Variety‘s Justin Chang and TheWrap‘s James Rocchi are pretty much over the moon for David Fincher‘s Gone Girl (20th Century Fox, 10.3) but The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy is on one level respectful but another disappointed.
Blackfilm’s Wilson Morales reported today that director Ava Duvernay screened about five minutes’ worth of Selma (Paramount, 12.25), the broad-canvas ’60s-era civil rights drama, last night at the Urbanworld Film Festival. A discussion with Duvernay and star David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King, was moderated by Urbanworld executive producer Gabrielle Glore.
“Based on the two clips presented, which ran a total of five minutes, David is good enough to be in conversation for one of the five Best Actor slots,” says Morales. “He embodies King. If you watch the video, he was asked about being a Brit playing MLK and he said ‘If Meryl Streep can play Margaret Thatcher, then I can play Dr. King.’ (more…)
A persistent if whispered thought I keep hearing: apart from the sheer brilliance of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Birdman, the affecting naturalism of Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood and the poignancy of James Marsh‘s The Theory of Everything, 2014 feels weak in a Best Picture context. I realize that a lot of people are serious believers in The Imitation Game. I’m not about to do a 180 on my 8.30 Telluride review — it’s smooth, efficient, well-ordered — but there’s a distinct resistance to its avoidance of any depiction of any aspects of Alan Turing‘s private life as a gay man. Quote from a dinner last night among three film cognoscenti: “If Nebraska had opened in this relatively weak year, it would be in a much stronger Best Picture position than it was last year with 12 Years A Slave and Wolf of Wall Street as competition.” The stage is clearly set for some significant, highly charged film to bulldoze its way into the conversation, elbow Birdman aside and take a commanding lead…but what?
Here’s a portion of Wesley Morris’ review of A Walk Among The Tombstones, a ’70s-style Liam Neeson thriller of a superior caste. Some of the critics called it a “dad movie” (assholes) and the popcorn crowd more or less blew it off this weekend in favor of The Maze Runner, although Tombstones managed a moderately decent $13 million and change.
Remember Fury (Columbia, 10.17), that David Ayer-directed war film that was first mentioned as a potential award-season hopeful in an 8.3.14 N.Y. Times article? Fury “promises to be one of the most daring studio movies in an awards season that will bring several World War II films,” Michael Cieply wrote, by delivering “relentlessly authentic” — i.e., brutally violent — “depictions of the combat realm” that “the popular culture has rarely seen.” But an accelerated post-production schedule kept it out of the fall festival circuit. I thought it might turn up as a special presentation during the upcoming N.Y. Film Festival — this could still theoretically happen. What I know for sure is that press screenings are about to begin so tally ho and saddle up.
After she finishes directing and cutting By The Sea, Angelina Jolie will direct Africa, a true-life drama about paleoanthropologist and Kenyan citizen Richard Leakey — a willful, intrepid fellow who seems cut from a similar cloth as the late Louis Zamperini, the real-life hero of Jolie’s Unbroken. Variety reports that Eric Roth‘s script will focus on Leakey’s battle with ivory poachers, who of course are threatening to exterminate the African elephant population. Leakey’s Wikipedia bio doesn’t mention elephants all that much, but it does tell a history of a guy who’s been extensively involved in Kenyan politics and who lost his legs in a 1993 plane crash, when he was in his late 40s. All you have to do is throw in a romantic interest and you have Out of Africa With Elephants. Definite Best Actor potential for whomever plays Leakey.
Liv Corfixen‘s My Life Directed By Nicholas Winding Refn, a Hearts of Darkness-like doc about the making of Refn’s Only God Forgives, screened twice yesterday at Fantastic Fest. My interest is fanned by reports that it includes a sequence in which Refn reads a portion of my Cannes Film Festival pan of Only God Forgives. Dispenser’s Spencer Howard writes that the 58 minute-long film “is as fascinating as it is insightful.”
“Corfixen throws the promo-reel notion to the side by showing Refn’s struggles without resulting to a ‘we are a champion’ mentality at the end. Refn struggles with the technical and emotional making of the film and Corfixen doesn’t turn away, and sometimes leaves her anger with him on camera. No one looks like a good or bad guy — they both come off as real people who are trying to their jobs. (more…)
My preferred Matthew McConaughey MKC Lincoln ad is the one in which he stares down a bull and then backs off from a confrontation. The other one in which he says he’s been driving Lincolns “before anyone paid me to do it” is…well, it may not be bullshit but it sure sounds like it. Both were directed by Nicholas Winding Refn. The spots premiered online about two and half weeks ago; the TV debut was on Saturday, 9.6. What is McConaughey saying at the end of the bull commercial? I’ve listened to it five times and all I can hear is “ankee sahrs.” He’s saying “thank you” something?
Best Picture Contenders (i.e, Presumed High-Pedigree, The Right Stuff): Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s Birdman, James Marsh's The Theory of Everything, Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar, J.C. Chandor's A Very Violent Year, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice, Ava Duvernay's Selma, Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings, David Fincher‘s Gone Girl, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken; Jean Marc Vallee's Wild (i.e., the Reese Witherspoon hiking drama), Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, Rob Marshall's Into The Woods, Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper, Saul Dibbs' Suite Francaise, Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children.
Already Positively Reviewed: Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel (Berlin Film Festival review here), Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher (seen & praised at Cannes); Steve James' Life Itself; Steven Knight's Locke; Lynn Shelton's Laggies, Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood; Mike Leigh‘s Mr. Turner (seen & praised at Cannes); Craig Johnson‘s The Skeleton Twins, Damien Chazelle's Whiplash; Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman (seen & admired in some quarters); David Cronenberg‘s Maps to the Stars.
Some Appraised, Some Not: Maya Forbes' Infinitely Polar Bear, Rupert Goold's True Story (Jonah Hill, James Franco), Noah Baumbach's Untitled Public School Project; Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, David Gordon Green's Manglehorn, Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight, Charlie McDowell‘s The One I Love, Tate Taylor's Get On Up (Chadwick Bozeman as James Brown); Thomas McCarthy's The Cobbler, Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent de Van Nuys, Justin Kurzel's Macbeth, Anton Corbijn's A Most Wanted Man, David Dobkin's The Judge.
Vague Cloud: Stephen Daldry's Trash; Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes; Jon Stewart's Rosewater; David Ayers' Fury; Thomas Vinterberg's Far from the Madding Crowd; Fatih Akin's The Cut; Liv Ullman's Miss Julie; Daniel Espinosa's Child 44; Jeff Nichols‘ Midnight Special,Dylan Kidd's Get A Job; James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour; Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert; Stephen Frears' Untitled Lance Armstrong Project; Alex Garland's Ex Machina, Christian Petzold's Phoenix (likely Telluride); Michael Roskam's The Drop; Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes; Rupert Goold's True Story; John MacLean's Slow West; Michael Cuesta's Kill The Messenger.
Opening in 2015: Sarah Gavron's Suffragette (Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep); Anton Corbijn's Life; Untitled Cameron Crowe, Todd Haynes‘ Carol; Justin Kurzel's Macbeth.
Third Tier (i.e., Respectable Megaplex Movies): Matt Reeves‘ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Darren Aronofsky‘s Noah (seen, praised, successful), Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow, Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (huge success), Evan Golderberg and Seth Rogen's The Interview; Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer, Shawn Levy‘s This Is Where I Leave You, Phil Lord and Chris Miller‘s 22 Jump Street, Spike Lee's Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Matthew McConaughey will be tributed at the American Cinematheque’s annual gala at the Beverly Hilton on 10.21. He’ll be helping to raise a significant sum for the organization — obviously a good thing. The other motive, of course, is to raise notions about his performance in Chris Nolan‘s Interstellar (Paramount, 11.7) meriting Best Actor attention. Due respect but the industry is McConaughey’ed out right now. It’s been less than a year since his Dallas Buyer’s Club Oscar plus all that True Detective praise…enough. Give someone else a chance. Incidentally: The idea of an exploratory, time-bending space mission somehow saving the world from its own ecological ruination strains credulity. But the idea of a demanding, all-consuming job stealing decades of family time and causing dedicated pros to miss out on sharing their children’s lives…that is a metaphor people can and will relate to.
The audio-visual quality of this clip is second- or third-generation, but there are plenty of versions out there.
Before yesterday I had never visited Lake Arrowhead. High in the mountains (about 5000 feet), quite hilly, the scent of pine and wood chips, forests of towering fir trees, about 30 minutes north of San Bernardino. It seems wonderful when you first arrive, but then you start noticing things. Like the absence of sidewalks and bike-riding and general hiking paths — the town is strictly about cars, and big fat SUVs at that. Not to mention the blue-collar, vaguely downmarket atmosphere — you can immediately sense a culture that is at least somewhat lacking in educated, upscale sensibilities. I knew something was up when I spotted a couple of streetside banner ads celebrating the local “heroes” who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of which many of the homes lack architectural integrity and have obviously been built with cheap materials. On top of which Lake Arrowhead Village is so overdeveloped that any concept of charm probably went out the window 50 years ago. In a phrase, the town lacks a certain refinement. People still wear mullets here. This is not a community that would appeal to Bernardo Bertolucci or Michelangelo Antonioni in their prime. Europeans do lakeside resorts with a lot more class and style.
Yesterday’s trip to Deep Creek Hot Springs (just south of Apple Valley and Hesperia off the 15) turned into a comic disaster in no time. I was travelling with two nice ladies who had been there a couple of times before, and yet for reasons best not explored or rationalized they were disinclined to follow a route suggestion offered by Google Maps. They chose instead to head south from Hesperia/Apple Valley on a dusty, unpaved, deeply rutted path that often resembled a desert hermit’s driveway. Common sense screamed that this wasn’t the right way to go, but I kept my mouth shut and hoped for the best. Deeper and deeper into the scary badlands we went, and sure enough we found a nice squishy sand pit to get stuck in. AAA said they wouldn’t help because it was an off-road situation so I had to fork over $350 ($150 per hour from station to station) to pay for a private guy named Jesse to pull us out with a winch. But first we had to hump it back to civilization over hill and dale (about a two-mile trek) in order to make sure Jessie would find us. The whole ordeal took about six hours. No dips in the hot springs. We got the hell out of Dodge and drove down to Lake Arrowhead.
If the editors of this redband trailer wanted to be really cool, they would include quotes from North Korea’s July 2014 denunciation of the film — “terrorism” produced by “gangster-like scoundrels.” They could also throw in Seth Rogen‘s response — “Apparently Kim Jong Un plans on watching The Interview…I hope he likes it!” The North Koreans will never drop the lurid prose or get past their bullshit. They not only have the potential but the absolute willingness to lampoon themselves to no end. Last May their state news agency KCNA called President Obama a “wicked black monkey.”
Movies in service of the “it’s never too late to fall in love” homily are usually shudder-inducing. But as this is a remake of a respected 2005 Argentinian film it deserves at least a fair viewing and, for the time being, the benefit of the doubt, especially with the ascerbic Christopher Plummer trading bon mots with Shirley Maclaine. My first reaction was to wonder if it had something to do with Federico Fellini‘s Ginger and Fred. (It doesn’t.) Then I thought about the differing approaches to aging and “work” by the 84 year-old Plummer and the 80 year-old Maclaine. Both approaches are fine.
The last time I recall a name-brand actor getting really furious about his dog being murdered was in Norman Mailer‘s Tough Guys Don’t Dance (’87). Moments after his dog has taken a shiv in the ribs, Ryan O’Neal eyeballs the assailant and growls out “Your knife…is in my dog!” That line, to me, was silly-cool, and John Wick (Lionsgate, 10.24) is on a similar wavelength. But lines like “this is personal” and “that dog was the last gift of my dying wife” don’t help. A man’s relationship with his dog doesn’t have to be explained or put into context. Due respect to all dying or dead wives, but it exists on its own pure plane.
“Following the jubilant post-modern martial arts efforts 47 Ronin and Man of Tai Chi” — come again? — “Keanu Reeves stars in [this] hugely satisfying B-movie with the confidence of an actor right where he belongs. Like Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, Reeves’ performances in guilty pleasure fare are both straightforward and dripping with irony, with John Wick providing one of the best examples. Neither surprising or groundbreaking in any particular way, the movie gives us what we want and leaves it at that. (more…)
One of HE’s constant complaints is the tendency of behind-the-wheel actors to take their eyes off the road for absurdly long periods — five or six or even seven seconds — in order to eyeball the person riding shotgun. That’s asking for disaster, of course, but actors don’t care — they insist on eye contact and directors won’t tell them to cut it out. Anyway, just once I’d like to see the person in the front passenger seat say, “Would you please watch the fucking road? Thank you. I don’t want to be in an accident. If you want to stare into the deep pools of my eyes wait for a red light or pull the fuck over.”
Presence, confidence, a touch of swagger. The last thing on the list, it seems, is having a buff bod and GQ fashion-model looks. A meta Casanova in Vienna, corseted women who are all too delighted. And on that note…
Richard Lester‘s Petulia is a chilly, emotionally distant film about a relationship that doesn’t quite come together, and yet there’s something very infectious and fizzy about it. I think it’s the combination of Lester’s dry ironic detachment and the odd atmospheric stirrings of what was happening in San Francisco when he shot it in the late summer and fall of 1967. There are snatches of music and marijuana and Haight-Ashbury in the periphery, but this is a film about being lonely and adrift…about wealth and comfort and social dance steps and two people who want out. It’s about a 40ish doctor (George C. Scott) who’s bored to death by almost everything in his life and a dishy, impossibly spacey rich girl (Julie Christie) who gets it in her head that Scott is some kind of cure for whatever might be ailing her. Petulia, which I return to every four or five years when I don’t feel like watching anything else, is composed of thousands of slices and fragments of everything and anything that was “happening” back then…sounds, whispers, glances. It’s somewhere between a tapestry and a jumble of pieces that don’t seem to fit, and yet they do when you step back. I think it’s one of the sharpest cultural time-capsule films Hollywood has ever churned out, and at the same time a curiously affecting love story. There an HD version on Amazon but none on Vudu or Netflix. I wish that Warner Home Video or Criterion or someone would punch out a Bluray.
I’ve agreed to get up early tomorrow morning and drive out to Deep Creek Hot Springs, which is in a hilly wasteland about an hour or 90 minutes north of Lake Arrowhead. I never do this sort of thing and it’ll probably be good for my soul, but the current plan is to stay there for a good six or seven hours before pushing on to Lake Arrowhead. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit worried about connectivity. Forget wifi — this area is so remote I won’t be able to make a call or send a text. If it turns out to as bar-less out there as I suspect it might be, tomorrow is going to be a very slow filing day. I’m just saying that upfront. I live in public, I file as a way of life…I don’t do well in the boonies.
I had a pair of dark green suede Beatle boots when I was 23 or 24…something like that. Looked great, were great. I found this British site that sells them but I’m afraid to pull the trigger because of bad associations. The only people I’ve seen wear them over the last quarter-century are icky, oily Eurotrash guys who over-dye their hair and wear neck jewelry, and I wouldn’t want to be associated with that aesthetic, thank you very much. I guess it’s better to let it go (by “it” I mean the past) but I wish there was a way.
I’ve written and said Liam “Paycheck” Neeson so many times on this site that it sounds as natural and unaffected as Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Billy Bob Thornton. I’m not sorry for calling him a paycheck slut because…well, he’s been that for the last five or so years…let’s be honest. But out of respect for Neeson’s performance in A Walk Among the Tombstones and for the general integrity of the film, I am hereby pledging to never again use that ignominious middle name. Even if he makes three or four more Taken films (and I wouldn’t put it past Neeson to do this), from here on this grizzled 62-year-old will be referred to on this site as Liam Neeson and nothing else. (more…)
I’ll be shelling out to see Michael Roskam‘s The Drop again this evening. I couldn’t understand roughly a third of the dialogue when I saw it at Toronto’s Princess of Wales theatre the weekend before last. And don’t tell me it’s my hearing — another Toronto-visiting critic agreed with my complaint about the POW’s murky tones on top of which The Theory of Everything composer Johann Johannsson told me he found the sound substandard. I’ll be seeing The Drop this evening at the Landmark, which I know has excellent sound. But it pisses me off regardless. The Drop is fine but without the sound issue I would have waited for a Vudu HDX availability. I called it “an earnestly above-average, Friends of Eddie Coyle-ish crime drama…well-acted, agreeably flavorfu…one of those low-key neighborhood personality soup bowls.” I was especially taken by the “always impressive Tom Hardy as an unassuming, seemingly-none-too-bright barkeep named Tom who surprises the audience but particularly Matthias Schoenaert‘s bullying bad-guy character in Act Three,” etc.
“A traffic accident involving a young boy spins a web of lies, suspicion and cover-ups around three policemen in Felony, a tension-packed drama from Aussie helmer Matthew Saville. The script, written by lead actor Joel Edgerton, teems with moral conundrums, as straight-arrow righteousness, self-serving pragmatism and plain, old-fashioned guilt duke it out amid drug busts and family disintegration. Thanks to Saville’s tightly controlled direction and a superlative cast, the mere exchange of glances builds as much suspense as the kinetic action sequence that opens the pic.” — from Ronnie Scheib‘s Variety review. Gravitas Ventures is releasing on 10.17.
I could live on a steady diet of Sidney Lumet movies for the rest of my life. Not just those made by the late director** but Lumet-style New York melodramas with his signature attitude and blunt, stabby brushstrokes. Urgent, propulsive tales of corruption. Tentacles of fate, forces closing in, shootings, beatings, etc. 33 Years Ago: “Hey, wanna go see that new movie? It’s with whatsisname…Treat Williams. I’ve heard it’s almost three hours of medium interiors of prosecutors and district attorneys debating whether or not to prosecute a corrupt cop who wanted to dishcarge the crap in his life but winds up ratting on his partners and his mafia cousins…whaddaya think?” A Most Violent Year will open on Wednesday, 12.31.14, which, by the way, is the same day that Leviathan opens.
** I don’t think I ever want to see Family Business again and I’m not so sure about Last of the Mobile Hot-Shots, but these aside…
Shawn Levy and Jonathan Tropper‘s This Is Where I Leave You (Warner Bros., 9.19) is one of those soothing suburban-middle-class family comedies in which the major characters (four 30something kids and their mom) fret about, examine and resolve their respective issues. I missed the opening 25 minutes in Toronto so I caught it again last night. It’s not bad — it just starts to feel like a sedative after the first hour. It occured to me that movies of this sort always take place in a really nice (usually pre-war) home with a nice big lawn shaded by big trees, plenty of bedrooms, loads of food on the dinner table, etc. And the photography is steady and unfussy and the lighting is just right with everyone looking well-dressed in a casual sort of way with perfect hair, etc. The idea is to make the audience feel as flush and comfortable as the characters. But I need to give Levy credit for handling the husband-discovers-wife-in-bed-with-his-boss scene (which is in the trailer) in an unexpected way. The husband (Jason Bateman) is holding a birthday cake when he walks in on the nasty-doers (Abigail Spencer, Dax Shepard), and right away you’re expecting Bateman to dump the cake on Spencer’s head. Or on Shepard’s. I’m not going to spoil but Bateman doesn’t do that. And what he does is just right. It might be the best scene in the film.
From my 1.17.14 review: “Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics, 10.14) is a raging two-hander about a gifted drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller). Enrolled at an elite Manhattan music school and determined to be not just proficient or admired but Buddy Rich-great, Andrew is a Bunsen burner. We can see from the get-go he’s going to be increasingly possessed and manic and single-minded about the skins. (All great musicians are like this to varying degrees.) On top of which he really doesn’t want to be like his kindly, failed-writer dad (Paul Reiser), and he can’t find peace with a pretty girl (Melissa Benoist) because she isn’t as consumed as he is — too uncertain and unexceptional.
“That’s combustible enough, but Chazelle turns it up with the villain/angel of the piece — a snarling, egg-bald, half-mad music instructor named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). This guy is definitely not sane and yet he knows what it takes to be great. Andrew recognizes this kindred (if dominating) spirit and wham…we’re off to the races. You know these guys are going to butt heads, and that a lot of emotional-psychological blood will be spilt (along with the actual stuff). This is the super-demanding realm of classic jazz. Everyone listening to Rich and Charlie Parker and other legends of that ilk. Playing the hell out of ‘Whiplash’ and ‘Cherokee’ and dreading Fletcher’s wrath. No pikers, whiners or jerkoffs.”
Fatih Akin‘s The Cut is “a big, ambitious, continent-spanning piece of work…but it’s a little simplistic emotionally, especially in its latter half as the film trudges across America with its hero. It doesn’t have the sophisticated nuance and wit of Akin’s contemporary German-language movies, like Head-On (’04) and The Edge of Heaven (’07). [The title] can mean the brutal act of murder itself; it can mean the division of husbands from wives, parents from children, and it can mean the present from the past, the insidious amputation of memory. Whether The Cut encompasses this last sense is up for debate, but it is a forceful, watchable, strongly presented picture and a courageous, honest gesture.” — from Peter Bradshaw‘s Guardian review, filed from Venice Film Festival on 8.31.14.
If you’re a cultured film cricket or impassioned film hound, there are two ways to go with Scott Frank‘s A Walk Among The Tombstones. You can praise it for being “an uncommonly well-made thriller,” as Village Voice critic Alan Scherstuhl did today, or you can say it’s too venal and misogynist (the bad guys are as animalistic and bloodthirsty as the Islamic State fighters) despite the gritty, well-honed, old-fashioned chops. But you can’t just wave it off. You can’t dismiss it for being retro (there’s nothing wrong with taking a basic ’70s-style approach) or for not being exceptionally well made (a ludicrous thing to say) or because it’s not cartoonishly violent in the rote style of the Taken films. Or because it invests in secondary characters. Or because it has a heart.
“The Taken films invite viewers to cheer violence,” Scherstuhl writes. “A Walk Among the Tombstones, with some moral force, insists that you want nothing to do with it.”
In short, you can say you don’t like Tombstones for whatever peculiar reason you may choose (as I often do), but you can’t fault the obviously high level of craft. You’ve got to at least show proper respect. Theatrical urban thrillers really need this kind of smart, low-key approach. Or…aahh, fuck it, maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s better to just let this level of writing and acting migrate to cable television where it belongs. But this is the kind of good-detective-vs.-maniacal-villain flick that nobody makes any more. It’s composed of well-ordered material and the right kind of instincts. It’s a bit like John Flynn‘s The Outfit, that 1973 Robert Duvall film that finally re-surfaced on DVD a few years ago. One of those tone-it-down, less-is-more exercises. And quite gripping in its own way. It just doesn’t pander to morons. (more…)
We know that Chris and Jonathan Nolan‘s Interstellar (Paramount, 11.7) involves an attempt to…you tell me. We know that the earth is dust-filled and polluted beyond hope and less and less capable of sustaining life, and that Matthew McConaughey is part of a team of space voyagers who want to somehow turn things around…but how? It’s a slim thread of a notion of a vague idea of something or other, and it’s been floating around for several months now. Does anyone know what Interstellar is actually about without the dandelion pollen? I’m not trying to be an asshole. I’m just feeling fed up with the vague-itude.