Jason Bourne isn’t too bad, but it feels like an aggressive effort to make money. More to the point, it doesn’t feel like it’s really about now. Except in one respect — cyber-tracking technology has become so immaculate and absolute that there are no chases any more. You can no longer lose the bad guys by ducking into an alley or an apartment building or some dark corner — the CIA and web technology know where you’re heading before you get there. So there’s now a kind of built-in futility to this kind of thing. The baddies are always breathing down your neck. Hell, they’re waiting for you.
Director Paul Greengrass, helmer of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum (i.e., the best of the bunch), delivers serious excitement in the early Athens bike-riding sequence, but the brutally insane Las Vegas car-chase finale is like something out of James Wan‘s Fast 7 — grotesque, nonsensical destructo-porn.
The Bourne franchise was hatched in the post-9/11 Bush era, and to some extent I think many of us sensed that the first three films (’02, ’04, ’07) were absorbing and reflecting the psychic atmosphere back then — the after-smell of smoke and dust and jet fuel, the venal Dick Cheney vibe, the blowback stench from the Iraq invasion, bad guys in charge, whiffs of coming economic chaos. But things feel different now after nearly seven and a half years of Obama, and the vibe just ain’t the same.
Question: Early on it’s clear that Matt Damon‘s Bourne character is living hand to mouth. He’s making ends meet by decking opponents in bare-knuckle boxing matches in northern Greece. Which would bring in what? A few hundred bucks per match, if that? And yet once the action kicks in he does the usual globe-hopping that he’s done in previous installments. He’s got plenty of different passports but you need serious dough to fly or take trains from city to city, not to mention food, hotels, temporary cell phones, etc. So where’d he get the scratch? (more…)
If Hillary Clinton is smart, she won’t bray her acceptance speech tonight. This is what an older industry friend shared last night. She needs to be cool, calm, precise, confident. Allow her experience to speak for itself. “Spirited” and “exuberant” are fine, but no braying. Braying is bothersome — pretty much everyone agrees on that. The transportational Democratic National Convention highs peaked last night with Barack Obama (pretty close to magnificent), Joe Biden (a free man in Paris), Michael Bloomberg (brilliant). Now we have to listen to Hillary. Just don’t bray — that’s all I’m saying.
The Venice Film Festival (8.31 thru 9.10) announced its slate this morning. For me the unexpected stand-out is the competition debut of Pablo Larrain‘s Jackie, a realization of Neal Oppenheim‘s restrained, West Wing-like script about Jackie Kennedy‘s four-day ordeal following her husband’s murder on 11.22.63.
Peter Sarsgaard as RFK, veiled Natalie Portman re-enacting JFK funeral procession in Pablo Larrain’s Jackie. In this shot Portman looks too short — in actuality the former First Lady was roughly the same height as RFK, give or take. And what’s with Sarsgaard’s flaming red hair? RFK’s thatch was drab brownish with a tinge of salty auburn.
Produced by Darren Aronofsky‘s Protozoa (in league with Fabula and Bliss Media), Jackie is apparently seeking a U.S. distributor. The Venice bow will most likely ignite a Best Actress campaign on behalf of Natalie Portman‘s lead performance unless, of course, the film turns out to be wanting. I’ve no clue about that, but Oppenheim’s script (which I read six years ago) is entirely decent, and the combination of Aronofsky and Larrain (who’s been in a prolific groove) suggests that Jackie may, at the very least, be an interesting mood-trip piece.
With Larrain already slated to attend the Telluride Film Festival with Neruda, which premiered at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, it would be strange — a head-scratcher — if Jackie doesn’t wind up screening at Telluride also. Larrain, Portman and presumably Aronfosky (who’s currently shooting Day 6) will, of course, attend the Venice Film Festival debut. What possible strategy on the part of Jackie‘s producers could result in their film not playing Telluride?
If Team Jackie doesn’t fly to Colorado following the Venice debut people will be asking Larrain “is there a problem?”
Tom Ford‘s Nocturnal Animals will play Venice and Toronto but not, as previously noted, Telluride. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival will play Venice before hitting Telluride and Toronto, and it’s been known for weeks that Damien Chazelle’s La-La Land will open the Lido fest. Nobody cares about Terrence Malick‘s Voyage of Time playing Venice…nobody. (more…)
In his portrayal of Virginia-born pacifist Desmond Doss, Andrew Garfield speaks with a yokel accent straight out of Dogpatch. Grim up and take it. This Hacksaw Ridge trailer once again reminds that director Mel Gibson, while never one for subtlety, has a vigorous visual eye. The basic training scenes feel like Full Metal Jacket meets The Young Lions, and the Okinawa battle footage may be (the trailer suggests) in the inferno-like realm of Saving Private Ryan. The Venice Film Festival will screen this 11.4 Lionsgate/Summit release out of competition in early September. Garfield plus costars Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Corr, Teresa Palmer, Richard Pyros and Rachel Griffiths. Opening on 11.4.16.
I ran into director Gavin O’Connor during a Captain Fantastic screening three or four weeks ago, and I asked if The Accountant, his latest, would be screening at the Toronto Film Festival. He didn’t exactly say “definitely, no question” but I got the impression it would. Affleck looks a little bulky but the film looks good. A cut above, a little extra. Overheard: “Very violent…a CharlesBronson film with autism.” Screen it in August, before the Telluride/Toronto rumble begins.
2016 FILMS EXPECTED TO REGISTER AS NOTEWORTHY, REVIEW-DRIVEN, POSSIBLE AWARDS FODDER:
Highest Expectations (in order of confidence or expectation): 1. Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester-by-the-Sea [locked Best Actor nomination for Casey Affleck]; 2. Martin Scorsese‘s Silence; 3. Steven Gaghan's Gold (Matthew McConaughey, Bryce Dallas Howard, Edgar Ramírez); 4. Ang Lee's Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk; 5. Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals; 6. David Frankel's Collateral Beauty (Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton); 7. Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper (Kristen Stewart); 8. Clint Eastwood's Sully (Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney); 9. Denzel Washington's Fences (Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby). (9)
War-Related Brad Pitt Flicks -- WWII Romantic-Dramatic, 21st Century Satiric: Robert Zemeckis' Allied w/ Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard (began shooting in March '16) and David Michod's War Machine (Netflix) w/ Pitt as Gen. Stanley McChrystal + Ben Kingsley, Emory Cohen, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Scoot McNairy, Will Poulter. (2)
A Little Worried But Maybe: 1. Oliver Stone's Snowden; 2. James Gray's The Lost City of Z; 3. The Secret Scripture w/ Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Bana; 4. Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment; 5. Werner Herzog's Salt And Fire (Michael Shannon, Gael García Bernal, Werner Herzog, Veronica Ferres); 6. Ewan MacGregor's American Pastoral (MacGregor, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Connelly, David Strathairn); 7. Garth Davis's Lion (Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Nicole Kidman -- released by Weinstein Co.); 8. Denis Villeneuve's Story of Your Life (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg -- Paramount). (8)
Very Interesting, Slight Hedging of Bets (random order): 1. Charlie McDowell's The Discovery w/ Rooney Mara, Nicholas Hoult (a love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified, or a more thoughtful version of The Leftovers); 2. Wim Wenders' Submergence (Alicia Vikander, James McAvoy); 3. James Ponsoldt's The Circle (Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega), 4. Pablo Larrain's Jackie (Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig, Peter Sarsgaard). (4)
Dumped Into Early August Release: John Hancock's The Founder (biopic of McDonald's kingpin Ray Kroc, opening on 8.5.16). (1)
Seen in Cannes, Approved or Praised to Some Degree: 1. Cristian Mungiu's Graduation; 2. Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman (Sahahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti); 3. Paul Verhoeven's Elle. 4. Pablo Larrain's Neruda; 5. Woody Allen's Cafe Society (Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively); (5)
Feels Fringe-y: Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (based on Tarell McCraney's play "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" -- a Plan B/A24 project about black queer youth amid the temptations of the Miami drug trade). (1)
This Year's Animated Pixar Wonder-Package for the Whole Family: Andrew Stanton's Finding Dory. (1)
“We need to unite around a candidate who can defeat a dangerous demagogue…a risky, reckless, and radical choice. Donald Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies and thousands of lawsuits and angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business? God help us! I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one. Truth be told, the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy. This is not reality television — this is reality.” — Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg during tonight’s takedown speech in Philadelphia.
I can accept any actor in any role, especially if they’re Meryl Streep or Tilda Swinton or Daniel Day Lewis, but with others it’s a bit easier if their personal vibes or political associations don’t contrast too strongly with whomever or whatever they’re playing. I’m not talking about an actor not being able to sell a character against type, but certain actors in certain roles can lead to feelings of initial resistance. Which can dissolve in a matter of minutes or even seconds — don’t get me wrong — but that doesn’t mean hurdles aren’t there to begin with.
Audiences of the ’40s would have had difficulty with, let’s say, Lou Costello as Jack the Ripper or Ulysses S. Grant. Which isn’t to say Costello wouldn’t have theoretically killed in either role. But people have to believe in advance that you can bring a certain type to life before they’re willing to sit down and watch you do it.
Let’s say for the sake of hypothesis that HE’s own Jon Voight, by anyone’s yardstick a militant, Obama-loathing rightwinger, is cast as a bleeding-heart liberal in some kind of political drama. Would that mean I couldn’t accept him as such a character? No, but I’d be facing a slight roadblock going in. Most of us would. Just as I would have an easier time accepting the conservative-minded Gary Sinise as, say, a CIA contractor or an Army lieutenant rather than a Socialist mayor or an anti-war priest.
By the same token it would require a little adjustment to accept Susan Sarandon as a corporate spokesperson for a notorious polluter or a rural woman who sells AR-15s at gun shows. Not that she couldn’t pull it off but I would snicker at the thought. Ditto if flaming lefties Rob Reiner or Martin Sheen tried to play, say, a gun-rights advocate or an anti-abortionist or a rightwing Congressman.
Obviously Sheen played one of the worst righties of all time in David Cronenberg‘s The Dead Zone, but that was before his name became strong associated with liberal causes. And yes, the ardently liberal Richard Dreyfuss played Dubya vp Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone‘s W., but commandingly. Jane Fonda was fine as a chilly corporate bossy type in Aaron Sorkin‘s The Newsroom, but she’s been around forever and can play anyone or anything.
I basically don’t believe in painting actors with simplistic brushes or casting the same actor to play the same type of character over and over, but it obviously happens. Throwing this up for discussion, which actors do you feel are bulletproof in this regard (i.e., can play anyone or anything and nobody says a word) and which actors would you have trouble believing in this or that specific role?
This is the kind of thing that sometimes happens when you’re married to a keeper. She buys you a shirt that makes you shriek with horror (inwardly, I mean) but you’re nonetheless obliged to put it on and smile for the camera and say things like “whoa…very nice!” and “now I need to figure out what kind of tie this goes with.” I’m not very good at that. One time an ex bought me a Japanese kimono, and I wouldn’t even try it on. If someone buys me something truly dreadful, I…well, I won’t say “Jesus Christ, this is fucking dreadful.” But I’ll give them a hug and a kiss and tell them how thoughtful they are, and then the next morning I’ll mention a shirt I saw for sale in the same store where she bought the thing I hate, etc. The below shirt was bought for New York movie guy and stand-up comedian Bill McCuddy. He said on Twitter that the print looks like bathroom wallpaper. That would be one scary bathroom.
Bill McCuddy’s “Night of the Living Organisms” shirt.
A less good-looking Terrence Stamp in William Wyler‘s The Collector with three captives, 23 separate personalities and a shaved head. James McAvoy is the kidnapper, white-haired Betty Buckley is his psychiatrist, and The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy is the most noteworthy of the three victims. It’s called Split, and it opens on 1.20.17 — the second day of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
But you know what? Even if evidence fully proved that Donald Trump is totally in the pocket of Vladimir Putin, 97% of Trump supporters wouldn’t give a damn. All they know is their Hillary hate. Nothing above or beyond that gets in.
From 6.17.16 Washington Post story about Trump and Putin’s financial relationship, written by Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum:
“The overwhelming consensus among American political and national security leaders has held that Putin is a pariah who disregards human rights and has violated international norms in seeking to regain influence and territory in the former Soviet bloc. In 2012, one year before Trump brought his beauty pageant to Moscow, then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Russia the United States’ top geopolitical threat — an assessment that has only gained currency since then. (more…)
I’ve been tapping out my mezzo-mezzo review of Jason Bourne, having finally seen it last night and being more or less in agreement with the “yes but it’s not enough” crowd. But Peter Debruge’s curiously affectionate review of David Lowery‘s Pete’s Dragon (Disney, 8.12) just landed in my inbox, and now I’m growling and seething. Bourne will have to wait.
I’m always ready to sink into an absurd, wildly illogical fantasy as long as the filmmakers are willing to supply some excuses and rationales. Just work with me, guys. Help me to half-believe in your children’s storybook scenario by answering some basic questions, and the effort alone will most likely win me over. Really. I’m not looking for trouble. Help me be a kid again. I’ll take the plunge.
Just keep in mind that when you make a movie you’re creating your own universe with your own laws, but this universe has to be whole and spherical and at least somewhat specific. Which also means that it has to adhere on some level to a semblance of natural law. Another part of the deal is that you, the creator, have to at least make an attempt to sell your fresh universe to a skeptical audience member (i.e., myself).
Did the Pete’s Dragon filmmakers understand these rules? Did they do the right, responsible thing when they put it together? Of course not.
Pete’s Dragon is basically an E.T.-like fable about a cute young kid with a profound attachment to an exotic, extremely vulnerable creature whom the authorities will want to capture, inspect and imprison for the purposes of scientific study or commercial exploitation. Ever heard this one before?
The loving family members who adopt the kid and help him protect the creature are played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Oona Laurence and Robert Redford — you all know the drill. The selfish, Trump-supporting bad guy (i.e., Bentley’s brother) who wants to capture the beast and sell worldwide rights is played by Karl Urban. (more…)
A big flatscreen filled with all those monochrome Presidents, and then the screen being smashed, glass ceiling-wise, with shards falling away and a smiling Hillary Clinton, wearing a bright red tunic, emerging as a very possible next President, and the DNC emotions that followed. My feelings about Clinton aside, this was pretty good television. I was impressed; I admired it. When slick promotion really slams it home and falls into place just so, it can get you in the gut.
I went to a seriously rowdy party in Mill Valley in the early ’80s. I arrived late with a friend, drank a fair amount of Jack Daniels, got fairly bombed, nuzzled a couple of girls and awoke the next morning at dawn — fully dressed and sitting in a chair at a dinner table with a half-filled drink in my right hand. It’s always amusing to remember wild parties and whatnot, but bacchanalia in and of itself isn’t funny in a movie. When I worked at Cannon publicity in the late ’80s my colleagues used to joke a lot about sex. I used to say “the more you joke about it, the less you’re getting.” Same with heavy boozing and Chris Farley behavior at parties. The more you’re into stumbling around and dancing on table-tops, the more clueless and anxiety-ridden you are deep down. Translation: If you do it once in a while, fine, but if you’re getting bombed and silly every weekend you’ve got a problem.
During the last six years of his movie-star career, Humphrey Bogart took to wearing bow ties. And when he began doing that, sometime around 1950’s In A Lonely Place or ’51’s The Enforcer, he started to suppress and de-mystify his image. He went from radiating that classic Bogart vibe — that confident, half-surly, nocturnal know-it-all thing he’d owned since The Maltese Falcon — to something a little cautious and less swaggering. He began to look less like a private detective or a soldier of fortune and more like an accountant or a department store manager. Every time I see a Bogart bow tie movie (they also include Deadline U.S.A., Beat The Devil, The Barefoot Contessa and The Harder They Fall) something inside me wilts.
James Schamus‘s Indignation (Summit/Roadside, 7.29) is a respectable, adult-friendly, nicely refined period drama (i.e., early ’50s) about values, academia, obstinacy, surprisingly good sex, Jews (in particular a tough Jewish mom) and — this is key — brutally cruel fates. The ending alienated me to no end, and I can’t explain why unless I discuss (or at least allude to) the last 15 minutes. So that’s what I’m going to do.
If you’re planning on seeing Indignation this weekend (which I’m recommending by the way — any film that riles or angers is usually up to something interesting), you might want to do that before reading this.
If for no other reason Indignation is worth the price for a 16-minute interrogation scene that happens in Act Two. It’s between a Winesburg College freshman named Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman, once again projecting that deer-in-the-headlights quality that I can’t stand about him) and Hawes Caldwell, an overbearing college dean (Tracy Letts). Hawes senses that Messner is too fickle, too much unto himself, not social enough. And he wants to know why Messner doesn’t mix it up more. But Messner is who he is — stand-offish, bright, obstinate, something of a Jewish mama’s boy. And so he stiffens and lets Caldwell have it right back.
It’s “theatre”, this fine scene. Dialogue, dialogue, point, counter-point. It doesn’t exactly “go” anywhere but it grabs and holds.
But the story! And the mostly positive reviews (84% as we speak) which don’t even hint at how Indignation makes you feel at the end. (This is why some people hate critics. Because they too often evaluate a film without telling you what it feels like.) How did Indignation make me feel? Pissed. Taste of ashes. I wanted to take a poke at Schamus.
Indignation is mainly about a half-obsessive, half-uncertain relationship between Messner (who, like original “Indignation” author Phillip Roth, hails from Newark, New Jersey) and a beautiful blonde shiksa named Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon) who is gradually revealed to be a victim of chronic depression and at least one suicide attempt, but whose sexual openness and generosity is like manna from heaven for a pissy, slow-to-catch-on gloomhead like Messner. (more…)
I chose to sidestep last night’s all-media screening of Jason Bourne in order to catch Pete’s Dragon on the Disney lot. I’ll be seeing Bourne tonight at the Grove, but facts may as well be faced: some initial reviews more or less agree with what I was told last week — i.e., that it’s more or less satisfying if you aren’t measuring it by hard-ass standards but it doesn’t blow your socks off, which of course is what everyone wants.
There seems to be general agreement that a first-act, high-tension sequence in Athens is quite effective. But there is disagreement about the Las Vegas finale.
Last week’s guy told me that the Las Vegas finale excites and delivers, but Variety‘s Peter Debrugeseems to disagree: “The instant the movie hits the Exocon convention in Vegas, where the potential for high-tech malfeasance ought to hit an all-time high, the film’s energy flags.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthywrites that “the big action climax, a slam-bang speed race through a jam-packed nocturnal Strip, is as preposterous and incoherently staged as the Athens opening is striking and convincing.” (more…)
Of the Toronto Film Festival Galas and Special Presentations announced today, between 25 and 28 are worth a tumble. Okay, make it 20. How many of the 20 will turn out to be way-up-there exceptional? Less than ten, if that. Probably less than five. More films will be announced, of course, but let’s be honest and admit that right now the TIFF slate feels a bit weak.
I woke up this morning to an abbreviated Variety headline on my iPhone. It read “Toronto Film Festival Opens with Denzel Washington’s…” before the jump. My first thought, “Holy moley, Toronto is going to debut Fences?…that’s very exciting!” Then I realized Variety‘s Denzel possessive was incorrect. TIFF’s opening night attraction will be Antoine Fuqua‘s The Magnificent Seven (Columbia, 9.23), which for Denzel is nothing but a straight mercenary paycheck gig + a chance to go up against Yul Brynner and Toshiro Mifune. Fuqua is a genre wallower, a shoveller, a primitive.
Toronto Gala Head-Turners: Peter Berg‘s Deepwater Horizon (you know Berg — Patriot’s Day may turn out be one-note, rah-rah patriotic crap, but right now it reps his best potential shot at non-escapist, popcorn-transcending respectability); Garth Davis‘s Lion (Dev Patel uses Google Earth to find his parents after 20-year separation); Paul Dugdale‘s The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! — A Trip Across Latin America, Oliver Stone‘s Snowden (no Telluride), Jeff Nichols‘ Loving (as an opportunity to re-appraise Ruth Negga‘s performance). Ama Asante‘s A United Kingdom (2nd interracial marriage drama following Loving) (6) (more…)