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How Scorsese Do You Expect JOKER To Be?

JKR_DAY030_102518_0688465.dng

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BYOB – RIP The Goldfinch

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RIP MoviePass

Screen Shot 2019-09-13 at 3.21.13 PMGone on Saturday.

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RIP Robert Frank

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BYO Autumnticipation

JaWohl Jojo

The cognoscenti traveling to Venice and Telluride have already tut-tutted the movies of fall and are spatting those overly familiar food fights about awards. Can they beat you away with their sticks?

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BYOAutumn Movies

red leaf

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“Raise A Glass To Peter” Fonda

Peter Fonda

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BYO Break In Summer Dog Day Dog Movies

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BYO Anima: Trailering HIDDEN LIFE

1. The trailer is cut to suggest that the historical moment is not then, but now.

2. Those pull-quotes are…

3. Jörg Widmer.

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BYO Ides of August

Pendleton wildfire

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2 Key Issues From Disney’s Q3 Fiscal Announcement

Neither has anything to do with their making or not making financial projections.

1. The only thing really left from the 20th Century Fox studio that was operating for 84 years as a major is Fox Searchlight.

Aside from the indie arm, basically Disney purchased a big library (including IP rights), some cable positions, and a controlling position in Hulu. Yes, they have kept some of the Fox people and fired their Disney counterparts instead. Yes, Emma Watts is of value. And yes, they recover some IP segments they wanted (already noted).

But basically, they have Icahn-ed the shit out of Fox.

And the DOJ didn’t blink an eye. A major studio disappeared… and all we got was this lousy feeling of nostalgia.

2. Disney just slowed down the transition to streaming. A lot.

What went unsaid in today’s quarterly is that the integration of Fox into the digital future of Disney, which is the primary reason Disney moved on the Century City studio, is not going to happen in a hurry. There was an offering of Hulu pricing, but no real content pitch. The next quarterly will coincide with the launch of Disney+. No doubt, when Hulu get serious, it will be part of a price expansion by the company.

The studio dropped the ad-supported version of Hulu to $5.99, down $2 a month, in February of this year. Their announced price for Disney+ is $6.99. So, essentially, you get ESPN+ (normally $4.99 a la carte) for just 1 penny in the bundle announced today.

Why?

Because they are pushing for market share, not for as much revenue as possible, at this time.

Netflix is $8.99, $12.99 or $15.99. So in 2 of 3 situations, the full Disney package is the same cost or less than Netflix.

Netflix should have raised prices, but they also got pushed by Disney, as the “normal cost of streamers” will now be set at $13 for everyone. So expect WarnerMedia to follow suit and lower the cost of their streaming package from the previously announced $16-$17 a month.

But also expect the WarnerMedia offering to be less good at the lower price.

Comcast set their number at $12. Expect it to move to $12.99.

Bur back to Disney…

All of this suggests a strategy that is about withholding a good amount of content, looking to add clear value as these prices rise. And this will become the strategy that everyone starts following, at least for a while.

That means that Hulu will not be changing dramatically when Disney+ launches in November. (Dear Lord, I hope the change the interface.) I’m sure there will be some titles from the Fox library to spruce things up. But the library is more than 4500 titles deep. There is no question that there is a strong demand from film lovers (and some lovers of film junk) for most of that library. Some is tied up past this November in different ways, no question. But while I had hoped that Disney would load up Hulu with at least 1000 Fox titles, my guess is that they will now keep it around a few hundred.

Disney knows, as any smart company would, that once you give it away, people come to expect whatever has been available at whatever price, even if they don’t take advantage of that content. There is a thing about cycling content, which Criterion Channel is doing with its site, but even for the small group of movie lovers that subscribe to that great app, the question of “Why is there a time limit on Ace In The Hole?” strikes many subscribers, even if they have seen the film before and wouldn’t watch it again before it cycles back in. Human nature.

So expect the aforementioned Criterion Channel to remain a separate stream until WarnerMedia decides it can make it a $3 a month premium option with the overall service. And look for a fuller TCM service than they start with to make that $5 a month. Less than the $9.99 a month now charged, but a significant premium as part of a monthly stream.

Expect Disney to make a significant Fox package to add to the existing Hulu package by November 2020.

Look for UniversalNBC to start accumulating data to figure out how to move forward with their streaming package, still anxious about promoting cable/satellite while trying to find a way to add paying subscribers. I predict their eventual product will look the least like what they first launch next year.

And what of Sony and Paramount? That’s another column for another day.

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Review: Hobbs & Shaw

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with the The Fast & The Furious franchise. I remember seeing the first film in the run, directed by the ever-cinematically flatulent Rob Cohen, 18 years ago in a room somewhere at Universal that I can’t ever remember being in before or since. And it was flawed. But it was fun. And intimate. And weird. And it was great to see in-camera car stunts that we hadn’t seen in a while.

In 2002, Spider-Man launched the CG era of movie franchises, though the work seems primitive these near-two-decades later. It was truly revolutionary at the time.

But The Fast & The Furious was about real cars and real people (ha!) and the grit of it all. So 2 Fast 2 Furious stayed in that pocket. And when things went a little sideways and they headed to Asia for The Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift, the emphasis was still on what could be done in-camera (as was true of the other car action landmark of that period, The Bourne Supremacy).

Things changed with the Justin Lin era, starting with 2009’s Fast & Furious, which played it kinda close to the vest on the CG until it rolled a flaming gas truck over some cars. Fast Five and The Giant Safe that did things that are impossible in real life. Fast & Furious 6 went all the way down the CG rabbit hole. Furious 7 chased. Rinse, repeat.

As the F&F8 train smashed into theaters in the summer of 2017, David Leitch was going over the top with Atomic Blonde before taking over the Deadpool franchise from Tim Miller (whose Terminator reboot is due later this year) on his way to this spin-off from the F&F franchise, which leans heavily on Deadpool 2 as Leitch and Drew Pearce and Dwayne Johnson seem to want to lean into the silly, edgy, more R-rated tone, while being checked by F&F veteran writer Chris Morgan.

I think it worked.

There is too much movie here. No question. Two hours and fifteen minutes is just unnecessary. At some point, it all gets a bit blurry and repetitive.

But don’t touch the 7 or 8 minutes of cameos, please. They are silly and fun and smart.

There is a bit of the F&F problem of stunts in cities getting so elaborate that the reality that they are taking place in a real city gets lost. Guys like Dick Donner used to fix this kind of problem with recurring street characters who seemed meaningless until we saw them the third time when something crazy was going on. The intensity was heightened by them as much as by the stunts.

Some of the clearly CGed stunt effects with Idris Elba, however, are magnificent and better than we have ever seen before… however unrealistic.

This is a giant, dark cartoon. It’s a boy movie with two differently attractive men and a hot blonde and a superhero villain that almost out-watts them all combined. The stunts are huge. These four characters are compelling. But the story really, really tries to be complex enough to put us to sleep in between.

The storyline has a virus that will end all life on earth… but this line seems almost boring in context. Why not ramp it up a bit? Personally, I am sick to death of “we can save the world if only we kill most of the population.” This has become the Nazi-fighting of this decade of action filmmaking. Yawn!

There is the classic role of The Professor, here handled by Eddie Marsan, but somehow, he doesn’t get to chew the scenery enough. He seems realistic in this story of insane size. Marsan can rip up some scenery. Give the man a giant kink. Give him another layer of conscience. Something! Make it happen!

Leitch and Company don’t quite trust the “no guns… all family” bit when they end up in Samoa. And that’s a shame. There’s only so long you can sustain bat-to-bat combat, but it is the kind of compelling idea that makes movies great. In years past, Mama would be hitting someone in the head with a pot lid before going back to stirring her stew. And that would be a bit gross in 2019, yes. But instead of just avoiding it, find a modern-thinking alternative. Use the old racist tendencies against the new bad guys.

But I didn’t sit at the keypad to rip this movie. The stars are always fun to watch and they are fun together. Elba gets all serious when he is being reloaded with power, but most of the time, he is the Coyote to their Roadrunner… oh so close, but never quite close enough and he doesn’t go campy with it, but has some fun (which we share). Vanessa Kirby is attractive and believable kicking ass and outthinking her male counterparts, though she, like Marsan, could have used a few more colors.

I enjoyed the fights. I enjoyed the broken glass. I was good with the car stunts. And helicopter stunts.

And mostly, I enjoyed the tone. There was an element of the spoofs of Bond, like In Like Flint, but done with the highest end stunts and explosions. Great. If you had teamed James Coburn with Charles Bronson way back when, this would have been the kind of movie you might get.

But it would be 100 minutes long.

And it would have been great fun… but not as great as this movie almost is.

It’s the second-best action movie of the summer, after Spider-Man: Far From Home. And what keeps it from being an instant classic for which we would clamor for a half-dozen sequels instantly is that it won’t let the motor completely loose. Men in Black International and Godzilla: King of The Monsters and, in an odd way, The Lion King all suffered from the same problem. The pieces were there, but somehow, the will to rebirth was restrained.

Ya gotta break some eggs if you want to make an omelet. And while the CG spends get bigger and bigger and bigger, it’s time for studios to wake up and realize that it was never the CG we showed up to watch. It’s a great addition. And in the case of comic book movies, the CG was required to make the unreality of comics come to life so we lose our resistance to looking at what is clearly impossible. But it is a tool used in the kitchen, not the meal.

What is frustrating about Calvin & Hobbs or whatever it’s called (what a horrible, unmemorable title) is that they seemed to get the joke. Big time. The 30 minutes of loosey-goosey silly joyous macho gay-subtext sexually frustrated madness was exactly what I wanted it to be (well… “exactly” is perhaps too much). But they (the collective filmmaking “they”) get the joke. But then they go back to the same old stuff that made me see and forget the last few F&F entries.

I liked. I want to love. And unrequited love is a sad thing.

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Review: Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood (spoilers)

I’ve seen Quentin Tarantino’s 9th Film, Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood three times so far. I usually watch his films twice before writing, checking my most intense reactions against a second view. This time, I must admit that I have been trying to connect to a clearer reaction and I still am.

The easy stuff seems easy. DiCaprio and Pitt are both skilled actors and iconic movie stars and this is on display in all kinds of ways. Pitt, in some ways, recreates the spirit what is perhaps his most beloved character, Floyd of the Tarantino-written True Romance, about a decade older and living 25 years earlier in American history. He’s still a natural couch surfer and stoner. He is still indestructible through the power of his personality. But he also has been weaponized by a war and a miserable marriage. Unlike Rick, Cliff doesn’t seem to actually be a bigot. But he is wary. He embodies many of the ideals of white male strength with which a child of World War II would have been raised, the prime exception being success.

Rick is a mirror reflection of Cliff, as their roles as actor and stunt double would suggest. He has not been weaponized. He is soft. And he has magic… but he works incredibly hard to prove it, somehow so ashamed by the ease of it that he can’t relax into its pleasures. What Cliff can do with his bare hands and his well-trained dog, Rick needs a flame thrower to not quite match. He is the successful but aggrieved by the coming future that he has no control over.

2488029 - ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

Speaking of The Dog… this too is a doppelgänger match between dog and master. Cliff has been tamed, to a degree. But like his dog, Brandy, he is able to deliver lethal, perfect violence on demand in an instant.

And this is why Once Upon A Time … is hard to dismiss as an empty vessel for Quentin’s kitsch obsessions. Just setting up the foundations of the two leads and the dog requires three full paragraphs.

The third major character in this film is Sharon Tate. Margot Robbie’s performance of pure, seemingly unconsidered sunlight is the best of the film. Yes, it is nearly a silent role. But it is critically so. Lovingly so. She isn’t playing dumb. But she isn’t showing herself to be particularly smart. She just is. There isn’t a moment without a light coming from her eyes and literally a rhythmic bounce in her step, whether music is playing or not.

The fourth major character is The Manson Family. All of it. But mostly, the women/girls. Charles is barely a part of the movie, except as a threatening idea. And with the women/girls of Manson comes the question of whether they are meant to be a flip side to the Sharon Tate character, as Rick is to Cliff. They share her youth and some of her exuberance. When we meet them, they are singing a camp song in unison. But while Tate is wanted and desired endlessly, these young women have had to find a place to feel at peace with themselves.

The great question around the film is how this all fits together.

The real-life murder of Tate and the rest (barely footnotes in the film) symbolize an end of the hope and love of the 60s era to many people. In the fictionalized narrative of this film, the focus of this element seems to be on the women, not the men. The young and aggrieved women are on their way to kill the hope and love that they were not so lucky to obtain as a matter of fate.

There really is no explanation in the film why the group, led by a weak, fearful boy in Fictionalized Tex Watson, veers off to Rick’s house instead of the house they were sent to by Manson. It could just be a mistake. He could be wanting revenge for the humiliation of being sent away by “Jake Cahill.” The plan could be to kill Cahill and then head up the hill to kill the residents of the Tate/Polanski residence. There is no yellow Cadillac to suggest that Tex or the women/girls recognize that Cliff, who “escaped” Tex’s threat of gun violence at The Spawn Ranch might be there. The audience just isn’t told why.

(I am writing off the illogic that Cliff somehow returns to the house without seeing the car full of Mansonians or the trio walking up the hill to Rick’s house. But I would not be shocked to find out that this and the lack of an explanation of the diversion by the Manson Trio were lost in an edit, things that could have slowed the pace and/or been too clear for QT’s tastes at that point.)

But there is no question that the violent, male machismo of the late Greatest Generation, stops the incursion of the grievance part of hippiedom on the hope and love part of hippiedom. And for no other reason but its own survival.

But what does that mean? Is it meaningful or is it just Tarantino fantasizing and amusing himself (and audiences)?

Of course, Rick gets to be the hero of the erasure of the Manson threat, just moments after Cliff is carted off in the ambulance, having basically taken on all three of the attackers. Rick thinks of himself as a key participant, as he fried a young lady who may well have already been mortally wounded by Cliff and Brandy.

There are dozens of other doppelganger moments in the film. There is the repetition of “I never had a chance,” which is spoken by Steve McQueen about having a relationship with Sharon Tate and by Rick about almost maybe getting the role in The Great Escape that transformed McQueen a couple years after Wanted: Dead or Alive, which seems to be the reference for Rick’s TV series in the film, Bounty Law, that Rick leaves for a failed film career.

We open with a look at Bounty Law, but the actual start of the movie is after the show is gone and Rick’s movie career has stalled out. So is Rick a winner or a loser? Are we meant to think that the offer by Pacino’s Marvin Schwarzs is a good sign or a bad sign, given that we in the audience know that the spaghetti westerns propelled Clint Eastwood to his run with Don Siegal that made him a full-on movie star? Even at the end of the movie, Rick has made 4 films in 6 months in Italy, but sees it as the end of his road.

Rick tells the young actress, Trudi, the story of his western novel, which is pretty precisely the story of Cliff, though he thinks it is his own story. This is made more evident late in the movie when Cliff takes a knife to the hip, which will surely not kill him, but will likely slow him down from the physical skills he shows (especially getting to the roof of Rick’s house).

Pitt is a too-good-looking-to-be-a-stuntman stuntman while Kurt Russell is too… but Kurt’s character still has the wife who keeps his manhood in a sack hanging from her belt.

Jay Underwood and Roman Polanski are Sharon Tate’s doppelganger short, handsome waif men.

James Stacy, who is a real actor (played here by Timothy Olyphant), whose real series, Lancer, was piloted around the time of the movie’s timeline and actually directed by Sam Wanamaker aspires to what Rick has achieved. And in historic fact, Lancer ran 51 episodes before Stacy became a perennial bit TV player. So he got what Rick had then unlike Rick, never took a next step of significance.

We don’t know at the end of Once Upon A Time …  whether Rick will find his Don Siegel or even if Roman Polanski will end up being that to him or if he will still end up selling his house, buying a condo, losing the Italian starlet, and disappearing into obscurity.

We can also wonder whether Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel would have had the successes they had together (Coogan’s Bluff, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Dirty Harry) had it not been for the Manson family sending the flower power era into a more conservative direction (as has been suggested by Joan Didion and others, leaving your sense of hyperbole to decide).

Like I wrote before… there is plenty of kitsch – and I have barely scratched that surface – but there is other stuff bubbling beneath it which isn’t clear, but is interesting.

And there is the very real possibility that Quentin is just doing what Quentin does… reconsider genres, whether one at a time or a few at a time. Go down the list… the heist movie, the Blaxploitation romance, the chop socky, the grindhouse, the Nazi war movie, the action slave movie, and the Agatha Christie. Of course, they are all twisted up with other genre conceits. The two that are the hardest to categorize (and are not in that list) are Pulp Fiction and Once Upon A Time …, which are both closer to being anthology movies. For me, when I think of directors that are emulated in OUATIH, I think Altman first. QT has none of the specific Altman quirks. But there is a rambling quality and an emphasis on performance that reminds me of Altman.

I haven’t addressed the physical abuse of women in this film and throughout his history. I can’t make an argument against the anger of some about this. Men take a lot of abuse in this film and all the others as well. But Tarantino was created by the heat of an era when women were objectified in much of film by an endless parade of white male directors. I don’t find it misogynistic. Zoe Bell is right. Sharon Tate is a goddess here. One could say that Squeaky Fromme comes off as strong and clear and smart and in control, however ugly her circumstances. So I am not outraged.

I haven’t spoken to the relative silence of the Sharon Tate character because I think the silence performance is brilliant and speaks quite directly to what he was trying to achieve, which was to deify her. She is the only pure thing in the film.

I haven’t mentioned one of the best sequences in the film, which is Rick’s day on Lancer, from his arrival to his encounter with Trudi (amazing child actor turn) to his self-abuse to a true movie star performance in a shitty little western TV show that rises beyond the way it does sometimes and you know a guest star on Law & Order is going to be a star for real. From that section, the audience knows what Rick really is and what he isn’t, no matter how he feels about himself.

And of course, that sequenced is intercut with Cliff at the Spawn Ranch, also showing us everything about who he is.

But discussing how much I like any sequence doesn’t seem to be the point here.

So how do I feel about the movie?

I don’t really have an answer. Still. It sure felt to me like I was building to a statement of believe in writing this piece. But no.

I don’t think it is a masterpiece.

I do think Quentin is a mad cinematic genius.

I don’t seek easy answers from movies, but I am also not expecting chaos from masterpieces unless that is clearly the means to an end.

I do think this is the most complex cinematic experience of the year-to-date from a major studio.

I will see it again. Maybe more than once (making 4).

I could write a whole 1500-word piece about all the things that push me out of the movie. But that doesn‘t seem helpful. Still, they exist.

This is a movie that people who love movies have to see. It will evolve in time. For a lot of people. For me. Maybe for you.

There is so much to chew on and so many blind alleys and misdirections. Perhaps that is just the nature of the beast.

Acid-dipped cigarette, anyone?

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“Well, actually, of that whole group that I call the post-60s anti-authority auteurs, a lot of them came from television. Peckinpah’s the only one whose television work represents his feature work. I mean, like the only one. Mark Rydell can direct a really good episode of ‘Gunsmoke’ and Michael Ritchie can direct a really good episode of ‘The Big Valley,’ but they don’t necessarily look like The Candidate. But Peckinpah’s stuff, even the scripts he wrote that he didn’t even direct, have a Peckinpah feel – the way I think there’s a Corbucci West – suggest a Peckinpah West. That even in his random episodes that he wrote for ‘Gunsmoke’ – it’s right there.”
~ Quentin Tarantino

“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima