Chasing The Light by Oliver Stone

1969.  Young Oliver Stone, back from Vietnam, kind of lost in his life, having barely escaped prison time for a drug charge in San Diego, enrolls at NYU’s School of the Arts, undergrad.  He makes a short film in 16mm with some 8mm color intercuts, about a young veteran, played by himself, who wanders New York, and throws a bag full of his photographs off the Staten Island ferry, with a voiceover of some lines from Celine’s Journey to the End of Night.

He shows it to his class.  The professor is Martin Scorsese.

When the film ended after some eleven taut minutes and the projector was turned off, I steeled myself in the silence for the usual sarcasm consistent with our class’s Chinese Cultural Revolution “auto-critique,” in which no one was spared.  What would my classmates say about this?

No one had yet spoken.  Words become very important in moments like this.  And Scorsese simply jumped all the discussion when he said, “Well – this is a filmmaker.”  I’ll never forget that.  “Why?  Because it’s personal.  You feel like the person who’s making it is living it,” he explained.  “That’s why you gotta keep it close to you, make it yours.” No one bitched, not even the usual critiques of my weird mix, sound problems, nothing.  In a sense, this was my coming out.  It was the first affirmation I’d had in… years.  This would be my diploma.

This book covers the first forty years of Stone’s life, with much of it centered on the making of Salvador, Platoon, and Scarface, after experiences in Vietnam and jail.

The movies of Stone’s later career – The Doors, JFK, W, Nixon – are the ones that mean the most to me, and those aren’t covered in this book.  But I was still pretty compelled by it, surprised by the sensitive, easily wounded young man who emerges, experienced in violence but capable of great tenderness.  Struggling with his father’s expectations, his socialite mother.  His fast rise in Hollywood, frustrations and joys, and the druggy swirl that almost undoes it all, like when he gave a rambling Golden Globe acceptance speech after “a few hits of coke, a quaalude or two, several glasses of wine.”  (Video of the speech since scrubbed from YouTube, unfortch).

How about Peter Guber pitching what became Midnight Express:

Make a little money for college. Innocent kid basically, knows nothing, first trip outside the country right?  They beat the shit out of him!  Everything in the world happens to him – and then he escapes from this island prison on a rowboat…. that’s right!  A rowboat, believe it or not.  Gets back to the mainland, then runs through a minefield across the Turkish border into Greece – right?  Unbelievable!  Great story!  Tension – like you wrote Platoon.  Every single second, you want to feel that tension!


Forty year old men in movies

I’ve been on this planet for forty years, and I’m no closer to understanding a single thing.

says Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation.

Forty years old, and I’ve never done a single thing I’m proud of.

says Harvey Milk, early in Milk.  It’s his fortieth birthday when we meet him:

The film then flashes back to New York City in 1970, the eve of Milk’s 40th birthday and his first meeting with his much younger lover, Scott Smith.

Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams tells us he’s thirty-six:

Annie and I got married in June of ’74. Dad died that fall. A few years later, Karin was born. She smelled weird, but we loved her anyway. Then Annie got the crazy idea that she could talk me into buying a farm. I’m thirty-six years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I’m about to become a farmer. And until I heard the Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.*

but that was in 1989, when, believe it or not, life expectancy was 3.89 years shorter.

Then of course there’s:

and

What’s going on here?  I pondered this.  Is it because forty years old is about when directors get the chance to make movies like this? Most of them are men, so it’s no surprise the topic they’re obsessed with is forty year old men?

Are there movies about explicitly forty year old women? None leap to mind. There are several movies about a ~ thirty year old woman’s crisis. Bridget Jones, My Best Friend’s Wedding – but I can’t think of forty year old women appearing quite so often with such clear declaration. (Although maybe that’s a bias in what this observer, himself a forty year old man, picks up.)

Could it be the actors? This is when make actors tend to be developed in their craft, at the peak of their power, empowered to wrestle with material they choose, yet also perhaps pondering some bigger questions than might concern a younger man.

Is forty when a man straddles a divide between the free adventures of youth and the responsibilities of adulthood? Truly, finally, no more postponement, he must make some choice? Does that choice make for a movie?

Or maybe it’s simpler than all that.

Let’s say you just turned 40. Obviously, 40 is just a number, but in many ways, it’s a milestone. Though people are living longer these days into the 80s and 90s, still age 40 is considered the halfway mark.

(That’s from this article on Seeking Alpha.)

Maybe it’s just the halfway mark.  When you get to halftime you ask, how am I doing?  You check the scoreboard, talk in the locker room.  “Make adjustments,” as the football coaches always say.

In the middle of the journey of our life

I found myself in a dark forest,

for the straight way was lost.

Not a bad way to start a story. (Dante’s Inferno, Canto I, translated by Google)

Update:

A reader writes

Hi Steve,

I saw your latest blog post about movies where guys turn 40 and I can’t believe you left out City Slickers. Come on!
Best,
Ooo, fair enough.  City Slickers is kind of a blank spot for me, it just kinda passed me by.  Weirdly remember City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, at least as a marketing campaign.  I believe I only saw either film when I wrote an American Dad! episode in a similar genre.
Back in New York City, Mitch has turned 39 years old and realizes his trips are to escape the reality of going through a midlife crisis. Phil and Ed have problems of their own: Phil is trapped in a 12-year loveless marriage to his shrew wife, Arlene, while also managing her father’s supermarket; and Ed is a successful sporting goods salesman and playboy who has recently married an underwear model but is reluctant to settle down and have children.
says Wikipedia.

* Ray Kinsella says that before he heard the Voice, he’d “never done a crazy thing in my entire life.” But earlier in the same speech he tells us:

I marched, I smoked some grass, I tried to like sitar music, 

Sounds like a guy who’s at least experimental (or is he saying he did all the cliché things of any ’60s college student?). 

Ray also says that (along with Annie) he bought a farm in Iowa, the “idea” of which was, his words, “crazy.” 

I think Ray protests a little too much here. I think he is the type who would at least consider a crazy thing.  Perhaps that openness is part of why the Voice chose him.  

 

 


Tigertail (2020)

If you are a Helytimes reader who hasn’t heard about Tigertail, Alan Yang’s directorial debut, which is NOW on Netflix, Heaven help you.  Very proud of my former roomie on this tremendous achievement, will be watching tonight.


Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Favorite line?  Margot Robbie saying

I’m in the movie.  I’m Sharon Tate.

Second place, the little girl actor saying “Just give me the idea of the story.”

Does any director have more fun with time shifts than Tarantino?  The whole part where Brad Pitt has a fight with Bruce Lee occurs in Brad Pitt’s memory while he’s fixing Leo’s TV antenna (right?).

How about when Rick Dalton is pleading on behalf of his friend?

Hey, you could do anything you want to him. Throw him off a building, alright? Light him on fire. Hit him with a Lincoln, right? Get creative. Do whatever you want, he’s just happy for the opportunity.

Filmic recursion, movies within movies.  Fun!  Movies about movies: Boogie Nights, Singin’ In The Rain, even Citizen Kane starts with a movie within a movie.


Lionsgate update

This is an update to a recent post about Lionsgate: kind of stunned by the crumminess of this trailer.  Aren’t most of these worse versions of shots from Pearl Harbor (2001)?

Only instead of coming out in 2001 when people were feeling kinda patriotic, it’s coming out now.

Worried about Lionsgate.  Maybe somebody will buy them?


The Evolution of Pace In Popular Movies

Abstract

Movies have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Several of these changes in popular English-language filmmaking practice are reflected in patterns of film style as distributed over the length of movies. In particular, arrangements of shot durations, motion, and luminance have altered and come to reflect aspects of the narrative form. Narrative form, on the other hand, appears to have been relatively unchanged over that time and is often characterized as having four more or less equal duration parts, sometimes called acts – setup, complication, development, and climax. The altered patterns in film style found here affect a movie’s pace: increasing shot durations and decreasing motion in the setup, darkening across the complication and development followed by brightening across the climax, decreasing shot durations and increasing motion during the first part of the climax followed by increasing shot durations and decreasing motion at the end of the climax. Decreasing shot durations mean more cuts; more cuts mean potentially more saccades that drive attention; more motion also captures attention; and brighter and darker images are associated with positive and negative emotions. Coupled with narrative form, all of these may serve to increase the engagement of the movie viewer.

Keywords: Attention, Emotion, Evolution, Film style, Movies, Narrative, Pace, Popular culture

Over at Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, James E. Cutting has an interesting paper about how popular movies have changed over time in terms of shot duration, motion, luminance, and cuts.

One thing that hasn’t really changed though: a three or four act structure.

In many cases, and particularly in movies, story form can be shown to have three or four parts, often called acts (Bordwell, 2006; Field, 2005; Thompson, 1999). The term act is borrowed from theater, but it does not imply a break in the action. Instead, it is a convenient unit whose size is between the whole film and the scene in which certain story functions occur. Because there is not much difference between the three- and four-act conceptions except that the latter has the former’s middle act broken in half (which many three-act theorists acknowledge; Field, 2005), I will focus on the four-act version.

The first act is the setup, and this is the portion of the story where listeners, readers, or viewers are introduced to the protagonist and other main characters, to their goals, and to the setting in which the story will take place. The second act is the complication, where the protagonists’ original plans and goals are derailed and need to be reworked, often with the help or hindrance of other characters. The third is the development, where the narrative typically broadens and may divide into different threads led by different characters. Finally, there is the climax, where the protagonist confronts obstacles to achieve the new goal, or the old goal by a different route. Two other small regions are optional bookend-like structures and are nested within the last and the first acts. At the end of the climax, there is often an epilogue, where the diegetic (movie world) order is restored and loose ends from subplots are resolved. In addition, I have suggested that at the beginning of the setup there is often a prologue devoted to a more superficial introduction of the setting and the protagonist but before her goals are introduced (Cutting, 2016).

Interesting way to think about film structure.  Why are movies told like this?

Perhaps most convincing in this domain is the work by Labov and Waletzky (1967), who showed that spontaneous life stories elicited from inner-city individuals without formal education tend to have four parts: an orientation section (where the setting and the protagonist are introduced), a complication section (where an inciting incident launches the beginning of the action), an evaluation section (which is generally focused on a result), and a resolution (where an outcome resolves the complication). The resolution is sometimes followed by a coda, much like the epilogue in Thompson’s analysis. In sum, although I wouldn’t claim that four-part narratives are universal to all story genres, they are certainly widespread and long-standing

Cutting goes on:

That form entails at least three, but usually four, acts of roughly equal length. Why equal length? The reason is unclear, but Bordwell (2008, p. 104) suggested this might be a carryover from the development of feature films with four reels. Early projectionists had to rewind each reel before showing the next. Perhaps filmmakers quickly learned that, to keep audiences engaged, they had to organize plot structure so that last-seen events on one reel were sufficiently engrossing to sustain interest until the next reel began.

David Bordwell:

source: Wasily on Wiki

I love reading stuff like this, in the hopes of improving my craft at storytelling, but as Cutting notes:

Filmmaking is a craft.  As a craft, its required skills are not easily penetrated in a conscious manner.

In the end you gotta learn by feel.  We can feel when a story is right, or when it’s not right.  I reckon you can learn more about movie story, and storytelling in general, by telling your story to somebody aloud and noticing when you “lose” them than you can by reading all of Brodwell.  Anyone who’s pitched anything can probably remember moments when you knew you had them, or spontaneously edited because you could feel you were losing them.

Still, it’s fun to break apart human cognition and I look forward to more articles from Cognitive Science and am grateful they are free!

Another paper cited in this article is “You’re a good structure, Charlie Brown: the distribution of narrative categories in comic strips” by N Cohn.

Thanks to Larry G. for putting me on to this one.

 


Movie Reviews: The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, Schindler’s List

Finding myself with an unexpectedly free afternoon, I went to see The Favourite at the Arclight,

You rarely see elderly people in central Hollywood, but they’re there at the movies at 2pm.  While we waited for the movie to start, there was an audible electrical hum.  The Arclight person introduced the film, and then one of the audience members shouted out “what’re you gonna do about the grounding hum?”

The use of the phrase “grounding hum” rather than just “that humming sound” seemed to baffle the Arclight worker.  Panicked, she said she’d look into it, and if we wanted, we could be “set up with another movie.”

After like one minute I took the option to be set up with another movie because the hum was really annoying.  Playing soon was Mary Queen of Scots.

Reminded as I thought about it of John Ford’s quote about Monument Valley.  John Ford assembles the crew and says, we’re out here to shoot the most interesting thing in the world: the human face.

Both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie have incredible faces.  It’s glorious to see them.  The best parts of this movie were closeups.

Next I saw Schindler’s List.

This movie has been re-released, with an intro from Spielberg, about the dangers of racism.

This movie knocked my socks off.  I forgot, since the last time I saw it, what this movie accomplished.

When the movie first came out, the context in which people were prepared for it, discussed it, saw it, were shown it in school etc took it beyond the realm of like “a movie” and into some other world of experience and meaning.

I feel like I saw this movie for the first time on VHS tapes from the public library, although I believe we were shown the shower scene at school.

schindler

My idea in seeing it this time was to see it as a movie.

How did they make it?  How does it work?  What’s accomplished on the level of craft?  Once we’ve handled the fact that we’re seeing a representation of the Holocaust, how does this work as a movie?

It’s incredible.  The craft level accomplishment is on the absolute highest level.

 

Take away the weight with which this movie first reached us, with what it was attempting.  Just approach it as “a filmmaker made this, put this together.”

Long, enormous shots of huge numbers of people, presented in ways that feel real, alive.  Liam Neeson’s performance, his mysteries, his charisma, his ambiguity.  We don’t actually learn that much about Oscar Schindler.  So much is hidden.

Ralph Fiennes performance, the humanity, the realness he brings to someone whose crimes just overload the brain’s ability to process.

The moving parts, the train shots, the wide city shots.  Unreal accomplishment of filmmaking.

Some thoughts:

  • water, recurring as an image, theme in the movie.

 

  • there are a bunch of scenes of just factory action, people making things with tools and machines.  that was the cover.  was not the Holocaust an event of the factory age, a twisted branch of Industrial Revolution and efficiency metric spirit?

 

  • reminded that people didn’t know, when it began, “we’re in The Holocaust, this is the Holocaust.”  It built. It got worse and worse.  there were steps and stages along the way.

 

  • what happened in the the Holocaust happened in a particular time and place in history, focused in an area of central and eastern Europe that had its own, centuries long, context for what you were, who belonged where, history, which tribes go where, what race or nationality meant, how these were understood.  Göth’s speech about how the centuries of Jewish history in Kraków will become a rumor.  I felt like this movie kind of captured and helped explain some of that, without a ton of extra labor.

 

  • In a way Schindler could almost be seen as like a comic character.  He didn’t start his company to save Jews. He starts it to make money from cheap labor.  He’s a schemer who sees an opportunity.  A rascal out to make a quick buck, a con man and shady dealer who ended up in the worst crime in history, an honest crook who finds he’s in something of vastness and evil beyond his ability to even comprehend.

 

  • There is a scene in this movie that could almost be called funny, or at least comic, when Oscar Schindler (Neeson) tries to explain to Stern (Ben Kingsley) the good qualities of the concentration camp commandant Göth that nobody ever seems to mention!

 

  • Kenneally’s story of how he heard about Schindler:

  • The theme of sexuality, Goth’s sexuality, Schindler’s, what it means to love and express your nature versus trying to suppress and kill.  Spielberg is not really known for having tough explorations of sexuality in his films but I’d say he took this one pretty square on with a lot bravery?

 

  • if I had a criticism it was maybe that the text on the little intermediary passages that appear on screen a few times and explain the context felt not that clear and kind of unnecessary.

 

  • I feared this movie would have a kind of ’90s whitewash, I felt maybe takes exist, the “actually Schindler’s List is BAD” take is out there, with the idea being that Spielberg put in too much sugar with the medicine which when we talk about the Shoah, unspeakable, unaddressable, is somehow wrong, but damn.  I was glad for the sugar myself and I don’t think Spielberg looked away.  The Holocaust occurred in a human context, and human contexts, no matter how dark, always have absurdity.

 

  • the scene, for instance, were the Nazis burn in an enormous pyre the months-buried, now exhumed bodies of thousands of people executed during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, Spielberg took us as close to the mouth of the abyss as you’re gonna see at a regular movie theater.

What does it mean that Spielberg made a movie about the Holocaust and the two leads are both handsome Nazis?

 

*As a boy I was attracted to the history of Britain and Ireland as well as Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples in America.  The peoples of those islands recorded a dramatic history that I felt connected to.  They also developed a compelling tradition of telling these history stories with as much drama and excitement as possible eg. Shakespeare.

At a library book sale, I bought, for 50 cents a volume, three biographies from a numbered set from like 1920 of “notable personages,” something like that. 

These just looked like the kind of books that a cool gentleman had.  Books that indicated status and intelligence. 

One of this set that I got was Hernando Cortes.  I started that one, but even at that tender age I perceived Cortes was not someone to get behind.  The biography had a pro-Cortes slant I found distasteful. 

Another volume was about Mary Queen of Scots.

Just on her name, really, I started reading that one. 

Mary Queen of Scots’ life was a thrilling story, and this one was melodramatically told.  Affairs, murder plots, insults, rumor, execution. 

Sometime thereafter, at school, we were all assigned like a book report.  To read a biography, any biography, and write a report about it. 

Since I’d already read Mary’s biography, I picked her. 

As it happened, I overheard my dad confusedly ask my mom why, of all people on Earth, I’d chosen Mary Queen of Scots as the topic for my biography project.  My dad did not know the backstory, which my mom patiently explained. 

My dad’s reaction on hearing I’d picked Mary Queen of Scots, while not as harsh as Kevin Hart’s imagined reaction on hearing his son had a dollhouse, helps me to understand where Kevin Hart was coming from.  Confusion, for starters.  Upsetness.

At the time the guys I thought were really heroes were probably like JFK and Hemingway.  


Hollywood: A Very Short Introduction

The sequence beginning around 3:30 is captivating.

What’s going on here?  We are right to be confused:

So I’m told in this one:

Some of the Oxford Very Short Introduction books aren’t that helpful.  Some are great.  I got a lot out of this one.  I didn’t know this story about Lucille Ball, for instance:


The Gambler (2014)

Saw this clip on some retweet of this fellow’s Twitter.

I was struck by

  • the bluntness and concision of the advice
  • the fact that the advice contains a very specific investment strategy down to what funds you should be in (80% VTSAX, 20% VBTLX)
  • the compelling performance of an actor I’d never seen opposite Wahlberg (although I’d say it drops off at “that’s your base, get me?”)

It appeared this was from the 2014 film The Gambler

The film is interesting.  Mark Wahlberg plays a compulsive gambler and English professor.  There are some extended scenes of Wahlberg lecturing his college undergrads on Shakespeare, Camus, and his own self-absorbed theories of literature, failure, and life.  The character is obnoxious, self-pitying, logorrheic and somewhat unlikeable as a hero. Nevertheless his most attractive student falls in love with him.  William Monahan, who won an Oscar for The Departed, wrote the screenplay. The film itself is a remake of 1974 movie directed by James Toback, in which James Caan plays the Mark Wahlberg role.

Here’s the interesting thing.  Watching the 2016 version, I realized the speech I’d seen on Twitter that first caught my attention is different.  The actor’s different — in the movie I watched it’s John Goodman.

What happened here?  Had they recast the actor or something?  The twitterer who put it up is from South Africa, did they release a different version of the movie there?

Did some investigating and found the version I saw was made by this guy, JL Collins, a financial blogger.

Here’s a roundup of his nine basic points for financial independence.

He did a pretty good job as an actor I think!  I believe the scene in the movie would be strengthened from the specificity of his advice.  And the line about every stiff from the factory stiff to the CEO is working to make you richer is cool, maybe an improvement on the script as filmed.  I’ll have to get this guy’s book.

It would make a good commercial for Vanguard.

VTSAX vs S&P 500:

Readers, what does the one to one comparison of JL Collins and John Goodman teach us about acting?


Mission: Impossible: Fallout

Question about this film, if you’ve seen it:

(and don’t get me wrong, I had a good time)

why was a high-altitude parachute jump the best way to get into Paris?


The wild man and his “wildies”

From Comedy’s Greatest Era (1949):

Sennett used to hire a “wild man” to sit in on his gag conferences, whose whole job was to think up “wildies.”  Usually he was an all but brainless, speechless man, scarcely able to communicate his idea; but he had a totally uninhibited imagination.  He might say nothing for an hour; then he’d mutter “You take . . . ” and all the relatively rational others would shut up and wait.  “You take this cloud . . .” he would get out, sketching vague shapes in the air.  Often he could get no further; but thanks to some kind of thought-transference, saner men would take this cloud and make something of it.  The wild man seems in fact to have functioned as the group’s subconscious mind, the source of all creative energy.  His ideas were so weird and amorphous that Sennett can no longer remember a one of them, or even how it turned out after rational processing.  But a fair equivalent might be on of the best comic sequences in a Laurel and Hardy picture.  It is simple enough – simple and real, in fact, as a nightmare.  Laurel and Hardy are trying to move a piano across a narrow suspension bridge.  The bridge is slung over a sickening chasm, between a couple of Alps.  Midway they meet a gorilla.

Agee speaks of the side-splitting laughter that would erupt in silent movie houses, and how you just can’t get that level of laughter from “talkies,” no matter how funny.

the best of comedies these days hand out plenty of titters and once in a while it is possible to achieve a yowl without overstraining

but nothing like what the “ideally good gags” of the silent days would provoke.

Wasn’t sure I understood what levels of laughter in the movie theater Agee was talking about until I saw the Jackass movies:


Cultural revolution in the films of Zhang Yimou

At a time in my life when I had a lot of time and a physical DVD Netflix account I started watching the films of Zhang Yimou.

These movies are great.  The plots are crazy, but compelling.  There are other ways to tell stories besides the save the cat way.

(save the cat lol there’s a famine killing forty million people!)

A woman married to the brutal and infertile owner of a dye mill in rural China conceives a boy with her husband’s nephew but is forced to raise her son as her husband’s heir without revealing his parentage in this circular tragedy.

for example

Plus just trying to discern the basic premises the characters assume or the worldview of the movie assumes adds a whole other level

Been thinking about these movies in the context of a much, much, much more minor cultural revolution I perceive in the USA and especially Hollywood/the media, where people are like examining themselves and confessing to their political crimes.

Zhang was born in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. Zhang’s father, a dermatologist, had been an officer in the National Revolutionary Army under Chiang Kai-shek during the Chinese Civil War; an uncle, and an elder brother had followed the Nationalist forces to Taiwan after their 1949 defeat. As a result, Zhang faced difficulties in his early life.

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, Zhang left his school studies and went to work, first as a farm labourer for 3 years, and later at a cotton textile mill for 7 years in the city of Xianyang.  During this time he took up painting and amateur still photography, selling his own blood to buy his first camera.[10]


Impressive thing about Manchester By The Sea

manchester-sea

The entire film takes place in Massachusetts, yet no one is seen going to Dunkin Donuts or holding a Dunkin Donuts cup.

A short examination of New England and Massachusetts psychology is at the beginning of this book:

IMG_3046

available at Amazon or your local indie bookstore.  You’ll enjoy it.


SUNDAY TAKE: is this the election of 1828?

 

jq2John Quincy Adams

Smug.

Establishment.

Very annoying.

Dad was president.

Former Secretary of State.

Front row kid as Chris Arande says.

Against:

Imacon Color Scanner

Andrew Jackson

Blustery.

Outsider.

Slave trader.

Pretty much a murderer.

Prone to fits of wild anger.

Considered by the JQAs of the world to be impossibly vulgar.

Some ways in which Jackson was better than Trump:

  • Jackson was a legitimate self-made man
  • Jackson had done something of service to his country (Battle of New Orleans)

(What to make of the Seminole War?

seminole-war

Having a hell of a time finding the source of this image, which Wiki says is “Marines battle Seminole Indians in the Florida War–1835-1842.” — Department of Defense, U.S. Marine Corps (Photo #: 306073-A)

The result?

1828

Jackson won.

Some of things he did were

  • deport 45,000 Indians
  • more or less shut down the national bank
  • paid off the national debt
  • preside over an economic panic

jackson

READERS: what do you think?  Comments are open.

First got this idea from a questioner in New Zealand, who (I believe) admired Jackson.

1828 could’ve also been compared to the  the Gore Bush election of 2000 (with Martin Van Buren as Karl Rove)

I’ve got to consult:

whgw

Is Trump like Jackson?  WORSE?  BETTER??

Is JQA like Hillary?

JQA was later in Amistad with Matthew McConaughey.

qa

 


Groovy opening


Movie Roundup!

LRS

QUICK ANNOUNCEMENT:

Hey!  Do you enjoy Helytimes?

I hope so.  If you do, let me encourage you to sign up for Helytimes Newsletter.  It’s FREE.  No more than once a month, you will receive bonus content to your email.  

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Thanks!

OK on we go!

FullSizeRender (13)

Before we begin: We need to redefine “spoiler.”

Any news about what happens in a TV show or movie shouldn’t count as a “spoiler.”  Saying Walter White meets a guy named Tuco is not a “spoiler.”  It is perhaps unwelcome information, but you know what, you’ll survive.  A true “spoiler” is something that would truly spoil the experience of watching the thing.  That is a very high standard.  Even then, you’ll friggin’ survive.  I gotta say, I watched a recent famous episode of Game Of Thrones and The Crying Game knowing the “spoilers,” and found both to still be very compelling.  Maybe my enjoyment was diminished 15%, but I mean come on.

Also I believe you don’t really remember stuff you hear about shows you aren’t watching, so most “spoilers” pass by like harmless gusts of wind.

A passionate Mindy Kaling take I am on board with: it is unmanly to whine about spoilers.  Take your spoilers like a man.  As a society we’ve become much too weak on this.

These write ups contain no true spoilers, but they assume you’ve seen the movie, so skip as you will.

A word about criticism, too: anyone criticizing anything should begin by saying “it’s really hard and brave to make any work of art.  I have never made a movie.  Making a movie is a crazy accomplishment.  The credit belongs to the man in the arena.  It’s a lot easier to sit here and criticize.”  BUT: it’s also a good way to get yourself thinking about what you care about in movies and why, so it’s worth doing.  Plus it’s fun!

Now I don’t know anything about shots and cinematography and all that film stuff.  I do know a little about acting, mainly that it is way harder than it looks and that to make it look effortless is amazing.  I do know a little about telling stories.

What I think about with movies is usually the stories so that is where I will focus my attention.  

Let’s have some fun with movies!

THE MARTIAN

martian-tifrss0009frnleft-1001rrgb

stealing this movie photo from Newsweek

What the fuck went wrong with this movie?  I saw the trailer for it and was moved to near-tears, like “YES!  Goddamn it, let’s go rescue The Martian!  He will never stop fighting to survive!”

But then in the movie, it’s like who cares.  Does the Martian have anyone on Earth who cares about him?  Does he have a family?  A wife?  A mom?  A cute kid?  Go for it!  Tug on my heartstrings! Is a class of schoolchildren watching him?

It felt like The Martian was like deliberately choosing not to do that, out of some kind of integrity or something.  As I understand it, the book The Martian was written by an engineer and has none of that bullshit, it’s just hard-ass science.  Which, I guess is cool but c’mon.  You got Matt Damon there!  Give me a reason to care whether he lives or dies!

Also, the Martian has that awesome speech in the trailer about fighting to survive when the shit goes down.  In the movie, that speech is plopped down as literally a classroom lecture after the Martian is safe and sound and the movie is essentially over.  Who gives a shit anymore?

Ridley Scott is amazing.  He made Alien which is as perfect a movie as has ever been made.

He also made Kingdom Of Heaven.  I remember vouching for that movie to friends, being like “hey Ridley Scott made a movie about the Crusades.  It’s gotta be at least worth seeing!”  I believe I was still making this argument to myself, having failed to convince my friends, when I saw that movie alone.  It taught me the lesson that a truly great director with near-infinite resources is still left with a piece of shit if the story doesn’t make sense.  Kingdom Of Heaven twisted itself into story knots trying to make Orlando Bloom friends with the Muslim guy.  Hey man, if you’re gonna make a movie about the Crusades, either do it or don’t.  And maybe don’t, because the Crusades were fucked up and I don’t want Orlando Bloom getting involved.

I thought The Counselor was very cool.  I think a flaw with the Counselor, which is not really Cameron Diaz’s fault, is that Cameron Diaz is supposed to play a character who is like the pure distillation of female evil.  And, that can’t happen because I like Cameron Diaz even when she’s telling me “the slaughter to come will be beyond our imagining.”  Maybe that was the idea?

Anyway back to The Martian:

Science-wise: was the solution Donald Glover proposes in The Martian anything?  I mean, I don’t know a ton about space travel but I thought the most basic idea is that you’re slingshotting with gravity, how had they not thought of that at NASA?

Worth reading Ridley Scott’s quotes page on IMDb.  Two good ones:

I’m a yarnteller. My job is to engage you as much as I can and as often as I can. I love the process and still continue to adore the process, actually. I don’t get attached to anything. I’m like a good antique dealer. I’m prepared to sell my most valuable table.

Never let yourself be seen in public unless they pay for it.

It might be crazy but I did leave The Martian hungry for potatoes.

The writer Caleb Crain has a neat blog, and at this time of year he puts up a bunch of stray matter under the heading NOTES.  I printed it out to read at Tatsu, and his take on The Martian was so interesting I ripped it out to save:

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(I will also use the word “suthering” now!)

A+ acting I thought by Matt Damon.

Great Debates Topic: Matt Damon is as good at what he does as Tom Brady is at what he does.

BROOKLYN

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photo from Variety. If they can use it can I? I’m not even charging money

Somehow I started following Dublin-based journalist Amy O’Connor on Twitter.  She is terrific.  Enjoyed her take:

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This movie was excellent, very well-made.  It dig bug me a bit though why Saoirse got married — like, why include that at that point in the plot?  If she’s already married, she doesn’t really have much of a choice in Ireland, does she?  At least it’s a lot messier.  If she’s married, she’s kind of jerking poor Domhnall Gleeson around, no?

Domhnall_Gleeson_by_Gage_Skidmore

Anyway good film.  Why didn’t we get the screener on this one?  A rare miss in a bonanza year of screeners.

Kudos to this movie for not shying away from the physical ugliness of the Irish people.

A+ acting by Saoirse and Domhnall.

JOY

Joy

Into it!  Any movie that can get your emotions up around a scene of a woman vouching for her self-invented mop is terrific.  Great job.

A+ acting by Jennifer Lawrence.  Does it seem like I’m grading on a curve?  Well, maybe we’re just blessed with good actors.  B+ to Bradley Cooper.  A+ to Isabella Rosselini.

Sympathized with this take from the great Tom Scharpling:

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ANOMALISA

anomalisa

Ugh, am I really gonna have to see this?  I guess so.  Man, I love Charlie Kaufman but it just seems like a bit much to ask me to drag myself to the Arclight to watch some puppets mourn over how the cost of consciousness is despair or whatever.

Ugh, it’s probably great, haven’t seen it, is a thought I had a lot in 2015.

Everyone should read this BAFTA speech by Charlie Kaufman.

THE REVENANT

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LOVED!  A triumph!  Any movie that tries to really depict the earthy details of some fucked-up primitive period in American history I am INTO!  Previous title holder in this category was The New World.

Drudge was not being crazy to hype the bear rape element of this movie.  That scene was definitely shot to at least suggest/hint at rape, don’t be cute Alejandro Iñárritu, you knew damn well what you were doing.

Thanks to Cherry for demanding I see this, really might’ve missed it, it seemed like too much snow for me.

Michael Punke, who wrote the book on which The Revenant is “based in part on” (why say that?  felt a bit petty) sounds like my kinda guy:

When he was a teenager, he also spent at least three summers working at the Fort Laramie National Historic Site as a “living history interpreter.”

fort laramie

nationalparks.org

(Should we have seen Fort Laramie’s Three-Mile Hog Ranch in the movie?:

The ranch was described by U.S. Army Lieutenant John Gregory Bourke:[3]

… tenanted by as hardened and depraved set of witches as could be found on the face of the globe. It [was] a rum mill of the worst kind [with] half a dozen Cyprians, virgins whose lamps were always burning brightly in expectancy of the coming of the bridegroom, and who lured to destruction the soldiers of the garrison. In all my experience I have never seen a lower, more beastly set of people of both sexes.

Um, try the parking lot at Whole Foods Bourke!

(Bourke is fascinating, he could read Irish, Greek Latin and Apache.  His field notes, Evan Connell tell us, fill eight feet of shelf space. More on him in the next Helytimes Premium.))

And now Michael Punke is the US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva?  What a dope dude!

Punke allegedly came up with the idea to write the novel while on an airplane, after reading a couple of lines in a history book about real-life frontier fur trapper Hugh Glass. Punke was also working at the law firm of Mayer Brown at the time when he started the book (1997), so he would go to the office as early as 5:00 AM in the morning before anyone else got there to write pages for roughly three hours, and then do his job for eight to ten hours. The book took a total of four years to complete and according to his brother Tim, Punke actually caught pneumonia at least four times during the writing process.

You KNOW I clicked the wiki for Hugh Glass spoilers!!:

Glass was thereafter referred to as “the revenant,” from the 19th century French verb revenant, meaning someone who returns from a long absence, or a person or thing reborn.[citation needed]

After recovering, Glass set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger, motivated either by murderous revenge or the desire to get his weapons back. He eventually traveled to Fort Henry on the Yellowstone River, but found it deserted; a note indicated that Andrew Henry and company had relocated to a new camp at the mouth of the Bighorn River. Arriving there, Glass found Bridger but apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley’s company.

Man Tom Hardy is fucking crushing it this year.

Tom Hardy

from reelfilmchatter.net uncredited

A+ to him.  A+ to Leo as well, although who had the harder job?

Hypothetical: If Leonardo DiCaprio’s sole goal in doing The Revenant was to try to win an Oscar (and I don’t think it was but play along) was pairing himself was Tom Hardy:

a) brave: compete/push yourself with the best to raise your game

b) sensible: not brave, just be with the best and make a good movie and maybe you’ll get lucky

c) an accident: he didn’t consider that element

d) a huge miscalculation: Tom Hardy blew him away?

e) neither, DiCaprio knows the Oscars are a fucked up contest where your work at enacting yourself as a movie star over years matters far more than what you did in the one movie

It wasn’t c.

Hardy made his big screen debut in Black Hawk Down, a great one by Ridley.  Now, that movie had a simple, clear story: heroes vs. savages.  What’s that?  Problematic take?  Oh well we moved on.

Says Hardy to The Guardian a few years ago:

So what drives Tom Hardy? “I want everyone to love me.”

And has he got what he wanted? “You get to the point where you can’t please everyone. I don’t want constructive criticism, I want adulation,” he beams. “That’s immature but it’s totally there. King Baby.”

Tom Hardy is truly King Baby.

FURIOUS 7

furious 7

What a great movie to wrap Christmas presents to or to enjoy even if you don’t really speak English.  These guys are doing what they’re doing and they’re great at it.  I’m not sure what Vin Diesel does is “acting,” but he’s terrific at it.  I don’t like how Tyrese was made to be a bit of a coward and a fool.

In one of the earlier movies, do they show Michelle Rodriguez/Vin Diesel wedding?  Let me know, I would like to go back and watch that!  Seriously if that happens in one of the movies and you know about that please email helphely@gmail.com

It’s good to see Ronda Rousey in movies because it demonstrates how hard acting is.  Ronda Rousey, who is brave/confident/calm/controlled/disciplined/tight/skillful enough to fight another person in a cage, is noticeably bad at it.

JURASSIC WORLD

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from business insider, credit Chuck Zlotnick, Universal Pictures, hope this ok Chuck/Universal!

Had a good time, seemed fun enough to me!  Admittedly I was watching while helping build the White House out of LEGOs.

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Could Chris Pratt’s character in the movie be the same guy he was in Zero Dark Thirty, further down the road?  He was in the Navy in both movies.

I can see an argument that the migration from Laura Dern’s character in the old JP to Bryce Dallas Howard’s in this one illustrates a troubling backslide for feminism.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Sure whatever.

A+ job by Daisy Ridley.  From her far too brief wikipedia:

Her great-uncle was actor and playwright Arnold Ridley, who played Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army.

Huh!  Is that… good?

A Brief Digression

While watching Star Wars I was reminded of a delightful episode from my young adulthood.

As a young apprentice writer in Los Angeles, I heard about a book published in the UK called The Seven Basic Plots.  The book was said to be over seven hundred pages long and the life’s work of one Christopher Booker.  “My God,” I thought.  “This man Booker’s cracked the code!  If I can get my hands on this book writing will never be hard again!”  So I sent away for it.  It arrived, no small book either:

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Maybe it should’ve told me all I needed to know that one of the seven plots is “comedy” but it didn’t.  With pencil and highlighter in hand, I set to my studies to learn Booker’s wisdom.  It started out well enough, but then I got to page 42.

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“Oh dear,” I thought.  Just to be safe I double-checked the very first words of the very first shot of the film Star Wars:

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Uh-oh.  Maybe this guy Booker wasn’t paying all that much attention to all these stories?

I wrote to Booker’s publisher, hoping they could fix this error, and they were actually kinda snooty about it!

Anyway.  Anybody can get something wrong but it is funny to get something that wrong.

MAD MAX

Mad Max

Don’t forget that Mad Max: Fury Road came out this year.  What a movie.  The main guy starts out the movie hanging upside down being used as a blood bag.  Now that is putting your hero in trouble.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD - 2015 FILM STILL - Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC - U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED - ALL OTHER TERRITORIES

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD – 2015 FILM STILL –
Photo Credit: Jasin Boland © 2015 WV FILMS IV LLC AND RATPAC-DUNE ENTERTAINMENT LLC – U.S., CANADA, BAHAMAS & BERMUDA © 2015 VILLAGE ROADSHOW FILMS (BVI) LIMITED – ALL OTHER TERRITORIES  – Stealing this photo from Coral Gables Art Cinema’s website.

CAROL

Carol

lifted from the UK Telegraph, credit “Festival de Cannes”

I thought at some point, a desire to watch this movie would arise in me.  But it never did!  I bet it’s great, I hope someday I watch it.

Cate Blanchett is one of the actresses whose face can be made to look most like a bunraku puppet:

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from an article about a bunraku show at Princeton. Those guys know how to party.

Haynes knows puppets and human simulacra:

In 1987, while an MFA student at Bard College, Haynes made a short, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which chronicles the life of American pop singer Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls as actors.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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Damn.  This guy is making stuff on such a crazy level it’s lucky just to be alive at the same time as he is.

If you’re a movie critic, how are you even supposed to write about this movie?  Just for starters, Quentin Tarantino definitely knows more about movies than you and if you say anything at all, you better be damn sure he wasn’t doing exactly what you’re accusing him of doing exactly on purpose.

I have listened to lots of interviews with this dude.  The one on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast is very in depth.  Think what you will of BEE, he has a strong take. (thanks to BJN for the rec).

Listening to interviews with him, hearing about the insane typos in his screenplays, his play-it-backwards-just-for-fun level of total genius not just comprehension but ability to execute in his movies makes me wonder if QT isn’t something like the version of Mozart in Amadeus:

Is there anything this guy thinks of that he can’t make appear on the screen more or less as it popped out of his insane swirling noggin?

Think of the twists and turns and levels for the actors to play in this movie!  The stuff for Jennifer Jason Leigh alone!

Imagine QT walking Jennifer Jason Leigh through this character.  (Ugh, spoilers warning): “Ok, so, you’re going to be a murderous racist, you’re going to scream the n-word in Samuel L. Jackson’s face, you’re gonna get hit in the face five or six times, your face will be coated in blood and vomit for much of the film, you will play a heartbreakingly beautiful song, but that will be while taunting a man you know is about to die, you will cross and double cross and be a schemer beyond measure and a siren and a charmer and sister and and in the end you will hung and will die twitching, sound good?”

Incredible job by her.  All the actors were awesome.  A+ to everybody.

How about that Walton Goggins?  Are you kidding me?  There’s a guy named Walton Goggins?  (Imagine the casting department for Justified:

“Uh, who should we get to play Boyd Crawther?”

“Um, Walton Goggins?”

“Wow sounds perfect, but can he do the accent?  Where is he from?”

“Alabama, then Lithia Springs, Georgia?”)

Check out Walton Goggins’ blog where he posts photos from his travels and musings:

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if Walton Goggins is half as good at blogging as he is at acting ain’t nobody gonna need Helytimes.

Did anybody else think Michael Madsen looks like kind of a roughed-up future version of Andy Jones?

Andy Jones

I saw The Hateful Eight twice.  First at a WGA screening a couple weeks ago with Medina.  We loved it.

Then I ended up seeing it again, at 8:30 in the morning the other day at the Arclight.  (I woke up too early because my bod was on East Coast time so I thought hell I guess I’ll go see Hateful Eight again.)

There was much that was illuminated on a second viewing.  Here’s a spoiler for you: the 8:30am 70mm showing of Hateful Eight is full of weirdos.  Nor what I would call a “ton” of ladies.  One guy had brought a girl, but if it was a date it was not a success.

At the intermission a very old man in a Warner Bros. jacket walked to the bathroom muttering to himself “enough dialogue for ten movies!”

You said it pal.

The men’s room at the intermission for this movie, which comes right after Mr. Jackson’s speech about his dingus, is quite an interesting scene.

Got to thinking during this movie about Martin McDonagh’s plays, like The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which ends with the stage covered in blood:

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from the website of Keira Keeley, production photographer: http://www.keirakeeley.com/photo15.html, she credits The Repertory Theater of St. Louis, I hope they don’t mind.

No doubt McDonagh learned a lot from Tarantino, and had the idea to push the stage to its limit of blood.  Now you can watch Tarantino himself try the same trick.  Spoiler he is good at it and there is a lot of blood on the stage.

There is much to be said for this point raised by comedian Todd Levin:

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In my own theater no one was comfortable enjoying the use of that word, the laughter was half distress-call.

I feel like QT gave away the skeleton key to his whole deal on Fresh Air last year:

GROSS: So here’s something I was wondering, I know there’s so much like, you know, African-American popular culture that you really love. And I was wondering when you were growing up if you grew up in an integrated neighborhood, if you went to an integrated school, if you had African-American friends or if your contact with black people was largely through popular culture.

TARANTINO: No, no. I went to a mostly black school. You know, it wasn’t all-black because I was there, but it was mostly black.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTINO: And the different points of my life I was raised by black people, raised in black homes – between my mom’s best friend that I lived a lot of times with her and her family and just the kind of United Nations aspect that my mom’s house was in the early ’70s, right at the explosion of black culture. So black culture is my culture growing up.

GROSS: Your mother had a United Nations kind of home?

TARANTINO: Yeah. Well, it was almost like a sitcom, actually the way we lived in the ’70s because she was in her 20s, she was hot, all right, she was a hot white girl. Her best friend was named Jackie. She was a hot black girl. And her other best friend was Lillian and she was a hot Mexican girl. And they lived in this like swinging singles apartment with me.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: What impact did that have on you?

TARANTINO: Yeah, well, it was just yeah, it was just, you know, it was the ’70s so it was, you know, I lived with these three hip ladies all going out on dates all the time and dating football players and basketball players and, you know, my mother…

GROSS: Professionals ones or…

TARANTINO: Yeah. Yeah. My mom dated Wilt Chamberlain. She’s one of the thousand.

GROSS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Did that – this is getting too personal, but did that affect your sense of sexuality when you were growing up?

TARANTINO: In what way?

GROSS: Well, because most people can’t imagine their – so many people can’t imagine their parents having sex. And when you’re growing up with like your mother and two other women who are obviously engaging, you know, it makes you think of your own…

TARANTINO: Oh yeah. No, it was…

GROSS: Yeah.

TARANTINO: You know, she was a woman. She was a, you know, she was living the life. She was having a good time and everything, you know? She was taking care of me, too, so everything was fine. It was hip. It was just cool. You know the boyfriends would come over and they’d take me out. They’d take me blacksploitation movies trying to, you know, get me to like them.

And buy me footballs and stuff. And we’d go to, like, cool, you know, my mama and her friends would take me to cool bars and stuff where they’d be playing cool live rhythm and blues music. And I’d be drinking whatchamacallit, Shirley Temples, I think. I called them James Bond because, yeah, I didn’t like the name Shirley Temple.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTINO: I drank Shirley Temples and, you know, eat Mexican food or whatever. While, like some, you know, Jimmy Soul and a cool band would be playing in some lava lounge-y kind of a ’70s cocktail lounge. It was really cool. It made me grow up in a real big way. When I would hang around with kids I’d think they were really childish. I always used to hang around with, like, really groovy adults.

GROSS: Well, I feel like I know you just a little bit better now.

(LAUGHTER)

TARANTINO: Yeah. No, no. You know, Saturday – every time Saturday would roll around, it would become 1 o’clock, everyone in the house (technical difficulties)

(When they come back Terry asks about the New Beverly)

Man, if in my childhood cool black dudes would have sex with my mom and then take me to bars?  I would remain quite fascinated with cool black dudes and their sexuality and language and behavior and values.

Two discussion questions about Hateful Eight:

Stories have values.  To tell a story you and the audience must share some basic ideas about what’s a good and bad way to act, and a good and bad outcome.  For instance, you couldn’t follow The Revenant if you didn’t understand that it’s not great to leave a guy for dead.

So, all stories have morality.  The story can be pretty easy-to-agree with principles: surviving is better than dying, say or it is right to seek justice for others or love is good.  (Greg Daniels was really good at talking about this, I learned a lot from thinking about things he said.)

What are we gonna do with the morality of a movie like Hateful Eight, where all the characters are, as stated clearly, hateful?  What does it mean to get me to root for… their twisted revenge or whatever?Where the only thing in the movie there is to root for, really, is the gleeful shock of seeing chaos and calamity?  Where nothing positive emerges at the end except our boyish delight in the total chaos of it all and our shrieking delight in the wicked talents of the filmmaker who made us enjoy at horrible words and deeds?

After ingesting hours of interviews with him, I feel like 1) I like QT and think he is not a bad guy and 2) whenever QT is challenged on something, he demonstrates that while he may not agree, he has certainly thought about the issue as deeply and usually much more deeply than the interviewer.

Like: you can’t charge him with a crime he hasn’t already put himself on trial and acquitted himself for.  I’m sure that’s the case here, too.

But is it disappointing to see the talent this guy has and then watch him use it to tell a story that’s just about hateful people destroying each other?  Can’t we ask of this guy, “give us a bit more joy than watching a mean bastard get hung?” Is it wrong to ask for some kind of positive energy to come from the movie experience?

I guess that energy comes from the staggering craft of the movie, the “fun” of its outrageousness, but… you gotta know in a movie where they’re screaming nigger at each other like they really mean it plus beating the shit out of a woman and being as cruel as possible, the energy of enjoyment is not gonna be all enriching clean fun.

Is telling an audience a completely unredeemed story like this a tiny bit wrong, wicked? dark magic?  Or, is what’s troubling about it part of the point?!

Maybe you could ask the same thing about Moby-Dick and The Counselor and Blood Meridian — at least this movie has cool songs.

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from the printed program you get when you see Hateful Eight in 70mm

Second question: is the way the music swells and the camera rises at the end when we hear the “Lincoln letter” joke meant to be a cruel joke about our civic pieties?  the idea that somehow Lincoln is an inspiring figure, whose words suggests progress and enlightenment can be the shared future for the races that share this country, is kinda turned on its head and suggested as a con and a trick?  Is the final idea of this movie like “a Lincoln letter — HA!  what a buncha saps we all are, when all there is is death and hate and blood and ruin?”

Even knowing it’s fake we’re semi-moved by it, is that the joke?  How much we (even Walton Goggins’ Hateful Sheriff) crave it?

I dunno!

OK this has been Movie Roundup!  Thanks to all of you for reading.  And thanks to these great movies for entertaining me!  I really like movies.

See you at the Oscars!

Don’t forget to sign up for Helytimes Premium!  helphely@gmail.com


“Lesser” McConaughey, or, On The Subject Of Great Acting

1995. I got my first big paycheck as an actor. I think it was 150 grand. The film was Boys on the Side and we’re shooting in Tucson, AZ and I have this sweet little adobe guest house on the edge of the Saguaro National Park. The house came with a maid. My first maid. It was awesome. So, I’ve got a friend over one Friday night and we’re having a good time and I’m telling her about how happy I am with my set up . The house. The maid. Especially, the maid. I’m telling her, “she cleans the place after I go to work, washes my clothes, the dishes, puts fresh water by my bed, leaves me cooked meals sometimes, and SHE EVEN PRESSES MY JEANS!” My friend, she smiles at me, happy for my genuine excitement over this “luxury service” I’m getting, and she says, “Well…that’s great…if you like your jeans pressed.”

I kind of looked at her, kind of stuttered without saying anything, you know, that dumb ass look you can get, and it hit me…

I hate that line going down my jeans! And it was then, for the first time, that I noticed…I’ve never thought about NOT liking that starched line down the front of my jeans!! Because I’d never had a maid to iron my jeans before!! And since she did, now, for the first time in my life, I just liked it because Icould get it, I never thought about if I really wanted it there. Well, I did NOT want it there. That line… and that night I learned something.

Just because you CAN?… Nah… It’s not a good enough reason to do something. Even when it means having more, be discerning, choose it, because you WANT it, DO IT because you WANT to.

I’ve never had my jeans pressed since.

I have been a McConaughey enthusiast for awhile.  Proof: I saw Sahara and The Lincoln Lawyer* in the theater.

Here is a thing I admired then and continue to admire about McConaughey:

He treated ridiculous movies with utmost seriousness.

I don’t believe he treated Sahara with any less respect than True Detective, even though Sahara is crazy.

He brought pride and his fullest effort to those movies, the same as he would to any other movie.  Failure To Launch, for example.

This is the mark of a true professional who practices his craft with great honor and seriousness

(but: could it also be the mark of someone who doesn’t know when something is ridiculous?)

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The director, Richard Linklater, kept inviting me back to set each night, putting me in more scenes which led to more lines all of which I happily said YES to. I was having a blast. People said I was good at it, they were writing me a check for $325 a day. I mean hell yeah, give me more scenes, I love this!! And by the end of the shoot those 3 lines had turned into over 3 weeks work and “it was Wooderson’s ’70 Chevelle we went to get Aerosmith tickets in.” Bad ass.

Well, a few years ago I was watching the film again and I noticed two scenes that I really shouldn’t have been in. In one of the scenes, I exited screen left to head somewhere, then re-entered the screen to “double check” if any of the other characters wanted to go with me. Now, in rewatching the film, (and you’ll agree if you know Wooderson), he was not a guy who would ever say, “later,” and then COME BACK to “see if you were sure you didn’t wanna come with him..” No, when Wooderson leaves, Wooderson’s gone, he doesn’t stutter step, flinch, rewind, ask twice, or solicit, right? He just “likes those high school girls cus he gets older and they stay the same age.”

My point is, I should NOT have been in THAT scene, I should have exited screen left and never come back.

Matthew McConaughey is a truly great actor.

From a description of an interview with Cary Fukunaga:

Fukunaga took one of these opportunities to share a story about directing Matthew McConaughey, a health-nut and non-smoker, in an early scene where he takes long, audible drags of a cigarette. Fukunaga describes saying, “‘don’t make it look like a middle school girl smoking for the first time.’ And McConaughey went in the opposite direction, just Cheech and Chong-ing it.”

McConaughey

Bo Jackson ran over the goal line, through the end zone and up the tunnel — the greatest snipers and marksmen in the world don’t aim at the target, they aim on the other side of it.

We do our best when our destinations are beyond the “measurement,” when our reach continually exceeds our grasp, when we have immortal finish lines.

When we do this, the race is never over. The journey has no port. The adventure never ends because we are always on our way. Do this, and let them tap us on the shoulder and say, “hey, you scored.” Let them tell you “You won.” Let them come tell you, “you can go home now.” Let them say “I love you too.” Let them say “thank you.”

These quotes are from his amazing commencement speech at University of Houston:

The late and great University of Texas football coach Daryl Royal was a friend of mine and a good friend to many. A lot of people looked up to him. One was a musician named “Larry.” Now at this time in his life Larry was in the prime of his country music career, had #1 hits and his life was rollin’. He had picked up a habit snortin’ “the white stuff” somewhere along the line and at one particular party after a “bathroom break,” Larry went confidently up to his mentor Daryl and he started telling Coach a story. Coach listened as he always had and when Larry finished his story and was about to walk away, Coach Royal put a gentle hand on his shoulder and very discreetly said, “Larry, you got something on your nose there bud.” Larry immediately hurried to the bathroom mirror where he saw some white powder he hadn’t cleaned off his nose. He was ashamed. He was embarrassed. As much because he felt so disrespectful to Coach Royal, and as much because he’d obviously gotten too comfortable with the drug to even hide as well as he should.

Well, the next day Larry went to coach’s house, rang the doorbell, Coach answered and he said, “Coach, I need to talk to you.” Daryl said, “sure, c’mon in.”

Larry confessed. He purged his sins to Coach. He told him how embarrassed he was, and how he’s “lost his way” in the midst of all the fame and fortune and towards the end of an hour, Larry, in tears, asked Coach, “What do you think I should do?” Now, Coach, being a man of few words, just looked at him and calmly confessed himself. He said, “Larry, I have never had any trouble turning the page in the book of my life.” Larry got sober that day and he has been for the last 40 years.

Now: I loved reading this speech.  Many important reminders about life:

Mom and dad teach us things as children. Teachers, mentors, the government and laws all give us guidelines to navigate life, rules to abide by in the name of accountability.

I’m not talking about those obligations. I’m talking about the ones we make with ourselves, with our God, with our own consciousness. I’m talking about the YOU versus YOU obligations. We have to have them. Again, these are not societal laws and expectations that we acknowledge and endow for anyone other than ourselves. These are FAITH based OBLIGATIONS that we make on our own.

Not the lowered insurance rate for a good driving record, you will not be fined or put in jail if you do not gratify the obligations I speak of — no one else governs these but you.

They’re secrets with yourself, private council, personal protocols, and while nobody throws you a party when you abide by them, no one will arrest you when you break them either. Except yourself. Or, some cops who got a “disturbing the peace” call at 2:30 in the morning because you were playing bongos in your birthday suit.

Entertainment Tonight called this speech “bonkers.”

That’s not fair.

Maybe a fourteenth lesson that McConaughey only hints at in his speech is: to achieve greatness you must dance along the edge of bonkers.  To do anything worthwhile you must risk appearing ridiculous. On your journey, at many points, you will appear ridiculous.  The fear of appearing ridiculous stops all too many from achieving their potential.

You know these No Fear t-shirts? I don’t get em. Hell, I try to scare myself at least once a day. I get butterflies every morning before I go to work. I was nervous before I got here to speak tonight. I think fear is a good thing. Why? Because it increases our NEED to overcome that fear.

Say your obstacle is fear of rejection. You want to ask her out but you fear she may say “no.” You want to ask for that promotion but you’re scared your boss will think you’re overstepping your bounds.

Well, instead of denying these fears, declare them, say them out loud, admit them, give them the credit they deserve. Don’t get all macho and act like they’re no big deal, and don’t get paralyzed by denying they exist and therefore abandoning your need to overcome them. I mean, I’d subscribe to the belief that we’re all destined to have to do the thing we fear the most anyway.

So, you give your obstacles credit and you will one. Find the courage to overcome them or see clearly that they are not really worth prevailing over.

Here is what McConaughey looked like giving his speech.

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Here is a great actor whose greatest role is himself.

* The Lincoln Lawyer spoke to a real fantasy I can’t be alone in having in Los Angeles: someone driving you everywhere in comfortable quiet.   Since then Uber has come close to making that a reality.


Helytimes Mailbag

Wild

Lots of readers wrote to me to the effect “You got Wild completely wrong, this is a great movie.”  A sample:

The fact that she can quit and has no reason to walk is what I liked.  I don’t see it as a motivation problem. I like that we don’t know what she means to accomplish almost precisely because she doesn’t know what she wants.  She just knows that the noise in her head telling her to act out and hurt herself and it’s turning her into a person who is different than the person she thought her mom wanted her to be.   So that’s why she heads into nature.  She never “arrives” so to speak, she just feels differently about herself by the time she gets to Ashland

Terrific!  Thanks for writing.  Like I said I thought it was pretty good.

Selma

Lots of incoming fire also came my way re: Selma.  (Funny to do an image search for “Selma”).  Let me quote from one:

Helytimes, I have a bone to pick with you.  Selma was a great movie.  I wept.  I may not know everything about LBJ but this was a powerful movie and I don’t get why you were being so hard on it.

Another:

Why were you so hard on Selma without taking any shots at an even more historically inaccurate movie, The Imitation Game, which misrepresents Alan Turing’s character, is similarly “all over the place” and is just a mess?

Well what can I tell you: I didn’t think it was that good.  It’s not an easy movie to make, surely.  Should it get points for difficulty?  Maybe!  If you liked Selma, that’s terrific.  I want you to have as many things to like as possible.

As for The Imitation Game — whatever, I can’t pay attention to everything!  It seemed to me that movie took place in a kind of bizarro reality so whatever historical crimes were extra- beside the point.  The Wikipedia folks seem to have it covered too:

Turing’s surviving niece Payne thought that Knightley was inappropriately cast as Clarke, whom she described as “rather plain”.

joan clarke

Harsh. I did wonder why the character played by Tywin Lanister was such an asshole to Alan Turing:

CD

Was that real?  Tywin is playing Alastair Denniston.  Got this book:

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and looked up every time Denniston appears, which is six times.  He’s never once a jerk to Turing.  This is the closest he comes:

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Maybe Andrew Hodges just left that part out.  Is it unfair to real-life person Denniston to make him out that way?:

Libby Buchanan, Denniston’s 91-year-old niece and god-daughter, said she recalled a “quiet, dignified” man who was devoted to his work.

Judith Finch, his granddaughter, added: “He is completely misrepresented. They needed a baddy and they’ve put him in there without researching the truth about the contribution he made.”

The film’s writer, Graham Moore, and producers said: “Cdr Denniston was one of the great heroes of Bletchley Park.

“As such, he had the perhaps unenviable position of being a layman overseeing the work of some of the century’s finest mathematicians and academics — a situation bound to result in conflict as to how best to get the job done.

“I would say that this is the natural conflict of people working extremely hard under unimaginable pressure with the fate of the war resting on their heroic shoulders.”

The part of Imitation Game I found most interesting was the idea that once they broke the code, Turing and the boys and Kiera Knightley worked out a system to use the information they had in a statistically measured way.  Looked into this and couldn’t find much more about it.  Seems like actually the way it worked is they limited access to the Enigma info to a small pool of top military commanders, and even that they were haphazard and bad at.  This seemed like a decent article on that:

According to Gordon Welchman, who served at Bletchley Park for most of the war, We developed a very friendly feeling for a German officer who sat in the Qattara Depression in North Africa for quite a long time reporting every day with the utmost regularity that he had nothing to report.

qattara depression

Qattara Depression. Wonder what happened to that guy.

Anyway: I love getting mail, thanks for taking the time, keep it coming – helphely at gmail is the way.


Sensory Enthnography Lab

First heard about what was going on at this place from this Vulture article:

The most exciting documentary films being made today come not from a brand-name auteur or even some up-and-coming, Sundance-anointed visionary. Rather, they come from a place called the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab, which sounds more like somewhere an ophthalmologist might send you than a source of great filmmaking.

Less a lab and more a collection of like-minded individuals, the Sensory Ethnography Lab’s (SEL) first widely distributed release was the experimental documentary Sweetgrass, an observational, immersive, quietly lyrical portrait of a 150-mile journey involving a group of Montana cowboys and a massive herd of sheep, directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash. The film didn’t contextualize; it didn’t feature talking heads; it didn’t try to inform, as so many nonfiction films try to do. Rather, it just let us soak in the experience of this grueling, majestic journey.

Reading The Boston Globe while back home, all the movie critics included Manakamana on their top tens:

On the one hand, grateful they called my attention to this movie.  On the other: kind of bullshit to get me excited about a movie that it’s not exactly easy to see.  Serves me right I guess for not following the ethnographic documentary scene a little more closely.  Maybe I never shudda left Cambridge at all.


Kon-Tiki

Who was it who recommended this to me?  Hayes?  Thanks!  It’s on Netflix Instant.

Heyerdahl’s third wife was Miss France 1954: