On Sunday night, the horror movie “Get Out” won the Oscar for best original screenplay but not for best picture. Voters’ attitudes toward the film reveal what may have contributed to the movie’s best-picture loss: the desire to turn a blind eye to the true, contentious state of black-white relations in this country.
Or, perhaps, “Get Out” didn’t win Best Picture because it wasn’t the, you know, best picture? Guillermo del Toro’s fishcegenation movie was awfully stupid, but he at least put much effort into how it looked and hired some good actors. (This is not to say that “Get Out” is an ineffective film. It’s an efficient little movie. But it’s a very little movie.)
‘Get Out’ made these voters uncomfortable by showing that black people can be silenced, whether ignored, stereotyped or even, as happens in the movie, kidnapped. So those voters’ response was to attempt to silence the movie, which paradoxically proves one of its main points.
Such willful ignorance isn’t unique to the Oscars, however. This kind of attitude is also partly to blame for the lack of progress for African-Americans in rates of homeownership, incarceration and employment over the past 50 years. …
It’s clear that America prefers its black people to remain invisible …
Reading the voluminously unsilenced and uninvisible cultural commentary praising the realism of “Get Out” and “Black Panther” has me concerned that a growing sector of the commentariat is losing touch with basic reality, as happens in Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” when an encyclopedia of a fictitious planet is discovered:
Handbooks, anthologies, digests, facsimiles, authorized and pirated reprintings of the Greatest Work of Man flooded and continue to flood the world. Almost at once, the real world gave way in more than one area. The truth is that it was longing to give way. Ten years ago, any symmetrical scheme with an appearance of order – dialectical materialism, anti-Semitism, Nazism – was enough to hold mankind in thrall. Why not submit to Tlön, to the immense, meticulous evidence of an ordered planet? It is useless to reply that the real world too is ordered. Perhaps it is, but in accordance with divine laws – that is, non-human laws – that we shall never comprehend. Tlön may be a labyrinth, but a labyrinth contrived by men, a labyrinth destined to be deciphered by men.
Contact and familiarity with Tlön have brought about the deterioration of our world. Mesmerized by that planet’s discipline, we forget – and go on forgetting – that theirs is the discipline of chess players, not of angels. Tlön’s putative ‘primitive language’ has now found its way into our schools; the teaching of its harmonious history, so full of stirring episodes, has obliterated the history that presided over my childhood; in our memories a fictitious past has now replaced our past, of which we know nothing for certain – not even that it is false.
On the other hand, “Get Out” and “Black Panther” weren’t exactly created by a vast cabal of humanity’s leading geniuses.
Phantom Thread is a low-key quality drama about the stresses of the artistic temperament starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a 1950s genius dress designer. It’s a Paul Thomas Anderson movie so of course it’s a sumptuous aesthetic experience. Anderson, along with Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino, is one of the last directors to work on traditional film stock rather than digital. If you recall the beautiful late 1940s department store Anderson conjured up in Anderson’s The Master for Joaquin Phoenix to briefly work in as child photographer, this movie is all like that:
Phantom Thread did well in the Oscar nominations with six: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director (Paul Thomas Anderson), Best Supporting Actress (Lesley Manville as DDL’s sister who manages his house of couture and fires his mistresses for him when he bores of them), Best Score (Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead), and Best Costumes (Mark Bridges). Megan Ellison, zillionaire Larry Ellison’s daughter, produced, and her name on a project has rapidly become a pretty good indicator of upscale quality. (Her brother David produces more commercial sci-fi movies like the Star Trek series and World War Z.)
Day-Lewis as an actor is kind of like Stanley Kubrick as a director, taking years between movies but then delivering something astonishing. He’s famous for method acting commitments that sound like parody — e.g., wearing nothing but deerskin clothes and carrying his flintlock musket everywhere offset for months while making Last of the Mohicans. It’s natural to assume he must be a jerk to take his acting so seriously, but by most accounts he is a superbly considerate gentleman. The strains of preparing for his roles apparently wear him down (he took a couple of years off from stardom to apprentice with a master cobbler in Florence), so he’s announced he’s retiring after this movie.
Day-Lewis, age 60, the only man to win three Best Actor Oscars, probably won’t win a fourth for Phantom Thread. Most observers assume Gary Oldman will win for playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Oldman, 59, hasn’t gotten his due from the Academy Awards (this is only his second nomination even though Oldman, like Day-Lewis, has been doing memorable lead roles since the mid-1980s), while Day-Lewis has one of the highest Oscar batting averages of all time considering how few movies he makes. (Phantom Thread is his first since Lincoln five years ago.)
Further, Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock doesn’t offer Day-Lewis a showy role like Daniel Plainview in PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood or Bill the Butcher in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York in which Day-Lewis was so imposing he wound up intimidating the normally formidable Leonardo DiCaprio. The character is written as a heterosexual fashion designer who is neither very masculine nor flamboyantly effeminate.
So, sentiment this time around seems to be in favor of rectifying Oldman’s lack of Oscar appreciation. On the other hand, Oscar voters seem to like Phantom Thread more than audiences have so far (I thought it was rather funny but it didn’t get many laughs at the Laemmle in North Hollywood and viewers exited in an at best bemused mood), so you never know.
Phantom Thread continues PT Anderson’s odd knack for making fictionalized biopics that are less sensational than their real life subjects. There Will Be Blood left out several of the more lurid events of Los Angeles oilman Edward Doheny’s life, including the Teapot Dome scandal and the Greystone murder-suicide that inspired Raymond Chandler’s detective fiction. The Master presented Scientology cult leader L. Ron Hubbard as a bit of a blowhard, but still kind of a reasonable guy fulfilling a societal need for talk therapy, especially for military veterans suffering PTSD.
Phantom Thread is more or less inspired by the Anglo-American dress designer Charles James, who was a huge deal in the 1950s although I had not heard of him until reading about this movie. (He sold his name in so many convoluted ventures that his children have had a hard time settling all the various legal claims to make use of it.)
In the movie, the designer goes through moderate manic-depressive cycles, but his mania mostly manifests as working long hours sketching designs and being cutting toward people who want his precious time or are making too much distracting noise buttering their toast. He has his sister to keep him on track and, despite all his ups and downs, he lives a rather orderly existence.
In real life, however, Charles James existed in a whirl of hysterical narcissistic tumult until the IRS eventually noted that he never paid his taxes. Laura Jacobs wrote in Vanity Fair in 1998:
A friend remembers James tipping a taxi driver with a $100 bill—he thought it was a single. James continually paid employees with postdated checks, wrote rubber ones at restaurants. And his books were a disaster. “He had all sorts of accountants coming in and trying to straighten things out,” says Jeanne Bultman, who did some bookkeeping for James. “Nobody was successful, because he’d tear the whole thing apart.” It wasn’t that James hated ledgers and numbers— he loved them. “It was detail, you see,” continues Bultman, “detail the same way that his gowns were detailed, and it could always be better.” …
Also in 1954, a surprise announcement: James, at 48, married Nancy Lee Gregory. It was like something out of Noël Coward. James had been having a very public fling with a man named Keith Cuerdon, a stage designer who lived on Fire Island with a wife named Nancy. What happened next depends on who tells the story: (1) Nancy took up Charles to punish her husband; (2) Charles stole away Nancy, who happened to be rich. These are outside interpretations. Those close to the couple say it was a true marriage, if a strange one. “She looked like a refined version, a quiet version, of him,” remembers Miles White. …
Stories abound of James’s inability to deal with even the smallest setbacks. He threatened to release a jar of moths in the salon of a furrier who fired him for nondelivery. He actually did empty a jar of cockroaches on the front desk of the Delmonico Hotel—a stunt to justify not paying his rent. … he would sell the same dress to three women, creating chaos, or borrow a dress from one client to lend to another. And downtown, manufacturers were helpless before his high-handed demands, his offhand delivery of designs, and his constant financial shortfalls. He was renegotiating debt, merging and remerging his finances with new companies in a kind of shell game that, according to Coleman, would make “ownership of his name an unresolvable question.” That name which meant so much! Nancy’s money allowed James to keep creating (all of 36 garments in 1954)—and to sue, sue, sue the thieves on Seventh Avenue.
“He loved accounting books and lawsuits,” remembers Scaasi. “Anything that had to do with finance and drama and the drama of business. Because he was a great orator and it gave him a chance to spout whatever he believed in.” And so James sued clients (Paulette Goddard, who hadn’t paid for a pantsuit), editors (Sally Kirkland at Life, for writing fashion captions he didn’t like), even institutions (he slapped a suit on the Brooklyn Museum, loving home to hundreds of James creations, because he suddenly wanted his clothes back). …
This sounds pretty entertaining, but nothing like this is in the movie.
Another problem with Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s usual trouble with coming up with a good plot. Anderson is a great director at both cinematography and in working with actors, and he’s pretty good at writing dialogue. But, like Spike Lee, he’s just not good at coming up with compelling scenarios. Why did Daniel Plainview want to kill Paul Dano’s preacher?
This story, about the designer’s latest girlfriend’s increasingly desperate attempts to hold his attention, after taking awhile to get going, actually develops some momentum as it starts to resemble a Hitchcock suspense movie. But then it resolves with a twist that leaves you shaking your head.
Still, despite its flaws, Phantom Thread sticks in your head, as shown by the length at which I’ve rambled on about it. As a movie about making beautiful things, it benefits from having two superb artists devote themselves to it.
Wokeness score: Zero. The only racial diversity in it is represented by the House of Woodcock’s richest client, a Barbara Hutton-type poor little rich girl, marrying, imprudently, a Dominican playboy modeled upon Porfirio Rubirosa.
Clickbait critics might decide that Phantom Thread straightwashes fashion designers. Anderson and Day-Lewis are heterosexual family men with seven kids between them.
Tran and Boyega ably represent the previously underservered Depressing-Looking American community
Okay, apparently there’s a new Star Wars movie out, which I haven’t seen because I haven’t heard anything that sounds like a good reason to go. And the more I hear about it, the less it sounds like it is even trying to be entertaining. From the New York Times:
Kathleen Kennedy founded the group in 2012 when she succeeded George Lucas as president of Lucasfilm, putting Kiri Hart, a former film and TV writer, in charge of the unit. Ms. Hart’s first move was to make the story group entirely female, starting with Rayne Roberts and Carrie Beck.
Isn’t that illegal? The sentence is ambiguous, but it makes it sound like that the sex discrimination was intentional.
Anyway, the strong suit of Lucas & Spielberg-type movies was always boyishness. Presumably, Kathleen Kennedy has learned something about how to produce popular movies in all the years since she got a job as John Milius’s secretary. But maybe she knew all along back in 1975-1981 that Lucas and Spielberg were leaving billion dollar bills on the sidewalk by making their movies boyishly fun. After all, her latest Star Wars movie is making tons of money. I guess that’s what people want.
While writing “The Last Jedi,” the writer-director Rian Johnson moved to San Francisco, spending three months working closely with the story group to develop ideas for the film.
Ms. Hart credits Mr. Johnson with the decision to introduce diverse characters for “The Last Jedi.” Of the new cast members, several are women, including Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran, the first Asian-American women to star in the saga.
They used to try to cast actors who, at minimum, weren’t depressing to look at:
For example, Billy Dee Williams and Harrison Ford were cast in The Empire Strikes Back because they at least gave the impression that they would do something interesting real soon now.
But discriminating in favor of the lively-looking was racist. In the Current Year, members of the Depressing-Looking Community have a right to see themselves on screen:
So, in contrast, seeing stills of Tran and Boyega just makes me feel sad all over, and want to wear black clothes and maybe cut myself or get a black rose tattoo on my ankle.
Now, you might think that the main beneficiaries of this thinking would be Tran, Boyega, and their respective agents. But you are wrong. You see, the more Tran and Boyega are on screen, the better will be the lives of other depressing-looking individuals. It’s simple logic.
IN THE FADE Directed by Fatih Akin Crime, Drama R 1h 46m
By MAGNOLIA PICTURES 2:08
By A.O. SCOTT DEC. 26, 2017
“In the Fade,” the new film by Fatih Akin, is divided into three parts. The first two follow a pattern that will be familiar to “Law & Order” fans.
“Law & Order” is of course world-famous for being completely un-figure-out-able. Who will the real killer turn out to be: the Puerto Rican transgender sex worker, the black felon with all the Crips tattoos who converted to Nation of Islam on Death Row, or coal industry lawyer Choate Saltonstall Crowninshield VII of Park Avenue?
A crime is investigated, and then a trial conducted, with a few twists and reversals on the way to the verdict. The emphasis, though, falls less on the procedural aspects of the case than its psychological effects, specifically on Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger), a German woman whose husband and young son are killed in a bombing in Hamburg.
Mr. Akin, whose previous features include the explosive “Head-On” …
Which is a pretty good movie.
Because her husband, Nuri (Numan Akar), was a Turkish immigrant and a former drug dealer, the police raise the specters of Islamist terrorism and gang activity. Katja is adamant: “Nazis killed my husband.”
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
She has the grim satisfaction of being right.
Wow, I never saw that coming …
… The accused murderers, a young married couple, are defended by a tall, bald, sarcastic lawyer (Johannes Krisch) who is perhaps a bit too transparently villainous. But he does succeed in galvanizing the audience’s disgust, and in reframing the story as a conflict between the desire for justice and the drive for vengeance.
This is a venerable theme in movies, driving the plots of most of westerns. In this instance, it carries an extra jolt of political relevance. How should liberal societies deal with homegrown political extremists, who seek protection from the democratic norms and institutions they are committed to destroying? How should the victims of far-right-wing violence fight back?
Surely, introducing Middle Eastern and West Asian forms of justice such as clan vendettas, acid attacks, gang rapes, and mob-pillaging of the entire neighborhood of the offender would be appropriate innovations in northwestern European jurisprudence in order to make immigrants feel more at home.
The new Steven Spielberg historical drama The Post is a celebration of how Democrats turn lemons into lemonade via their control of the media.
A prequel to the 1976 Watergate movie All the President’s Men, the new movie recounts how the Democratic Washington Post used an embarrassing 1971 Democratic scandal—Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers, the LBJ administration’s secret history of its own incompetence and insincerity in Vietnam—to take its first tentative steps toward eventually teaming up with the Deep State (in the person of J. Edgar Hoover loyalist Mark “Deep Throat” Felt) to overthrow the elected Republican president three years later.
Spielberg rushed The Post into production just last spring for the usual anti-Trump reasons. After the media’s eight-year-long sabbatical/siesta during the Obama White House, it’s good to see some energy and animus against a president, even if it tends to be wildly hypocritical.
Of course, Spielberg is not exactly the most self-aware ironist, so …
“The Shape of Water” is Mexican Conquistador-American Guillermo del Toro’s art-directed-within-an-inch-of-its-life Oscar contender about how a heroic Coalition of the Fringes teams up to thwart the Evilest Evil White Man Ever from stopping a saintly disabled woman from consummating her Amphibious Marriage with a creature from the black lagoon.
Del Toro seems more interested in his color scheme — in 1962 Baltimore, the color green represents the conformist Space Age future planned by Corporate America, while red represents the romantic past embodied by old movie musicals — than in making any sense out of his comic book story.
Del Toro must have put three orders of magnitude more effort into perfecting his color scheme than in working on his plot: The U.S. government has sent an Evil White Man (played by Michael Shannon) to the Amazon to capture a new improved version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The fishman (Doug Jones, quite good) can breathe both under and over water, so figuring out how he does it is the highest priority of the USA and the USSR because of Reasons (tk) having to do with the Space Race. You know, because of all the water in Outer Space …
Sally Hawkins plays a mute cleaning lady who is supposed to scrub down the laboratory every night where the fishman is kept chained up so that the Evil White Man can beat it nightly with his cattle prod, like Sheriff Bull Connor is shown beating saintly black civil rights protestors on TV.
Why is the government official in charge of this giant scientific project constantly beating the unique subject with a cattle prod? Because he is an Evil White Man and that’s just how they manifest their White Evilness. Evil is in their blood. From RogerEbert.com:
In co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s political fairytale “The Shape of Water,” Shannon embodies a type of Trumpian nightmare and creates one of the auteur darkest villains yet. His government character Strickland is an American man in 1962 with a sociopathic presence in the workplace and at home, who seeks to humiliate all of those below him and appease all of those above him. Strickland’s misogyny and racism provides a key counterpoint to the wave of civil rights working through the film, but is enough to make him a horrifying monster of power from any era. He reaches a type of destiny when a gorgeous, delicate sea creature appears in the lab that Strickland is overseeing. Under specific orders, Strickland seeks to destroy it, despite its scientific worth and beauty.
Our heroine instantly falls in love with the fishdude, and despite her muteness, recruits a Coalition of the Fringes, including her gay neighbor played by Richard Jenkins, her sassy black lady friend at work (Octavia Spencer), and a Soviet scientist spy (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has infiltrated the laboratory, to help her take her frog lover home and keep him in her bathtub.
In case you are wondering, Guillermo, whose dad is a major industrialist in Mexico, is just about the palest Person of Pallor ever.
He makes Kiwi Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) look swarthy in comparison.
What kind of breeding among his ancestors in Mexico produced Del Toro: rich, talented, and very, very white?
But his name ends in a vowel, so you can tell he’s not an Evil White Male.
Ferdinand is a new animated feature movie based on the 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand and 1938 Disney short Ferdinand the Bull. Due to the Spanish Civil War, the book was the biggest bestseller of 1938.
Professional wrestler John Cena provides the voice of the gentle giant who would rather sniff flowers than fight other bulls or the matador.
In a supporting role, retired quarterback Peyton Manning is rather funny as the voice of Guapo, a bull who has what it takes athletically to make it to the big ring in Madrid, but doesn’t quite have what it takes psychologically to perform under pressure. Kate McKinnon voices Lupe the rather agitating Calming Goat,* who is modeled after Ellen DeGeneres’s famous turn as Dory in Pixar’s great Finding Nemo. Flula Borg is hilarious as Hans, the supercilious leader of the Lippizan Stallions in the next pasture.
This Blue Sky Animation movie about Spanish bullfighting lacks the fit and finish of Pixar’s recent Mexican cartoon feature Coco, but might be more entertaining. I smiled through the whole film and lots of kids in the theater laughed uproariously. But, keep in mind that it’s pretty much on the nose all the time — for example, there’s a bull in a china shop scene that is literally a bull in a china shop — which Pixar wouldn’t do.
Ferdinand is set in Ronda, Andalusia, a spectacular site with wings of the small city on the different sides of the 400 foot deep gorge. It’s the historical home of modern bullfighting. Ernest Hemingway and Rainer Maria Rilke lived there. Orson Welles is buried there.
In contrast, Coco is set in a Mexico that exists only in the imagination of Bay Area yuppie designers.
On the other hand, Ferdinand might be overly honest about what happens to bulls who get selected to fight in the bull ring and what happens to those who don’t make the cut for the ring. The scene of the escape from the automated slaughterhouse might give kids (and grown-ups) nightmares.
I was reminded of the sentimental 1956 bullfighting movie about a Mexican boy and his pet bull, The Brave One, which won blacklisted Communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo an Oscar under the name Robert Rich. I really liked that movie when I was in (about) third grade.
To compare it to Coco, Pixar obviously has more money and talent at its disposal, but setting a movie in Mexico meant Pixar had to hire lots of ethnically correct “sensitivity readers” to remove interesting stuff from the screenplay. By setting Ferdinand in Spain, I suspect the upstarts at Blue Sky (led by Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha) were allowed to skip the whole ethnic sensitivity kow-towing process and go right to the stereotypical and therefore appealing meat of the story.
Bullfighting is a bizarre remnant of Roman Empire gladiatorial games and probably won’t survive this century, but it’s also insanely cinematic.
* Do Calming Goats really work, or is this just a scam by the powerful Goat Industry to sell more goats?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Calming Goat in Ferdinand is inspired by this house in the Hollywood Hills that’s right next to the popular Runyon Canyon dog walking trail. The owner has a couple of horses, and he told me that he’d been told to buy a goat to keep his horses calm. But then his first goat was so nervous being away from other goats that he had to buy a second Calming Goat to calm down his first Calming Goat.
Then the Calming Goats became so attached to their horse friends that whenever the owners took the horses for a ride, the goats would bleat inconsolably for hours.
I saw this awhile ago somewhere, but I forgot to copy the link, so my apologies to the author.
How the basic plot of “Star Wars” derives from the Books of Samuel in the Old Testament:
farm boy (Saul-Anakin) anointed future king by a seer (the
cloak-wearing Samuel/Obi-Wan), taken from his mother and trained, farm
boy reveals himself to be wrongly anointed after an abuse of powers
and repeated failure of character; his authority and kingdom, as well
as the divine spirit, removed from him and given to another farm boy
(David-Skywalker) who is now the rightful heir and savior of the
kingdom. Persecution for the newly anointed savior-king by the fallen
former one ensues. The righteous farmboy/king/jedi triumphs over
fallen king at, no joke, the location known as “Endor,” where
Samuel/Obi-Wan figures makes one of his ghostly appearances.
I don’t think George Lucas or Lawrence Kasdan took this directly from
the Bible intentionally, but, more likely, Lucas ripped off some
obscure pulp fiction or comic he read as a kid in the 50s and THAT, in
turn, was the text that ripped off the David story.
This comedy/drama written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges“) would be a fine sleeper hit if it didn’t win a bunch of Academy Awards. However, Frances McDormand, Mrs. Joel Coen, is, with Meryl Streep in “The Post,” a frontrunner for Best Actress. Conversely, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are excellent too as Ozark small town cops who have outraged McDormand by not solving the kidnapping/rape/murder of her daughter.
This is the kind of movie, like “Shakespeare in Love,” “Crash”and “The Artist,” that would be better off in the long run if it didn’t win a whole bunch of Oscars. McDonagh doesn’t quite have control of the tone of his movie, and inserts a lot of both jokes and tragic incidents. If you stumbled upon this movie late at night on cable, you’d think it was well above average. If it won a lot of Academy Awards next March, however, you’d be pickier because your expectations were higher.
Martin McDonagh’s older brother John Michael McDonagh is a fine screenwriter too (e.g., Brendan Gleeson in 2011′s “The Guard“‘; his 2016 comedy “War on Everyone” with Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Pena as crooked but lovable New Mexico cops isn’t bad either). Unlike the Coens and a lot of other modern frateurs, the McDonagh’s have a normal amount of sibling rivalry and thus don’t write together, although they share actors, such as the great elder Gleeson. Lately, they’ve been using the almost incomprehensible Caleb Landry Jones (similarly cast in “Get Out”) as a degenerate Southerner.
Like most of the better filmmakers of 2017, the McDonaghs are, by the standards of 2017, pretty far right wing. But this isn’t widely noticed. Critics think because it’s set in Missouri, “Ebbing” is a Ferguson Movie. But it’s really a Law and Order Movie.
Somebody should make a movie about two rivalrous Irish screenwriter brothers who are finally cajoled into writing a movie together in the mode of the Coens and all the other recent brother acts, disastrously.
It’s really not that easy to get along with your brother (e.g., see the recent hit animated children’s film “The Boss Baby,” now on Netflix.)
“The Disaster Artist” is actor/director James Franco’s fairly good movie about the making of a belovedly bad movie called “The Room” that has achieved cult status and nurtured a bunch of “Rocky Horror Picture Show”-type customs among audiences at midnight movies, such as throwing plastic spoons at the screen. Franco plays the international man of mystery calling himself Tommy Wiseau who wrote, financed, directed, and starred in “The Room” in 2003.
Nobody knows where Wiseau got the $6 million to pay for his movie about, presumably, the blonde who broke his heart. Here’s the flower shop scene (either from the original or from Franco’s reproduction, I can’t tell the difference):
“The Disaster Artist” isn’t as good as the 1994 film “Ed Wood” starring Johnny Depp as the director of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (and numerous other contenders with “The Room” for Worst Movie of All Time). But “The Disaster Artist” is a decent entry in the genre of the Passionate Incompetent.
Franco as director and star did a good job of matching a lot of his famous friends in showbiz, such as Seth Rogen, Judd Apatow, Bob Odenkirk, Zac Efron, Hannibal Buress, Sharon Stone, Bryan Cranston, Jacki Weaver, and his brother Dave Franco to the real life losers who were involved in “The Disaster Artist.” My guess is that Rogen is a fun guy to watch bad movies with at home, so “The Disaster Artist” is an attempt to reproduce for the mass audience Franco’s experience of watching terrible movies while Rogen cracks wise.
Wiseau is convinced that he deserves to be a Hollywood movie star despite having some kind of Eastern European accent and a massive speech impediment.
One scene in “The Disaster Artist” mentions that Wiseau decided to become an actor while in the hospital following a car crash. Nobody else more familiar with the story than me seems to believe this, but my guess is that he suffered brain damage in the accident, which could be why he talks funny.
People really like movies. One thing that jumps out at you while reading the history of WWII is that Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, and FDR were passionate movie fans. In contrast, the other Franco, Francisco, who had the good sense to sit out WWII, does not appear to have been.
Where Wiseau got the money to make his elaborate movie, I don’t know. Most of the large cast and crew guessed that it was a money-laundering scheme involving organized crime, but the grandiose and defective Wiseau doesn’t seem like somebody that a gangster would want to be involved with.
Perhaps Wiseau was in a car crash that killed other members of his extended family in New Orleans and he was the beneficiary of a big settlement? For example, comedian Tracy Morgan and the heirs of another comedian appear to have gotten a big payouts from insurance companies for Walmart, whose truck driver ran into their limo in 2014. The rumor, which Morgan’s attorney pooh-poohs, is of a $90 million settlement. Whatever it was, Walmart’s insurance companies are currently trying to claw some of it back on the grounds that Tracy isn’t as crippled as initially feared (of course, his friend remains as dead as originally reported).
Personally, Mr. Insurance Company, I think Tracy Morgan, especially as Tracy Jordan on “30 Rock,” has made my life better-humored, so I’m not really too bothered if he manages to come back most of the way from the coma that your client’s bad driver plunged him into.
Or maybe Wiseau inherited money from his New Orleans relatives? Or got lucky investing during the 1990s tech bubble? Or made a fortune off fake designer jeans? There are a lot of fairly random rich people these days.
Pixar’s animated movie “Coco” about a boy in Mexico who visits the afterlife on the Day of the Dead is another nice effort from the Northern California studio. On the other hand, it’s a little dull and repetitious: Did you know that Mexicans care a lot about their families? If not, you’ll learn that from “Coco,” in which the word “family” comes up maybe 50 to 75 times. Also words referring to family relations like “great-great-grandmother” are mentioned many dozens of times as well.
The banality of “Coco” might have something to do with Pixar being paralyzed by fear of saying anything non-boring about Mexican culture. They had to do the usual thing these days for movies of hiring some official notes-givers from the teeming ranks of ethnic activists, which can’t do much for the interest level.
The story is about an entrepreneurial family of shoemakers who are the only family in Mexico, or maybe the world, who abhor any and all music, and their rebel little boy who, you’ll be shocked to learn, likes music.
This is a pretty lame contrivance to get the plot going. The usual conflict in a Mexican or Mexican-American family drama, such as 2002′s “Real Women Have Curves,” is between the educationally ambitious young hero/heroine and his/her family, who expect him/her to get right to work instead of going away to pursue education. To turn this central conflict into a family that hates music is strained.
I kept thinking of the video in which Ali G asks Donald Trump “What’s the most popular thing in the world?” so that when Trump says “I don’t know,” Ali G intends to say “Ice cream!” except that Trump says, “Music,” which is indeed even more popular than ice cream.
Anyway, that got me thinking about whether there are any forms of puritanism in Mexico. In American history, a huge fraction of the factories and colleges were started by either puritans or people descended from puritans. Much the same is true in some other countries. Did Mexico, however, ever have any form of puritanism or did the Counter-Reformation block it from ever coming to Mexico? Is that one reason Mexico is the way it is?
Like a huge fraction of movies these days, this one is about death and missing the dead. Like a lot of movies since maybe “Ghost,” this one includes a whole bunch of rules about the afterlife. Nobody is as theologically creative these days as screenwriters, and nobody is more thorough at thinking things through than Pixar screenwriters.
Did ethnic activist consultants actually advise Pixar writers on all the complicated rules for the Mexican afterlife displayed in the movie? Or did they just agree to them all?
Coco revive less grating old Mexican pop song styles from the 1940s when the Mexican economy was at its peak due to WWII. The only famous dead Mexicans I recognized in the land of the dead were painter Frida Kahlo and wrestler El Santo. I guess more famous Mexicans like Pancho Villa would be too stereotypical or something for gringo audiences. (Shocking fact: Mexicans love Pancho Villa and his bandoleros.)
Pixar’s Mexican land of the dead doesn’t look much like any part of Mexico I’ve been to. It’s full of tall buildings (Mexicans, in contrast, love sprawl) in a sort of Victorian greenhouse look.
Maybe the Pixar artists went down to Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, the teeming Mexican shopping street, and like all yuppies and hipsters when they go to Broadway in DTLA to sample Mexican culture wound up finding refuge from the Mexican mobs in the Victorian greenhouse Bradbury Building made famous in the original Blade Runner? Everytime I go to Broadway in DTLA I wind up, like Sir Ridley Scott, trying to get into the hyper-Anglo Bradbury Building to get away from the teeming masses of Mexicans.
About 15 years ago I tried to go to the Bradbury Building to see an exhibit of abstract sculpture by Professor Edward Tufte, author of the famous The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. But the Bradbury’s door was locked. I looked around for fellow fans of Professor Tufte, and quickly located them among the thousands of shoppers on Broadway because the Tufte admirers were a head taller than the shoppers.
Anyway, movies need heights these days because climactic scenes virtually always involved the threat of the hero falling to his death.
Pixar prettifies the Mexican tendency toward grotesquery with a lot of skeletons that aren’t terribly scary.
A few years ago there was a lower-budget but fairly-similarly themed animated Day of the Dead movie directed by Jorge Gutierrez from Tijuana called “The Book of the Dead.” The skeletons were more grotesque, but here’s a nice song from it:
I suspect bullfighting would have been a Mexican subject too “stereotypical” or “controversial” for Pixar’s huge budget.
The other downside of “Coco” is that instead of the usual six minute Pixar cartoon running before it, Disney is running an interminable 21-minute cartoon from the lucrative and slightly lesbian Enchanted franchise featuring an irritating snowman.
My new Harvey Weinstein-related column in Taki’s Magazine, “The Overlord of Oscar Bait,” argues that, just as Hollywood should no longer import chimpanzees to appear in movies like Bedtime for Bonzo because they can now be digitally simulated by putting Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit, we should consider banning professional child actors in the fairly near future. Perhaps acting ought to be a profession for adults to choose freely, rather than for children to be pressured into by their stage moms and dads? For example, you aren’t allowed to be a professional football player until roughly age 21, so maybe child acting could be restricted to amateur theatricals up through, say, age 18.
One of the funnier aspects of Hamlet is that in the same astonishing scene (II, ii) in which Hamlet delivers his “quintessence of dust” speech for the ages, Shakespeare, speaking through Hamlet, goes on to indulge in some extremely topical and local satire regarding the London stage fad c. 1600 for grown-up plays (including a couple by Ben Jonson) performed by all-child troupes. (This exchange is often cut to shorten the run-time of productions of Hamlet.)
Shakespeare, the theatrical businessman, is particularly annoyed that Jonson’s plays for child actors satirize adult actors (such as Shakespeare’s own mostly grown-up troupe):
Hamlet — Do they [i.e., Globe players] hold the same estimation they did when I was in the city? are they so followed?
Rosencrantz — No indeed they are not.
Hamlet — How comes it? do they grow rusty?
Rosencrantz — Nay, their endeavour keeps in the wonted pace: but there is sir, an aery [nest] of children, little eyases [eaglets], that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for’t: these are now the fashion, and so berattle [i.e., abuse] the common stages – so they call them – that many wearing rapiers [i.e., gallants] are afraid of goose-quills [i.e., the satire of the boys' playwrights] and dare scarce come thither [i.e., to the public playhouses].
Hamlet — What, are they children? who maintains ‘em? how are they escoted [i. e., paid]? Will they pursue the quality [i. e., the profession of acting] no longer than they can sing [i. e., before their voices change]? will they not say afterwards, if they should grow to common players – as it is most like, if their means are no better – their writers do them wrong to make them exclaim against their own succession [i.e., the profession of public actor, to which they must shortly succeed].
This dialogue is often cut in productions of Hamlet to get the play over before midnight.
Also, in Tom Stoppard’s inversion of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, it is pointedly implied that the impoverished mostly adult actors troupe that comes through Elsinore is not above — times being what they are (indifferent) — pimping out the youngest boy in their troupe for special private performances.
Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was a celebrated figure during the (perhaps now finally concluded) Bill and Hillary Era. In particular, he was the central string-puller of the insufferable orgy of virtue-signaling that the Academy Awards have become.
The annual Oscar season is the Olympics of self-satisfied displays of moral superiority. And no one ever played the Oscar campaign game better than Weinstein, whose companies have had their fingers on 341 Academy Award nominations.
Harvey issued a statement last January when his company’s movie Lion received a Best Picture nod:
“‘Lion’ is the company’s 26th Best Picture Nomination in 28 years, and it is just as exciting as the first. I couldn’t be more proud of the entire team. The most important part of this is the effect that ‘Lion’ is having on social issues around the world. Its themes of diversity, love, and unity are very special to me on a personal level. UNICEF said it best — ‘Lion’ is an anthem of hope, love and acceptance.’ That means more to me than anything.”
Despite all his successes in the virtue business, Harvey, like Bill and Hill (for whom he bundled so many contributions), is not a virtuous individual.
The 1982 Blade Runner was also one of the first (and last) sci-fi movies to feature demographic change. Los Angeles in 2019 was overwhelmed by Asian immigrants and everybody had moved back downtown into giant high-rises, two forecasts that seem right on track with two years to go.
While the mass immigration and the no-backyards crowding are arriving on schedule, Blade Runner’s flying cars and off-world space colonies, however, are lagging.
To this day, most other sci-fi movies foresee a future America that’s majority white with African-Americans as the main minority. Idiocracy is just about the only successor to Blade Runner in suggesting that America’s dystopian future will be even less white than its present.
Movies usually take at least two years to go from conception to completion, even with all the money in the world behind them. For example, the sequel to the August 2014 surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy arrived in theaters in May 2017, 33 months after the original.
So, it’s obvious that all the Oscar-bait movies currently debuting on the festival circus were conceived of no earlier than November 9, 2016. Or at least that’s the impression we are supposed to get …
Some of the biggest hits—and one notable flop—at the Toronto International Film Festival played as blunt allegories for the current political moment.
DAVID SIMS 1:23 PM ET CULTURE
When introducing his new movie The Shape of Water at the Toronto International Film Festival last week, the director Guillermo del Toro was clear about the message he wanted to convey. The Shape of Water is a romantic, grown-up fairytale, where a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) working at a secret government facility in 1962 falls in love with a sea creature (Doug Jones) that’s being held there against its will. It’s a story of empathy triumphing over prejudice, one where the facility’s villainous supervisor (Michael Shannon) is largely driven by hatred of what he doesn’t understand.
… When discussing The Shape of Water, del Toro (who is Mexican) has been equally upfront about how its sea creature is a stand-in for “the other,” or the outsider, in any kind of political situation. As this year’s Oscar race kicks off, del Toro’s movie is resonating—it won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It’s also part of a larger trend in political and allegorical mainstream filmmaking, where directors are plainly and loudly tackling the Trump administration, some with more grace than others.
… This year, a sizable chunk of the festival’s biggest hits have a few key things in common—they’re coming out in the first full year of the Trump administration, they’re deeply topical despite many of them being period pieces covering unfortunate historical events, and they have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
… But The Shape of Water is more directly applicable to the current debate raging over the White House’s hardline immigration policies and the emergence of the alt-right. Del Toro hasn’t shied away from that interpretation, saying of Shannon’s villain, “He doesn’t see anyone because his arrogance is so big. … It speaks about the issue we have today that choosing fear over love is a disaster.” When asked about the current political climate, he said, “It’s like a cancer. We have a tumor now. That doesn’t mean the cancer started with that tumor. It was gestating for so long.”
In dramatizing America’s idealized past in The Shape of Water, del Toro tries to get at the root of problems in the present. The film takes place in the ’60s, when the country is a forward-looking superpower, but the story is set largely within a darker underbelly. “If you were white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant, it was a great time to be alive,” del Toro said of that decade. “If you were not, if you were anything else, it was not.”
Guillermo del Toro knows because he is a famous Person of Color, as you can tell from these photos of him with Peter Jackson, Ryan Gosling, and Michael Shannon. Del Toro’s dad owned an automobile manufacturing company in Mexico, which means that Guillermo knows all about racism and oppression. Del Toro’s dad was kidnapped in Guadalajara and held for ransom for $1 million for 72 days, until Guillermo’s friend James Cameron paid it.
Who here can’t identify with having James Cameron pay your industrialist dad’s ransom? It’s practically a rite of passage.
Del Toro may look like a Hobbit, but his ancestry comes from the extreme northern border region of The Shire, so that makes him The Other.
Del Toro hasn’t lived in his native Mexico since his father’s kidnapping, but that just makes him more aware of how racist you are for having doubts about not welcoming so many Mexicans to America.
Finishing outside the top ten, Annapurna’s Detroit had a tough weekend. Kathryn Bigelow’s latest struggled in its nationwide expansion, pulling in an estimated $7.7 million from 3,007 theaters for a $2,411 per theater average. Expectations heading into the weekend were a performance in the low teens, but instead this performance is much closer to that of Free State of Jones, another adult drama that debut in the summer last year and managed to only bring in $7.6 million in its opening before finishing with $20.8 million for its domestic run. Audiences did agree with critics (78 on Metacritic), scoring the film with a strong “A-” CinemaScore, but with an opening like this it’s unlikely word of mouth will be able to keep it around for too long.
Here’s my review of Detroit about the 1967 riot in Taki’s Magazine last week.
Detroit, rather like Jordan Peele’s hugely profitable Get Out from earlier this year, is kind of a horror story about white racism killing black bodies.
But it had a number of strikes against it:
- Directrix Kathryn Bigelow, unlike Jordan Peele, is white. In fact, she’s extremely white, with a lot of formal education in modern art theory. Blacks like blacks, while whites like to worry about how problematic it is that a white person is allowed to make a movie with black characters. Thus, from Slate a thumbsucker thinkpiece on Detroit and some other film that is morally superior due to the filmmakers being black.
- Bigelow’s not a big crowd-pleaser (even Point Break was more of a cult hit). Her most important audience has been male directors like her mentors Walter Hill and ex-husband James Cameron who like the fact that here is a technically skilled woman director who is interested in the masculine stuff they are interested in (e.g., blowing stuff up — her Hurt Locker features some of the more realistic explosions in movie history). But who also preserves an independent viewpoint as an intelligent woman who admires men, but also analyzes them because she’s not one of them. As a woman director making movies about men-in-uniform she is a fish that knows she’s wet. (Bigelow reminds me a little of Patti Smith, another Art Theory type, whose great topic was masculine charisma in rock music.)
- White people may well be getting tired of rehashes of Whites Behaving Badly in the distant past (which may bode poorly for the three (that’s 3) Emmett Till movies said to be in development).
- Among that slice of whites who can’t get enough of movies of Old Time Whites Behaving Badly, Bigelow and Boal’s movie is a little too realistic for the purely politically correct. For example, blacks are repeatedly shown doing stupid, greedy things to set off the Detroit Riot. Detroit is not quite enough of a Hate Whitey movie for the Hate Whitey white audience.
This is the first movie distributed by Annapurna Films, the production company of Larry Ellison’s daughter Megan, and Annapurna perhaps tends to be the anti-Weinstein Brothers of companies in the Oscar Bait business., focusing less on Message Movies than the Weinsteins do. For example, Annapurna’s next three movies are being directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood), and Wes Anderson (The Grand Hotel Budapest). I’m sure that critics will go through contortions to explain how each one of these movies is intended to be an anti-Trump message movie and is in fact exactly What America Needs to Heal from Trump’s Horrible Tweet of Yesterday.
But I suspect that those three directors mostly just do their own, very different, things, and Megan Ellison is happy to use a little of her father’s giant pile of money be in business with them.
In contrast to Detroit, the other mid-summer Oscar contender, with its entire cast drawn from the native stock of the British Isles, is rolling along:
Dunkirk finished in second with an estimated $17.6 million, dropping only 34% in its third weekend in release for a domestic cume just shy of $135 million. Internationally, Dunkirk delivered an estimated $25 million from 63 markets bringing its overseas cume to $180.6 million for a global tally that now stands at $314.2 million. Looking ahead, the film opens in Italy at the end of August followed by early September releases in China and Japan.
The key moment in the self-destruction of the once great American city of Detroit over the past half century can be dated precisely to July 23, 1967, when blacks began the Detroit Riot. Before 4,700 paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions finally halted the orgy of criminality, African Americans had looted 2,500 stores and burned down 400 buildings in their own neighborhoods.
The next year, 80,000 whites moved out of Detroit. …
Of course, today we are instructed to think of these white refugees from black violence not as victims but as perps. Almost nobody is interested in the stories of the millions of Americans whose lives were literally dislocated by the huge surge in black urban crime during the peak years of American liberalism, 1964–75.
For example, the opening text for the new movie Detroit, which opens nationally on Friday, pins the blame for the black riot of 1967 on the economic devastation caused by the 22,000 whites who had presciently left Detroit the year before, apparently taking all the magic dirt with them, leaving only the tragic dirt.
In reality, the Detroit Riot had little to do with economic decline. Instead, it was a classic example of how rising expectations fuel resentment.
Our most celebrated thought leaders, such as Chancellor Merkel, have repeatedly pointed out for us that European values morally require the demographic inundation of the European peoples in The Other. Similarly, the New York Times film critic is highly enthusiastic about how humane values require human extinction in War for the Planet of the Apes. A.O. Scott raves about the latest monkey movie for finally coming down wholeheartedly on the appropriate side of the Who? Whom? divide:
NYT Critic’s Pick Directed by Matt Reeves PG-13 2h 20m
Reviewed by A. O. SCOTT JULY 12, 2017
… The apes pause to witness the aftermath of the carnage they have narrowly escaped, and their wordless, shocked response, registered above all on the face of Caesar, their leader, is an eloquent rebuke to a species that has abandoned any but a biological claim to the name human.
… We are now, three movies into this reborn franchise, entirely on the side of the apes. The prospect of our own extinction, far from horrifying, comes as a relief. At last the poor planet will catch a break.
… The distinction of this run of “Planet of the Apes” movies has been its commitment to the venerable belief that science fiction belongs to the literature of ideas, and its willingness to risk seeming to take itself too seriously. Each episode has pursued a stark ethical or political problem, and each has shifted the moral ground from human to ape.
“Rise” was about how people treat and mistreat animals, about the tension between recognizing them as sentient beings and the long habit of exploiting and confining them. “Dawn” was a wishful parable of decolonization and counterinsurgency, concerned with the competing but equally legitimate claims of two tribes occupying adjacent territory. “War” — which, in spite of its title, is less a war film than a western wrapped around a prison movie — vindicates Koba’s view of humanity as irredeemably cruel and deceitful.
… A new strain of virus is robbing people of their ability to speak, accelerating a reversal of species hierarchy set in motion two movies ago when Caesar first howled the word “no.”
He is a grayer, sadder hero now, and in “War” he succumbs for a while to a vengeful impulse at odds with his essential high-mindedness. You could say that he is putting his humanity at risk, or that he’s only human, after all, but of course both descriptions would be absurd.
Mr. Scott is aware that his praising the apes for being more “humane” than the humans is speciesist, and thus we need a new vocabulary purged of the old insensitive human supremacist terms that reflected the intolerable old hierarchy of species. But we’ll have to make do with these archaic words for now:
We’ll have to come up with a new vocabulary, but while we still have this one — and while flesh-and-blood people are still directing digital gorillas and chimps — I’ll just say that it’s good to see a movie so thoroughly humane.
Mr. Scott, however, has one complaint: the heroes aren’t portrayed quite as feministically woke as one might wish:
This world is also intensely and somewhat unimaginatively masculine. The default setting for primate social organization in these movies, human and otherwise, is patriarchal, and while a few female apes and a young human girl appear on screen, the filmmakers’ inability to flesh out the familial and affective dimensions of an otherwise richly rendered reality is frustrating.
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