A Futile Cumberbatch Gesture

With last year’s Me Too and Times Up movements in full force and Hollywood apparently cleaning house of all offenders, I suspect the issue of pay equality is looked upon as a natural continuation of those two causes. Is it fair that male actors make more than their female counterparts? Let me hold off on answering that. The real subject of today is precipitated by a recent news item stating that Benedict Cumberbatch (Oscar nominated star of Doctor Strange and the T.V series, Sherlock) will refuse roles unless his female costars receive equal pay. Now, obviously this is a very noble gesture. Think back five months ago when the story broke out that Mark Whalberg earned a million dollars for reshoots while star of the film, Michelle Williams made something like $10, 000. That wasn’t fair, and so I could commend Cumberbatch for taking a stand here on behalf of his female peers. However, I disagree wholeheartedly with the gesture, as noble as it is, and think it represents more harm than good. I’ll do my best to organize and dispense my thoughts on this as best as possible so that you can see where I’m coming from. This is by no means a “men are better than women” argument. This is by no means an argument against fair pay for women.

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  1. My main qualm is that it takes all the pressure off of the studio bigwigs and places it on all future male costars to follow suit. That’s not fair. As I argued back on the Mark Whalberg case, it was totally wrong for him to receive so much more than Michelle Williams, but the onus was on the studios and not Whalberg. He, and all male actors, have a right to seek as much money as they can get, and actresses have that same right. It is not any male actors’ duty to play agent for his costars. I’m pretty sure actors don’t discuss how much they’re making for a film.
  2. What Cumberbatch’s gesture represents amounts to Hollywood socialism. Are we still a capitalist society? Every actor should be paid according to what they’re worth to the film. Not according to talent, to be clear. Richard Jenkins is an infinitely  better actor than Selena Gomez, but Selena Gomez has a sizable audience that her presence will guarantee. Jennifer Lawrence (who has made upwards of $15 million on films before) deserves to make more money than Benedict Cumberbatch, and Benedict Cumberbatch deserves to make more than Rachel McAdams.
  3. The real problem and point of emphasis should be to make more female centered films, give more female directors opportunities, and watch the audience for these films grow. Since a majority of Hollywood blockbusters are geared towards teenage boys, of course, men are going to see bigger box office returns. Again, this points to the studios who greenlight the films, and, who, to this point, haven’t trusted women or minority led films to make money.
  4. Touching back on the idea of Hollywood socialism, should we go back to the studio system? All actors under contract? I’m fairly certain that system broke down, and it was an actress, the great Bette Davis who played a huge role in breaking free of that structure. This isn’t Friends, where every actor and actress played an equal role in its success. Broker your own deal, and fight for your worth.
  5. Finally, although this is more of an aside, quit remaking successful male pictures with all female casts. It’s counterproductive to the cause. I think, maybe, Ocean’s 8 has a chance, but if you look at past box-office results, it’s original movies like Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids that clean up. Not second rate remakes like Ghostbusters.

-Walter Howard-

 

 

28: I’m Not an Actor, I’m a Movie Star

My Favorite Year (1982)

In this deceptively breezy, whimsical comedy, Peter O’Toole gives one of his very best performances. Of course, movie buffs will always remember him as T.E Lawrence in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and he went on to a number of grand roles of prestige and gravitas, but his comedic roles too often get underrated. How many award winning dramatic actors are also capable of performing in the lightest of comedies with ease like O’Toole did in, say How to Steal a Million, for example. But that film was in the sixties when O’Tool was still young and handsome, before he fell off the wagon, and became a notorious drunk, and aging hell-raiser. By 1982, the year this film was released, O’Toole was not just channeling Errol Flynn, who is the obvious influence for the role, but also his own waning stardom. He plays Alan Swann, former matinee idol and swashbuckling star of numerous classic movies. His prime behind him, he grasps for a minor comeback in the emerging television medium by making a guest appearance on a variety show. In this scene, the film and O’Toole’s best, he finds out for the first time that the show he’s doing is live, and requires him to get the lines right first try. His reaction is priceless, and as over the top as it is, it beautifully plays in to the perception we fans have of major movie stars.

-Walter Howard-

Stupid Movie Proposal: Black Hand, White Hand

In its 6th season, for its 19th episode, 30 Rock returned to a live show format it tried the season before with great success. In this episode, Live from Studio 6H, Jon Hamm makes a cameo appearance as a man who lost his arm in a bizarre accident. He then gets a replacement as part of a program where people who were executed by the state’s limbs are donated to people in need. This gave me an idea for a ridiculous film:

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A caucasian concert pianist loses one of his hands in an accident, and loses his ability to perform, as well as all will to live. Severely depressed, he turns to drinking, and watches the days go by. One year later, a friend, tired of seeing his friend spiral, suggests a rather sketchy black market procedure he knows about, but has never tried himself. It’s an under the table, unlicensed medical procedure that gives people in need the limbs of someone executed by the state. Our protagonist, desperate to return to his old way of life, consents, and proceeds with the operation. Soon, he’s a new man now with one white hand and one black hand (courtesy of some executed criminal). All is well until he finds the new hand has a mind of its own. Is the hand trying to kill him? Eventually, he finds out that the hand is not actually attempting to murder him, but is trying to clear his former owner’s name. The man who the hand once belonged to was framed and executed wrongfully. Thereafter, the concert pianist and his new black hand team up to solve the mishandled case, and the film becomes like an odd buddy cop movie.

-Walter Howard

My VHS Collection

January 2nd, 2015. A fellow tenant moves out. I never met the man (I assume it was a man), but he left behind a large laundry basket full of old, mostly sucky VHS tapes, and my adult life has never been the same. I rediscovered the magic. A long roll of magnetic tape protected by a hard plastic shell, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First I needed a VHS player. I found one sitting in my apartment basement, tossed aside by some other foolish tenant. My setup complete, I’ve since embarked on a journey to round up and amass the most epic collection of VHS tapes. Grabbing what others have discarded, buying from local bargain basements, I’ve just reached my first big milestone: 1,000 movies strong. True, not all of them are gold. When you’re picking up what others leave behind, there’s not going to be the same level of discernment. Many of them are horrible comedies (Airplane II, Wild Wild West ) or sequels to slasher films (I’ve got the whole Friday the 13th series, at least three Omen films, and the notorious bomb Exorcist II). But every once in a while, I’ll go to my local library, and find that someone’s put something like Body Double in the free-for-all bin, or Matinee, starring John Goodman; hidden gems that are hard to find on DVD .  Your question: Aside from the joy of collecting, do these VHS tapes have any value? Probably not, unless you’re like me, and believe in the immeasurable worth of nostalgia. I have over two dozen clam-shell VHS tapes. For those who don’t remember, Disney and other family video companies would put their tapes in cases like these:

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I love these movies. I’m steadily building up my masterpiece collection (a series Disney put out in the 90s). I have Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and The Great Mouse Detective. I love the old previews that come with the tapes. The commercials for Disney World I remember from childhood. I love that the tape for Monster’s Inc. is blue. It astounds me. And one thing about old tapes: they’re nearly impossible to destroy accidentally. Unlike early 2000s DVDs which scratched and ruined, that plastic casing around the tape does a hell of a job keeping the movie intact. I have a tape I stepped on wearing shoes that cracked down the middle, but still plays fine.

Anyways, the next milestone will be two thousand. I think I can hit this by Christmas.

-Walter Howard-

5 Films from Cannes Film Festival (2018)

It’s that time of year again. Though I like to consider my movie tastes more working class than academic, I, nonetheless, get excited every year when the world’s biggest film festival comes around. Beginning on May 8th, the 71st Annual Cannes Film Festival begins. Two-time Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett, is president of the jury, and will be assisted by such notables as: Denis Villeneuve, Ava DuVernay, and Kristen Stewart. Why do I care about Cannes? Most film people do, but I’ll admit I tend to love the most recent summer blockbuster more often then whatever Palme d’Or winning 3 hour Italian film wowed at Cannes. I also wonder about the virtue of exclusivity and elitism. Films should be for the people. All people. If all this sounds unfair to the festival, know that it’s only a concession to the devil’s advocate in me. In all truthfulness, I love Cannes. Every year, people from all over the world gather in the gorgeous city on the French Riviera to share their movies. I don’t care about the fashion or whatever A list celebrity graced the carpet. I’m simply smitten with the idea of being surrounded by film lovers. Add to that, Cannes does a wealth of good in getting these foreign art house films exposure. And I love that every year, they show one big summer blockbuster, this year presenting Solo: A Star Wars Story, which I’m eagerly anticipating. Here are five other films from the festival I’m curious about:

BlackkKlansmen        Directed by Spike Lee

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A bit of historical fiction from the prolific director and provocateur, Spike Lee, this film is said to follow the investigation of black detective, Ron Stallworth, into the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, leading him to go deep undercover, and ultimately become head of the chapter. Real life figures David Duke and Stokely Carmichael work their way into the story, and actors Topher Grace and Corey Hawkins are set to portay them. I’m interested to see Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, in his first starring role. Lee’s filmography is the proverbial mixed bag. True, he made Do the Right Thing, but he also made She Hate Me. You can’t trust him for quality, but you can count on his work to be interesting. This latest, with that explosive premise, is instant intrigue. I wonder if the film will remind me of my favorite Dave Chappelle skit.

Everybody Knows   Directed by Asghar Farhadi

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Writer-Director, Asghar Farhadi’s name sells the film. He’s won two Oscars in the past decade, and turned out one great film after another. Engaging, incendiary domestic dramas are his specialty, but now he’s extending himself beyond his native language with this Spanish language effort starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. Focusing on two married couples, and said to be about, “unexpected events that bring secrets into the open.” That’s Farhadi’s modus operandi, and I’m fine with him never veering from it.

Fahrenheit 451    Directed by Ramin Bahrani

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Director Ramin Bahrani was declared, “director of the decade,” by Ebert before he died, and this will be his first mainstream effort. The novel is a much-read, much-loved classic, and has been ripe for a new adaptation for a while. It’s been over fifty years since Truffaut’s version. This time out, Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon star, along with a conspicuously diverse cast. The film will air on HBO in just a couple of weeks, and I’ve made plans to tune in for sure.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote   Directed by Terry Gilliam

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Something like 30 years in the making, this film is already a miracle of conception and a testament to a great filmmaker’s perseverance. That, however, doesn’t make the film inherently good. That remains to be seen. The trailer is truly wild. Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce star, with Olga Kurylenko and Stellan Skarsgard supporting. Gilliam has let his imagination run rampant over his forty year career, and I’m very curious to see what a film he struggled to get made looks like.

Under the Silver Lake   Directed by David Robert Mitchell

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David Robert Mitchell’s first film, It Follows, became a genuine sleeper hit, getting under the skin of a lot of people. It’s an interesting film, mixing artistic flair with a creepy premise, but I was fairly indifferent to it. His newest, on the other hand, looks awesome, starring Andrew Garfield as an average guy obsessed with tracking down his beautiful neighbor who’s missing. The trailer reveals a film both surreal and comic. I love detective mysteries.

-Walter Howard-

 

29: Shootout in the Streets

Heat (1995)

This is one epic action scene. It’s deep into the film, so the characters and their motivations are well established. It’s been built up, and all that’s left is to watch it unfold. This collision between the cops, led by Al Pacino’s Vincent Hannah, and the robbers, led by Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley. Director Michael Mann is a technician, and this sequence is a masterpiece. The level of craftsmanship, the pacing, the discipline in its use of special effects. CGI would be the go-to in today’s filmmaking, and the scene would lose much of what makes it great. Mann alternates between long elegant tracking shots and jarring steady cam that give the feeling of guerrilla filmmaking (and realism). Take a second to admire the sound work being done. It’s beautiful.

-Walter Howard-

5 Films of May 2018

The first half of May is looking ever so slight. That’s understandable since Avengers: Infinity War just dropped to finish April, and no film wants to lie in its wake. So for the next two weeks or so, we have to hope the Overboard remake is somehow worth watching, and I wouldn’t bet on it. They got lucky with the original. That premise, a man essentially abducting a female amnesia patient and convincing her that she’s his wife is borderline rapey. Thankfully, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell are adorable together so we overlooked that. They gender swapped this remake with a woman convincing a narcissistic man that he’s her husband with Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez. Seeing as the film comes out in two days and has no reviews, I’m guessing it’s a real dud, and the press agents don’t want anyone to know. Anyhoo, I suppose I can use this spare time to catch up on a couple of arthouse films I’ve missed; still haven’t seen Isle of Dogs or You Were Never Really Here. Eventually, summer blockbuster month will kick in, and it kicks in hard with two huge releases. Here are the five movies I’m most interested in this month:

May 4

Tully    94% on Rotten Tomatoes               Directed by Jason Reitman

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Starring Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis

Charlize Theron plays an overstressed mother who is gifted the perfect nanny, named Tully (Davis), by her brother. That plotline sounds as intriguing to me as a film about babies with genius level IQ (referencing Baby Geniuses-a bad film), meaning I’m not in it for the plot. Theron, apparently, is marvelous, and I’m drawn by the reteaming of her, director Reitman (Juno, Young Adult), and writer Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult).

May 11

Life of the Party                No Rotten Tomatoes Score Yet                    Directed by Ben Falcone

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Starring Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon

I’m a fan of Melissa McCarthy, but like all film comedians, she has her share of duds. If I had to guess about this newest collaboration with her husband, director Falcone, after the critical failures that were The Boss and Tammy, I would say that this will be another nice enough, but not very funny comedy, that does reasonably well at the box-office. The plot is very reminiscent of Back to School with Rodney Dangerfield, which is not a huge problem as the premise can be mined for more comedy. I’m seeing it anyways.

 

May 18

Deadpool 2             No Rotten Tomatoes Score Yet   Directed by David Leitch

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Starring Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin

Obviously, another huge release, and mammoth superhero franchise. The first one shattered all expectations with its irreverence and wit, and I’m really just hoping for more of the same. The superhero film is at its zenith right now, which also means it’s prime for spoofing. This outing sees Deadpool bring in a team of fighters to rescue some kid, and I enjoyed what I saw in the trailer. Playing the villain, Cable, Josh Brolin says, ” funnier than the first.” We’ll see. Director David Leitch knocked it out of the ballpark with his first two directed films: John Wick and Atomic Blonde.

First Reformed       96% on Rotten Tomatoes                      Directed by Paul Schrader

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Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried

Renowned writer-director, Paul Schrader (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) returns late in his career with this critically acclaimed drama. Ethan Hawke plays a priest going through a crisis of faith after brutal upheaval shakes up his life. The reviews are glowing, and Schrader’s one of the greats. I hope to find this film in theaters.

May 25

Solo: A Star Wars Story           No Rotten Tomatoes Score Yet       Directed by Ron Howard

Image result for solo a star wars storyStarring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke

Going against popular consensus, I didn’t much care for the first “Star Wars story” in Rogue One. It was fine, but spinoffs are generally just wastes of time to me. However, the trailer for Han Solo’s spinoff features some spectacular visuals and I’m liking the space western vibes I’m getting from it. The problem with all spinoffs is we know ultimately where we’re going, so any hint of romance, for example, we know will never make it all the way. Solo belongs to Leia. Ehrenreich has a tough job of trying to emulate Harrison Ford.

-Walter Howard-