Quote of the Day
“There's no black male my age, who's a professional, who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys.
”[But] the small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced. It's one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It's another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress.“
Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)
I thought “Whiplash” was about a sadistic teacher who makes life hell for an innocent kid who just wants to be a jazz drummer.
Instead, “Whiplash” is about a sadistic teacher who makes life hell for an arrogant bastard ... who just wants to be a jazz drummer.
So it’s much better than I thought.
At first, Andrew (Miles Teller) seems another fish-out-of-water kid. He’s at a prestigious school, Shaffer Conservatory of Music, seemingly without friends, and goes to the movies (“Rififi”), with his father, Jim (Paul Reiser), a put-upon teacher whose wife left soon after Andrew was born. At the theater, an unseen man bumps Jim’s head with a bucket of popcorn and it’s Jim who apologizes. He’s that kind of guy. The kind of guy, it turns out, that Andrew doesn’t want to be.
The movie opens with Andrew on the drum kit, playing away, when the school’s best teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), arrives and listens. Andrew stops when he sees Fletcher. “Why did you stop playing?” Fletcher asks. So Andrew starts again. “Did I ask you to start playing again?” Fletcher says. “Show me your rudiments.” The kid is desperate for attention and Fletcher enjoys not giving it. He leaves without a word (to Andrew’s disappointment), then returns (to Andrew’s relief). But instead of encouragement, he says, “Oopsie-daisy, forgot my jacket.” Then gone again.
The “oopsie-daisy” is like a little knife in the side. The knives will get bigger.
Initially we think Andrew is like us—just more talented. But he’s not like us. And he doesn’t want to be.
This becomes painfully clear at an extended family dinner. His accomplishment—making Fletcher’s class—is run over by family talk, and when he returns to it no one seems to get it. They shouldn’t, really. Fletcher? Who’s Fletcher? Plus it’s jazz, not football. Now Uncle Frank’s boys, they’re on the football team. “Yeah,” Andrew says dismissively, “third division.” In the next minute, we get Andrew’s philosophy. It’s all about the work, the music. Friends? Family? They just get in the way. Charlie Parker is held up as the exemplar, to which Jim mentions his drug-addled death. Andrew’s response? “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34, and have people at a dinner table talk about me, than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.”
In this sense he’s the perfect student for Fletcher.
Is that why Fletcher focuses on him so much? Because he senses this drive in him? The anecdote that’s constantly brought up is that moment in 1937 when drummer Joe Jones threw a cymbal at a teenage Charlie Parker. Parker was humiliated, but practiced for a year until he was, well, Bird. Then he blew everyone away. That’s what Fletcher says he hopes to do: be the Joe Jones who brings out the Bird in a new Charlie Parker.
Does he see that in Andrew? Or is it simply the sadist feeling out the masochist? Because—beyond an introductory lesson in humiliation in which Fletcher calls out a student for being out of tune (even though he wasn’t)—Fletcher focuses completely on the drum kit.
Andrew starts out as alternate, replaces 1st drummer Carl (Nate Lang) when he misplaces Carl’s sheet music, then competes with both Carl and Ryan (Austin Stowell) for 1st chair, and Fletcher’s attention. Fletcher keeps them all off balance and yearning. With Andrew, he tells him he’s rushing or dragging. “Not my tempo,” he says over and over.
That’s among the nicer things he says. His talent for invective would give R. Lee Ermey a run for his money:
- Parker, that is not your boyfriend’s dick: do not come early.
- If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will fuck you like a pig.
- Oh dear God, are you one of those single-tear people? You are a worthless pansy ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a 9-year-old girl!
Also this: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”
Does the movie agree with this assessment? Is this a wake-up call for the audience, sitting in the dark, listless, munching on popcorn and wish fulfillment, about what it really takes to get ahead? The rest of us are the family at the dinner table, or Jim apologizing because someone else was rude, or Nicole (Melissa Benoit), whom Andrew dumps two scenes into their relationship because she’ll just get in the way. Andrew, willing to get blood, sweat and tears on the kit, is ruthless in his determination. That’s why he gets where he does.
I buy that argument to some extent. In my own life, I’ve made choices, and they’ve invariably been “Minnesota Nice” choices. What ruthlessness I’ve displayed is usually followed by pangs of guilt and self-abnegation. I think most of us feel trapped between these two unpalatable options: getting run over by life, like Jim, or being a massive asshole like Fletcher.
But there are other options.
The counterbeat to all of this played in my head even as the story played out onscreen. It’s the story of Ferguson Jenkins. I don’t remember where I read it—I can’t find it online—but he was a pretty good player, a Major Leaguer, certainly, but he wasn’t great yet. Then a coach instilled confidence in him. The coach made him believe he could be what he became: one of the great pitchers of his era, a 20-game winner for six years in a row, and an eventual Hall-of-Famer. That coach built up; this one tears down.
“Whiplash” is written (sharply) and directed (beautifully) by first-timer/squeaker Damien Chazelle, and it progresses smartly. Andrew’s bus breaks down on the way to a concert, he has to rent a car to get to the hall—but he leaves his drumsticks behind. When he goes to retrieve them, there’s a car accident, a truck upending his rental (beautifully filmed), and Andrew crawls from the wreckage and runs to the show, where, despite being in shock, despite being bloodied unable to hold his sticks, he sits in. Does Fletcher appreciate this? Show concern? No. After Andrew flubs it, Fletcher dismisses him. Then Andrew attacks him and is expelled; then he becomes an unnamed part of a lawsuit against Fletcher for abuse. An earlier student, whom Fletcher had held up as an exemplar (and who died, he said, in a car accident), had actually hung himself—in part, the lawyers say, because of the years of psychological abuse Fletcher had inflicted on him.
When Andrew sees Fletcher again, he’s playing piano in a jazz club, and he asks Andrew to play drums with his band at the JVC Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall. Andrew hasn’t been practicing much since his expulsion, and he’s slightly worried as he sits at the kit. Someone doesn’t play well at JVC, they’ll probably never get another gig. That’s the idea. And that’s Fletcher’s idea. Because he knows it was Andrew who ratted, and he begins with a song that Andrew has never practiced, and for which he has no sheet music. He’s humiliated, leaves the stage and collapses into the arms of his father, who consoles him.
The end? No. He doesn’t join the Jims of the world. He goes back and fights the Fletchers.
Andrew returns to the kit, and without instruction begins playing; then he tells the band when to join in, and they do. (Why do they listen to him exactly? What’s the protocol on this?) It’s like he’s taking away Fletcher’s band from him. He’s the leader now. But that’s not it either, exactly. There’s no comeuppance for Fletcher. By the end, Fletcher and Andrew are working together. You can see Fletcher’s eyes light up in a way they haven’t yet. He’s wondering if this is the moment. He’s wondering if he’s finally getting his Charlie Parker.
It’s a triumphant ending. Two jerks create something beautiful. That's kind of ... beautiful.
Why 'Knight of Cups' Needs to Kill at Berlin Fest
Per Box Office Mojo, the widest release of Terrence Malick's films in the U.S.:
- The Thin Red Line (1998): 1,657 theaters
- The New World (2005): 811 theaters
- The Tree of Life (2010): 237 theaters
- To the Wonder (2013): 60 theaters
“To the Wonder” I can see, but only 237 for this?
Trailer: 'Knight of Cups' is Terrence Malick's '8 1/2' and 'La Dolce Vita'
Or has aspects of each anyway: the director who's lost his way, the journalist who's lost his soul.
“Knight of Cups” is apparently a Tarot card. From Wiki the wicked:
If the card is upright, it represents change and new excitements, particularly of a romantic nature. It can mean invitations, opportunities, and offers. The Knight of Cups is a person who is a bringer of ideas, opportunities and offers. He is constantly bored, and in constant need of stimulation, but also artistic and refined. He represents a person who is amiable, intelligent, and full of high principles, but a dreamer who can be easily persuaded or discouraged.
Reversed, the card represents unreliability and recklessness. It indicates fraud, false promises and trickery. It represents a person who has trouble discerning when and where the truth ends and lies begin.
One assumes the creative one is Malick, easily persuaded, easily made unreliable and reckless, by Hollywood in the ... '70s? “Let me tell you about you” means “I'll make you the you I think you are, while you lose you in the process.”
Of course, we all lose you in the process, don't we?
But thank God for the conflict. Otherwise it looks too much like “To the Wonder,” and that's Malick's weakest film. Bale is Affleck (Batman bros), and Portman, Poots and Blanchett are some combination of Kurylenko and McAdams.
Another concern: No script. It was all improvised. Malick is disappearing down the hole of his own creativity and he's either going to bring back something amazing, or drown.
Sheets again, too. They're replacing wheat.
“All of those years ... living the life of someone ... I didn't even know.”
The True Innovation of the Very Rich
“Those at the top have learned how to suck money from the rest in ways that the rest are hardly aware of. That is their true innovation.”
-- Joseph Stiglitz, Chair of the Council of Economist Advisors (1995-97) and chief economist at the World Bank (1997-2000), in “The Price of Inequality,” as quoted in Nick Davies' “Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch.”
Movie Review: Top Five (2014)
There aren’t many movies that make me think, “Thank God Adam Sandler’s arrived.”
Remember “Celebrity”? Kenneth Branagh plays a Woody Allenish reporter named Lee doing a magazine profile on a Hollywood star (Melanie Griffiths), and they visit her childhood home, where, in the bedroom, he makes a pass. She turns him down ... only to give him a blowjob. “There are many things to be said about this sequence,” Anthony Lane wrote back then for The New Yorker, “but you could not, with a clear conscience, call in cinema vérité.”
In “Top Five,” The New York Times sends reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to interview former standup comic/movie star Andre Allen (Rock, homage alert), whose new serious film, “Uprize,” about a 19th-century Haitian slave rebellion, is opening that day, and who is getting married to reality-TV-star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) that weekend. Allen is against the interview, since the Times movie critic, Dave Nielson, has always slammed his films, including the hugely popular “Hammy the Bear” series (a man in a bear suit with a machine gun); but eventually he goes along with it.
Too bad. Because she’s the worst reporter in the world.
The worst reporter in the world
First, she shows up unprepared—without her tape recorder. Then she insists on retrieving it at her home (rather than using her iPhone’s built-in recorder) because that’s her lucky one. Then she spends half the day talking about herself and her problems. We get to witness one of those problems—her boyfriend, Brad (Anders Holm), who turns out to be gay, or bi, and who’s cheating on her. At that point in the movie, upset and humiliated, she actually walks away from Allen. She walks away from her story. He’s an alcoholic, she’s an alcoholic, but she walks into a liquor store and contemplates drinking.
Oh, and guess what? It turns out she’s Dave Nielson; she just writes the reviews under an alias.
Think about that for a moment. The New York Times has a beautiful—and I mean drop-dead gorgeous—Latina movie critic, but they choose to hide her identity behind a stodgy white male persona, because ...? I’m at a loss. Is it 1952? 1919? Should we check to see if A.O. Scott really looks like Eva Mendes but the Times thinks “white, dumpy, male” sells better in the digital age? No offense intended, A.O.
And it’s not just reporters or the media that writer-director Rock doesn’t get. He doesn’t seem to know movie stars, either. He doesn’t know the movies. I assume “Hammy the Bear” is a takeoff on Rock’s successful “Madagascar” movies, but those don’t look like crap; “Hammy” does. There’s no way that thing’s making $600 million worldwide. And the interview takes place on the day “Uprize” is released? Isn’t that a bit late? And Allen thinks that “Uprize” will do well at the box office? Is he that clueless? Even “12 Years a Slave”—which isn’t about a slave who killed white folks—opened in only 19 theaters. Allen is lucky “Uprize” is opening anywhere. He should know that.
Throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, I kept thinking “Fake fake fake fake ...” like Elaine in that episode of “Seinfeld.” Then Jerry Seinfeld arrives and saves the final third.
Chris Rock’s problem
There are a few good lines throughout. I like this Bob Newhartish conversation, for example, as Allen is doing promo and explaining “Uprize” by phone to some radio station somewhere:
Allen: It’s about the greatest slave rebellion of all time.
Allen: Slave rebellion.
Allen: It’s when slaves rebelled.
Then the plot kicks in again. He and Chelsea argue, make out, nearly have sex in a bar bathroom; then he borrows her phone and discovers she’s his arch-nemesis Dave Nielson; then he discovers no one’s going to see “Uprize”; then he gets drunk in the aisle of a mom-and-pop market, winds up in jail, is sprung, heads to his bachelor party at a strip club.
That’s where he meets Seinfeld, Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg, who, all sunk into middle-aged senescence, give him straight shit on marriage. It’s funny. Seinfeld “makes it rain” at the strip club. He accuses a bikini-clad stripper of taking his wallet, and when she asks where she would put it, he says, in that classic Seinfeld manner, “Do I have to say it?”
After that, Allen goes through with the marriage to a reality-TV star and lives happily ever after.
Kidding. The movie is set up so he doesn’t. We know that going in. In fact, we know exactly how it’s going to end. Earlier in the movie, Chelsea talks up the Cinderella complex:
Chelsea: Cinderella did what girls do when they want to see a guy again.
Chelsea: She left something behind.
Make a note: She’ll leave something behind. And she does.
At the strip club, she reappears, takes Allen to a comedy club, where he gets up on stage for the first time in years—he’d avoided it because he’d never done it sober—and kills, with, one assumes, old material. Then they say their tearful goodbyes. Then in the backseat of the limo he’s going through the bachelor party gift bag and finds something she left behind: a Cinderella-ish shoe. And he tells his right-hand man, Silk (J.B. Smove, who, cameos aside, is the best thing in the movie), to ... Actually, I think he just says his name. We know what’s going to happen. So Rock just ends it. It’s a good end to a bad movie.
Here’s Chris Rock’s problem. Actually, he has two. The first is he’s not a very good actor. He’s just not. The second is the difference between what made him a star (stand-up), and where he’s currently placing his star (the movies).
The best stand-up, including Rock’s, is generally funny because it’s true. People get up on stage and say the shit that everyone’s thinking but no one’s saying. Or they reveal the absurdities/hypocrisies of race (Rock), modern culture (Louis C.K.), the Bible (Ricky Gervais), relationships (everyone), that most of us haven’t thought of. But the absurdities/hypocrisies have to be true or they’re not funny. Stand-up is a delivery device for truth-telling.
The movies are a delivery device for wish-fulfillment fantasy: good beats evil, boy gets girl, etc. On screen, we’re tougher, braver, sexier than we really are. Most movies lie, in other words. The best movies don’t. Think of Woody Allen’s best. He gives us “Most of us need the eggs,” and “You have to have a little faith in people” and “You’re God’s answer to Job.” Rock needs to revisit these movies if he’s seriously interested in taking over the mantle. Because Chris? We really do need the eggs.
Weekend Box Office: Thou Shalt Have No Moses Before Charlton Heston!
Thou shalt have no Moses before Charlton Heston, apparently.
Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” starring Christian Bale as Moses, opened to bad reviews (28% RT) and weak box office ($24 million), but that was still good enough to win the weekend. “The Hunger Games” sequel (shorter version: “THGMP1”) was second with $13.2 million. We’re all out shopping.
Chris Rock’s “Top Five,” which did open to good reviews (89%), finished fourth, with $7.2 million, even though it only played in 979 theaters. Patricia and I saw it yesterday. My review will be up tomorrow. (Psst: I’m in the 11%.)
Is it a bad weekend to open a movie? It looks like it, unless you’re a Tolkien adaptation:
- Dec. 13-15. 2013: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Samug: $73 million
- Dec. 14-16, 2012: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: $84
- Dec. 16-18, 2011: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows: $39
- Dec. 10-12, 2010: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: $24
Or maybe we’re all just getting sick of lengthy subtitles.
What are the big winners of Fall 2014 so far? Below:
And will THGMP1 trump Guardians of the Galaxy to be the year’s biggest box office hit? Don’t touch that mouse!
The sixth-biggest opening of Ridley Scott's career but a disappointment, considering.
Quote of the Day
ShortList.com: Christian Bale recently said he felt jealous to see Ben Affleck wearing the cape and cowl – do you ever get that?
Michael Keaton: No. Do you know why? Because I’m Batman. I’m very secure in that.
-- from ShortList's Q&A with current Birdman, and former Batman, Michael Keaton. Great line. But it would be nice to know who did the interview, ShortList.
Keaton in 1989: “I'm Batman.”
- Via Uncle Vinny, Werner Herzog Inspirationals. Brilliant idea, nice execution.
- Last Sunday I came across this American Masters documentary on Johnny Carson, and started to watch. I wound up watching the whole thing. I still remember what it meant as a kid to stay up late and watch Johnny Carson. It meant you were growing up. It meant you were a little hip, too. The first time I did it, I believe, my friend Mark was sleeping over, and the next day, in the backyard, we performed a skit Johnny had done about kids selling “gape dink” and “lenomade” and then charging outrageous prices. We thought it was a scream.
- What's interesting about this Hollywood Reporter roundtable of potential 2014 best actor candidates is how engaged Michael Keaton is. With everyone. It's really lovely. I particularly like what he says after Channing Tatum says that he went to college and failed at it miserably and left. “Not a failure. A success.” Again, lovely.
- Jeff Wells suggests pro-bono Oscar noms. I.e., movies and actors not campaigned for, not advertised up the wazoo, just the ones everyone thinks should get nom'ed. I.e., the way it should be anyway.
- David Denby lists his top 10 movies of 2014 but only talks about his favorite: “Ida.” Don't get his love for “Get On Up” and “Snowpiercer.”
- Holy crap, Tony Olivia came within one vote of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame!
- Via Slate, a statistical analysis of 29 years of David Letterman's Top 10 lists. Eat your heart out, Nate Silver! Seriously, this guy goes in-depth.
- Joe Posnanski lists off his “Top 25 MLB Players not in the Hall.” Meaning current players (Pujols, Ichiro), recently retired players (Jeter), and all the usual PED suspects (McGwire, Clemens, Bonds). Oh, and three of the top 7 once played for the Seattle Mariners—at the same time. And yet they couldn't make the World Series? Not one? When they do a Hall of Shame, 1990s M's front office, I'll nominate you.
- Sad poll of the week: More Americans now favor gun rights over gun control. The numbers have gone way up since 2012. Because we're inured to school shootings now?
- I don't know if the Senate Torture Report has been beaten to death yet (sorrty), but this is one of the must-reads out of it: a report from one of the torturers.
- Ward Sutton's “Where Race Relations Stand in America.” Spot on. And Minneapolis in the house!
- Apparently the NFL—or the Buffalo Bills—treat its cheerleaders like whores. Via The New York Times.
- Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is a major asshole but you knew that. But did you know he doesn't get along with Sen. John Boehner? (R-OH)
One of the Werner Herzog inspirationals.
Quote of the Day
“Like some ideological vanguard, Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants have used their news outlets to shift the centre of power—the centre of thinking—far over to the right; and they have used their political muscle to press these ideas on governments who sought their support. They have done this not only in the UK but also in the US and Australia, wherever their business has flourished. They have left us with a world that demonstrably is a worse place to live, unless you happen to belong to the power elite.”
-- Nick Davies, ”Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch."