Let’s take Trump at his bullshit word and accept that the campaign guy who assembled the anti-Hillary ad with the six-pointed star really was thinking of the lawman star worn by High Noon‘s Will Kane or Sheriff Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles. Even if you give him that, how dumb did his staff have to be to not realize that the Star of David is also six-pointed, and that using this image would result in accusations of anti-Semitism? Three answers: (a) the staffer[s] behind the tweet didn’t consider this, which is breathtaking, (b) they didn’t care about the anti-Semitic shade they were throwing upon themselves or (c) they definitely knew what they were putting out and presumed that Trump supporters would understand what they were saying, which is that big-city Jews are corrupt and out for themselves and not on the side of real Americans. Any way you slice it the Trumpsters handled this like idiots.
In a two-day-old interview with ABC’s David Muir, I sensed a whiff of Hillary Clinton’s aversion to asking Elizabeth Warren to be her vp. A “granny ticket” with Warren would melt away a lot of the resentment that the Berniebots feel toward Hillary, and it would really raise the gender flag. It would constitute a huge “fuck you” to the establishment patriarchy and all those smarmy news guys asking “is the country ready for a two-woman presidential ticket?” (Read: We aren’t!)
The chickenshit Clinton approach would be to pick a nice, safe, dull older male to be her vice-president so the bubbas can say to themselves “well, if she dies in office we’ll at least have a dude taking over and not, good God, another woman.” The bold approach would be to say “I’m in no way a revolutionary and I never will be, not with my Goldman Sachs payoffs and my secretive nature and allegiance to the corporate Democratic establishment attitudes personified by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, but this has been a year of revolutionary outcry and Elizabeth Warren, besides being a tough pol and an organized advocate, addresses that outcry…hell, she is that outcry…and I would be honored to have her join me.”
Ari Issler and Ben Snyder‘s 11:55, which debuts tonight at the L.A. Film Festival, is a straight, steady, well-performed, modern-day “reimagining”** of Fred Zinneman‘s High Noon with an entirely decent script, and as such it’s not half bad. And it has an ending that differs from the 1952 film in a good way — a finale that says something about escaping the cycles of violence that I found compelling, well-grounded and true to itself.
The downside (and I wouldn’t call it a huge one) is that a solemn, well-crafted homage to a classic film can only register in the final analysis as a solemn, well-crafted homage to a classic film.
The ending of 11.55, as noted, adheres to its own ethos and milieu, but the rest of it (okay, 80% of it) is an almost scene-for-scene revisiting of a film that arose out of the terror and cowardice of Hollywood’s red-scare era. 11:55 draws from its own social undercurrents, but it basically feels like an exercise. This isn’t to say I had a problem with it. I didn’t. I was moderately pleased by it, and never angered or even irritated. You just can’t go overly nuts about a film of this sort.
I’ll be back in Los Angeles on Wednesday, and the first thing I’ll be jumping into will be the L.A. Film Festival (6.1 thru 6.9). So far I’ve noticed three or four films of passing interest but nothing that really heats the blood. Just a lot of indie titles of marginal interest. No hot premieres, minor Sundance repeaters, none of the Cannes headliners…flatline. I shared this view with a film-savvy friend and he said “my impression is the same as yours. I felt like last year’s LAFF had almost no buzz, and this year it has even less.”
The only LAFF film that feels even slightly intriguing is 11:55, a High Noon-inspired drama about neighborhood violence. (It’s screening here in Manhattan tomorrow night.) There’s also Amber Tamblyn‘s Paint It Black — her debut effort as a director. John Krasinki‘s The Hollars, which didn’t fare all that well at Sundance ’16, is an attraction. Ditto Meera Menon‘s Equity, another Sundance premiere. There’s also Political Animals, a doc about LGBT legislators.
I’m assuming that the LAFF programmers deliberately decided to focus on smaller-scale American indie films that nobody has heard of, and didn’t even try to land the hot titles that people would actually like to see. Or maybe they did but the distributors of the hotties said “no dice” because they’re waiting for the start of awards season.
If I was running LAFF I still would’ve tried to book films with at least a semblance of heat.
Spotlight is not flashy but is fairly dazzling in its efficiency. That’s what I’ve loved about Tom McCarthy‘s film from the start. Clean, true and always on-point. Tom McArdle‘s cutting doesn’t call attention to itself, but every transition is smooth and fleet as a fox. Not for nothing has McArdle, a longtime collaborator of McCarthy’s, been nominated for an editing Oscar. I ran into McArdle at a party the weekend before Sundance, and a day or two later we did a q & a:
Spotlight editor and longtime Tom McCarthy collaborator Tom McArdle
HE: You and McCarthy go back…what, 12 or 15 years? What’s the history?
McArdle: In 2002, my agent sent me Tom McCarthy’s Station Agent script. It was really good. Very thoughtful and funny. I’m L.A.-based but I travelled to New York to meet with McCarthy. We talked about the script and other films that might have a similar feel. I brought up that I was a fan of Local Hero (’83) and that it felt somewhat comparable in tone to The Station Agent. Tom also liked Local Hero a lot, so that was a good thing. We got along well. The Station Agent was a quick edit — 13 1/2 weeks total, due to the Sundance schedule and the budget. We followed The Station Agent with The Visitor in 2006, and then Win Win in 2010.
HE: I for one would love to see a longer version of Spotlight. Was there a longer cut that you personally liked but had to be trimmed down for the usual reasons?
McArdle: We cut out about 18 minutes total from the film. The final version that you see is also my favorite version of the film.
HE: There must have been some scenes that you or McCarthy loved but which didn’t strictly serve the narrative. What were those scenes?
McArdle: We cut out five scenes plus some other shots here and there. We cut out a scene of Robby (Michael Keaton) and his wife after golf where she mentions that the church is important to the community. We dropped a scene with Marty (Liev Schrieber) and the publisher Gilman (Michael Countryman) where Gilman asks to be kept in the loop about the church story. We also dropped a scene of Marty and Ben (John Slattery) talking about getting back on the case after 9/11. We dropped a scene between Mike (Mark Ruffalo) and the receptionist for the judge where Mike gets frustrated that the judge is not around. We also dropped a scene of Mike getting the morning newspapers and ignoring a phone call from his estranged wife.
Nothing specific is revealed here but spoiler whiners will bitch anyway…just saying: Until this morning the review-embargo date for Quentin Tarantino‘s The Hateful Eight was 12.21 — i.e., next Monday. But this morning Weinstein Co. reps called or mass-texted a bunch of trades and gave them the green light. Screen International‘s Tim Grierson ran first with a review, followed by Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. And then all of them Rotten Tomatoes wordslingers jumped in. In my book that means HE is good to go also, right? Except I’ve been taken by surprise. I got nothin’, ma. Haven’t written a damn thing. 12.21 isn’t for another five and a half days.
So I’ll just say this: The Hateful Eight is, as Kohn says, more or less Reservoir Dogs meets Django Unchained but it’s mainly about archetypal flavor and macho swagger, archetypal flavor and macho swagger and more archetypal flavor and macho swagger. Which is what you always get from Tarantino, and why his films have continued to be popular. Because people like that shit. They revel in QT’s patented, talky, menacing-fellows-doing-a-slow-boil thing.
And with the exception of what struck me as needlessly repetitive sadistic beatings of Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s outlaw character, The Hateful Eight delivers a relatively engaging (and sometimes more than relatively) first two-thirds. If you have a place in your head for this kind of thing, I mean. Which I do to some extent. I was a big fan during Tarantino’s ’90s heyday, I mean, and I can still find ways of succumbing to his material as long as I use a filter, although I started to tune out bigtime with the Kill Bill films and came back in only briefly with Death Proof.
The Hateful Eight serves a nice warm bowl of Tarantino soup. A sense of place and mood and attitude that feels relatively well developed and whole. You get beautiful-as-far-it-goes Ultra Panavision 70 photography. You get tasty, savory performances from Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins in particular. You get about 45 minutes of snowblindy outdoor footage followed by two-plus hours inside a large, shadowy one-room cabin (i.e., Minnie’s haberdashery). You get a “Lincoln letter” that delivers a sense of morality and decency in the world beyond and a suggestion that lingering Civil War-era hate and prejudices are likely to erode. And a lotta boom boom boom.
You’re sitting there watching this Tarantino thing and you’re also saying to yourself “Yup, this is definitely a Tarantino thing.” You know what it’s more or less gonna be (including a fair amount of violence and blood), and it more or less does that.
I’m sorry for not posting more quickly about the 11.25 passing of editor Elmo Williams. He was 102 years old. The High Noon tick-tock sequence is the reason Williams won the 1952 Best Editing Oscar, but if you watch it very closely Williams’ metronomic timing is sometimes very slightly off. Watch it again — the one-two-three-four montage was edited to match Dimitri Tiomkin‘s music, Williams wrote in his memoir, so every cut was supposed to happen at the precise instant of the final beat…but it doesn’t quite happen that way. Sometimes a cut will be a millisecond too early or late. I love this sequence but if I allow myself to get too anal about the timing it’s almost infuriating. Almost, I say.
Remember the good old days (i.e., two years ago) when Criterion would create its own uniquely designed covers for Bluray/DVDs of classic films? Compare their 2014 On The Waterfront cover art to the jacket cover for their upcoming Bluray of Mike Nichols‘ The Graduate, which will pop on 2.23.16. I don’t think I need to point anything out here. Okay, I’ll point something out. Criterion has gone totally generic here. Teenage movie buffs in Pakistan and Manchuria are bored to death by this crusty, age-old shot of a barefooted Dustin Hoffman regarding Anne Bancroft‘s stockinged calf, but Criterion used it anyway.
The Graduate Bluray is worth the purchase price, however, because it contains one of the finest, most richly observed analytical commentary tracks about a classic film ever recorded. I’m referring to UCLA film professor Howard Suber‘s observations about The Graduate, which were included on Criterion’s original 1987 Graduate laser disc. Suber’s commentary was briefly available on a YouTube posting a year ago but was taken down for some reason, but it’ll be fully and legally available on the new Bluray — the first time in a new format in 28 years.
“A good movie doesn’t have to go wham-bam-kaboom and make audiences go ‘holy shit!…what just happened?’ to earn a seat at the Best Picture table, and this is one such occasion. There’s a time and a place for every kind of film, and thank God an effort like Brooklyn has come along — a fine little reminder of the pleasures of emotional simplicity served up in a low-key, no-bull fashion. Cutting-edge cognoscenti might be looking for something flashier or jizzier but people who know from quality will warm to Brooklyn‘s timelessness. A Best Picture nomination seem assured, as I noted last month.
“And there can be no doubt that Saoirse Ronan‘s performance as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant torn between two nice-guy suitors, is solemn and understated and quietly mesmerizing, and therefore a near-lock for a Best Actress nomination. Ditto John Crowley for Best Director and Nick Hornby for Best Adapted Screenplay. Yves Belanger‘s elegant cinematography also warrants a nom.
Here are some High Noon set photos I’ve never seen before except for the last one (i.e., after the jump). I have a dream that the swaggering Rio Bravo cultists will eventually run out of steam or lose interest and admit that Howard Hawks‘ 1959 film, which has been called a much richer creation than High Noon by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Peter Bogdanovich and Jean Luc Godard, is a decent but moderate effort, an easy-going “friends sitting around and shooting the shit in a jailhouse as they prepare to fight the bad guys” movie, and that High Noon will bounce back and be once again recognized as a timeless classic, as it was when it first appeared in the early Eisenhower years and for many years following.
I didn’t see John Crowley‘s masterful Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight, 11.4 limited) here in Toronto, but in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago. I had initially watched it on a third-generation dupe DVD, but even under those crummy conditions the internals were unmissable. Brooklyn is a gentle, perfectly judged, profoundly stirring romantic classic — not just set in the early ’50s but shot, timed, cut and performed in a way that approximates the aesthetic standards of that era. It’s an amber time-capsule movie with a pulse and what feels to me like a real Irish heartbeat, and a feeling of things blooming and beginning and modest people trying to do the right thing.
Brooklyn could have been released in ’52 alongside High Noon, Singin’ In The Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful and audiences would have nodded and applauded and said the same things people are saying now — “This is a film I could take my mother to, but it’s good enough to satisfy the toughest, most cynical critics…a rooted love story, a film about decent and believable folk as well as tradition, discretion, real love and 1950s Brooklyn family values.”
A good movie doesn’t have to go wham-bam-kaboom and make audiences go “holy shit!…what just happened?” to earn a seat at the Best Picture table, and this is one such occasion. There’s a time and a place for every kind of film, and thank God an effort like Brooklyn has come along — a fine little reminder of the pleasures of emotional simplicity served up in a low-key, no-bull fashion. Cutting-edge cognoscenti might be looking for something flashier or jizzier but people who know from quality will warm to Brooklyn‘s timelessness. A Best Picture nomination seem assured, as I noted last month.
And there can be no doubt that Saoirse Ronan‘s performance as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish immigrant torn between two nice-guy suitors, is solemn and understated and quietly mesmerizing, and therefore a near-lock for a Best Actress nomination. Ditto Crowley for Best Director and Nick Hornby for Best Adapted Screenplay. Yves Belanger‘s elegant cinematography also warrants a nom.
Brooklyn is basically about young Eilis’s journey from Ireland to America to start a new life, and then falling in love with Tony Firello (Emory Cohen), a kindly Italian plumber of 25 or thereabouts who wants to marry her and build a home and start a family. But then she returns to Ireland to mourn the death of her sister, and soon after feels the pull of the heartland and wonders if she should maybe re-think her situation and stay with her own ones. Should she choose an American future or an Irish past?
Director Rod Lurie is conducting another Hollywood-centric Facebook poll, this time about the greatest-ever lead performances in feature films. Which right away excludes James Gandolfini in The Sopranos so the HE version is allowing performances from longform cable. Lurie started me off with a taste of 20 performances, and right away I was saying to myself “these are too familiar, too boilerplate…where’s that special-passion choice that defies conventional thinking?”
What is a greatest-ever performance anyway? My theory is that picks in this realm have less to do with skill or technique or even, really, the actor, and a lot more to do with the viewer and what they choose to see. The choices that people make tend to reflect their intimate personal histories on some level. Because they’re choosing performances or more precisely characters who closely mirror and express their deepest longings, fondest hopes and saddest dreams.
My late younger brother was tremendously moved by Mark Ruffalo‘s portrayal of a loser in You Can Count On Me, in large part because my brother was that character. I know a pretty lady who’s always felt close to Vivien Leigh‘s Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind for the same reason. Bill Clinton once said on a High Noon DVD documentary that Gary Cooper‘s performance in High Noon is his all-time favorite because Will Kane‘s situation (everyone chickening out when things get tough and leaving him to stand alone) reminded him of what it’s often like for a sitting U.S. President.
When I began to assemble my pantheon the first nominees that came to mind were Gandolfini, Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, Monica Vitti in L’Avventura, Amy Schumer in Trainwreck (I’m dead serious), George Clooney in Michael Clayton, Gary Cooper in High Noon, Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose, Lee Marvin in Point Blank, Alan Ladd in Shane, Brad Pitt in Moneyball, Marilyn Monroe in Some like It Hot and Jean Arthur in Only Angels Have Wings. This is without thinking anything through or second-guessing myself.