Yes, it looks like they give the whole danged thing away in the preview of this Oct. 15 release (in theaters, and on Peacock Network).
But we’ll have to watch the completed thriller to see, won’t we?
Yes, it looks like they give the whole danged thing away in the preview of this Oct. 15 release (in theaters, and on Peacock Network).
But we’ll have to watch the completed thriller to see, won’t we?
The French documentary “Savior for Sale” came out in France before the very fine theatrical documentary “The Lost Leonardo” hit theaters.
As the films are about exactly the same subject — the “discovery,” epic resales and scandalous politicking involved in trying to bums-rush the authentication of a painting labeled “The Male ‘Mona Lisa'” — the filmmakers interview many of the same subjects, cover much the same ground and lean on many of the same visuals in telling this story of the insular world of high-end art, “full of people trying to make huge amounts of money out of (very very) rich people.”
We see the same Christie’s Auction House video montage (a different sample) of wide-eyed/teary-eyed visitors, members of the general public, awed in the presence of this “lost masterpiece” about to be auctioned off in New York. The filmmakers — Andreas Koefoed for “Leonardo,” Antoine Vitkine made “Savior for Sale” — even use the same graphics in tracking the travels of this tale of how this damaged, “paint-over” painting of Jesus, perhaps painted by Leonardo Da Vinci himself, perhaps assisted by or wholly painted by his workshop, perhaps neither, came to sell for $450 million, including commission.
If you saw “The Lost Leonardo,” as I did, you probably don’t need to stream or catch “Savior for Sale.” They’re damned near identical. But the French film is more thorough, more blunt, has more edge and takes a firmer stand on the “Lost Leonardo” than “The Lost Leonardo.”
To recap, this very old and damaged painting was “discovered” in New Orleans, exhibited in London, sold to a Russian oligarch, re-sold to the murderous Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for a staggering sum and negotiated into an exhibition at the Louvre, which declined to authenticate it or give it standing alongside their most prized painting, the “Mona Lisa.”
The arc of “Savior” throws the British endorsement of the painting by the “ambitious curator” of the National Gallery in London (Luke Syson) into sharp opposition with the French officials who “courageously” who rebuffed it and questioned its authenticity.
“Savior” comes off as more jingoistic, as if the French, Guardians of World Culture, are refighting the Hundred Years War and Napoleonic Wars all over again with those gauche Brits and their American offspring. Monty Python would certainly see it that way.
But Vitkine interviewed the heir of the Louisiana owner, and shows where the painting was hung in the family’s New Orleans home. He got an actual interview with the Russian oligarch, Dmitri Rybolovev, who was talked into buying it by his slippery Swiss go-between, Yves Bouvier.
Vitkine labels the various principals, aka “usual suspects” (my term), “The Expert,” “The Curator (Syson),” “The Journalist (New York Times reporter Scott Reyburn).” One art historian, a Belgian advisor (Chris Dercon) to the Saudis, who envision the world beating a path to their blood-stained museum doors, is even labeled “The Mercenary.”
He laughs a lot in the film. Let’s hope he laughed at that description.
“Lost Leonardo” spends a lot more time on the restorer (Dianne Dwyer Modestini), who may have “restored” the work to look more Da Vinci-like, perhaps inadvertently. “Savior” spends more time on the 17th century Wenceslaus Hollar etching that is supposedly based on it, and gives voice to a leading academic skeptic (Matthew Landrus) who is asked about any trepidations he might have about speaking out about how this probably wasn’t painted by Leonardo Da Vinci.
“Savior” has two interviewees speak behind masks or in shadow, Louvre experts talking about French doubts as to the painting’s authenticity and true value and Saudi efforts to bribe “Salvator Mundi” into international acceptance.
Because MBS has already shown a willingness to have his critics murdered.
Having reviewed “The Lost Leonardo,” I was going to pass “Savior for Sale” by. But I found the French film (Was it made for French TV?) engrossing and more informative, “Leonardo” more touching and poetic. You can see and feel why people got swept up in the presence of a painting of Jesus by the great Renaissance polymath in “Leonardo.” That business that art expert Martin Kemp, an expert extensively interviewed for both films, speaks of as “the presence” of a “real Leonardo,” comes through much more clearly in that film.
Kemp, whose early endorsement played a key role in pushing a painting purchased for $1175 one year into selling for $127.5 million, then $450 million a couple of years later, gets more of a roughing up in “Savior for Sale.”
If you’re limiting yourself to one film on the subject, I’d suggest the more thorough “Savior.” But you come away from either documentary with the same smirking dismay of how gullible and stupid the stupidly rich let themselves be in the presence of the denizens of The World of Fine Collectible Art, who may live by the ethos “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but say the phrase with the poshest (British, French or Italian) accent imaginable.
Cast: Robert Simon, Scott Reyburn, Martin Kemp, Luke Syson, Dianne Dwyer Modestini, Matthew Landrus, Chris Dercon, Yves Bouvier, Dmitri Rybolovev, Loïc Gouzer
Credits: Directed by Antoine Vitkine. A Greenwich Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:38
So here we are again, Moriarty. Or shall I call you writer-director Justin Lee?
You’re the prolific filmmaker with no less than nine writing and directing credits produced, filmed and unleashed since 2018. I’m the sucker who keeps reviewing cut-rate Westerns like “Badland” and “A Reckoning,” or even more generic thrillers like “Big Legend.”
I had vowed to leave you to your Uwe Boll II business lest it seem I’m on some personal vendetta against a guy who, let’s face it, should be traveling the country, doing seminars at film schools.
Because Justin Lee gets movies made. Legions of talented filmmakers struggle and scrape by and dream and network and get nowhere in Hollywood or New York. Lee lines up “Dr. Drew” Pinsky and wrestler Randy Couture, Lance Henriksen or Oscar winners Mira Sorvino and Wes Studi, James Russo and Bruce Dern and, in his latest, Thomas Jane and Lee’s mascot, Trace Adkins, and cranks out another movie.
Film students far and wide would pay to have him teach a master class on how he manages it.
The movies are, to a one, crap. Lee has no flare for storytelling for the screen — writing, or directing. And Trace Adkins is to acting what Norm MacDonald was to country music. And just as animated, in Norm’s current state.
“Apache Junction” is another static, artless and pokey Western with an aimless, scattershot script, a few horses, a little gunplay and nothing that does any credit to the acting profession. At all.
Scout Taylor-Thompson plays a pretty reporter from the San Francisco Examiner come to the middle of nowhere, Arizona, to write about the lawless “sanctuary” Apache Junction, basically a free fire zone that is the Russian-financed NRA’s wet dream for America.
She is protected, after a fashion, by the gunslinger Jericho (Stuart Townsend), the Native American Wasco (Ricky Lee) and the pipe-puffing saloon owner, Al Longfellow (Jane). But Miss Annabelle Angel (Jesus H, where does he find these names?) is no dainty thing, “lady” or not. She doesn’t ride side-saddle and it being 1881, she totes a gun.
That’s handy because the Junction has bad hombres — the murderous card cheat Oslo Pike (Ed Morrone), assorted cutthroats, and the rapey Blue Bellies, U.S. Army troops meant to keep order and deliver justice, but led by cynical do-nothing Capt. Hensley (Adkins).
Why would you name a character Oslo and not suggest, “Hey, he’s a Norwegian immigrant, like everybody John Qualen (“The Searchers,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) played in John Ford’s Westerns?” Get him to do an accent. SOMEthing.
The Sante Fe locations are properly sage-brushed and weathered. But the wardrobe department ensures that every character in this looks freshly dry-cleaned, as was the fashion of the day, I guess.
Scene after scene opens slowly, staggers down to a pause, and dies in its tracks.
The dialogue is recycled saddle slang — “He’s jus’spent too much time in the sand and snakes to know how t’treat a respectable woman.”
The acting is colorless, with even the grizzled veteran Jane failing to wring anything out of a moment or scene. Well, when Miss Angel asks “You’re who this establishment belongs?” he chuckles and repeats the agrammatical line, as if daring his writer-director to do another take.
Was the entire feature cut from first takes? It looks it, and Clint would be proud, if not entertained. No one else will be either.
One thing you do when you’re stuck reviewing films by people who can get movies made but only make bad ones is look for signs of learning, polish and improvement from film to film. From Cheech & Chong to Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry, I’ve looked for “progress” in the work, even if I found most of it garbage.
But I’m not seeing that here. Seriously, Mr. Lee, get a mentor, study classic films SHOT BY SHOT, scene by scene. Sign up for online “Master Classes” on shot composition, screenplay basics and directing actors.
Better yet, become a producer and help filmmakers with talent get their better scripts cast, financed and filmed.
And there’s always that seminar idea. Because the world doesn’t need any more proof of Trace Adkins’ limitless limitations in front of the camera or yours behind it.
Rating: R, violence
Cast: Stuart Townsend, Scout Taylor-Thompson, Victoria Pratt, Lorena Sarria, Trace Adkins and Thomas Jane.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Justin Lee. A Saban Films release.
There’s not much doing any business these days other than the latest money-making marvel from Marvel.
“Free Guy” has been the comedy sensation of the summer, high concept and effects packed and video gamer friendly and all that. It managed another $5.1 million. Over $108 million as of tonight.
Clint Eastwood’s funereal and dull “Cry Macho” wasn’t a complete bust. It finished second and earned just under $5 million on a boatload of screens. His audience has aged out of cinema-going, so perhaps it did well on HBO Max. But only comic book movies are impacting streamers’ bottom line and subscription numbers. So many not.
All figures are courtesy of BoxOfficePro.com
Some movies don’t need to tell you they’re “based on a true story.” You don’t have to recall the dates and details. You don’t question what unfolds on the screen. Based on everything we’ve seen and heard over the past decade, you just know.
“The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” is a gripping, heart-breaking real-time account of a White Plains, New York police call that took just over an hour to go totally, irrevocably and inexcusably wrong. A Black man, a Marine Corps veteran with medical issues, was dead.
And since it was 2011, no charges were brought against the police, no jury would give legal satisfaction to his heirs. Because such stories didn’t fit into an unfolding national tragedy and nationwide policing scandal.
Veteran character actor Frankie Faison, an established screen presence long before the original “Coming to America,” before Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” or Alan Parker’s “Mississippi Burning,” gets a rare leading role and acts the hell out of this spare, compact tragedy with just a handful of characters and a single setting.
He has the title role, a Marine Corps veteran with limited hearing, a bad heart and mental health issues. He takes his medic alert monitor off to get through a restless night. And that sets off a chain of events, a slow-motion disaster that plays out with a depressing inevitability that no amount of shouting at the screen can halt.
The medical monitoring company calls, and can’t wake him to answer the phone. It’s five AM. They call the police for a “welfare check” visit.
Three White Plains PD officers show up — a rookie (Enrico Natale) who used to be a middle school teacher, a hardcase Sgt. (Steve O’Connell) and a short-tempered veteran of the force (Ben Marten). They pound at the door, waking the groggy, hearing-impaired old man.
We fret for him as he slowly shuffles to the door, worry about his confusion at presence, and expect the worst from the guys in uniform. Because “I do not have an emergency…It was an accident. Thank you for your trouble” is not moving them from his apartment door.
As the pounding goes on, we see the impatience of the two older cops. And we’ve already heard the telltale signs that give away how this evening will end.
The neighborhood is “the third world.” The phrase “learn who’s boss” comes up. Racial slurs slip out. The nicest is “cocoa puff.”
And no “What’s going on here?” neighbors, no pleas from the alert company operator, who calls the police to call them off, no begging by the sick old man’s niece (Angela Peel) will get these officers to move on.
We hear the “Check his ID, run’em.” We see the escalations, sense the tension that rises with every “You are not coming into my house” and “You have no warrant, no probable cause.”
The die is cast long with the “We’re handling this” brush-offs of neighbors and family, before reinforcements arrive, before a fresh sergeant shows up with “irons” (battering rams) and a brusque order to “Have your guys tac up!”
Faison’s layered performance staggers from confused to paranoid, rational and outraged to rational and terrified. He doesn’t have to tell his son or sister by phone “You know how the police are around here.” They do.
Natale gets to play the reasonable, “Let’s just leave” rookie, the rational, educated man among hardened authority junkies. Their racism is almost immaterial. Their big beef is being told “no” and “you have no right.”
The rookie? He’s a “cry baby,” and “emotionally sensitive” and therefor must be ignored.
Writer-director David Midell cast this well, turned in a script with a bitter, metallic aftertase and never wastes a second of screen time, giving us two points of view — outside and inside that door — letting us stay one step ahead of this slow tumble off a cliff.
We experience the assault the way Kenneth did — his hearing aids roaring the noise, the rational fear that any time the police enter your home “they want to hurt me” irrationally amplified.
And in the closing credits, we hear the original medical alert calls and phone conversations and see snippets of the “raid” on old video.
Because sometimes “based on a true story” isn’t damning enough.
Rating: unrated, violence, profanity, racial slurs
Cast: Frankie Faison, Steve O’Connell, Enrico Natale, Ben Marten, Angela Peel and Tom McElroy.
Credits: Scripted and directed by David Midell. A Voltage film, a Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:21
Ethiopian-American filmmaker Haile Gerima’s 1993 gem “Sankofa” is both a landmark of indie cinema and a benchmark on the storytelling road between TV’s “Roots” and the Oscar winning drama, “12 Years a Slave.”
It’s a poetic, mystical and meandering immersion in the life-as-a-slave experience, both for the viewer and for our on-screen surrogate, the callow fashion model Mona (Oyafunmike Ogunlano), who has come with a white photographer for a photo shoot on the grim, hallowed ground of an old slaver’s fortress on the coast of Ghana.
She is smiling, showcasing swimsuits and flashing skin in a place where untold thousands of Africans were held before being loaded into ships for the horrors of the Middle Passage to the Americas, a place now treated as a tourist attraction for the well-heeled and the curious.
An old shaman (Kofi Ghanaba) who calls himself “Sankofa” paints his body and pounds his drums each day at the entrance of the place, remembering the tragedy there, perhaps chanting to exorcise its evil. He gets right in Mona’s face about her cavalier attitude towards this landmark.
She may not understand his torrent of angry words, but she and we get the picture. Respect this place, and respect yourself and where you came from, while you’re at it.
Taking a tour into the dungeons, Mona watches the lights dim, and woodfires alight. She sees the faces of the shackled and enslaved, waiting to board a ship. She tries to flee, but finds the entrance guarded by slavers. She is stripped, screaming, and branded.
“Sankofa” has her awaken in a new life with no apparent memory of her modern one. She is a house slave in the Lafayette sugar cane plantation in Louisiana, struggling to love a West Indian field hand (Mutubaruka) and like others, pondering her fate and her future in this system where human beings are abused, raped, bought and sold with no control over their lives.
Some who run have the courage to rage at the beatings they face upon capture — “You can’t do nothing to my soul, only to my FLESH!”
The head field hand Joe (Nick Medley) is nicknamed “Bible Boy” by his fellow slaves. He is slow to recognize the truth of his fair-skinned bi-racial heritage. His mother was raped on the Middle Passage. He wants answers from the white Catholic priest (Reggie Carter).
“Whose son am I?”
At some point, you just know the “keep them in line” Christian padre will use the same word the overseer does to describe Joe.
Gerima (“Teza,””Bush Mama”) folds in varied pieces of the enslaved experience, including the runaway-backed underground, which helps the Lafayette slaves plot an insurrection.
Its easy-to-follow if somewhat disjointed narrative has a stream of consciousness feel and Gospel solos and plaintive jazz horns underscore the shifting points of view, with Mona — now called Shala — tying it all together and commenting on slave life in voice-over narration. Her journey is from complacent acceptance to radicalization, both as a slave and in her modern life as a model who has her consciousness awakened.
What’s striking all these years later is how Gerima was able to get good performances and create realistic settings with almost no money. He doesn’t have the cash to rent a wooden ship, so he skips that part of the story. He only shows the plantation house from afar and stages most of the action and interactions in cane fields, in the woods or the vast Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.
Gerima, whom I interviewed back in the ’90s when he was showing the film at North Carolina’s state film school, never got proper distribution for “Sankofa,” so he took it around the US, booking theaters and showing it to paying audiences.
Although it’s been available on other streamers, the new Array 4K restoration, added to Netflix on Friday, is its best chance to reach a wide audience, an indie classic ready to be “discovered” by a new generation.
Rating: unrated, violence, rape, nudity
Cast: Oyafunmike Ogunlano, Nick Medley, Mutubaruka, Alexandra Duah,
Kofi Ghanaba and Reggie Carter
Credits: Scripted and directed by Haile Gerima. An Array 4K restoration on Netflix Sept. 24
Running time: 2:04
Whatever sway the police may have on the streets of Marseilles, in the high rise projects on its northern edges, the gangs run the show. The cops, even the elite “BAC” special squads, avoid them. Merely driving up earns a warning whistle, the international cry of “POPO,” and mobs descend on them — challenging, baiting and threatening the officers with badges.
That’s the setting of “The Stronghold,” titled “BAC Nord” when it played in France. This “inspired by a true story” is a “French Connection” that isn’t about the connection, a “District B-19” or “The Raid” without over-the-top mayhem, martial arts brawls or trigger-happy shootouts.
The anarchy and immigrant-led gang rule? That’s such a common refrain in French cinema, these days. A recent reimagining of “Les Miserables” and other films underscore that, or at least the perception of it.
“Stronghold” is a somewhat misshapen film, climaxing early, dragging out the anti-climax, playing out more predictably than you’d like or expect. As it begins with Gregory Cerva (Gilles Lellouche) getting out of prison, we know where this is headed.
Sgt. Cerva is a 20 year veteran of the force, leading his BAC 26 team — athletic Antoine (François Civil) and tough and hotheaded Yass (Karim Leklou) — into action, mixing it up with petty criminals, banging up the department’s Citroen station wagon as he does, which always gets him into hot water with the boss.
“We’re useless now,” Cerva grumbles (in French with subtitles, or dubbed into English). “The more we do, the less we achieve.”
A frantic car and motor scooter chase, filmed largely with hand-held cameras, opens the action and ends with the prospect of every movie cop’s worst nightmare — “paperwork.”
So they just go out and bust a street corner dealer they’ve been tipped about instead. We see them round up back alley sellers of endangered turtles, cadge free “Gypsy cigarettes” from informants and chase down their favorite pickpocket.
These guys have a casual corruption about them, and a need to “fill our quota” of arrests. So they prey on small fry.
But Antoine, a casual cannabis user, has this informant (Kenza Fortas) whom he’s a little sweet on. He bribes her with a cut from the hashish busts and can basically hit any number of low level dealers at will, just on her latest tip.
When a viral video of gangsters meting out rough justice to hapless residents of the various projects gets too much attention, word comes down from on high (Cyril Lecomte). “Take down the network!”
Might this informant give them the tip that helps them placate the boss, his boss the Prefect and the Mayor who wants “progress against crime” headlines? Maybe. But the price is sure to be high, and off the books.
“True story” or not, “The Stronghold” traffics in police procedural cliches. Yass is married to a dispatcher (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and they’re expecting a baby. Cerva is the grizzled, embittered loner and Antoine the youthful legs, the man-bunned hunk who leads the foot chases through the alleys, markets and projects of the city.
Husband and wife director/writer team Cédric Jimenez and Audrey Diwan (“The Man with the Iron Heart,” “La French” (aka “The Connection”) deliver decent chases, a “zoo” of a police station and a chaotic day-of-the-big-sting assault, mostly-filmed hand-held. The “preparations for the big raid” is mostly edited into a montage, a series of shakedowns of street dealers and hash users — cops just robbing people of drugs they just bought.
The film’s sole light moment comes when they nab a street dealing kid who spews abuse and spits and rages until that moment that Yass changes the station on the car radio and the punk gets lost in his jam as Cerva turns on the blue flashing lights for a joyride, dangerously weaving in and out of traffic just for kicks.
This Around the World with Netflix offering will be most striking to North American audiences for the contrast it paints between French police — reluctant to pull the trigger despite dire situations and roaring, provocative mobs yelling “Yo, come GET some, or get lost, pig!” — and their American counterparts. The French sure get pushed around a lot.
But the similarities are plentiful enough that you might be shouting at the screen at the lapses in the Internal Affairs investigation, with interrogations that turn table-tossing furious at the drop of a hat.
What did “Deep Throat” teach us? “Follow the MONEY.”
Sticking close to “the facts” ensures that “The Stronghold” turns into a bit of a grind. The over-the-top moments are restrained by that reality, and some pursuits, arrests and brawls seem so low-stakes as to undercut the whole enterprise.
We never see the faces of the top dogs in the drug trade, the “network” that the film’s climax wants to show broken up. The real villains aren’t there, but still. For a cops-and-drug-dealers thriller, it can be frustrating.
As William Friedkin (“The French Connection”) could tell our French filmmaking duo, it’s OK to end your movie with a somewhat deflating twist. But stretching it into a long anti-climax is a no-no.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, drug abuse, smoking, profanity
Cast: Gilles Lellouche, François Civil, Karim Leklou, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Kenza Fortas and
Credits: Directed by Cédric Jimenez, scripted by Audrey Diwan. A Canal+ film on Netflix.
Running time: 1:45
Bathed in small town and newspaper life nostalgia, “Storm Lake” preserves, under glass, a moment in time. We see what might be the last burst of glory for a Pulitzer Prize-winning small town Iowa newspaper as it doggedly carries on, fighting the good fight, covering everything about its shrinking and changing community and playing its part in Iowa’s quaint, dated political caucuses.
As we see the newspapering Cullen family, which founded the Storm Lake Times 30 or so years ago, and its staff nickel-and-diming their way through another year, we can’t help but feel Beth Levison/Jerry Risius film is capturing a lot of things that are going away, sooner rather than later.
“Storm Lake,” now in theaters and coming to the PBS series “Independent Lens” Nov. 15, documents a year in the life of the paper, starting with the politicking, small town parades and picnics of 2019 and into the caucus and pandemic year of 2020.
Mark Twain-mopped and mustachioed editor Art Cullen runs the newsroom, which is basically his son Tom as reporter and photographer, covering city hall, the county board of supervisors, the courts and politics, and Art’s wife Dolores as photographer and features writer, writing “happy stories about all kinds of people” in and around Storm Lake. Art’s brother John is the publisher, who has gone on Social Security so that he won’t draw a salary, keeping their bottom line in the black a while longer.
The family setter, Peaches, naps in the newsroom. There’s deadline pressure, even in a newspaper that publishes twice a week where the reporters and editor are family. An office manager/saleswoman walks door to door in the shrinking downtown, selling ads to the ever-declining number of “mom and pop” businesses in a community that used to service independent farmers, all of whom Big Ag and Tyson Foods have steadily swallowed up.
The Times won the coveted public service Pulitzer Prize for covering and editorializing about this change, the forces that were killing the town, emptying out Buena Vista County and dooming its newspaper.
Art preaches the “local, local local” ethos that is the difference between papers like this that hang on, and the hundreds that have ceased publishing, creating “newspaper deserts” all over America. “A pretty good rule is that a small town will be as strong as its newspaper and its banks,” and wax poetic that “the fabric of the place becomes frayed” if its newspaper fails or fails in its civic duty.
But a reader notes that “Art’s the voice of the Democrats, here,” a Jeremiah serving a leadership role in embracing immigration as the salvation of dying towns like this all over the Midwest. Thanks to food processing immigrant labor, Storm Lake has become more diverse, overnight. The county, slowly emptying out, is white, older and more conservative by the day thanks to the steady diet of Fox News and Sinclair Broadcasting TV and radio stations.
And those folks “didn’t like” the fact that The Times won a Pulitzer for covering the big businesses and Republican policies that are wiping them out.
Levison and Risius show us a newspaper with a circulation of 3,000 cover climate change, because Iowa “is getting warmer and wetter” every year, hitting agriculture hard. It covers immigration, schools that have to embrace dual language learning, and a Hispanic local Tyson worker who makes a mark in a Spanish language TV network’s national talent show.
And Art Cullen, fresh in the blush of their Pulitzer win, is interviewed by NPR and international reporters traveling in to cover Iowa’s increasingly out-of-step political caucuses, an entitlement that the state clings to, like overwhelmingly white and old New Hampshire, even though it no longer looks or votes like the majority of America, and looks nothing like the Democratic Party.
“Storm Lake” celebrates the professionalism of a newspaper family — the elders worked at newspapers elsewhere before starting this one — who put out a clean, polished news product week after week, embracing some changes and dodging others (Tom pitches the idea of a podcast. Art says “If I’d wanted to do radio…”). It’s an interesting companion piece to the 2011 film, “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” showing America’s starvation diet in local news from ground zero.
Small town civility is heralded. The people who disagree with the paper, from neighbors to teachers Tom remembers him complaining to him when he was in school, always do so with a neighborly respect, at least in the documentary.
But they aren’t subscribing. News sharing and co-publishing deals with a Spanish language statewide paper won’t save The Times, and the people who aren’t subscribing have become low information voters, blaming the wrong people for their woes because they’re told to, embracing the prejudices and agenda of conservative media that comes in via Facebook, cable TV or the omnipresent Sinclair.
And someday, all we’ll have to document this decline and fall will be a documentary about a plucky newspaper that printed fact-based news, sounded alarms, and paid the price for telling people what they don’t want to believe.
Rating: unrated, smoking, some profanity
Cast: Art Cullen, Dolores Cullen, Tom Cullen, Dr. Jill Biden, John Cullen, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro
Credits: Directed by Beth Levison and Jerry Risius. A Park Pictures/Good Gravy Films release
Running time: 1:25
A24 has this one, a Nov. 24 release.
The pitch? Twinkly Michael Caine‘s a boozy crank of a writer, with sulky Aubrey Plaza the hapless, put-out “silver spoon” publisher trapped escorting the old drunk on a wintry book tour through, not bookstores, but accommodating bars.
Yes, “Best Sellers” could have been a hoot, leaving no drunk gag unrepeated and no Plaza dead-eyed double-take undelivered.
It isn’t. But that was never the goal of this uneven but sometimes warm, sometimes cute riff on publishing, writers, the book-flogging racket and an old man’s raging at the dying of the light. Neither great nor “awful” to any fan of reading, Johnny Walker Black Label, Caine or Plaza, think of “Best Sellers” as a light, sentimental page turner, more a low-hanging-fruit summer read than highbrow literary fiction.
Plaza is Lucy Stanbridge, who’s taken over her father’s tony New York imprint and is making rather a hash of things. Her YA authors are earning scathing reviews, and nothing else.
She and her aide Rachel (Ellen Wong, funny) brainstorm ideas to save the publishing house, and hit on the idea of reviving Lucy’s dad’s most important discovery. Sure, Harris Shaw hasn’t published anything since his breakthrough novel half a century before. And they’re not certain he’s still alive. But there’s this contract. And once upon a time he got an advance.
He’s “a drunk,” “a recluse” and “a madman” who “shot his last assistant.” He fled Britain as a tax evader and was “kicked out of Ireland for ‘poor behavior.’ IRELAND!”
“The world doesn’t need anything new from me,” he growls.
But he “owes me a book.” And after she’s confronted the souse with this news and gotten past the shotgun he points at the unwelcome outside world, after he’s chased her away and just as she’s about to finally sell-out to an old rival and ex-lover (Scott Speedman), Shaw hands over a manuscript.
All she’s got to do is raid her trust fund, publish “The Future is X-Rated,” publicize the hell out of it and save her company. All he’s got to do is do a “bloody tour” promoting it.
That tour begins with a disastrous but attention-grabbing meltdown in New York. As the cancellations pour in, a better idea supplants the first. They’ll tour bars instead, with the Great Writer doing his tipsy Dylan Thomas meets Norman Mailer shtick and Lucy selling books and pushing the title towards “critical mass,” that moment when a novel enters not just buzz, but the best seller lists.
This is the sunny, silly opening half of “Best Sellers,” Caine doing a foggy, self-destructive, anything-to-NOT-read-from-his-book performance art turn, Plaza’s Lucy driving him around in his ’80s vintage right-hand-drive Jaguar, trying to turn lemons into lemonade. She videos his nightly “BullSHYTE” tirades, the hip young barflies egging him on as his “readings” go viral.
No, the books still don’t sell. But he’s a Youtube star, for what that’s worth.
“I don’t GET it. Hipsters are supposed to love old things! Thrift stores and vinyl and communism.”
He just drinks his Johnny Walker, smokes his White Wolf cigars and hiccups through insults.
“You’re not very good at your job, are you ‘Silver Spoons?'”
The second half of “Best Sellers” slows down, almost to a halt, as assorted personal issues, “secrets” and the physical and psychological damage catches up with one and all.
But Cary Elwes makes the most of two scenes playing an effete New York Times book critic with a Capote complex. He’s the source of that first busted reading. Then we hear him on an NPR interview that manages to be even snootier than the real thing.
And there’s this lovely little touch, a grace note in actress turned director Lina Roessler’s somewhat ungainly debut feature film. Lucy hits on a clever way of getting “readings” of the new novel, its actual words, out before the public — just fans, reading a select passage here and there, video recorded and posted online.
It gets at the special relationship between writer and reader and at that increasingly rare corner of the public that loves words strung together in poetic, evocative sentences and thoughts. Lovely.
You’d have to go pretty far wrong to get me to pan anything pairing up Plaza with Caine, and “Best Sellers” tries its best, at times. But Caine does a grand grump, and Plaza reaches beyond her repertoire of eviscerating, man-eating side-eyes. They make this page-turner worth sticking with until the bittersweet end, and that’s enough.
Rating: unrated, smoking, profanity
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Michael Caine, Scott Speedman, Cary Elwes and Ellen Wong
Credits: Directed by Lina Roessler, scripted by Anthony Grieco. A Screen Media release.
Running time: 1:42
Roger Moore's film criticism, against the grain since 1984.
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