By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

‘Dancing With The Wildman

Sundance – Day 2

“Can we just follow the spandex?!”

Fueled by my daily film festival shots of Airborne and Emergen–C (yes, I know they’re both basically placebos high in vitamin C. But it reassures me; therefore it’s doing its placebo best for me). Anyway, I get a quick start to…watch a screener ofDouchebag.

DOUCHEBAG

Drake Doremus’ Douchebag is another entry in the tried and true film festival “go-tos”: The Road Movie. ‘Sam’ is a week away from getting married when his fiancée’ ‘Steph’ decides to take it upon herself and surprise him by fetching his estranged younger brother, who previously was not planning on attending. The reunion is unpleasant at best, but the brothers try to put a happy face on it for her sake. With the younger brother, ‘Tom’ suffering he slings and arrows of Sam’s opinions regarding practically every thing that he does. Boorish, controlling, and rude, Sam is a prize to be sure.

That is until Tom reveals he has only had one true love in his life – in 5th grade. Hearing this news Sam makes it his mission to help his younger brother find the girl again. And thus, the road part of our road movie begins as the brothers seek out women that share the same name of Tom’s flame with the hope of find romance in a haystack.

Meanwhile, Steph, already holding the bag for the wedding prep is discovering clues that maybe somebody she’s engaged to isn’t quite ready for the big step. And on the road, his older brother’s acting out more and more appalls Tom.

Douchebag is the kind of film that fills you with increasing dread as it builds to likely obvious conclusions. The kind where you watch people make mistakes and sabotage themselves in real time. What Doremus gets right is not overdoing the melodrama. Just because it’s intimate, doesn’t mean it isn’t devastating – and he obviously gets that. But, at the same time, this is a cautionary recommend because I think you have to really be up for a movie like this to appreciate it. It’s not an automatic on the enjoyment front. But then again, I don’t think it’s meant to be either.

SUNDANCE FEVER: Rather than love, this is the kind of film you “appreciate.” Even at Sundance.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Not so much. A definite mainstay on cable though where people will stumble upon it and find themselves unable to turn it off.

Okay. So after that, I finally ventured forth out into a heavy snowfall to do my first walk up Main Street. Working my way around L.A. types as they scoot gingerly through the slushy sidewalks like geishas in Ugg boots (and no, we’re not just talking about the women either). But the snow can’t stop the fun. Wait a minute – I mean “the fun.” Small packs of promo girls all dressed in identical perky colored parkas hand out everything from hand sanitizer to stocking caps to something that may or may not get you a free room at a cool-ass hotel in Miami (but certainly will give some more e-mail spam you can count on). Event P.A.s strategize how to get mountains of pizza boxes across the street and into their party. Pretty actress types do the eye contact “Do you recognize me? Please don’t recognize me. I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me!” thing all in a split second. Somewhere on the street a guy says with exasperation, ”Can we just follow the spandex?!” And there is an army of bouncers shipped in from Samoa (apparently they corner the market on that and offensive linemen) guarding various doors to various parties.

One of those parties was my next stop on the map as I hit the Douchebag pre-screening cocktail party. Crowded. But not gross crowded. While there I ran into Marguerite Moreau. I think she is one of those constantly working, but under the radar actors that I’m always happy to see onscreen so I seized the opportunity to ask her a couple of questions:

MCN: How did you become a part of the film?

Marguerite Moreau: They called me a few days before filming and said we remember you from an audition six months ago; do you want to do this thing with us? And I was like, “Sure, what do I have to do?”

MCN: Three early projects of yours: WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, EASY, and QUEEN OF THE DAMNED are all pretty much variations of the same film, right?

Marguerite Moreau: How are they the same?

MCN: I was kidding. Anyway, Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Director of EASIER WITH PRACTICE) was full of praise for you and said you were a godsend to have on the set. Do you feel a particular responsibility on behalf of the production when you do an indie film like that or Douchebag?

Marguerite Moreau: I think with smaller films, you actually feel less responsibility because it feels more like a team. I feel a bigger sense of responsibility with bigger films, but that may be my own psychosis.

MCN: And you’ve been doing A LOT of television (MAD MEN, LOST, MONK, BROTHERS & SISTERS to name a few), so do you just approach them all the same – a role is a role, a job is a job?:

Marguerite Moreau: Yes, absolutely. A role is a role, a story is a story. What story will we tell this week, what are my opportunities?

MCN: We’ll finish with the required question. Were there any “douchbags” in your past that you were able to reference for this role – boyfriends or otherwise?

Marguerite Moreau: No comment.

Next stop on the map was the Eccles Theater to see the premiere of John Wells’ The Company Men. After the fun film festival “Where’s Waldo?” game to find the publicists with my ticket – easy, came the sequel, “Where do we get to sit, because we’re special AND we know the theater manager?” – great, and finally, “What the hell?! Tommy Lee Jones actually showed up AND decided to sit right behind us?!” moments – and let’s face it, that stuff is fun sport. Anyway, the review…

THE COMPANY MEN

A film about the effects of corporate downsizing on the men and women being downsized, John Wells does almost everything right. Almost. The Company Men stars Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, and Tommy Lee Jones as the men at three very heady levels of corporate success suddenly body slammed back down to recession earth.

Affleck’s character is the first to be let go and goes through the traditional stages of facing death (Denial, Anger, Acceptance, etc.) as he joins the sea of humanity discarded by their companies. Cooper’s character, despite hanging by his fingernails, is next. He wrestles with the shame and loss of the situation, exasperated by ageism. Jones’ character is the highest up in the food chain, the one fighting to preserve the lives of those around him, let alone trying to retain a shred of dignity during a near-hopeless time. And even he is placed on the chopping block.

Wells’ ace in the hole with all of this is an absolute sincerity in his approach to the subject matter. This isn’t about inconvenience, it is about real suffering. On many, many levels. And it IS harsh. Putting your “best face on” for job interview after job interview, having details of your work history casually dismissed, time marching on with severance pay and savings rapidly disappearing. It’s all there.

Wells knows that in the real world things don’t get fixed quickly because someone comes up with a genius out-of-the-box idea and then one snappy montage later, everyone is back on easy street. Nope. In the real world, the genius out-of-the-box solution is made for you when you’re forced to sell the house and move in with your parents.

But I did say he almost gets everything right. Because even Wells can’t entirely escape the “sometimes poor people are actually better off” thinking. Apparently being poor can be better because poor people build things with their hands, and play with their kids and best yet, actually have sex with their wives.

And yes, this is the kind of movie that is colored greatly by your own personal experiences. I have never had the level of wealth these “company men” enjoy, so the film had a chore ahead of itself to convince me to give a rat’s ass about their predicament. But I think Wells is smart enough not to expect outright sympathy for these guys, but rather understanding. Regardless of what heights you had attained and gained, when the unemployment rug is pulled out from under you, everyone is equal. Or, as someone tells Affleck’s character, “You are just another asshole with a resume’.”

SUNDANCE FEVER: Let’s face it, if you are at Sundance then you likely were able to afford coming to Sundance. So losing those “privileges” should speak to a lot of people here. I bet a lot of folks will reflect deeply on it as they hang out at their condo parties.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Has to. Despite being somewhat of a marketing challenge (Up In The Airwithout the romantic sheen?) there are too many movie stars in a top-of-the-line production to deny it. But when? End of the year kind of thing…?

At the Q&A afterwards, Cooper emotionally explained his own personal connection with the storyline having seen the parallels with the struggle his own brother has experienced due to the recession. But it was Jones, who begrudgingly took the microphone then spoke of the “vanity of materialism” and the “drama about losing things”. So, as life imitates art, Tommy Lee Jones cut to the chase for the benefit of a movie-watching crowd.

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John Wildman is the former Head of Press and Public Relations for the American Film Institute. He is noted for innovating film festival public relations through his work as the Director of PR for film festivals such as AFI FEST, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles).

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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