On this episode of 3rd & Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guests are screenwriting partners Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster who have written two feature films this season, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Needless to say, the subject matter of these two movies seem to have absolutely nothing in common, which shows a wide range of versatility...
Here's an enjoyable medley of Disney songs with Kristen Bell and Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. It's somewhat the sort of thing they do on James Corden show though they put in a great deal more production effort. Still it's fun, and hearing Kristen Bell dive into pretty much any medley has a good chance of being a joy.
Yesterday, I went to the Writers Guild Theatre to see The Irishman. It's based on the narrative nonfiction book by former homicide prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney Charles Brandt that deals with alleged mafia hitman Frank Sheeran; and the film focuses on new material included in the book after it was first published that much of his confessions.
The Netflix movie (which will have a brief theatrical run) is very long – almost 3-1/2 hours including the long credits -- and worth the time. I thought it was excellent. It’s very well-written by Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List), terrifically directed by Martin Scorsese, and wonderfully acted down to the smallest roles, though most notably starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. But the supporting cast is all excellent, including a very nice job by Ray Romano as a mafia attorney. I’m not big on mob stories that make the mobsters heroes, and for a while this looked like it might be going in that direction, but the way the story is laid out, that turns out to not even remotely being the case. I hit a slight bump on the length around the hour and 15-minute mark, knowing there were still two hours to go. (To be clear, it had been very good up to then, the “issue” was knowing that there was still SO much time left…) But the story pushes forward nicely from that point, so it carried me through for the next hour, and the final hour brings everything to a head and resolves everything in detail, so it’s very interesting. It’s never boring, just loooong.
As I said, the acting is all impeccable, and taking nothing away from anyone I thought that Joe Pesci was especially great. And it turns out I wasn’t alone – he got the biggest applause of anyone in the end credits from the Guild audience. I think it was a very smart decision of him to come out of retirement for this, because I suspect he could get a Best Supporting nomination.
Interestingly, for all the focus on the main characters and the mafia and Jimmy Hoffa storylines, I thought a minor subplot that carries through the film of the relationship between DeNiro (in the title role) and his youngest daughter (played by a number of actresses, but ending with Anna Paquin) is terrific and gives the movie -- for me -- much of it's substance. I won't say how or why. The trailer does a good job giving a sense of the movie, but the film is more ruminative than the fast-pace of the trailer.
Sometimes I have been known to foolishly jump into an argument where there's a good chance I will be pummeled by those not willing to look at the point being made. But I do so because -- oh, I don't know, because I'm me. And also because I think it's the right thing to do, and if I get pummeled, the lumps are worth taking. Up to a point.
Acclaimed film director Ava DuVernay, who directed such acclaimed films as Selma (which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar) and whose documentary 13th received an Oscar nomination, posted the following on Twitter yesterday --
For reasons unknown to man, I foolishly decided to step into it and responded. What I wrote was -- "I don't understand your point. English is the official language of England, Australia, Canada, South Africa & many others. Like Nigeria, all are eligible to compete for Oscars. The "International Feature" Award is *specifically* for films done in a language other than English."
In case it isn't familiar to you, the Best International Feature Film is the new name that the Motion Picture Academy has given to what used to be known as the Best Foreign Language Film. The Academy thought the old name was outdated in today's global world. However, the rules for the category stayed exactly the same. To qualify for this one award, a film's dialogue most be predominantly in a language other than English. The point was to create at least one category where a non-English movie had a serious chance to compete for an Oscar.
And for the record, my understanding is that a film from Nigeria could complete in the category if the dialogue in it was not predominantly in English.
In response to Ms. DuVernay, some posted their own complaint against the Motion Picture Academy and its poor record on People of Color. The person wrote --
Forgetting for the moment that the correct title of that movie was Pursuit of Happyness, I decided again to foolishly step into it. What I wrote back was -- "The year Will Smith was nominated for THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS was 2006. That year, the winner of Best Actor was Forest Whitaker, for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND".
Sometimes life creates realities that are just too perfect. I had been prepared to make a totally different argument when I first decided to check out who the other nominees were that year. When it turned out that the winner was another Black actor, I thanked the Whimsy of Life since it was a significantly easier point to make on Twitter, with its limit on characters.
(By the way, the issue of someone getting screwed out of an Oscar unfairly -- whether for race or just personal preference -- is a separate matter entirely and an profoundly thin one to make. I always say to people when they try to make it, "Okay, these are the five people who got nominated. Which one would you drop out to make room for the person you like?" Only on a very rare occasion is it easy to come up with an answer. Generally, everyone nominated did a very good job, and dropping any of them would seem just as unfair.)
Actually, I think I do know why I decided to step into both these potentially dicey situations. Whether it was wise and best to just let them pass is another matter. But I think the reason was not just that I like accuracy in pretty much everything where appropriate, but mostly because I think both people were trying to make points on a very serious and important topic -- and were doing those points a disservice.
The Motion Picture Academy does not have a great history in race relations. Much of that, in fairness, is because of poor race relations through the country as a whole, and it is reflected in the Academy rather than that standing out as unique. What I have argued elsewhere, by the way, is that people who rightly want to complain about diversity in Hollywood would be far-better served, I believe, to address the hiring practices throughout Hollywood on movie productions, which for most of its history were almost exclusively white, rather than pointing to who is getting awards. (It's worth noting that people who get nominated for Academy Awards -- or even are in consideration for them -- are more likely than not doing much better in their careers than most people in Hollywood.) But focusing more on hiring practices and bringing more diversity to movie and TV productions, as well as all of Hollywood, would directly impact many more people's lives -- and ultimately would likely make more people of color eligible to become Academy members, which would impact who got nominated for Academy Awards.
And in the end, that's all related to why I decided to respond. There is a great case to be made about diversity in Hollywood. And a great discussion to be had. But when you make the wrong case, you are not only diverting attention from what is actually important and meaningful, but you are allowing people to easily refute your point and thereby dismiss the argument out of hand for you being wrong, by suggesting that you don't know what you're talking about.
It's an important topic. These were very bad, wrong-headed points to make which diminished the topic which deserves much better.
At the moment, I don't know if I'll get pummeled for having responded on social media to all of this. I suspect I will, though if so, I'll now at least have this piece to point to for a longer explanation. As well as the explanation to the people that, while I understand you disagree, in this case I am demonstrably, objectively and factually 100% correct,
And if a person wants to step back and make a different argument about diversity in Hollywood, as well as in American society in general, the floor is open to that. Because it's a great place to start.
Yes, okay, this is much longer than a "capsule," but most of that is explaining why the review is so short. Bizarre, yes, I know. But still...
Last weekend, I saw a very good, quite interesting movie, but I didn't write about it here because it was a foreign language film in Korean, and I figured that most people wouldn't likely be able to see it -- or want to, in some cases. However, it did win the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or, so I tossed a coin over it. But within the past hour I saw two "Now playing in select cities" TV ads for the film, so obviously the distributor is not only going to give it a domestic release, but also putting some support behind it. And I'm sure it will expand beyond this. You don't put on TV ads in limited cities if you don't plan to build support for it. So...okay, then.
The film is called Parasite. And...well, another reason I didn't write about it is because that's almost all I want to say because there are some major twists and turns to it which I won't give away. And the plot alone doesn't do it justice.
It screened at the Writers Guild, and their write-up said, "Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan." That wasn't enough to interest me, but when I off-handedly mentioned it to a friend who used to participate on the Motion Picture Academy's foreign language film committee until he moved out of town -- but keeps up with such things -- he insisted I had to go because he'd heard how good it is.
And it's very good. Very accessible, nothing esoteric or ethereal. I liked it a lot, though I'm a little surprised it won the Palme d'Or -- though in fairness I don't know the competition. (My friend has seen one of the competitors and said he found that one boring.) I didn't buy everything in it, and don't know if it made its thematic point as strongly as it was trying to -- but it's a really wonderful ride, tells a terrific story and is handled with great panache. What I'll say is that a better description -- without giving anything away -- is that it tells the story of what happens when a very wealthy family and very poor family overlap in an unexpected way, and when you think you see where it's going, it takes a big turn. And then takes other turns.
The problem is what video to embed. All the various trailers, while very good, give a very wrong impression of the movie. They sell it extremely well, but make it look like it's one thing and it's not that. But the thing is, I don't even want to explain why it's not. And it's not that it's "A Mystery!" but rather just goes in unexpected direction and in several ways. (A user comment posted under the Official Trailer says it correctly: "Just watch this movie. Don't search the web for it, don't watch any more trailers or reviews. You need to go in blindly." So, see, it isn't just me!)
So, I'll do this instead, I'm going to post two videos. Neither give a great sense of the movie. But they don't give anything away or give the wrong idea of what the movie is.
This first is a clip of the opening scene. So, there's nothing substantive in it with the plot, but it does set up some of the characters. (At one point, you'll have to click away an ad that appears at the bottom of the screen, since it blocks the subtitles.)
And this other will absolutely give nothing away -- because it's in Korean, and the subtitles aren't in English. It's a behind-the-scenes video of the production design, so what you will get is a sense of the production (which is wonderful) and the range of scenes.
As I mentioned the other day when posting the brilliant Lord of the Rings air safety video here from Air New Zealand, the airline has made a wide range of Big Production safety videos including a couple more from Middle Earth. I've posted one other, and here's a third -- "Just Another Day on Middle Earth" Hey, this is Lord of the Rings, of course it's a trilogy...
Last night the Writers Guild screened the upcoming Motherless Brooklyn, which stars, has a screenplay and was directed by Edward Norton. I thought it was terrific. It's handled somewhat as a film noir detective story, and has a different kind of main character, one who has Tourette's Syndrome. He's terrific in the role (which has a certain overlap with the character he played so wonderfully in The Score) and did a serous impressive job with the thoughtful screenplay and evocative directing. Others in the strong cast are Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, and a British actress I've liked for a while who's starting to get a lot of work now -- she's in the upcoming Apple+ TV series, The Morning Show, with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell -- Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
(He did a Q&A after the screening, and one comment struck me as fascinating. Though his script is based on a novel, he consulted at length with the novelist and only used the book for about the first 20 minutes of the film and developed his own story that followed. But it's the main character who fascinated him most and that's, of course, the focus of the book. Also, he said the book takes place in the 1990s, though has a film noir feel to it -- with the approval of the the novelist, Jonathan Lethem, he moved the story back to the 1950s.)
Here's the trailer. It does a pretty good job getting across the movie, though the film has a stronger story than the trailer lets on.
As it happened, the Guild showed two movies yesterday, preceding Motherless Brooklyn with Zombieland: Double Tap. (Now, there's a weird double-feature...) I hadn’t seen the first Zombiland, but liked the TV ads for this new one, so I rented the first a couple weeks ago. I thought it was just fair – but I liked this sequel much more. It had slightly more of a plot, the characters were a little more developed, there are a bunch of fun, small supporting roles, and Zoey Deutch, who plays a new character, runs away with the film. She’s hilarious and surprisingly finds different "shadings" to play in what could otherwise be a quintessentially-cliched role of an utterly dimwitted blonde in pink.. Whether the Motion Picture Academy would nominate someone for Supporting Actress from a film like this, I don’t know, but (for my taste), she was that funny. And if you do go see it, don't rush out of the theater when the end credits start. Stick with them. I shall say no more.
Here's the trailer. Though the film has a great deal of action, this makes it look a bit more heavily-weighted as a serious action film than the comedy at heart that it is. And it's a whole lot bloodier. (For one scene, Jesse Eisenberg, who serves as narrator, even warns the audience that what's about to come might be a bit squeamish for those with M&Ms.)
"I don't have teams -- I am the team."
-- Trump today.
I've posted this song before in a totally different context, but it seems oh-so fitting to bring it back for an encore in this new setting. Trump's words today reminds me of the egregiously and hilariously egomaniacal last scene in Heironymous Merkin..., when the main character sings on a mountaintop to God, "I'm All I Need".
(Side note: the music here is by Anthony Newley. The lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer...who wrote the English lyrics for Les Miserables.)
It turns out that this is a recurring bit on the Stephen Colbert show, but I've never seen it before so I don't know if it consistently works, or if it's hit-and-miss. What I do know is that this time it was a big hit for me.
The premise is that his guest supposedly has a lot of new movies upcoming and he or she and Colbert were both in the films together. A bunch of fake posters are made up by the staff, and Colbert and the guest have to ad lib about the films to promote them.
It strikes me as a good idea that risks going nowhere -- but who knows, maybe the guests he's done this with have done good jobs with it. The guest here, though, is Jon Hamm -- and he and Colbert are terrific.
Just letting you know that the DVD of that tremendous documentary Maiden I wrote about a few months back has now been released on Netflix as of today. It's the story of the first-ever all-female crew to participate in a round-the-world sailing competition. The film and depth of footage they had access to is absolutely wonderful, and if you want to read what I wrote about it at the time, you can find it here.
And by way of reminder, this is the trailer. It does a good job capturing a sense of the documentary, but the film is far richer.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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