Friday, February 16, 2018

Nosh 98: 'The 15:17 to Paris,' 'I,Tonya' & More

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of The 15:17 to Paris and I, Tonya.


The 15:17 to Paris
In life, the ratio of banality (our daily ration) to heroism (our rare hero) is very high. Clint Eastwood respects that, in his padded but moving The 15:17 to Paris (that’s 3:17 p.m). It is about the Aug. 21, 2015 episode on a French train terrorized by a fanatic, Ayoub El Khazzani (acted by Ray Corasani as a generic, nut-eyed maniac). Three young Americans with military training (skin-headed Spencer Stone was an active USAF staff sergeant), further bound by boyhood friendship in Sacramento, rose to the occasion by disarming the gun-wielding villain and rescuing a severely injured civilian. It’s all over in about ten well-staged minutes, with two bits of curious foreshadowing: Stone had felt that life was “catapulting” him to a special event, and one guy’s mother talked of hearing God’s vague promise.

Eastwood probably felt he had to include such stuff, as part of the cinema verité approach defined by casting Stone, Alek Skaulatos and Anthony Sadler as themselves. Hired actors, including kids and teens cast as the heroes in youth, plus their moms and various other figures, are TV standard-issue, but that eases the burden on  the amateur stars (playing yourself is no ticket to Brando). They are likeable, all-American dudes who say “man” a lot, enjoy beer and wine, pizza and smiling women. Only Stone, a sort of apprentice Woody Harrelson, has much camera charisma. Their shared, zip-zap tour of Europe might as well be luggage labels, with Venice a rush of selfie shots, Rome overlaid by a kitsch version of “Volare,” and a little wit in Berlin – the perky guide who shows them the marker for Hitler’s bunker strides away chirping “Springtime for Hitler.”

There are brief flashes of coming mayhem, which arrives with credible power and compensates for flat stretches, like two of the pals being taken out of public school (after a teacher presses meds  as a quick-fix for ADD problems) and put in a Christian school. However factual, some elements have an implied agenda (only Christians and the military can shape “real” men). Eastwood, who gave one of the dumbest speeches ever at a Republican convention (which is really saying something), saves the heart-grab for last: the classy ceremony where President Francois Hollande of France gives the three Americans the Legion of Honor. It’s like a splendid echo of 1944 and ’45, when most of the French were thrilled to see Americans. And a deft rebuke to the current, lousy phase, with France so high on Trump’s f-you list.



I, Tonya
A sharp, speeding skate blade cuts into ice less than an inch deep. I, Tonya cuts about that deeply into its subject (admittedly, a shallow one). It shows Tonya Harding, whose 1990s skating career was ruined by scandal, as a gifted but miserable athlete lost among losers. The film stacks its social analysis like igloo blocks. Tonya, from a scratch-patch section of Portland, Oregon, is her mother’s “fifth child, by husband No. 4.” Her Vegas-babe skating offends judges who have a damsel princess ideal of what makes a champion. Tonya likes working on motors, flaunts epaulettes of rebellion, and rocks on the ice to ZZ Top (after a more delicate girl swans to Vivaldi). Adored by some, reviled by others as white trash, Tonya is queen of the dangerous triple axel jump.

Flashback to childhood: dorky dad shoots rabbits for meat, giving tiny Tonya the fur for costumes. He soon exits, leaving the adorable doll with mom, played by Allison Janney as a chain-smoking witch of control mania. Made-up homelier than worn linoleum, with a cold laser stare and a nail-gun voice that could make a drill instructor weep for mercy, Janney brings deadpan precision  to her snarky f-bombs. She is up for an Oscar. So is Margo Robbie as pretty, rage-packed Tonya, who falls into the sexy but then abusive arms of a preening dodo, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Mom’s disgust achieves Zen clarity: “You fuck dumb, you don’t marry dumb.” Jeff comes with a fat bonus: conspiracy addict Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), a slob Rupert Pupkin with G. Gordon Liddy aspirations. Shawn’s insight on undercover work is one that John Le Carré never considered: “Remember, if your mind is a blank, nobody can pick up your vibes.”

Nudged along by Jeff, Shawn and a cohort contrived the insane ambush of Tonya’s rival, picture-perfect skater Nancy Kerrigan, given a wicked leg blow before the 1994 Winter Olympics. Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers reach for elliptical irony, raising but also smudging how much Tonya knew. The story melts into the media slush of an Geraldo Rivera “investigation.” Some confiding close-ups appear in reduced frames, surrounded by black, evidently a gift to fans of square peepholes. I, Tonya has no evolving “I” or “we,” just a floating crap game of pathetic people making bad choices without imagination. Inside this cranked-up wallow, a new Capades show struggles to be born: Duh on Ice.

SALAD (A List)
Movies with Outstanding Train Sequences:
The General (Buster Keaton, 1926), Twentieth Century (Howard Hawks, 1934), The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock. 1938), Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944), The Narrow Margin (Richard Fleischer, 1952), Daybreak Express (D.A. Pennebaker, 1958), North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959), Flame Over India (J. Lee Thompson, 1959), High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963), The Train (John Frankenheimer, 1964), The Incident (Larry Peerce, 1967), The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1968), Emperor of the North (Robert Aldrich, 1973), Murder on the Orient Express (Sidney Lumet, 1974), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent, 1974), The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007) and Lion (Garth Davis, 2016). 

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson expostulated on why he preferred Jack Lemmon’s TV performance, as flop comedian Archie Rice in The Entertainer, to Laurence Olivier’s more acclaimed stage original: “Larry can’t bear to fail, even if he’s supposed to fail. So when he played the comic onstage, he played for real laughs from the audience, instead of giving a feeling that he was in a half-empty theater where nobody was laughing … Success to Larry demanded being an effective comedian, even though it made no sense!” (Welles to Henry Jaglom, and Lemmon, in Jaglom’s My Lunches With Orson. To be fair, Olivier got a little more flop sweat into Tony Richardson’s movie of the play.)   

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Many intro “scrolls” for movies are trite filler, but if more people, including critics, had seriously absorbed the one for Steven Shainberg’s Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus in 2006, they wouldn’t have fallen into dull, literal rejection of his poetic film: “This is a film about Diane Arbus, but it is not a historical biography. Arbus, who lived from 1923 to 1971, is considered by many to be one of the greatest artists of the 20th century … What you are about to see is a tribute to Diane: a film that invents characters and situations that reach beyond reality to express what might have been Arbus’s inner experience on her extraordinary path.” (From the Nicole Kidman/Fur chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)  

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.



Johnny (Buster Keaton) is cinema’s definitive train man, in The General (1926; director Buster Keaton, with Clyde Bruckman; cameramen Bert Haines, Dev Jennings).  

For previous Noshes, scroll below.



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Nosh 97: 'Call Me by Your Name' & More

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
Note: Nosh 98 will appear on Friday, Feb. 16.


APPETIZER: Review of Call Me by Your Name
My projection candle did not burn to see Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name. His elegant I Am Love was Italo-crafted to flaunt an upscale erotic bravura (it even had sexy prawns). A Bigger Splash emitted an earthier heat, with Ralph Fiennes ripping around like a jolly, boozed Bacchus. The trailer for Call Me has a languorous, voyeuristic emphasis that made me think “Here we go again, back to the naughty old oo-la-la.” Back to when imported films winked and peeped European skin, the genuinely adult ones trailing veils of cultural knowingness. Most American cities had one or two theaters that survived simply by getting one or two such movies a year.

The old woo revives in this film, but Call Me is also drawing audiences with genuine shadings and subtleties. It surpasses the coffee table va-voom of I Am Love and the goaty, Club Med gusto of A Bigger Splash. The script, by the late James Ivory from André Aciman’s novel, has Ivory’s trademarks: literary textures, lofty tourism and a pensive feel for time folding into nostalgia. It is a coming-of-age story set in 1983, about slender Elio (Timothée Chalomet), a brainy pianist and, at 17, still sexually a wavering, quivering reed. His expat father is an esteemed classics professor, who each summer invites a star student to spend the season with his family at their northern Italian villa. The Perlmans are demurely Jewish. Or as Elio’s elegant French mother (Amira Casar) puts it, with a smile, “Jews of discretion.”

Not so discretely Euro-cultural. Languages flit like glib crickets above elegantly rustic meals at the old villa, as servants quietly hover. It’s fine when Dad and the guest student display their etymological savvy. It is charming in a showy way when Elio performs Bach in the manner of Lizst, then the Lizst version a la Busoni. It’s a bit much when gracious Mom translates an old French tale from German into English, milking  every nuance. The cultural climax is Dad taking Elio and the grad student to see a Greco-Roman statue of a nude wrestler, being pulled from a lake. It’s time-trip magic, like the ancient rooms uncovered in Fellini’s Roma. Fans of kitsch archeology may recall Boy on a Dolphin (1957), starring Alan Ladd, Sophia Loren and a sexy Greek statue liberated from the Aegean.

Elio is a boy riding the dolphin of emergence. The student, the older Oliver (Armie Hammer), could be a whale of a ride. The tall, blonde American has the Mr. Malibu looks of a surfing Apollo. To his credit, Hammer doesn’t simply play a cool, knowing seducer. Though deeply stirred, he tries to push back the teen’s impulsive gambits with “I want to be good” (mainly as a guest, not as a stud). Inevitably he finds Elio irresistible. The movie is compulsively erectile. Half of it is simply (but sensitively) foreplay – for a love that may not speak its name but will certainly find sexy translation. After so much build-up the sex is less than fireworks, but a midsummer’s love has been born. And the emotions ring true at every step.

The photography, playing freely with light and focus, is a floating fresco of warm Italian walls and fields and summer heat, with ripe fruit, fat flies and cool water. Pretty girls ogle Elio, who is like a rebirth of Donatello’s David. One fair lass is used by Elio like a sexual merit badge, but he is caught in the coils of that old fascination enshrined by Plato, which the Victorians called “Greek love.” Timothée Chalamet’s vain but self-doubting, bright but immature Elio gives the story a humming sincerity within its erotic buzz. There is nothing new about the gay/straight tensions, nor the film’s bouquet basket of multiculturalism, yet the young American actor (now 22, of French parentage) fills the movie’s heart, and has won a deserved Oscar nomination.

Every generation needs its own youth, its own films. It would be silly to expect many of this lusty reverie’s young fans to know about the derivations that pour into it: the exquisite, tragic take on a rich Jewish-Italian family in De Sica’s Garden of the Finzi-Continis; the eroticized family politics of Malle’s Murmur of the Heart; the disturbingly intimate Roman eroticism in Bertolucci’s La Luna and the fascistic sublimation of homoeroticism in his The Conformist. A remark about change echoes the central idea in Visconti’s The Leopard, while the heartfelt pathos of trapped identity has roots in Ivory’s Maurice and Scola’s A Special Day. Call Me by Your Name swans its moods and is almost comically teasing. But it is also a movingly human story of desire, love and friendship, right through the final remarks of the caring father (excellent Michael Stuhlbarg) and a great shot of Elio, a boy who can now find his maturity from real experience.



SALAD (A List)
Twelve Remarkable Coming-of-Age Performances: Katharine Hepburn as Alice in Alice Adams, 1935; Julie Harris as Frankie in A Member of the Wedding, 1952; James Dean as Cal in East of Eden, 1955; Anthony Perkins as Josh in Friendly Persuasion, 1956; Carroll Baker as Baby in Baby Doll, 1956; Helen Mirren as Cora in Age of Consent, 1969; Benoit Ferreaux as Laurent in Murmur of the Heart, 1970; Timothy Bottoms as Sonny in The Last Picture Show, 1971; Molly Ringwald as Andie in Pretty in Pink, 1986; Kate Winslet as Rose in Titanic, 1997; Alice Teghil as Caterina in Caterina in the Big City, 2012, and Tye Sheridan as Ellis in Mud, 2013. (Photo above: artist James Mason makes a sand sculpture of Helen Mirren in Age of Consent.)

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
While Touch of Evil (1958) can be seen as prescient of the later binge of goth-horror shockers, also previewed by Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), it has Welles’s charged, corkscrewing mix of different styles, periods and genres: “Welles was able to give life to expressionist theatrics when a great many movies were shot on location, and when dramatists like Chayefsky and Inge were praised for their ‘realism.’ In a sense, Touch is the last flowering of artful crime melodrama from the ‘40s, a style that survives in our own day in the form of nostalgic imitations. Debased as (its) world is, the actors seem driven by beautiful demons, the shadowy rooms and buildings retain a certain voluptuous romanticism … Perhaps because he has never taken thrillers very seriously, Welles exaggerated everything to the point of absurdity.” (From James Naremore’s The Magic World of Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
“Quentin Tarantino exposes and exploits words with an Elizabethan (and black) succulence. He delves, noted Stanley Crouch, into ‘the artistic challenges of the many miscegenations that shape the goulash of American culture,’ and by his skill ‘the human nuances and surprises in the writing provide fresh alternatives of meaning, as they render a grittier, more relaxed integration (rarely found) in American films.’ Tarantino seems to have been ‘born knowing.’” (From the Pam Grier/Jackie Brown chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)  

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.



Gangly teen Laurent (Benoit Ferreaux) meets a girl at a clinic in Le Soufflé au Couer (Murmur of the Heart; Palomar, 1971, director Louis Malle, cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich).

For previous Noshes, scroll below. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Nosh 96: 'Phantom Thread,' 'Proud Mary' & More

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.



APPETIZER: Reviews of Phantom Thread and Proud Mary
Phantom Thread
In playing Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis banishes any comparison to Billy Bob Thornton’s enjoyably obnoxious gym teacher, Mr. Woodcock. No, his character is a deluxe London couturier in 1955, his gray hair like the tendrils of zealous perfection that drives his designs, his boney face the beaked beacon of his bespoke world. Despising mere chic, Woodcock pampers every dress, often sewing little messages and spells into their linings. And if a lady should just happen to prolong her scraping of morning toast with her butter knife, he will spike her with a high, Anglican finality, “There’s entirely too much movement at breakfast.”

Paul Thomas Anderson has made another of his films about men driven by visionary work compulsions (previously: There Will Be Blood, The Master, Boogie Nights, Hard Eight and, in a hippie-cool, satirical way, Inherent Vice). Woodcock, entranced by exquisite fabrics, designs what seem to be conservative British variations on French couture (dowdy-Dior?). He will hang onto a 16th century Antwerp lace for years, to find just the right model. That would be Alma, a teashop waitress elevated to star model at the House of Woodcock. Alma’s new gig is multi-tasking: model, cook, mistress, nurse, seamstress, mood target. To her credit Vicky Krieps, a Luxembourg blonde with facial touches of young Meryl Streep, hangs in there with Day-Lewis. Surely, he is the first actor who has done a composite of Bogart’s nutty Capt. Queeg and couture icon Hubert de Givenchy.

Alma was the first name of Alfred Hitchcock’s wife, and the script (by Anderson) has Hitchcockean drippings. Woodcock’s prim sister Cyril, played by Lesley Manville, has the hovering chillness of the control maniac Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) in Rebecca. Caught between the fussy, neurotic siblings, Krieps’s accent starts to echo Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, caught between the rival sado-lusts of Cary Grant and Claude Rains. Jonny Greenwood’s deft score has Hitchcockean surges. The Woodockian mood surges of Day-Lewis lead mistress Alma to become the puzzled, then canny new mommy for a masochistic baby-man. The guy wears his dead mother’s hair-snip near his heart, and enjoys seeing her ghost in a wedding dress.

P.T. Anderson has fashioned a seamless collage of period details, snotty manners, purring clues and impressive clothing. But if he thought he could achieve the witty, layered, very English triumph of his hero Robert Altman with Gosford Park, think again. As the movie slowly unpacks its bonkers basket, we crave more clarity and substance. Maybe this film should have been released as a fragrance, “Kinky Mist” – it’s pervasively nowhere. Even Day-Lewis, a master of nuanced intensity, cannot give the film a vital pulse. Around the time the plot’s culinary interest switches from asparagus to mushrooms …but never mind. This chic meal is rich in good taste, yet oddly tasteless.   


Proud Mary
Nobody in modern movies was more proudly sexy (yet also subtle) than Taraji P. Henson as Vernell Watson, the lover “finer than frog’s hair” in Talk to Me. But that was ten years ago, and at 47 Henson cannot be proud of Proud Mary. She’s still an excellent actor, but our memories of her ace work in Talk to Me, Hidden Figures and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are here stuck in a flush of futility. The maxi-foxy chops are simply no longer there to play this veteran kick-ass, stuck between warring crime mobs in Boston (or is it Bronson?).

If Henson thought Mary would be her crowning showcase, like Pam Grier’s in Jackie Brown, no chance. Director Babak Najafi is no Quentin Tarantino, more like a new Renny Harlin (auteur of Skiptrace, Cliffhanger). He spreads the mulch: an invasive song mix, Danny Glover as an old hood called Pop, a sad street urchin hungry for love, Slavic thugs with accents like Moscow road tar, violence dependent on overcranked editing, dialog rich in lyrics like “What’s with the questions, lady? You a cop?”

Henson tries hard, but often her face says: Nothing I can do for this one. There is the yard sale aroma of desperate picking and poking (three writers each provided a quota of duds). Proud Mary is another case of where the gristle meets the grunge, grievously. Movies keep hugging dead action dolls from the last century, and CGI has not been a salvation.

SALAD (A List)
Ten Crazy Romances to partner Phantom Thread, in order of their arrival: Bette Davis and Leslie Howard in Of Human Bondage, 1934; Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck in Duel in the Sun, 1946; Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past, 1947; Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart in In a Lonely Place, 1950; Ninón Sevilla and Tito Junco, Aventurera, 1950; Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in Johnny Guitar, 1954; Shelley Winters and Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter, 1955; Elke Sommer and Stephen Boyd in The Oscar, 1966; Chloe Webb and Gary Oldman in Sid and Nancy, 1986; Linda Riss and Burt Pugach, Crazy Love, 2007. And, of course, the most profound bond: Pee-wee (Paul Reubens) and his beloved bike, in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, 1984.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
The key powers of 1941 Hollywood gnashed their teeth over Citizen Kane before its May 1 release. Hearst columnist Louella Parsons insisted that Will Hays’s Motion Picture Association block the film, on the grounds that ‘Under the Code you can’t make a picture about a living person” … Hays: ‘Well, it’s very probable that the picture will have to be withdrawn. It’s a terrible scandal.’ Publicly, however, Hays made no move. One mitigating factor was that (chief censor) Joseph I. Breen claimed that after reading the script, (he felt) the film was not about Hearst.” (Quote from Frank Brady’s Citizen Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
A great film, The Long Goodbye had a tortured release in 1973, one that “was beyond perverse. Chicago got the movie before New York, and critics spread the spectrum (I tooted the loudest). L.A. was chill to one of its finest film portraits. (Actor) Henry Gibson felt that critic Charles Champlin, of the L.A. Times, ‘destroyed the picture in Los Angeles. Oh, he was just pedantically literal.’ Goodbye limped into New York, where Vincent Canby came on board (‘attempts the impossible and pulls it off’), and Pauline Kael raved one of her most enraptured endorsements, high on Altman and Elliott Gould. But most reviews were ambivalent, and The Long Goodbye had a fast farewell in theaters.” (From the Elliott Gould/Long Goodbye chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Nook or Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.



John Wayne visits director Budd Boetticher (right) and Randolph Scott on the set of Seven Men From Now (Batjac Productions, 1956).


For previous Noshes, scroll below. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Nosh 95: 'The Post', 'All the Money in the World'

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER: Reviews of The Post, All the Money in the World     
This week, two brave women are caught up in power, money and high-level intrigue:



The Post
The Watergate press marvel All the President’s Men (1976) came out just two years after President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. But the 1971 Pentagon Papers crisis, a year before the Watergate break-in, elevated the Washington Post from becalmed mediocrity and laid the foundation for its brave zeal to pursue Nixon almost solo, during Watergate’s early months. That tale has waited 46 years for The Post. The “loser” is again the New York Times, which barely factored in the Watergate film, and now sees The Post celebrate its old adversary right in the title. Although the Times first printed Pentagon Papers revelations, a court order soon blocked continuance and the upstart D.C. paper seized the laurel, crowned by the Supreme Court (pro-paper vote: 6-3).

Steven Spielberg’s film has surefire ’70s trappings and the brusque energy of a big paper in that era (almost steam-punky now: typewriters, rotary phones, pneumatic tubes, linotype machines). Quite a gift for those of us with old ink in the blood. Most people never read the secret, voluminous Pentagon reports that anti-war Daniel Ellsberg stole and released, exposing strategic lies during the Vietnam War. They got the gist from newspapers and TV. Spielberg craftily puts us inside the journalism, though without the gnawing suspense of All the President’s Men. Tom Hanks bunkers into growly-voiced ramrod Ben Bradlee, top Post editor. He never quite equals Jason Robards, Oscar’d for his ’76 Bradlee. More than Robards, he frets about his close friendship with JFK (the movie doesn’t mention Bradlee’s old CIA connections).

Jane Alexander carried a shy, nervous, feminist torch in the older movie, but Spielberg makes his torch a subtle bonfire: Meryl Streep as publisher Katharine Graham, canny but nervous, living in the tragic shadow of her late, brilliant husband, Phil. The bouffant-haired press baroness is often cornered by male editors, lawyers and corporate wheels, and “Kay” is A-OK with her Georgetown supper parties splitting along genteel gender lines after dining. Among the smart touches is a deep shot of Mrs. Bradlee (Sarah Paulson) alone in her kitchen, dish towel in hand, listening intently as Kay Graham confers with her men. Streep distills and projects  the fretful feminism and pressured grace which turned a rather porcelain heiress into a steely, gut-hunch publisher.    

Clearly the film resonates in the era of press-hating Trump, who will someday get his own movie (may I suggest All the President’s Lies?). Overall The Post is a little facile, with rolled-out lessons in law, courage, press rights, gender progress and Nixonian paranoia. Patented Spielberg tactics include Bradlee’s cute daughter selling lemonade to harried newsmen. There is sly dialog foreshadowing the future Watergate storm, but at the end Spielberg chooses to spell it out very clearly. Nixon’s special era has certainly had its due on film. The Post is another stake in the dark heart of Dick.        



All the Money in the World
Director Ridley Scott spent heaps of money on All the Money in the World. It feels like a cable channel special flaunting an A-budget pedigree. Rome is used well, if not at La Dolce Vita or Great Beauty levels. Ruins of the Imperial Forum were shot in a ghostly light, maybe because (says the movie) oil billionaire J. Paul Getty felt he had once lived there as an emperor. Getty certainly had imperial tastes, building a huge Malibu replica of a first century villa to house most of his Greco-Roman collection. Another hilltop museum, with the aura of a shopping mall Acropolis, came after his death (his money refused to die).

The film is a sandwich. The top bread is a “bad old rich guy” story about Getty refusing for months in 1973 to pay a fat but shrinking ransom for his grandson JPG III, kidnapped by Italian radicals and then mobsters. The downside bread is a “poor little rich boy” story, about teen John Paul (appealing Charlie Plummer) in primal hell. During cruel negotiations he is mutilated (right ear severed). Stuck between the bread is not the lad’s father, JPG II (Andrew Buchan), a drugged shell of a man. No, the meaty heart is Michelle Williams as the abducted boy’s mom, Gail. Always wary of Getty Sr., she soon realizes that the money king is Scrooge McSuck, a cold, miserly conniver obsessed with deal-squeezing and tax evasion. Williams achieves a chemical bond of maternal agony and white-knuckled rage at brutal wealth. An ace touch is that, as her will hardens, her speech becomes more manorial, crusty with hauteur.

All the Money had a publicity earthquake when sexual scandal outed and ousted Kevin Spacey, who had finished playing the elder Getty. Old (87) trouper Christopher Plummer stepped in, infallibly. Having portrayed a Vanderbilt, Tolstoy, Kipling, Atahualpa, Nabokov, Scrooge, FDR, Aristotle, Mike Wallace, John Barrymore and even a guy named Shitty, he blithely nails down Getty as a fossil-faced creep, an art enthusiast and people wrecker (he loves a painted baby Jesus more than his own family). Italy, Plummer, Williams, Mark Wahlberg as a Getty fixer, even echoes of Citizen Kane, keep this deeply sad, effectively tabloid show involving. On TV it will look just as expendably expensive.    

SALAD (A List)
20 Impressive Portrayals of Rich People, in order of arrival:  
Walter Huston as Sam Dodsworth, Dodsworth (1936); Marcel Dalio as the marquis, Rules of the Game (1939); Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, The Philadelphia Story (1940); Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane (1941); Joseph Cotten as Eugene Morgan, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); Robert Ryan as Smith Ohlrig, Caught (1949); Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard (1950); Orson Welles as Grigori Arkadin, Mr. Arkadin (1955); James Dean as Jett Rink, Giant (1956); Burl Ives as Big Daddy, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1957; Burt Lancaster as Prince Salina, The Leopard (1963); Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, The Godfather (1972); John Huston as Noah Cross, Chinatown (1974); Anthony Quinn as Aristotle Onassis, The Greek Tycoon (1978); Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (1987); Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bulow, Reversal of Fortune (1990); Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, The Aviator (2004); Helen Mirren as Elizabeth II, The Queen (2006); Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood (2007); Tommy Lee Jones as Gene McClary, The Company Men (2010), and Warren Beatty as Howard Hughes, Rules Don’t Apply (2016).                        

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
If he is not now remembered for Hamlet, that’s because Orson Welles played the prince at 21 – on radio. The script was “Orson’s first full-length script to be broadcast. He even oversaw the publicity, promising an ‘intimacy of interpretation not possible in stage productions.’ His voice, as radio scholar Bernice W. Kliman wrote, was ‘a remarkable instrument evoking visualization as well as clarifying (his) interpretative choices,’ his whispered asides suggesting ‘interiority or complicity with the audience’.” (Quotes from Patrick McGilligan’s engrossing Young Orson.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
The gay specter of possible outing haunted Anthony Perkins for most of his life: “A cruiser since puberty, Tony used studio starlets to beard his affair with Tab Hunter, even as that milkshake Adonis was being tattle-trashed by Confidential magazine. He risked exposure by living near Hunter, and when warned by a studio honcho he said, bravely, ‘But I love him.’ Appraising the bisexual Cary Grant, David Thomson provocatively wrote that ‘you could not be a movie star without having the dream love and allegiance of both the main sexual constituencies,’ and those pressures ‘moved a lot of the men and women in movies towards sexual experiment, bisexuality or gayness.” (From the Anthony Perkins/The Trial chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, from Amazon, Nook or Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.



Joseph (Anthony Perkins) is harried into hell in The Trial (Astor Pictures, 1962; director Orson Welles, cinematographer Edmond Richard).



For previous Noshes, scroll below. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Nosh 94: 'Darkest Hour,' 'Shape of Water' & More

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.



APPETIZER: Reviews of Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water
Darkest Hour
When the young, scrawny Gary Oldman played Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy), Joe Orton (Prick Up Your Ears), Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK) and Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) nobody, but nobody, said “You know, someday this guy will make a great Churchill.” Even after he was a terrific echo of Alec Guinness as George Smiley (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Winston still seemed way past his horizon.

In Darkest Hour, Oldman is the finest Churchill in films outside documentaries (with all true respect to the Winstons of Albert Finney, Richard Burton, Brendan Gleeson, Timothy Spall, Brian Cox, Michael Gambon and young Simon Ward). He has prosthetic jowls and body pads, a balding dome and a brandy growl that makes you wonder if the actor suckled cognac on the set. Oldman’s Winston has a loving, testing relation with wife Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas) – she’s so good we’d welcome more of them together – and a radar feel for his own foibles and vanities. He uses a twinkle without turning cherubic, can be childish to good effect, and declaims the best Churchillean rhetoric since Burton’s. It is true that, in a few brief angles, he looks like little American actor Wallace Shawn (My Dinner with Andre). But only Oldman, not Shawn, could pull off My Dinner with Winston.

Probably 1940 was Britain’s (and Winston’s) finest hour – he said so – but May, 1940, was bleak. As scripted by Anthony McCarten, Joe Wright’s movie (the same Wright so right for directing Pride and Prejudice, so brilliant at staging Dunkirk in Atonement) captures the least merry May in British history. Hitler’s swastika legions seized the Low Countries and France, the British Army was cornered on the Dunkirk beaches, the Royal Navy faced great risk in the Channel, the RAF was short on fighters. And the new PM, favored by few in his own party after years of fierce anti-government speeches, was disliked (at first) even by King George VI. As was only revealed years later, Churchill also faced a coup plot by ex-PM Neville Chamberlain and his fellow appeaser Lord Halifax. Wright is good with parliamentary intrigues. His limiting burden is that Ronald Pickup (Chamberlain) and Stephen Dillane (Halifax) have all the manly, dramatic blood of cadavers fresh from the taxidermist (though bound by silk threads).

There is a key scene on a tube (subway) train that is contrived, perhaps entirely, but is a valid, Capra-class rouser. I doubt that in 1940 Churchill needed instruction on how to give a radio speech. The poor French are like mice looking for a hole, with no De Gaulle in sight. But here, so briskly urgent, is the living storm of one of the supreme crises of modern history. A doughty champion not only rose to the dire occasion but, with his singular voice and spine, gave it the afterglow of Henry V. There are some good digital models, and neat devices (like the typeface close-up invented for Citizen Kane), and touching work by Ben Mendelsohn as King George and Lily James as Churchill’s new secretary. But Darkest Hour follows its star. At 59, Oldman plays a grand old (65) man so movingly human, so cherishably complex, so stirringly heroic.



The Shape of Water
Sally Hawkins is no movie beauty, but the courage of her talent is beautiful to see in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. How many actors in one movie have used sign language eloquently, wittily saluted Ginger Rogers and Shirley Temple, pulled off a gorgeous nude scene, and wrung our emotions? Hawkins does, with her best work since Happy-Go-Lucky. Del Toro, the Mexican sensualist of densely gothic atmosphere, recovers the magic of his early Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. My modest reservations matter little, because The Shape of Water is so frequently engrossing.

Elisa (Hawkins), an orphaned mute, lives with her protector, the gay commercial artist Giles (Richard Jenkins, ace as usual). Their New York apartment is above a movie theater, the Orpheum, currently showing two forgettables: The Story of Ruth (1960) and Mardi Gras (1958). But the time seems more the earlier Cold War era – that is, the fright time of Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). Elisa works on the clean-up crew at a secret, massive lab where the control freak is security boss Strickland (Michael Shannon, whose face always suggests Frankenstein fun). Sadist Strickland loves tormenting a scaly amphibian from South America. It looks like 1954’s famous lagoon critter, apart from a lower, human face reminiscent of Keir Dullea. Inevitably, needy Elisa bonds with the he-beast. So does the key scientist (Nigel Bennett), a Soviet mole tipping off Moscow. Elisa’s janitor chum Zelda (Octavia Spencer) gives her sassy support.

The film is often lubriciously wet, its aquatic ambience recalling M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. It is lit by Hawkins’s big eyes, as the trapped creature unleashes Elisa’s hunger for dreamy release from muteness and cramped living. Del Toro’s frisky facets include an Astaire-Rogers salute, little Shirley and Bojangles, Carmen Miranda, Alice Faye and shiver bits like Strickland’s “I bet I could make you squawk a little.” The movie is a feast of odds (very) and ends (exotic), superbly designed, cast and directed. The creature’s human mouth zone might be an error, as it makes us think of an actor wearing a sea-lizard suit (the actor is Doug Jones – not the one just elected U.S. senator in Alabama).

Like many imaginative directors using a fat budget and a go-for-broke story, Del Toro can spill over a bit (so did Todd Haynes in his impressively bravura Wonderstruck). This kind of fairy-goth tale would benefit from running shorter, and Del Toro tends to scramble our response wires when he rapidly moves from a breezy Fred & Ginger salute to a grim torture scene. But to miss this elegant entertainment, and Hawkins, would be a loss and a mistake.

SALAD (A List)
Ten Absorbing Films About Winston Churchill:
The Finest Hours (1964), starring Churchill; Young Winston (1972), starring Simon Ward; The Gathering Storm (1974), starring Richard Burton; The Gathering Storm (2002), starring Albert Finney; Churchill’s Bodyguard (2005), series starting Churchill and Walter Thompson; Into the Storm (2008), starring Brendan Gleeson; Winston Churchill: Walking With Destiny (2010), starring Churchill; Churchill’s Secret (2016), starring Michael Gambon; Churchill (2017), starring Brian Cox, and Darkest Hour (2017), starring Gary Oldman.

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
The unfinished but eventually fabled Latin American travel film It’s All True, for which a Brazilian fisherman hero accidentally drowned in 1942, haunted Welles. While acting Rochester in Jane Eyre (1943) he almost got Fox to buy the RKO footage, “so that I would be allowed to cut and finish it, then that fell through … It would have been quite commercial in its time, not now. But it never worked. I tried everything. I was near it, near it … and began a pattern of trying to finish pictures which has plagued me ever since.” (Welles to Peter Bogdanovich, This Is Orson Welles.)

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
In the years after Paris, Texas (1984), Harry Dean Stanton “became the hipster hermit on the hill. Free of tinsel in Tinseltown, he came down from Mulholland Drive to sing in small clubs or do modest roles. He finished his gig in HBO’s Big Love by crooning ‘Canción Mixteca.’ He inspired Debbie Harry’s ‘I Want That Man,’ the lyrics including ‘I want to dance with Harry Dean Stanton …’ And he appeared briefly in David Lynch’s great film The Straight Story.” After wrapping up his starring role in Lucky with another Mexican song, Harry Dean at 91 in L.A.. on Sept. 15. (Quote from the Stanton/Paris, Texas chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, out on Amazon, Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Harry Dean Stanton as Lyle Straight in The Straight Story (Buena Vista Pictures, 1999; director David Lynch, cinematographer Freddie Francis).



For previous Noshes, scroll below. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Nosh 93: 'Disaster Artist,' Best 12 (+1) Movies of 2017

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.



APPETIZER: Review of The Disaster Artist
As usual, Noel Coward said it best: “Strange how potent cheap music is.” But Sir Noel paid meager attention to cheap movies, and I don’t mean just low-budget junk. Some of the cheesiest ones cost quite a bundle, like Independence Day, Sahara (the McConaughey, not the Bogart), Nine, Australia and Star! – the last even had Daniel Massey playing Noel Coward. The campy truth is that many movie fans develop an itch in the armpit of their taste, and for really awful films we must scratch.

Such a turd flambé is The Room, which star, director, writer, producer Tommy Wiseau gave to the world at a “glamorous” L.A. premiere in 2003. After many viewers left early, the theater posted a No Refunds sign. But then came the miracle: name talents like James Franco and Seth Rogen touted their tortured fascination. A cult was born. The Room has fan sites, midnight giggle shows and The Disaster Artist, a 2013 memoir by Wiseau partner and co-star Greg Sestero. Probably The Room has earned back its reputed $6 million cost (Wiseau seems to have lavish private funds, and maybe some shady investors).

The title location is the San Francisco seduction apartment of Johnny (Wiseau), where stagey, almost painted lighting flatters lamps and curtains but leaves actors stranded in a dead zone of helpless choices. Johnny is a glowering, goth-haired “banker” whose Baltic or Balkan accent often dips into gibberish. To borrow the meat metaphor (“filet Fane”) applied to Stephen Boyd’s rotten actor in The Oscar, Johnny is Polish sausage aspiring to beef jerky. With his cyber-stiff moves and slugged diction, he personifies failure, but pretty-boy Mark (Sestero) is entranced by Johnny’s ego plumage. Their kinky bond is so adhesive that the woman they both “love” is driven to nymphomania, or maybe just mindless panic. The plot seems extruded from an Enigma machine on another planet, and dreary, soft-porn episodes emphasize Tommy/Johnny’s bulging meat magnet, his rump. There is a distinct odor of De Niro’s Jake La Motta, faking Brando schtick in Raging Bull.

Using Sestero’s book James Franco has made The Disaster Artist. He stars as Wiseau, and his younger brother Dave plays Sestero. Dave echoes James’s early fame playing James “You’re tearing me apart!” Dean, in a 2001 TV film. In a bravura sibling transfer, James has given primal Dean fever to Dave, while he discharges the smoldering Brandonic moods and “Stella!” blasts. The Disaster Artist is a somewhat satirical re-shoot of The Room, plus background scenes rich in gaudy, motivational wallpaper. James Franco, reaching for kamikaze kicks (and kitsch), takes bold chances. His Tommy is a quasi-Brando Quasimodo, festeringly insecure, short on talent but also canny. Sensing his vanity flop’s rescue by slumming hipsters, Wiseau declared it an intentional black comedy. In essence he jumped to Late Shatner cash-in status, without ever achieving Star Trek.

Tommy, in both Wiseau and Franco modes, lacks the naïve charm of Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, and the funny complexity of Martin Landau’s Lugosi in that film. But the Francos rocket up on their vivid arc of brotherly fervency, and most of the game cast rises with them (not Seth Rogen, doing his usual, hey-whatever snarks). The Disaster Artist has road kill charisma. It is like a craftier version of gonzo actor Timothy Carey’s ludicrous ego trip The World’s Greatest Sinner. So go ahead, scratch that itch! We don’t get low-down highs like this very often.  
   
SALAD (A List)


My Dozen Best (plus One) Movie Experiences Found in 2017, in loose order of personal preference:
1. The Florida ProjectSean Baker’s tough, entirely humane vision of desperate lives in a big, purple motel in Disney’s shadow. It pivots on wow kid Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite as her mom and, at his most appealing,  manager Willem Dafoe (see Nosh 88).
2. Jackie Chilean maestro Pablo Larrain made the most personally felt film about the JFK tragedy, capturing it through superb Natalie Portman’s angry, anguished Jacqueline (Nosh 49).
3. Wind River – Fist-faced Jeremy Renner reaches expressive apex as a federal tracker solving a Montana reservation murder case, in Taylor Sheridan’s superbly rooted, emotionally searing neo-Western (Nosh 78).
4. Norman – The nuances Richard Gere opens up as a glib schmoozer, finding his Jewish soul, is a New York hustle far beyond Trump and Madoff. Joseph Cedar wrote and directed expertly (Nosh 66).
5. Lady Bird – A superb cluster of female performances across generations (Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Lois Smith) centers on a young woman’s reach for independence, directed and written by Greta Gerwig as a deep soaper, bubbling with wit and revelation (Nosh 90).
6. Paterson – Inspired by his life and route, a New Jersey bus driver (Adam Driver) writes subtle poems. The cinematic poetry is Jim Jarmusch’s feather-fine command of every subtle sight, mood and moment (Nosh 56).
7. Neruda – Another poet’s tale. Chilean master Pablo Neruda is depicted in radical youth by Luis Ghecco, with Gael García Bernal his fascist pursuer, in one more marvel from director Pablo Larrain (Nosh 60).
8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Plenty of Heartland heartlessness, violence, sneaky twists in the Trumpian red zone. Actors Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, etc., give real grace to Martin McDonaugh’s crypto-Lynchean vision of a town where revenge is a dish best served hot (Nosh 90).
9. Hidden Figures – Three black women of science (ace actors: Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson) get our young space program off the launch pad in Theodore Melfi’s rousing lesson in history, math and sisterly soul (Nosh 48).
10. Lucky – Harry Dean Stanton left as a true star at 91, exiting with amusing, acerbic grace in John Carroll Lynch’s salute that includes a lovely Mexican song from HDS (Nosh 86).
11. A Quiet Passion – Another poet, no less than Emily Dickinson. English master stylist Terence Davies’s austerely deep view of her Amherst milieu and discrete passions let Cynthia Nixon, as Emily, top her long career (Nosh 67).
12. Faces Places – Old (88) auteur AgnesVarda chalks up another marvel, touring France with whimsical photo-site artist JR. It is a bright, surprising, satisfying trip (Nosh 84).
And….
13. The Disaster Artist – See the stunned review above.

Also definitely worth my time, and I hope yours: The Big Sick (Nosh 72), Chasing Train (68), Chavela (91), Chuck (66), Columbus (78), Fences (53), The Glass Castle (76), I Am Not Your Negro (55), I, Daniel Blake (70), Julieta (61), Kedi (58), LBJ (87), Letters From Baghdad (74), Lion (48),  Logan Lucky (77), Marie Curie (74), Neither Wolf Nor Dog (81), The Red Turtle (59), Take Every Wave (87), Wonder Woman (69) and Wonderstruck (89).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson is away this week to South America, looking again for the fabled lost print of The Magnificent Ambersons. But did Che Guevara find it in Bolivia?

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Raising money to make The Producers, about a Broadway hustler overselling investment shares in a new show, Mel Brooks “probably didn’t know of an obscure precedent. Appraising Orson Welles’s Othello, Frank Brady states that Welles ‘sold more than 100 percent of the film to sundry investors, but the financial machinations were so complicated that it is difficult to ascertain exactly how much was sold to whom, and probably Orson lost track himself.” (From the Zero Mostel/The Producers chapter in my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Kindle, Nook and Amazon.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.



Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) explodes his Brando ammo in The Room (Wiseu-Films 2003; director Tommy Wiseau, cinematographer Todd Barron).

For previous Noshes, scroll below. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Nosh 92: 'Wonder Wheel' & More

By David Elliott
                                                  
Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, fresh each Friday.
Note: Nosh 93 will appear on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018.


APPETIZER: Review of Wonder Wheel.
Recently we had Wonderstruck (good film) and Wonder (didn’t see it) and, last summer, Wonder Woman (good woman). If someone brings back The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), I will be having a wonderful time somewhere else.

Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, named for a famous Coney Island ride, is a retro rummage sale that lives only inside Allen’s endless spool of nostalgia. In the rude, jostling, postwar ’40s, Ginny (Kate Winslet) toils at a boardwalk clam bar (shades of Susan Sarandon serving oysters in Atlantic City). Her waitressing (shades of Winslet in Todd Haynes’s fine Mildred Pierce) is essentially rehearsal for domestic duty as the drudge wife of Coney workin’ slob Humpty (Jim Belushi, also quite a Dumpty).

Into their idyll of slow rot in a fading fun zone come figures crammed with aching dialog and melodramatic destiny. Humpty’s cute daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) returns, pursued by mobsters. Dreamy lifeguard hunk and aspiring writer Mickey (Justin Timberlake) talks about Hamlet, as if wanting him on rye bread, with some Method mustard (Timberlake, though fairly subtle, often seems to be channeling Ray Liotta from GoodFellas).

Mickey makes a hot play for Ginny, who’s thrilled, and then Carolina, who’s hopeful. Primitive Humpty growls, bellows, threatens and pleads. If you ever imagined Ernest Borgnine playing Stanley Kowalski, Jim Belushi delivers, in a Marty manner. The earthy ape is the only figure attuned to common sense, but like everyone he cooks in Allen’s drama stew, which has oodles of Odets, chunks of Chayefsky, winks of Williams, explicit mentions of O’Neill  and Greek tragedy, obvious debts to Simon (Brighton Beach Memoirs) and Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice). Vittorio Storaro, usually superb, photographed by infusing so much stagey, rusty-orange twilight that the steamy emotions begin to barbecue. As surplus heat, Ginny’s bored, angry kid is an arsonist, and during a kiss a torch song wails about a “kiss of fire.”

Allen is 82, and this is his 47th feature as director-writer. The perennial “why?” nagging Woody’s career is how he can still make some good entertainments, while awkwardly panting for approval as a serious artist (as if good comedy were not serious work). There is quite enough honest, show-savvy pathos in Annie Hall and Broadway Danny Rose for any good career. Digging for depth, he is less a writer than an underliner. On his messy boardwalk of broken dreams we can smell the saltwater taffy rotting. This is Allen’s worst picture since Interiors, the 1978 snooze bomb that appeared to be tracking chilly Edward Albee on the angst-frozen tundra of Ingmar Bergman. That was ice, this is fire, they’re both crap.   

The one stuck with the tab is Kate Winslet. I’ve never seen her give a bad performance, but Woody grinds her down. He gives her a big memory speech in achingly dull close-up. Later he dumbly cuts away, squishing her cri de coeur “Rescue me.” Living with a fat frog who can never be a prince, fearing her allure fading, Ginny is a pathos puppet. Allen even gives her vapors of Blanche Du Bois craziness. That derivation mostly worked for Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, but Winslet just looks blue and wasted. It’s as if she escaped the Titanic only to beach at Coney Island with a bad screenplay.

SALAD (A List)
The Dozen Best Leading Performances in Woody Allen Movies, ranked by my taste, naturally: Judy Davis in Husbands and Wives (1992), Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977), Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Jeff Daniels in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985),  Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (2011), Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine (2013), Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite (1985), Scarlett Johansson in Match Point (2006), Woody Allen in Zelig (1983), Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown (1989).

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
Orson decants a vintage memory for pal Henry Jaglom: “(Critic) George Jean Nathan was the tightest man who ever lived. He lived for 40 years in the Hotel Royalton and never tipped anybody in the Royalton, not even at Christmas time. (Finally) the room-service waiter peed slightly in Nathan’s tea. The waiters hurried across the street and told everyone at the Algonquin … As the years went by, there got to be more and more urine, less and less tea. And it was a great pleasure for us in the theater to look at a leading critic and know he was full of piss. And I, with my own ears, heard him at ‘21’ complaining to a waiter, ‘Why can’t I get tea here as good as at the Royalton?” (From My Lunches With Orson, by Jaglom.) 

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
Alec Guinness did a lot more good work after his 1950s prime, including “delicate fun being starchy in the Cuban sun of Our Man in Havana. Co-star Noel Coward snapped in his diary that ‘Alec has cultivated a zombie-like equilibrium, heavy on the Librium.’ Recessive brooding and pregnant silences found their summation on TV in spy George Smiley, who suggests a sand clock yearning for dust, yet so humanly. Smiley, a Brit-Zen sphinx, goes far past Gunnness’s wise Jedi knight in Star Wars (loving the income, Alec found the fan crowd a bore).” (From the Alec Guinness/The Horse’s Mouth chapter in my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, available from Kindle, Nook and Amazon.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.


Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) savors his Roman terrace vista in The Great Beauty (Janus Films, 2013; director Paolo Sorrentino, cinematographer Luca Bigazzi).



For previous Noshes, scroll below.