Daniel Day-Lewis is the Greatest Actor of All Time

 Daniel Day Lewis, photographed by New York celebrity photographer Dale May.

Daniel Day-Lewis has earned a chance to retire and do other things:

Daniel Day-Lewis’s upcoming collaborationwith his There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson will be his final role. The actor is retiring, according to Variety. “Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor,” Day-Lewis’s spokeswoman, Leslee Dart, told Variety. “He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.” Day-Lewis has won three Academy Awards for Best Actor: for playing Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln, for playing the depraved, wolfish oilman Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, and for playing the Irish writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot. His filmography is peppered with other notable collaborations: He’s worked with Martin Scorsese in The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York, and sang and danced in Rob Marshall’s Nine.

Day-Lewis is currently at work on a period drama set in 1950s London. The Paul Thomas Anderson movie is being filmed under the working title Phantom Thread, and focuses on a highly sought-after dressmaker. (Vulture guesses the movie is about Charles James.) What’s next for Day-Lewis? Maybe he’ll start sculpting with Brad Pitt, or hanging out with Charlie Hunnam, who told us he’s a huge fan. In the words of his Bloodcharacter Daniel Plainview, “I’m finished.”

I don't think this is marketing hype for a new movie; I think this is the last thing he's interested in doing. Why can't people who are really good at something retire? I was sad when Gene Hackman quit acting, too, but that's just the way it is. To go out on top is rare, but to retire when you're the greatest living actor and probably the best actor of all time, well--who are we to judge?

A Cicada Emerges From its Exoskeleton

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I'm not sure why I even took this shot, other than it was a great way to gross everyone out. This is the edited version. The actual version has a different orientation. The background is actually the ground and this cicada was attached to the wall.

This is looking down from the top of the wall where the cicada had attached its exoskeleton.

Liberals Haven't Lost Their Virtues

I'm not going to be lectured to by some Republican Senator about virtue. I voted against Donald Trump. I pay taxes, I raise my kids like I am supposed to, and I believe that the best gauge of society's morality is how we treat those with the very least. I don't believe in waving religion in anyone's face. And I damned sure don't go around hating people who are different from me.

So, on behalf of liberals everywhere, fuck this noise:

In just two short years, Senator Ben Sasse has gone from Capitol Hill newbie to digital president puncher, tweeting about Donald Trump’s affairs and the Midwestern dumpster fires he found more appealing than 2016’s Oval Office contenders.

Yet, on his breaks from Twitter, Sasse managed to craft a serious new book, The Vanishing American Adult. It advances a thesis that’s at once out of place at this political moment and almost too on-the-nose for the Trump years: He believes Americans have lost their sense of personal integrity and discipline. For the country to deal with the troubles ahead—including automation, political disengagement, and the rise of nativist, huckster politicians, he says—people must recover their sense of virtue. The republic depends on it.

Earnest talk of virtue is uncommon in American politics. Forget the low lows of 2016, a year defined by political cynicism and brutish behavior, or even these first months of 2017, which have been swallowed by dramatic revelations and relentless Washington in-fighting. At this point, the idea of a shared culture is almost unimaginable: America has been carved up into mutually exclusive spheres bounded by religion, race, income, and city-limit signs. Sasse is taking on a problem more challenging than getting legislation through Congress, courting disgruntled voters, or even figuring out what to do about America’s haphazard president. He’s trying to articulate a language of shared culture and values in a country that has been rocked by technological, cultural, and demographic change. It may be an imperfect attempt. But at least Sasse has identified the right project.

The Vanishing American Adult is written as a reflection on the purpose and nature of education, which, Sasses argues, should extend beyond schooling and classrooms. “Everywhere I go across the country, I hear from people who share an ominous sense that something is very wrong with our kids,” he writes. “We’ve lost something from our older ways of coming of age.” Instead of relying on “institutionalized school-centric childhood[s],” Sasse says, families should develop practices that will prepare their kids to become “fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves … called to love and serve their neighbors.” This is the future he wants for his kids.

Tell you what, Ben. Quit voting to help Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell destroy America and get back to me on this whole virtue thing. 

Senator Ben Sasse is here to lecture everyone about how they've lost their virtues and how they aren't adults anymore while he votes, again and again, to take health care away from the American people.

Really, fuck these people and their concerns for our morality.

Sir Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Sir Roger Moore was the James Bond that I grew up with; his take on the character was oft-derided but it was perfect for the times.

To say that Bond should have been cunning, ruthless, and humorless in the 1970s was to ignore the overwhelming importance of male bravado and self-awareness of the times. This was the decade that made stars out of complex characters (DeNiro, Pacino, Hoffman) and less than complex fellows (Eastwood, Reynolds, Bronson). You could not have made Bond like any similar character from American cinema, nor could he have had the detached, monosyllabic approach of international films. Bond had to be a global star, able to bridge all of the different genres of film. He had to be able to do dry humor, heart-stopping action, clever romance, and political intrigue. He had to be able to save people, kill people, and mock people, often in the course of a single action sequence. 

That meant finding a British actor with serious theater chops, which is what people still do when they need someone who can truly inhabit a character. Michael Fassbender is the Roger Moore of our time, but, really, he's just another version of Moore churned out by the wonderful schools that teach acting in Britain. You can definitely see Fassbender becoming one of the greats and surpassing quite a few great actors, but he's following the template that Moore helped create.

In his day, no one was better than Roger Moore at being everyman and superman at the same time. He had to portray a character that was marketed and sold to the vast world audience of the time. He had to be the actor who could open a film in London, Rome, Los Angeles and Tokyo and few people have ever been able to do that. The universality of his portrayal does not dim with age. You can laugh at how camp it was, but the whole goddamned 1970s was a campy affair on purpose. At no point were you ever not able to believe he could do what he did. That was what made him great.

The Bond that Roger Moore gave us was sharp, sly, quick and capable. He was very much of his time, and we do his performance a disservice by thinking he had to act like the action figures of the last thirty years or so.

Mugged!

If there's one thing that Joel Hodgson and his friends at Mystery Science Theater 3000 absolutely, positively did that was smart when they brought back the show, it was this: their timing could not have been better.

In these dark times (spoiler! stay away from parts of this blog if politics causes you to break out in hives or panic attacks), nothing could be more welcome than a show about some wiseguys making cracks about movies. No one could have predicted that everything would turn to crap at precisely the moment when people needed to laugh, but, then again--when is there a time when people don't need a good show?

Don't believe the haters--it's a great show. When they make another season, it'll get even better.

I'll tell you something for nothing, though--the MST3K swag gets better and better. That's my mug up there--no handle, rough surfaces, raised letters--it's as if they knew what I like (ew!). What a mug! Couldn't be happier, couldn't be more pleased to know that at least one thing is right in the world.

Tombstone

Anybody who writes an entire article about Kurt Russell's movie career and forgets to mention Tombstone probably did so entirely by accident.

Kurt Russell is such a good actor, it is possible to write about the films he has made and the quality of his work and forget what is probably his greatest role. Tombstone gets a mulligan for the mangled history but five stars for being completely and utterly entertaining. 

Oh, my bad. I meant to say Tequila Sunrise. 

Tequila Sunrise was Russell's greatest role. Who plays the guy who doesn't get the girl by choice? That was his best performance and then, the classic Tombstone. How you could write about this guy and not mention any of those movies is beyond my comprehension.

Yeah, I'll go see him in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Hell, the whole movie should just be about him.

Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus and Mary Chain

The Jesus and Mary Chain are a band that defies every label that you can throw at them. They have built a career out of being difficult on purpose, no matter what the cost. 

If they became disciples of feedback in the eyes of the media, they would abandon feedback and hire a drum machine. If they became a little too dance oriented, then they'd swallow their pride and hire a real drummer. If the songs became too poppy, they'd throw violent imagery into the lyrics and abandon all pretense of being commercial. And just when their music label would reject an album, they would sign with the original label that discovered them and forge ahead.

No one ever did more to sabotage their career than the Jesus and Mary Chain. They would turn up drunk, alienate the promotional apparatus of the entire British music industry, and play 15 minutes before walking off of the stage. Whenever they needed to speak to someone influential or important, they would take the piss and say the wrong things. They soared high with Creation's Alan McGee and dumped him as soon as they saw the bags of cash that a major label were willing to throw at them. When years of debauchery and infighting left them "stoned and dethroned," no one wanted to put out their album Munki. But it was McGee who welcomed them back into the fold and saved them from embarrassment. Loyalty is hardly the watchword for a band that dispensed with members as often as the Mary Chain. It has always been a William and Jim Reid situation; they even sacked their faithful drum machine. The book should have spelled out what happened to the device that featured so prominently in their early years. Were it not for the fickle, drum machine-averse American audiences, that thing would probably still be on tour with the bad this very summer.

Reading this book made me angry that I can't go see them. All they had to do was find a way to make it to Texas, and I would be there. Hey, maybe next time.

Everything is chronological, and that makes sense in that the story of the Mary Chain is one of rolling through the thick fog of pop music history. This is primarily how the book flows. The band would do something massive, and then fuck it all up. They would write a beautiful song and mangle how it would be presented to the public. At exactly the point where appearing on Top of the Pops or the BBC would have thrown them into the realm of superstar acts, they got themselves banned. When they needed to play a great show in front of a large crowd, they would walk off after abusing them with curses and feedback. It is exhausting to read, but essential for understanding how they created artistic success without ever selling out. That's the explosive, vital lesson of the Mary Chain--you can make it in spite of yourself, and you can do great things without having to compromise your integrity. Rock and Roll is not about playing a perfect set for 90 minutes to an adoring crowd that gets every hit they want to hear. It's about danger, mistakes, and passionately fucking everything up in front of people who get everything they weren't expecting.

Several celebrities have cameos in the book, but none more hilarious than a hapless Paul Weller, who crossed paths with the band and gave them passive aggressive advice and things to laugh at. None of this degrades the legend of the Modfather in any way, shape or form.

I have a very personal connection to how they subverted everything in the 1980s, but I would not consider myself an obsession fan. I discovered them on MTV like everyone else because the American Midwest was never friendly for Indie bands from England. The very first thing I ever read about them was a baffled album review in People Magazine from 1985. What the hell was Psychocandy? Who the hell were these guys? Good God, no one knew, but they were slightly blasphemous and they had the right hair so they had to be good, right? It was the innovation, dummy. They were influencers without figuring anything out. They were shy but abusive, reclusive but on tour constantly.

Nobody ever took a bigger right turn from a debut album to a second album than the Mary Chain. Go back and listen to "April Skies" and then listen to anything from Psychocandy. Who reinvents themselves like that? Who says, "Alright, that's enough of what just made us huge. Here's something completely different." No two albums sound alike and nothing could illustrate their artistic merit better than the diversity of their sound and the reach of their efforts to eliminate everything boring from music. Where do you slot them? Which genre describes them? Who gets to claim them--noise merchants, shoegazers, 90s alt-legends, or aging hipsters? They have credibility everywhere and belong to no one. They are the closest thing there is to a separate version of Echo & the Bunnymen; when all other comparisons fail, just put them in the bucket with "English and accomplished" and leave it at that. The parallels are stark, but the Mary Chain never made an Electrafixion record and they never made a stinker like What Are You Going to Do With Your Life.

The reason why this book works as a career narrative is because it doesn't shy away from explaining just exactly what they did right and wrong in equal measures. It focuses on the songs, the albums, and the tours and it breaks down the way they dissolved into dysfunction and thrown punches. It takes you through the embarrassing, cliched use of alcohol and drugs without looking for pathos. There's even a disastrous detour through the Far East, replete with cancelled gigs and confused fans. The band went from broke to rich to broke to whatever they are now without abandoning whatever it is that passes for artistic credibility. There isn't even a butter ad in their immediate past, but how could you sell butter with one of their songs? You might be able to sell your soul to the devil for an album like Automatic, but why would you want to? The Reid brothers were there first, and they suffered on the cross for everything they did. They have lived and died for your rock and roll sins. Isn't that enough?

Grapes on the Way

It's really hard to figure out what's "normal" for my grapevine because this is the first year I have witnessed things underway in the Spring. Does this mean the grapes are going to be green? Does this mean they're healthy? I don't know.

I do know this--it's fun to watch things happen. It's fun not knowing. I suppose it will be a let down come harvest time, but oh well.

Carrie Fisher Was a Hell of a Writer

Carrie Fisher was never given enough acclaim for her talents and abilities while she was alive:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson has revealed that Carrie Fisher helped write the script for the forthcoming movie.

The late actress penned in the past both the book and the screenplay adaptation for Postcards From The Edge, along with episodes of Roseanne, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a number of TV specials and special material for the Academy Awards in 1997, 2002 and 2007, along with the 2010 TV documentary Wishful Drinking, during her career.

Johnson recently revealed at a Star Wars fan convention in Orlando that she also had a hand in writing the script for the latest movie.

“I’d go to her house and we’d sit on her bed for hours, going through the script,” he revealed.

“(We) would just have these kind of stream-of-consciousness, Jazz poetry, ad-lib sessions, and I would just scribble down everything she said on my script. And then at the end of six hours, there would be this four word line of dialogue that would be the distillation of all that, that was brilliant.”

She understood the human condition and had a hilarious point of view. She was a great, great writer and a performer who could hold her own with everyone on a stage, including her own mother. The fact that Harrison Ford, who routinely blew people off the screen (and will be considered the greatest actor to never win an Academy Award unless they get him one, soon), never so much as put a dent in her on screen is hardly recognized, either.

Richard Gere Has Paid a Price For His Support of Tibet

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China's influence in the film industry means that actor Richard Here has to appear in independently financed films that are not being marketed to the Chinese:

When Richard Gere walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards in 1993, there was no way he could have known that the night would have repercussions for his career more than 20 years later. Invited to present the award for best art direction, he skipped the scripted patter to protest China's occupation of Tibet and its "horrendous, horrendous human rights situation." The late Gil Cates, the show's producer, was furious, calling the political speeches at that year's awards show —Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins also went off script to speak on behalf of Haitian refugees — "distasteful and dishonest" and vowing to ban all three from future Oscars broadcasts.

Gere hasn't done a major studio film in ten years. This is primarily because, whenever he ends up near a project that can be influenced by businesses trying to work out deals in China, pressure is exerted to have him removed.

Lana Del Rey Stands Next to a Vehicle Again

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There's a theme that runs through Lana Del Rey's album covers, and it involves cars, trucks, or some sort of a vehicle. There's a vulnerability here that probably appeals to her audience. I can only imagine the grief she would have gotten twenty or thirty years ago from record company executives. I can't imagine anyone allowing her to do anything like these covers, but, then again, maybe they would have. Who knows?

If you think about how female artists are marketed through the artwork that accompanies their album releases, Lana Del Rey's covers have been pretty groundbreaking. There are no "full body" shots and nothing suggestive. They just shoot her from the top half and they don't overly stage or airbrush anything. These are just simple shots, and they're very effective in terms of using the art to suggest what's inside of the album. 

Brilliant

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You're looking at a preview of the cover of The New Yorker, which has done some fabulous work lately satirizing the idea of Trump in stark terms and with vicious abandon.

If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, look to the arts. Everything is being cut, everything is under siege, and the only thing keeping a lot of people sane is knowing that there are like-minded humans out there who are creating things, writing things, and reflecting back the unreality of modern life right now. It's an insane time, but the satire is pretty fucking good, if you don't mind my saying it.

There's no pretense in this work of being "tongue in cheek" or of simply making fun of someone powerful. This cover shows a bloated, hapless Trump raining destruction down on our institutions. His soft, padded ass is the most prominent thing on display here, and this depiction goes to the heart of what matters about insulting a dictator. You take his most ridiculous feature and you blow it up. You make it indistinguishable from anything else.

When we can look back at this era with some perspective, these are the images that will stand out. They are searing and truthful in a time when the truth can't even get through the door.

 

 

The Lawlessness of Modern Russia

Is there anything in Russia that is not being stolen, looted or turned upside down for spare change?

Mikhail Novikov, a deputy director in charge of construction at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has been placed under house arrest on charges of suspected fraud.

Moscow’s Lefortovsky District Court ruled on 29 March that Novikov is to be held under house arrest until 23 May. In January, the Hermitage acknowledged in a statement that investigators from the Federal Security Service, a successor agency of the KGB, had been conducting “operational procedures” at the museum’s Staraya Derevnya restoration and repository centre. Some commentators had speculated that the searches were a reprisal for criticism by Mikhail Piotrovsky, the director of the Hermitage, of the handover by the local government of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, now run as a museum, to the Russian Orthodox Church.

On Wednesday, Russian media reported that Novikov's case was connected to a larger case of over Rb100m in embezzled funds during major Russian Ministry of Culture restoration projects that has already landed Grigory Pirumov, a former deputy culture minister, in jail.

Since the rule of law really does not exist in Russia, you have to ask one question. Did they really steal the money or did they fail to bribe the right people while they were stealing the money?

Never mind the arts, of course. When all is said and done, we'll be lucky if there's anything left.

Live Stream Mystery Science Theater 3000 on April 9

In a world full of crappy news, this is a bright, shining beacon of hope. Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns with a new season of experiments on Netflix.

1. The preview screening of Experiment 1101 will be available to stream starting at 12:01 AM PT on SUNDAY, APRIL 9th, 2017 [this is only for MST3K "backers" who pledged $25 or more to finance the return of the show].

2. All release times – including the release of the new season on Netflix on April 14th – will be on PACIFIC TIME, not on EASTERN TIME.

Not everyone is getting the e-mails, so pass this along. If you didn't pledge money when the show was coming back, don't worry--you'll get to see the results on Netflix. Watching on Netflix makes sense because, in the old days, and I'm talking to all of you younger folks out there, it was a pain in the rear to program VCRs. I had one that was flaky on me, and I liked to get the whole two hour show on one VHS tape for quality purposes I don't understand right now.

Looks like something magical to me is about to happen.

Terry Gilliam Isn't Crazy

Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote film always struck me as proof that people in Hollywood are afraid of spending money to make great films:

It has now been 18 years since Terry Gilliam first tried to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, a.k.a. The Movie That Will Probably Kill Terry Gilliam, Instead. In that time, Gilliam has faced a Job-like series of setbacks on the film, from flash floods to sick actors to dead actors to some “Portuguese chap” who couldn’t deliver the financing he supposedly promised. And yet, Gilliam has persisted on the film for almost two decades, blowing through our entire stock of jokes about “tilting at windmills” and the entire project becoming the exact definition of “quixotic.”

Today, IndieWire reports that Gilliam has hopped back in the saddle again, putting together an unnamed source and an Instagram post from original cast member Rossy De Palma that indicate that production has once again resumed...

There's no reason why a Gilliam film can't be properly marketed and treated like any other commercial film product. Every year, the Oscars come and go, and the absence of really important and great films is the elephant in the room. When was the last time anyone found themselves truly inundated with great films in the span of a calendar year?

The failure to recognize the fact that he does have an audience and that he does have a masterful ability for filmmaking is a result of something entirely not his fault. Wanting to shoot a script and make a film that satisfies the artistic itch is the ultimate worthwhile endeavor.

Can VEEP Still be a Relief in Weary Times?

It used to be fun to watch VEEP because you just knew that the real thing wasn't as awful or as cynical as what you were seeing on television.

Now? 

Holy mother of God, it's like a version of reality we all wish we were living. The real thing is so much more awful, so much more venal that it is impossible to overstate just how horrible things have become.

Can a show that shows us a funny way of looking into the political and social lives of selfish people survive in an era when the real thing is more of a farce than what's written as fiction? Well, if they have been working their asses off, sure. It's entirely possible for art to transcend reality if people have put in the effort. This is a show where people have been doing that so why not?

Populism and Elitism in One Place

There's a fascinating magazine cover coming out soon, and it's for the New Yorker. You can see the Cyrillic lettering and the immediate joke--Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley is what it is called.

The scathing cover will accompany an investigation featured in the next issue that explores Russian President Vladimir Putin's influence on the presidential election, and the frightening return of a Cold War the United States is at risk of losing. The issue comes in the wake of a bombshell report on Thursday that cited White House officials requesting the FBI dispute evidence Trump aides communicated with Russian officials during the election. According to CNN, the FBI rejected that request.

This is a riff on the first cover of the New Yorker, and so it represents a little bit of highbrow satire and commentary, right down to the onion dome over the shoulder. The "elites" are contemplating Donald Trump as some sort of angry insect that should be disdained or kept safely at a distance. Trump himself is depicted as being in an impotent, volcanic rage as per usual. Oh well, they never did like me, or so says Trump.

I think this is important for a number of reasons. One, it's a view of the president that is being expressed in caricature that is becoming normal for people to see--Trump as something small, insignificant or annoying. He is rarely, if ever, depicted in a neutral or positive light. We see the buffoonery and the cartoon aspect of him, always in orange and always with his mouth open. He is never a man shown thinking.

Two, this is really a better example of populism than it is elitism. There isn't a huge audience out there for the New Yorker, but there is one for people who want information about what's going on so this amplifies the need to figure out what is the connection between Trump and Putin. The populist angle here is that it gets to the heart of the notion that the people who voted for him now want to know where his loyalties lie. This New York-centric publication is doing the work that used to be done by major American newspapers. I think it is important for people to read and hear things that inform them and keep them up to date on the latest scandals. At any other point in our nation's history, Trump would not only have not been the Republican president, he wouldn't even have been the nominee. People are still furious about this, and even a New Yorker cover can inspire and sustain their embrace of populism in the face of fascism.

Three, this chips away at the people stuck supporting Trump. These are the dead-enders. A good number of them believe this is all phony. What's astonishing to people who follow the news and read the New Yorker has been the fact that Trump got elected by rather overtly working with the Russian government.  Well, the magazine is about to do a deep dive into all of that. Will it change anybody's mind? Who knows? If you're a Midwestern Republican, this image just sails right past you without registering. But there are always people who peel away from madmen. There are many people who cannot roll with an incompetent banana republic president.

Four, the artistic renderings of Trump and Putin are now becoming too numerous to ignore. The constant refrain--the riffing and meme-ing if you will, are devastating. Presidents who are depicted in the popular day-to-day media in a negative manner have the impossible task of living these things down. Think George W. Bush as big eared and clueless. Think of Bill Clinton as always smiling, even when depicted by those opposed to him. Think of President Obama, cool and poised no matter what was thrown at him. In a little over forty days, the general impression of Trump is that he is a howling, braying old fool with his cake hole permanently set to spew.

The artful aspect here is invaluable. Want to bring Trump down? Draw a picture of him bellowing and fussing about nothing while on his phone. This is what defines him and keeps everyone else sane.