Monday, March 30, 2020

Woody's new book out, and a Spanish thriller

It’s out. Woody Allen’s new book is seeing the light day after all. After his original publisher, Hachette, dropped an early-April publishing date for Allen’s new autobiography, Apropos of Nothing (see post March 11), a new publisher has come along and published it even earlier! I’ve ordered my copy on Amazon, but the book is only being delivered to US addresses. The publisher is Arcade and its imprint Skyhorse Publishing. So, this is a victory for all of us who believe in free speech and not the weenies at Hachette who backed out after a little controversy - a la, the sexual abuse allegations against Allen and his denial of them.

Meanwhile, with theatres shuttered, how have I been getting through this time of coronavirus semi-lock down?  Not that much differently from how I usually spend time. After all, I work from home. And many of the movies I watch are online anyway. Of recent films I’ve watched on Netflix the best is a new release (as of Friday) called The Occupant (David and Àlex Pastor) and starring the hot Spanish star Javier Gutiérrez (photo left). This is the second time I’ve seen Gutiérrez and, in both roles, he specializes in psychologically creepy characters. Here, as a down and out ad man, he can’t accept the fact his family has to downsize and leave their luxurious apartment. He keeps a set of keys and returns to haunt the new residents. As Javier Muñoz his character is quirky, personable, cantankerous and scheming – there’s no limit as to what this superficially endearing sociopath will do. Gutiérrez, who has won numerous Spanish awards, is fast-becoming one of my must-see actors……Yes, that was a good Netflix film. But too often films on Netflix fall just below what they aspire to be. One example is The Duchess (Saul Dibb 2008) starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes and Charlotte Rampling. The story: it’s the 18th Century and Knightley as Georgiana is married to Duke of Devonshire William Cavendish (Fiennes). But, like the modern era Diana’s marriage to Charles, the marriage is loveless, and Georgiana is ultimately humiliated by the philandering William. The sets and costumes are perfectly lush but the plot meanders with a kind of repetition with little insight into the characters’ motives, thoughts and desires. The same is true with another Netflix film, A Little Chaos (Alan Rickman 2014). Again, an intriguing premise about a woman landscape architect Sabine de Barra (Kate Winslet) hired to design a Gardens of Versailles amphitheater and fountain. The film starts out well, showing the predictable struggles of a brilliant female nobody trying to imprint her vision on the emerging Versailles. And while it’s obvious she struggles, there are no increasing obstacles or clashes of personalities – sexism or otherwise - to overcome, in order to give the film greater tension and excitement. The plot merely plods along on an even keel and unfortunately, we’re glad when it’s over.

Oh, and for all those coronavirus shut-ins or people who simply like watching good films anytime, here's another reminder to take out a subscription to the fabulous website, Criterion Channel. With a vast array of independent and foreign films it's like having an art house cinema in your computer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

No folks, you still can't go out to the theatres

People who have been huddling in their homes over the past several days to protect their health due to the coronavirus outbreak may have been a little surprised to see that a couple of Windsor movie theatres were still open. As of today, The Windsor Star was still advertising showtimes at Cineplex’s Devonshire and Silver City cinemas. This despite the City of Windsor declaring a state of emergency last Friday which effectively shut down Devonshire Mall, where one of the Cineplex theatres is located. Businesses at stand alone “pads” were unaffected by the closures. That could have meant that Silver City, as a stand-alone complex in a south Windsor big box retail site, remained open. But, no, that theatre, as part of the nationwide Cineplex chain, was also closed by the theatre chain March 16. The next day the province imposed a state of emergency and banned operation of public facilities such as theatres, cinemas and concert venues, as well as bars and restaurants. But today in The Windsor Star’s entertainment section the movies at those theatres were still being advertised, along with their weekly showtimes for Friday March 20 through Thursday March 26. Cineplex’s director of exhibition marketing Avery Ironside was stunned when told of the still running ads. "Our theatres are indeed currently closed due to the coronavirus situation, and no advertising should be running.” He suggested the ads kept being placed due to “an automatic feed” that “didn’t stop” and they will be “pulled ASAP.” On March 16 Cineplex announced the temporary cinema closures through to April 2 when re-openings will be “reassessed.” This announcement reflected the rapidly evolving pandemic crisis. Just four days previously the chain said it was keeping theatres open but “taking all appropriate measures to ensure our venues are safe and that we have existing plans and training protocols in place to ensure they stay that way.” This included enhanced cleaning and asking patrons not feeling well to refrain from visiting the cinemas.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Woody Allen a victim of cancel culture

So now, Woody Allen’s new autobiography, Apropos of Nothing, will not be published. Thanks a lot Hachette, the publishing group that had been all set to release the book April 7. I was so anticipating it I was thinking of pre-ordering it. Not because Allen is an icon and, well, an acting, directing and comic genius, but, you know, because I’m dying to read his response to all the allegations thrown against him by one part of his family that he molested his daughter Dylan Farrow, when she was seven years old. We’ve all heard the other side of the story – the allegations ex-wife Mia Farrow and son Ronan Farrow, who has risen to extreme prominence in recent years (justifiably so) for his investigative reporting on sexual abuse by people in high places like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. His book Catch and Kill is a bestseller. But when it was announced that a Hachette imprint was publishing Allen’s new book, Farrow announced he was cutting ties with the same publishing company. Dylan Farrow also denounced the publisher for not fact checking the book. Woody Allen has always vehemently denied the allegations and in fact a legal investigation found no substance to them. After the Ronan and Dylan social media outrage, a walkout by about 75 staff at Hachette’s Manhattan offices took place, condemning their employer for publishing the book. Guess what then shortly happened? Hachette, with all the spine of a wavering jelly dish, cancelled publication. There are several points of principle here. First, regardless of who is right in this alleged sexual assault controversy, why would someone like Ronan Farrow, supposedly a journalist of high integrity who believes in the First Amendment, want to stamp out a book? Second, the employees at Hachette should be ashamed of themselves. They work for a publishing company, the very idea of which is to publish material in an environment of freedom of expression. I hope some other publisher will now take the book on and I will be among the first in line to buy it. Allen should also take legal action for breach of contract against the cowering Hachette.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Radical chic a la Seberg

The new film Seberg, directed by Benedict Andrews, who wasn’t even born when the events in the film take place, takes one facet of the 1960s iconic actress’s life and blows it up. That aspect is Jean Seberg’s politics. Never mind that Seberg is best identified as the literal face of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard’s first and breakthrough 1960s film Breathless (Seberg is the one in the New York Herald Tribune shirt). Nor the rest of her filmography. Instead, during our hyper politicized current era, why wouldn’t Andrews want to focus only on her politics and the US government’s surveillance of her support for various 1960s radical causes? And it fits to a T with Hollywood’s current leftist zeitgeist. Having said that this was a remarkable chapter in an actor’s history, the revolutionary Left of the 1960s and the FBI’s extraordinary and often illegal spying on dissidents. The film has been panned for providing a superficial look at Seberg’s character. But if you’re only focusing on one chapter in her life how much more can you do? Superficial or not Kristen Stewart as Seberg bears an uncanny resemblance to the actress. And, to her credit, Stewart, an actor of some substance, brings as much heft as she can to the role. As for the plot, well, it is what it is. The focus squarely is on the FBI COINTELPRO program. Having grown up in the late 1960s (high school) I had completely forgotten about Seberg being the most spied upon Hollywood actor of the era. Seberg was aiding the Black Panthers, a revolutionary African American group which took up arms against what they called police brutality at a time when there really was widespread police violence. Seberg becomes infatuated with black nationalist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie), has an affair with him (both are married), and donates liberally to Panther causes. There’s a scene in her opulent Hollywood home where Tinseltown’s elite gather to toast the Panthers, still wearing their leather jackets and berets. It’s reminiscent of how elite groups fete revolutionaries – their supposed enemies - like composer Leonard Bernstein’s hosting a New York cocktail party for the Panthers, immortalized by writer Tom Wolfe as “radical chic.” Some of the technical aspects of this movie are good, such as the array of surveillance equipment and period sets that mostly re-create the era; but they got the plane wrong, substituting a 707 for a 747. So, this is a film about nasty US government policies, though anyone who lived through the era remembers groups like the Panthers as indeed being threatening and the USA on the brink of revolution amidst riots and bombings. And Stewart as Seberg looks fabulous, especially in those shimmering striped minidresses; she’s the best thing about Seberg.