting in the way. Login with Patreon to view this post
Okay, I wanted to see or do other things when it was showing. I’ll catch it soon. The idea of Joaquin Pheonix playing a gentle, mild-mannered uncle seems odd. Most of us have come to accept that default Joaquin means being self-absorbed and caught up in the usual melancholy and smoking cigarettes, etc.
Kenneth Branagh‘s Belfast, Jane Campion‘s The Power of the Dog and Pablo Larrain‘s Spencer screened in Telluride last weekend, and in my opinion they’re all shortfallers. Certainly as far as the Movie Godz are concerned.
Each is destined to slam into a big thick concrete wall. Joe Popcorn and your straight-shooting, shake-it-off Academy and guild types will see to that. Every year we have to re-learn the difference between rarified mountain-air reactions vs. sea-level reality. We’re about to be schooled yet again.
There was only one film that hit a grand slam last weekend, and that’s Reinaldo Marcus Green, Zach Baylin and Will Smith‘s King Richard — period. A Best Picture Oscar nom is 100% assured, and even at this early date the odds seem to favor a win. Not to mention a Best Actor trophy for Smith, and a likely Best Supporting Actress nom for Aunjanue Ellis, who memorably portrays the brutally honest wife of Smith’s Richard Williams and the mother of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams.
Right now certain critics, award-season handicappers and industry voices are telling each other that Belfast, The Power of the Dog and Spencer are award-season hotties. They’ll continue to insist upon this narrative for the next two or three months, and eventually the smoke will clear.
Belfast (Focus Features, 11.12), which producer Sid Ganis believes to be one of the best films he’s ever seen in his life, is a mawkish family drama that channels The Wonder Years, and delivers a vague impression of the “troubles” that plagued northern Ireland in the ’60s and ’70s. Plus a monochrome palette, perhaps the most insufferably cute and endearing performance by a child actor (Jude Hill) in film history, a dab or two of puppy love, Cieran Hinds‘ genuinely charming performance as a kindly grandpa, and loads and loads of Van Morrison. Then again the curious affection some have for this film (watch it win the TIFF audience award) may keep the torches burning.
The Power of the Dog is a chilly and perverse cattle-ranch drama that insists over and over that it’s a very bad thing for toxic males to suppress their homosexuality. (HE agrees.) Campion is a top-tier filmmaker but Dog‘s milieu is grim and stifling and melancholy, like the dark side of the moon. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as the enraged and closeted Phil, but he’s basically doing Daniel Day Lewis‘s “Bill the Butcher” in Gangs of New York. Or, if you will, “Daniel Plainview” in There Will Be Blood.
Spencer is an oddly surreal dreamscape flick that uses Lady Diana‘s anguished and loveless marriage to Prince Charles and a 1991 Christmas celebration at Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham estate as the basis of what boils down to an elite psychological meltdown flick…”poor free-spirited, pheasant-sympathizing, pearl necklace-loathing Diana vs. the cold, bloodless gargoyle royals,” etc. Yes, Stewart will most likely be Oscar-nominated for Best Actress — her performance is definitely commendable.
After picking up our passes and buying some groceries, we checked into our spacious Airbnb rental at 26 Deep Creek Road (a little past the notorious Telluride airport)…unpacked, showered, learned the ins and outs, plugged everything in, etc. We went back to town around 7 pm, roamed around and hit La Marmotte for a nice pricey dinner and a slightly premature celebration of Tatiana’s birthday.
Our first encounter was with Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney and wife/partner/marketing hotshot Jeanne Berney about Liz Garbus‘s Becoming Cousteau, a Telluride attraction that Picturehouse is distributing. We then chatted with Santa Barbara Film Festival honcho Roger Durling and partner Daniel Launspach, who just happened to stroll in as we were being seated — they sat down about 12 feet away. When Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone and critic Clarence Moye dropped by to say hello, Durling strolled over and said, “This is starting to feel like dangerous liasons.”
Have I stated lately that Durling and Launspach are excellent human beings, large of heart and spirit? No getting around that, I’m afraid.
Weather permitting, we’ll be hitting the outdoor Telluride brunch around 10 am or thereabouts. Then comes the usual press orientation schmooze at the Werner Herzog theatre at 1:30 pm, followed by a secret Patron’s screening at 2:30 pm. (I’ve heard it might be Wes Anderson‘s The French Dispatch.) Then comes a 6:30 pm screening of Joe Wright‘s Cyrano plus a Peter Dinklage tribute. Finally at 9:30 pm will be a screening of Sean Baker‘s Red Rocket.
What the pandemic managed to do was all but kill the communal watching of quality-grade movies — i.e., theatrical — outside the rarified environs of film festivals and elite special-venue houses. Multiplexes have been devolving for years into gladiator arenas, showing o
nly mostly lowest-common-denominator gruel for the grunts. Covid finalized that process. Cinema has obviously “survived”, but (festivals aside) largely through streaming. And don’t get me started about the shuttering of Hollywood’s ArcLight plex plus the Dome.