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How the Donald Trumped Hollywood

Donald Trump

You know how after a break-up, every song on the radio seems to be speaking directly to you? Like, you’ll hear Foreigner singing, “I’ve been waiting for a girl like you to come in to my life… ” And you’ll add tearfully, out loud: “And I lost you!”

In the aftermath of the election, I feel like America dumped me. After all those years going with cool cat Barack Obama, how could she leave me for dirty dog Donald Trump? At first, every song on the radio seemed to be commenting on my betrayal: “I wanna be sedated,” “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control… all in all, it’s just another brick in the wall,” “You may be right, I may be crazy, but I just may be the lunatic you’re looking for,” etc.  ad nauseum.

Now it’s seeping into movies. I go to films to try to escape, but everything reminds me of Trump. I’ve already written elsewhere about the post-electoral resonances of Miss Sloane, Arrival, Lion, Loving and Moonlight. Thank God I saw Bad Santa 2 before the election or I’m sure I would’ve viewed the closing-credits montage of a bedridden Tony Cox tormented by being photographed with Billy Bob Thornton’s testicles repeatedly resting on his face as a metaphor for our current predicament.

So I thought: I’ll go see an old movie. A classic that won’t conjure unpleasant thoughts of our contemporary quagmire. Sadly, the movie I picked was The Diary of Anne Frank. Not that it’s a bad film; the 1959 version holds up well, even at three hours, with Alfred Newman’s overture, an intermission, and closing music, as it was shown recently in its roadshow version at NYC’s great temple of cinema Film Forum.

Even though I was sitting next to the tiny and adorable Dr. Ruth Westheimer in the audience, it was the Orange Anus — as Rosie O’Donnell has dubbed him — who kept creeping into my mind. The scenes of the Nazis going house to house to round up Jews and ship them off made me think of the abhorrent Muslim registry proposal and the deportation force Trump promised to deal with undocumented immigrants. And as Anne and her fellow attic-dwellers gathered around the radio to listen to Adolf Hitler’s hateful diatribes, I could hear chilling echoes of the anger that metastasized through Trump’s speeches into our body politic. (I know, comparing someone to the Fuhrer seems like a desperate rhetorical tactic, but in this case, it feels apt.)

15192511_10154854820439074_8494396090503729347_nIt turns out I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Before and after the film, Millie Perkins — the unknown model who made a brilliant screen debut as Anne and has only grown lovelier at 80 (she proudly proclaimed her age twice) — did a Q&A with film historian Foster Hirsch and tearfully drew parallels to today’s headlines.

“When you hear Anne say, ‘In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart,’ doesn’t it make you think about all these things that are going on in the world?” Perkins said. “I hope that idea is still true. I never said that before. I always accepted it. But I hope people are still good at heart, because we’re at a time, as far as I’m concerned, where we’d better start expressing love to each other, because it’s not going to be easy, I don’t think, with the world and what’s going on.”

“I was moved by the film tonight,” she said. “It has something to do with the election we’ve all been through and the nastiness and craziness that’s going on. This film had a different effect on me tonight. Seeing the Jewish people coming down the street with the Nazis following them and taking them away, it makes me think of the refugees. I’m thinking different things seeing this movie tonight I never thought before.”

Finally, she concluded: “I felt confused tonight. It was a different movie to me. I’m very affected by what’s happening in the world. We have to be loving because we’ve got a new President, and there’s no solving the hatred and the anger. We have to be as nice to people as we can possibly be and hope it spreads.”

Anne Frank couldn’t have said it better herself.

Fretts on Fall’s Films: Feast or Famine?

 

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For me, Thanksgiving means three things: food, football and films. While most Americans retreated into the childish fantasies of Moana and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (and who can blame them after the traumatic election?), I sought out Serious Movies for Grownups. The results were mixed — which is more than I can say for the election.

Brad Pitt dominated the weekend for me, but not in the way you might think. Yes, I saw his new World War II romantic thriller Allied, but it was a film he produced through his Plan B company but didn’t star in, Moonlight, that really blew me away. Allied is a diverting B-movie that’s mostly interesting as a metaphor for marriage, and an apt one given Pitt’s split from Angelina Jolie. Like the film that birthed Brangelina, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, it’s about husband-and-wife spies pitted (pun intended) against each other.

I’d long pooh-poohed Pitt as little more than a pretty face until he won me over with grittier and more winning performances in films like Babel and Moneyball. I’m sad to say he’s back to coasting on his waxy good looks again. Marion Cotillard plays it cool as his bride, and overqualified supporting actors like Jared Harris (who’s amazing as a depressed redneck in Certain Women) and Simon McBurney (Magic in the Moonlight) are largely used as cogs in the workmanlike plot by Steven Knight, author of much better films like Locke and Eastern Promises. Director Robert Zebecks makes it all look sleek and pretty, but in the end, Allied boils down to a simple question: Can you trust your wife? And that’s a hokey premise, no matter how engrossing the execution.

Moonlight, by contrast, explores issues of Black masculinity I’ve never seen on screen. (That’s not to say they haven’t been explored, just that I haven’t seen a movie that did.) Cowriter-director Barry Jenkins’ structure is simple: He checks in on three stages in the life of one man, variously named and nicknamed Little, Chiron (pronounced Shy-ron) and Black. The actors who embody this character — Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes — are uniformly remarkable.

An undersized, slightly effeminate kid, Little gets bullied but is taken under the wing of a Cuban-American drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali, who’s come a long way from Crossing Jordan), and his lady (Janelle Monae, who acts as beautifully as she sings). With a drug-addicted mother (a heartbreaking Naomie Harris), teenage Chiron seeks comfort in the arms of a male classmate and ends up paying a horrible price for it. Later in life, Black remakes himself in the image of his only strong male role model, Juan. A not-so-chance reunion with his former high-school paramour (now played to perfection by Andre Holland) triggers an identity crisis, and not just a sexual one.

Jenkins allows the story to unfold slowly. The dialogue is minimal and poetic, and the visuals are intoxicatingly lovely. The story seems more relevant than ever now that we have an actual bully inheriting the bully pulpit of the White House. When Juan coaxes Little out of an abandoned “dope house” where he’s holed up to escape his tormentors by saying “It can’t be any worse out here,” there’s a sad echo of the President-Elect’s “What the hell have you got to lose?” For moviegoers of all races, genders and sexual orientations, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by seeing Moonlight.

The same holds true for Loving, another leisurely paced, gorgeously filmed story of a forbidden romance. Tragically, this one’s based on a true story, the interracial-marriage case that took place in my home commonwealth of Virginia and was resolved a year after I was born. Yet I never learned about it in school. Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton, burying himself fully in his character), a white man, and his African-American wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga, whose praises I’ve been singing ever since I saw steal her 2012’s  The Samaritan away from Samuel L. Jackson), were persecuted and prosecuted for nearly a decade for the crime of being married.

This is another film that has a sudden timeliness as the new administration threatens to roll back recent gains in marriage equality. If you’ve ever doubted the importance of the Supreme Court, you won’t after seeing Loving. Yet writer-director Jeff Nichols doesn’t preach; he just tells the story in a straightforward fashion, and it’s all the more powerful as a result. His frequent collaborator, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Midnight Special), contributes an indelible cameo as a Life magazine photographer, and comic Nick Kroll brings a sly sensibility to the role of one of the Lovings’ lawyers.

If only cowriter-director-star Warren Beatty had made such good use of the teeming ensemble he assembled for Rules Don’t Apply, his first film in 15 years. It’s a strange mess, and not only because notable actors like Ed Harris, real-life wife Amy Madigan, Dabney Coleman and Paul Sorvino inexplicably show up for one disposable scene each. Beatty worked on the film for 30 years on and off, and it took four credited editors to piece it together. I have no idea what he was going for: a Howard Hughes biopic (Beatty plays the reclusive mogul in the late ’50s/early ’60s, when the star was launching his Hollywood career)? A romantic comedy—or is it a melodrama?—about one of Hughes’ drivers (a bland Alden Ehrenreich) and one of his contracted actresses (an even blander Lily Collins)? A floor wax? A dessert topping?

I do understand Beatty’s fascination with Hughes: They’re both press-shy, deeply political mavericks who love to surround themselves with beautiful young actresses. But with better cinematic portrayals of the eccentric magnate like The Aviator and Melvin and Howard already in existence, why trot him out again and set him in the middle of this ill-conceived misfire? The primary difference between Hughes and Beatty, however, is that the longer Howard stayed out of sight, the more people were fascinated by him. Warren has been absent from screens for so long that people have ceased to care about him — or, in the case of the younger generation, even know who the heck he is. A 79-year-old legend, Warren Beatty may feel like the Rules Don’t Apply to him, but when it comes to the box office, they still sadly do.

5 Movies to be Thankful for (and 1 Turkey)

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I haven’t posted any movie reviews on this blog since before Halloween because frankly, this fall’s early crop of movies hasn’t been inspiring. The Magnificent Seven didn’t live up to its titular adjective, The Accountant failed to add up to much, and I felt several stops ahead of The Girl on the Train‘s gear-grinding “mystery.” But now that Thanksgiving is upon us, there’s a sudden cornucopia of good movies for grown-ups.

Two of them star Amy Adams, an actress I’ve previously considered slightly overrated. Sure, she was charmingly quirky in Junebug and Enchanted and endearingly plucky as a nun in Doubt, but whenever she tried to stretch her range and play grittier characters like a Boston barmaid in The Fighter or an Abscam artist in American Hustle, I didn’t buy it. Oscar voters did, however, nominating her for both films. In fact, she’s been up for an Academy Award five times, which seems excessive when you consider that a more dynamic and versatile performer like Jennifer Jason Leigh only earned her first nod last year for The Hateful Eight.

Well, I take back everything bad I ever said about Adams after witnessing her dazzling and very different star turns in Arrival and Nocturnal Animals. She infuses her characters — a linguist straining to communicate with visiting aliens and an art dealer mesmerized by an ex-lover’s novel — with genuine, deep emotion. I’m not a sci-fi guy, but I found Arrival‘s appeal to break down the borders that separate races (extraterrestrial or otherwise) profoundly moving in the wake of our wall-building President-“Elect.” Interestingly, French-Canadian director Denis Villenueve explored the Mexican-American border in his last film, the provocative thriller Sicario.

Writer-director-fashion designer Tom Ford’s stylish mindfuck Nocturnal Animals unleashes some of the year’s fiercest acting, not only from Adams but also Jake Gyllenhaal in a dizzying dual role as her ex and the main character of his novel and especially Michael Shannon as a terminally ill Texas lawman who may be more dangerous than the criminals he chases. In smaller roles, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough and Jena Malone gleefully steal scenes.

Nocturnal Animals‘ hypnotic ensemble may be matched in quality only by the cast of Manchester by the Sea, the third film from writer-director Kenneth Lonergan after the remarkable You Can Count on Me and the wretched Margaret. Casey Affleck burns with unexpressed emotion as a Massachusetts janitor who’s forced to reconnect with his teenage nephew (an impressively unaffected Lucas Hedges) after the death of the boy’s father (Kyle Chandler, reliable as ever). Michelle Williams, who has plumbed the depths of marital despair in films ranging from Brokeback Mountain to this year’s indie sleeper Certain Women, radiates aching regret as Affleck’s ex-wife. Lonergan takes his time telling a seemingly simple story, but patient audiences will be rewarded with a quietly powerful conclusion.

Two more films of a certain length, Miss Sloane and Lion, begin slow roll-0uts in theaters this holiday weekend, and each deserves your attention. Jessica Chastain dominates Sloane as a right-wing lobbyist who switches sides and tries to pass gun-control legislation in a twisty thriller from director John Madden, with whom the actress previously collaborated on the underrated drama The Debt. As I discussed in my recent New York Times story with Chastain and Madden, the film may feel sadly outdated in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s electoral “loss,” but it still works nicely as a satisfying mashup of All the President’s Men and The Sting.

Next-to-last but far from least, there’s Lion. Based on Saroo Brierley’s true story of searching for his long-lost birth family in India, the first film by director Garth Davis (TV’s Top of the Lake) features fine performances by Dev Patel and seven-year-old Sunny Pawar as two different incarnations of Saroo, as well as Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman as his girlfriend and mother, respectively. The less you know about Lion before you see it, the better, but suffice it to say it resonates with the same universal theme that has made The Wizard of Oz a cherished classic: there’s no place like home. Only in this case, the Lion is anything but Cowardly.

Finally, what would Thanksgiving be without a turkey? (Vegan, I know.) Hollywood has provided one with Shut In, a frighteningly incompetent chiller about a grieving mother (Naomi Watts, who can’t light a fire under this soggy script) trapped in her spooky New England home during an excruciatingly slow-moving snowstorm. Room‘s phenomenal young star Jacob Tremblay is wasted, and when the script’s cruel, empty “twist” finally kicks in, I felt Shut In had been horribly mistitled. They should’ve called it Shit On.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

 

 

Blair Witch & Don’t Breathe: The Horror!

 

the-woods-2016-poster-3I’m a big wuss when it comes to horror movies — just ask my college roommate, Arnold Wayne Jones, who heard me scream like a little girl when we went to see the original Child’s Play (sorry, that Chucky doll really freaked me out!). But when I hear about a film that’s supposedly bringing something new to the genre, I screw up my courage and suffer through it. I’m often glad I did: The Witch still stands as one of my favorite films this year, and Silent House made my 2012 top 10 list.

Back in 1999, I was one of the millions who were thrilled by The Blair Witch Project. It felt fresh because it was: a found-footage shocker (was it a documentary or a brilliant fake-out?) about a group of kids who get lost in the woods and meet horrible fates at the hands of an all-but-unseen monster. In the 17 years since, the faux-doc format has been done to death, but that didn’t stop the new reboot, simply titled Blair Witch.

An earlier sequel, 2000’s Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 departed significantly from the original format and fell flat at the box office. While the first BWP cost $60,000 and grossed $140.5 million, BSBW2 cost $15 million and topped out at $26.4 million. That probably explains why the new BW sticks so slavishly to the initial concept.

Again, a group of youngsters head into the Maryland forest — this time, it’s the younger brother of one of the women who disappeared in the first film, and he’s convinced she’s still alive. While the filmmakers add a few new touches (the kids have a drone and GPS technology), it’s essentially the same old thing all over again. They get lost, find out they’ve been walking in a circle, stumble onto a house of horrors and suffer gruesomely. The film adds nothing new to the Blair Witch mythology: You’re still not supposed to look at her, so we get more eerie shots of people standing in corners. Blair Witch isn’t badly made, and the cast is competent (the only standout co-star is Valorie Curry, who was previously seen as a serial killer’s minion on The Following), but it’s not especially scary because you know exactly what’s going to happen.

The movie’s even more of a disappointment when you compare it to Don’t Breathe, a breath of fresh air for the horror genre that recently topped the box office for two weeks. It’s a wholly original concept: a trio of Detroit teens breaks into the home of a blind Gulf War veteran, intending to steal his stash of cash. But he turns the tables, and his abode proves to be a house of horrors. (It’s a clever spin on 1967’s Wait Until Dark, in which Audrey Hepburn played a blind woman terrorized by intruders).

Don’t Breathe benefits from a clever script and tight direction by Fede Alvarez, and it reunites him with the winsome Jane Levy, who co-starred in his Evil Dead remake. The best thing about the movie is Stephen Lang’s visceral performance as the Blind Man (that’s all he’s called). He manages to seem semi-sympathetic and scare the bejeezus out of you at the same time, all while barely uttering a word for most of the tight 88-minute running time. A particularly icky twist towards the end may leave a momentary bad taste in your mouth, but I walked out of the theater hungry for more.

Is it Safe to Go Back to the Movies Yet?

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Blame it on Jaws. Forty-one years ago—how is that possible?—Steven Spielberg’s shark-attack shocker invented the summer-movie season, and the cinematic waters have not been fine for adults seeking thoughtful fare in the hot-weather months ever since. But if Ghostbusters made you gag, Independence Day: Resurgence made you regurgitate and Suicide Squad made you want to kill yourself, there is hope. Now that we’re in August, a handful of smart movies have thankfully sneaked into theaters.

The best of the lot by a country mile is Hell or High Water, a modern-day Western with a career-best performance by Jeff Bridges (and that’s saying something, considering his 65-year career — he made his debut at 2 as an uncredited “Infant at Train Station” in 1951’s The Company She Keeps). He plays a Texas Ranger on the brink of retirement, and breathes such vivid life into the character that he skirts any hint of a cliché. He’s on the trail of a pair of brothers (the always-electric Ben Foster and Chris Pine, rising to his co-stars’ level) who go on a bank-robbery spree.

The screenplay, by Sicario‘s Taylor Sheridan, contains some sly social commentary about the mortgage crisis and right-to-carry laws, but Starred Up director David Mackenzie’s drama works best as a character study, and Bridges’ Marcus Hamilton stands as one of the most fascinating characters in recent film. He’s casually un-p.c., making offensive off-hand remarks to his half-Mexican, half-Native American deputy (Banshee‘s Gil Birmingham, in a breakout turn). But he’s also a deeply decent man. When Hamilton shoots a man in one scene, Bridges’ reaction is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on screen, literally laughing and crying at the same time. I felt the same way throughout Hell or High Water — at once elated and deeply moved.

I experienced similar emotions watching Captain Fantastic, at least until the end when the story goes off the rails. Viggo Mortensen, who made his film debut more than 30 years ago in Witness, brilliantly channels the spirit of Harrison Ford’s other cinematic collaboration with director Peter Weir, 1986’s The Mosquito Coast. (Both films fell in the brief period when Ford actually acted instead of just posing or growling.) Like Mosquito, Captain follows a father who takes his family away from civilization to live in the wilderness. Not surprisingly, given the fact that it was written and directed by an actor, Silicon Valley‘s Matt Ross, the film’s cast is uniformly remarkable. Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn—hey, their names rhyme!—wisely underplay Mortensen’s bourgeois sister and brother-in-law, and Frank Langella and Ann Dowd deliver typically flawless portrayals as his materialistic father- and mother-in-law. All six kids are stellar, with George MacKay the standout as the eldest son. He’s reminiscent of River Phoenix, not just in Mosquito Coast but also in Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty (another family-on-the-lam drama), as well as Heath Ledger in his aching vulnerability.

Captain Fantastic raises fascinating questions about what makes a good parent, but they ultimately can’t be answered. Still, the film attempts to wrap itself up in a too-tidy package. The opposite holds true for Equity, a tightly wound feminist financial thriller that leaves a few too many loose ends dangling as you leave the theater. Yet the strong work of Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn as well as co-writers/co-stars Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas cannot be denied, and director Meena Menon gives the film a seductively cool surface that makes it a palpable pleasure to watch.

That’s not where the worthy fare ends. I’ve previously sung the praises of Woody Allen’s Cafe Society and James Schamus’ Indignation, and I also enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins, although it may have been as much for the air-conditioning—I saw it in the middle of a heatwave—as for the robust performances by Meryl Streep as a tone-deaf socialite and Hugh Grant as her lovingly unfaithful husband (and no, that’s not an oxymoron). The movie’s biggest surprise is Simon Helberg, who erases any trace of The Big Bang Theory‘s Howard Wolowitz as Jenkins’ fluttery, formidable accompanist.

So there you have a half-dozen flicks currently in theaters that won’t cause your brain to melt. Maybe going to the cineplex in the summertime isn’t so hellish after all.

Two Cranky Guys on “Indignation”

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Bruce Fretts: I’m borderline illiterate, so I’ve never read any books by Philip Roth, but my friend Bret Watson is a learned individual and has read many of Roth’s novels, so I asked him to join me and review Indignation, based on his book of the same name.

Bret Watson: I’ve read 19 of his works, but not this one.

Bruce: I have a vague idea of what Roth represents. I know he’s Jewish and from Newark and my impression, based solely on New York Times book reviews I’ve read, is that he started out writing more humorous novels like Portnoy’s Complaint but grew more serious in his later years, and this is based on one of his later books.

Bret: I would say one regret I have is that as he got older, he got darker, and I miss the playful Philip Roth. There were very few humorous elements in this movie.

Bruce: I thought there were some darkly funny moments. This is the story of a young Jewish man from Newark, Marcus (Logan Lerman), whose father is a butcher, and he goes to college in Ohio to get away from his family. I assume it’s autobiographical.

Bret: Philip Roth went to University of Chicago, so in the Midwest…

Bruce: See, I knew you were an expert. So this kid meets a girl (Sarah Gadot)…

Bret: A shiksa! And what a shiksa. A blonde! In a tight sweater!

Bruce: And she’s so crazy, I’m surprised I haven’t dated her yet.

Bret: But you will. You talk about red flags. This woman has a scar on her wrist. That’s a red flag.

Bruce: Don’t be a nut-shamer, Bret. Her character is judged on the basis of her mental health history, especially by Marcus’ mom (Linda Emond), and it ultimately turns into a tragedy as a result.

Bret: It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bruce: So I really enjoyed the film.

Bret: You did? I’m shocked. I was bored.

Bruce: I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Tracy Letts, who’s a great writer as well as an actor, as the Dean. He’s such an intellectual bully that the scenes between him and Marcus play like horror films.

Bret: He is the best thing in the movie. And those scenes are the heart of the movie. They’re where the indignation is.

Bruce: Is it? I thought the title might refer to Marcus’ father (Danny Burstein), who becomes angry after his son leaves for college.

Bret: I thought the movie was too long and could’ve been tightened, and one of the things that could’ve been completely gone was everything about the father.

Bruce: I disagree. I thought the father was an interesting character, and Danny Burstein was perfectly cast, and you’re wrong.

Bret: It wouldn’t be the first time. Marcus is constantly getting indignant—not just with the Dean and his parents but also with his roommates. And this is a hallmark of Philip Roth. You expect characters to get angry with each other, have furiously intense dialogue, and you get that in spades here.

Bruce: The way you’re describing Philip Roth makes him sound a lot like Larry David.

Bret: I kept sitting there thinking, “I wish Larry David had handled this material.” My enthusiasm was curbed.

Bruce: That brings met to Woody Allen. We just saw Indignation at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, the unofficial capital of the Woody Allen fan club. They even serve lox and cream cheese sandwiches.

Bret: And Cafe Society was packing them in there, too.

Bruce: People say they miss Woody’s early, funny films. Is there a parallel to Philip Roth? Aside from them both being Jewish…

Bret: A wry way of looking at the world…

Bruce: Or a rye way? Because that’s what they serve the sandwiches on.

Bret: Yes, that’s completely what I meant.

Bruce: Sorry, I interrupted you.

Bret: I have to think carefully about what I say here.

Bruce: Why, because you don’t want to offend the Jews?

Bret: For starters. “That dumb goy knows nothing about my work!”

Bruce: Well, I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here…

Bret: Philip Roth pushes the envelope much more than Woody Allen ever dared to.

Bruce: Except with his stepdaughter. So you wouldn’t recommend this film?

Bret: I just thought it was weak tea. It wasn’t a full meal. There was great acting and some wonderful scenes, but my mind drifted. That’s why I knew how many Philip Roth books I’ve read. I was passing the time counting them in my head.

Bruce: I thought the performances were great. Sarah Gadot definitely captured that crazy-beautiful quality I find so alluring.

Bret: Philip Roth has written before about male main characters who get into relationships with crazy women.

Bruce: And do feminists find him offensive as a result?

Bret: Often, yes.

Bruce: And do they have any grounds for that?

Bret: Read the books, Bruce. On the advice of counsel, I choose not to answer that question. But Philip Roth may have dated a crazy woman…

Bruce: Really? What’s that like?

Bret: So that may be autobiographical, too, I don’t know. A great biography of Roth has yet to be written.

Bruce: Maybe you should do that.

Bret: Yeah, I have plenty of time. I’ll call him up now. “Phil, Baby…”

Bruce: I believe he had nothing to do with this project.

Bret: I don’t think he has to do with any of the movies based on his work.

Bruce: Some critics say there’s never been a good one, possibly until now.

Bret: It’s hard to capture him on film. So much of it is his philosophizing in describing the plight of his characters. He’s very trenchant. There’s not a lot of action in some of his books, or in this movie.

Bruce: I found this movie riveting, despite the lack of action. You, on the other hand, bolted out of the theater as soon as it was over.

Bret: I was trying to beat the crowd to the men’s room.

Bruce: It was a very old crowd. I knew there would be a lot of men with enlarged prostates who’d have to use the men’s room after the movie. You made a bee-line—or should I say pee-line?—for it.

Bret: They did not move quickly and had no respect for full bladders. That made me indignant. So maybe this movie worked after all.

Two Grown Men and a Boy on “Suicide Squad”

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Bruce Fretts: I’m sitting in TGIFriday’s with David Rey Martinez, stand-up comedian extraordinaire, and his 9-year-old mini-me, Sebastian Rey Martinez, and we just saw Suicide Squad. But we saw it separately—father and son together, and me alone in Times Square—and I must confess I arrived late and fell asleep several times during the movie. I had a hard week, but I think the real reason I fell asleep was because it was a terrible movie! Every time I woke up, it had grown even more horrible.

David Rey Martinez: I don’t know what reviewers are expecting from comic-book movies. This is one of my issues. The DC Universe characters are way crazier than the Marvel characters. They’re very different. With Marvel, you can see a little bit of humanity in it, and when you look at DC, it’s very comic book. It’s very over-the-top.

Bruce: What about Deadpool? That was a Marvel movie that went way over the top, and it worked. This is like a watered-down, PG-13 version of Deadpool. They wanted to have it both ways—have super villains as the heroes but still make it safe for kids. They should’ve made this a hardcore R-rated movie. But instead, every time I woke up, Will Smith’s Deadshot was weeping about missing his little daughter.

David: I don’t think the tone was inconsistent. Deadpool and Deadshot are two different characters, even though both their names begin with the word “Dead.”

Bruce: I did not believe Will Smith as a villain. He just seemed like the Fresh Prince.

David: Yeah, but he’s an assassin.

Bruce: The only thing Will Smith ever killed was DJ Jazzy Jeff’s career.

David: That’s a shot in the dark, but it is kind of true. Was it a decent movie? Yes. Was it life-changing? No. But I enjoyed it from the beginning to the end.

Bruce: Okay, let’s ask Sebastian. Did you like the movie?

Sebastian: Yes.

Bruce: What did you like best about it?

Sebastian: The heroes were villains.

Bruce: And you believed they were villains?

Sebastian: A few of them.

Bruce: Who was the most convincing villain?

Sebastian: The Joker.

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Bruce: Let’s talk about the Joker. He’s barely in the movie! And Jared Leto brought nothing new to the character. He was just doing Heath Ledger.

David: I agree with you on that. I mean, I could’ve been a better Joker.

Bruce: You are a Joker. That’s your job!

David: I would’ve done it with a British accent.

Bruce: Speaking of accents, what was Margot Robbie’s accent as Harley Quinn? Half the time, she sounded like she was still doing the Noo Yawk accent from The Wolf of Wall Street and the other half, she used her native Aussie accent.

David: Well, Harley Quinn is crazy.

Bruce: But does she have a split personality, each with different accents?

David: She got shock therapy, so who knows?

Bruce: And why does Batman show up? I didn’t see Batman vs. Superman because I can’t stomach Ben Affleck as the Dark Knight, then he crashes this movie. He already ruined a Marvel movie, Daredevil, and now he’s messing up DC movies. He’s just doing Christian Bale’s voice, and he’s middle-aged. He’s got a receding hairline!

David: I wish my hairline was receding like that, because he looked great. Sebastian and I liked Batman vs. Superman. There’s nothing wrong with these movies. If you think you’re going to see an Oscar-winning performance, you’ll be disappointed.

Bruce: Heath Ledger won an Oscar as the Joker!

David: He won it because he died.

Bruce: No, he was amazing.

David: And he was dead. Dead people win awards. Dead people sell albums. It’s a known fact. Dead people sell tickets.

Sebastian: The Joker died?

David: Heath Ledger did.

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Bruce: And why did the Flash show up? I don’t watch his TV show—I didn’t want to see him in this movie. Get the Flash out of there!

David: He showed up because Captain Boomerang is one of his villains from his rogues gallery.

Bruce: You have your own villains? Can’t any superhero catch any bad guy?

David: Depends on if they’re in your city. Like, Killer Croc is Batman’s villain.

Bruce: He just seemed like a ripoff of Groot to me, and I didn’t even see Guardians of the Galaxy.

David: Killer Croc was horrible. His head was so much bigger than his body. His arms were like Sebastian’s.

Sebastian: At least I have arms. Be grateful. If I didn’t have any, I’d be fighting armless.

Bruce: And what was with the witch? She was floating and speaking in some foreign tongue. I didn’t want to have to read subtitles.

David: She was a witch from the B.C. times, so I didn’t expect her to speak English. This is why they shouldn’t let white people go to the movies. You guys want too much.

Bruce: I just wanted to see a movie didn’t make me consider suicide.