On weeks like these, it’s hard not to feel … well, a little silly or impotent writing about movies and their business. So instead of doing that, I’m going to relay a story about Jack Palance.
Palance is one of the most famous tough guys in Hollywood history, coming to showbiz after boxing and serving in the United States Army Air Force during World War II. I remember seeing him in one of the first movies I can remember seeing: Batman, where he played the crime boss who set Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier up for the fall that turned Napier into the Joker. But he had a long and storied history: the heavy in Shane (for which he received an Oscar nomination) and Second Chance (in which he went toe to toe with Robert Mitchum). He eventually won an Academy Award for City Slickers as aged cowboy Curly Washburn.
Jack Palance was not born Jack Palance; like so many movie stars, he changed his name to something a bit more palatable to the ticket-buying public (though the ticket-buying public was buying tickets to see him box at that time). And that’s how Volodymyr Palahniuk became Jack Palance.
My point: his parents were Ukrainian immigrants and Palance remained proud of his heritage to the end of his life. In 2004, he was asked to accept an award at an event sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Culture. When he was introduced to accept the award, he took the stage and said: "I feel like I walked into the wrong room by mistake. I think that Russian film is interesting, but I have nothing to do with Russia or Russian film. My parents were born in Ukraine: I'm Ukrainian. I'm not Russian. So, excuse me, but I don't belong here. It's best if we leave."
And then he walked out.
Vladimir Putin wasn’t there, but one imagines Vladimir Putin was none-too-pleased when he got the report if any underling dared bring it to his attention. Make no mistake: This was an insult to the Russian strongman and a well-delivered one at that, aimed as it was at Russian efforts to expand cultural influence. One could make a larger point here about the importance of artists not offering themselves up as propaganda wins for authoritarian regimes. It would be a fair point, and one artists should think about when China comes knocking or when, say, a golfer is asked about playing for a Saudi Arabia-backed league.
But the narrow point is good enough. Jack Palance was a Ukrainian-American badass. One hopes the home of his parents is filled with similar sorts.
On Across the Movie Aisle this week we talked about the silly efforts the Academy Awards are taking to attract an audience and reviewed Uncharted. On the members-only bonus episode, we talked about Kimi, Steven Soderbergh’s new movie on HBO Max.
Speaking of silly things the Oscars are doing, at the Washington Post I wrote about the foolishness of shunting the editing award to the kids table. (You should also read Bilge Ebiri on the topic here, he’s a bit more … forceful than I am.)
I never expected to write an essay about the similarities between Jack Reacher and Leatherface, but here we are. (The last few grafs are also probably the closest I’ll get to writing about Ukraine and my disgust with certain of my countrymen who seem to be backing Putin’s land grab as a way to spite their domestic enemies.)
Speaking of Ukraine, lots of people were dunking on this suggestion that the new Batman movie should be withheld from Russia as the ultimate weapon to win the war. And, yes, it’s worded about as poorly as you can word the idea. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to state that Hollywood should be engaging in its own sanctions on Russia. If we want to isolate Putin’s regime, then let’s really isolate him.
The Klitschkos are among the most fascinating stories in sports over the last quarter century—heavyweight boxers and chess players and statesmen—and it’s genuinely devastating to think that their story could come to a close because a secret policeman in charge of a fading power wants to throw his weight around.
Say what you will about Sean Penn, but he gets his boots on the ground.
Say what you will about Louis CK, but … uh … I hope the shows go well!
Say what you will about Applebee’s, but we’re definitely living in an Adam McKay movie.
Assigned Viewing: Metallica: Through the Never (Netflix)
This week I reviewed Studio 666, the new horror-comedy flick starring the Foo Fighters. And the weirdest thing about it is that it’s a film starring a band about the making of an album that features very little in the way of actual music. It made me appreciate yet again Metallica: Through the Never, a completely goofy movie that’s part concert film, part post-apocalyptic thriller.
I don’t think viewing at home can do justice to what seeing this in IMAX was like. I mean, the image was fine. But the sound was punishing. It was the loudest theater I’ve ever been in. I remember being slightly upset that I didn’t have earplugs. Or at least worried. But hey: who needs hearing?
Holy shit, Sonny! The absolute best thing in the world of All Things Ukraine that I've read this week. And this, from the "Culture Editor" at a top shelf political publication. Saying this is absolutely no knock on your position or job. I know of your political writing chops from a lot of other things of yours I've read. I'm just sayin' there are a few folks more directly involved in talking about politics that should probably bend the knee just a bit on this one. This thing works on so many levels. At least for me. Huge props. And thank you.
A fascinating and extremely important cultural take Sonny. It truly takes the individual story and puts the ethos and thought pattern of the Ukrainian people into perspective. I was absolutely clueless to the story. It is socio-cultural perspectives like these that help people parce social media rants. When my conspiracy theory friends go....but the Ukrainians want Russia, they are Russian. A sentiment echoed by Tucker Carlson when he calls the current President a dictator and not the one ousted in 2014. This is the story I will point to as one of the examples in my argument as to why they are thinking with their politics and not their humanity.