The Hot Blog Archive for May, 2013
Making a good Rat Pack movie is really, really hard.
One of the packs in Hollywood these days is The Apatow Gang, emerging from movies like Superbad, Pineapple Express, and Apatow’s personal films, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People and This Is 40. Even within most of those films, there were pack sequences, though none of the movies were really Pack movies. (Other packs include Clooney/Soderbergh, Sandler, Ferrell, Stiller, Team Seattle, Team Austin… all with lots of overlapping.)
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg emerged as writers with their semi-autobiographical comedy, Superbad. Rogen also built a career as an actor, launched by Apatow and Paul Feig’s “Freaks & Geeks.”
With This Is The End, Rogen & Goldberg take the leap into directing with their version of a Pack film. The film is built on the public personas of its actors, real or imagined. This is a step away from Pack films like Tropic Thunder, Grown Ups or even one non-pack movie that evolved into a Pack favorite, Anchorman. But, surprisingly, Goldberg & Rogen are completely up to the task.
For me, the film plays as an apology for or correction of The Watch, a terrible Pack movie for which they share writing credit. Not only is the material similar, but it’s almost as though they took everything that went wrong on The Watch and pointedly fixed each issue. Too meandering? Tighten it up. Effects kinda sucked? Do great effects. Pack stars seem to riff and wander? Define each character (in this case, each playing themselves) clearly and don’t allow them to play too much… story stays first.
I don’t want to spoil anything, though it’s really not a spoiler movie. But the question of what is actually happening is an issue throughout the movie and you should see it and have the experience of wondering. And there are 20+ gags that people will quote back to one another, none of which will cease to be funny if you know they”re coming, but which can’t really be done justice to in a movie review.
What really makes the movie fly is the choices that Goldberg & Rogen and all the stars made/agreed to play through the film. People love Danny McBride, but aside from “Eastbound & Down,” his characters have been a little boxed in and don’t feel like we are getting the full subtext of this guy’s schtick. Here, he finally feels fully free. James Franco gets to do both the thing people have come to expect and offer a new shade. Jonah Hill does great, basically bitch-slapping himself through the whole film.
I don’t want to keep listing actors because part of the fun is figuring out who is in the film a lot and who isn’t. But what is so good about the film is that it all balances out in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a Pack movie. There is a near-perfect balance of vanity and respecting the story.
More than anything, Rogen & Goldberg know how to keep things moving so nothing becomes too precious. As directors, they are like the best bartenders you can find. All they really want to do is to get you blind, raging drunk—happy drunk—on the comedy. But they understand how to balance what they serve so that no one throws up and no one gets maudlin or angry. The audience just has a great buzz for 107 minutes.
And I honestly think this should have been at Cannes, because it is truly a movie about movies. Not only are real-life celebrity actors playing with perception, but the movie plays with movie cliches and genre, and the borders of acceptable behavior on film, and many specific homages to other films (calling Billy Friedkin!).
I didn’t expect it, but this is a comedy that gave me that feeling I had when I first saw 40-Year-Old Virgin or Beverly Hills Cop or great Mel Brooks… even bordering on Albert Brooks (a standard in comedy insight, skill, and explosive subtlety that is rarely touched). It is daring, assured, and never has you waiting for one gag to be over so you can get to the next one (aka feeling like a cartoon written at a roundtable with writers or actors selling gags, not story movement that happens to be funny). Not every one (or everyone) is comedy gold, but enough are and the pace is so strong that you just swim with the tide the entire way, right to the ending that has no business being as fun as it is.
I could still be high on the pleasure of this film. I don’t want to ruin it by overhyping it. But it was a singular, joyous, surprising pleasure for me. And I hope it will be again and again.
The thing that I would hope will end up being the most remembered part of this year’s Cannes Film Festival is the issue of women and sex. As it is right now, there is a lot of minor hysteria. But there are some very serious and worthy conversations to be mined out of the festival.
The thing I am most frustrated with when the anger bubbles on this issue is that everything gets lumped in together. And it is every bit as unfair and thoughtless as serious sexism. Yes, I have the advantage on this planet of being male and pretty much white (I’m Jewish, so in some quarters, my status as “white” would be questioned). But the idea that a white male is not to be taken seriously about issues of bias against women or people of color or whatever does not define the individual expressing a thought, is profoundly offensive and more significantly, self-defeating. People who aspire to balance in society cannot just discount anyone who is advantaged in the society. Assimilation and the potential loss of identity in the process of it is a serious issue. But in the end, “separate but equal” was found unacceptable in this country many years ago.
You need to break down and discuss each element of the broad issue (no pun intended) on its own merits. One reason that I believe that this conversation never sticks is that it overreaches. When every argument has a response that works against sharing ideas. When some claim that all/most men choose happily to or are even sexually aroused by the oppression of women, the conversation tends to end before it really begins. But this is posturing, not an invitation to a real conversation.
In terms of Cannes specifically, I want to break this down into five areas of conversation. The first is “Getting Into Cannes,” to be followed by “Prostitutes,” “Adulterers,” “Films Centrally About Women,” and “Is There A Movie Without Objectification?”
So starting with getting into Cannes, the issue of sexual imbalance starts before the festival begins. This year, only one film of the 20 in the main competition was directed by a woman. In Un Certain Regard—considered by many to be the second-tier competition—seven of 18 films were directed by women.
But wait! Thirty-nine percent women directors in Un Certain Regard isn’t enough for the oppressionistas. For them, UCR isn’t the biggest award, so it’s not prestigious. At least not in the context of this argument. (For the record, indieWire’s Women & Hollywood coverage didn’t bother to mention that UCR had 39% female directors, mentioning only Sofia Coppola as an example.)
Even more significant than twisting stats for convenience is the issue other than “Cannes hates women,” which is, “If there should be more films directed by women in the main competition (and/or Un Certain Regard), what should they be?”
This is a complicated question for many reasons. First, we don’t know how many films by women were under consideration by Cannes to start. Was a higher percentage of films directed by women rejected from main competition than those directed by males? Were there four or five films that were legitimately considered and didn’t make it? Hundreds? Dozens? You can’t program what doesn’t exist. And I assume that no one is suggesting a quota system, regardless of normal standards for quality.
Sundance had an unusually large number of films by female directors this year. But is the focus of Cannes being serviced by female directors as widely as the focus of Sundance?
Look at the main competition at Cannes. Did you see a single film from an up-‘n’-coming American director of either sex? No. Not one. So don’t get fooled into thinking that some film by a director out of Sundance or SXSW could just as well have ended up in the main competition at Cannes.
In Un Certain Regard, which focuses more on rising directors, there is one American whose film launched in a US festival, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. Last year, it was Beasts of the Southern Wild. And if the hottest movie out of Sundance next year is by a woman, I would assume that it, too, would make that leap. If not, then start complaining. (And yes, in 2009, Lynn Shelton was “relegated” to Director’s Fortnight with Humpday. Boo hoo.)
It is not “covering” for Cannes or any other festival to note that the relatively small percentage of arthouse-type films being directed by women must be taken into account. It is fine to argue the many reasons why there are so few female directors working. But it’s wildly unfair to put all the weight on the festival distribution apparatus, as though they were empowered to make films happen. In fact, Sundance is more involved with supporting and building the career of new directors, male and female, and it shows in the films at the festival. And that is great. But that’s not Cannes.
Next, we have to start dealing with taste. There is a lot of chatter during Cannes about which films should not have been in competition or which ones that were not should have been. You hear a lot of, “What was THAT doing in competition?” The problem is, you hear it about a lot of different films. The discussion pretty much comes down to what the person you are talking to liked a lot or disliked a lot.
Did more genre-y films like Only God Forgives and Only Lovers Left Alive, Shield of Straw and and Borgman belong in Un Certain Regard in stead of the main competition? Did Omar belong in the main competition instead of UCG? How about Claire Denis? Do you think that the Robert Redford/JC Chandor movie, All Is Lost, deserve to be in competition?
I don’t get to be part of that decision-making. There are people who have been at Cannes a lot longer than I who feel they have a sense of how things get placed. But I have never heard one suggest that gender played a role. The Old’s Boy’s Club does, but that benefits the women who have been piped onboard over the years as well. (Sundance has a club atmosphere as well, in spite of endless denial about it… it’s just a different club.)
Also on the taste issue… 5 UCR awards… none for any of the female directors or films by female directors. Sexism or just the way it went? The jury was comprised of 3 women and 2 men. Is Agnès Varda now to be written off as anti-woman?
Personally, I think the issue of what plays at Cannes has a lot more to do with what is out there to be programmed than about sexism. This may be a change. I am completely open to the notion that there was a sexist attitude amongst the leaders of the festival (Frenchmen being sexist?!?! Mon dieu!) for decades. I can’t directly claim there was because I was not there, but seems reasonable as a likely reality. I think the warm embrace of Roman Polanski and Jerry Lewis this year reminds us of how old the old boy’s club is. (I won’t get into the many women who support Roman Polanski in spite of his unapologetic attitude about his choice to anally rape a 14-year-old girl after giving her a half-Quaalude and champagne.)
But are there women directors not making the cut at Cannes in this last few years who were obvious choices? Does anyone really think a film that happens to be by a female director is held to a higher bar of entry at Cannes? Would Life of Adèle been left out or put in UCG or fallen to Critics Week or Director’s Fortnight if it happened to be directed by a woman?
Also worth noting… a lot of the new group of female directors in the US are directing docs, a point of entry to non-doc features for both men and women. Cannes is not a documentary festival. Every year there seem to be a few docs that get in, but they are rare. This year, there was only one doc, and it was out of competition, even though it was directed by the famed Claude Lanzmann, who is infamously very much a member of the Boy’s Club.
Not only does this keep Cannes from having more female directors in the line-up, but it also embeds many of the new female directors with other festival families and their traditions. Remember, a big part of going to Cannes is trying to go to Cannes. How many doc filmmakers just shrug off the notion and target Sundance, SXSW, Hot Docs, Toronto, and other festivals that more heartily embrace docs? And if you have a great premiere at Sundance, where are you going to want to premiere your next film?
And then there is timing. For filmmakers looking for an American berth, Sundance starts the year and Toronto kicks off the fall. To be in play for Cannes, you pretty much have to skip Sundance (and Berlin), hoping to land in Cannes. If you don’t, you’re tarnished. You may get Toronto, but you are less likely to get a strong spot there. Cannes has the fewest films of the US market outside of the under-$5m gross group. Every filmmaker, no doubt, dreams of going up that red carpet to the Palais. But not every filmmaker chooses to chase that dream.
Is this piece a big excuse for Cannes not having more female filmmakers in main competition? No. At least not in my eyes. It is a rational analysis of the fact that being one of those 20 or so films in the main competition in Cannes is already threading a needle with a very small eye and that being part of a group—female directors—who are a severe minority in the industry, makes that eye nearly impossible to thread, just on the basis of math.
For me, this part of the argument about anti-female sexism at Cannes is pretty weak. It’s reverse engineering to make a legitimate political belief an attack on a power that is not quite as singularly powerful in this regard as it is made out to be. This is the least arguable, least interesting discussion about sexism and Cannes, as I see it.
More to come…
Part 1 – Getting Into Cannes
Part 2 – Prostitutes
Part 3 – Adulterers
Part 4 – Films Centrally About Women
Part 5 – Is There A Movie Without Objectification?
You’ll need to adjust your computer clock to the French time zone
Ah, what a pleasure it is to return to LA mid-Memorial Day Weekend, blissfully ignorant of which franchise sequel is in what position.
The big number on Fast & Furious 6 shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s a minor step above the numbers for the last film—which were a shocking leap—but moving to Memorial Day is going to give the Universal franchise a substantially stronger Sunday number as well as a solid Monday number, so good choices and a strong positive vote for the F&F5. This film will be a big hit regardless, but all eyes now go to the international number to see if there is any growth there.
The Hangover franchise is over, by choice. But no one is going to be begging for more anytime soon either. The 3rd in the series is off a whopping 41% (estimated) off of its 3-day opening for Hang 2. (No wonder talent was being “difficult” about press and director Todd Phillips punked out of his 3rd DP/30 appearance for the series.) The second film in the series, though roundly smacked by the media, was pretty close on the domestic side, but international kicked ass, with a roughly 50% increase in the gross. With the now-projectable $130m domestic gross this time out, international with be the focus once again, though this time, profitability, not just f-you money, will actually be the question. Even if the international drops by half—and I am not saying it will—the film should be slightly profitable. If it drops by, say, 25%, it will be close to $400m worldwide and very profitable. So, ego is really the public issue on this one, not much else. It has been a massive success for all involved and even this restrained end could still be more profitable than a lot of other summer movies this year.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is another interesting one. I don’t see it matching the domestic box office of the first film, even with the 3D bump. It will be about $100m behind after tomorrow and both After Earth and Man of Steel are 2 of the next 3 weekends… and then the real summer action starts. But just a bit behind the first reboot’s foreign total, there are a lot of big markets to come for the film internationally. So even if domestic ends $40m behind the first JJ Trek, it could well turn out that this film’s worldwide total is higher. The question of whether that is a good investment will remain. This film won’t get the positive box office spin of the first, but it won’t likely get placed in the “loser” columns either.
Epic is a slow starter for Fox. but it isn’t the domestic market that has made Fox’s animation business a cash cow in the last decade. it’s foreign. So no point in beating this one to death before foreign numbers are crunchable.
The Great Gatsby is now the biggest Baz Luhrmann grosser domestically… by double. Foreign is just starting, but $200m is pretty much assured.
Love is in the air at Cannes… Or something like that.
With only a couple of competition films left to unspool, the latest hot title is The Life of Adèle (and whose-alt title is not hot, Blue Is The Warmest Color, which screams queer cinema and should be dropped). The genius of the film is that this “lesbian coming-of-age” film feels like nothing of the kind. It just feels like a coming of age film that happens to have a first love that is homosexual. This cannot be said of Jeune & Jolie, which is inscrutably female or Stranger By The Lake, which is relentlessly male.
The turn-on of the long, graphic, realistic sex scene between the women is what is a turn-on about any sex where partners seek mutuality. (Cannes’ sexuality, unfortunately, has been dominated with men/boys who seem to be unaware of what women respond to sexually. Even with all the good sex in some of the films, incompetence has more screen time.). I honestly have no idea how gay men respond to two female bodies writhing for an extended period, but I think I can say that heterosexuals of both genders would appreciate the sex in this film.
Ultimately, however, the sex is some of the proof, not the pudding in Adèle.
One of the other great decisions—which I wondered about while watching the film—was that it doesn’t linger on the unaccepting voices in Adèle’s life. Nor are they dismissed. The character, it turns out, doesn’t sweat the small stuff. But when things matter to her, they matter quite deeply… no commitment-phobe she.
If you ask, I will tell you that Life of Adèle is my favorite of the “girls gone wild” films (which also include The Bling Ring, Sarah Prefers To Run, Behind The Candalabra, and, to some degree, The Past). But I believe there is room for all of it without dismissing any one of the other films on the basis of expectation.
There has been very little filmmaking that can really be called “bad” with a straight face. The fight is about the choices filmmakers have made about what they want to discuss with their work.
I am a big fan of intellectual consistency and emotional acceptance. In other words, love or hate what you love or hate, but spare —professionally—the claim that there is something broken about the work because you don’t like the message or that it’s superior work because you do like the message.
After all, isn’t the whole point NOT to get caught up in expectations?
The pace of knocking out reviews within hours of seeing these films was a part of the festival experience I had willfully forgotten…. and which has quickly been re-illuminated as unfortunate, as best.
I have spent much of the last week reflecting on what would be my ideal experience festival experience would be… and I’m not sure I’m much closer to an answer. The glory of evolving technology offers opportunities, but they are not necessarily anything but variations on the same theme. Fast is fast whether it’s writing on the web or video on the web or Vine or Twitter, etc., ad nauseum.
Is 800 words in 90 minutes better than 140 characters in 90 seconds or is there something better in between?
I’m not unconscious that these are all very real in today’s media space. And I actually think there is validity on the existence of immediate response, even amongst professionals. The problem is that it is often the only form of response… and I consider that a real problem.
And I don’t know the answer… or even know if there is an answer. More than ever, we are in an editor-free role. There is a boss for most of us, but the role of the editor has changed. What we don’t know… gets printed.
Of course, there are all kinds of layers of good, bad, and simply incompetent. There are a lot of people doing their work here (and in Sundance and Toronto and elsewhere) and each has a focus and a perspective and parameters of their self-valuation. And who is to say who is right and who is wrong. You can pick your team, but your sense of “right” has boundaries by the very nature of the beast.
There was a time, not long ago, when a discrete stick of rhetorical dynamite, carefully placed, could move some stuff. Now, once past the artists who want to consider their work, only embarrassment and the avoidance of embarrassment drives change… not the work and not the chatter.
Sometimes you just have to piss in the ocean because you really need to piss. But is that what journalism has become in entertainment? That and the effort to be able to claim that someone even noticed the warm spot in the ocean?
I owe you some reviews. (Twitter gets some quick reactions.). But this afternoon was for ranting, it seems.
The Last Of The Unjust
Shield of Straw
Behind The Candelabra
Sarah Prefers To Run
Only God Forgives
La Jaula de Oro
Looks better than anything I’ve see but Pacific Rim. No?
I’ve fallen behind, but I can get up.
The Past – Farhadi couldn’t really match A Separation, but he makes clear that he’s not going to slump or get lazy on this follow-up. Weird to say an Oscar nominee is in a star-making performance, but Berenice Bejo puts the world on notice with a turn that is not Peppy, but scrappy, while still taking full measure of her beauty. The film relies a little too much on revealed truths from virtually every character, but still, serious and intimate work.
Like Father, Like Son – I am a Kore-eda guy and this film is right in his wheelhouse. What happens when two families find out their 6-year-olds were switched at birth? Beautiful, lyrical agony. Nature or nurture? Opportunity or massive loss? And how do we treat each other when faced with when deciding to give away or accept a loved one?
Inside Llewyn Davis – The Coens are amongst the finest craftspeople in film today. They create worlds and characters in them that are transportive… every time. So who is Llewyn Davis and why do you want to spend the time to get to know him? Well, the answer has to be greater than the Coens’ magic tricks. And it will be. But like every Coen Bros movie, the key to getting the full flavor is marination. And I want to experience the film again before making pronouncements. I have had a clue about the depth of the text on most Coen films the first time through, but never a full understanding. And so, I will put my arrogance aside, at least for a few days, until I experience it again. Until then, suffice it to say that the acting is brilliant, from the absolute lead Oscar Isaac, through all the supporting roles (Carey Mulligan plays comedy as well as she plays she plays drama). The place and time are absolutely real without being showy about production design and costumes. And the script is neither precious nor excessively cruel.
Michael H – Profession: Director – Having shot Haneke 3 times in the last 3 years, knowing how he handles questions, I was thrilled to watch someone else try to get the answers in this doc, which is on set for Amour, but covers other films as well. What I got was a portrait of the man I see, in and around my interviews. Serious, but charming, funny, and crystal clear about his work. I saw a man who respects the work so much that he seems harsh at times, but who is also open with his smile, laughter, and passions. And as an added pleasure, the doc has extended interviews with the stars of Amour, getting from them what I have seen in no other interviews for the film. A must-see for all film lovers interested in what’s behind then image of one of the greats.
Duran Duran by David Lynch – Pure joyous kitsch. One of the great Eurotrash pop bands of the 80s, whose sound is more unique and complex than you might remember, meets the great avant-gardist, Lynch. Shot, it seems for a live-streaming event sponsored by AmEx, Lynch seems to have taken the footage and scrapbooked it, every frame with some form of wild overlay (including digital smoke at the end of every song). I’d cut 2 or 3 songs from “the new album,” as the running time is near 2 hours, but for most of the concert, when the music is unfamiliar, Lynch makes it fun and when the songs are familiar, Lynch adds more fun. The only disappointment was the group’s great Bond theme, which is great live, but which Lynch seemed to avoid messing with. I was looking forward to guns and girl dolls. But still, great fun.
Miele – For me, one of the well-intended, well-made minor films of the festival. As interesting as it was to have a supermodel who self-androgynizes herself while doing the job of helping people euthanize themselves, that bold choice demanded equally hold hurdles. Truth is, it would have been a great role for young Valeria Golina – the filmmaker here – who is a great beauty, but who brings a great natural emotional kink. Adjani, in her prime, would have worked. I don’t want to blame this actress. She is quite good at doing what she does. I just thought she was miscast. And the movie is hers, from start to finish. The result is a bit chillier than compelling, even as she cracks.
Jimmy P – What was one of the great French filmmakers of the near-farce with deep emotional layering doing in The Menninger Clinic in the 40s with a Native American stripped of emotion and a Frenchman trying to draw him out using methods that were questioned back then, but were not odd enough today to make anyone in the audience uncomfortable? I don’t know. My guess is that someone handed him a book that intrigued him just as he wanted to make an English-language film, then two great actors said “yes” and the train rolled. But there just isn’t anything revelatory here. Performances are excellent. Matthieu Amalric is grand. Benicio is real. But oy… mental pain caused physical pain. Yes… and?
The Congress – Love Ari Folman. Didn’t get this movie. At all. Something to revisit, but I felt like I had seen all these ideas before… many in the 70s… mostly in flop movies. (shrug)
Stranger By The Lake (Cock du Lac) – I don’t know why there is a gay porn film in the festival, in spite of many long lingering shots of the lake and the whooshing trees. And don’t try the “well, if it was naked women, you’d like it angle,” since if these were naked women, it would not be at the festival. All those complaining about the Ozon might want to consider how not remotely pornographic that film was in comparison. Even last year’s Paradise:Love isn’t close to the degree of graphic imagery, either simple nudity or sexual activity. And, in this case, to what end? Maybe this will be the Rosa Parks of queer cinema to some, but I don’t grade on a curve. If you are going to make me into a cinema urologist, there better be a better reason than “because no one else has done so before.” Is it all a big AIDS metaphor, with cruising, bareback sex and love that quickly turns deadly? Maybe. But the metaphor is tortured, if you ask me.
I would still argue that the low standards that met JJ Abrams first Trek reboot were a result of a pleasurable gimmick… “Star Trek Babies.” “Hey! Spock gets laid! Kirk has daddy issues! It’s the same, but different enough to be fun again!” Never mind the lame villain, the illogic, and the meaningless flares that match the incomprehensible visuals.
Something happened on the way to this sequel… nothing. No one told JJ that it had to be better. Just keep going.
So for two acts, you have shockingly beautiful images directed with so little skill that you can’t really tell who is in any room, much less what ships or people are in what space during action sequences.
The opening sequence says it all. Lots and lots of cool imagery and not a whit of logic or real excitement. Why does Kirk mess with the primitive culture by stealing their religious figure? Why are they running? Why wasn’t Spock beamed in? Why are the Enterprise folks even considering breaking fundamental rules… or are we not expected to notice because the movie starts mid-Indiana Jones rip-off? (Oh yes, JJ proves yet again that he can’t hold Spielberg’s 40-year-old jock.)
But on top of breaking the Prime Directive, how about they break it AGAIN?
To be honest, this didn’t bother me that much until thinking about it later. I was too busy being frustrated by the crappy framing and Abrams’ sheer disinterest in making action scenes flow so the audience can anticipate and therefore stay engaged. He directs like a TV guy, where action is too expensive and audiences are fine with visual shortcuts. That’s with a $3-million-an-hour budget, not a $100-million-an-hour budget.
It wasn’t until the 3rd act that I got really angry in the theater as I watched.
Let me be clear… I generally like the acting. Loved Cumberbatch as Didi’s Brother (attempt at avoiding a not-so-significant spoiler). I was fine with the overall story, though it gets so convoluted at times, you need a f-ing guidebook.
But the details of the third act showed a lack of respect, perhaps a contempt, for the source material. There are a ton of good to weak winks at the audience about the older versions of Trek. But in this third act, it gets giddy with onanistic love about just how much more clever this team is than Roddenberry’s. And about 20 minutes before the end, I was in full disgust mode.
And then, they add laziness to insult by going the full Iron Man Three, devaluing any of what seemed to be truths of the “episode” and new series. As in, if Tony Stark just needed to decide to get the metal out of his chest all of a sudden, Fuck You.
I hope that there is a “Trek Babies 3″ with someone who can shoot a movie doing it. Rian Johnson, maybe?
These are movies. It’s all a game. I get that. But drama has rules and all I am demanding is a little effort to honor them. Vader was Luke’s father. Batman’s dead girlfriend stayed dead. And the Titanic sunk at the end. In JJ’s world, Luke turns out to be Vader’s father and Leia is only a half-sister, so Luke can bang her and mock Hans endlessly about “sloppy seconds.”