Victoria Jelinek


The Nice Guys
The-Nice-Guys-poster-2

April 21, 2016 – The Nice Guys – Poster and cover for the official soundtrack that will be released by Lakeshore Recors on May 20, 2016

In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the case of a missing girl connected to the death of a porn star. March is a washed up detective who looks smooth, and who stays just on the ‘right’ side of the law due to the wise intelligence of his daughter. Healy is discouraged by modern society and struggles to better himself, even as he can’t seem to maintain a relationship with anybody and prefers to use force rather than words.

I think Shane Black’s movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is absolutely first rate, but The Nice Guys is firmly placed on my list of top 20 films-of-all-time. The script is excellent – smart, fast and witty with an undercurrent of poignancy – paralleling the entire film. While Director Shane Black throws in hard-bitten aspects of film noir (thugs, femme fatales, conspiracies, and fading glamor) for our enjoyment, and the pairing of Crowe and Gosling is hilarious, there is true depth to this film as it meditates on the American psyche through the 1970’s, when the country struggled to find its purpose after the assassination of promising political figures in the 1960’s and the end of the Vietnam War.

A must see film that has left me wishing Shane Black made more movies.

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Oscars 2014

academy-awards-filmstrip-logoI was told when I worked at a talent and literary agency in Hollywood many years ago that the formation of the Oscar awards was a cynical endeavor. The legend went that there had been a rash of sordid incidents in Hollywood in the 1920’s involving starlets and wannabes who came to Los Angeles from all over the US, and so the Oscars were set up by the big bosses of the day as a way to create a nobler image of Hollywood and garner some good press. I’m not sure this tale is true, but I don’t dismiss its possibility outright. What is certainly true is that because of the prestige and positive exposure of the Academy Awards, studios spend millions of dollars and hire publicists to promote their films during “the Oscar season.” This practice has generated accusations that the Oscars are influenced more by marketing, than by quality. In 2009, William Friedkin, himself an Academy Award winning film director and former producer of the ceremony, described the Oscars as, “the greatest promotion scheme that any industry ever devised for itself.”

Despite its potentially disreputable origins and many criticisms of the event, the Oscars are still a grandiose affair I love. Speaking of grand, I’m going to make my predictions about the Best Picture category, and then wait with bated breath to see if I’m correct. I think that the Oscar will go to 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street. My reasoning is that the Academy will not award Steve McQueen Best Director, given his age and his competition in this category, and unless they award Chiwetel Ejiofor Best Actor, they will not want to appear racist by overlooking this film in the major categories (racism is still a hot subject in the US). Moreover, Brad Pitt’s production company produced it, and there have been some bad press and disappointed expectations regarding his costly movie World War Z, so the industry might want to generate some positive feelings. If it is, indeed, 12 Years a Slave, a movie I found beautiful to look at, but too didactic and self-conscious, it won’t be the first time nepotism and guilt won the day (I remember sitting open mouthed when Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture in 1999). If it’s The Wolf of Wall Street, then it will be in an effort at atonement for the fact that Scorsese has never won the Best Picture award, despite his films Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas. Best Director, yes, but never Best Picture. Moreover, Leonardo di Caprio has never won an Oscar, so he may get the Best Actor win, but if he doesn’t, there could be the desire to create a balance with the Best Picture. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Wolf of Wall Street, but I don’t think it deserves Best Picture. I can live with this win, however.

I’ll be gutted if American Hustle wins. Talk about nepotism and a popularity contest. Writer/Director David O’Russell has delivered fine films, such as The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, but this isn’t as good as it’s touted to be. Sure, the actors are charismatic and capable, the production design is entertaining, the soundtrack is nostalgic, and there are fun costumes, as well as a lot of time devoted to amusing hairstyles, but there’s little point or suspense to this film.

I’ll also be upset if Philomena wins either Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay. Sure, it’s harrowing subject matter (see my thoughts on 12 Years a Slave and the appearance of being sympathetic), the acting is brilliant, the humor is good, but this shouldn’t be confused with the Best Picture or the Best Adapted Screenplay. The Former ‘cause there are more comprehensively great films this year in the category. The second, for the same reason, and because there is a storyline introduced and dropped rather clumsily that should eliminate it from this honor: the scene is the one in which Philomena and Martin meet her son’s adopted sister, who came with him from the convent. Mary (Mare Cunningham) states they did not have a happy childhood, and suggests cruelty on the part of their adopted father, but this is not developed. She claims that Philomena’s son never mentioned or considered their origin, Ireland, or his biological mother, a fact that is later completely discredited. I was left with many questions about Mary’s motives for lying, and the inclusion of this scene in the film, and believe that without developing these provocative storylines introduced here (which the film did not) this scene should have been cut. Its insertion niggled me, and I suspect its inclusion is a clumsy attempt to create a sense of ‘jeopardy” before the third act. But I digress.

Captain Phillips was suspenseful and well shot, but not the Best Picture in my opinion. Nor is Her. Relevant, and a great concept, but not the Best Picture. And I think that despite Spike Jonze’s contacts and cult status in the biz, even the Academy won’t give this film the win. Gravity is beautiful and has lofty existential themes that I find incredibly interesting, but if this wins it will be because the Academy doesn’t want to seem as though it didn’t get it. It’s more likely Alfonso Cuaron will get Best Directing (though I hope Alexander Payne gets it). I’ll be happily surprised if either Dallas Buyer’s Club or Nebraska wins Best Picture (though, as mentioned, I’m fine with the atonement and ‘career honor’ motivations prompting Scorsese’s film to win). If neither Dallas Buyers Club nor Nebraska win the Best Picture, then I hope to god that they win Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, respectively – they deserve it (see my notes on Philomena), or that one of them gets the Best Actor win.

It would be too lengthy a piece to cover the race for Best Actor and Best Actress, or Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Suffice it to say that the competition is thick (please let it be Matthew McConaughey or Bruce Dern! Please let it be Judi Dench or Cate Blanchett!) But, again, it’s worth remembering that members of the Academy choose the winners – these are fallible folks who work, or have worked, in the industry of movies.  Similar to the rest of the big honors, the acting prizes have been criticized for not recognizing superior performances so much as being given for personal popularity, sentimental reasons, atonement for past mistakes, or as a “career honor” in order to recognize a distinguished nominee’s entire cannon of work…watch it all with a grain of salt, and enjoy the fete.



The Pregnancy Diaries – 18

‘One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is that things are what they are and will be what they will be.’ Oscar Wilde

This week doesn’t have much to do with being pregnant other than the fact that I’ve heard this funny story from a friend while I’m pregnant that gave me a chuckle, which I hope it does with you…this is Steve’s story:

Steve had a fight with his wife while they were living in Los Angeles. He wanted to die. He goes to South Central (a potentially violent area of town). He goes to a disco there. He’s the only white guy in the club. He gets drunk. He wants to be beaten up. The folks in there feel sorry for him. He finds himself in the parking lot of the club at 3am and thinks “Well, I guess I’ll go home.” Driving home, he sees a Dunkin Donuts and thinks an apple fritter sounds good. He gets one. He’s driving through an intersection, trying to eat his fritter at the same time, and he grinds his gears. A cop pulls him over. He’s got an out of state license and he’s drunk. The cop takes him to jail. He’s put in a cell with about thirty guys. They are mostly Mexican and black. The only other white guys are an old man who looks absolutely crazy and a midget. Really. It’s not politically correct in there. Every time a new black guy is put in the cell and sees the midget, he exclaims, ‘Whawt tha fuuuck?!’ The toilet in the cell has an industrial strength flush. You have to practically hold onto something to keep from going in. The guys in the cell take a toilet roll and put the paper end bit in the toilet and throw the roll around the cell, then flush the toilet and watch the roll fly around the cell and get swallowed by the toilet, then they all chuckle and do it again. Steve got arrested on a Friday and had to wait for court to open after the weekend. On Monday, they’re all shackled together and the guard is doing roll call and keeps calling a guy’s name. It’s the midget. The midget is jumping up raising his hand and finally the guard sees him and says, ‘Ah, no wonder I missed you,’ and all the guys in the chain laugh.

That’s the end of Steve’s story. I’ll talk about my pregnancy again next week. Till then, things are ticking along and I’m getting bigger by the week.



Homage to Los Angeles

Los Angeles Reconsidered

When I moved to Los Angeles for professional reasons, I was prepared to dislike it intensely.  I brought with me from my native New York many unfavorable assumptions and negative stereotypes about California and Californians.  I believed that LA was full of self-absorbed, superficial people; a cultural wasteland that existed as a city but was really a sprawling suburb; a horizontal city rather than a vertical one.

Initially, LA met my low expectations: it is a sprawling wasteland with Wal-Marts and K-Marts next to small streets of cafes, shops, residences and strip malls; and there are so many Mercedes, Ranger Rovers, and Hummers that I thought that people were automatically given them once they attained a certain income.  I’d go to barbeques and have six-minute conversations with people I’d meet about what we each did for work and who would then offer to show me their headshots or resumes and get vacant-eyed when I changed the subject.  Working in the film industry, I discovered that it could be, as I had thought, self-absorbed, unjust, and harsh.

Then about a year into living there, I began to see LA differently: I started noticing that the desert life is beautiful and courageous; the succulents, such as the Joshua trees and cacti, are resourceful, keeping water in their hard, leaves and stems; the Oleanders grow beside the dirty highways without any encouragement; the vines of pink, red and purple flowers are everywhere; there are birds singing in every neighborhood, in palm, lemon and lime trees.  I started turning towards the dark, dusty hills that surround the city and took walks and horseback rides through them, seeing coyotes, skunks, and bobcats; and every time I’d come over a westward crest near the ocean, I’d find myself catching my breath with the first glimpse of the breaking waves.

CINEMA DISCOVERED

Buoyed by the city’s natural beauty, I started exploring further.

Cinema venues, of course, abound: there are the American Cinematheque and the NuArt, that run festivals from various countries and themed screenings in various genres; there is the El Capitan, where an organ player rises from the floor and plays while you’re being seated; there’s Grauman’s Chinese Theater, with its grand architecture and the footprints from the silver-screen actors of Hollywood to today’s superstars out front, combined with its supersonic sound and fine picture quality inside, is a movie cathedral.  There’s the Arclight, where ushers wear nametags with their favorite movie characters and introduce the films. There’s the Kodak Theater special screenings of classic movies and where the Oscar ceremony is held.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

There are free tennis courts everywhere, public pools for a dollar, and skating, bike-riding, and skateboarding activities along the long coastline from Malibu to Hermosa Beach.  Tolerable skiing is only an hour away, and good skiing is a five-hour drive through the desert. The desert is also great for camping and visiting motels and hotels hidden away in the Joshua tree forest, or near Barstow or Palm Springs, where there are natural aquifers allowing ranches and settlements to seem like oasis’.

EMIGRES AND EXILES

I saw anew the colorful contributions of immigrant Mexicans: murals everywhere, little stucco churches with tall, simple steeples, colorfully painted houses terraced into the hills of Silverlake and Echo Park, and I was fascinated by the fact that Mexican families use the parks on the weekends en masse, having picnics and playing games with their extended families.  I found a Korean town, a Japanese town, a China town, a Thai town, and an Armenian town, in each of which the people have retained their own culture’s foods, clothing, shops, and lifestyles, despite the inevitable move toward assimilation into the general culture, which is enhanced by this diversity.

Writers, directors, actors, migrated en masse to LA at the turn of the 20th century for a variety of reasons, and stayed. They still do. The long list is, in itself, a testimonial to the appeal, financially, symbolically, and topographically of Hollywood-Los Angeles.

Most people focus on the exploitive business practices of the many unprincipled executives in the film industry, which creates the negative stereotypes of LA, but there’s a well-developed infrastructure in the city, its highways, its airports, its businesses, its cultural scene, as well as the tropical climate.

THE PROMISED LAND

In time, I learned the subtle fact that Californians know and outsiders don’t: Hollywood and Los Angeles should be evaluated as two cities, which are separate but symbiotic.  I then learned the history of the region that put the present day city in context—a place of easy money and easy ways, a place that cashed in on gambler’s luck, first with the Franciscan padres finding artesian wells in the late 19th century that made the region a veritable Garden of Eden, then the Gold Rush to Northern California, the influx of oil Sheiks of the 1920’s in Southern California, and finally the boom of the film industry. All of these events carried out the theme of California as a place that promised the American ideal of riches. I considered the harsh reality of those working in film, and the “truth” of these stereotypes – it’s a difficult city to penetrate, because it seems to exist on the surface, but it does deserve to be considered more fully.

IN CONCLUSION

I was, and am, still aware that there’s a sharp contrast between the haves and have-nots in Los Angeles. And the sentiments I held when I first moved to Los Angeles – basically that it’s a cultural wasteland that exists as a city but is really a sprawling suburb – still holds truth. But it’s not the whole truth.

I’ve since moved to Europe, and I often think of California. It’s to its credit that it convinced this skeptic of its charms. So much so, that I become defensive when listening to many stereotypes about Hollywood-Los Angeles uttered by people in my adopted country (and despite having held them myself at one point!), especially statements about the negative television and film images exported to the rest of the world (but eagerly seized upon, I may add) as the sole purpose of the city and examples of its offerings.

It’s unfair to LA to cling only to the negative, to the stereotypes – LA has various storylines – urban and suburban sprawl, ‘high’ and popular culture, sun and sand, mountains and trees, diverse languages and people. It’s all of these wonderful and unexpected elements of the city, in contrast to the pretentious and often tawdry goings on, that function as a chorus, and sometimes principal character, in the story of LA.



Los Angeles
September 16, 2010, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Travel pieces | Tags: , , , ,

A sense of liberty, beauty, light and sordidness. Dusty hills. Pine trees. Palm trees that one never tires looking at because they’re usually on a beach and yet here they are in a functioning city. The smell of skunk. Stucco houses. Craftsman houses. Pseudo-Roman-pillared mansions. Yellow, pink, white, turquoise colors. Art deco buildings. Signs for Scientology, help and salvation. Murals. Steeples in East LA. Olvera Street and churros. Strip malls. Lounges. Cinemas. Museums. Outdoor Ampitheaters.The sweep of the ocean as one descends on Pico Boulevard. Parks and picnicking Mexican families. Turquoise-colored pools. Broad roads. Super highways and super traffic with Oleander growing profusely, and without encouragement. Helicopters overhead at all hours. Hanging flowers in pink, white and red abound. Cactus, succulents. Coyotes. Street cafes with folks hanging around with notebooks and pens and laptops writing their magnum opus. Great bookstores, upmarket diners in every neighborhood from Los Feliz to Larchmont to Santa Monica and Venice. Sunset Boulevard’s music stores and drinking joints. Headshots, six-minute conversations. Hummers, Range Rovers and BMW’s. Desolate, spacious and clean underground system. Sparkling buildings downtown. A gorgeous main train station that conjures up the Silver Screen Era. Dirty, crazy, hippie, colourful, violent Venice Beach bordering more upscale Santa Monica and its pristinely clean sidewalks. The arid canyons, coastline and Tahitian vegetation of Malibu. Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Rumania. The best Mexican from fine dining to under tents in parking lots, seated at benches. Warm nights. Valet parking. Manicure and pedicure shops everywhere.