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Once news of the threats became public, Sony told movie theaters that they do not have to screen the film if they're concerned about terrorist action. And now most of America's largest movie theater chains have taken Sony up on their offer. Brent Lang at Variety says: "Regal Cinemas, Cinemark, Cineplex and AMC Entertainment will not show The Interview." Those are four of the five largest theater chains in America, and Lang adds that "More theater circuits are expected to follow suit."
I'm scheduled to attend a press preview of The Interview tomorrow night and as of right now, The Stranger has not heard anything about a cancellation. The screening is scheduled to take place in a theater owned by one of the four theater chains listed above. I have a request out to the PR company hosting the screening and I'll update this post when I hear back from them.
When I first heard about the plot of The Interview, I made a joke about how it would be kind of silly if World War III started in part because of a Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy about assassinating Kim Jong-un. And the film has caused an international incident. In recent days, Sony was hacked by "Guardians of the Peace," a supposedly North Korean hacking organization, which led to some truly embarrassing e-mails going public. But as the film's Christmas release date approaches, Guardians of the Peace's threats are getting more serious. This morning, they issued a statement warning Americans of terrorist actions at movie theaters showing the film. Here's the warning, which Bad Ass Digest's Devin Faraci ran through an internet translator:
We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to.
Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made.
The world will be full of fear.
Remember the 11th of September 2001.
We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.
(If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)
Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
All the world will denounce the SONY.
The Interview is premiering in New York City on Thursday. And Sony seems to be taking some of these threats seriously. Deadline's Mike Fleming Jr just reported that "Seth Rogen and James Franco have abruptly canceled their promotional tour for The Interview through the rest of the week." The actors were scheduled to appear on The Tonight Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers this week.
What do you think of all this?
An unflinching, up-close look at the devastating repercussions of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, The Great Invisible travels from Alabama to Louisiana to Texas, tracking down oil-rig workers, oyster shuckers, shrimpers, and crab pickers to document how life along the Gulf of Mexico changed after 200 million gallons of oil gushed into the gulf over 87 calamitous days in 2010. Also included in the film are the grief-stricken family members of some of those who died onboard the Deepwater Horizon; local church members trying, against all odds, to help their impoverished communities; and oblivious oil executives, puffing on cigars like they're cartoons of themselves…
What is it that makes a really well-cut movie trailer something more than a heartless, cynical ad for a multimillion-dollar product? What intangible alchemy of imagery, time, and sound transforms a trailer into something transcendent and glorious—a thing of beauty and awe? In this cold, brutal world, how does something as perfect as this trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road come into being?
The answer, of course, is a really good marketing department. But the answer we're all hoping for is that Mad Max: Fury Road is actually as amazing as this trailer makes it look. Which is the eternal dream of movie trailers, right? The thing we hope, every time we watch one? That we're not being tricked?
If we are being tricked with Mad Max: Fury Road—a film that seems to promise a true, long-awaited return to form for director George Miller, with all the madness and vision and goofiness and badassery that entails—then there will be hell to pay. But let us dream. Let us dream that we are not being tricked. And, if nothing else, let us appreciate this trailer, which is fucking magnificent.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is intent on giving you a story that I imagine 20th Century Fox's marketing department describing as "not your father's Old Testament." Christian Bale's Moses opens the film as a capable young man, a great strategist and adviser to the pharaoh, the kind of badass who fights muggers and assassins two at a time and easily wins. If motorcycles had been invented in ancient Egypt, you bet your ass this Moses would be showboating around on one. But as the movie drags on, and as Moses is cast out by the evil Ramses (Joel Edgerton), Bale loses his footing. For a while, he seems to be playing a different character in every scene; his accent varies depending on who he's talking to. Once Moses finally encounters God, portrayed in Exodus as an 11-year-old boy—kind of a funny idea that's not played for laughs at all—Bale digs into the role a little more. He turns Moses into a muttering freak who seems to be crazy, which is right up Bale's alley. Unfortunately, since God doesn't show up till something like 50 minutes in, it's too late to save the movie.
With Exodus, Ridley Scott is trying to produce one of those goofy old-style Hollywood biblical epics. He nailed the goofy part, at least. The acting ranges from occasionally okay (Bale) to I-just-showed-up-for-the-paycheck...
What we mostly see and enjoy in Chris Rock’s new film, Top Five, is a race for the best cameo. And there are many contestants: Kevin Hart, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Ben Vereen, DMX, Tracy Morgan, and Cedric the Entertainer. (Admittedly, the last two are in the weird zone between cameo and role.) The winners? Seinfeld and DMX. The loser? This surely goes to Whoopi Goldberg. The most unexpected cameo? Ben Vereen, who will always be Chicken George from the TV miniseries Roots to me. Indeed, it’s fair to say that Top Five, which Rock directed and wrote, is really a journey from one cameo to the next. And the vehicle for this journey is a simple story about a famous comedian, Andre Allen (Chris Rock), who is about to get married to a soulless reality TV star...
By now, you’re likely to have heard or read about The Babadook, the smart, sleek, and properly scary Australian horror film about a single mother, her oddball son, and the picture book that rips into their life like a waking nightmare. If all you’ve done is hear or read about it, however, let me be the hundredth to urge you to rise above your hard-earned hype antipathy, brave the traffic (speaking of horrors), and get to the Uptown to see it while you can. First-time feature director Jennifer Kent manages to deliver the cheap-but-not-that-cheap genre thrills of the post-Hammer, moderate goth, fairy tale strain of horror while/by accessing a real-world emotional darkness that continues to lurk in your peripherals long after the lights go up. Given the loud chorus of praise greeting Kent and her film at the moment, I was grateful for the chance to ask her a few questions on the phone yesterday.
THE STRANGER: The germ of The Babadook first showed up in Monster, the short film you made in 2005. Did it help to have such a long time to let the story develop or was it frustrating?
JENNIFER KENT: Well, I wasn’t thinking about it for that whole time. I had the idea for the short and then I forgot about it. But this idea of facing the darkness is a lifetime fascination. I’m fascinated by people who don’t do it. Someone can carry a secret or a painful experience for like decades, or their whole life. So while Monster was successful and embraced, it didn’t really delve into those areas that I wanted to go. About three years before we shot Babadook, I went back and thought, "Maybe there’s a feature film in there." I asked myself, "What would happen if you pushed down on some grief or difficult feeling for so long and with so much strength that it developed an energy and split off from you?" That was the premise, the way it looked, and moved, and felt developed as the film developed. Once I made that connection, it all came very effortlessly.
More Qs and As after the jump.
It took Cheryl Strayed 10 years to write Wild, her best-selling account of a 1,100-mile trek up the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Canada. Once producer Reese Witherspoon read the manuscript, the journey from book to screen was swift as screenwriter Nick Hornby (An Education) and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club) got to work. Unlike most redemption stories, Strayed didn't turn to religion, therapy, or the love of a good man when she hit rock bottom (divorce, heroin addiction). Instead, she set out to confront her own worst enemy: herself. As she walks, her mind wanders back to events from her past, namely the death of her mother, Bobbi (a touching Laura Dern). Those who know Witherspoon only as Elle Woods may be surprised by her unvarnished performance, but this is no Charlize-Theron-in-Monster transformation...
The first full trailer for Inside Out, Pixar's first original movie since 2012, was released today and, well, to put it mildly, I'm not very excited by this:
So we've got the stereotypical dad thinking about sports and the stereotypical mom thinking about romance and a stereotypical communication gap between them. Only each character is made up of five characters, each stereotypically defining a personality trait, which makes the whole thing even more stereotypical. Predicting movies based on trailers is basically the same deal as judging books by their covers. Sometimes you're exactly right. Occasionally, you're pleasantly surprised. Usually the truth is somewhere in between. So maybe Inside Out will surprise me; Pixar's original concepts usually do. But no matter how the movie turns out, this trailer is terrible. It's not even as fun or original as Herman's Head.
But what do you think?
This curious story begins normally enough in the middle of the 1990s in a Seattle record shop. Local vinyl lover and collector Kristian St. Clair enters Cellophane Square and begins to browse the jazz section. A two-LP set catches his eye. It's part of Impulse's Great Arrangers series. The cover is black with halftone dot illustrations of two cool-looking men: Gil Evans (the arranger of Miles Davis's masterpiece Sketches of Spain), whom he recognizes, and Gary McFarland, whom he does not. Had the former not been attached to the latter, St. Clair would never have bought the record and discovered the musician who would change the course of his life.
Gary McFarland is an almost completely forgotten jazz vibraphonist, singer, composer, and arranger who made a pretty big name for himself and worked with some of the biggest names of 1960s jazz (Bill Evans, John Lewis, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lena Horne). McFarland was hardly an outsider. His records were reviewed and taken seriously, and he frequently appeared on national television. If you fear death like I do, then you will understand why the sad story of McFarland's rise and fall is so upsetting…
Humankind’s fascination with Antarctica is nothing new. In 1922, Ernest Shackleton gave his life while trying to solve its mysteries, but Antarctica Fever, as a cinematic phenomenon, didn’t kick into high gear until 2000. Since then, George Butler, Werner Herzog, and several other directors have all put their stamps on it. New Zealand communications-technician-turned-filmmaker Anthony Powell doesn’t share their name recognition, but he spent 10 years working on Antarctica: A Year on Ice. There’s a plethora of time-lapse photography in which clouds dance and aurora australis undulate, but he mostly focuses on the 5,000 people who work there during the summer, a number that dwindles to 700 during the winter. Like something from out of a science-fiction novel, it’s a world devoid of children, pets, and grass...
Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent’s intelligent, impeccably designed creepfest about a single mom, her adorable nutbar son, and a sinister picture book draws on organically frightening elements—darkness, silence, old black-and-white cartoons, and silent films—to create an unsettling trespass into the unspeakable emotional conflict between parents and children, and the different kinds of violence it can unlock...
In the opening scene of Robert Greene's new documentary Actress, a woman in a red party dress and high heels stands before a carefully lit kitchen sink, washing and drying dishes in dreamy slow motion. The dramatic lighting and deep color saturation suggest that most empathetic channeler of women's dramatic fantasy Douglas Sirk, while our brunet subject—shown strictly from behind in her cinched-waist dress—recalls the domestic eroticism of Anna Magnani, archetypal housewife of seething passions.
This woman is Brandy Burre, and if her name doesn't immediately ring a bell, her face will for all fans of The Wire, the revered HBO series that for two of its five seasons featured Burre in the role of Terry D'Agostino, the savvy political consultant who engineers Thomas Carcetti's mayoral victory while engaging in slumming-snob sport sex with Detective Jimmy McNulty. She was terrific...
Tommy Lee Jones is one sneaky motherfucker. With hardly anybody noticing, and with only two theatrically released films, he's become one of the best directors working today—and arguably the best when it comes to westerns. As an actor, Jones has been in some of the greatest films in the genre, from Lonesome Dove to No Country for Old Men, but few expected him to start directing great westerns, too: First there was 2005's fantastic The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, which slipped under most people's radars and which most people should watch as soon as humanly possible, and now there's the similarly outstanding The Homesman, based on Glendon Swarthout's 1988 novel…
There's something weird about Terminator Genisys—even weirder than its name, which, I assure you, is even more physically painful to type than it is to read. We're now in a spot where mainstream film has largely given up trying to tell original stories—instead focusing on franchises and reboots that feature easily marketable, already recognizable brand names. You have to sell a movie to make money, and selling something that people already know about is a million times easier than trying to make them buy something new.
But at the same time, audiences want—or at least say they want, despite all financial evidence to the contrary—to be surprised, to see something they haven't already seen. So filmmakers end up in a difficult position: Create something that's part of a franchise people already like, but also try to include enough original stuff to justify charging $15 a ticket. Which leads us to Terminator Genisys, which looks like a fucking mess.
I don't want to say that: Speaking of slavish brand loyalty, I love certain parts of the Terminator franchise to a worrisome degree. But even the most devout fan of all things T-800 will admit that the Terminator films, comics, TV shows, video games, and diapers are hardly reliable; at this point, there's been a lot more insulting crap than there has been weird, fun, smart, tech-noir brilliance. (I'll go to my grave defending the first The Terminator, the great TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Dark Horse Comics' The Terminator: 2029 to 1984.) Hell, if we're counting, Genisys is at least the third feature film to try to revive James Cameron's series. But in attempting to cash in on a well-known brand name (and on the poster-ready images of Schwarzenegger and a chrome skeleton), Genisys appears to just be throwing fucking everything into the pot: Sarah Connor! Young Arnold! Old Arnold! The first Terminator movie! The second Terminator movie! Liquid metal guy! The Terminator's theme song! John Connor! Kyle Reese! "Come with me if you want to live!" "I'll be back!" Metal arm! Explosions! Future war! SCHOOL BUSES FLIPPING OVER AND OVER IN THE AIR! YARRRRRRRHHHGGGH PLEASE COME SEE OUR MOVIE
Maybe Terminator Genisys's marketing campaign is just terrible, and maybe the movie—which has a good director, which has a good cast—will actually be good. I would like that to be the case! Or maybe it's all just a big pile of gibberish with a brand name, because maybe these days, that's good enough.
Today, The Stranger was informed that management at Belltown's Big Picture movie theater might be taking over management of the Varsity movie theater in the University District when Landmark Theatres ceases to manage the Varsity next month. All week, we've been hearing rumors of various film organizations and Seattle-area bookers being contacted by Landmark about taking over one or both of the venues, but this Big Picture rumor seemed a little bit more substantial.
I contacted Big Picture about the rumors and spoke to an employee who asked to not be identified. "I can tell you that they’ve approached us but I’m not going to comment any further," the employee said, adding (in a tone I interpreted as somewhat coy) that it would be "interesting" if those rumors turned out to be true. I contacted Landmark publicity to confirm or deny that they've been in contact with the Big Picture, and they declined to comment, instead referring me back to the statement they sent me on Tuesday.
Buzz in Seattle's film world indicates that an announcement about the future of the Varsity could come as soon as next week. The future of the other movie theater affected by Landmark's announcement, Capitol Hill's Harvard Exit, is more in doubt. Yesterday, Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported that developer Scott Shapiro purchased the Harvard Exit, and speculated that the plans for the Exit "indicate changes for the building’s current use as a theater." Shapiro had no comment.
As an addendum to Tuesday’s Slog post on drummers’ responses to the critically acclaimed movie Whiplash, we present the thoughts of Michael Shrieve. A longtime resident of Seattle, Shrieve is best known as the drummer for Latin-rock luminaries Santana during their peak years (1969-1974) and as the youngest musician to perform at Woodstock: He was 19. He also worked with some giants of avant-garde and progressive-music percussion, including Klaus Schulze and Stomu Yamash’ta's Go. In addition, Shrieve has composed scores soundtracks for Paul Mazursky films Tempest and Apollo 13. In recent years, Shrieve has led the group Spellbinder, which for years held a weekly Monday night residency at Fremont club White Rabbit. He’s currently finishing up a Spellbinder album and another record called Drums of Compassion with some of legendary drummers and percussionists like Jack DeJohnette, Zakir Hussein, Airto Moreira, the late Babatunde Olatunji, and Amon Tobin.
Shrieve: I was excited to see Whiplash, of course, because it's about drumming, but I had several issues with it. That approach to teaching [physically and verbally abusive, dictatorial] is something I really don't care for. I think it's more damaging than helpful. It's [fine] to be inspiring and tough, but it's gotta be done with love, a different kind of attitude. I've seen that kind of teaching happen in middle school with my son, and the teacher was so harsh and cruel that it turned him off from learning music altogether. That's the more drastic side of that thing. Although this was supposedly college and people are committed, so it's a different situation. But in younger grades it can take the fun and joy out of playing music. That's not to say you don't have to work extremely hard, but a lot of the high-school jazz bands are in competitions and there's nothing wrong with that. But music's not a competition.
As far as [Miles Teller's character, Andrew Nieman's] technique and the portrayal of him working so hard that he's bleeding, that's completely unrealistic. When you play fast, what you learn to do is the faster you play, the more you have to relax and breathe. Any drum teacher will tell you you're holding your sticks completely wrong if you are doing damage to your hands. So that's really off-point.
That was more of a Hollywood exaggeration, to make the movie seem more dramatic?
Shrieve: [laughs] Yeah. You can't get speed without relaxing. You can't get speed and control with your hands like that, getting bloody. If you're getting blisters, you're doing something wrong. It's not to say you're not going to get them when you're learning. But you're holding them too tight if you're doing that. It takes some years to figure that out, but the speed aspect and the blood was unrealistic. There were things about the movie I enjoyed, but the whole portrayal of teacher and student I thought was... well, it's a movie—what are you gonna do?
There was something about walking through the door of a video store that made most people instantly forget every movie they ever wanted to see. As employees, we were keenly aware of this brand of amnesia and we all had our tricks to point aimless customers back toward the perfect rentals. Sometimes this involved a mini therapy session, prescribing cinema based on mood, demeanor, or the answer to the question "What was your day like?" Other times, if we were lazy, or if you were being rude, we'd just ask, "What was the last movie you really liked?" and go from there.
Each of us had our specialties: If one of us didn't have the expertise in the genre you were seeking, 9 times out of 10 we could hand you off to an employee who did. Independently, we all did a fair amount of research, and by research I mean "movie watching," and we learned the subtle but critical difference between "I want a comedy" and "I need a comedy."
None of us made much money...
Enter the black American rapper and singer Lauryn Hill. We all know she has been through a lot lately. We also know she is a complicated human being. What many of you may not know, however, is that she is the narrator of Olsson's Concerning Violence. You can hear her in the trailer. She has a voice that expresses all of her strengths and weaknesses, her beauty and her outrage. Few are as bold and as vulnerable as Hill. I can't wait for this movie.
For the past ten years and counting, the Found Footage Festival has toured the country, with co-founders founders Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett presenting their carefully curated found video treasures on the big screen. Tomorrow and Friday, the Found Footage Festival land at Seattle's Central Cinema. In advance of the shows (one on Thursday, two on Friday), I chatted up Nick Preuher about all things FFF.
One thing people should know right off the bat about the Found Footage Festival is what you mean by "found." You do not mean "Googled."
Nick Preuher: It seems like cheating to type something in a search engine. We do it the old-fashioned way, going to thrift stores, estate sales, garage sales. The hard part is watching them.
Can you estimate the ratio of "hours of garbage watched" to "minutes of delightful material found"?
I'd estimate it takes about 30 hours of video to provide a handful of usable nuggets. We're gluttons for punishment—we don't hit fast forward, because we're afraid we're going to miss something. Sometimes things don't reveal themselves until you see the full picture. It can be torture, like the sunny Saturday afternoon I spent indoors watching a cash-register instructional video. But then you find a video of something like how to have cybersex on the internet and it's all worth it. It's almost like sitting through the bad stuff makes the good stuff better.
Over your years of hunting, has your aim for finding good material improved?
We've been collecting since 1991, and at the beginning, we'd pick up anything. Now we're more selective. Some things that catch our eyes are anything with a celebrity—just last week we found a guide to plastic surgery with Phyllis Diller. If it looks like there's a hint of corporate people rapping, or an executive with sunglasses, that's a very good sign. We might be onto something here. And we'll watch any exercise video we haven't seen yet.
In addition to curating, you also produce videos of your own, such as the legendary Kenny Strasser videos. What inspired you to start exploring local morning television as a comedic medium?
We were touring, so we thought about booking ourselves on local morning shows as we traveled, but local morning shows are so insipid and so early that they don't work as actual promotion for us, so we thought we could book a fake person just as easily. That's how Kenny Strasser, the environmentally friendly yo-yo expert came about. It was so much fun, and we got so much mileage out of it, we decided to make it a tradition. Last Thanksgiving, we tried out a new character—Chef Keith Guerke, here to show you how to spruce up your holiday leftovers, which was basically just me throwing a bunch of stuff in a blender, coming up with the grossest concoctions, to see if the TV hosts would try them. The hosts were very polite, and four out of five sampled what I made. We'll be showing some of that stuff—stuff that's not online—and telling the story of Chef.
What else should people know in advance about the new show?
It's the most unsettling show we've ever done. We're having to dig deeper and deeper for material. In this show are two never-before-seen body parts and there's a locally found video from Seattle, which we found last time we were here. It's an arts and crafts how-to video, found at the Salvation Army, from a company called Tulip, which makes mostly puffy paints for clothes. The video's from 1988, and it opens with three-minute music video and song that's like 1988 throwing up all over the screen.
The Woman’s Century Club was founded in July, 1891 by 10 prominent Seattle women to address the important issues of what those founders believed would be “the century of the woman.” The club’s founding president was suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, a woman who got things done. The founder not only of the Woman’s Century Club, but of the League of Women Voters, Catt was also president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1920, the year the 19th amendment was ratified. Though her name, like that of her arch-rival Alice Paul, is overshadowed in casual memory of early/proto-feminism by the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Catt was a shrewd activist. Her courting of the Wilson administration’s approval—through tactics like encouraging women to volunteer for the Red Cross when WWI broke out—proved crucial to the suffrage movement’s eventual success. (Alice Paul’s strategy was more radical—burning “Kaiser” Wilson in effigy on the White House lawn, organizing workhouse hunger strikes, and so on.) Catt literally wrote the book on suffrage—Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement—in 1923 (with co-author Nettie Rogers Shuler), the same year the the Woman’s Century Club bought the parcel of Capitol Hill land on which its clubhouse would eventually be built…
I remember my first night at the Harvard Exit seven years ago, standing among the century-old projector, grand piano, ottomans and other furnishings with clawed feet and thinking, “I will like this job and be happy here.” It was the first time I’d ever felt that way about a job. The high ceilings and ornate woodwork made every room feel like a church, especially the auditoriums. The first time I cleaned the upstairs auditorium after a show (the film was Control, about Joy Division), I stopped sweeping garbage for a moment to listen to the between-shows baroque music and felt the weird energy of a ritual place, a place people go to be transported.
The place, designed by architect Pierce A. Horrocks, was built in 1925 as a clubhouse for the Woman’s Century Club. The club was equal parts social and political, its founding related to the women’s suffrage movement. It became a movie theater in 1968, but the Woman’s Century Club still held its monthly meetings in the lobby the entire time I worked there—we had to stow away all the plastic cup lids, straws and movie flyers, (I hoped) so that the members could pretend it was the 1920s…
Two more Landmark Theatre locations in Seattle are biting the dust. Bryan Cohen at Capitol Hill Seattle Blog says the Harvard Exit Theatre is closing next month:
Landmark Theatres confirmed to CHS Monday that the company would cease screenings at the twin cinema min-January after being notified that the longtime family owners secured a deal to sell the historic building at Harvard Ave and E Roy. CHS is working to confirm the buyer’s identity.
A statement from Ted Mundorff, President and CEO of Landmark Theatres indicates Landmark will no longer be managing the Varsity Theatre in January. Here's the statement in its entirety:
Landmark Theatres has confirmed the Harvard Exit has been sold and will cease theatrical exhibition mid-January. In addition, Landmark has announced they will cease to manage the venerable Varsity Theatre beginning January, 2015. “We’re sad to say goodbye to our loyal customers and hope they will continue to visit us at one of our other locations, The Crest, Seven Gables or the Guild 45th. In fact, plans are underway to remodel the Guild 45th beginning next year which further reinforces Landmark’s commitment to the Seattle market. We will continue to provide great films and superior customer service to the community which has supported us for over 30 years,” says Ted Mundorff, President and CEO, Landmark Theatres.
So now we have to wait and see if, as in the case of the other Landmark Theatres in town that have closed, some benefactor like SIFF, Sundance Cinemas, or Seattle Theatre Group will swoop in and save the venues. After Landmark Theatres closed the Metro, the Neptune, and the Egyptian over the last few years this news shouldn't come as a surprise. But it's still very sad.
(This post has been updated from its original publication.)
The 2014 film Whiplash portrays a young jazz drummer’s (Miles Teller) tumultuous relationship with his professor (J.K. Simmons) at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. The student, Andrew Nieman, aspires to be one of the greats of jazz. His mentor, Terence Fletcher, puts him through a series of mindfucks and episodes of physical and verbal abuse in order to elevate Nieman to that exalted realm—or maybe he's just a sadistic bastard on a power trip. Nieman is so driven to excel that he aborts his relationship with his girlfriend to focus on his playing and alienates his family and friends (except maybe for his father), who don't appreciate the extreme effort and sacrifices he's making.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is an intense drama that makes music school seem as fraught with problematic authority figures and nail-biting tension as a sports team and athletic competition. There’s no denying the riveting charge one feels while watching Nieman and Fletcher’s conflagratory interactions.
Whiplash moved me at a deeply emotional level. But not being a musician, I thought I’d get some perspectives from drummers, who could offer a more technical viewpoint about the film. The first interview is with Pat Thomas, a former Seattle/current LA resident who drums for the California group Mushroom. Thomas is also the author of Listen, Whitey! The Sights and Sounds of Black Power, 1965–1975 (Fantagraphics) and does A&R work for Light in the Attic Records.
Pat Thomas: [Whiplash] struck me on so many levels. Both main characters, there’s a little of that in almost every musician. The professor is inside of most musicians and the student is kind of on the outside. You’ve got your inner drive telling you, “work harder or you’re a fuck-up.” On the outside you’ve got this puppy dog, eager-to-please your fellow musicians, your potential fans, yourself. I also thought the professor was a metaphor for a lot of people I’ve encountered in the music business—i.e., assholes. [laughs] Ultimately, although that guy’s not in the music business, per se, he represents “the man.”
Did you go to a music school yourself?
Thomas: I identified with a couple of things. The problem with being a drummer in a high-school jazz band (and I was one) is you can only have one drummer at a time. So I was always fucking benched. It was a so-called A-list guy and me and another guy literally once or twice week for two years in a row, we just sat there like lumps on a log. We rarely got a chance to play. So I totally identify with that. My teacher in junior high was very encouraging and tried to give all the drummers equal time. The guy in high school was the best drummer, but the rest of us were never going to get any better on [that teacher’s] watch, because he wasn’t going to let us play. He wasn’t a screamer [like Fletcher in Whiplash], but he was ambivalent toward helping out the lesser players, so I really identified with that.
Coming from a large family in Buffalo, New York where nobody was into music at all, I thought the best scene was when the kid goes back home to have a dinner with family and friends and they couldn’t care less that he’s a musician. They just want to brag about their other kid’s sports [achievements]. And it’s still like that for me when I go to Buffalo. Writing Listen, Whitey! or working for Light in the Attic doesn’t mean shit. I still have to listen to my family talk about my cousin getting a baseball scholarship. So that scene was awesome to me.
Initially, before the movie started turning dark, I found the teacher humorous. He reminds me of some of my favorite musicians: Lou Reed, Miles Davis, Van Morrison. There’s humor in it until it gets to the point where it’s not funny. The other thing I thought of—and I know they had to be inspired by—were the Buddy Rich tapes.
Do you think to excel at an instrument, you have to be that single-minded and driven, pushed beyond physical capabilities?
Thomas: First of all, when it comes to the arts, you’ve either got some of the basic talent or you don’t. School can make a good student better, but a music school can’t take a talentless kid and beat talent into them. I’m a little pessimistic about music schools. It can teach you the mathematics of music, reading music, music technique. You know as a writer, you can get better at grammar and make your writing tighter, but you’re either an inspired writer or you’re not.
I went from laughing to nearly crying over the course of the movie. When I went home, I had to pour myself a scotch. I was wound up after I left that film. [SPOILER ALERT] A couple of people debated with me over whether a professor would throw a gig just to get even with that kid. I said, "Yeah." He was kind of a psychopath. He’d already been fired by the school, so you’ve got nothing to lose by throwing that gig in the last scene by having the kid play a song he’s never heard before. I thought that was very realistic, actually.
Here's the legacy of Horrible Bosses 2, the inscription on its gravestone, its one-sentence summary in some future compendium of unasked-for sequels: "The movie where Jennifer Aniston tells someone to poop on her."
There's not much more to say, really. The first installment of the Horrible Bosses franchise, which featured Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, and Jason Bateman as bumbling, put-upon everymen who set out to murder their bosses, was funnier than everyone expected it to be. (Cats married dogs, birds flew upside down, women wore pants.) The sequel—same cast, different director and writers—restores balance to the universe by being exactly as bad as it looks…
In this week's film section, I wrote a thousand words about Kirk Cameron's amazing new movie Saving Christmas, covering how the film's tagline—"Putting Christ back in Christmas!"—sets us up for the boilerplate screed about how secular humanism and multicultural interests are strangling Christians' ability to openly celebrate the birth of Christ, but then the actual film takes us down this insane other path where Kirk Cameron spends an hour calling bullshit on his fellow Christians for not celebrating Christmas hard enough. From my review:
Finally, [the doubting Christian] addresses the general gluttony and gross materialism of Christmas, inspiring Kirk Cameron's most heartfelt speech of the film. Complaints about materialism are bunk, he explains, because Christmas is a celebration of God's spirit taking on a material form in Jesus. It's only fitting, therefore, that we give each other material things to celebrate his birth. As for gluttony (only technically a deadly sin), Christmas is our time to celebrate the most important man in the world, and God wants us to celebrate. "So get the biggest ham!" urges Kirk Cameron. "Use the richest butter! Make everything in your house point to Jesus!"
The film is filled with such made-up-on-the-spot "Biblical truths," and watching Saving Christmas provides a bracing view of the frantic rationalizations that make up Kirk Cameron's banana-friendly brand of evangelical Christianity. I can't recommend you watch the film, but I can recommended you get a basic taste of the insanity from the trailer:
Dan alluded to this "Star Wars bullshit" in the Morning News, but it's basically the only thing on the internet today, so let's take a moment to reflect on the new Star Wars teaser trailer:
Counting all the black screen, there's probably just something like 40 seconds of footage in this trailer, but that's not stopping people from obsessively tearing every single shot apart. (And they're also debating who's doing the voice-over in the trailer; a lot of people are saying it's Benedict Cumberbatch, who supposedly isn't even involved with this production.) Why are all the starships fighting in a planet's atmosphere, instead of, you know, warring in the stars? Isn't that T-shaped lightsaber impractical? Why are adults arguing over whether a magical laser-sword is impractical or not, anyway? Why didn't we get to see any of the old cast in this trailer? Why didn't they just release the whole movie over the internet right now, for free? Why? Why, God, why?
All this discussion will be rendered moot when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters a little over a year from now. But until then! We speculate.
These were announced yesterday, when America was busy with other stuff, so allow me to direct you today to the full list of nominees for the 30th Independent Spirit Awards, honoring achievement in independent film (specifically, those independent films with budgets under $20 million). A sampling:
Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Love Is Strange
Damien Chazelle, Whiplash
Ava DuVernay, Selma
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
David Zellner, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant
Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Jenny Slate, Obvious Child
Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive
André Benjamin, All Is by My Side
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
Michael Keaton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
John Lithgow, Love Is Strange
David Oyelowo, Selma
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year
Carmen Ejogo, Selma
Andrea Suarez Paz, Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Emma Stone, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Riz Ahmed, Nightcrawler
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange
Edward Norton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Points of personal excitement and interest: Boyhood's Patricia Arquette as best supporting, not lead (all but guaranteeing her a win here and, hopefully, at the Oscars); Jenny Slate up for best actress for Obvious Child (comedy rarely gets attention during awards season); Seattle-affiliated Sean Porter up for best cinematography for It Felt Like Love; and that perfectly respectable-and-then-some group of films nominated for best picture (saw Love Is Strange and Boyhood and liked them both very much, seeing Birdman and Whiplash tomorrow and will report back, and I'm anxiously awaiting the release of Ava DuVernay's Selma).
Pertinent fact on the Independent Spirit Awards' status as Oscar predictor, from Variety:
“12 Years a Slave” won the Best Feature award this year, a day before it won the Best Picture Oscar. All four Spirit acting winners also won Oscars: Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”) and Lupita Nyongo (“12 Years a Slave”).
Commence your end-of-year movie-watching now.
This morning, J.J. Abrams announced that the first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens will only be 88 seconds long. He also announced that it would be showing in select theaters this Friday. Then, Disney revealed that the trailer would be showing before every single movie playing at 30 theaters nationwide for the whole weekend.
The Seattle theater showing the (very short) new Star Wars trailer is Thornton Place, up by the Northgate Mall. So if you want to see a teaser trailer for a movie that won't be out until next year, you should go to Thornton Place, buy a ticket for a movie (may I suggest Birdman?), and then try not walk out as soon as you sit through the entire 88-second experience. Or you could wait until maybe next week, when the trailer will likely be on the internet and available for repeat viewings whenever you want.
In related news, this trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace—a trailer, remember, that so many people were so excited to see, back in the day—looks super-cheesy now, doesn't it?
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