Movie Review: “Only the Brave” do what these folks do

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Moving, majestic and manly, “Only the Brave” is a nearly perfect rendition of the sort of righteous, heroic entertainment Hollywood routinely built around its best leading men.

It’s a combat film where the enemy is fire, a Western where the code men live by is to measure up to each other, to not let the team down by being its weakest link. It finds its humor in the hazing rituals, its simple virtues in the jargon, the discipline and professionalism of men doing what men do to impress other men and the women they leave behind for this dangerous work.

And it is built on rock solid performances by players who are the measure of the men and women they portray.

Of course they’re called “Hot Shots.” No other name fits these young, adrenaline junkie firefighters, the elite forest firefighters who stand between flames and property, between charred chaos and the green.

Josh Brolin, wearing the sort of unfussy, confident machismo that has become his screen trademark, is Eric Marsh, leader of the Granite Mountain Hot Shots. Or they will be, once he and his second, Steed (James Badge Dale) whip this crew of 20 into shape and get them certified.

Usually, such teams are Forest Service (national or state) professionals, smoke jumpers dropped into “start ups” to cut fire breaks, do back-burns and thwart the infernos that are an increasing feature of a climate changed/over-developed/water-starved American West. Marsh, Steed and the grizzled Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges, chewing a pinch) want Prescott, Arizona, to have its own municipal team.

One of the pleasures of screenwriter Sean Flynn’s script (based on a GQ article) is that in addition to all the talk of “beautiful vistas” as just “fuel” for the next conflagration, the fires which wear names the way hurricanes do — “Dragon,” “Horseshoe,” “Yarnell” — the slang — “Burn Over,” “The Play” (your game-plan for fighting a fire) and “Watch Outs” (a checklist of worries such as “fuel between me and the fire”) — is a quick lesson in the economics of this war. A small city like Prescott can make money off loan-out deployments of a crack crew, the “Seal Team Six” of firefighters.

Marsh is just in his early 40s, but he’s “Pops” to the likes of Mack (Taylor Kitsch), Rose (Jake Picking), Turbyfill (Geoff Stults) and the rest.

And he’s the only one to see promise in the aimless stoner Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), whose accidental fatherhood is is just the latest mistake in a blundering, drunken extended youth which he hopes firefighting will end.

Marsh talks to the fires, growling “Where’re you going? What are you up to? You want a piece’a my Carolina ass? Come get it!” But there’s one force that wholly takes his measure. And her name is Amanda, his skinny, flinty horse-whispering wife, played with a fierce intensity by Jennifer Connolly.

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She may listen to the time-tested counsel of an older firefighter’s wife (Andie MacDowell is Marvel Steinbrink) — “It’s not easy sharing your man with a fire.”

But Connolly’s Amanda gives as good as she gets, confronting, comforting, testing and questioning this perfectly-rendered, beautifully lived-in marriage. Yeah, she’s got her Oscar. “Only the Brave” is where she underlines that achievement and pounds an exclamation point onto it.

Former music video director Joseph Kosinski breaks free of the pretty but trifling sci-fi trap that “Tron” and “Oblivion” had him in with an assured, sturdy picture reminiscent of the work of Hollywood legends like Howard Hawks (“Red River,” “Rio Bravo”).

It’s in every Brolin glower at the skyline, every soot-and-sweat-stained deployment, every hard-drinking wind-down at the local bars where these heroes are given their due and accept it with an aw-shucks smile and a wink at the pretty ladies who love them a man in uniform.

The picture finds the poetry in the fiery apocalypse, the grace notes in the “terrible beauty” of forest fires, where an image of a burning bear haunts Marsh and thrills him at the same time.

And it’s in Marsh’s signature line, encompassing duty, code danger and fatalism in a single sentence.

“See you later,” the leader of a fellow crew shouts back at him as he drives off to another piece of the fire-line.

“One side or the other, brother.”

3half-star

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material

Cast: Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connolly, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale

Credits:Directed by Joseph Kosinski, script by Sean Flynn. A Sony/Columbia release.

Running time: 2:13

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Movie Review: It doesn’t cost much to make movie “Mayhem”

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You never want to grade a movie on the curve, but where B, C or D movies are concerned, exceptions are made.

“Mayhem” has two not-quite-names in the cast — star Steven Yeun, of “The Walking Dead,” and character actor extraordinaire Dallas Roberts (“Walk the Line,” “Dallas Buyers Club”). And actor-turned-director Joe Lynch is best known for direct-to-video (or close to it) genre thrillers such as “Everly.”

But is has a death-dealing virus set up and a claustrophobic setting — an office building (shades of “The Belko Experiment”). There’s a satiric anti-corporate greed/office culture edge and a video-game plot that has our blood-lusting hero and heroine slaughtering their way up to the board of directors.

And the Matias Caruso script is just laced with catch-phrase friendly dialogue.

“Put the fear of ME in them,” the big boss bellows to the murderous minions who would defend him from the revenge of an unjustly-fired underling and a furious foreclosure victim.

A couple bickers, mid-“Mayhem” — over their “Top Three Bands” list. “Motorhead…Anthrax. What? You thought I’d say The Dave Matthews Band?'”

“Hey, you should hear them LIVE!”

“I’d rather chew glass.”

It all adds up to a gonzo, LOL/WTF splatter thriller, a goof of a spoof that never loses sight of an “Us v. THEM” subtext, with the players wringing every last drop of gory fun out of it.

Yeun plays Dexter (A hint?) Cho, our narrator and hero, the once-idealistic young lawyer who has sucked up the company ladder and seen his soul sucked out in the process. A rival vixen known as “The Siren” (Caroline Chikezie of “Aeon Flux,” sexy-fierce and hate-able) sets him up to take the fall with the Big Guy (Steven Brand) for a botched account. And no amount of pleading, complaining or confiding in the one co-worker who would listen saves him.

Worse still, he’s just given short shrift to a foreclosure victim (Samara Weaving), ruining Melissa’s life and getting security to muscle her out of the hi-rise where Town & Smythe Consultants (“We consult because we care!”) resides. Talk about a sell-out.

And worst of all? The world is in the grip of the ID-7 virus, an “emotional hijacking” “Red-Eye” plague that doesn’t kill you, but enrages victims and strips them of self-control, the social filters that keep us from wiping each other out.

HQ is quarantined, with Dexter and Melissa locked in a maintenance room, tortured by “security” thugs. Until they turn the tables. Until they arm themselves — with hammers, nail guns and “extreme measures.”

And that’s when the slaughter begins. If they can get past the slippery, amoral self-preserving human resources monster (Dallas Roberts, hilarious) and through legions of corporate drones up to “The Nine” — the eighth floor, where the Big Boss and Board of Directors lay low — SOMEbody’s going to learn the cost of the euphemism “reduction in force.”

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How’d this or that fight come out?

“Natural selection happened!”

I laughed at a number of pithy put-downs, and there’s a cackle or three in the Darwinian/”Lord of the Flies” breakdown in what was already a callous, cruel and murderous culture depicted here.

The color-blind casting deserves praise. Derek is Asian-American for no stereotypical “reason” (unless that helps this sell in the Chinese market) and the Korean-American Yeun has a light touch with this heavy character. The worthiest villain is a ruthless, smart, “strong black woman,” again for no special reason (Although, again, China might go for that).

Chikezie is scary, Roberts is a stitch and the fights are grueling in their realism. Nobody has superhuman strength, just native cunning and the willingness to use whatever’s handy to deliver “That’s the VIRUS talking” justice to those who stand in their way.

It’s a funny, bloody mess, but a polished C-movie that aspires to B-movie status. And Yeun, Chikezie, Weaving (she’s Hugo Weaving’s Margot Robbie look-alike niece) and Roberts make “Mayhem” memorable, and quotable along the way.

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MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use

Cast: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Caroline Chikezie, Dallas Roberts

Credits:Directed by Joe Lynch, script by Matias Caruso. An RLJ Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:27

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Movie Review: Nuns suffer for their vocation in “Novitiate”

 

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The portrait that movies give us of nuns has long been out of date, disconnected from modern reality. Even the depictions of harsh Catholic school disciplinarians and secretive baby traders (“Philomena”) belong to an earlier era of starched habits and rigid, dogmatic Catholicism, even if the patriarchal hierarchy of the church seems little changed.

“Novitiate,” the new drama about novice nuns struggling to pass muster and embrace their new lives in a Tennessee convent in the early 1960s, acknowledges that historical inaccuracy, as one Postulant (not yet a novice) admits she was drawn to this life after watching a movie.

“The Nun’s Story,” she confesses, made her want to become Audrey Hepburn.

The debut feature of writer-director Margaret Betts packs melodramatic temptation, inhumanly-rigid discipline, devotion, self-doubt and sadistic self-administered punishment into its somewhat slow-footed two hours. She shows us quite a bit of the life of a convent and the strictures of “nunnery” — the eyes-down way of walking, “custody of the eyes,” silences divided into “regular silence” and the long, post-vespers “Grand Silence,” which forces nuns to learn sign language to communicate at all.

The film, which wanders hither and yon in whose point of view it wants to depict, mainly follows the trials of a committed young woman (Margaret Qualley) new to the Sisters of the Blessed Rose convent. She devoutly believes and wants to surrender herself to a higher power. But all around her are doubts — her own, and everybody else’s.

More interesting is the backdrop to all this, the early ’60s “Vatican II” reforms, which yanked the Catholic Church into the late 19th, if not the mid-20th century. Its impact is hardest on the Mother Superior (Melissa Leo), a smiling martinet who takes out her frustrations on the “relaxing” of long-held standards (and the Vatican’s impending demotion of nuns within the Church) on the contingent of new would-be nuns under her charge — takes it out on them with a vengeance.

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The future Sister Kathleen (Qualley) grew up in a broken home, with a hard-drinking absentee father and a loving but foul-mouthed, church-avoiding mom, played with a drawling ferocity by Julianne Nicholson of “Black Mass.”

A chance for a non-Catholic girl to go to Catholic school exposes Kathleen to the Church and sympathetic nuns as teachers. Their indoctrination takes, as she grows up to defy her mother and take the vows. “I’m in love,” she declares. With Jesus.

“Jesus Christ,” her mother complains. “Where did I go wrong?”

Betts sets us up for a convent war of wills story, with 18 of fresh young faces under the thumb of the Mother Superior, who keeps news of Vatican II from others in their cloistered world. But the Postulants are susceptible to the more open-minded views and temptations of Sister Mary Grace, played with doubt, intelligence and compassion by Dianna Agron of “Glee.”

But promising scenes where “our pope has gotten it into himself to be some sort of reformer” might come up for debate are brought up short by “not that it’s your place to question anything.” And this war of wills/battle for the souls of the new girls dynamic is abandoned.

Betts loses herself in depicting the girls who survive the arbitrary and cruel (“Give yourself the discipline” means self-flagellation with a knotted whip) winnowing of their ranks, the ceremony where the survivors symbolically “marry” Jesus, giving their lives to this life. And there’s the titillation that spins from the temptation — young women, denied any contact with the outside world or the simple, physical touch of another person — giving in to that need for human, loving contact.

Leo wonderfully captures the coiled-fury that her Mother Superior feels that a council of old men has banished “all that old medieval stuff” from her world, when those traditions were, she thinks, the only bulwark against the temptation her nuns are falling under. And the Oscar winner can break your heart as she relates this Vatican II “tolerance” — the bishops were breaking up their “marriages” after all — to her charges.

But her cruelty and dogmatic intolerance might make you think of others who reject “Vatican II” Catholicism — Mel Gibson’s splinter group dad, and Mel himself, for instance.

“Novitiate” is very much a mixed-bag of a movie, condemned by the fanatic at The Catholic Legion of Decency, but too revealing and realistic to discard outright, too heartfelt to fail to move, at times.

If nothing else, a film that explains this Mother Superior rather than demonizes her, that displays the rituals and routines of a convent (we never actually see the nuns doing the work to keep the place going) has more value than “The Nun’s Story” or “The Singing Nun” or “The Sound of Music” or “The Flying Nun” or “Sister Act.” Those perpetuate a myth well-worth discarding.

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MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexuality and nudity

Cast: Margaret Qualley, Dianna Agron, Melissa Leo, Julianne Nicholson

Credits: Written and directed by Margaret Betts.  A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 2:03

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Movie Preview: “Black Panther” trailer 2

More tech, more Africa, more costume. More sizzle? Not really. But one can sense the pent-up demand for this one swelling with each passing month.

Not my genre, but I’m curious.

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Movie Review: A funny old broad reminds us to “Wait for Your Laugh”

rosie1 Rose Marie was a crucial comic cog in the well-oiled comedy machine that was “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and taught the dancing/singing/pratfalling Van Dyke comic timing.

“Wait for your laugh!”

She was the first woman to host a TV game show, discovered Tim Conway, and became the ablest foil to “center square” Paul Lynde on “The Hollywood Squares” during a run that lasted 14 years.

And those were just the curtain calls on a career that began when she was “Baby Rose Marie,” a three year-old with the voice of a chain-smoking 40 something saloon singer, the “Shirley Temple of Radio” before Shirley Temple was even born.

It’s just after those bonafides are laid out in “Wait For Your Laugh,” the new documentary about her life, that the hilarious, one-liner-braying old broad  pops up on camera, cracks a couple jokes and reminds you that A) she’s still around at 94 and B) she’s looking for work.

This adorable documentary places this comic survivor and pioneer on a pedestal and recounts an epic career that had her on stage with Evelyn Nesbit — the scandalous vamp of “Ragtime” — in the ’20s.

“Baby” Rose Marie Mazetta was then taken under a doting Al Capone’s wing because her dad was a “made man,” who took and squandered every cent she made in a lucrative child-star career. She became an early star of NBC Radio, and then a singing, dancing and joking night-club legend in her teens and ’20s who could manage an Italian patter song with the best of them (She toured with Rosemary Clooney much later in life).

And when TV came calling, that voice let her play old women (at 34) from her first appearance (“Gunsmoke”) and made her “the only woman, the ONLY woman” who could play the grizzled wisecracking gag writer Sally Rogers on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” according to the guy who cast her, Carl Reiner.

Ahead of her time? Oh yeah. Listen to her daughter recount how Mom lost her big number in “Top Banana” thanks to her public rebuke of harassing Harvey Weinstein type on the set.

“You didn’t want to cross Rosie,” longtime pal and “Squares” host Peter Marshall says.

The revelations here include how she got her personal gag-writer, Morey Amsterdam, “a Human Joke Machine,” the job co-starring with her on “Dick Van Dyke,” how she chewed on the series’ star — calling Van Dyke “a six foot tower of Jelly” whenever he refused to stand up to management on the series.

She married a GI trumpeter from the Kay Kyser (and later Bing Crosby’s) band, and lost him to blood poisoning in the middle of her classic TV show’s run. She grew up with the likes of Milton Berle and George Burns, and calls friends Jerry Lewis and Johnny Carson her “angels” for what they did to help her and her husband when he was sick.

She worked steadily until very recently, doing guest spots on TV shows all through the ’80s and ’90s — “Wings,” “Murphy Brown.” She’s “Mama” in the Gun Van Sant remake of “Psycho.”

There are hints of her rivalry with Mary Tyler Moore (the breakout star of “Dick Van Dyke”) and laugh-out-loud accounts of the troubled backstage diva-duels of that epic touring revue, “Four Girls Four,” with fellow nightclub singers Rosemary Clooney, Margaret Whiting and Helen O’Connell.

There’s not enough about her improv-script polishing on “Van Dyke,” and nothing at all about any interplay — fun or feisty – she had with her fellow inhabitants of “The Hollywood Squares.”

But Jason Wise’s film honors a genuine showbiz trouper, a last survivor of vaudeville and The Golden Age of Radio, remembering what it was like (she’s ridiculously sharp) recalling those she met and still finding the laugh — and waiting for it — from her wheelchair.

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MPAA Rating: unrated, mild profanity, adult humor

Cast: Rose Marie, Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Tim Conway, Peter Marshall

Credits:Directed by Jason Wise, script by Christina Tucker, Jason Wise. A Vitagraph release.

Running time: 1:26

 

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Movie Nation: Daniel Radcliffe braves rapids, rain and snakes in “Jungle”

 

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“Jungle” hurls characters into the wilds of Bolivia’s then-uncharted Tuichi River region for a harrowing and hallucinatory trek from the middle of nowhere to the suburbs of nowhere.

It’s based on a true story, stars Daniel Radcliffe, and features almost everything you expect in such “man tests himself against nature” tales — snakes, storms, self-surgery and quicksand.

These are indulged college-age lads with no Bear Grylls to bail them out of their self-produced predicament. Who among them will survive?

Aside from our narrator, the Israeli Yossi Ghinsberg, who narrates the story and is played by the film’s star, I mean.

But what sets this genre picture apart is not just the usual intensity, guilt and hopelessness Radcliffe brings to the role. He’s spot on, as always, and puts us right into Yossi’s foot-rotting boots. It’s the chilling paranoia of the dark unknown, city lads in a jungle where everything noise from the night’s tiniest insects to the glowing-eyed jaguar is out to kill you, the fear that you’ve volunteered for a death march and that you’ve roped friends into it with you.

Yeah, director Greg McClean (“The Belko Experiment”) and screenwriter Justin Monjo have made this Australian production (shot in the jungles of coastal Oz) a horror movie, a living nightmare of ill-prepared uncertainty, Darwinian choices and utter despair.

Not that Yossi’s new friends, the Swiss backpacker Marcus (Aussie actor Joel Jackson) and his more outdoorsy American photographer pal Kevin (Alex Russell of “Chronicle” and “Carrie”) are warned that this awaits them. They’re having a high old time, seeing the sights, trying the local drugs and hitting it off with hot backpacking girls (Lily Sullivan) who read “A Happy Death” by Albert Camus to them.

“It takes time to live.”

But Yossi wants to top off his sightseeing/sex and hallucinogens “year off” before college with something that separates him from “every other tourist.”

And that’s what the Indiana Jonesish Karl (Thomas Kretschmann of “The Pianist”) promises. Unknown tribes, rivers running with gold, photographs no one else has taken, trails no one else has blazed. Yossi is sold, and Kevin and Marcus are persuaded. They’ll follow the rifle-packing he-man into nowhere.

“I’ll be an adventure,” Yossi promises. And he delivers. Before they’ve made much headway at all, the insects and damp have revealed Marcus as a weak link. Factions set up. Karl seems a bit of a savage — shooting monkeys, leaving them to fend for themselves for long, lost stretches.

The quest comes to a head when they all argue about how best to extract themselves form this “Lost City of Z” Hell. A raft?

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Events conspire to separate the quartet, and lost and alone, Yossi contemplates his choices, hallucinates his recent exploits (gambling in Vegas is re-imagined in James Bond tones) and remembers the Jewish talisman he was given to protect him and the disapproving family he left behind.

And that’s when the steep learning curve of surviving the “Jungle” hits Yossi — hard.

The best of these movies put us in the jungle with our hero, and this one manages that — hopeless choices, futile hiking and hacking, gruesome meals and the consequences of spending too much time in a place not meant for the coddled.

Kretschmann, one of my favorite actors, manages a mysterious swagger as Karl, a callous, cocky in his competence “Papa” to the boys.

“I know everything,” he says, and they kind of buy it, even if we don’t.

But this is Radcliffe’s movie, another challenging low-budget indie drama that puts the diminutive star in peril that no magic wand or spell can save him from. He’s tackled his version of “Lost City of Z,” tested himself and done it with an Israeli accent.

There’s no much new here, but it’s as engrossing the better entries in this formulaic quest and that’s largely owing to his charisma and focused self-martyrdom. He’s suffering for his art, and he convinces us to suffer with him.

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MPAA Rating: R for language and some drug use

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Thomas Kretschmann, Alex Russell, Joel Jackson

Credits: Directed by Greg McLean, script by Justin Monjo, based on the Yossi Ghinsberg memoir. An eOne release.

Running time: 1:55

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Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandal just keeps growing

hwIt started, just after Labor Day, with eruptions about has-been internet movie reviewing pioneer Harry Knowles and undenied allegations from the professionally (Hah!) unpleasant reviewer/programmer Devin Faraci.

But that was followed by the A-bomb that the Harvey Weinstein story has become. It gets worse with every passing day. 

A century after “the casting couch” was invented by Fatty Arbuckle era “dinosaurs” who led the way in “I may look like a gargoyle, but if I get enough power in the movie business, I’ll have beautiful women under my thumb in no time,” and Hollywood is shocked SHOCKED to discover they’ve got a sexual abuse problem.

Well, sure. Guys get into the movie business for the same reason they strive to become famous as jocks or rock stars. For access to women out of their reach. You think Tom Petty finds a mate outside of a trailer park without that guitar? It’s an equalizer for the unattractive. For piggish critics, too. 

FYI, I’ve chatted with Knowles a few times (seemed mild-mannered, not the sniggering perv he’s being painted as by accusers), quoting him in stories, and I seem to recall getting flamed by Faraci once or twice. Who hasn’t?

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Movies have been made about this unholy “understanding” hard-wired into movie-making lore, movies packed with scenes of the “compromise” made by aspiring actresses (and actors) and writers willing to risk too much by meeting with the wrong sort of producer, a known-lecher director, a compromise that is not a compromise at all.

It’s been treated as a joke, “a game” everybody who wants to work there plays. How many absurdly good-looking screenwriters, assistant directors, producers or agents can you think of? They arrived wanting to be actors, because they were prettiest/prom king in high school. It didn’t work out, so they “settled” for the other side of the camera. Maybe they didn’t “submit” to the right compromise.

How many times have you seen a movie business gnome — Valenti or DeLaurentis or Katzenberg and Swify Lazar — with a bombshell on his arm?

It’s a business that runs on and trades in sex appeal, and that gets one and all in trouble.

The horror stories coming out of the Weinstein scandal and the Knowles and Faraci and Affleck gropings/assaults-humiliations are earning justifiable disgust. But all up and down the line, people are trading on looks and sexual allure for access to power and a career. Some are willing to cross a line that others are not. The grunting boors in charge aren’t bothering to see a difference.

It cuts-both-ways as an affront to women, consisting of not just the assaulted but the whispered-about. Not just crime victims, but beauties of marginal talent make one inevitably wonder what happened to jump them to the front of the line. It’s not fair to anybody, but broken meritocracies are like that. Take away the brutish “leverage” men in power can wield over others and those doubts evaporate.

And yeah, ask me about the screenwriter who attached himself to the older woman director and his frantic phone calls to try and remove that part of the “transaction” from a profile. I was writing. The “transaction” swings that way, too, if more rarely.

One troubling aspect of all this is the braying “Why is X, Y or Z being SILENT on all this?” Right wing media, perhaps worried that the NY Times reporting on Weinstein is merely setting the table for a major take-down of the sexual harasser/assaulter in chief, are screaming this the loudest.

Some, like the Afflecks, live in glass houses and really shouldn’t be the ones to speak out.

Rose McGowan has long let one and all know that someone in power in Hollywood (she took hush money from Weinstein) raped her, and has exploded on social media over everybody who isn’t speaking out now (after not taking her seriously then) on this. She took Harvey’s money, refused to break her non-disclosure agreement to the NY Times or The New Yorker or NBC (where Ronan Farrow’s expose, which the Times learned about and then scooped), and is now trying to take the high ground that she in fact refused to help build.

And McGowan and Fox News are ignoring the obvious, this “speaking out” thing is tricky. Without witnessing abuse first hand, what you’re dealing with is just an ugly rumor. Lots of ugly rumors. I’ve met and interviewed lots of producers — Weinstein, Sean Daniels Sr. and Jr., Parkes, Lasker, Kennedy, Silver, Rudin and on and on. Many of them, but not all, have horrible reputations as bullies. People will say the worst things about any of them — grudges, grievances — so you don’t know what to believe. Is it easier to believe something about Weinstein, Knowles or others simply because they’re obese, physically grotesque? Is that why Woody Allen gets a pass? Polanski?

When does somebody scream “Jealousy” as a defense, or anti-Semitism? And how often?

At premieres and interview/junket weekends in New York or Los Angeles over the years, one couldn’t help but notice how young, pert and beautiful the Miramax and later Weinstein Co. publicists were, veritable replicants in their matching short black dresses. And when you notice you wonder about the office culture that demands they comport themselves like that. You rarely saw the same crew more than four or five times. A regular rotating carousel of young, pretty and deferential to the men in charge underlings passed through.

And an “It’s no big deal — everybody does it” attitude that Weinstein gruesomely voiced isn’t just a lame excuse, it’s a face. Whatever court papers show about Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, they keep getting money to work. Victor Salva’s career didn’t end after prison. The turn-a-blind eye toward anything sexual got Casey Affleck his Oscar, or so it would seem. 

One thing Hollywood can’t abide is a drunken anti-Semitic tirade, even though Mel Gibson is working again. Russell Crowe was “difficult” before he threw that phone. And audiences — female ones — were a lot harder on Kevin Costner for winning Oscars and changing wives than they’ve been on Woody Allen. Weinstein-level crimes and lesser violations have been tolerated, both by Hollywood and especially by the now-outraged public.

Where do you park yourself on the “Believe the accusers” vs “Rights of the accused” spectrum? We should fear a “conviction by accusation” culture that has twitter hunting up a bad Jason Momoa joke or quick to label anyone/everyone a “monster,” “sexist,” “racist” and get a result by rounding up an online mob willing to swallow that, facts be damned.

And what do you do with the rough “sex play” abusive gay/bi comic book superhero whispers, the oft-discussed director (also gay, BTW) who takes liberties (assaults) with young men trying to get a start in the movies? The long-repeated story of an ex-Madonna boyfriend who grabbed a studio publicist “Trump style,” in front of reporters, to “get her attention” at a studio junket? Where do you put that?

So it’s been going on forever, a dirty big secret that puts everybody in the position of “What did you hear and when did you first hear it? Hilarious to see Bob Weinstein’s predatory role in the destruction of his wayward sibling. As if he didn’t know.

For everybody else, “Silence” is, perhaps, understandable. Nobody wants to be sued. Nobody wants to unjustly accuse the merely unpopular –outside of the little dears at Gawker/Gizmodo media. Why speak up until it’s actually out in the open, and until you’re ASKED?

Yeah, I saw the late Don Simpson of Simpson/Bruckheimer derail a busy day of interviews with his every-20-minutes bathroom breaks, followed by intense nose-rubbing afterwards. I recall waiting for a once high and mighty (short, actually) star holding up a concert/film premiere for his own “bathroom break,” insulting his more talented co-star, who was about to perform. Similar nasally fixated.

If you don’t have proof, it’s just “rumors.” And “rumors” not only don’t equal proof, they don’t demand an end to “silence.” Try to work in or around the movies and avoid every unpleasant, creepy SOB and see how far you get. It’s rampant.

But as any journalist breaking a controversial story can tell you, there are few things more reassuring than arm-twisting sources, getting that story out there, and then having legions of the silent come forward, even belatedly, to verify it. That’s happening now. It’s snowballing, “a tsunami” an unnamed source told The Daily Beast. I’m just not betting money on anything in Hollywood changing because of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Box Office: Blumhouse Breaks the House with “Happy Death Day,” “Foreigner” loses Green Card

death2A big Thursday night and a huge Friday have pushed box office predictions for the “Groundhog Day With a Slasher” Blumhouse offering, “Happy Death Day.”

No name stars, a borrowed plot (“Before I Fall,” anyone?), not quite funny, not terribly scary, it’s still managing $26-28 million worth of business on its opening weekend. Universal horror LIVES. Via Blumhouse, anyway.

“Blade Runner 2049” is underwhelming in its efforts to hold onto audience or audience share, shirking nearly 60% in its second weekend — over $14 — but not by much.

The Jackie Chan version of a Liam Neeson thriller, “The Foreigner,” is doing OK — but not much better. Pierce Brosnan hasn’t had a picture open this big since “Mama Mia,” and Jackie? He sheds his light, funny persona for something more Schwarzeneggerish in this violent thriller tailored to the Chinese market. $12-13 million of Americans want to see the peaceful man of the East beat up unreformed, unrepentant IRA terrorists.

It’s already a smash hit in China. So we may never see another villain from the world’s largest one-party dictatorship. Pity.

“Marshall” cracked the Top Ten in limited release, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” should have a much better Saturday and might crack it (11th now).

 

 

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Movie Review: Birthdays are all deja vu in “Happy Death Day”

 

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So “Happy Death Day” is a “Groundhog Day” knockoff with a dead teenager horror twist. Somebody gets to live and relive a day over and over again until he or she “gets it right.”

And yeah, so what if that’s already been done with the dark, romantic and soulful “Before I Fall” just this year. No points for originality, in any event.

But all that matters is A) Is it scary? and B) Is it funny? Those answers are “A little” and “More or less.”

Strip away a charismatic mean girl turn by leading lady Jessica Rothe (“La La Land”) and there’s not much to this.

Teresa, or “Tree” (pronounced Trey) as she calls herself, wakes up one morning to the sound of Bayfield University’s tower clock striking nine. Just the look on Rothe’s makeup-smeared face tells us what happened last night, and that it wasn’t the first time.

“Am I in a dorm room?” she asks the stranger (Israel Broussard) she woke up with. She demands “Tylenol,” her clothes and manages a Walk of Shame that has no shame, brushing off her sleepover pal, the “Save the planet” petitioner on the quad, her dad’s phone calls to ignore, a previous one-night stand who wonders “why you never responded to my texts,” the domineering sorority president (Rachel Matthews) and plane-Jane sorority sister roommate (Ruby Modine).

She’s got a class to get to, a professor (Charles Aitken) to make out with and this night’s party to prep for. That’s what party girls like her do, especially on her birthday.

But the night ends with a hoodied nut with a knife wearing a school mascot mask trapping and killing her in her shortest/best party dress. Never saw that coming. The first time, anyway.

For it is now Tree-pronounced-Trey’s fate to suffer that same fate, in different ways and in different locales, every night. For no discernible reason and with no supernatural intervention we’re aware of, it’s Tree-pronounced-Trey’s Groundhog Day at Bayfield in the bosom of Louisiana.

She responds with shock, the slow realization she’s been through this before leading to dismay, outrage, defiance and some sort of acceptance.

No, bingeing on junk foot (“Not a KAPPA diet!”), breaking wind in front of random one-nighter Carter (Broussard), whom she tries to unravel this mystery with, hurling herself at her married paramour and taking a stab (hah!) at being nice don’t add up to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Death and Dying (denial, anger, bargaining, etc.).

Or DO they? That anchored “Before I Fall,” which was based on a best-seller and thus a lot deeper than this random Ripper riff on “Groundhog Day.”

I mean, the school is Bayfield, and their team name is…The Babies? It’s a scary mascot mask, but I kept hearing Alec Baldwin barking out “Cookies are for CLOSERS” every time I see the killer show up in it.

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The solution to “Who’s KILLING me, night after night?” is easier to guess than any reason — supernatural or otherwise — that Tree-pronounced-Trey is being “taught” this “lesson.”

She’s got issues — a bit loose (“slut” and “skank” can only be used, with love, between sorority sisters) — but nothing that adds up deserving a brutal, gruesome death night after night. Maybe the male screenwriter has issues of his own.

But through it all, our heroine Rothe soldiers on — giving as good as she gets in one knockabout struggle after another, creating empathy for this flirtatious floozy who fights back and slowly but surely reasons her way to an answer.

There’s barely one moment of pathos in all of this, leaving “Death Day” miles behind “Groundhog Day” or “Before I Fall” in terms of ambition, subtext and execution.

The laughs are mostly of the sorority girl name-calling variety. You know the word. It start with “bee” and ends with “yotch.”

The movie all but abandons the “relive your life” thing and devolves into too-too-generic stalked sorority girl thriller in the third act.

But in Rothe, we’ve got a new scream queen worthy of the crown — plucky, testy, sexy and spot-on in landing a catch-phrase or punch line.

“Did I totally embarrass myself last night?”

Not even close.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence/terror, crude sexual content, language, some drug material and partial nudity

Cast: Jessica RotheIsrael Broussard, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine

Credits:  Directed by Christopher Landon, script by Scott Lobdell. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:36

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Movie Review: “The Meyorwitz Stories” is a cut above the usual Adam Sandler Netflix movie

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“The Meyorwitz Stories (New and Selected)” gives us an Adam Sandler removed from his natural habitat — lowbrow comedy — and divorced from the vast dead weight that is his onscreen entourage.

There’s no David Spade, no Colin Quinn, no Dan Patrick cameo.

He doesn’t mug for the camera, doesn’t come off as delusional about his looks, his athletic skills or the sort of woman who might be paired up with him, sans comic film stardom. Jennifer Aniston doesn’t play his wife, in other words.

He still sings, still skips shaving and wears shorts in most scenes. But I guess even writer-director Noah Baumbach has to make the odd concession.

Sandler plays Danny, an unhappy, about-to-divorce son who grew up in the shadow of a haughty, egomaniacal yet frustrated New York sculptor and professor (Dustin Hoffman), a son whose pride and joy (Grace Van Patten) is an aspiring filmmaker headed off to college.

But when they visit his pretentious, oft-married and pontificating father and Dad’s latest wife — a tippling hippie (Emma Thompson) — Danny’s frustrated life’s origins become clear. The old man could never stand for anybody else to share the spotlight, never treated any child (Elizabeth Marvel plays Jean, Danny’s shrinking/shrunken violet sister) with anything other than dismissive tolerance.

Retired, Harold Meyorwitz still takes offense at the faintest slight to his own importance, be it from his former school, his peers or the art world and culture in general.

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He prattles on endlessly about a rumored offer of a show, “a retrospective would be a real feather in my hat…I think I’m doing my best work,” and then we see his little wooden assemblages and wonder which interstate motel chain would find them worth mass-producing.

There’s talk of selling all the work, and their roomy New York townhouse, to gay fans of the work who feed dad’s self-absorbed ego, but do nothing for Danny, who never took his ability to compose little family ditties at the piano anywhere.

There’s another son by a different mother who escaped from Harold’s shadow and got away from his influence. Matthew (Ben Stiller) is a West Coast wealth manager to the stars (Adam Driver plays a rock star client). He drops back into Harold’s orbit, but is immune to his put-downs.

“I  keep thinking I can handle you.”

The filmmaker daughter/granddaughter is fond of showing herself nude in sexual situations in her nonsensical student films. There’s a rival’s (Judd Hirsch) art opening in which Harold storms out in a huff, but not before Sigourney Weaver says “Hello,” which to Harold reinforces his importance in the world.

And a crisis throws them all together for an extended period where old schisms are (partially) healed and misunderstandings give way to bonding. Sort of.

So “Meyorwitz” is Adam Sandler stuffed into a Noah Baumbach (“Greenberg,” “Frances Ha”) world filled with chattering Baumbach characters –self-obsessed, navel-gazing New York Jews. Sandler holds his own, with the occasional cute song, the odd “Punch Drunk Love” explosion of temper, and fits right in with the likes of Stiller, Hoffman and Thompson.

Which is more screen effort than he’s shown in decades.

It’s light and occasionally hard to follow, with might-be-funny exchanges smothered by all the talking over one another. It’s also perfectly watchable, a real novelty in the Sandler canon if nothing really new for Baumbach.

“Meyorwitz” is also insular, insufferably self-involved, like its patriarch, and a bit wearing, like lesser Baumbach (“Margot at the Wedding,” “Mistress America”).

The fact that it’s on Netflix makes the nearly two hour run time of this 90 minute dramedy far easier to take. Yes, we’ve seen Adam Sandler roll up his sleeves and probe he belongs in a smarter, edgier picture. And?

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MPAA Rating:

Cast: Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch

Credits: Written and directed by Noah Baumbach. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:52

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