News Flashes: (May 12, 2019) Don’t assume that HBO’s Game of Thrones will forever rule as all time series programming champ as HBO itself will challenge with the now-filming Annapurna/Joe Roth six-part miniseries The Plot Against America and its story that is so uncannily timely and a creative team so perfect to tell it.
Based on the late Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, the tale unfolds as an alternative history (though not so alternative these days!) that has FDR unexpectedly losing the 1940 Presidential election to an American pilot hero (a political naif/fascist-leaning populist-isolationist charmed by Hitler - sound familiar?) who is, of course, Charles Lindbergh.
Jews are terrorized and persecuted under this Lindbergh Presidency (his real life C.V. also boasted a cordial close encounter with Hitler and Lindbergh’s position as spokesperson for the early 40s, short-lived ultra-nationalist America First Committee).
Roth’s Jewish characters are based on those he knew in the working class community of Newark, New Jersey where he grew up. Upping excitement about HBO’s new Plot is that the writer/executive producer team David Simon (The Wire, The Deuce) and Ed Burns (The Wire) penned this poisonous adaptation, suggesting that any resemblance to today’s political reality may not be so unintentional. Like the Throne series, The Plot Against America has no big flashy stars to distract from the political hell that lands in America with President Lindbergh. But New Yorkers will be happy to know that, according to Janet Allon, First Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), there will be some shooting in NYC (she was not pressed on whether Fifth Ave. and 56th St. might be one specific location for a new coda to the Roth story)…
The just-wrapped 18th Tribeca Film Festival (TFF) was another wonderful explosion of well over 100 new feature films — mostly premieres, of which 88 were world debuts (see See-Worthies below for a selection from among the many dozens of Fest besties caught).
The Fest again drew a record number of attendees and offerings: so many sidebars, content categories (immersive, TV, ad-driven, docs, shorts, games, etc.), special events (talks, concerts, tributes, etc.), an abundance reflecting today’s diverse audiences and tech-driven industry changes. Also noteworthy was that the Boomer gen was especially gifted with nostalgic music/pop culture-themed programming blasts (The Apollo theater, Linda Ronstadt, The Simpsons, Woodstock, Spinal Tap, MTV, Apocalypse Now: Final Cut and so on).
TFF, again welcoming outliers and thinkers among the strong storytellers it seeks, had some firsts (e.g., women directed about half of the Fest’s competition line-up and an African-American 18 year old was the youngest ever director to have a feature selected).
That TFF again had a massive turn-out of movie-loving audiences is hardly surprisingly. But in the pervasive TooMuch reality that TFF mirrors, the news is that so many people who want to make films can now with so many traditional barriers (financing, gender, race, orientation, age, complex tools, sheer fear) down. The content plenitude, for instance, had TFF programming eyes worldwide pouring through a record of over 5,000 short film submissions (fewer than 150 made the cut). And the hunger spreads: Tonga was among 44 different countries represented in the line-up. And how nice that it’s hardly just Hollywood dreams firing creative minds but, as the TFF suggested, filmmaker awareness of a world ablaze with problems that need addressing.
Flares and Forecasts: Scandal-dogged serial filmmaker but as yet unproven one-time child molester Woody Allen, whose latest — A Rainy Day in New York — was abandoned by Amazon, has found a distributor in Italy, Lucky Red, and a reported October release date in Italy.
Dinghy’s Franco-Italo Rome-based film guy had some thoughts about the news and the moral attitudes separating Europeans from Americans. He described Lucky Red as having "a reputation for being a demanding distributor" and its founder Andrea Occhipinti as "known in Italy for his defense of quality independent cinema.”
As for the Allen scandal, he opined “I think the hypocritical reaction in the American press and of certain American editors and actors — Selena Gomez and Timothee Chalamet for example — is symptomatic of a puritanical society where ‘politically correct’ seems to have become the only way of thinking. Fortunately, some voices like those of Alec Baldwin or Jude Law appeal to good sense. But #MeToo has demonstrated further the degree to which schizophrenia reigns in Hollywood.”
Referring to Rainy Day, he continues, “A work deserves to survive and be appreciated beyond who the artist is, without automatically implicating its creator. Otherwise we’d have to forbid the works of people like Céline, Malaparte [Curzio Malaparte, an Italian literary figure/filmmaker maligned by his early endorsement of Italian fascism and Mussolini] or the films of Riefenstahl. The argument [surrounding Allen] is absurd and sterile. The attitude of certain actors is shameful and even their association with certain ‘victims’ makes them even more contemptible. David Mamet or Robert Altman would be perfect as creators of a stinging farce on this subject.”
His verdict: “It’s up to a judge and no one else to say if Allen is guilty. To take the public hostage by preventing them from seeing the film [A Rainy Day in New York] is, I believe, unjust. Also deplorable is how this affects the many people who worked on the project (the technicians, producers, et al.).”
And this regarding the film’s overseas prospects: “I haven’t read much of the trades on this subject but in Europe the polemic has made us laugh. And might help Woody to re-launch his career in Barcelona, Paris and Rome.”
Floating: A few floating questions in search of answers: 1. A recent CBS News online dispatch declared that the film industry’s reference to the recent release Breakthrough as “faith-based” and a “Christian film” was “somewhat disparaging,” which raises the question of what might be a more palatable name for the genre? 2. A recent Variety article seeking to tame the content hydra monster grappled with the fluid terminology by asking what does the word movie mean these days? Or film or any difference? And this raising questions about how to better describe immersive entertainment content or a TV or streaming show or video? 3. Could specialty distrib Fox Searchlight be going younger and more genre with its August release Ready or Not? 4. Who on the production/financing end of the Diane Keaton POMS project read the script and said “Let’s do it”?
See-Worthies (a random TFF selection because of too many “worthies” and too little space and time): Oscar winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s joyful CNN Films doc portrait Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice because Ronstadt herself is such an extraordinary singer/performer and generous individual and the doc captures so many others (Emmylou Harris, Don Henley, Dolly Parton, among many) in this thrilling nostalgia blast so relevant for today…Ask Dr. Ruth because this Magnolia/Hulu doc about the unlikely now 90 year old mega-celebrity and Holocaust survivor Dr. Ruth Westheimer delivers so strong a portrait that it lingers and inspires…Same for Gay Chorus Deep South and because this unique adventure on the part of the renowned San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus touring the South in the face of anti-LGBTQ laws is so moving that TFF movie-goers (or is it filmgoers?) voted it winner, on the doc side, of the TFF Audience Award on the doc side. And because its backing from film industry newbie and global housing giant Airbnb speaks volumes about an evolving entertainment business and LGBTQ attitudes…You Don’t Nomi because this thoroughly hilarious doc about the colossal failure and unlikely resurrection (in certain colorful corners) of director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriterJoe Eszterhas’ monumentally “bad” (to most eyes) 1995 big budget flop Showgirls is a close-up of Hollywood-style deflection, denial, dumbness and resilience. And because the film's director, writer, cast, reviewers and mostly gay fans all weigh in here and tease the filmmaker’s partly veiled plea that Showgirls just may be a masterpiece after all…Framing John DeLorean, because Sundance Selects’ terrific doc hybrid about the fall of General Motors star exec/playboy/design talent/entrepreneur/criminal John DeLorean goes deep archive but got inspirationally inventive by casting Alec Baldwin as DeLorean in the highly effective re-enactments…The Good, the Bad, The Hungry because this hugely entertaining ESPN doc about the sports world’s rogue (junk) food gorging competitions, its stars and millions of fans is as delightful a guilty pleasure as a mile high fat-oozing greasy burger with toppings…Recorder: The Marian Stokes Story because this unexpectedly fascinating portrait of the brilliant African-American former librarian Marian Stokes who obsessively recorded for decades daily TV (news especially) is also a portrait of her unlikely but long and loving marriage to a wholly supportive WASPy Philly socialite. And because it’s a strange yet convincing look at productive, rewarding eccentricity, love, loyalty, marriage, and parenting…A Taste of Sky because this poignant look at Noma (the world famous Danish restaurant) co-founder Claus Meyer’s relocation to Bolivia and his efforts, via a cooking school and high end restaurant, to confront some of the country’s poverty by training and providing work for some gifted, motivated but disengranchised young people is so emotionally rewarding. And because this restaurant story, more than “food porn,” clarifies how such inspired efforts to teach rarified culinary arts can benefit a needy society almost as much as it spoils the foodies who flock to these hots spots.
Among the also overwhelming number of excellent TFF narrative fiction entries: Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, not just because it’s the stunningly restored/enhanced (audio and visual) final iteration of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1971 anti-war masterpiece (which back then had been prematurely declared D.O.A. because of so many production/financing setbacks prior to the triumphant premiere at the 1971 Cannes Fest). And because it's now a deeper dive into morality, male behavior, evil, paranoia, drug-fueled craziness and, most importantly, the cultural-political underpinnings of why wars rage and continue…The Gasoline Thieves, because this Mexico, Spain, UK, U.S. co-production from newcomer director/co-writer Edgar Nito about the descent of a poor 14-year-old Mexican farmhand tempted by first love and easy cash so impresses. And because the kid's desperation to become part of Mexico’s widespread illicit gasoline business raises urgency for this real life problem. And because this remarkable debut checks off all the boxes (acting, writing, cinematography, pacing, etc. and nighttime shots that never looked so good) and won Nito TFF’s Best New Narrative Director award…Driveways, because vet actors Brian Dennehy and Christine Ebersole give terrific support to a starring cast of newcomers in this touching coming-of-age drama about a boy who relocates with his mom who is charged with cleaning out her late hoarder sister’s packed house. Viewers and film buyers will pull up this driveway because it pays off…Two/One, because this modest, memorable indie about a Canadian skiing champ and a rising Shanghai exec who are continents apart and unknown to each other (but each stressing in his own way) is a handsomely produced, finely acted pleasure that teases about if and how the two strivers' lives will become entwined... Other see-worthies and every bit as worthy (but time/space intervene here) and in no order whatsoever: Werner Herzog’s docs Meeting Gorbachev and Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin; One Child Nation, Leftover Women, American Factory and Lucky Grandma, because this quartet of docs and narrative delivers so much insight into the Chinese character, culture and country and at a time when the current U.S. administration alienates the U.S. from its former global partners; The Projectionist, because roguish filmmaker Abel Ferrara has found a fellow and endearing rogue character in the industry by why of successful Cyprus-born NY exhibitor Nicolas Nicolaou (an exhibitor enriched by porn and real estate); also an endearing celebration of small neighborhood theaters and their film-loving patrons; Aamis, a pretty remarkable and definitely wierd Indian dramatic love story that makes cannibalism almost, er, palatable (and, yes, buyers will nibble); Roads, a German road trip adventure drama that takes its two teen characters (one a spoiled Euro, the other a migrant) from North Africa to Spain and France and gives viewers a new perspective on asylum seekers; Run, a very gritty Scottish drama that harkens back to the great U.K. “kitchen sink” dramas of the 50s/60s; Georgetown, actor Christolph Waltz’s directorial debut in a fact-inspired story of a scandal, murder, deceptions and tall tales unravelling over several decades among Washington insiders. Also starring Waltz, it's also a peek into why governments and not just people malfunction. A look at the actual, incredible story as Wikipedia has it suggests that a 6 episode series would do it even more justice; And Mary Harron's fascinating Charlie Says, her narrative about the Charlie Manson crew, unexpectedly reminds that Manson’s appeal to the ladies has antecedants in the past (Hitler is just one example) and a stinging parallel for today (he shall not be named as he already gets enough attention).