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David Poland

By David Poland

Chat With Aaron Spelling

Got to chat with Aaron Spelling yesterday. He offered up a couple of movie-related tips.
1. He has an hour-long pilot at NBC called “Odd Jobs” with Roger Avery, who won an Oscar for writing Pulp Fiction with Quentin Tarantino. Spelling says the humor is great.
2. I asked him what he thought of Claire Danes choosing to do the feature version of his series, “The Mod Squad.”
“I’m thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. This girl, who I loved in Romeo and Juliet, is doing Mod Squad? I’m thrilled.” What about the rest of the troubled teens turned cops? “The others are tough, especially in matching Claire’s age. Captain Greer could be [played by] a star, but probably not the other two young people. But Claire Danes with a gun. I love it.”
Spelling will be hands-on with the film. “I had a meeting with the writer and director Monday night at my house for two and a half hours, exchanging ideas.” Will the film go camp or ultra-serious? Spelling wouldn’t really say, but he closed with, “It’s much more rambunctious than the original.” What does that mean? He wasn’t sure either, laughing, “Is rambunctious even a word?”
THE PAPER TRAIL: Christine Lahti hit just the right note at the Golden Globes when she was caught with her dress down in the ladies room when she was announced as a winner. But leave it to Kaopectate to take it a little too far. The company is sending Kaopectate Oscar Relief Baskets to all 20 of the acting nominees. Kaopectate’s press release says they hope the baskets will give everyone a “solid performance” during the awards. Gross!
BACKLASH: One of the ongoing conversations in town is that Jack Nicholson and Jim Cameron could have knocked themselves out of their sure-bet Oscar wins with their performances at The Golden Globes. A lot of people seem to feel, including none other than insightful veteran William Goldman, that their smug attitudes that night could be as damaging as an iceberg. We’ll see on Monday night.
STICKING UP FOR THE PREZ: It’s nice to see Alec Baldwin taking the President’s side against the media barrage over the current sex scandal in Washington. He’s right. We should stay focused on real problems. Like cocaine overdoses and hotel rooms destroyed by the least successful member of a certain set of acting brothers. What was that name again?
NEXT!: On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the ad campaign for I Know What You Did Last Summer was misleading because it referred to the film as “from the creator of Scream,” which, for Sony, meant writer Kevin Williamson and for Miramax, the producers of Scream, meant director Wes Craven. My question is, “Who cares?! This is old news! Why are these idiots still spending money on lawyers?!” Hmmph!
CONTESTS, WE HAVE CONTESTS: OK, boys and girls. Here are two roads to cool stuff. One is the Oscar road. Click here to see all the Academy nominees and send me your picks by Monday afternoon. The winner gets his or her pick of ShoWest stuff. The other road is to send me your picks for this weekend’s Top Five at the box office including the dollar amounts. You have until Saturday at noon to get me your entries. (By the way, the new films this weekend are The Newton Boys, Wild Things and Primary Colors.)
READER OF THE DAY: More harsh words from Denise: “As a Mel Gibson fan, I am making daily burnt offerings for Lethal Weapon 4. The production pace is scary, but I think it is their best hope to break their major losing streak. I can’t stand those buffoon studio heads, Daly and Semel! What has happened to their decision-making process? I read that they were skeptical about using Chris Rock to help bring some youthfulness to the cast of LW4. I find that unbelievably idiotic! The presence of Chris will do nothing but help the film.”

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin