Maps to the Stars
David Cronenberg's film of Bruce Wagner's Hollywood satire-nightmare turns ludicrous situations into operatic tragedy.
Odie "Odienator" Henderson has spent almost 30 years working in Information Technology. He runs the blogs Big Media Vandalism and Tales of Odienary Madness. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.
A lover of film noir, musicals, Blaxploitation, bad art and good trash, Odie has been a Far Flung Correspondent since 2011. He has written for Slant Magazine's The House Next Door blog since 2006. He is the troublemaker responsible for the annual Black History Mumf series at Big Media Vandalism. His work has also appeared at MovieMezzanine, Movies Without Pity, Salon, and of course, here at RogerEbert.com.
In 2013, Odie entered the world of film festival programming, presenting 9 movies at the Off Plus Camera Film Festival in Krakow, Poland.
Based in the NYC area, Odie enjoys writing code almost as much as he enjoys writing prose. Something is wrong with that guy.
Paramount is offering "World War Z" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" as a single-ticket double feature. The wave of the future? Or a stunt?
The first rule in Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing is "Never open a book with the weather." It could never be a "dark and stormy night" in Leonard's universe. Instead, he opened his novels with nonchalant statements of character-driven fact. "Rum Punch" begins "Sunday morning, Ordell took Louis to watch the white-power demonstration in downtown Palm Beach." "The Hot Kid" informs us that "Carlos Webster was fifteen the day he witnessed the robbery and killing at Deering's drugstore." And "Glitz"'s opening line kicks off two and a half of Leonard's most readable pages with "The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming." Elmore Leonard got straight to the point. His characters were sometimes in love with their verbosity, but Leonard the narrator did not share this predilection. The omnipotent voice running through Dutch Leonard's work told you who said what, who did what, and the darkly comic repercussions of both. No writer wrung more color out of simply telling you what happened than Dutch Leonard. "Melanie was holding it in both hands now, arms extended, aimed at Gerald. "He tossed the shotgun to land on the sofa, looked up at Melanie and said 'Okay, now you put that down, honey, and I won't press charges against you.' Confident about it, as though it would settle the matter."Melanie didn't say anything. She shot him." –"Rum Punch"Leonard's characters were a multi-racial motley crew of cops, criminals, outlaws, lawyers, cowboys and sociopaths. They did not always follow the crime fiction novel's gender conventions. Strong, brutal women and weak, emotional men were not verboten. Leonard's characters were beholden to their own self-defined notions of ethics and morality. They were often much less clever than they thought; their flaws of nemesis underestimation became their undoing. Those who survived sometimes found themselves in other novels. Leonard never passed judgment as his characters flamed out in pitch black comic blazes both pathetic and glorious. To do so would violate his last and most important rule of writing: "Leave out the parts readers tend to skip." Much of the pleasure of reading Elmore Leonard was in the dialogue, which is why so many of his books became movies and TV series. Leonard followed his rule of "avoiding detailed descriptions of characters" by having his people talk to each other. He had an ear for the way conversations flowed, whether they were conducted on the street, in the precinct, or on the range. For a White guy, he certainly knew how to sound convincingly like the Black dudes who populated many of his novels. He captured the cadences of their speech, and did so without stereotype. His Brothers sounded like the guys I heard on the street in my old neighborhood; his cops sounded like cops I knew. Leonard embraced and elevated what they said, letting them ramble on whenever necessary. This love of casual chatter is probably what drew Tarantino to adapt "Rum Punch" as "Jackie Brown." It's certainly what made him pull entire chunks of Leonard's dialogue verbatim into the "Jackie Brown" script.The labyrinthine plots Leonard dragged his characters through were overly complicated yet always compelling. Even in something as spare and nasty as "52 Pick-Up," the first book of his I read, Leonard toyed with the expectations of where his stories took us. Even in the most convoluted plots, there was a feeling that the reader got entangled in this mess by virtue of the characters' machinations, not the author's. Before turning to the Florida-set crime stories that became his trademark, Elmore Leonard wrote Westerns. "3:10 to Yuma" and "The Tall T" were based on his work, as was Paul Newman's 1967 film "Hombre." Starting with "The Big Bounce" (made with Ryan O'Neal in 1969), Leonard changed his genre but kept many of the characteristics of a good Western. For example, "Mr. Majestyk" features a character protecting his "homestead" in much the same way as Jimmy Stewart or Randolph Scott would have. And of course, "Justified"'s Raylan Givens is the perfect synthesis of both genre halves of Leonard's work. Is there another author besides Shakespeare and Stephen King whose prolific output inspired so many movie adaptations? And by directors as varied as Abel Ferrara, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Budd Boetticher, John Frankenheimer, Barry Sonnenfeld and Burt Reynolds (whom I'm sure Leonard wanted to shoot after seeing "Stick"). The stories vary from tales of Hollywood to big money heists to sleazy exploitation. Regardless of quality—and it varied from film to film—the spirit of Dutch Leonard's prose was felt by the viewer. Since I was 17, Elmore Leonard has been my favorite writer. I told him so the one time I met him. It was at the now defunct and long-gone Waldenbooks on Exchange Place and Broadway in Manhattan. He was there to sign copies of "Rum Punch," which was eerily prescient since it was the basis of my favorite film adaptation of Leonard's work. He was a very nice man, patiently listening to the 22-year-old aspiring writer whose excited rambling violated Leonard's fourth rule of writing ("Keep your exclamation points under control!"). When I was done, he verified the spelling of my name, signed my book and wished me luck with my writing.I hadn't thought about that meeting in a while, but when I heard that Leonard died today, it rushed back to me with the immersive force of a good Elmore Leonard set piece. There was casual chatter, a cool as a cucumber experienced character, and a matter of fact, straightforward rendering of events. Nobody got shot, which is a good thing for me, but that didn't make my run-in with Mr. Leonard any less memorable. Rest in peace, Dutch.
Recently I found myself, for the fifth time, among the denizens of a place that celebrates my favorite cinematic genre: the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco, home of the Film Noir Foundation's 11th Annual Noir City Film Festival. The 27-film retrospective, which ran Jan. 25 to Feb. 3, featured newly restored prints, thanks to the Film Noir Foundation, as well as obscure films that may not have been seen in decades.
Like Mary Poppins, Disney World is "practically perfect in every way." But what our jolly 'oliday with Mary didn't reveal were the slight imperfections alluded to by that phrase's quantifier: Practically perfect? I'll bet Ms. Poppins' small glitches were legendary when they occurred. Maybe her umbrella flights damaged the ozone layer, or her spoonfuls of sugar helped wreck Dick van Dyke's Cockney accent. I speculate about near-perfection because I've been to Walt's Orlando resort 19 times, and while most of these visits went off without a hitch, when things did go wrong, they went wrong in unforgettable, spectacular fashion.
"All Together," or "Et si on vivait tous ensemble?" (97 minutes) is available via VOD on various cable systems, and on iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu.
The cinema of 2012 is brought to you by Viagra, or so it seems. The year has been chock full of movies about horny old people. Sure, the characters still complain, have aches and pains, and deal with moments both senior and regrettable. But Nana's also out to prove she's still got the ill na na, and Gramps is in the mood like Glenn Miller on an endless loop. Films like Dustin Hoffman's "Quartet," with its randy Billy Connolly, and the main characters of Stephane Robelin's "All Together" dispel the myth that once you go gray, the sex goes away. These folks are reclaiming "bitch and moan" from its grumpy origins, and turning the phrase into a cause-and-effect relationship.
"About Cherry" (102 minutes) is available now on demand at IFC, iTunes, Amazon Instant and SundanceNow. Opens theatrically September 21, 2012 in New York.
After reading the synopsis for "About Cherry," I figured I had it pegged. Here's a movie about a fresh-faced, clean-cut American girl named Angelina who goes the photographic Full Monty before graduating to porn. "Oh brother," I thought. "Another cautionary tale." In American cinema, you just can't enjoy sex. There has to be some consequence for all the ejaculations of "oh god!" and "yes I said yes I will Yes." If you're a man, you tend to get off scot free. But a woman who enjoys the same activity might as well be struck by lightning onscreen. So I expected poor Angelina to run afoul of drugs, sexual abuse and possibly fatal violence. The press materials seemed to support my supposition: "But Angelina's newfound ideal lifestyle soon comes apart at the seams," it ominously states. I braced myself for the worst.
Eighteen-year old Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) lives in Southern California with her younger sister (Maya Raines), her alcoholic mother (Lili Taylor) and Mama's latest man. Angelina yearns to escape her dismal home life, so with a little coaxing from her rock band boyfriend (Johnny Weston), she visits his photographer buddy Vaughn (Ernest Waddell). Vaughn shoots erotic photos, and Angelina is both erotic and photogenic. The photo shoot is such a rousing success that Weston demands Angelina avoid Vaughn for future shoots. Angelina dumps the rocker.
"Indie Game: The Movie" (103 minutes) is available on iTunes on Demand, VHX Direct Download, Steam and directly from the filmmakers.
A debate that occasionally rages over at Roger Ebert's Journal deals with whether video games can be considered art. Mr. Ebert does not believe so, and his belief has inspired numerous gamers to respond with fury. Some suggest titles that allegedly illustrate the artistic side of online games. Others suggest that a certain film critic is a crabby old man who need not concern himself with a more youthful pastime. Truthfully, I don't give a crap about the "video games as art" argument; it's an arts major argument and we science majors aren't in the business of artful designation.
But the debate popped briefly into my head while watching "Indie Game: The Movie." This smart, incisive documentary by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky follows four men who create online games they feel are extensions of themselves. One speaks of taking all his vulnerabilities and flaws and putting them into his games. Writers do that with novels, painters do it with an easel, and a lot of times, the result is considered art. "Indie Game" shows the creative process in making a game, including graphical design and the crafting of game plot and character. It's like painting a picture and writing a short story, both valid art forms. This is certain to fuel the fires under this debate.
"Sexual Chronicles of a French Family" (76 minutes) is available via IFC On Demand.
Let's play a game. It's 3 AM and you can't sleep. A channel roulette session with the remote control stops your TV on a certain network synonymous with softcore erotica. Do you: a) Roll your eyes and keep flipping the dial before falling asleep to some warped infomercial?
b) Realize you need something more substantial and order "Chicks Who Dig Odienator 29" off the Adult On Demand Channel?
c) Drop the remote and make a date with Rosy Palm and her Five Sisters? If you answered a, Alex Trebek is here to say "OOH I'M SORRY!!" We've got some nice consolation prizes for you as you leave this blog. If you answered b, I thank for your $9.95, but you will also have to leave this blog. Today's entry is most definitely not your speed. But if you answered c, have I got a movie for you. It's called "Chroniques sexuelles d'une famille d'aujourd'hui" or "Sexual Chronicles of a French Family," and you can watch it in the privacy of your own home. I won't tell, and I certainly won't cast aspersions. After all, I pitched this movie to review here at The Demanders. After discovering the title, and its French origins, my exact pitch to our editor was "Mmmm! FILTH!" So this sinner casts no stones.
Unfortunately, this sinner has issues with this "Chronicles of Labia," the least of which is how to review a movie like this. I could take the high road, but if you've read this far, you are expecting me to traverse the lowest road possible. To review a comedy, one must admit if it inspired laughter. To review an erotic picture, one must more uncomfortably cop to whether it resulted in the upping of a body part that isn't a thumb. In that regard, I respectfully submit that this film didn't do it for me. I expected something a little less squeamish (read: dirtier) than what I got.
"Sexual Chronicles of A French Family" is Cinemax with subtitles, or "Le Çinemax." It has the same frustrating "hide the good stuff" camera angles as your average straight-to-cable softcore knock-off, and the same repeated positions. In its defense, the film does not contain Cinemax's ubiquitous bad boob jobs, the ones so dreadful that they turn breasts into triangles, squares and other shapes nature never intended for headlights. The boob job in this film looks fine. "Chronicles" also has a more intriguing plot than any sex film on cable at 3 AM, though this is somewhat squandered.
"Hemingway & Gellhorn (160 minutes) debuts on HBO May 28th, and will be available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand May 29th.
"If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it." -- Ernest Hemingway
by Odie Henderson Philip Kaufman's epic HBO movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" is old-fashioned, corny as hell and not above using cliché. None of these characteristics is necessarily a bad thing, especially if the filmmakers know they are employing them. This film evokes the rainy Sunday afternoon old-movie fare I grew up watching on TV, movies with a tough, macho hero, a smart, brassy dame and the undeniable chemistry between them. Kaufman updates the formula to modern times with belts of profanity and jolts of sex, but "Hemingway and Gellhorn" maintains the feeling of an era long since passed, wherein its leads could have been played by Gable and Harlow or Bogie and Betty Bacall.
The titular characters are Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn is widely considered one of the greatest war correspondents in journalism history, covering wars well into her 80's. Yet, she was constantly overshadowed by her more famous ex-husband. Theirs was a torrid affair, started while Hemingway was married to his Catholic second wife and continuing through their coverage of several wars. "We were good at wars," Gellhorn said, "and when there was no war, we made our own." The screenplay, by Barbara Turner ("Georgia") and Jerry Stahl ("Permanent Midnight") is filled with prose like this, and I enjoyed devouring every purple morsel of it. "Hemingway and Gellhorn" even opens with the now-elderly Gellhorn telling us what a lousy lay she was.
"Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story (92 minutes) is available on-demand at iTunes and Amazon starting April 26th. It will be theatrically released in Los Angeles, CA on April 25, 2012. and New York on April 27, 2012.
"Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story" asks a question about documentaries to which I admit I've not given much consideration: Can a documentary negatively affect the lives of their participants? For Booker Wright, an interviewee in Frank DeFelitta's 1966 NBC documentary, "Mississippi: A Self-Portrait," his appearance cost him a severe beating, the bombing of his business, and potentially his death 7 years later. Wright's "crime" was to speak too bluntly about life as a Black man in Greenwood, Mississippi. "Booker's Place" investigates the ramifications of DeFelitta using footage he knew was incendiary, yet invaluable to his role as one who documents the truth. Did DeFelitta also commit a "crime" in allowing the footage to be broadcast, assisting in the eventual fate of Booker Wright? Wright's granddaughter, Yvette Johnson and Frank's son, Raymond DeFelitta, answer this and more in their must-see documentary.
The elder DeFelitta's documentary aired on NBC at the height of the civil rights movement. Hidden for decades in a vault, "Mississippi: A Self-Portrait" resurfaced as Frank DeFelitta and his son were cataloguing the numerous documentaries Frank made for NBC in the '60's. At the same time, Booker Wright's granddaughter, who had never met her grandfather, was writing a blog about her discoveries researching him. Although Johnson had heard of his NBC appearance, her searches for the footage yielded nothing but dead-ends. After the younger DeFelitta heard of Johnson's blog, he contacted her. Their meeting sent them on a journey for answers to their central questions. DeFelitta wanted to know how much, if any, effect his father's documentary had on Booker Wright; Johnson wanted to know more about her grandfather, and whether his comments were intentional or, in her words, the work of "an accidental activist."