Movies postsMonday March 26, 2018
Xi Jinping Hearts Hollywood
Jonathan Landreth at China Film Insider has a piece on the possible film habits of the president (for life?) of China. Not much is really known. In fact, so little is known that Landreth is relying on a 2010 Wikileaks dump that includes a summation of a conversation between Xi and then U.S. ambassador Clark Randt—from Randt's perspective:
Exactly 10 years ago at Randt's Beijing residence, the future President of China revealed that he was a fan of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan and Martin Scorsese's The Departed (adapted from the Hong Kong cops-and-gangsters classic, Infernal Affairs). The cables said that Xi “particularly likes Hollywood movies about World War II,” declaring, “Hollywood makes those movies well, and such Hollywood movies are grand and truthful. Americans have a clear outlook on values and clearly demarcate between good and evil. In American movies, good usually prevails.”
But what has Xi said about Chinese directors? The Wikileaks cables told us that he was confused by Zhang Yimou's court intrigue, Curse of the Golden Flower, lumping it together with Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, dramas that “all are the same, talking about bad things in imperial palaces.” Xi told Randt: “Some Chinese moviemakers neglect values they should promote.”
I'm curious if Xi thinks the likes of “Wolf Warrior II” and “Operation Red Sea” help make up for this dearth—if these movies reflect the Chinese values he would like to promote. I get the feeling: yes.
But what I particularly like? Xi sees traditional values and good vs. evil absolutism in Hollywood movies, which he applauds. Right-wing American critics don't, and condemn Hollywood for being liberal. Think on that. The good vs. evil absolutism that pleases authoritarian rulers is weak tea to American conservatives.
Person of Interest
Earlier this month, I wrote more than 1,000 words on a shitty movie, “Mark Felt,” which is basically “All the President's Men” from Deep Throat's perspective, but I forgot to add this. It's a small thing, barely worth mentioning. But I'm going to mention it.
It's from a late-movie meeting between Felt and an unnamed CIA figure played by Eddie Marsan. They sit on park benches. Without many wasted words, we get the sense that the agency man knows Felt is Deep Throat. He's warning him. He says he‘ll cover for him as long as he can, then reminds him: “Presidents come and go. The CIA stays, the FBI stays. We are the constants.” It’s a good scene.
So what's my problem? This line from the agency man:
Time magazine's Person of the Year is going to be Richard Nixon. I thought you'd like to know.
The line has the vibe of something Ben Bradlee says at the end of “All the President's Men”: “Have you seen the latest polls? Half the country hasn't even heard of Watergate. No one gives a shit.” I.e., You‘re risking all of this but Nixon’s as popular as ever. No one gives a shit.
I'm fine with the ATPM echo. I'm fine with “No one gives a shit,” because no words are truer, sadly. I'm not fine with one word.
Person of the Year? In 1972? That just leapt out at me. Watching, I thought, “It didn‘t become Person of the Year until when? The 1980s? At least? Before that it was ’Man of the Year.' Or ‘Woman.’ Or ‘Men’ or ‘Women.’” I was right. And wrong. Time didn't change it to “Person of the Year” until 1999. More than a quarter century after that scene.
I know. It's a tiny detail. But you get the details right. Because some of the details—as here—tell you the story of the culture.
Missing the Twin Towers
There's a moment in the new HBO doc “Spielberg” (recommended but slightly disappointing) that made me almost sputter in disbelief. I think, in the tradition of my family, I even yelled at the TV. Fact-check with Patricia when you get the chance.
The moment concerned “Munich,” a film I defended back in 2006, mostly from (of all people) Leon Wieseltier, who accused it of being manipulative, tedious, and—its real crime to Wieseltier—“soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness.” I.e., It didn't laud the Israelis enough nor demonize the Palestinians enough. It was ambiguous on something Hollywood is not usually ambiguous on: revenge.
That ambiguity is now praised from the talking heads in the doc, including film historian Annette Insdorf, who says the following:
The end of this film is not celebratory—rejoicing in the death of the enemy. It is incredibly quiet. And only on the second viewing did I realize the twin towers were revealed at the end.
That's when I sputtered in disbelief. Because even in defending “Munich,” I quibbled with parts of it. Particularly that part:
As Avner [Eric Bana's character] walked with the New York City skyline behind him, including, eventually, the World Trade towers, the camera should have followed him and faded out; instead it ignored Avner and stopped with the towers in center-frame. Spielberg is always underlining points that would be more powerful without his help.
Insdorf missed what I thought was way too obvious.
And I think it was too obvious because I anticipated it. “Munich” is a movie about the difficulties (logistically and morally) of tracking down terrorists, and it was released four years after 9/11, and so that more recent tragedy is never far from our minds. And in the movie's final scene, as our hero talks to his former Mossad handler (Geoffrey Rush) with Manhattan in the distance, in the late 1970s, you don't have to be Einstein (or Kael) to think, “Spielberg's gotta have the World Trade Center in there.” And he did. And for a second I was happy ... until his camera stopped on it. Until he underlined what I felt should've been subtler.
I look at the shots now and think, “Maybe I overreacted.” But I still can't believe Insdorf underanticipated. Seriously, how do you miss that?
Still Pushing 'The Big Sick'
Last week, my friend Evan reminded me of a conversation we had last spring. I'd seen “The Big Sick” opening night at the Seattle International Film Festival and told him that when it opened wider, in June or July, he had to see it. Had to.
Me: It's the funniest movie of the year.
Evan: [Mentions two recent movies he thought were funny.]
Me: I haven't seen those. This one's funnier.
I'm kind of bummed the movie didn't just kill it at the box office like a Melissa McCarthy comedy: It grossed $41 mil in the U.S. and (thus far) $8 mil abroad,but it deserves a wider audience. I think it'll get it. I think word-of-mouth will drag people to it eventually.
Another fan of the film? My man Joe Posnanski, with whom I apparently disagree on nothing. He recently tweeted this:
Then he wrote this.
Another fan? My man Mark Harris. He recently tweeted this:
Seriously: If laughs, generosity of spirit, a deep feeling for family, and actors working in perfect unison aren't your thing, DO NOT WATCH.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) September 11, 2017
I responded: Exactly. I'm almost tired of trying to get people to see this great film for which they'll thank me forever.
“The Big Sick” is currently streaming on iTunes, OnDemand and Amazon. Check it out. You know that funny movie you saw recently? This one's funnier.
Review of the movie here. I think it's one of our great, underrated movies.
Mike, Cyril, Dave, Moocher: The epithet they're called is the job they can't get.