White elephant gift or a holiday miracle?

A young man, an older man and a woman share a meal together at a dining table in "The Holdovers."
Dominic Sessa, left, Paul Giamatti and Da’Vine Joy Randolph in “The Holdovers.”
(Seacia Pavao / Focus Features)

It’s beginning to look a lot like ... wait ... let me find some wood to knock ... but we seem to be on the cusp of a settlement between actors and the studios, an early holiday gift that equals (OK, surpasses) even the arrival of a new “Beatles” song.

It’s also beginning to look a lot like ... OK ... I’m not even going to say this out loud. Because my pumpkins are still on the front porch. Too soon. Waaaaay too soon.

I’m Glenn Whipp, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, host of The Envelope’s Friday newsletter and the guy wondering if he will be able to enjoy some boysenberry pie at Magic Mountain in the near future. Let’s take a look at the week’s news.

How do you feel about ‘The Holdovers’?

Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedy “The Holdovers” opened last week, reuniting him with Paul Giamatti, his star in the great 2004 film “Sideways.” The movie follows a trio of lonely people stranded at an all-boys boarding school over the holidays — Giamatti’s grumpy instructor is there with a troubled, smart-mouthed and just plain smart student (impressive newcomer Dominic Sessa) and the school’s cook, a woman grieving the loss of her son, killed in Vietnam. She is played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph in a performance that will pierce your heart.


My pal, Times film critic Justin Chang, caught it at the Telluride Film Festival (as did I) and found the acting to be exceptional but had issues with just about everything else.

“‘The Holdovers,’” he writes, “is a flat, phony, painfully diagrammatic movie masquerading as a compassionate, humane one. It seldom stops trying to convince you how sensitive it is, even as its mix of coyness and overstatement, its clunky tonal seesaws between humor and pathos, and its pride in its own good liberal conscience suggest that it hasn’t begun to think through its characters and their circumstances at all.”

The headline of the review pretty much sums it up: “Bah, humbug! ‘The Holdovers’ is a clunky, phony white-elephant gift of a movie.”

Now, you may ask yourself: What’s wrong with a white-elephant gift? In fact, my colleague Christopher Reynolds just wrote a guide about clever white-elephant gifts worth a laugh and a steal. (I’m definitely going home with that case of Abba-Zaba.) And my old friend Kenneth Turan recently sat down with Payne for a conversation, extolling “The Holdovers” as a “pleasure to watch” because of “the adroit way it walks the line between sharpness and sentiment.”

Whom can you trust? Well ... me, of course! I found “The Holdovers” to be a pleasant enough hang. But I’m a sucker for holiday movies ... even if I’m resisting the call to start shopping ... like ... this weekend. I loved the acting and the sweet-and-sour humor. Who knows? Maybe if I see it again in the next couple of weeks, I’ll bake up a batch of cookies ... because it’s never too soon for that, right?

Alexander Payne, director of "The Holdovers."
Alexander Payne, director of “The Holdovers.”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

‘All shook up’ over ‘Priscilla’

We’ll never know what Lisa Marie Presley would have thought of the finished version of Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” a lush heartbreaker about the relationship between her mother and father, Priscilla and Elvis Presley. Variety obtained two emails that Lisa Marie sent to Coppola a year ago, a few months before her death, that detailed her disappointment after reading the script.


“My father only comes across as a predator and manipulative,” Lisa Marie wrote. “As his daughter, I don’t read this and see any of my father in this character. I don’t read this and see my mother’s perspective of my father. I read this and see your shockingly vengeful and contemptuous perspective and I don’t understand why?”

It’s a strange complaint — though, as family, an understandable one — because Coppola based “Priscilla” on Priscilla Presley’s 1985 memoir, “Elvis and Me,” and didn’t venture too far from the text. The film, which I’d recommend, particularly if you love Coppola’s other movies about women caught in a trap, presents Elvis as manipulative and self-absorbed, yes, but also as a prisoner of his massive fame. Priscilla could (and did) escape, Coppola asserts. Elvis lacked the wherewithal to make it out alive.

Justin liked it quite a bit, calling it Coppola’s best movie in years. Does “A Very Murray Christmas” count? Will the ghosts of Christmases past and present continue to haunt this newsletter?

Cailee Spaeny in the movie “Priscilla.”
(Sabrina Lantos / A24)

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‘Rustin’: A civil rights giant finally gets his due

Finally, I reviewed “Rustin,” a fine film about the life of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, the man who helped organize the March on Washington, the landmark 1963 demonstration where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Director George C. Wolfe (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) and screenwriters Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black keep the film’s focus primarily on the nuts and bolts of the organizing, the negotiations, the compromises it took to put a couple hundred thousand “angelic troublemakers” on the National Mall. That approach means “Rustin” is freighted with a lot of exposition, along with lengthy monologues and stirring oration. For good and bad, the movie seems destined to have a voluminous quotes page on IMDb. It goes with the territory.

But if there’s going to be a volume of talking (and talking at a certain volume), it’s good to have Colman Domingo on your team playing the title character. “Rustin” opens in half a dozen theaters around L.A. this weekend and will land on Netflix in two weeks.

A man stands on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in the movie “Rustin.”
(Parrish Lewis / Netflix)


I’d love to hear from you. Email me at

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