MAY DECEMBER (directed by Todd Haynes, 2023)
Best Picture of the Year?? It could well be -- there's still a month and a half to go. But be forewarned, this film packs a wallop of a kind that is truly a rare cinematic commodity these days. Caroline and I went to a screening last night with our friend Jon Surgal at the Director's Guild of America on West 57th Street. We were all devastated by Todd Haynes's latest opus (which is being advertised as a black comedy/drama! It is emphatically NOT a comedy -- leave it to the marketing guys). It is a rich, complex, mature, and fully nuanced journey into the essence of human relationships (Life as we live it, in other words), boasting two powerhouse performances by Nathalie Portman and Julianne Moore and a standout turn from Charles Melton. People will debate the ending for days; the film doesn't resolve in any neat schematic formulation, just like Life -- and folks who like their cinema juicy and rare will want to see it again and again, the surface detail comes so thick and fast on the eye and ear without telegraphing any of its punches that every moment is a WTF moment. And if you see it with a friend or an enemy, you are bound to debate for hours the nature of what you just saw. The heavy influence of Ingmar Bergman (Persona mainly) and Joseph Losey abound (the soundtrack music is mainly Michel Legrand's score for Losey's The Go-Between, repurposed and re-orchestrated -- Haynes fell in love with his needle drop scratch track, apparently). I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of the plot here; I haven't even looked at this trailer above (which might suck, dunno) -- but the film most definitively does not suck. It is just superb. Haynes did a Q&A at the end, and he was super-articulate about something -- let us say, for argument's sake, the overwhelming immanence of his creation -- something that was pretty much beyond words.
HOW TO COME ALIVE WITH NORMAN MAILER (directed by Jeff Zimbalist, 2023)
Caroline Sinclair and I went to a screening of HOW TO COME ALIVE WITH NORMAN MAILER (d. Jeff Zimbalist) last night at the IFC DocFest. And quite an entertaining and impressive doc it was, all about that nice Jewish (Bad) Boy -- the boozing brawling schtupping rebel-rousing public intellectual litterateur who'd been an anti-hero of mine since junior high school (though I admittedly bugged on him after l'affaire Jack Henry Abbott -- but hey no one's perfect). This was like Norman's Greatest Hits thrown into a Hamilton Beach blender -- a few signal moments were missing, such as Norman's essay on Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris, which initially ran in but you can't have everything. Most of the high and low points from Norman's 80-odd years on earth were there for all to see, warts and all (let me recount the ways -- nah, better you see this when it runs on Showtime). The only letdown was the score, which was overall too loud in the mix and got downright quasi-religious at the end, marking the hour of his passing (funny 'cause Norman used similar pompous music cues ironically in his little-known but worth seeing directorial disaster Tough Guys Don’t Dance). Overall, though, I'd give this doc an "E" for Excellent. Executive produced by Norman's son / our friend John Buffalo Mailer -- who was once named "Sexiest Man Alive" by People Magazine. That makes three, count them three, SMA's I've known up close and personal, so dubbed by that same mag. In no particular order: John Buffalo, Jeff Buckley, and Harry Hamelin. A veritable trifecta.