All posts filed under: Cinema

Easy Rider: 50 Years Looking for America—A Review

A review of Easy Rider: 50 Years Looking for America by Steven Bingen, Lyons Press (November 2019) 200 pages. It was the 1990 comedy Flashback that sparked my interest in Easy Rider (1969) when I was eight or nine years old. In the former, Dennis Hopper plays an aging 60s dissident, busted after 20 years on the lam, who gets taken cross-country by a no-nonsense FBI agent, played by Kiefer Sutherland. Naturally, the straight-laced fed can’t keep his laces very straight after Hopper doses him (or pretends to dose him) with LSD, releasing the young Republican’s inner hippie. At one point, Hopper declares, “It takes more than going down to your local video store and renting Easy Rider to be a rebel.” For some odd reason lost on me now, I liked this airy nothing of a movie and so, of course, insisted that my family rent Easy Rider the next time we visited our local video store. Strangely, I liked that too, though, again, I’m not quite sure why. Maybe it was the music—all …

Farewell, My Lovely

A review of The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood by Sam Wasson, Flatiron Books (February 2020) 397 pages. Editor’s note: the following essay contains spoilers. There’s a moment midway through the film Chinatown (1974) in which the hero, Jake Gittes, hands us a clue—not a clue about the case he’s investigating, the one involving graft and murder in L.A.’s Department of Water and Power, but a more subtextual kind of clue, hinting at the meaning of the film’s enigmatic title. Jake (Jack Nicholson) and his client, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway), are standing in her back yard, and she’s prodding him about his life before he became a private eye, when he worked as a cop in Chinatown. What did he do there, she asks? “As little as possible,” Jake replies. This bit of dialogue may seem innocuous, but it was, in fact, the inspiration for the entire film, taken by screenwriter Robert Towne from an actual Chinatown cop, whom he met in the early 1970s. In Chinatown, the policeman explained, you …

So Here’s to You, Buck Henry

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I did not know who Buck Henry was. On the evening of his death on January 8, 2020, I had to Google his name (which sounds vaguely like the musky fragrance of an aging leather briefcase discolored by cigarette ash). According to his many admirers, Henry was the first writer to fashionize wearing a floppy baseball hat over round tortoiseshell spectacles. This is probably not true, but the residue of his mythology appears in the uniform of every New Yorker who writes about comedy; from David Letterman’s casual streetwear to the SNL writer taking their dog for a morning stroll in Central Park. You can still see this look in urban coffeehouses, where writers in colorful New Balance sneakers scribble jokes into moleskin notebooks. It’s almost certain that these twenty-something Buck Henry facsimiles associate the name with a woodsy-scented organic soap or fashionable strain of weed, or a dead Negro League ball player. I am not making fun of them. I am one of them. And they, like …

‘The Report’ Review—A Careful Examination of the CIA’s Interrogation Methods

The Report, a new film from Vice Studios starring Adam Driver, feels somehow both timely and late. It tells the story of American Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Driver), who was tasked with investigating the U.S. government’s “enhanced interrogation” program in the late 2000s. The program, which many denounced as torture, was used to extract intelligence from suspected terrorist detainees at CIA black sites after Al Qaeda’s attack on September 11, 2001. It ended years ago and is no longer even legal—the McCain-Feinstein Amendment restricts prisoner interrogation techniques to those listed in the United States Army’s field manual, and it passed the Senate with a 78–21 vote in 2015, backed by majorities in both parties. Among the general public, however, the topic remains controversial, with almost half of Americans saying they think torture could be used to obtain “important military information” from “a captured enemy combatant” and only a little more than half saying they think torture is “wrong.” During and after his 2016 campaign, President Donald J. Trump, ever-sensitive to divergences between “elite” and “popular” …

‘White Christmas’ and the Triumphs of the Greatest Generation

Michael Curtiz’s 1954 classic White Christmas is so popular that it generates new think-pieces every time the holiday season rolls around. Last year, the New York Times republished its own original review of the film, in which the late Bosley Crowther panned the movie. Other pieces in other places discussed Vera-Ellen’s alleged bulimia, the fact that her neck is covered throughout the film, the rumor that Bob Fosse was an uncredited choreographer on the film, and the many continuity errors. The film has been called a romantic comedy, a buddy picture (or “bromance”), a musical, and a holiday film. Curiously, I’ve never seen it listed in the war genre, which is the category in which it really belongs. For all its holly and ivy and hot-buttered rum, White Christmas is as much about World War II as Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny (both films were among the five highest grossing movies of 1954) or Casablanca (released in 1942, and which Curtiz also directed). It opens in war-torn Italy on Christmas Eve, 1944. Bing Crosby plays …

‘The Rise of Jordan Peterson’—A Review

Given today’s downward cultural spiral, it’s disturbing but not surprising that the makers of a thoughtful new documentary about Jordan Peterson are having a hard time finding somewhere to show their film. Many mainstream and independent cinemas have refused to screen it because they’re “fearful of controversy” or “morally concerned.” One theater in Toronto cancelled a week-long showing after some of the staff “took issue with it.” A theater in Brooklyn cancelled a second screening, despite the fact that the first sold out and received good reviews, “because some staff were offended . . . and felt uncomfortable.” We were going to join 11 Canadian cities watching #RJPFilm today but we received a last-minute cancellation from the Brooklyn venue because apparently some staff were offended by the content and felt uncomfortable to work at our screening.. https://t.co/nOTpoiGuGg — Patricia Marcoccia (@pmarcoccia) October 6, 2019 Jordan Peterson. Jordan Peterson. Jordan Peterson! That name, that man, that swirling storm of impassioned controversies—again? After the flood of protests, podcasts, profiles, social media storms, hit pieces, and heartfelt testimonials …

Fear of a White Joker: When Did the Left Stop Caring About Crime’s Root Causes?

Todd Phillips’s Joker is one of the most culturally significant films in recent memory. It has been praised and attacked with a fervency that is rarely inspired by the mainstream fruits of Hollywood. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a modern blockbuster that has generated such attention and concern. Virtually every major media outlet has published some extended commentary on the work, whether it be a film review of the standard format (which are now rare) or an impassioned op-ed delineating how the film is either the cause or consequence of some terrible social phenomenon. Inevitably, the word “Trump” appears early and often. The film tells the origin story of the Joker, a prominent supervillain in the Batman fictional universe. It traces the tale of a failed comedian named Arthur Fleck who, afflicted by bullying and mental instability, turns to a life of crime and sadism. To progressive members of the literati, the phenomenon of interest is the omnipresent sociopathy of the white male, in all its sexual repression, social ostracization and malignant cruelty. …

‘Cancel Culture,’ Roaring Twenties-Style

The term “cancel culture” has become hotly contested of late. Critics say it is indiscriminately used to describe different degrees of mass opprobrium produced by transgressions that range from the trivial to the criminal. Now, while mob justice is never a particularly good idea, it is certainly true that some instances are more serious than others. Probably the worst kind involves a serious accusation made against a public figure, who is then investigated and cleared, but whose life and reputation are never allowed to completely recover. I was reminded of this reading Claire Lehmann’s recent essay about the fate of Giovanni da Col, a young man driven from the journal he founded amid accusations of sexual and financial impropriety, despite the fact that these claims had been investigated and found to be baseless. Woody Allen, meanwhile, had his career belatedly derailed by the reemergence of child molestation allegations, first made by his estranged partner Mia Farrow during an ugly custody fight in 1992. These claims, too, were thoroughly investigated at the time and dismissed, but …

Once Upon a Time…Film Critics Became Joyless—A Review

*This article contains spoilers. Once upon a time, somewhere far from Hollywood, critics decided that movies for grownups should not be fun, and that the filmmakers who make them should be punished. For publications like The Guardian, the latest unacceptable pusher of a good time is Quentin Tarantino, with his long-anticipated Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. “Whatever the merits of his new film, Tarantino’s films have revelled in extreme violence against female characters,” says the piece, entitled “End of the affair: why it’s time to cancel Quentin Tarantino.” Time Magazine went so far as to count “every line in every Quentin Tarantino film to see how often women talk,” tallying the results in data charts. This nakedly ideological ire against not just the movie, but Tarantino himself, extends even to The New Yorker—the same New Yorker where Pauline Kael, a decidedly non-ideological film critic, presided for a generation. “Tarantino’s love letter to a lost cinematic age is one that, seemingly without awareness, celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the scenes command) at the expense of everyone else,” …

From Academia to Hollywood: An Interview with Tony Tost

Tony Tost is a television writer and producer. He was the creator of Damnation, which Tost describes as a “Clint Eastwood western set in the world of John Steinbeck.” The show (streaming on Netflix) fictionalizes the labor wars of rural America in the 1930s. Before creating Damnation, Tost spent five seasons writing for Longmire (also on Netflix). He just wrapped working as a writer and producer for The Terror: Infamy, which will air August 12 on AMC. Before breaking into screenwriting, Tost was a poet and academic. Below is an interview I recently conducted with Tony about his personal background and his experience in both Hollywood and academia. *     *     * Quillette Magazine: You are now a successful Hollywood screenwriter but that is not the world you come from. In fact, as you know, we grew up not far from each other in Southwest Missouri. Would you discuss your background a bit and how it has influenced your work? Tony Tost: I prefer “working” to “successful” as a screenwriter modifier, but sure: I started …