Nobody did it better / Though sometimes I wish someone could have.
Eloquence, ace-level delivery, deep vocal timbre…how a newly inaugurated president should damn well look and sound. 35 years younger than our current, soon-to-be-sworn in President-elect. Born on 11.20.42, Biden was 18 on this cold January day.
Journo pally on yesterday’s “Gotta Be Mulligan” riff: “I talk to a lot of AMPAS voters including actors, and I keep hearing enormous enthusiasm (unsolicited) for Sophia Loren‘s performance in The Life Ahead. I wonder why she isn’t on any of these handicapper lists? And I haven’t heard anyone mention Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman) or Zendaya (Malcom & Marie) at all.”
HE to Journo Pally: “You’re mostly talking to long-of-toothers, right? Or are you also talking to the Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill crowd? Loren is excellent in Edoardo Ponti’s remake of Madame Rosa, and it’s wonderful to see her in a good role again. I’m guessing some of them are feeling a nostalgic or generational kinship with Loren. She’s very good in the film — solid gravitas, earnest, compassionate, quietly affecting.
When a well-known actor breaks through with a potential Oscar-calibre performance, it’s either because they’ve delivered the best default performance…the ultimate version of the kind of character they’re strongly identified with (Gregory Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird, Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman). Or because they’ve broken some kind of new ground, and nailed it to boot.
Loren definitely did the latter in Vittorio De Sica‘s Two Women (’60) and Ettore Scola‘s in A Special Day (’77). Her performance in The Life Ahead is not a groundbreaker but a quality-level ratifier of a classic Sophia Loren signature role.
I still say the hottest contenders are Promising Young Woman‘s Carey Mulligan and Nomadland‘s Frances McDormand with Mulligan holding the edge.
Last night I was watching this Crimson Tide scene, which I happen to regard as a thing of beauty. Several Naval officers sitting around a mess table and discussing the nature of war and military command, etc. Sounds academic, right? And it might have been with a less-efficient helmer and a script that hadn’t been written and re-written to perfection by a packed roomful of screenwriters (including an unbilled Quentin Tarantino). It could have played like one of those boilerplate scenes that directors need to include for the sake of basic exposition and defining the lead antagonists, but which are usually dispensed with as quickly as possible for fear of losing tension, or even boring the audience.
Instead director Tony Scott, aided and abetted by dp Dariusz Wolski, editor Chris Lebenzon and Hanz Zimmer‘s subtle scoring, makes this three minute and 33-second scene feel gripping and vital. Because he’s foreshadowing — letting you know exactly what’s coming. During my first viewing I quickly sensed this strategic undercurrent. And I melted with pleasure at the 2:20 mark when Zimmer’s all-male choir began to gently hum as Denzel Washington explains what Carl Von Clausewitz actually meant when he said “war is a continuation of politics by other means,” and that ultimately “the nature of war is to serve itself.”
At this exact moment last night it hit me how much I miss dialogue scenes of this kind — expert applications of exactly the right kind of undercurrent at exactly the right moment. I’m not calling this kind of thing especially deep or profound, but it pushes the pleasure button just so, and makes you feel great. (And yet if the music isn’t applied with just the right emphasis and at just the right point, it can usurp audience trust.) Call it high enchantment or a ring-a-ding-ding effect — a massage-y feeling that gets you in the gut. The best mainstream commercial films often communicate in this fashion. They how to sell themselves like cagey hustlers pulling off a clever scam — they know it, you know it, and they know that you know it and nobody cares. Because you want them to keep it up.
Music-enhanced dialogue scenes that work as well as this one aren’t all that plentiful these days. A lot of directors probably think that Scott is resorting to some kind of sappy, old-hat trick — but it’s not if you do it right. I’m trying to think of an equally affective moment in Nomadland, Trial of the Chicago 7, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Mank, One Night in Miami, The Father, Minari, Da 5 Bloods, News of the World, Promising Young Woman and Soul. Give me some time…I’m working on it.
The only underwhelming element in The Way Back is the boilerplate explanation for the self-destructiveness of Ben Affleck‘s basketball coach — i.e., the death of a child. Too much of a cliche. I would have preferred a character who just likes to drink because he finds life terminally boring or at least draining without a buzz-on, and who’s fallen off the wagon because he’s not that bright or deep — because he’s simply undisciplined or unwilling to look at himself or whatever.
I’ve shared a certain story that my father passed along back in the ’90s, about a longtime AA guy who started drinking again because his life was going so well. Hilarious, and yet a lot of alkies have gotten into trouble for precisely this reason, because of a good-time-Charlie attitude.
I’m currently watching a streaming Affleck interview, moderated by old Boston pally and collaborator Matt Damon.
I saw this a week ago, and immediately realized that the bumblefuck insurrection of 1.6.21 could be a Stephen Sondheim musical. Obviously. The insurrectionists would probably have to be portrayed as Les Miserables-like tragic figures — self-deluding, self-isolating. The basic theme of the musical, of course, wouldn’t be about Trump or the 2020 election but about the no-way-out quicksand quality of life in the hinterlands in the late 20teens — a portrait of mass lethargy, desperation and general cluelessness, but presented as kind of intrepid Grapes of Wrath saga — who are these sad fools?
The central character or audience stand-in (aka the Tom Joad character) would probably have to be someone with the ability to ultimately see through the bullshit. Or maybe not — perhaps he/she should be a kind of Willy Loman figure — a character who, like his community, lives entirely inside a closed-off, fact-averse universe, and never even considers that life outside the bumblefuck bubble might be a semi-workable, semi-fulfilling thing. The material is definitely there for a show of some kind.
Anthony Hopkins‘ performance as an elderly fellow suffering from dementia is the most reasonable and non-alienating performance in this realm. The reason is that we aren’t invited to feel pity for the poor guy as much as understanding, because the movie lives in his head. That’s what’s so striking about Florian Zeller’s film, which has been streaming since 12.20.20 — it invites you in.
Anthony Hopkins to Jodie Foster on his award-calibre performance in The Father: “It was a great script, a great roadmap, and I’m old anyway. It doesn’t have to be hard work. It was easy. And I’d seen my own father going through it 40 years before, and that was in me.”
I’ve seen half of Kevin McDonald‘s The Mauritanian, in which Foster portrays a brilliant, quietly tenacious attorney trying to obtain freedom for the real-life Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Tahar Rahim), who’d been imprisoned in GITMO for quite some time without any charges filed and based solely on what U.S. officials had regarded as suspicious alliances. It’s obviously a good and respectable film, but I wanted to watch all of it before reviewing. (I watched it late one night in mid December and wound up crashing in a sitting position.) It’s based on Salahi’s “Guantanano Diary“.
Mara Siegler of “Page Six” is reporting that Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas — “Benana” — split up over whether to have a family together. “[Ben] would not commit to having more kids,” an insider told Siegler. And so to Ana, being 32 and in the prime of life-and-career, the 48-year-old Affleck’s position “was a deal-breaker.”
This seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction on Ana’s part — she wants a kid or two, Affleck doesn’t, no basis for moving forward, end of story. One presumes the couple might have shared their basic views about having children before de Armas moved into Affleck’s home last August, but apparently they didn’t. Or they did and Ben changed his mind…whatever.
In yesterday’s “Benana Goes South” piece, I didn’t address the issue of having kids. I only considered the fact that Ana had bailed on their relationship between four and five months after she moved into Ben’s Pacific Palisades home, which struck me as rather abrupt and hot-tempered. But the kid issue changes things. Again, I would have sussed this out out before moving in, but Ana ixnaying Affleck when he refused to consider a family is completely understandable.
Hollywood Elsewhere hereby withdraws the suggestion that Ana’s hot Cuban blood (” crazy Cubans”) might have been a factor, and I apologize also. Really. Any woman looking to have kids might have come to the same conclusion.
I do not apologize, however, for alluding to the generic term “crazy Cubans.” As I explained yesterday, I borrowed it from Jack Warden‘s Washington Post character in a scene from All The President’s Men: “It could be a story or it could just be crazy Cubans.” HE to commentariat: “Don’t say I got some ‘splainin’ to do — talk to Warden or the ATPM screenwriters or director Alan Pakula — they used it first.”
To which Bob Strauss replied, “They’re all dead — what’s your excuse?”
To which I replied, “As you well know, in a special limited movie-fanatic sense they’re not dead. Respect their decision to write, act or direct a scene that mentioned the term ‘crazy Cubans.’ It was real, Warden was a top Washington Post editor, and it was life on the planet earth by way of the living, breathing space ships known as 1975 and ‘76.
The 1.6 Bumblefuck insurrection was “provoked” by Trump, Mitch McConnell has stated, and was “fed lies” and so on. I think most of us understand this. Perhaps not Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green and other House lunatics, but most legislators of sound mind.