The Central Florida Critics Honors The Tragedy of Macbeth!

The Critics Association of Central Florida (CAFC) is a new group of critics.  Today, they announced their picks for the best of 2021 and it was a victory for a film that, so far, has been a bit quiet on the precursor front, Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Here are all the winners from Central Florida:

Best Picture
Winner: The Tragedy of Macbeth
Runner-up: Licorice Pizza

Best Director
Winner: Denis Villenueve – Dune
Runner-up: Joel Coen – The Tragedy of Macbeth

Best Actor
Winner: Andrew Garfield – tick, tick… BOOM!
Runner-up: Peter Dinklage – Cyrano

Best Actress
Winner: Renate Reinsve – The Worst Person in the World
Runner-up: Alana Haim – Licorice Pizza

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Bradley Cooper – Licorice Pizza
Runner-up: Troy Kotsur – CODA

Best Supporting Actress
Winners (tie): Ann Dowd – Mass/Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
Runner-up: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story

Best Cast
Winner: Dune
Runner-up: Mass

Best Documentary
Winner: Flee
Runner-up: Summer of Soul (… or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Best International Film
Winner: A Hero
Runner-up: Drive My Car

Best Animated Film
Winner: The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Runners-up (tie): Flee/Luca

Best Screenplay
Winner: Fran Kranz – Mass
Runner-up: Aaron Sorkin – Being the Ricardos

Best Cinematography
Winner: Greig Fraser – Dune
Runner-up: Bruno Delbonnel – The Tragedy of Macbeth

Best Score
Winner: Hans Zimmer – Dune
Runner-up: Johnny Greenwood – Spencer

Best Original Song
Winner: “No Time to Die” – No Time to Die
Runner-up: “Be Alive”- King Richard

Best Central Florida FIlm
Winner: King Richard

Best Achievement in Diversity
Winner: Eternals

Bully (2018, directed by Santino Campanelli)

Sixteen year-old Jimmy Mulligan (Tucker Albrizzi) is a nice kid with a big problem.  His high school is ruled by a gang led by a bully named Miles (Jack DiFalco) and the overweight and quiet Jimmy has become the gang’s number one target.

Miles has decided that Jimmy owes him a hundred dollars.  Even though Jimmy has never borrowed any money from Miles and is obviously not from a family that would have a hundred dollars to just toss around, Miles insists that Jimmy is in his debt.  When Jimmy refuses to pay, Miles beats the poor kid while he’s walking home from school.  However, the beating is observed by a retired boxer named Clarence “Action” Jackson (Ron Canada).  Action runs off Miles and then he makes Jimmy an offer.  He’ll help Jimmy learn how to box as long as Jimmy agrees to only use his skills for self-defense.  At first Jimmy and his parents are reluctant but, after he gets beaten up for a second time, it’s time to go to Manny’s Gym!

Manny (Danny Trejo!), who is a legendary trainer, takes Jimmy under his wing and teaches him how to throw a punch and avoid a jab.  Soon, Jimmy is losing weight, gaining confidence, and even going out on a date with a supercool goth girl named Adrian (Elanna White).  But Miles still wants his money and eventually, Jimmy is going to have to put his training to use.

In many ways, Bully is every bullied kid’s dream.  Not only does Jimmy learn how to throw a punch and get a girlfriend but he also gets to hang out with Danny Trejo!  Manny is a tough but funny guy with a rough past but a good heart and he is using his skills to try to make the world a better place.  The same can be said for Danny Trejo himself, so he’s the perfect choice to play Manny.  Ron Canada is also good as Action Jackson, bringing a lot of quiet dignity to the part.  Tucker Albrizzi does a good job of going from being insecure to being confident.

It’s just too bad that the film itself isn’t better.  Bully has good intentions but the execution is lacking.  The movie kept suggesting that there would be a scene where Jimmy had to chose between using his new skills for revenge or just for self-defense but it never happened.  There were too many scenes that did not seem to go anywhere and, for all of the build-up, the final fight between Jimmy and Miles was anti-climatic and confusingly filmed.  During the final 15 minutes, several new characters show up and suddenly become central to the story.  Somehow, the Mafia finds out about the fight and takes an interest in whether or not Jimmy is going to be able to beat up Miles.  On the one hand, it’s cool because Vincent Pastore is one of the gangsters but on the other hand, what’s going on?  Why are they there?

Danny Trejo’s cool, though.  That counts for a lot.

Book Review: The War For Late Night by Bill Carter

Remember when Conan O’Brien was the host of The Tonight Show?

It occurred back in 2009, back when the Shattered Lens was just starting out.  After hosting the show for 17 years, Jay Leno stepped down as host of The Tonight Show.  Though he was never popular with critics and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who actually made it a point to watch him, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was the number one in the late night ratings.  David Letterman may have had more cultural cachet but Jay Leno was the host that most late night viewers were watching.  Other comedians may have mocked Leno for his safe and non-controversial hosting but, obviously, it worked.

When Leno first left The Tonight Show, no one was surprised by Leno’s retirement because he had announced it five years earlier.  In 2004, NBC renewed Leno’s contract as host with the condition that Leno would step down in 2009 and that Conan O’Brien would become the new host of the Tonight Show.  The fear was that, otherwise, Conan would switch to another network and compete directly against Leno.  At the time, Leno privately complained that he felt he was being fired but, publicly, he announced that he was happy to hand the show over to Conan in 2009.  In words that would come back to haunt him, Leno announced, “It’s yours, buddy!”

In 2009, Conan took over last night while Jay Leno got his own primetime talk show, which aired every weeknight.  It was an odd arrangement, one that was undertaken to keep Leno from going to another network.  (NBC was apparently very paranoid about its talent hopping to to other networks.)  Not only did NBC have to rearrange its schedule to make room for 5 days of Leno but many observers suspected that the whole thing was essentially some Machiavellian network scheme to eventually once again make Leno host of The Tonight Show while destroying Conan’s viability as a potential competitor.  Regardless of why NBC did what they did, it didn’t work out.  Leno’s primetime ratings quickly tanked.  So did that ratings for The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.  O’Brien’s supporters said that Conan’s bad ratings were due to Jay being a bad lead-in.  Jay’s supporters said that Conan just wasn’t ready for the 11:30 slot and that Conan’s ratings had been going down for a while.  And while most television critics sided with Conan, NBC obviously sided with Jay, who had always been viewed as being a good and loyal company man.

NBC’s solution to the problem made about as much sense as any of their other actions.  It was announced that Jay would have a new late night show, a thirty-minute variety show that would air before The Tonight Show.  The Tonight Show would be bumped back by half-an-hour.  O’Brien objected to getting stuck with a later start time but it turned out that his contract gave NBC the right to move the show back by 30 minutes.  O’Brien resigned, writing an open letter to “the people of Earth,” in which he said that he would not take part in the “destruction” of The Tonight Show.  Depending on which side you were on, Conan was either being heroic or overdramatic.

How big was this story?  It was so big that even I knew about it, despite the fact that I didn’t watch any of the late night shows.  It was one of the first big cultural conflicts that I can remember blowing up on Twitter.  Twitter was almost 100% pro-Conan.  Meanwhile, Leno’s supporters tended to be older, they tended to not have much use for social media, and they tended to be a bit more pragmatic.  Jerry Seinfeld sided with Jay, saying that the only problem was that Conan wasn’t getting the ratings.  Jimmy Kimmel very publicly sided with Conan.  David Letterman let everyone know that they were now seeing the Jay Leno that he had always known.

It was a mess and no one came out of it untouched.  Leno returned to hosting The Tonight Show but his reputation with now irreversibly tarnished.  Conan moved to TBS and, while the critics respected him and his fans continued to love him, he never quite regained the cultural prominence that he had before The Tonight Show debacle.  Most of all, NBC came out of it looking worse than ever.  The entire reason for Jay’s early retirement announcement was to avoid conflict and controversy.  Needless to say, that didn’t work out.

Looking over it all, one can’t help but wonder how a group of industry professionals, people with television experience who were paid to know what they were doing, could have so dramatically screwed everything up.

Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night is probably the best place to look for the answer.  Published in 2010, mere months after Leno replaced Conan as the host of The Tonight Show, The War For Late Night provides an insider’s look at what went down in the corporate offices of NBC as well as what was happening in both the O’Brien and the Leno camps.  Carter also examines what was going on with the other late night hosts while O’Brien and Leno was battling for the future of Late Night.  The book deals with the unsuccessful attempt to blackmail Letterman (remember that?) and also provides an interesting reminder of how likable Jimmy Kimmel was before he got all self-important.

Though Carter appears to be Team Coco, the book itself is relatively even-handed.  Leno is not portrayed a monster and Conan is not transformed into a saint.  (Indeed, the books makes clear that the real villains were the NBC executives, who first screwed Leno by forcing him out when he was at the top of the ratings and then screwed Conan by refusing to give his version of The Tonight Show time to grow.)  Instead, the book suggests that the main reason for the conflict between the two hosts was that Leno and Conan had two very differing ways of looking at their job as host of The Tonight Show.  Jay viewed it as a job.  Conan viewed it as almost a holy calling.  In the end, Jay was incapable of understanding why Conan was so upset about what was happening while Conan couldn’t understand how anyone couldn’t be upset.  After reading Carter’s book, it seems like a foregone conclusion that NBC would side with Jay.  Management always prefers an employee who doesn’t make waves compared to one who does.

Towards the end of the book, when David Letterman tries to arrange for Conan to appear in a Super Bowl commercial with him and Jay, Conan snaps that Letterman doesn’t understand how upset Conan still is over what happened.  Conan says that he will never be ready to laugh about it and, having read The War For Late Night, you don’t doubt it.  The book succeeds at both explaining what happened and also revealing the human beings behind the conflict.  In the end, even if you understand Jay’s position, your heart breaks for Conan.

Cleaning Out The DVR: An American Dream (dir by Robert Gist)

Loosely based on a novel by Norman Mailer, the 1966 film, An American Dream, tells the story of Stephen Rojack (Stuart Whitman).  Rojack’s a war hero, a man who has several medals of valor to his credit.  He’s married to Deborah (Eleanor Parker), the daughter of one of the richest men in the country.  He’s an acclaimed writer.  He’s got his own television talk show in New York.  He’s been crusading against not only the Mafia but also against corruption in the police department.  He has powerful friends and powerful enemies.  You get the idea.

He’s also got a marriage that’s on the verge of collapse.  Deborah calls Rojack’s show and taunts him while he’s on the air.  When Rojack goes to her apartment to demand a divorce, the two of them get into an argument.  Deborah tells him that he’s not a hero.  She says he only married her for the money and that she only married him for the prestige.  She tells him that he’s a lousy lover.  Being a character in an adaptation of a Norman Mailer novel, the “lousy lay” crack causes Rojack to snap.  He attacks Deborah.  The two of them fight.  Deborah stumbles out to the balcony of her apartment and it appears that she’s on the verge of jumping.  Rojack follows her.  At first, he tries to save her but then he lets her fall.  She crashes down to the street, where she’s promptly run over by several cars.  The cars then all run into each other while Rojack stands on the balcony and wails.  There’s nothing subtle about the first 15 minutes of An American Dream.

Actually, there’s nothing subtle about any minute of An American Dream.  It’s a film where everything, from the acting to the melodrama, is so over-the-top and portentous that it actually gets a bit boring.  There’s no relief from the screeching and the inauthentic hard-boiled dialogue.  When a crazed Rojack starts to laugh uncontrollably, he doesn’t just laugh.  Instead, he laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs and laughs and …. well, let’s just say it goes on for a bit.  It’s like a 60s version of one of those terrible Family Guy jokes.

Anyway, the police don’t believe that Deborah committed suicide but they also can’t prove that Rojack killed her.  Meanwhile, within hours of his wife’s death, Rojack meets his ex-girlfriend, a singer named Cherry (Janet Leigh).  Rojack is still in love with Cherry but Cherry is also connected to the same mobsters who want to kill Rojack.  Meanwhile, Deborah’s superrich father (Lloyd Nolan) is also on his way to New York City, looking for answer of his own.

An American Dream is a very familiar type of mid-60s film.  It’s a trashy story and it’s obvious that the director was trying to be as risqué as the competition in Europe while also trying to not offend mainstream American audiences.  As such, the film has hints of nudity but not too much nudity.  There’s some profanity but not too much profanity.  Rojack, Deborah, and Cherry may curse more than Mary Poppins but they’re rank amateurs compared to the cast of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  It’s an unabashedly melodramatic film but it doesn’t seem to be sure just how far it can go in embracing the melodrama with alienating its target audience so, as a result, the entire film feels somewhat off.  Some scenes go on forever.  Some scenes feel too short.  The whole thing has the washed-out look of an old cop show.

All of that perhaps wouldn’t matter if Stephen Rojack was a compelling character.  In theory, Rojack should have been compelling but, because he’s played by the reliably boring Stuart Whitman, Rojack instead just comes across as being a bit of a dullard.  He’s supposed to be a charismatic, two-fisted Norman Mailer-type but instead, as played by Whitman, Rojack comes across like an accountant who is looking forward to retirement but only if he can balance the books one last time.  There’s no spark of madness or imagination to be found in Whitman’s performance and, as a result, the viewer never really cares about Rojack or his problems.

Noman Mailer reportedly never saw An American Dream, saying that it would be too painful to a bad version of his favorite novel.  In this case, Mailer made the right decision.

4 Shots From 4 Films: In Tribute To Sidney Poitier

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Earlier, today, it was announced that Sidney Poitier had passed away at the age of 94.

Poitier was, of course, the first black actor to win the Oscar for Best Actor.  He won that award for 1962’s Lillies of the Field.  He would go on to star in the Oscar-winning In The Heat of the Night, where he delivered the famous line, “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”  Poitier was one of the first black actors to be acknowledged as a movie star.  In the 70s and the 80s, he chafed at the limited selection of roles that he was being offered in mainstream productions and he started to produce and direct his own films.  He also served as a diplomat, serving as the Bahamian ambassador to both Japan and UNESCO.

In honor of Poitier’s life and legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Sidney Poitier Films

A Raisin in the Sun (1961, dir by Daniel Petrie, DP: Charles Lawton Jr.)

Paris Blues (1961, dir by Martin Ritt, DP: Christian Matras)

In The Heat of the Night (1967, dir by Norman Jewison, DP: Haskell Wexler)

Brother John (1971, dir by James Goldstone, DP: Gerald Perry Finnerman)

Scenes That I Love: Nicolas Cage in Wild At Heart

Today is Nicolas Cage’s birthday!

How old is Nicolas Cage today?  It doesn’t matter.  Nicolas Cage is timeless.  He has no age.  You could say that Nicolas Cage has always been there and will always be there.

On a more realistic note, you could say that Nicolas Cage is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola and that he started his film career as Nicolas Coppola.  (That was the name he used when he made his film debut with a small role in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.)  Not wanting people to assume that he only got work because of his family connections, Nic soon changed his last name to Cage in honor of Marvel’s Luke Cage.  Nicolas Cage has gone on to become one of the best-known actors in the world, an iconic figure of sorts.  When he’s good, Nicolas Cage is great.  When he’s appearing in a bad film, Nicolas Cage is often fascinating.  Cage may have a reputation for being an eccentric and for appearing in almost anything but often Cage’s brand of weirdness is just what is needed to elevate a film like Mandy or Pig from good to great.

In honor of his birthday, here are two scenes that I love from a very good film, David Lynch’s Wild At Heart.  Watch as Nicolas Cage explains the meaning of his snakeskin jacket.  Stick around to watch Nicolas Cage serenade Laura Dern with the world’s greatest Elvis impersonation.

Happy birthday, Nicolas Cage!

Music Video of the Day: Disco Inferno by The Trammps (1976, dir by ????)

Burn, baby, burn!

I kid you not when I say that this song was supposedly written after a viewing of the 1974 Best Picture nominee, The Towering Inferno.  Now, of course, the song is also about the heat that rises from the dance floor while everyone’s out there moving and apparently, there are some who think that the song was meant to be a reference to the counter-culture’s cry of “burn, baby burn!”  Myself, though, I will always assume that this song is all about Paul Newman, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Steve McQueen, OJ Simpson, and a cast of thousands trying to survive that towering inferno.

“You keep building them,” McQueen said to Newman, “and I’ll keep putting them out.”

Disco Inferno became a hit when it was included on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  More recently, it’s become a hit-of-a-different-sort because of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns.  It turns out that “Burn, Baby, Burn” can also be heard as “Bern, Baby, Bern.”  I mean, no wonder he won Iowa.

(Did Bernie win Iowa?  I can’t recall.  Hey, remember when I said that I was going to vote for Marianne Williamson and everyone thought that I was being serious?  What was that all about?)

Anyway, The Trammps is one of those bands that actually had a few hits in their heyday but will probably always be associated with just this one song.  The Trammps are still performing, though they’ve split into two different groups, each one using the Trammps name.  The fires of the disco inferno will never be extinguished.